Mardi Gras Recipe Round Up!

  Our office tries to do fun potluck meals on occasion. One idea that we came up with last year was to try a combined Fat Tuesday/Valentine potluck. We originally called it Beads and Beaux but decided to change it to Beads and Bows after a couple confused looks. We’d been collecting recipes on Pinterest for a year so we were definitely prepared. I’ve decided to do a round up of the recipe links rather than a recipe post. For one thing, I want to be able to capture several of the recipes at one time, and second, my dish (Cajun Shrimp Dip) wasn’t very photogenic.

In choosing recipes, we joked that to make something Cajun just add Cajun seasoning and to make something Valentine themed, add red food color or cut it in a heart shape.

Here’s what we came up with:

I made Cajun Shrimp Dip. To me, it was just ok. The recipe calls for a pound of salad shrimp and the biggest bag I could find was 11 ounces. And honestly, I felt that was too much shrimp. If I were to make this again, I’d probably use an even smaller bag and cut the shrimp flavor down a bit. Or maybe use shredded or canned chicken.

Candace made Red Beans and Rice Salad. She would be the first to tell you that she overcooked her rice. Slow cookers can be fickle. Nonetheless, I thought this was a really tasty dish. I had an extra container on hand so I boxed up a portion for the next day’s lunch and I think it was even better because everything a chance to blend together.

Shelia brought in Valentine Blondies. She cut hers in a heart shape. They were very yummy and my 2 year old very much enjoyed the one I brought home to him. He loves chocolate chip cookies and these were like a thick cookie. Yum!

Rita made Maque Choux which was a new experience for all of us.  She made two versions: one with sausage and one without for the vegetarians. I liked it a lot and I think it would be really good in summer when there’s fresh corn available.

And last but not least, Sherry provided Southern Pecan Praline Cake. As one taster said, “Lord have mercy!”. I think that sums it up pretty well.

It was a good meal and gave us a chance to step out of our culinary comfort zones and try some new recipes.

 

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Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings 

I don’t know that any dish represents good old Kentucky country cooking like chicken and dumplings do. Few foods bring out the excitement in people that a good pot of dumplings can. Dumpling making can be intimidating, and I admit that it’s not something I’ve tried very often. When I’d see recipes for slow cooker chicken and dumplings, I’d usually just scroll on by because, well, there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

A few weeks ago, my hair stylist told me about her recipe for slow cooker dumplings. “You’ll probably laugh,” she said. “You being a southern girl and all.” (She’s a Yankee, bless her heart.) But it sounded so good, and I had all of the ingredients on hand so I decided to try it.

I browsed Pinterest briefly for a couple of recipes just to make sure I remembered the recipe right and to look for any helpful hints. The recipe I followed was probably most like this one although I omitted the onion (what? onion in dumplings?) and adjusted the cooking speed (more on that later).

Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings  

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2 Tablespoons Butter
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast (or 6 skinless chicken thighs)
2 cans of Cream of Chicken Soup
2 small packages Grands Jr biscuits (10 biscuits)
flour for dusting
cooking spray
Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray then add chicken, butter, and soup. Add enough water or broth to cover the chicken up. I halved this recipe. For the water, I used the soup can for measurement, and it took about a can and a half. Use your best judgement based on how much chicken you use and how big your cooker is. Cook on low for 8 hours.
About a half hour before serving, start working on your dumplings. Prepare a floured surface to roll the biscuit dough on. In the comments of one of the recipes I read, I found this GENIUS tip. Spritz a little water on your counter top then lay down piece of wax or parchment paper. The paper will stay put and you can throw the mess away when you are done.

Then roll out each biscuit to flatten it. How flat should you go? Well, it depends on how fluffy you like your dumpling. Cut the flattened biscuits into pieces. The sizes do not have to be consistent. Make sure you give the pieces a little toss in the flour to get them coated. The flour will keep them from sticking.

Remove the lid of your cooker-watch out for steam-and shred your chicken into the desired sized pieces with two forks. Give it a good stir. Drop the dumplings on top of the hot chicken.

Now, my mom always told me to never, ever stir dumplings. I take this as the gospel so I didn’t stir these either. Instead, I held the handles of the slow cooker and gave it a gentle shake to make sure that all the dumplings were touching the liquid. Then I turned the speed up to High and let the dumplings cook for 30 minutes, giving them that gentle shake every 10 minutes or so. I have no idea if this helped or hurt, I’m just telling you what I did.

The end result? I thought they were ok. Not as good as Mom’s or Cracker Barrel but then I knew they wouldn’t be. There are a couple of things I would do differently. I would add more liquid. I would also use a plain biscuit flavor. Mine was butter flavor and it was a little strong. I will probably make these again because while they weren’t like homemade ones, they weren’t bad either and would be a good week night dish.

From the Freezer to the Slow Cooker: Beef Tortellini

You have no doubt seen the many, many posts on social media about “freezer cooking”-mixing up ingredients ahead of time, often in large quantities then cooking them in a slow cooker. I have always been skeptical of these posts and recipes partly because they often involve the word “dump”.

