I have, somewhere in my notebook of personal recipes that I love, one I used to make often for stuffed tomatoes. I LOVE that recipe, and it’s easy to make, and someday I probably will share it with you… but I haven’t made it in a LONG time because the Joy Makin’ Mister does NOT like tomatoes. At all. So I needed to stuff a different vegetable and I thought…well, what about an onion? They’re big… juicy… flavorful… and they handle being roasted well. I haven’t ever tried stuffing zucchini for the simple reason that I think zucchini does best with just enough cooking, and stuffing it and then trying to make sure the stuffing is hot and the zucchini isn’t overdone sounds like something that would make me a candidate for Pinterest Fails. I’ll leave it to the pros. (Unless you have a hot tip for me? Let me know.) The answer is YES, you can stuff an onion. And it’s not as hard as you might think.
After I sliced off a small piece from the bottom to give it a flat base, and a bigger piece from the top to be the opening, I hollowed out my onion. I used a sharp-tipped paring knife and cut around the outside edge in a circle, about one onion ring in from the edge. Then I made cuts out from the center like the spokes of a wheel, and then I worked out from the center in a series of diagonal cuts until all the onion inside was removed, and I had a hollow, flat bottomed onion ready to take the stuffing. If I were in a hurry, I would have made a straight cut almost all the way across the bottom like a flap, and then cut down the part of the onion I was going to stuff on one side only, so I could extract the contents and then pushed everything back together… but I might have had to wrap them in foil afterwards to keep them from coming to pieces in the oven, and I decided not to get involved. Maybe next time I make these I’ll be in the mood for a surprise and I’ll give it a try… or maybe not.
The cute little casserole I found at the thrift store coincidentally is a perfect fit… but you can stand your onions in any baking dish or even on a cookie sheet. Depending on the size of your onions, the stuffing recipe may yield more than you need. You can bake any extra stuffing right in a casserole dish alongside the onions.
The finished onions look beautiful and fancy when you serve them, and no one will guess that they were basically no trouble at all to make.
This recipe doubles well. Make one batch for now, and one for the freezer. You can freeze the onions pre-stuffed, or freeze the stuffing and then thaw it and stuff your onions before baking. Both ways work! Just separate the layers of stuffed onions with parchment paper before freezing and you can take them straight from the freezer to a baking dish.
6 large onions (hollowed, reserve 1 cup chopped onion for stuffing and save the rest for another use.)
1 cup pearl barley
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground chicken
1 4 oz can mushrooms, chopped
8 ounces reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled
½ of a 10.75 oz can condensed tomato soup
½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
`1/2 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup matchstick carrots
¼ cup parsley flakes
Combine broth and barley and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook 45 minutes or until tender but still holding their shape. Drain any excess broth and set barley aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray your baking dish with non stick spray or olive oil mister.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the garlic and reserved onion until the onion is translucent. This takes about 3-5 minutes. Add chicken and brown thoroughly. Drain.
Combine barley, chicken, mushrooms, feta, soup, chili powder, carrots, salt, pepper, and parsley flakes in a large mixing bowl.
Arrange onions on baking dish and fill, mounding stuffing slightly above tops of the onions.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the tops are browned and they are sizzling.
I have featured my bottom of the line, workhorse 4 quart slow cooker in my photos so often that I have occasionally thought maybe I should get a new one just so you guys would have something new to look at. I kept using it even after the original handle broke off- I just picked up an orphaned lid from the thrift store and turned it into the Frankenstein’s Monster of slow cookers. (A nice perk is that the new handle is much easier to grab, so I don’t worry as much about dropping the lid. It also doesn’t get as hot. I’m dangerously close to advising you to void your warranty by modifying your cooker with off-list parts… I’ll stop before I get us all into trouble.) If I need any further credentials regarding my expertise in the world of slow cooking, well… I don’t have much to offer you except that I’ve been a dogged fanatic for almost 16 years now.
The news says they are making a “come back.” The theory is that the recession has led to fewer restaurant meals, and so the ease and convenience of the slow cooker is leading us all right back to it. Combine that with new demographics discovering the joy of entertaining, and slow cooker sales are booming. I am not surprised they are popular, but I confess I WAS surprised to hear they are “back.” I hadn’t realized they were ever gone. It would be impossible, in my opinion, to overstate the convenience they offer. Whether your household is DINK, WAHM, SAHM, SAHD, or one crazy cat lady, that slow cooker is a simple, inexpensive, hands off way to make sure dinner is ready when you are hungry. (And I have used mine in every situation but SAHD. YES, my crazy cat lady credential arrived early in life. DEAL WITH IT.)
