Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole

Every year for Christmas we usually have some sort of sweet item, like a danish or cinnamon rolls. This year I felt like trying something new and made a breakfast casserole. 

I was inspired by's recipe for a "Bacon Breakfast Bake", but I tweaked it to make it more my own and to suit our tastes a little better. The beauty of a recipe like this is that you can basically make it however you want as long as you have the base ingredients: eggs and tater tots. You can pick your own cheese, veggies and meat. 

Now I have to say that this dish is absolutely delicious. My family raved over it and we plowed through 3/4 of a 13x9 pan of casserole goodness on Christmas morning. I made it again today since the guys were out shoveling snow and again we took down almost the entire pan. It's addictive and cheesy and satisfying. My dad had three dad rarely has more than one serving of anything...I knew at that point I had a winner!

So whether it's a special holiday morning or just a cold day of shoveling snow, this dish is sure to satisfy the hungriest appetite. And it makes great leftovers!

Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole

3/4 Bag of Tater Tots (32 oz Bag)
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, Chopped
3/4 Bag of Frozen Broccoli Cuts (16 oz Bag)
Salt and Pepper For Seasoning
1/4 cup Water
1 lb Bacon
1 Dozen Eggs
1 1/2 cups Milk
8 oz Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Shredded

1) Bake tater tots according to package instructions. Remove from oven when crispy and place in the bottom of your 13 x 9 casserole dish. Season the tater tots with salt and pepper, then set aside.

2) In a medium sized saute pan, heat up the olive oil. Add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes over medium heat then add the broccoli. Season with salt and pepper. Add the water and cover the pan to let the broccoli soften. Cook for about 5 minutes then remove cover and let water cook off the rest of the way over medium-high heat. Once water is gone remove onions and broccoli to a bowl and set aside.

3) Cook the bacon either in the oven or a frying pan. I like to bake mine since it eliminates some mess. I bake mine on two sheet trays in a 425 degree F oven until crispy. Once the bacon is crispy drain on a paper towel then crumble when cool enough to touch. Set aside.

4) In a large bowl crack the dozen eggs and add milk. Whisk until well combined like you're making scrambled eggs. Add the cheese to the eggs and whisk together. Set aside and begin the assembly of the casserole.

 -Add the broccoli and onion mixture on top of the tater tots. 

 -Next sprinkle the bacon on top of the broccoli and onion mixture.

-Last pour the egg and cheese mixture over the top of everything. The cheese will settle on the top of the casserole.

5) Cover the casserole with foil and bake at 350 degree F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 10 minutes uncovered. 

The cool thing about this is you can't even tell that it's tater tots. Everything cooks together and makes for a hearty, belly warming dish. I recommend making more that one casserole if serving a this house that one pan only serves four! But in an "average" household it could probably serve at least 6. Like I said though, it makes amazing leftovers so even if you made too much it will get eaten!

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Snowy Night and Beef Empanadas

We are getting our first real snow of the season and I'm loving it. Snowy weather makes me want to stay in and be cozy and warm. It also makes me wants to cook. 

It's snowing!
 One thing you should know, my boyfriend is Puerto Rican and since we began dating I've had to learn a whole new world of foods and cooking. He loves his mama's cooking, so I had to make sure I got the key essentials down..rice (still working on that), pork chops, and empanadas. The empanadas I learned first and mastered quickly. They are something he wants pretty often...and honestly I do too. They are such a good meal or appetizer or can eat them for breakfast even. What? Don't judge me.

I love making these empanadas, they are seriously so easy. If you can make tacos then you can make these. The beef mixture basically cooks up the same as taco meat would and the only slightly time consuming part is putting the emapandas together with the meat and dough. Then you fry them and enjoy! The key when frying though is to have your oil hot enough. Today while shopping for some pre-snowstorm goodies I stumbled upon a candy / fry thermometer for $3.99..I figured since it was so cheap I would give it a shot. What a difference it made! I use to wing it and hope for the best when frying. This time everything came out perfect since I was able to see that the oil was actually hot. 

This recipe is not a traditional recipe, but more my version of it. There are certain seasonings that I can't eat due to there being MSG in them, so I have created my own version. Don't worry though this is Early Bird Baker tested, boyfriend APPROVED!

