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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Use It or Lose It - Pasta & Ham 2 Ways

Happy Easter everyone!
If you're wondering why I'm at home cooking for two today, Grandma's not having Easter dinner until next week. My aunt just had her teeth removed to make way for dentures, so inviting her to dinner so soon would be cruel.

Today's leftovers:

8oz of ham steak
A half-empty veggie tray from a work party, mostly broccoli and tomatoes

I bought a pack of 5 large drumsticks the other day for $1.60, with the intent of frying them up today. After looking at my leftovers, I decided on a nice pasta salad with ham and fresh veggies for a side dish. However, my husband cringed at the idea of cold pasta.
We haven't had a day above 40 degrees here in Indiana for months. With today's high being 60 degrees, I HAD to have open windows and my cold side with fresh veggies.
I decided to do something for both of us. :)

Hot Ham and Cheese Casserole
Serves 4

2 cups cooked pasta (al dente)
1 small can of mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup chopped raw broccoli
1/2 cup diced ham
1 cup of cheese sauce of your choice
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare an 8x8 dish.
Warm cheese sauce in a pan and combine with pasta, ham, and vegetables. Pour into prepared dish, top with bread crumbs and drizzle with butter. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for 20 minutes.

Ham and Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad
Serves 4

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp lemongrass
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp sugar

2 cups cooked pasta, al dente, cold rinsed
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced if desired
1/2 cup chopped raw broccoli
1/2 cup chopped ham

Combine first 7 ingredients to make dressing. Toss in a bowl with remaining ingredients, chill covered for at least 1 hour.

Which one to pair with fried chicken? Decisions, decisions!
And the answer is...


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Use It or Lose It - Fish Cakes with Tomato Rice and Verde Pinto Sauce

Happy Sunday!
On this edition of Use It or Lose It, my leftovers are as follows:

1/3 cup homemade marinara sauce (not really enough for spaghetti...)
Homemade refried beans (I might have made a TON the other day?)
1 lb frozen fish sticks...
THESE. Generic. 'Fish'. 'Sticks'.
I did not know what I was buying. They're.....edible, but not great. But, I still didn't want to throw them in the trash!

I had a plan:
-Make rice using the marinara and water
-Thaw and mash the fish sticks and form into a patty with some nice spices, Cajun seasoning perhaps?
- Make some sort of bean sauce

Since the patties were going to be cajun flavored, I found a bonus ingredient for my bean sauce:

The bean sauce is simply 1 cup of refried beans, 4 packs of Taco Bell salsa verde, 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 tsp of salt. Heat in the microwave.

The rice is 1/2 cup of dry brown rice with 1/3 cup marinara sauce and 1 cup water, simmer covered for 30 minutes, season to taste.

The fish cakes came out very nice, somewhere between a salmon patty and a hush puppy. Certainly better than the fish sticks on their own!

Fish cakes:
1lb cheap frozen fish sticks, thawed
2 eggs
1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Oil for frying

In a bowl, mush the fish sticks, eggs, and seasoning with your hands until you have a uniform substance that should feel like cookie dough. In a large frying pan or iron skillet, heat up about 1/2 inch of oil. Shape and pat dough into round patties, I got 9 medium-sized ones.  Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Don't overcrowd the pan; divide into batches if necessary.

Drain patties on paper towels. Serve over rice and top with bean sauce.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Use It Or Lose It - St. Patty's Dogs and Cake Balls

Hello friends!
It's time again for "Use It or Lose It!", every Sunday I clean out my fridge and create dishes from the items I need to use soon, or else I have to throw them away.