That’s why I am so excited to have in my hot little hands a review copy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes: 200 Recipes by Donna-Marie Pye. I think most of us look for similar things in a cookbook- ease of use, which means good organization, eye candy/food porn (PICTURES, okay?), and whether our family will eat the food. That last one is kind of a deal breaker… if it’s just got pretty pictures of food no one here will eat? I’ll browse it in the book store but it’s not going to live on my shelf. (Ok, maybe my virtual shelf? I could see having an e-cookbook just for the pretty pictures, but actual shelf space is at a premium around here.)
If you would like to do more than the “add a can of this” type of slow cooking, you’ll appreciate this book. Moving beyond soups and stews, this book not only offers recipes for a wide variety of dishes, it includes helpful ingredient hints, like how to cook with a tomatillo. I’ve never touched a tomatillo, but I may just make it a point to go there now that someone has brought it up. (Why have I never done that, you ask? Because you cook with what you can get your hands on, and I can honestly say I don’t remember ever seeing one in the small town I lived in before moving to the metro area I now call home. After 11 years, you get into habits, ok?) As you can see from the sample images I’ve included (with permission from the publisher, of course), it does indeed include attractive, full color, full page photos to make you drool while you plan your menu.
Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes is organized by main ingredient or type of dish. The second to last chapter (right before desserts- my personal favorite) is called “Double Duty Dinners.” This section is devoted to meals you crock cook the first night, and then transform into something totally different the second night. Cook once (-ish, or and-a-half) and eat twice. I like it. This is a great idea for busy families, particularly since this type of forward planning tends to help you with your time budget and your money budget, both. Also, the size of slow cooker needed for each recipe is noted at the top of the recipe, so there will be no ugly surprises after you start cooking.
Much as I would like to have made (and eaten!) every one of these 200 recipes before writing about this book- and I did work up an appetite while I was reading them all- it would take weeks or months for me to do that. I did have a hard time picking just a couple to try, because a great many of these pass the “will my children eat this” test, and even more of them pass the “will I put the children to bed early so my husband and I can eat this in peace” test. In the end, I decided to test drive one of the Double Duty dinners, and I got permission from the publisher to share three of the recipes with you, so you can try them yourself.
I enlisted some help and JMM Danette Z and I tested some of the recipes from this book. We are pleased to report that the directions are easy to follow, the cooking times are accurate, and the recipes come out as they are supposed to. Like always, we got mixed reviews from our families depending on what we chose… but trying something new is always fun, and adding even three or four new slow cooker favorites to the family rotation means three more nights a month when I can set dinner up when I have time, and eat it when it’s ready! I’m in!
• Minimum 5-quart slow cooker Makes 6 to 8 servings This soup reminds of the one I’m served when I visit my friend Maria’s house. Her mother always has a pot of soup on the stove, or if she doesn't, she will quickly make one for you with whatever.
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as elbows, tubetti, shells or stars 500 mL
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large bowl, combine beef, pork, Parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper. Using your hands, roll into ¾-inch (2 cm) meatballs. Place meatballs in slow cooker stoneware. Gently pour in broth.
Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 9 hours or on High for 41?2 to 5 hours, until soup is bubbling and meatballs are cooked through.
Stir in spinach. Cover and cook on High for 10 to 15 minutes or until greens are wilted, bright green and tender. Stir in cooked pasta.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with additional Parmesan, if desired.
Tip: If you don’t have homemade chicken stock, use ready-to-use chicken broth. I like to keep 32-oz (1 L) Tetra Paks of broth on hand, especially the sodium-reduced variety. They come in handy when you’re making soups and stews. Another option is to use three 10-oz (284 mL) cans of broth and add enough water to make 6 cups (1.5 L). Avoid broth cubes and powders, which tend to be salty.
Makes 4 to 6 servings With its notes of cumin, cinnamon and chocolate playing off the gentle spices, this meatless chili combines the best of a mole sauce and a Cincinnati-style chili. Its rich body makes it a seriously satisfying dinner any night of the week. • Minimum 4-quart slow cooker
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (14 oz/398 mL) baked beans in tomato sauce
2 cups cooked or canned romano or pinto beans (see page 84), drained and rinsed 500 mL
2 cups cooked or canned black beans (see page 84), drained and rinsed 500 mL
In slow cooker stoneware, combine garlic, green pepper, onion, tomatoes with juice, beans in tomato sauce, romano beans, black beans, chili powder, cumin and coriander.
In a bowl, combine mole paste and broth. Using a fork, gently stir together into a thin sauce. Stir into bean mixture.
