Thursday, January 31, 2013

Easy Oven Tacos

Okay, once again I got a pretty crummy photo.  But that is what happens when it's dark by 6pm and your family is hungry and drooling over these delicious tacos.  And this is simply what they look like out of the oven.  Just imagine them with your favorite toppings!

I got the idea for these here.  Pinterest to the dinner rescue again.  I did not follow the recipe for the filling, nor did I bake these at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes because if I did, they'd be black.  So I guess you can say I was inspired by the original recipe, but I didn't stick to it much.  :)

You'll find that you can easily fit 10 tacos in a 9x13 pan.  I did eight across and two on the side.  I used a 10-count box of Old El Paso "Super Stuffers" for my shells.  I also freshly grated some Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese.  Yum.  

If you are wondering what I mean by "chili beans" in the ingredients list it's these:
Pretty much every brand has them (including Bush's).  It's pretty much pinto beans in a mild chili sauce - so don't drain these puppies; we're using the sauce, too.

inspired by Mommy? I'm Hungry

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 (15 oz) can chili beans
1/2 cup water
1 packet or 1/4 cup taco seasoning
1 - 2 cups shredded cheese (to taste)
10 taco shells

Assorted taco toppings (whatever you like):
chopped tomatoes
shredded lettuce
diced onions
sliced olives
sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large skillet, brown ground beef and drain any excess fat.  Stir in beans with sauce, water, and taco seasoning; cook on medium heat until most of the liquid has reduced and mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.  Place taco shells in 9x13 baking dish, open side up.  Fill shells evenly with meat mixture; sprinkle with cheese.  Bake tacos for 10 minutes.  Fill with your choice of toppings.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Guava Cake

I was born in Hawaii and spent my summers there as a kid, visiting my grandparents.  I've always loved guava juice.  It's pink, it's sweet, it's refreshing; it's just yummy.  Guava jam - pretty good.  But in all my years I never had guava cake.  Boy, was I missing out!

My in-laws visited Hawaii in the 80's and my mother-in-law never forgot the guava cake they tried while there.  So last year, for her birthday, I made a guava cake for her.  I had Googled "guava cake" and discovered that the cake she remembered was most likely a guava chiffon cake.  I did find a recipe to make it, but it was complicated and I was not going there.  Luckily, I also found a recipe for an easy guava cake that was more my style (and experience level).  Everyone loved it and I even made it look pretty (partly out of guilt for not having the stones to make a chiffon cake from scratch, ha ha):

This year, my daughter requested the same thing for her birthday.  This time I decided to go the simple route and just make the cake in a 9x13 pan.  This was mostly because I think it's easier to store in the fridge this way and I knew it would take us a few days to eat the whole thing.  Luckily, my mom (a "native" of Hawaii) came to visit for the weekend and we got to share some of it with her.  She approved!  And, just so you know, my husband has decided this is his favorite cake.  :)

To make this cake and the glaze, you need guava juice.  I made my guava juice from a can of frozen concentrate:
I actually prefer the brand Hawaiian Sun but it's not available here in AZ.  I found this brand at my local WinCo.  If you can't find this where you are, don't despair.  Thanks to the growing Hispanic population in the US, guava juice is more popular than it was in years past and you can sometimes find it in cans or bottles in the juice aisle.  I know Kern's is a popular brand. 

also found at Kuki's Kookbook

For cake:
1 (18 oz) box yellow or strawberry cake mix (I use yellow)
1 1/3 cups guava juice
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
red food coloring, optional

For topping:
1 (8 oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 (8 oz) container Cool Whip, thawed
red food coloring, optional

For glaze:
2 cups guava juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
red food coloring, optional

Grease and flour cake pan(s).  Bake cake mix according to package directions, substituting 1 1/3 cups guava juice for water (and add food coloring until cake mix is desired color, if using).  Cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups guava juice and 1/2 cup sugar to boil.  Make a thin paste with cornstarch and a little bit of water.  Remove guava juice from heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture until completely smooth.  Return to heat and boil for one minute.  Stir in food coloring, if using.  Cool glaze in refrigerator until at least room temp, about 30-45 min.  (If it gets really thick, beat it vigorously with a whisk until smooth again).

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add sugar and vanilla (and food coloring, if using) and beat until smooth.  Fold in the Cool Whip.

To assemble a 9x13:  Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over cake.  Repeat with guava glaze.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To assemble 2-layer round cake:  Remove cakes from pans and level.  Spread some topping on top of first cake and place second cake over.  Thickly frost the cake with remaining topping, piping some of the topping around the edge of the top of the cake (this will hold the glaze in place).  Spread glaze on top.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

(Sorry for the crummy photo.  I didn't get this made before the sun went down and I lost the good light.)

