Thursday, September 22, 2016

Slow Cooker Overnight Apple Crisp Oatmeal

We are an oatmeal-cooked-overnight-in-the-slow-cooker kind of family. It's sorta become an obsession over the past few years. We love waking up to a hearty breakfast awaiting us - especially on busy mornings. I've shared with you several variations on my basic recipe like, my carrot cake version (my personal favorite). I wanted to incorporate apples and warm, fall-inspired spices in my newest version of cooking steel cut oats in the slow cooker. But, I, also, wanted there to be a twist. My mind went to apple crisp, a dessert that I make often for my family.

The premise of this recipe is to start with steel cut oats (I really don't recommend cooking any other type of oats overnight in the slow cooker ... unless you want totally mushy oatmeal). Then, a few basic ingredients like, milk, water, brown sugar and butter get stirred in. Warm, fragrant spices like, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are stirred in. Chunks of crisp apple are then added before lidding the slow cooker as you head off to bed.

I do top this at the time of service with an apple crisp-style topping that I make a bit prior to starting the oatmeal in the evening. (The crisp topping takes about 40 minutes to bake, but only a few minutes to prep.) It is totally optional, but therein lies the "crisp" part of the recipe. Alternatively, some store-bought basic granola could be sprinkled on top if you don't wish to make the topping from scratch.

NOTE: I cook this oatmeal in a metal bread pan that fits perfectly down into my oval slow cooker. I loosely crumple up a piece of foil, place it on the bottom of the slow cooker insert, pour in about four cups of hot water and place the bread loaf pan atop the foil. A steam effect is created. Following this method ensures that the oatmeal does not burn and clean-up is a lot easier. This, also, ensures that the oatmeal stays moist and very creamy.

Yields 4 - 6 servings.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Apple Upside Down Bread Pudding

Just in time to kick off the fall season ... crisp apples, brown sugar and warm spices come together in this easy-to-assemble dessert. Bread pudding is one of the simplest desserts to make. This is essentially a bread pudding, but has similarities to an upside-down cake. Serving it warm, room temperature or cold is up to you. But, topping it with a dusting of powdered sugar, vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream is totally recommended.

The recipe begins with some melted butter and brown sugar marrying in the bottom of a cake pan. A sprinkling of sliced almonds is nestled around the slices of apple - just for some added crunch. Day-old bread chunks are mixed up with a vanilla custard that has been kissed with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. The custard-y bread is pressed into the buttery brown sugar and apple layer. Baked gently to keep everything moist and gooey, this dessert - once set a bit - is turned out onto a pretty cake platter for presentation and service to guests.

In regards to the bread, I've found that the sky is almost the limit when it comes to making bread pudding. I've used dinner rolls, sliced bread, buns and even leftover donuts. Sometimes I have even used a combination of different types of bread that I had on hand. I prefer to use day-old bread that is a little on the stale side, but I do recommend to, at least, allow the bread chunks to sit out on the counter to dry out a little before making this recipe if you're using very fresh bread.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Southern-Style Sausage Gravy {Over Biscuits}

My Kentucky-born grandmother was the queen (in my book) of making the most magnificent biscuits and "white pepper gravy" loaded with chunks of browned breakfast sausage. Weekend breakfasts of Sausage Gravy and Biscuits were a staple in my childhood. I am always leery ordering the same when I am dining out because there is rarely an occasion when the gravy comes close to measuring up to my grandmother's version.

So, I make it often at home. I wasn't lucky enough to have my grandma's recipe written down ... and frankly, I highly doubt she ever had or followed an actual recipe. But, I did spend years by her side watching and helping her prepare this dish. And, after many years of tweaking and perfecting the recipe as an adult myself, I think I now come close to what was served to me as a child.

