Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crockpot Baked Ziti

I made baked ziti for Mr. Barefoot last week and it was delicious.  It's adapted from 365 Crockpot.  For anybody afraid of their slow cooker, it's also easy.  I know it seems really weird to add noodles to a crockpot when they are still crunchy, but trust me, it works.

1 box pasta (I used a combination of farfalle and elbow macaroni)
1 1/2 jars of pasta sauce
Vegetables, if desired. (I used a green pepper)
1 cup mozzerella or italian cheese
1 medium sized container ricotta (I think it's 16 oz but it might be 12)
Grated Parmesan

1. Rinse pasta in a colander (while still crunchy - this helps it cook).  Grease crockpot.
2. Combine ricotta and 1 jar of pasta sauce in a bowl.
3. Chop the vegetables.
4. Layer pasta, ricotta, vegetables, mozzerella into the crockpot and repeat until done.
5. Pour remaining half jar of tomato sauce over the top of pasta.
6. Cook on low for 4-6 hours.  Garnish with grated Parm and serve.

This was delicious, although I used a very spicy sauce and therefore was actually unable to eat it, but Mr. Barefoot is a big fan and since I made a huge pot of it, he had leftovers for several lunches during the week.

Monday, January 24, 2011

White chocolate chip spice cookies

I had the chance to make the white chocolate chip spice mix cookies over the weekend, and they are really good. They take longer to cook than most cookies (15-20 minutes), so I wouldn't recommend them for a last-minute cookie baking project, but they are delicious.  The white chocolate cuts the otherwise heavy taste of the spice cake mix, and the spice cake mix gives the white chocolate more flavor than it would usually have.  I omitted the nuts because I don't like nuts, and in the future will probably make a few other changes as well.
1 box spice cake mix
1 stick melted butter (next time, I will swap this out with 1/4 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup butter)
2 eggs
1 cup white chocolate chips (actually measure - in this recipe, there is such a thing as too much chocolate chips - I put in too many and the dough was pretty hard to work with.

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
2.  Mix together mix, butter, and eggs until consistent.  Add chocolate chips.
3.  Scoop onto ungreased baking sheets - these cookies don't spread, so you can clump them pretty close together.
4.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until fairly done.  Remove with a spatula and allow to cool on cooling racks.  (This is actually important - if you try to pull the cookies up with your fingers, they fall apart.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Truth about Slow Cookers

Slow cookers are great for all people, from lazy people to people that like to make fancy things.

For lazy people, the general rule of thumb is "you put sh*t in and food comes out".  A few good starter lazy crockpot recipes?  Black beans and rice and taco casserole.  Also barbecue tofu.  Also sweet potatoes, if you're heading to a potluck type of dinner.

For people who work late, crockpots let you do almost all of the legwork for a really great meal, but you can do it the night before or the morning of.  This was great for days I didn't have to be on campus until noon, but had class until 7 or 8pm.  The truth about crockpots is that you do need to do some prep work, at least for a lot of the really good meals - you should soften the onions and garlic, etc. But the great thing about a slow cooker is that it lets you do all that work at 9pm the night before, and then do all of the dishes, and then the next day you have a great day and a clean kitchen.  If you get into a good cycle with this, dinner is eaten and then dinner is cooked - it avoids rush-job dinners or reaching for the phone to dial out for pizza.  Some good recipes to try out?  Fish in foil or sweet potato barley risotto.

For vegetarians, crockpots are a great way to cook a lot of vegetables together, and also to try new things.  I learned to like curry from my crockpot.  Sweet potato tacos?  Would have been totally weird to me, but I love them.  I also love sweet and sour tofu in the crockpot.  Chili with Seitan?  Never would have tried without a crockpot.  Since vegetarian meat substitutes tend to be pretty tasteless, the crockpot lets these substitutes absorb the flavors in the dish over time, which is awesome.

For people who like good food, the argument is that a crockpot lets you buy things like cheaper cuts of meat and do good things to them.  It also lets you make really good dishes that seem fancy but are made with cheap ingredients.

