Thursday, November 13, 2008

Crockpot Tamale Pie

First off, let me shout this out...
This makes me especially happy because I am going on a road trip to Missouri this weekend to see my snuggly-wuggly-cutie-patootie little niece who will be three years-old on Saturday.  This is my little precious right here:
Aunt Lorie can't wait to see you, sweetie!
I just can't get enough use out of my crockpot.  I love knowing that I've got an entire meal cooking and I don't have to babysit it, that way I never miss my rigorous workouts that I'm so fond of.  This recipe has been adapted from the Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook.  The ingredients will seem very watery when you mix them up, but that's okay.  In the crockpot, they will bake and form a crust that tastes similar to a tamale.  I found that it only takes about three hours on the low setting for this to be done.  Also, I have a hot spot in my crockpot.  One side cooked a little faster than the other and I would have benefited from rotating the crock.  This is not noticeable in my other crockpot meals that have more juice.
I made some slight changes to the recipe.  I decreased the meat to 3/4 pound and added a can of pinto beans.  I also added chopped onion and taco seasoning instead of chili seasoning, but either would work.

Crockpot Tamale Pie

3/4 cup cornmeal
1-1/2 cups milk
1 egg, beaten
3/4 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 envelope taco or chili seasoning
1 (14.25-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (15.25-ounce) can corn, drained
1 (14.25-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grated Colby jack or cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Chopped cilantro

  1. Combine the cornmeal, milk, and egg in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Brown the ground beef with the onion.  Drain well.  Stir into the cornmeal mixture along
    with the taco seasoning, canned tomatoes, corn, and beans.  Transfer mixture to the crock.
  3. Cover and cook on low for about 3 hours.  The top will be slightly puffy and dry looking on top.  Sprinkle with cheese and put lid on until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.  Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and some chopped cilantro.
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Friday, November 7, 2008

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

A few weeks ago, I was invited by the cafeteria staff at my husband's high school to be the guest of honor for lunch one day during National School Lunch Week.  They invited me because of my contest cooking background and they treated me like a downright celebrity.  When I walked into the cafeteria, there was a huge banner on the wall, a table for me to display some of my prizes and gifts from past cook-offs, and lots of sweet little kids to talk to.  They had also arranged for a reporter  to interview me and take a picture for the local paper. 

I'll tell you, I even got to eat lunch at the teacher's table which made me feel pretty darn important.  I wanted to thank these fine ladies for inviting me, so I made something really special for them:  Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls.

These are not just any cinnamon rolls, people.  In 2006, I was gloriously called to be a finalist in the Southern Living Cook-Off.  There were five categories, each with three contestants in it.  My category was called "Your Best Recipe" and my recipe was "Mexi-Texi Bistec Pedazos."  Competing against me was "Fantastic Foolproof Jambalaya" and "Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls."   I had to win my category in order to move on to the final round for a grand prize of $100,000.00.  Yes, one hundred thousand dollars.  Here I am on stage with Tyler Florence...

I am the one with the big, bushy hair.  Anyway...

We all three lined up on stage after our recipe demonstration, our hearts racing and Food Network filming our every facial contortion.  Tyler Florence was to my right and he opened the envelope to reveal the name of the category winner, the winner who would win $10,000 and then go on to the final round to compete for the grand prize....

"and the winner is..."


The next thing I knew, security was pulling me off of Tyler...

No, just kidding, but in the blink of an eye, it was over for me and Fantastic Foolproof Jambalaya.  We were all escorted off stage and Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls went on to win the grand prize.

Yes, these cinnamon rolls are THAT good.

Let me give you a couple of tips about making them.  First, I made the filling and the glaze a couple of days before and stored them in my refrigerator.  I let the filling come to room temperature and I heated the glaze in the microwave so it would drizzle easy.  This helped me save some time.

Also, I specifically remember Mo, one of the creators of the recipe, tell me to use a professional size 13 x 9-inch pan, which has higher sides.  The first time I made these I used a regular pan and the glaze did run over onto the bottom of my oven, so be sure to put a baking sheet underneath.  To remedy that problem this time, I cut the dough into sixteen instead of twelve.  Twelve of them I put into a disposable foil pan for the lunch ladies, and the remaining four I baked in a small springform pan.  This worked out great.  The cinnamon rolls were only slightly smaller and there was no running over of glaze.  And I had a small pan for us to enjoy at home. rolls instead of

I have to say, these melt in my mouth.  They have a subtle sweet potato flavor, so even people who may not like sweet potatoes will probably like these.  I may have to make another batch for Thanksgiving morning.  Do not leave the orange zest out!  It adds SO much flavor.  I did, however, leave the chopped pecans out of the filling this time. 