Cover and cook on Low for 5 to 6 hours or on High for 21?2 to 3 hours, until vegetables are tender and chili is bubbling. Serve topped with tortilla chips, cilantro and cheese (if using).
Make Ahead: This dish can be assembled up to 12 hours in advance. Prepare through step 2, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, place stoneware in slow cooker and proceed with step 3.
Tip: If you can’t find mole paste, substitute 1 tbsp (15 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder and 1?2 tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon. Mole paste is a rich, dark, reddish brown sauce used in many Mexican poultry dishes. It is a smooth cooked blend of onions, garlic, several varieties of chiles, ground seeds (such as pumpkin or sesame) and a small amount of Mexican chocolate, which adds richness without being overly sweet. You can find mole paste in the Mexican foods section of the supermarket or in specialty stores.
Makes 4 to 6 servings My son, Jack, and I are caramel and butterscotch fanatics! Blondies are often described as brownies without chocolate, which I find silly: blondies have their own unique, delicious personality. While brownies depend on chocolate for their flavor, with blondies it’s all about the brown sugar. This tasty dessert combines a cake top over a creamy caramel sauce. Be sure to serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. • 4- to 5-quart slow cooker
1 cup all-purpose flour 250 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
½ tsp salt 2 mL
1 cup packed brown sugar, divided 250 mL
¼ cup butter, softened 60 mL
1 tsp vanilla extract 5 mL
½ cup milk 125 mL
½ cup soft caramels, wrappers removed 125 mL
1 cup boiling water 250 mL
In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat half the brown sugar and butter until creamy.
Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, making three additions of each and beating well after each addition. Stir in caramels. Spread batter evenly in slow cooker stoneware.
In a glass measuring cup, combine the remaining brown sugar and boiling water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour evenly over batter.
Cover and cook on High for 21?2 to 3 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes
Tip: It is best to use individually wrapped soft caramels, but you can substitute ½ cup (125 mL) butterscotch chips.
Since I have my two front teeth already, all I want for Christmas is some HoneyBaked ham. Ok, maybe not ALL. I’d also like about 24 uninterrupted hours to tackle my to do list without anyone under 3 feet tall grabbing my posterior to shout HUG HUG HUG just as I pick up a sharp knife, open the oven door, or start stirring something that will burn if I stop. Because that’s AWESOME. Wait! I CAN HAVE BOTH! Sort of. Thank you to HoneyBaked Ham for sponsoring this post and for creating a perfect, ready to heat and serve holiday menu with no sharp knives or tedious stirrings. (I can’t help you with the oven door, but, as I found out during my visit to their Alexandria, VA store, at least the HoneyBaked sides all cook at the same temperature setting, to make scheduling the oven time easier.)
Once you have crossed your main dish (look at that beautiful half ham up there! They have quarter hams, too, if you aren’t serving a crowd… or my family, who think there’s no such thing as “too much ham.”) and your sides off the list, you can free yourself to BE PRESENT. Or to wrap presents or to go caroling or cook a meal for the homeless shelter or just sit quietly and knit and catch up on your favorite show. For some reason the last few weeks of the year always come with at least one moment when I think, “this is NEVER going to get done- I’m just going to be rushing FOREVER.” Things always do eventually come together, but if I can simplify things and spend a little more time writing old friends or walking in a winter wonderland or sleeping, then I feel much merrier going into yet another weekend of back to back parties.
It’s always a struggle to try and pack in everything we want to do- so many invitations are forthcoming between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And I never want to miss ANY of them. I want every opportunity to catch up with friends I see too seldom and to make merry with everyone I love- whether they celebrate the same holidays I do or not. So usually what ends up being missing from this season of love and kindness is quiet joy and peaceful reflection. I need those things too. I need to make a commitment to myself to lighten my load where ever I can, so I can make room for them.
Check out this limited time coupon for $8.00 off any Sliced and Glazed Whole Turkey and 4lb Quarter Ham (Or Larger) from HoneyBaked Ham to help you make your holiday dinner easy and delicious! (Offer Valid at Participating Retail Locations: Forestville, Silver Spring, Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fields Ertel, Beechmont, Kenwood, Colerain, Florence, Salem, Centerville, Sawmill Road, McNaughten, Louisville, Lexington, Fern Creek, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Superstition, Tucson East, Tucson North, Overland Park, Independence, Barry Road, Norristown, Parma, Willoughby, Rocky River, Strongsville, Maple Heights, Canton, Fairlawn and Chapel Hill.)
If you have any leftover ham, (I know, I’m HILARIOUS!) cut it off the bone, leaving some shreds clinging, and use it to make ham stock! Ham stock makes delicious soups- you’ve probably had it in split pea soup and Hoppin’ John, with a flavor that isn’t like anything else. It’s also great in chili.