For people who work from home, there is nonetheless an argument for the slow cooker.  I love the slow cooker because it lets me take care of dinner in the middle of the day, or in the morning, and then I don't have to worry about starting it later, and more importantly, because the crockpot doesn't burn stuff or leave things on the burner just a little too long or forget to preheat the oven.  Once you get the hang of crockpot cooking, pretty much everything comes out pretty darn good.  The crockpot doesn't let you use starting dinner at 3pm as an excuse for not getting work done.  It also lets you make a nice dinner without having to stir the pot constantly.

For example, tonight I made leek and potato soup on the stove.  I would have rather done it in the crockpot, but I started cooking around 3.  I'll share the recipe in a separate post, but I will say that I was constantly fussing over my soup and making sure it wasn't boiling over - not really a concern in a crockpot.  When I caramelize onions, I don't have to worry about them burning.  So if you've written your crockpot off already, dust it off and give it another chance.

Miscellaneous Friday

I went to a potluck tonight.  It was awesome.  I brought Cauliflower and Barley Risotto.  It was pretty good, although I think I still prefer the sweet potato barley risotto.  It took longer to cook than I thought it would, and I was panicking towards the end because I was so late - I would say it took a good 45-50 minutes to really cook properly.  I will probably work on adapting this for the crockpot, since it was pretty good.  I think I might use white wine next time.

The taco casserole from the other day actually came out great.  A tortilla was rendered unnecessary by the rice, but cheddar cheese and sour cream on top would not go amiss.

I have found the winning bread recipe.  I'll repost it shortly, but it's the American Sandwich Bread recipe from The New Best Recipe Cookbook.  Do yourself a favor and buy a copy.  It comes out dense and filling but not too chewy, and no matter how you screw it up, it's totally salvageable.  Thus ends the quest for the perfect white bread and I'll be moving onto whole wheat.

In totally other news, I just closed out our registry at the Pampered Chef, and will be getting my new pizza stones (2!) and pie pan and other stuff shortly.  The one thing we didn't upgrade at all with our registry was really our baking stuff, so I'm very excited to have the stones - I got a round one and a rectangular one, but imagine that I can make cookies and stuff on both of them.  We have a bunch of frozen pizzas in the oven that I think we'll be using in the next few weeks because I've actually started to be busy during the day - volunteer work, but good stuff and keeping me occupied.  Has anyone tried baking stuff other than pizza on stones?  Help a girl out with some tips!

I think the first thing I might try to make are these cookies, which a co-worker brought and and are amazing!  Her's didn't have the nuts or the drizzle on top, but they were still seriously seriously fantastic.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Taco Trials

I just threw dinner in the crockpot for Mr. Barefoot, since I have a legislative briefing tonight. (But no job, so I'm still playing housewife.) Tonight's menu item was tacos, so I opened up the new jar of taco seasoning he got for Christmas and went to work.  I hope this turns out well - I'll let you know the verdict.  This was literally a "throw a bunch of sh*t in the crockpot and hope food comes out."
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
2/3ish cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen green and red peppers
4 cubes frozen cilantro from those freezer spice packs
1 cup dried parboiled rice
1 cup water
salt, pepper, dumps of taco seasoning

Dump into crockpot.  Stir.  It'll be cooking on low for about 6 hours.

I suspect I put in too much water, which will result in the rice being too fluffy, or the mix being too wet, but these are better than the rice being dry and crunchy.  I didn't put in jalapenos, but would have, but the plant is all the way upstairs and I didn't feel like harvesting or chopping.  It was really nice to just throw together a canned/frozen meal like this, and I'm excited to see how it comes out without my having to do any real prep work (you'll notice there are no minced onions or garlic, etc.).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Roasted Squash Seeds

A few secrets about squash:
1. It takes forever to cook. 
2. The seeds are delicious.  

When I make squash, I like to roast the seeds in the toaster oven, and then snack on them while I make the rest of dinner.  Tonight I shared with Mr. Barefoot, so that was good for my relationship but sad for me, since usually I eat them all before he gets home.  

