Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

I love soup.  I love baked potatoes.  So it's no surprise that I really love loaded baked potato soup.  It's really easy to make and doesn't take very long.  The recipe below is adapted from The Pampered Chef - they want you to make it all in the microwave, and you can do that, but know that it won't save you any time.  I made mine on the stove because I don't actually have a big enough dish that's microwave safe! (the one thing I don't like about melamine).

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

  • 3 large baking potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 cups milk (more if you boil potatoes in milk)*
  • 4 oz cream cheese*
  • 2 Tbsp butter*
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded*
Optional toppings:
  • green onions, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • additional cheese
  • bacon, crumbled*
  • sour cream*
  • whatever else you put on a baked potato!
*To make this recipe low-fat, use fat-free milk, nonfat or reduced fat cream cheese, and a low-fat spread with no trans fat (if it says "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredients, throw it away!).  Also either eliminate sour cream and bacon, or use turkey bacon and low-fat or nonfat sour cream.  And if you can find it, Weight Watchers has reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (or maybe it's a Mexican blend; I can't remember).

1. Boil and mash potatoes (takes about 20 minutes).
2. While potatoes are cooking, whisk cream cheese until smooth, then slowly add 3 cups milk and continue to whisk until smooth.
3.  Once you've mashed your potatoes, add milk mixture and butter and heat, stirring until smooth (it will be very thin, but don't worry).
4.  Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.
5.  Serve with whatever toppings you want! 

Note that you can add salt and pepper to the whole pot, but I never do - just like with my turkey chili, I know that no matter how much salt or pepper is already in the recipe, my husband and I always add more.  Plus, when it comes to salt, you get the most bang for your buck when you add it right at the end.  So try making this recipe without any salt and you'll find out that you really don't need very much (if any - I didn't add salt to my last bowl and I didn't miss it).

Try it!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Paleo Pork Roast

Okay, so I definitely don't live on the Paleolithic diet.  I just found this recipe on Pinterest and it looked good, so I tried it.

The recipe is pretty simple:

  • 1 pork tenderloin (I just used a petite pork roast so the result wasn't as fall-apart tender but it still tasted delicious)
  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (the recipe calls for natural sodium-free chicken stock; I used low sodium)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
Combine the spices and rub them on the pork.  Combine the veggies, put half in your crockpot, making a "nest" for the tenderloin.  Place the seasoned pork in the crockpot, top with the rest of the veggies, and pour the chicken stock over all.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Now, considering that the Paleo diet is supposed to consist only of foods that can be hunted/fished or gathered, I think the inclusion of salt and chicken stock is a bit of a stretch, as is opting for garlic and onion powder rather than pure garlic and onion (I don't even have onion powder in my house, so instead I added about 1/2 chopped onion to the vegetables.  You can probably use a couple cloves of garlic instead of garlic powder (if you cut it into thin slices, then cut slits in your meat, you can insert the garlic slices into the slits and it will season the meat).  But like I said, I don't follow the Paleo diet, so I don't care how accurate it is (if you're interested in the Paleo diet, there is plenty of information available online, but I would research the pros and cons because a lot of dietitians and even anthropologists are critical of the contemporary Paleo diet).

Despite the beautiful picture, I wasn't totally sure how this recipe would turn out because I don't like celery or peppers.  But I know they're really good for you so I figured it was worth a shot.  And guess what?  it was delicious!  Granted, my husband won't eat the vegetables, but he likes the pork at least.  And in this case, I don't mind that he doesn't like the vegetables because roasted carrots are pretty much my favorite thing on earth.  When I lived at home, I had to compete with my dad and little brother over who got the most, but now I can have them all to myself unless I cook them a certain way that Justin likes.

If you use low-sodium or sodium-free chicken stock, this is a great recipe without a ton of salt.  And because pork is leaner than beef, this is a great low-fat alternative to chuck roast (plus it's cheaper).  I will definitely be making this again in the future.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Cupcakes

Happy Mother's Day!  I love my mom, and I love making presents rather than buying them, and I love baking, and my mom loves chocolate.  Add it all together and you get cupcakes!