I have been compensated for visiting the Alexandria, VA Honeybaked Ham store and for the creation of this post. My sincere and honest opinions are obviously not for sale and may differ from yours… please enjoy your family celebrations in good health!
Fall weather has arrived. Around here, fall weather means you need the air conditioning during the day and it gets below 50 at night. In other words, it’s fireplace weather. And fireplace weather, IMO, calls for hearty soups like chili. Dei Fratelli sent me some of their tomato products and asked me to tell you about their Dei Fratelli Ripened Recipe Contest, so today I created a sweet potato chicken chili using their tomatoes. (And yes, I entered it. That prize is nothing to sneeze at!) I know you probably think canned tomatoes are canned tomatoes, but they really aren’t. I think most of us who cook with tomatoes often tend to find a brand we like, and stick with it. I have a few favorites that I come back to because I trust them, and Dei Fratelli is one. I’ve had canned tomatoes that were burned looking or watery or just had an “off” flavor of I don’t know what, but Dei Fratelli has always come through- whether it’s sauce night or something fancier. (No, they don’t pay me to say that. It’s just an FYI- this brand is on my short list.)
Sweet potatoes are great in chili because they do well with long, slow cooking times. They are also hearty, and make a nice counterpoint to the “hot” spices. I like my food a little spicy, but not very spicy, and I find I enjoy a higher level of spice with the potatoes than without. If you LOOOVE spicy food, you might want to substitute cayenne powder for the milder ancho chili powder I use in this recipe. It’s got a much higher BTU or “hotness” and you won’t have to dump in a whole bottle.
Ha- that reminds me of a story. My first husband loved his chili super, super hot. After watching him make chili a few times, I created a custom chili powder blend just for him, with lots of extra cumin… and the hottest powdered cayenne money could buy. This allowed him to make recipes using a “normal” quantity of chili powder and still like them. We labelled the jar “Meghan’s Chili Powder- VERY HOT.” And all was well in our world, until one of our housemates decided to make dinner. She adjusted the amount of chili powder to reflect her preference for spicy food, and after watching the rest of us spit it out and say, “OH EM GEE TOO HOT,” she announced, “Oh good! I love spicy food!” and swallowed an enormous spoonful. I’m not really sure what happened next, but the next thing I knew, she had her head in the sink drinking out of the faucet.
I think the moral of that story is read labels, or possibly, “if I wrote it on the label I meant it, even though you know I’m a lightweight on the spice.” Or something. In any case, trust me when I tell you that this recipe is what I consider “Pretty spicy,” as in, “Serve with cornbread,” but not “don’t touch it with your skin because it’s chemical weapons spicy.” So grab an apron and let’s get our cook on.
Have you ever had one of those really simple recipes that was just… SO GOOD you cannot believe it? This apricot chicken is one of them. Five ingredients, one dish, unbelievably good. Unlike other recipes that go by the same name, it’s not made with preserves, which I think come up too sweet for a meat dish. Instead it uses apricot nectar, which you will most likely find in the ethnic food aisle. Bonus: most of the ingredients are pantry ingredients, so you can keep them on hand and have this as an “emergency” meal for those nights when things don’t go as planned. (Yeah, I know… who has those, right? Ha.) Continue reading Apricot Chicken→
Entertaining is a great opportunity to pull together delicious foods, and nothing is better than fresh, home made party food. But, every party needs a few items that come together unbelievably quickly to free up the hostess for other, more time consuming foods. That doesn’t mean you don’t want side dishes that delight your guests, but you need them to be simple to prepare, and preferably be things you can prep ahead of time. The more you prep ahead, the more time you spend actually enjoying your guests at party time! (Want to pin this so you can find it later? click here.)
You can satisfy all those requirements with a baked potato bar. Once you’ve baked your potatoes, set up a serving buffet with:
fresh Sour Cream & Herb Dip (recipe follows!)
Crumbled bacon or chopped ham
ground meat browned with taco seasonings
shredded cheddar cheese
crumbled feta cheese
Salt & pepper grinders
red pepper flakes
got suggestions? put them down there in the comment box!
As you can see, it’s easy to put together a large enough variety of toppings to satisfy any taste preference, and you can prep all your toppings the night before, so they can be set up and ready to go when you bring a pan of hot potatoes to the buffet table.
You’ll also find this Sour Cream & Herb recipe on page 27 of our More Please, Mommy cookbook– over 100 pages of recipes from real moms like you. Would you like to submit a recipe? Accepted submissions are published in our newsletter and will be considered for future cookbooks in addition to being posted here on the site!