Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Bean Chili

A couple of weeks ago, our grocery store had a display of cans of organic black beans being sold at a steep discount. The cans had apparently fallen off a truck and gotten dinged up in the process, but there was nothing wrong with the beans inside the can. Never able to resist a good deal, I picked up a few cans. The next week, I picked up a few more cans. And then the next week.

I came to have more black beans on hand than I had recipes to deal with them. So I came up with this chili recipe. The ultra lean ground beef makes this chili a healthy option, something that is, unfortunately, sorely lacking from my usual recipe repertoire. It's quick to prepare and cooks in a crockpot, perfect for busy days. Normally, with chili, I'm a dedicated kidney bean girl. However, my husband said this chili was the best I've ever made, and I've tried dozens of recipes over the years. See, the black beans falling off the truck was a sign!

  • 1 lb very lean ground beef (at least 95% lean)
  • 29 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 15oz can organic black bean, drained
  • 2 or 3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 c frozen chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
1. In medium skilled, fully cook and drain ground beef. Transfer to slow cooker (4 quart size or larger). Add all other ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours.

Source: Cats and Casseroles original recipe

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bakeware Snags

I've never been much of thrift shopper, but since starting my vintage bakeware collection, I've been regularly stalking my local Goodwill. A couple of weeks ago, I found this little cutie, a 1.5 pt Pyrex casserole. It's the Homestead print. I got it for $3.

Found this great FireKing piece at Goodwill as well. It's a 2 quart casserole dish in the Candle Glow print. I love how very 60s looking this pattern is. I snatched this up for $5.

I've been using vintage fabrics in the background for these pictures. I can't decide whether I think it's cool looking or really distracting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pecan Pie Muffins

I love the idea of pecan pie. Rich, buttery pecans resting in a sweet, syrupy cloud-- what's there not to love? Well, except the pie part, that is. I hate pie, specifically pie crust, for no other reason than I've always hated it, and no attempts to re-train my taste buds have worked. So while I love the idea of pecan pie, because I so love pecans, I have never actually eaten it. And I knew that madness had to stop. Enter pecan pie muffins.

When I needed a quick and easy recipe to whip up for my mom's volunteer group, I turned to this recipe. Almost unbelievably, these delicious muffins require only five, basic ingredients and less than ten minutes of prep work. These are not the most beautiful muffins in the world, and didn't photograph well at all, but I improved their presentation by placing each muffin in an individual sandwich baggie (in case volunteers wanted to take them home instead of eating them on the spot) and showcasing them in a nice basket. No complaints at all about how they looked. People were too busy raving about how they tasted!

  • 1 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c chopped pecans
  • 2/3 c butter, very soft (preferably left out over night)
  • 2 large eggs
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In large mixing bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, and pecans. Set aside.

3. In medium mixing bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in butter, about one tablespoon at a time, mixing well between each addition. The butter needs to be as soft as butter can be without being melted. Otherwise, combining it with the eggs will be quite a chore. If done correctly, the egg/butter mixture will look a bit like scrambled eggs.

4. Pour the egg/butter mixture into the pecan mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. Make sure to smooth out any remaining butter lumps. Pour batter into greased muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full. Each batch should yield about 10 muffins using a standard muffin pan.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow muffins to remain in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Source: Tasty Kitchen

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parmesan Italian Dressing

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my excitement about the lettuce starting to grow in my container garden. Yesterday, I was able to harvest my first salad. Aren't those greens beautiful?

Of course, a special salad deserves a special dressing. My Parmesan Italian Dressing is inspired by the delicious salad dressing my mother in law served over Easter. She bought hers at Wegmans. Since I very sadly don't live anywhere near a Wegmans, I decided to try to replicate it at home. What I came up with is not an exact copy, but it's a very tasty dressing in it's own right, and I like it at least as much as the original, if not more. The red wine vinegar in this recipe gives the dressing a nice tang, while the Parmesan adds a bit of richness.

  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2/3 c canola oil
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Whisk in the canola oil. Add vinegars in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly while doing so. Whisk in water and then the Parmesan. Pour dressing into an air-tight container. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving to allow flavors to meld together.