Today's leftovers are:

1/2 head of cabbage (had it for like....a month lol...)
Almost 1 can of tomatoes (I just needed a little for something small)
1/2 cup of thin cheese sauce (There was too much sauce when I made some au gratin potatoes)
1/2 cup au gratin potatoes (Those last few bites you just can't finish...)
A bag of red velvet cake edge trimmings from 2 9x13 cakes (from the big cake)
1 cup of blue frosting (daboodee, daboodai)

My first thought for the cabbage was Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) topped with cheese sauce, but then someone posted a picture of a gourmet hot dog to my Twitter feed and I couldn't get hot dogs out of my head.
I really didn't plan for these to be St. Patrick's Day fitting, but they were! I ended up whipping up some homemade buns and topping beer-cooked hot dogs with cabbage relish and cheesy-potato sauce. Here's how:

Cabbage Relish
1/2 head of cabbage
1 can of shredded tomatoes, undrained
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp steak seasoning

Combine ingredients in a pot and simmer stirring occasionally until most of the liquid boils off, about 30 minutes.

Cheesy Potato Sauce
1/2 cup cheese sauce
1/2 cup leftover cooked potatoes

...Basically, I blended it with a hand mixer and heated it in the microwave. Mine didn't need extra seasoning, but as always, season to taste.

Cook a pack of hot dogs in a skillet with about 1/2 inch of beer and 1-2 tsp oil until beer cooks off and dogs brown and start to blister. Top with relish and sauce and enjoy!

.....And now, the cake balls!
Remember that red velvet cake we made the other day? Well, I had some edges and icing left over:
I wasn't sure what color these would end up, considering I'm mixing red cake with blue frosting.

Cake balls are easy and fun!

I microwaved and crumbled my leftover cake and ended up with about 2 cups of crumbs. Then, I combined the warm crumbs with the 1 cup of frosting. This mixture should be easy to form into balls with your hands.
Prepare a baking sheet with wax paper. Form balls (I got 14) and place on sheet.

Seasoned cookie bakers can relax.  As I was placing these beauties, my natural instincts said "Don't put them too close together! They all have to be the same size!" ...But these aren't going into the oven, they're going into the freezer for 30-45 minutes, so size and proximity don't matter nearly as much. :)

I used about 10 oz of white vanilla-flavored candy coating. I melted it in a metal bowl placed in a pan of water; you can use a double boiler or microwave per package directions. Using a rubber spatula, I rolled each ball around in the melted coating, then placed back on the cookie sheet and sprinkled with red sugar.
TIP: If your melted chocolate gets overly thick or chunky, add a little Crisco. 

Cake balls!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Big Red Velvet Cake Story

Today I'm working on a special order for an especially dear friend:

A red velvet cake, enough to feed 30 and dressed for a birthday.

My plan: Make 2 9x13 cakes and place them side by side. I quadrupled my one-pan red velvet cake recipe, so what I made is the equivalent of 4 cakes. The recipes provided are for 1 cake:

Red Velvet Cake (for ONE 8" round cake pan or 8x8 square dish)

1 1/8 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking cocoa
1 Tbsp red food coloring
1/4 c vegetable oil
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour one 8" cake pan or 8x8 square baking dish.
In a bowl, combine all ingredients except vinegar and baking soda. This batter will be very thick and sticky, I recommend an electric hand mixer. Once ingredients are combined, gently fold in vinegar and baking soda. Pour batter into prepared dish and bake at 350 for 23-27 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Here are the 2 large cakes:

To make them even, I had to trim the sides:

Then I made my fluffy white frosting: (for ONE 8" or 8x8 cake")

2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c Crisco
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 c water (if you need more, add 1 tsp at a time.)

Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

So I frosted the cake, and saved some back for decorating. I dyed the saved part blue and created my plan:

My real life handwriting is terrible. I'll be honest, I haven't decorated a lot of cakes. So when I went to make letters, I sketched my path with a toothpick.

I used a pastry bag with a hole snipped in it. Not everyone has pastry bags lying around. You can totally use a Ziplock, but be careful and make sure it's heavy duty! After I did the writing, I made the hole slightly larger to do the sides. The finished product:

Okay, so there's evidence of cake crumbs. The thing in the upper right corner is a beer with a beard...inside joke. :)

The End

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Use It Or Lose It - 7 Layer Dip

Welcome to the newest segment of my blog, Use It Or Lose It!
Every Sunday, I will clean out my fridge and create a dish using the week's leftovers and foods on the brink of expiration.