“Just dump it all in a freezer bag! Then dump it all in a slow cooker!”

Sounds so appetizing. NOT.

In addition to my skeptical view of the recipes, I don’t have a stand-up freezer as ours died during the great ice storm of 2009. So there’s that.

Months ago, I was talking to a group of ladies at work and we were having the “I-Would-Eat-Better-If-Someone-Would-Cook-My-Dinner-Each-Night” conversation when the topic of freezer cooking came up. Turns out that many of them practice it, and they were fans. Still skeptical, I thought  maybe they don’t know good food. But I started looking for recipes.

I found the site New Leaf Wellness through Money Saving Mom and it was this post on kid friendly freezer meals that made me take the plunge. Not only was I intrigued, I was excited!

“I’m going to try freezer cooking!” I gleefully announced to my friend Candace.

“Is that where you fix like 72 meals in 7 hours?”

“Why yes! It is!”

I didn’t go that gung ho. I picked out 3 to start with and ended up only preparing 2 so far. I also fixed them individually instead of having an all-at-once freezer bag packing frenzy.

The first one that I actually prepared was Cheesy Beef Tortellini. I’ll share the recipe then the results.

Cheesy Beef Tortellini

Original post from New Wellness is here.

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 (19-ounce) package refrigerated three cheese tortellini
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (you’ll need this the day of cooking)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (you’ll need this day of cooking)

You will need a gallon freezer bag. Make sure it’s actually made for freezing and not just storage. Baggie people are sly. Prepare a label for your bag. If you sign up with New Leaf’s mailing list, you get a PDF of her very nice printable labels. Or you can just make your own using any kind of paper at your disposal. You’ll want to write the date that you made your freezer meal so you’ll know exactly how long it’s been in the freezer.

Once your bag is prepped, toss everything except tortellini and cheese into it.  Squeeze out as much air as you can then seal it up and freeze. I froze my package of tortellini alongside of the meat. So, they could get to know each other.

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The prep time here was under 10 minutes.

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The night before you plan to cook the dish place it and your tortellini in the refrigerator to thaw. The next morning empty the bag of meat and tomatoes into the slow cooker. Don’t add your tortellini yet. Cook on low for about 8 hours. Then, stir the sauce and break up the meat. Mine was still in some pretty big pieces. Add in your tortellini and the cheese. Cover and let cook for another 15 to 30 minutes until the tortellini is hot and the cheese is gooey.

Like this:

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Yes, it’s that good looking. Take another peek. IMG_2989

Served up with some steamed broccoli.IMG_2990The verdict: DELICIOUS!!! If all my freezer cooking experiments go this well, then I’m a convert. And my 20 month old son cleaned his plate too.

Based on this, I can understand why freezer cooking is so popular among busy people. I can’t wait to experiment more.

Found on Pinterest: Hits and a Sort of Miss

I have hundreds of recipes pinned on Pinterest. I almost considered throwing down an ultimatum to myself: No more new recipe pins until I have tried a dozen of what I already have pinned. But then I thought, what if I miss a great recipe by doing that? Better not chance it.

I have tried a few new things lately though that I will share with you. I didn’t take pictures of all of them but I will provide links to the original recipes.

First up is Slow Cooker Beef Stew. I’ve actually made this one twice and I have a hankering for it again soon. So, obviously I liked it very much. My husband liked it too (so did his mom), and it was tender enough to feed my toddler. I can see it being a regular menu item here for fall and winter. I did the prep work the night before then tossed it in the slow cooker that morning before work. It was awesome to come home to a delicious, hot meal.

Next is, Mexican Beef Over Cornbread. I didn’t actually find this one on Pinterest but rather through a Pinterest inspired fashion blog that I’m COMPLETELY obsessed with called Pinterest Told Me To. I didn’t follow this recipe to the letter, I omitted the pepper and onion. Instead of serving it over cornbread, I served it over homemade cheese enchiladas. It was very similar to my husband’s favorite dish at our local Mexican restaurant called Enchiladas Rancheros. In fact, he said I nailed it! The meat would also be great in burritos, or for taco salad, and her cornbread suggestion would be good too since it’s kind of a Mexican beef stew.  Another one that I’ll be making again for sure.

I was less impressed by Crockpot Chicken Stroganoff. While the comment on the Pin said it was “to die for” I was less impressed. Maybe my expectations were too high. I had pinned this one a couple of years ago but had sort of avoided it since it contains dry soup mix and canned soup and I generally avoid those processed foods. However, having a busy toddler has knocked me off my clean food high horse and I’m more willing to try anything that will make dinner time easier. I found this to be just a bit too salty for me. Also, since my slow cooker doesn’t have a timer, I had to cook it a couple of hours longer than the recipe suggested. That could have made my sauce much thicker than that of other commenters who raved about the yummy sauce. It wasn’t horrible but with so many other things to try, this probably won’t be repeated.

Have you found anything great on Pinterest lately?