So I have what I consider to be a tried-and-true recipe for Macaroni & Cheese, but it makes A LOT and requires A LOT of ingredients.  This is the one I make when I want a creamier result and don't want enough leftovers for two weeks (we're only a household of 3).  I've adapted this from Paula Deen's recipe, removing a messy (and unnecessary) step ... and some butter, lol.  And I always recommend a dash of hot sauce in cheese dishes - not for heat, but for the way in enhances the flavor of the cheese.

adapted from Paula Deen's recipe

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (just a little more than 8 oz)
2 - 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry ground mustard
1/2 tsp. black pepper
dash of hot sauce, optional

Boil the macaroni in a 2-quart saucepan for 5 minutes (it will not be cooked through); drain.

In a slow cooker, whisk together eggs, sour cream, soup, milk, salt, mustard, pepper, and hot sauce, if using.  Stir in cheese and macaroni.  Cover and cook on low for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Quick and Easy French Bread

Boy am I glad I found this recipe!  Thanks go to  I have tried several french bread recipes and this one is the winner for me.  It's quick, easy, and it tastes good.  This recipe makes enough for two loaves, but you can easily halve it.  My loaves always end up a deep brown, but they taste delicious - not burned.  I will never buy store-made french bread again.  Well, let's be honest, I probably will when I'm feeling super lazy.  ;)

Even though it's quick and there's only one rising, you will use regular active dry yeast - NOT rapid-rise yeast.  I reduced the salt slightly because I found 2 teaspoons to be too much for my taste.  The recipe also calls for brushing the loaves with butter half-way through baking.  I did this the first time and didn't like how it made the crust kinda soggy.  So I leave that step out now, though you are welcome to do it if you want.

These loaves are dense, but not too dense, and soft inside.  The crust is not a thick, crispy crust (just in case you were looking for that).

Don't forget the pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven!

slightly adapted from Baguette recipe on

1 1/2 cups warm water (between 110-115 degrees F)
1 1/2 Tbsp. (2 packages) active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/4 - 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. melted butter, optional

In a small bowl, mix the warm water with the yeast and sugar; let sit for about 5 minutes - it should become foamy on top.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 1/4 cup flour and salt.  Gradually add the yeast mixture and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, adding more flour as needed.  Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic, adding a little flour here and there just to keep it from sticking.

Cut dough in half.  Roll each half into a long rectangle and roll up lengthwise; pinch edges to seal (I also turn under the ends so they look smooth).  Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.  Repeat with other half of dough.  Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Place a rimmed baking sheet on bottom rack of oven and fill with 2 cups of boiling water.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  While the oven is heating, take a sharp, serrated knife and cut 4 or 5 slits across top of each loaf.   When oven is hot, bake loaves for 15 minutes, brushing loaves with melted butter half-way through baking time, if desired.  Let loaves cool at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chocolate Bird Nests

This is what happens when you read the cereal box.  I saw the recipe for these on the side of a box of Original Fiber One and they just sounded good.  I've been craving chocolate lately and these are actually pretty healthy for you.  Lots of fiber!  Only 3 ingredients and no baking make these an easy treat.  The box calls these "haystacks" but I think "bird nests" is better.  These would be super cute around Easter time with some Cadbury Mini Eggs (you know, those chocolate candies that look like little robin's eggs?) pressed in the center.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of peanut butter, but I found that it softens the chocolate a little too much - these melt in your hands pretty easily.  So I decided to reduce the amount of peanut butter to 1/4 cup.  Even less fat that way and they still taste yummy.  And I feel no guilt when I eat more than one. Check the link below for nutritional stats.

slightly adapted from Fiber One recipe

1 (12 oz) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup peanut butter (reduced fat is fine)
1 pouch (3 3/4 cups) Original Fiber One cereal

Line two cookie sheets with waxed or parchment paper.  In a microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips and peanut butter on HIGH 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds.  Microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute more, stirring after every 15 seconds, until melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, stir together cereal with chocolate mixture until evenly coated.  Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto lined cookies sheets.  Refrigerate until firm.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  I got 18 "cookies" out of this, but I made them a little big.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Icebox Bran Muffins

My mom got this recipe back in the early 70's.  You can find all kinds of variations of it online.  I keep coming back to this one (probably because it's what I expect of a bran muffin - moist, dense, delicious).  The recipe calls for two different bran cereals: bran flakes and 100% bran.  These days the 100% bran cereal I use is Kellogg's Original All-Bran.  This is NOT the same as the original Fiber One cereal.  When it comes to the flakes, I buy what's cheapest.  This time I used the Kroger brand, which are 40% bran, I think.