I want to mention that the purpose of this post is to share with you my gravy recipe - not a biscuit recipe. Being honest, I often cheat and purchase frozen biscuits that simply need baked off in the oven. However, when I do take the time to make biscuits from scratch, I almost always use Alton Brown's Southern Biscuits recipe. I've found the recipe to be the best for yielding ultra-soft, tender, fluffy biscuits that most resemble my grandmother's.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Simple Method of Freezing Raw, Whole Tomatoes

My mother-in-law cans TONS of tomatoes each and every year. She is nice enough to pass along several jars to us for use throughout the winter months. We utilize most of the canned tomatoes from her in chili. This summer, we ended up with an abundance of fresh tomatoes ourselves, but I am not someone who enjoys (or even does well at) canning. So, I set out to research the method of freezing whole, raw tomatoes. And, I have to say that I am incredibly surprised at how easy the "process" is and how awesome it is to freeze tomatoes at summer's end.

The method is a quick and simple one. I was able to get six gallon-size freezer bags (with 6 - 7 large tomatoes in each bag) processed from start to finish in about an hour. (That's definitely quite a bit quicker than going through the canning process.)

Obviously, freezing tomatoes will change their consistency. The tomatoes work best - once thawed - used in recipes where the food will be cooked (soups, stews, chili and sauces). Using or serving the thawed tomatoes raw is not recommended as they will be a little mushy after their time in the freezer.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Graham Banana Bread with Cinnamon-Spiced Glaze

I have made many styles of banana bread throughout the years. Some large loaves. Some in muffin form. Some with chocolate chips included. Some with a crumb topping. Some have been successes. And, some have been down-right flops. This recipe, however, has become our family’s favorite banana bread. It’s not often that every single household member - all five of us - in the JD home agrees that a specific recipe is a winner. I have somewhat of a picky gang to feed. With this banana bread, every single one of my crew couldn’t get enough of these adorable, scrumptious loaves of banana bread goodness.

I combine finely-crushed graham crackers with the flour in this recipe. The result makes for a slightly chewier bread with a subtle flavor note of graham. A plethora of autumn-style spices come together, as well, in this bread that really enhance the banana flavor. But, it's the simple cinnamon glaze that - in my opinion - take these little breads over the top.

It's an easy recipe that doesn't take long to prepare. Frankly, waiting for the breads to fully cool prior to glazing (and eating) is the hardest part.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chicken and Biscuits Casserole {No Canned Soups}

There's little more comforting than homemade Chicken and Dumplings. This recipe is a slight twist on the classic version. The recipe begins with a couple of chicken breasts simmered until tender in a rich, savory broth. Next, the broth is thickened with a cornstarch slurry and a splash of heavy cream. Then, instead of dropping biscuit dough into the thick, steamy broth to cook on the stove top, the chicken and "gravy" is loaded into a casserole dish, topped with half-moons of buttermilk biscuits and popped into the oven to bake to golden, bubbly bliss.

The result is the familiar flavors present in classic Chicken and Dumplings, of course, But, the biscuits are taken to new heights due to the browning on top of the casserole. The bottoms of the biscuits bake up - moist and soft - submerged in bubbling gravy while the tops of the biscuits puff up to golden, magical perfection.

Serves 4 - 6.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Potato and Sweet Corn Chowder

Tender chunks of potatoes and crisp, fresh-off-of-the-cob sweet corn come together in this thick, ultra-luxurious chowder that is just perfect for the transitional weeks between late-summer and early-fall. Sweet corn is in abundance. Many of us start experiencing cooler evenings. And, if you're anything like me, cravings for fall and soup weather creep up oh, right around mid-August. This is a great way to satisfy those yearnings.

Don't get me wrong ... this is an awesome chowder to make at any given time of the year. It's the ultimate comfort food for cold, blizzard-y evenings in say, January or ideal for lunch on a cool, rainy Sunday in April. If you can't get your hands on fresh sweet corn, frozen corn that has been thawed would be a great substitution. But, frankly, I think there's little more fabulous this time of the year than at-its-peak sweet corn. Incorporating a few ears into this chowder is highly recommended. And, don't throw out those stripped ears of corn after cutting the kernels off ... toss a few into the chowder as it cooks for extra flavor. Absolutely amazing.