Source: Cats and Casseroles original recipe

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bread Machine Baguettes

Whenever we have guests for dinner, I like to make a homemade bread to go along with the meal. People really seem to appreciate the specialness of it, and it's not too much of a chore on my end, because I have a bread machine. I seriously love my bread machine. I hug it a little each night before bed.

The first time I made this recipe, I bit into a piece to taste test it and practically bounced up and down with joy, because it tasted exactly like a baguette from a bakery. I'm still a bit green to this cooking and baking thing. I get a kick when I can make things at home that taste as good, if not better, than what I've been buying from professional bakers.

  • 1 c water, at room temperature
  • 2 3/4 c bread flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp water

1. Add first five ingredients to your bread machine, using the order recommended by your machine's manufacturer. In most machines, that means you'll add the liquids first, then the dry ingredients, and finish with the yeast. I always like to sprinkle the bread flour evenly over the water, creating a floating barrier so that the other dry ingredients don't slip into the liquid. I also like to dig a little well in my dry ingredients to hold the yeast.

2. Run your machines Dough/Manual cycle.

3. Grease a large mixing bowl with a small amount of vegetable oil. When your machine has completed it's Dough/Manual cycle, remove dough ball with floured hands and place in mixing bowl. Turn dough over so that both sides get greased. Cover bowl and allow to rise someplace warm for about 30 minutes.

4. Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 16 x 12 inch rectangle (this does not need to be exact). Cut rectangle in half to make two 8 x 12 rectangles. Roll up the 12 inch side of each rectangle to create your baguette shape. Pinch the seam closed and taper the ends.

5. Place your shaped loaves on a greased cookie sheet. With a paring knife, make diagonal cuts on the top of the loaves, one every 3 inches or so. Cover baguettes and allow to rise someplace warm for about 30 minutes, or until doubled.

6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, beat together egg yolk and tablespoon water. Brush egg mixture over baguettes. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack at least 12 hours, or overnight. Baguettes are ready when they've developed a nice, hard crust.

Source: Betty Crocker Best Bread Machine Cookbook 

Thursday, May 12, 2011


What's there to say about these waffles? Other than they are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Waffles are a great throw-together-at-the-last-minute meal (or, in my case, a I-forgot-to-go-grocery-shopping-again meal), because the ingredients are all things I have hanging around my pantry. They whip up pretty fast, too. This is a great base recipe that can be tinkered and experimented with. Try adding mini chocolate chips, or bacon pieces. Express yourself!

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 c milk
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg and milk. Add in flour and beat until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, one at a time, blending well before each addition. The batter should be completely free of lumps and should have the consistency of buttermilk (not too thin, not too thick).

2. Cook waffles in accordance with your waffle maker's instructions. I have the Cuisinart waffle maker. I set my machine to it's highest setting, and pour in 1/3 c batter at a time. I get about five waffles from one batch of this recipe. Your mileage may vary.

Source: Allrecipes

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Cake

On Sunday, we had both our moms over for a special Mother's Day dinner. I'm the type of person who loves, loves planning dinner parties. I did my usual over-reaching: making fresh baguettes for the garlic bread (when no one would have minded store-bought) and developing my own salad dressing recipe just for the occasion (and making my poor husband taste test spoonfuls of it in the process). But for me, that's toned down. I stuck to making only one entree, even. That's because I wanted to make sure everyone saved room for cake. This Mother's Day dinner, the cake was the star of the show.
I've wanted to try my hand at cake decorating for a while now. I bought a few pastry tips and practiced with some cupcakes, but I've mostly avoided actual cakes up until now because it seemed so overwhelming. Fondant and gumpaste are foreign words to me. Where to even start? Then I saw this fabulous tutorial for making a rose cake and knew it would be perfect for my first decorated cake. That's because it's so deceptively simple.

I used this buttercream recipe for my cake, which I unfortunately over-whipped, causing my roses to be all air-bubbly. To get the purple color, I used a food coloring mist (like spray paint for cakes). I chose purple because it's my mom's favorite color.