 Beef Empanadas

1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 Small Onion, finely diced
3/4 lb Ground Beef
1 1/4 T Goya Adobo Seasoning
1/2 cup Goya Tomato Sauce
1 Pack Goya Discos (Not the orange ones)
Oil For Frying

1) Using a medium sized saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove onions from pan and set aside. Turn the heat up to medium-high and brown the ground beef. Season the browned beef with the Adobo seasoning and tomato sauce, mix together well then let simmer about 5 minutes. Drain the meat mixture then combine with the onions, set aside to let cool a little.

2) In a medium to large sized pot, something you normally would fry in, fill it with about 1 1/2 inches of frying oil (I use canola). These fry one side at a time. Over medium heat bring the oil to 350 degrees F. 

3) While waiting for the oil to heat, begin to assemble your empanadas. Take one disco and lay it flat on a cutting board or counter. Place 1 1/2 -2 tablespoons of beef filling onto one half of the disco, fold the dough in half and crimp the edges with a fork. This will ensure that no filling gets out while frying.

4) Once the oil is hot you can begin to fry the empanadas. I fry no more than three at a time, you don't want your oil to cool down too much. When they are frying you are looking for a golden brown color and tiny, crispy bubbles on the dough. This means your oil is hot enough and they are ready to flip to the second side. Once the second side is golden brown with tiny bubbles, remove to a paper towel lined plate and let drain. 

You can eat these with sour cream or just as is. I suggest making a double batch of these as they go quickly and it's hard to only eat one or two. They also make a good pot luck dish or tailgating item. Really they are just good any time for anything!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Spinach Stuffed Shells

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your time with loved ones whatever your plans this evening may be. Tonight I am cooking dinner for our family. We've never been big Christmas Eve celebrators, we always did everything on Christmas day. However since I've gotten older I felt like it was important to do something nice on Christmas Eve, like having a delicious dinner. 

 Stuffed shells are one of those easy go-to dishes that you can cook and people can eat as they like. I love them. I had never really made them before this year, something about them daunted me, but I decided to give them a shot this fall and was very happy with how they came out. I bump up my recipe with onion and garlic and spinach. Then coat them in a meat sauce so they are hearty and filling. Perfect dinner for a cold winter night, especially Christmas Eve.

 We are expected to get a couple of inches of snow tomorrow. I am hoping and praying for a white Christmas. I can't tell you the last time we had one here. It would just make my entire year! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and receives all the goodies they wished for. I personally would love world peace and for a gift on the smaller side I asked "Santa" for a KitchenAid stand mixer. I enjoy imagining all that I could make with a stand mixer...oh the possibilities!

Spinach Stuffed Shells With Meat Sauce

1 Box Jumbo Shells
1 T Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, Diced Small
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Fresh Baby Spinach
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
32oz Ricotta Cheese
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper To Taste
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 1/2 Jars, Tomato Sauce of Choice
1 1/2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded

1) Cook jumbo shells according to instructions on box. Boil for about 10 minutes or until al dente (slightly firm). Drain, separate any shells that are stuck together, set aside.

2) In a medium sized saute pan heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the spinach mixture to a strainer or colander and squeeze the water out of it. Place on a cutting board and chop up with a knife. This will ensure that there are no big stem pieces and every thing will distribute evenly in the ricotta.

3) Using the same pan that you used for the spinach mixture brown your ground beef on medium-high heat. Once all the way browned, drain the meat and place back in pan. Add the full jar of tomato sauce to it. Leave on low on the burner.

4) In a large bowl place the ricotta cheese, spinach mixture, eggs, and Parmesan cheese. Stir until very well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

5) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a large casserole or lasagna pan, coat the bottom of the pan with the other half of the jar of tomato sauce. Fill your shells with about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and lay them in the pan. Once the pan is full, cover the shells with the meat sauce and then the shredded mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and turn heat up to 385 degrees and cook for 15 minutes more to let the edges brown and get a little crispy. Enjoy!

*When I make these it doesn't use every single shell from the box, but I find it easier to cook the whole thing rather than guess how much I might need. Also you may need to over flow into a second pan of shells, I always do, so make sure to spread out your sauce and cheese accordingly. 

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tex-Mex "Lasagna"

I don't know about you, but I love a good Tex-Mex dish, especially in casserole form. When the weather is cold and dreary the go-to dinner options in our home are casseroles, soups and stews or a good roast. Anything that warms you up and can be put into one pan or pot and be done is what I'm talking about!

My Tex-Mex "Lasagna" was born out of our love of the flavors of Tex-Mex or Mexican food and the fact that we were tired of tacos. This delicious casserole style dish is made with layers of corn tortillas, savory ground beef, cheese, beans and some other tasty ingredients. It's the perfect "man meal" boyfriend often eats more than one piece and then brings it to work the next day for lunch. The leftovers are even better the next day!