The original recipe is here.  It has directions to make them by hand and by food processor.  I don't have a food processor, so I made them using my Kitchen Aid, and wrote the directions below on how I did that.  These turned out wonderful by letting them rise in my fridge overnight.

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Adapted from Southern Living Magazine


3/4 cup melted butter

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


1 cup firmly y packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla


2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)

1 teaspoon sugar

5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons grated orange rind

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Non-stick cooking spray

  1. For the filling:  Stir together all ingredients until blended.
  2. For the glaze:  Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a light boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in cream and vanilla.
  3. For the rolls:  Stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 teaspoon sugar in a glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Combine the yeast mixture and 1/2 cup flour in the bowl of an electric mixer; mix until combined on medium speed using the paddle attachment.  Gradually add the mashes sweet potatoes, the next 7 ingredients, and remaining flour until combined.  Switch to dough hook and knead for about 4-5 minutes or until elastic and smooth.
  5. Place dough in a large bowl that has been coated with cooking spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 1 to 1 -1/2 hours or until double in bulk.
  6. Punch dough down.  Turn dough onto a well floured surface and roll into a 10 x 18-inch rectangle.  Spread the filling evenly over surface leaving a 1-inch border.  Roll up jellyroll style starting with one long side.  Cut into 12 slices and arrange in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan that has been lightly greased.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts for 30 minutes.
  7. Bake rolls at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and drizzle about 1/2 cup of the glaze over the tops, starting at edge of pan and drizzling in a circular pattern; let soak in.  Repeat with remaining glaze.
  8. Bake rolls for 7-10 minutes more or until lightly browned and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  9. Remove rolls from oven and invert onto an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.  Invert again, glaze side up onto a serving platter.  Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes.  Serve warm.
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tortilla Toffee

Like quick and easy recipes?  Me too, and I especially like this one.  I created this recipe a few years ago and it's been one of my most requested.  It's got a short list of ingredients, can be done in under forty minutes, and utilizes everyday pantry items like flour tortillas.

I like to top this quick and easy version of toffee with roasted and salted peanuts, but the sky's the limit, so use your imagination.  Sometimes I use milk chocolate chips, but this time I used semisweet.  Either one tastes delicious.

Tortilla Toffee

Non-stick cooking spray

6 fajita-size flour tortillas

1 cup butter

1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1-1/2 cups milk chocolate or semi-sweet chips

1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts

  1. Preheat ovent to 400 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil.  Lightly spray each pan with nonstick cooking spray. Lay 3 tortillas flat on each pan and bake for 12-14 minutes or until deep golden brown and crispy.  If large air pockets form, just pierce with a sharp knife, then push air out with a spatula.  Small air pockets are okay. 
  2. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt 1 cup butter, the brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon over medium to high heat until melted, stirring often.  Bring to a rolling boil and boil 3 minutes stirring constantly.  Mixture will be thick.  Remove from heat and quickly spread mixture evenly over each tortilla with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.  (Some of the mixture will run off to the pan, but that’s okay). 
  3. Bake in oven for 6 minutes or until the entire surface of each tortilla is bubbly (some of the mixture will run off of the tortillas).  Remove from oven and let stand about 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Sprinkle each tortilla with the chocolate chips divided evenly among them and let set until chips become shiny and melted.  (Tortillas can be put back in the oven for 1-2 minutes until chocolate melts.)  Spread the chocolate over each tortilla all the way to the edges, then sprinkle evenly with the peanuts and press down slightly.  Loosen the tortillas away from the toffee that ran onto the pan with a knife, if needed.  Place in freezer just until chocolate hardens.  Break each tortilla into about 2-inch jagged pieces like toffee. 

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jennifer's Italian Salad

Every time I take this salad to any get-together, it disappears within the first few minutes; everyone loves it. 

This recipe comes from one of my relatives on my husband's side of the family, Jennifer.  She always makes this salad for our family reunions and I can't get enough of it.  She shared how to make it with me a few years ago and I've been making it ever since.  Thanks, Jennifer!  You have know idea how much joy you have brought to my life by giving me this recipe.

The total cost of ingredients can be a little pricey, so this is something I usually make for special occasions.  I do, however, use a store brand of olives to cut the costs a little.  You could certainly make your own croutons with day-old bread.  Also, buying a big hunk of Parmesan cheese is usually cheaper than buying the pre-shredded kind.