Today's ingredients:
2 cups of Spanish rice
1/4 cup of guacamole
Tortilla chips from a restaurant
Velveeta (2 weeks opened, 1 week left!)

2 cups of leftover rice was daunting. I love rice, but I'm not in love with rice. I do really like the use of rice on the 7-Layer Burrito from Taco Bell. Once I got that in my head, I couldn't get it out. So, I went down to the old Tienda Morelos and got sour cream, an avocado (to bulk up my leftover guac), and refried beans.
(If you've never shopped at the Mexican grocery, I highly recommend it! They had flavors of refried beans I had never seen before; Chorizo, jalapeno, chipotle, 'Traditional' and 'Authentic'? What's the difference? ...Anyway, I went with the Chorizo.)

2 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup milk
2 oz cubed Velveeta or cheese of choice
1-2 cups leftover rice
1 can refried beans
1/3 cup salsa
2/3 cup guacamole
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice

Prepare a large baking dish, 9x13 or similar.
1 - Melt butter in a saucepan. Add milk and cheese, stir until cheese is melted. Add rice and refried beans, stir until just heated through. Pour bean mixture into prepared dish. Allow to cool if it's too hot.
2 - Pour salsa over beans and carefully spread into an even layer. 
3 - Carefully spread guacamole into an even layer on top of the salsa.
4 - Carefully spread sour cream into an even layer on top of the guacamole.
5 - Sprinkle lettuce on top of sour cream.
6 - Sprinkle cheese on top of lettuce
7 - Your favorite hot sauce! 
(You can also have fun with black olives, diced tomatoes, green onions, etc... And as always, season to taste.)

Spoon onto a plate and serve with tortilla chips, or if you're feeling bold, wrap some dip up in a flour tortilla.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lovely Au Gratin Potatoes

FACT: Everybody loves potatoes au gratin.

FACT: The box of au gratin potato mix is super cheap and requires little to no effort.

...So why make your own? Because why not! It's delicious, totally worth it, just time consuming. Impress your friends!
First, make friends with your mandoline.

It's a little old. It looks like it could barely cut butter. Truth is, it can slice a whole potato super-thin in less than a minute. If you don't have one, nose around your local thrift store. Odds are they have one, and it probably won't cost more than $1.

...Anyway, on to the potatoes! This serves 4.

2 largeish potatoes
1 large bowl of water
1/2 an onion, sliced into rings
1/2 cup frozen broccoli, optional
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
4oz of your favorite cheese (I used Velveeta, it works wonders)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of your favorite shredded cheese

First, peel your potatoes. Then, use your mandoline to slice your potatoes into the bowl of water. If you don't have a mandoline, you can slice as thinly as possible with a good knife or roughly chop the potatoes instead. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375.
Next, the cheese sauce: Melt butter in a hot pan until frothy. Add flour, stir and cook until the mixture is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Quickly stir in milk. You might get chunks at first. Just keep stirring and squishing down those chunks. When the mixture thickens to thin-gravy consistency, turn the heat off and add the first 4oz of cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Season to taste. Since the potatoes will absorb and nullify some flavor, it's okay to make the sauce a little on the salty side. Again, be careful. Adding salt later is easy, removing too much salt is virtually impossible.
Once the cheese sauce is done, drain the potatoes and stir them in. If you're using broccoli, go ahead and throw that in too.
Grease an 8x8 Pyrex or other medium sized baking dish. Spread half of the potato mixture into the dish, layer onions on top, then top with other half of potatoes. Top this with shredded cheese. Bake covered for 1 hour, then uncovered for 20-25 minutes. You will need to let this cool for a while.