When assembling the "lasagna", have all of your components ready in their separate bowls. This will make the assembly process much more quick and efficient. 

Tex-Mex "Lasagna"

1 T Olive Oil
2 Small Onions, diced
2 Garlic Cloves, grated or minced
2 (4 oz.) Cans Green Chiles
2 lbs. Ground Beef
2 Packs Reduced Sodium Taco Seasoning
1 1/2 cups Water
15 oz. Can Black Beans, rinsed
16 oz.  Mild Salsa
8 oz. Container of Sour Cream 
24 Small Corn Tortillas
3 cups Colby Jack Cheese, shredded

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

2) In a large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the green chiles and cook until heated through. Remove to a bowl and set aside. 

3) Turn heat up to medium-high and using the same pan brown the ground beef. Once completely browned, drain and return to pan. Add in the taco seasoning packets and the 1 1/2 cups water. Cook until all meat is coated in the sauce and thickened, as if you are making tacos. Turn off heat and set aside.

4) In a medium sized bowl combine the black beans, salsa and sour cream. Set aside. Grate your cheese if not pre-grated and set aside.

5) Using a 13 x 9 cake pan or casserole dish begin the assembly process (I made three total layers). On the bottom place a couple tablespoons of the onion and chile mixture. Next layer will be six corn tortillas (it's okay if they over lap), then the ground beef, onion and chile mixture, black bean and salsa mixture, top with cheese. Repeat layering process two more times, but on the last layer don't use the cheese on the bean and salsa mixture. Instead use the last six tortillas and then cover those in the rest of the cheese. Like here:

6) Cover the "lasagna" with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Then increase oven temperature to 400 degrees, remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing. This made 12 good sized portions.

Serve this up with a small green salad and a dollop of guacamole and you will be in Tex-Mex bliss. I also recommend a slice of fresh lime on the side and maybe a margarita...or two!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Apple Cider Snickerdoodles

Apple Cider Snickerdoodles

When it comes to Snickerdoodles I think everyone has their favorite recipe. Whether it's been passed down for generations or something new that you whipped up in the kitchen, the amount of variations are endless. I decided to look up what makes a Snickerdoodle, a Snickerdoodle and the one factor that gives it that special difference compared with your average sugar cookie is the cinnamon and sugar on the outside. It also contains cream of tartar which helps in the leavening process. Outside of these things there really are no limits to what you can do to with a Snickerdoodle. 

Apple Cider Snickerdoodles

2 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
2 tsp Cream of tartar
2 tsp Baking soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
2 sticks Unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Sugar
2 egg Yolks
1/2 cup Apple cider
1 tsp Vanilla

For rolling the cookies in:
1/4 cup Sugar
1 T Cinnamon 

1) In a medium sized bowl, place all the dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda). Stir to combine and set aside.

2) In a separate larger bowl, using a hand mixer (or you can do this in a stand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolks and vanilla, mix until incorporated. Add apple cider and mix until combined.

3) Combine the dry ingredients with the wet and mix until a soft dough forms. Dough will be a little loose. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before baking.

4) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix extra cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.

5) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Place on sheet pan about 2 inches apart, they will spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes, edges will be golden and center will be puffy. Let sit on sheet pan for about 5 minutes then remove to rack to cool completely. The centers will fall while cooling which will give you a flatter, chewier cookie.  

Coming up with this recipe was a lot of fun. Experimenting in the kitchen is what I love best and finding ways to make something better is even more gratifying. When reading through Snickerdoodle recipes I noticed that a lot of them called for a combination of shortening and butter. I opted to use just butter because I like the flavor of butter and  think it makes a lighter more tender cookie. Plus when can you go wrong with all butter?! Now I know you're wondering where the apple cider came in, well quite frankly I had some in my fridge and wanted to use it up. I knew it would impart sweetness and acidity, but it would also add moisture so I had to adjust my other ingredients to compensate for it. In the end, removing the egg whites and bumping up the baking soda did the job fabulously! What you end up with is a flavorful cookie with crispy edges and a tender, chewy middle. They have a floral-ish, apple scent while baking and the sweetness of the cider comes out when you eat them. There isn't an overwhelming cider taste, but that was fine with me. I had the thought though that you could mull the cider before adding it to the recipe and it would be even BETTER! That's a cookie for a later blog.

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