Jennifer told me that the key to this salad is to use a zesty Italian dressing.  I just do what she says.

Jennifer’s Italian Salad

1 (16-ounce) bag hearts of Romaine or Italian blend lettuce

3-4 chopped Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 to 1-1/2 cups whole green olives with pimientos, drained

1 to 1-1/2 cups whole black olives, drained

1 (6-ounce) container crumbled feta cheese

3/4  to 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 small jar or about 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained

1 bag restaurant style croutons

1/2 to 3/4 cup bottled Zesty Italian dressing

  1. Place the first 8 ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss.
  2. Right before serving, drizzle with the Italian dressing and add croutons, then toss to combine.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

We like granola bars around here so I came up with my own recipe and they were a big hit.  Even though a lot of store bought granola bars claim to be healthy, I really question the nutritional value of some of the ingredients.  

I used a natural peanut butter because regular peanut butter has high fructose corn syrup in it and I'm trying to reduce our consumption.  It's difficult to find anything without it these days.   I used Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter with Honey and I really liked it.  Since I only used three tablespoons, I'm going to get a lot of batches of granola bars from my jar.  Also, I used an off-brand of just about everything else to reduce costs.

You could certainly throw in some dried fruit and change what type of nuts you use.  Next time I will probably throw in some wheat germ, too.  Mini dark chocolate chips would be great, too.  These are especially good because they've got the salty-sweet thing going on, but I'll have to admit that I had to resist the urge to dip them in chocolate. 

I like to put them in bags of two so my crew can grab a bag as they leave.

Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

2-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

3/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

4 tablespoons butter

3 heaping tablespoons natural style peanut butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Place the oats, sunflower seeds, and walnuts on baking sheet to toast for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, stirring several times.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the brown sugar, honey, butter, peanut butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and combined.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Place the oat mixture in a large mixing bowl; add the peanut butter mixture and stir to coat.
  4. Line a 9 x 9-inch pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Pack the oat mixture into the pan evenly.  Cool completely, then remove from pan and peel off the foil.  Cut into bars.
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Potato Mousse Semifreddo Torte

About three years ago when I first started entering recipe contests, I won an honorable mention in the Better Homes and Gardens monthly contest for this recipe.  I love this recipe because it's super easy and reminds me of cheesecake without all the fuss and baking.  It's got the flavors of autumn with the cinnamon and nutmeg and sweet potato, yet it is cool and creamy for those warm days we are still experiencing here in Mississippi.  The crust is nice and thick, which I love, with chopped pecans and gingersnaps.

Semifreddo means "half cold" or "partially frozen" in Italian.  Let this sit out at room temperature for about ten minutes for easy cutting.

Sweet Potato Mousse Semifreddo Torte

1-1/2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup whipping cream

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) can sweet potatoes, drained

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the crushed gingersnaps, pecans, and 3 tablespoons brown sugar; add the melted butter stirring to evenly coat.  Press into the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.
  2. Meanwhile, beat 1 cup whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon nutmeg with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the sweet potatoes.  Fold in the whipped cream.  Pour over cooled crust, spreading evenly.  Set aside.
  4. Beat the remaining 1 cup whipping cream, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg until soft peaks form; spread over the sweet potato mixture.  Cover and freeze until firm.  Makes 12-16 servings.
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Monday, October 6, 2008

Loaded Enchilada Casserole

I know there are hundreds of versions of Mexican casserole out there.  This is my version and I incorporated a few of my favorite ingredients, rice and beans, to make it a little more filling and a little more wholesome. 

As I've said before, I usually make a big batch of brown rice at the beginning of the week, so it's ready when I need to throw it into something.  I also always have several different types of canned beans, as well as dried beans in my pantry.  Beans are just plain healthy AND cheap.  And versatile.  They can be thrown into soups, stews, and casseroles.  They can be made into dips and even used in salads.

Throwing beans into my meals helps me cut down on our meat consumption.  It's not that I don't love meat--I do--but meat can be an expensive protein. 

I do usually use ground beef because of the price, but you can certainly substitute ground chuck.  When I cook my ground beef, I drain it, then I add a little hot water to the skillet and swish the meat around, then drain again.  This will really help get most of the fat and grease off the meat.

Use any type of cheese you like in this casserole.  I used Colby jack.   Don't forget to add the cilantro and lime;  they both add a lot of fresh flavor.