To roast seeds, just spray with a bit of cooking spray, add some salt or other spices, and then spread in a greased pan and bake at 400 or so.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sausage Stuffing

The thing about stuffing is that it's actually pretty simple.  When you use homemade croutons, it's a little tricky, since there is no package to follow, and I also use the turkey stock and drippings to add flavor to the stuffing, so I don't really have a way to count what goes into the pot.  I just make enough stuffing for everyone to eat, and then go with it.  This isn't vegetarian stuffing, there isn't a way to make it vegetarian.  If it was vegetarian, it would be called something else, not sausage stuffing.

1 onion
2 stalks celery
1 package sausage, any kind
several cups bread crumbs
2 cans chicken stock or turkey stock
Turkey drippings

1.  Cook sausage in a saucepan on medium heat.  Add onions and celery to cook in fat.
2.  Add broth, bring to a boil.
3.  Add croutons.  Continue adding until the stock is absorbed in the bread.
4.  Add turkey drippings over the top.  Add more turkey stock if necessary.  Stir.
5.  Bake in the oven at 350 until done to your satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sweet Potato or Butternut Barley Risotto

Whenever I go on a Costco food purchasing binge, it's kind of a challenge to get to see whether we can eat everything I bought in the last week.  If we have to throw something away, Mr. Barefoot gets to be right and tell me I can't buy produce at Costco.
So how are we doing?  Last week, I bought a 6-pack of peppers, a 2 lb bag of green beans, 2 lbs of butternut squash and a giant bag of onions.  This week, I used the peppers as pizza toppings, and in the Quinoa and Pepper Saute, which was not very good.  Although it's better if you douse it in Greek yogurt or cheese. I used the green beans and butternut squash for the Indian Shrimp and Squash, which actually was pretty good.  Today, I used the last of the butternut squash in Sweet Potato Barley Risotto in the crockpot.  I went to link to this recipe and realized I'd never shared it.  How sad for my poor readers.  This recipe is from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes and you must go buy this book.  Seriously.  
You will need:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes (I actually cut them into 1/2 inch cubes - with the butternut squash, I just used about a cup and a half.)  

Optional: mushrooms.  I've added baby bella mushrooms to this a couple times now and it's generally pretty good.  

1.  In a skillet, cook the onions until soft.  Add garlic and rosemary and saute for another minute.  Add barley, stir until coated with onions/garlic mixture.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  
2.  Place sweet potatoes and/or mushrooms in crockpot stoneware.  Add barley mixture.
3.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or slow for 4 hours.  

I'm not normally a person that eats barley, but firstly, I'll eat anything with sweet potatoes, and secondly, barley is actually pretty good - it has that nutty, wholesome flavor that anything "good for you" has, but this doesn't taste that much like a crunchy-granola type of meal.  Plus, it's very good for you.  I don't really eat anything else with barley in it, but I think I would like to branch out a bit - any suggestions?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vegetarian Turducken

Mr. Barefoot's friends like to get together every year for a Turducken.  A turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken.  There was also stuffing involved.
Since I don't eat meat, I always challenge myself to come up with something vegetarian but equally impressive.  Once, peppers stuffed with peppers stuffed with peppers.  Once, peppers stuffed with mushrooms stuffed with onions.  This year, I decided to make a quiche stuffed with mini-quiche.  Something went wrong with the crust and it wasn't very good, but the quiche itself was pretty good, and not a disaster health-wise - I opted to use skim milk and greek yogurt rather than heavy cream, saving fat and adding protein.  

Recipes - for mini caramelized onion quiches
1 batch of quiche crust 
1 batch of caramelized onions 
2 eggs 
1/3 cup greek yogurt (or just pour it in.)  
Splash of milk
Shredded parmesean cheese

1.  Put crusts into mini-muffin cups.  Fill with Parmesan cheese on the bottom.  Add caramelized onions.    
2.  Mix together eggs, yogurt, and milk, until at a creamy consistency.  
3.  Pour mixture on top of onions.  

 4.  Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.