And since this recipe originates in the 70's it calls for shortening.  Some people balk at using shortening these days.  For the most part, I don't.  Probably because I don't use it very often, so I don't feel like I'm constantly clogging my arteries with horrible trans fats.  Plus all that bran probably scrubs it right out.  If you do the math, it boils down to 1 teaspoon of shortening per muffin.  If that's just too much for you, you can sub the shortening for a stick of softened butter + 1/2 cup of applesauce.  However, if you make this substitution, I can't vouch for it's moistness (since I never do it myself) and your batter will have a shorter shelf life: one month vs. seven weeks.

Which brings me to the beauty of this recipe.  It makes enough batter for 4 dozen muffins.  You can bake them all at once, or store some of the batter in the fridge for the next time you get a craving.  The recipe will divide perfectly into four, 1 quart jars.  Each jar makes a dozen muffins.  I think it makes a great neighbor gift for holidays when people are overloaded on sweets and super-rich foods.

If you do decide to store the batter in jars, might I suggest you use wide-mouth jars (for easier scooping) and take a trip to Wal-mart to buy some of these handy-dandy babies:
These are BPA-free plastic lids for canning jars.  They are not meant for the actual canning process, but are great for storage and sharing (when you have an open jar of applesauce in the fridge or want to give your neighbors a cookie mix).  They fit both brands of mason jars (Ball and Kerr) and even fit the Better Homes and Gardens brand jars.  You'll find both regular-mouth and wide-mouth lids and at my Wal-mart (in the Phoenix area) a pack of 8 was less than $3!  Much cheaper than the Ball brand of lids.  Just a thought.  And no, I'm not being paid for any of this.  I just think they're fabulous.

Okay, enough talk. Here's the recipe:


2 cups 100% bran cereal (All-Bran)
2 cups boiling water
1 cup shortening (or 1 stick of softened butter + 1/2 cup applesauce)
3 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 quart buttermilk (low-fat is fine)
5 cups all-purpose flour
5 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
4 cups bran flakes cereal

To make batter:

In a medium bowl, pour boiling water over 100% bran (All-Bran) and let cool.

In a very large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar; add eggs, buttermilk, and bran and water mixture.  Stir in flour, soda, salt, and bran flakes until thoroughly combined.  Store batter in 4, 1 quart mason jars in the refrigerator up to seven weeks (unless you made it with butter and applesauce, then you can keep it up to one month).

To make muffins:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease or line a muffin tin.  Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and tops spring back when pressed.  (Mine are usually done right at 16 minutes.)  Store muffins in an airtight container up to one week - if they last that long!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Easy Pumpkin Crisp

Holy smokes, I never meant to neglect this blog for so long!  First I came down with pleurisy in my right lung, so I was out of sorts for a week or two.  Then I was busy planning and executing our local Cub Scout Pack Meeting for December.  Then I was scrambling to finish preparing for Christmas.  Then I got sick again with a crummy throat bug (that just refuses to leave, dang it).  I actually made this yummy dessert at the end of November and it's been sitting in my pile of drafts, waiting to be finished and shared. 

There are at least 100 different variations of this recipe on the internet.  Some call it a "Dump Cake," others call it a "Crunch Cake."  Personally, it reminds me more of a crisp than a cake, so that is what I'm calling it here.  The majority of the recipes call for 2 sticks of butter (gag) and suggest you just sprinkle the dry cake mix over the pumpkin filling, then pour the melted butter over.  The problem with doing it this way is you end up with some dry spots and those do not taste good at all.  I've found 1 stick of butter is more than enough, and by mixing the butter and cake mix before sprinkling it over the pumpkin, you get the proper proportions over the entire dessert, with no dry spots or greasy puddles.  Plus, it looks nice and crumbly, like a streusel topping.

I know the pumpkin season is pretty much over since we usually save pumpkin recipes for the holidays, but I encourage you to use up one of those last cans of pumpkin sitting in your pantry and make this dessert (especially since it's still cold outside).  It's a great alternative to pumpkin pie.  It's also a bit rich, so a small serving will usually be enough to satisfy.  I like it best when it's still a little warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  But it's good cold, too.  Just ask my daughter, who could have finished off the entire pan by herself if I let her.

adapted from Pumpkin Crunch Cake on

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed!)
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
1 (18.25 oz) box yellow or spice cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup roughly chopped pecans, optional
vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.  In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and spice until well blended.  Pour into prepared baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine cake mix and pecans, if using.  Stir in melted butter with a fork until crumbly.  There may be some big lumps, but you can break them up with your fingers.  Sprinkle cake mixture evenly over pumpkin mixture.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and set.  Let cool before serving.  Store leftovers, covered, in the fridge.