Loaded Enchilada Casserole

1 pound ground beef (can decrease to 1/2 or 3/4 pound)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove minced garlic or 1 teaspoon preminced

1 (10.5-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups cooked rice

1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

12 corn tortillas, quartered or torn into fourths

1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce

3 cups Colby jack cheese

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 (4-ounce) can chopped black olives, drained

About 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Lime juice for drizzling

  1. Brown the ground beef, onion and garlic in a large skillet.  Drain off grease, then stir in the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, black beans, rice, canned tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. 
  2. Place half of the tortillas in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan, then drizzle with half of the enchilada sauce evenly.
  3. Spoon half of the beef mixture on top, then half of the cheese.  Repeat layers, ending with the remaining cheese.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the cheese melts and it's bubbly. 
  5. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with the chopped tomatoes, black olives, and fresh cilantro.  Squeeze some lime juice on top.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chocolate Revel Bars

The other day I needed to make a dessert that would yield a large enough quantity to feed to a crowd at church, but also enough to bring along on a Saturday fishing trip that my husband and I were going to take.  I was thumbing through one of my favorite basic cookbooks, The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, and I came across Chocolate Revel Bars.  I have made them before, but it's been years and I had forgotten how good they are.  I know they have been done over and over again on blogs everywhere, but I think they are worth repeating here.

Chocolate Revel Bars are cheap and easy to make.  I always have chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and quick cooking oats in my pantry.  These are a substantial bars that are chewy and chocolaty, but also have a slightly crunchy texture with the oat crust and topping.  The original recipe is here.  I increased my measurements to make a huge quantity, so if you need a massive amount of bars, follow my measurements below and bake in a 12 x 17 x 1 -inch pan.

Chocolate Revel Bars

1-1/2 cups softened butter

3 cups packed light brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

4-1/2 cups quick cooking oats

2-3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (1-1/2 cans)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

3 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the butter.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the remaining butter on high speed for 30 seconds.  Add the brown sugar and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of bowl.  Beat in the eggs and 3 teaspoons vanilla.  Beat in as much of flour as you can with the mixer, then beat in remaining flour by hand.  Stir in the oats.  Press 2/3 of the oat mixture into the bottom of a 12 x 17 x 1-inch baking pan.
  2. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, the chocolate chips, and the sweetened condensed milk in a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in walnuts and 3 teaspoons vanilla.  Spread this mixture on top of the crust.
  3. Spread remaining oat mixture on top by flattening out small pieces and placing them on the chocolate filling or spooning them evenly on top.
  4. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly browned.  The chocolate filling will still look moist.  Cool on wire rack before cutting into bars.
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Aunt Thelma's Orange Carrot Cookies


A few years ago, my mother gave me a recipe that was given to her by my Aunt Thelma, my dad's sister, when I was just a little girl back in the seventies.

The recipe is handwritten on paper that has yellowed with age, and the ink has bled and ran, probably because of the shortening that has been accidentally smeared on it from the many times it has been used.  I can still remember being in my aunt's kitchen the day I first tasted these cookies. She was babysitting my sister and me and we eagerly watched as she made made them for us.  Her son, Shawn, our cousin, was also there and although I don't remember much, I do remember it being a really fun day.

This recipe is very special to me and the actual sheet of paper even more so.  I guess it's silly to be sentimental about a piece of paper, but when I look at it,  I can still see my aunt writing out the recipe along with a short note to my mother, and it takes me back to a pleasant and carefree place.  For just a moment, I am a little girl again, anxiously waiting for cookies to cool, with no concerns of failing economies and financial bail outs.  My biggest worry then was how many cookies I would be allowed to eat.

I made these cookies exactly as the recipe was written more than thirty years ago.  My daughter just loves them; I've made them for her several times.  They are soft and puffy and the only thing I changed was to add a little more orange juice to the frosting.

Aunt Thelma, if you're reading this, I hope you know how much I love you.  I think of you often and I keep you in my prayers always.  Thanks for a wonderful memory and a recipe that I can share over and over again with the people I love.

Orange Carrot Cookies

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cooked, mashed carrots

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts


1 tablespoon orange juice (or a little bit more for desired consistency)

1 cup powdered sugar

The zest of one orange

  1. Cream the shortening and sugar on medium speed; add the egg.  Add all ingredients except the nuts and beat until combined.  Stir in the nuts.
  2. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown on bottoms.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together all the ingredients for the frosting until smooth, adjusting the amount of orange juice to drizzling consistency.
  4. When the cookies are done, transfer to a wire rack that has been placed over a baking sheet.  Drizzle with the frosting and let cool completely.  About 3 dozen.

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