Recipe:  Butternut Squash Quiche
1 cup butternut squash, cut into small cubes
3 eggs - separate whites from yolks.  
1 cup greek yogurt
large splash of milk
4 oz goat cheese
1 quiche crust

1. Cook the butternut squash on 400 degrees for 20 minutes until soft.  
2. Fit pan with quiche crust.  Add goat cheese to the bottom.  If you are stuffing the quiche with the mini-quiches, add the cooked mini-quiches into the pan.  
3. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  

4.  Mix greek yogurt, egg yolks, and milk together.  Add butternut squash.  Fold in egg whites.  
5.  Pour over crust.  
Bake on 375 for 25-30 minutes.  

Flax Seed Bread (in the food processor!)

I bought flax seeds last week.  Because I read in a magazine that they are good for you and will help you lose weight.  Plus my old roommate likes flax and speaks highly of it.  The health benefits seem high, and although I'm currently 25 and don't have to worry about high blood pressure, cholesterol, or prostate cancer (probably never have to worry about that), I firmly believe that I should eat weird tasting food now, so that I don't develop those health problems as I get older, and more importantly, so I'm not adverse to eating healthy foods when I do develop health problems.  So I'm trying to eat more whole grains, and in case you haven't noticed, I've been making, and eating, a lot of white bread lately.  (Another advantage to making whole wheat bread is that it's not quite as delicious.)

I made it in the food processor - a single loaf fit just fine in my 6-cup food processor, and The New Best Recipe cookbook recommended kneading bread in the food processor rather than in Darth Mixer.  It worked pretty well for this recipe - we'll see whether I stick with it.  The food processor is lighter, but harder to clean and more likely to take off one or more of my fingers.
Flax Seed Bread
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp dry yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp dry milk powder
2 tbsp oil
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cups flax seeds

1.  Combine yeast and warm water and let yeast dissolve.
2.  Add honey, salt, milk powder, and oil.
3.  Combine 2 cups flour and water mixture in food processor, process (our food processor only has two "on" settings - pulse and go)
4.  Stop food processor, remove lid, add remaining flour and flax seeds.  Mix some more, until you have a dough.
5.  Put dough in a pan.  Let rise until doubled, approximately 1 hour.
6.  Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.

This is a pretty good whole grain bread, unlike my last foray into making wheat bread, which did not rise at all and can be at most generous, termed a disaster.  This turned out like well, bread.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Menu Planning

I thought, with the new year, and slow-down of the schedule, as well as our recommitment to menu-planning healthy, vegetable laden meals, I would start by sharing our weekly or monthly menu plans with you.  This week, I'll be using up the bags of onions and green beans I bought at Costco, as well as the butternut squash.  I like to menu plan 4/5 meals for the week, because usually something comes up.  If we don't have a plan for the fifth meal, I'll make either veggie burgers with sweet potato fries, or pasta (this time with veggie crumbles meat sauce).  I'm also using recipes that I found in the January issue of Self magazine.  Usually I don't make most of these, but we're really trying to eat better and the recipes in this issue seemed to be better than usual, and a bit more veg-friendly.

So this week, we'll be eating (from
Quinoa and Pepper Sauté
Sauté 1 cup chopped red bell peppers, 1/2 cup chopped red onion and 1/4 tsp smoked paprika in 1 tsp olive oil until vegetables are soft, 5 minutes. Add 2 cups spinach; sauté until spinach wilts. Serve vegetable mixture over 1 cup cooked quinoa. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp grated Parmesan, 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley.

Indian Shrimp and Squash
Place 2 cups cubed butternut squash on a baking tray; drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp turmeric, black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional); bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Add 4 oz frozen, raw shrimp to baking tray; drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil; sprinkle with 1/4 tsp ground cumin; bake until shrimp are cooked through and squash is tender, 10 minutes. Serve with 1 cup green beans sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil. Drizzle meal with lemon juice.

We will also be eating:  
Black bean and goat cheese burritos
Some kind of Butternut Squash Curry Soup or Butternut Squash Apple Soup