Yields 4 - 6 servings.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Touchdown Loaded Mexican Bean Dip

When you need a fun, hearty dip for parties, game night at home or family movie night, this fabulous recipe is the answer. It's, also, awesome for packing up to take along when tailgating. It has a lot of things going for it. It comes together in just a matter of a few minutes. It is the perfect make-ahead dip. It's pretty inexpensive to make. And, it's easily customizable. Oh, and it's just downright delicious and always impresses.

The base is a couple of cans of refried beans that get seasoned up with spices that you probably already have on hand. A layer of sour cream gets spread on top of the bean layer. Then, the sky is really the limit as to the toppings that you heap on top. Basically, anything that you like on tacos can make an appearance here ... cheese, lettuce, avocado, onions, olives, tomatoes or jalapeƱos. Serve the whole thing up with tortilla or corn chips. Super amazing.

Friday, August 12, 2016

No-Bake Triple Coconut Mini Cheesecakes with Pretzel Graham Crust

I've shared a plethora of desserts with you here on the blog. This one, though ... this one is pretty darn scrumptious and one that just might "take the (cheese)cake." I didn't necessarily set out to create a mind-blowing, so-good-ya-need-to-smack-yer-momma type of recipe with this one ... I was simply working this past week in the kitchen testing out some different ideas that I had for incorporating coconut into cheesecake. I wanted something simple. I wanted something that didn't require the oven be fired up. (It is mid-August after all.) And, I really wanted a cheesecake that I could work coconut into in a few different ways.

I adore the flavor of coconut - especially toasted coconut. And, I adore cheesecake (but, I usually hate the hassle of making it from scratch).

So, I tinkered around with a few boxes of no bake cheesecake mix (found in the pudding and gelatin section) that I had stashed in my cupboard. (What a time-saver.) This recipe, basically, takes a couple of boxes of cheesecake mix (no shame in my game) and turns them into magical, coconut-y bliss in the form of mini cheesecakes. I truly do prefer to make things from scratch in my kitchen. But, as a busy mom, wife, blogger and super hero (ha!), I, occasionally, take a little help where I can get it when I'm in a hurry (or just feeling lazy). Typically, though, if I do use a boxed mix of some sort (like cheesecake mix or cake mix), I put my own spin on things. Jazz it up. Make it my own.

For this recipe, I fancied up the crust by incorporating some crushed pretzels and coconut oil (in addition to the butter) into the crushed graham crackers included in the boxed mix. I, then, subbed in canned coconut milk in place of the regular milk. Finally, I topped the cheesecakes with toasted coconut.

When it all comes together, it is heavenly. A little saltiness is present in the crust due to the pretzel inclusion. The cheesecake is ultra creamy and luxurious with just a hint of coconut flavor. And, the toasted coconut brings amazing texture and really drives home the coconut flavor.

NOTE: I choose to utilize my muffin tins that have jumbo/king size wells. However, this could be made in traditional muffin tins, if desired. Obviously, the result would be smaller cheesecakes, but the recipe would yield a larger quantity of cakes. Additionally, this could easily be made into one large cheesecake by using a large pie pan or medium size casserole-style glass dish.

Yields 8 mini cheesecakes. (See NOTE above.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sixteen Sensational Salads to Make Before Summer Ends

For many of us, we'll soon be turning our thoughts to stews, soups, casseroles and baking as we look ahead to the cooler fall weather on the horizon. But, there's still a few weeks to savor these final hot days of summer. Don't let them slip by without pause to enjoy some warm weather pleasures. A few more chances to fire up the grill. A few more lazy moments to sip some icy, refreshing drinks on the porch. A few more weekends for friends and family to come together to eat, swim, visit and play.

I've brought together sixteen must-make salads that are a perfect way to embrace the flavors and ingredients of summer ... before it's too late. Whether you're looking for a healthful pasta salad to serve up as a side dish at your next cookout, a simple loaded salad bowl for a weeknight family dinner or a killer chicken salad to spoon into flakey croissants for lunch ... I've got you covered with this list of sensational salads.