Overall, it was a great dinner, and the moms loved their cake. Hope everyone out there had an excellent Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Newest Not-Collection

Did some thrift shopping over the weekend. Apparently, Amish country is a flea-market hotbed. However, in the three decades I've lived only an hour away, I've never gone. This was my first ever flea-market experience. I doubt it will be my last, though, now that I've discovered the world of vintage bake ware.

I had a vague understanding of vintage Pyrex from what I'd seen around Flickr and the blogosphere. But it wasn't until I saw it in person that I "got" it. This whole time I've been baking in drab looking metal pans and clear glass dishes, I could have been using something far prettier! I just had to come home with a couple of Pyrex pieces. I couldn't leave behind that cute little yellow Fiestaware, either. You understand.

After I came home with my pieces is when I started to do my research on vintage Pyrex (because I like to do things as backwards as possible, evidently). I couldn't find the name of the pattern on the bottom dish anywhere. I had learned that Pyrex put out promotional pieces, and it started to get into my head that maybe this pattern was super-rare, so rare as to not have been previously photographed. I started to think I was secretly a thrift-shopping genius. Then it occurred to me, the genius, to flip the dish over. The piece isn't Pyrex at all. It's Glasbake. It's still very pretty, though. I'm thinking of making a cloth insert with matching embroidery and using it as a bread dish.

The top dish was an accidental purchase. I turned it over to check the price tag, and the lid fell off and chipped a corner. The dealer felt bad for me, although he needn't, as I've come to terms with my clinical clumsiness, and he gave me a discount. It's not a piece I would have bought otherwise, but there's a bright side to that, as it gives me the confidence to actually use it.

When I saw the orange mixing bowl with the wheat stalks on it, I instantly thought of Thanksgiving and what a great serving dish this would make. I hosted the holiday for the past two years. I don't know if I'll be hosting again, but I do know this bowl will make it on to the table, even if I have to bring it with me.

The aqua-on-white mixing bowl is probably my favorite piece. This picture does not do it justice. The color is bright and fun, and it's in perfect condition. I might use it as a pretty storage bowl. It's too perfect for kitchen use.

I'm not looking to have yet another collection in the Cats and Casseroles household. But is resistance futile? I ask myself this in between thoughts imagining how great it would be to find a matching butter dish.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Creamy Black Bean Burritos

It's Cinco de Mayo, and I can't imagine a better way to celebrate than with some Mexican-inspired flavors. These burritos are the perfect solution to for any busy night. They take no more than 10 minutes to make, and are popular with kids and adults alike. I love making authentic Mexican food, and I love making food from scratch. But sometimes you just want dinner. For those times, I really enjoy this recipe.

  • 6 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 15 oz can organic black beans, drained
  • 1 10oz can diced tomatoes with green chilis (like Rotel), drained
  • 4 oz neufchatel cheese
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • romaine lettuce (optional)
1. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine black beans, Rotel, neufchatel cheese. Heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted and ingredients are well mixed. Stir in cumin and onion powder. Spoon into flour tortillas and serve with desired toppings.

I always like to top my bean mixture with a healthy handful of chopped romaine lettuce. It cuts through some of the heat, adds some freshness, and gives the burrito a welcome crunch. However, the choice is yours. Enjoy!

Source: Lemons and Love

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Brownies

A year ago, I decided on a whim to start making snacks for my husband's work group. I figured this would be a win-win-win situation. I'd get to practice baking without the end results tempting me, my husband would be the hero of his engineering group, and his co-workers would get a mid-afternoon sugar high. These brownies were one of the first things I baked for the group, and I get endless requests for them. They've almost become my signature item. If there's an occasion for me to ask "what should I bring?" there's a decent chance the answer will be "bring the brownies." I can't recommend this crowd-pleasing recipe enough.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar with melted butter. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.

3. Pour about 1/4 of the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Mix until well combined, smoothing out any lumps. Continue adding the flour mixture in batches, mixing well after each batch. You might find the batter thick and difficult to work (at least I do, but I have no arm strength). Resist the temptation to use an electric mixer. Brownies are always better when hand mixed. The results will be worth it! When flour mixture is fully incorporated, stir in chocolate chips.

4. Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. With brownies, it's very important not to over bake them. When in doubt, pull them out! Allow to completely cool before cutting. Makes 24 brownies.

Source: Allrecipes