 A few months ago I came across these adorable cupcakes on Pinterest:

Those tiny little roses are too cute!  I had to try them.

I had never made or even worked with fondant before so I was a little hesitant.  I mean, I didn't even know what fondant was made out of.  Fortunately, there is a super simple and super cheap way to make fondant, and it happens also to be super delicious.  Instead of using shortening and powdered sugar, which tastes about as gross as it sounds, you use marshmallows and powdered sugar - yum!

I'm going to write out the basic recipe, then give a link to a more detailed recipe that gives a lot more instruction on how to work with fondant (which if I had read it, I probably would have had an easier time!).

Basic marshmallow fondant recipe:

  • One large package mini marshmallows (my recipe said 16 oz, another said 21 oz, and the bags at the store were either 10 or 20 oz, so I think it doesn't really matter that much)
  • 2 lb powdered sugar (one large bag)
  • water
  • food coloring
Melt the marshmallows in a double-boiler with a few tablespoons of water (you can also put them in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring them every 30 seconds until melted).  Add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the powdered sugar and stir until combined (you may need to add a little bit more water).  Then knead the rest of the powdered sugar in.  Very important: this stuff is sticky so keep your hands and kneading surface dusted with powdered sugar.  Alternatively, you can grease your hands and kneading surface with Crisco, but according to the in-depth recipe below, as well as my own experience, greasy fondant is harder to work with.

Add your food coloring and continue to knead until the fondant is smooth and firm - about 5-7 minutes.  Ta-da!  (Taste it - it's yummy)

That's the bare-bones idea so you can see that it's not really very complicated.  But you should also read this recipe because it gives more instruction and details.

Anyway, so I tried making the tiny rosebuds, and considering that it was my first time ever working with fondant, I think I did pretty well.  I couldn't get them as tiny or delicate as the ones in the picture, but again, I think this was partly because I used Crisco instead of powdered sugar to keep the fondant from sticking.  Next time I will try powdered sugar and see how it goes!

I frosted the cupcakes with buttercream frosting (Betty Crocker recipe - I hate store-bought frosting) before putting the fondant on.  I was surprised at how easily the fondant stayed on the frosting, even after the frosting had set (homemade buttercream frosting turns hard after a while).  The fondant flowers also sort of stuck to each other so I didn't have any trouble keeping them on the cupcake - which was fortunate, because the cupcakes felt a little top-heavy!

Making those little rolled flowers takes a lot of time.  I didn't have all night, so for half my cupcakes I used a cookie cutter to make a simpler flower.

I think they look really cute together!

It's fun to experiment, and I think overall this was a success.  I am excited to work with fondant again!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pizza Casserole

This is another recipe I got from Facebook so I'm not sure what the source is.  I have a goal to make one new recipe each week, and this week I thought Pizza Casserole sounded fun and interesting!  Below is the recipe I found, but I made some modifications to it.

Pizza Casserole:
1 (16 ounce) package uncooked rotini pasta - I used shells because that's what I had; anything works
1 lb ground Italian sausage - I used ground turkey (much lower in fat) and added salt, pepper, and Greek seasoning (my husband's favorite seasoning)
1 (24 ounce) jar pasta sauce
1 (16 ounce) container cottage cheese (I used 2% rather than 4% milkfat - do they make nonfat cottage cheese?)
1 (2 1/4 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained (I used chopped olives)
1 (4 ounce) can mushrooms, drained (I omitted this because I wasn't sure my husband would like the olives, so I didn't want to press my luck!)
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (I accidentally got monterey jack at the grocery store)
2 (3 ounce) packages sliced pepperoni (I used turkey pepperoni, and less than 1 package probably)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13 casserole dish.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place pasta in the pot, cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente, and drain.

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage until evenly brown, drain grease. Mix in the cooked pasta and pasta sauce. Pour into prepared casserole dish.

In a bowl, mix the cottage cheese, olives, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

Spoon the cheese mixture over the sausage and pasta mixture. Top with pepperoni slices.

Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until bubbly and lightly browned.

My husband's exact words: "It was awesome!"