Category Archives: Comfort food

Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili

Chili is definitely in my top ten favorite winter dishes. I suppose really all year, but especially in winter it’s nice to cook up a hot batch of thick, delicious chili to enjoy at the end of a chilly day. (See what I did there?)

There are also endless variations, from vegetarian chili, to Skyline chili like in southwest Ohio (go to Columbus or Cincinnati and have some if you don’t know what I’m talking about), chili over noodles, meatless chili, bean-less chili, sweet chili… you get the idea.

There are chili cook-offs all over the nation, there is even an International Chili Society. That’s how serious some people take this stuff. Their webpage explaining the history of chili is pretty fascinating.

Now, hardcore chili con carne people who believe beans have no place in chili and pasture raised longhorn beef is the only meat good enough to earn the name, will not like my laissez faire approach to chili. I’ve been known to throw in all manner of vegetables, use various preparations of tomatoes besides juice, and use all kinds of types of meat.

This version is a kind of white bean chicken chili, but it got a little Jen makeover, as most things coming through my kitchen do.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can navy beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • Dash chili powder
  • Optional: 1/2 cup milk

 

Step 1: Spray the Crockpot and add the chicken breasts. Turn it on low.

Step 2: In a blender or food processor, liquefy the can of kidney beans (or any other type really. This just adds a thicker, creamier texture) after you drain the can. Add water or some milk if you need to.

Step 3: Add the liquid beans plus all the other cans, milk, and any spices you want. (Garlic, onion, hot sauce, etc)

Step 4: Cook on high 4 hours or low 4-6. Take the chicken breasts out and shred them with two forks. Put back into the chili, stir and let sit another hour or eat immediately.

Top with whatever you like. I used plain Greek yogurt and shredded cheese, but salsa, cornbread, or avocado would also be delicious.

This chili is such a perfect combination of creamy and light. It has just a hint of spice from the diced tomatoes with chilies, but you could kick it up a notch easily by adding jalapenos or other peppers, or sprinkling on some hot sauce.

You could also use two cans white beans, kidney, black beans, whatever you have in the pantry. I’d really recommend not skipping the pureeing though, it totally adds that little ‘something’. I had leftovers for three days, and was not upset about it!

What’s your favorite kind of chili?

Sneaky healthy lasagna

Lasagna, come delizioso!

Lasagna is a classic favorite recipe. It is also a recipe that is super simple to double or triple and freeze extras for later. Meat, cheese, and pasta, what’s not to love. It takes a little bit of work, but is very worth it. I’m also always looking for ways to sneak a little extra nutrition into recipes in ways that aren’t too noticeable. Lasagna presents a perfect triple opportunity.
1. When you make the sauce, combine a jar of traditional sauce and a jar of chickpeas (or other bean) in a blender and blend until smooth. This adds extra protein and fiber with nearly no change in taste.
2. Add a layer of spinach under the noodles. When baked it doesn’t have a strong flavor of its own, and is barely noticeable.
3. Use cottage cheese instead of ricotta. It is lower in calories (100 vs. 175) as well as fat (4.3 vs 13 g), though it does have 3x the sodium.


Ingredients:
1 package lasagna noodles
1 large package cottage cheese
1 bunch spinach
1 pound ground beef
1 jar pasta sauce
1 can chickpease
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup shredded cheese (use mozzarella if you have it)

 Step 1: Make the sauce by blending beans and sauce. Add the diced tomatoes and mix well. 

 Step 2: Brown the ground beef and drain. Mix into the sauce mixture. Boil the noodles for about 7-9 minutes and drain.

 Step 3: In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese and shredded cheese. I had mixed cheddar/mozz so that’s what I used.

 Step 4: Spray an oven-safe pan. Layer the noodles, spinach, beef/sauce, and cheese. Follow with more noodles and so on. Make one with four layers or two separate with two layers.

 Step 5: Bake, covered with foil, at 350 for 1 hour.

The result is a perfect taste meld of cheesy, tomato-y, beef, and noodles. You can see the spinach but really can’t taste it. And if you want a vegetarian version, just don’t add the beef to the sauce mixture. The only change I’d make is double the amount of sauce and it would be tres magnifique!

Do you have a special family lasagna recipe?

Perfect pancakes

There is nothing quite as wonderful on a lazy Sunday as fresh, homemade pancakes. And they are actually quite easy to make. Just four dry ingredients plus four wet, and maybe some chocolate chips, fruit, or nuts. This would also be a great Christmas morning breakfast or brunch.  Total time required is roughly 20 minutes. This recipe makes about 10 hotcakes. 

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 whole egg
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vanilla 
Optional: 1/2 cup chocolate chips, fruit, nuts, oats, etc.

Step 1: Mix the first four dry ingredients in a large bowl. (Add whatever extras you like).

Step 2: Mix the next four wet ingredients into the dry. If you want to, you can set this aside for 10-20 minutes to shower or watch the news or brew some coffee.

Step 3: Heat a frying pan over medium heat and spray with cooking oil. Pour in about 1/3 cup batter per cake. Cook until batter shows bubbles, about 4 minutes.

Step 4: Flip the cakes when golden brown and cook another 1-2 minutes.

Serve with syrup, preserves, whipped cream, honey, or whatever you like on your pancakes.


This recipe produced light and fluffy cakes with the perfect amount of sweetness. I’m pretty proud of this batch I must say. Try making your own Pineapple Pancake Syrup to go with them.



What is your favorite type of pancake?



Vegan acorn squash & potato gnocchi

Acorn squash is a cheap, healthful, tasty, nutrient-packed way to get your fiber. It stores for pretty much forever on a shelf or in a cellar. The most common variety is deep green with an occasional orange spot on one side, though yellow, white, and variegated varieties have been bred. According to Wikipedia, though it is considered a winter squash it is in the same family of summer squash which includes zucchini and yellow squash. 

According to SELFNutritionData, one 4 inch squash has only 172 calories, a mere 4 of those are from fat. Zero cholesterol, and nearly no sodium as well. A single squash has a quarter of your daily recommended fiber, 30 percent of vitamin A, and nearly 80 percent of vitamin C. And as if that weren’t enough, it is mildly anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, and extremely low glycemic index. If I haven’t yet convinced you of what a super food acorn squash is, check out more Healthy Facts About Acorn Squash from the Healthy Eating website.

I had picked several squash a few months back at a local farm where for $30 you get to keep anything you can fit in a little red wagon. With some creative pyramid skills, I and some friends split quite a haul. I still had three acorns left, so I was trying to come up with something to do with it besides oven roasted with butter and brown sugar. Not that I don’t love it like that, I do, but I’d had that twice already in the past month. My mom suggested a recipe out of the blue for acorn squash gnocchi. As a good Slovak/Polish girl, I had grown up loving all types of pasta, gnocchi especially. The chewy, thick texture is completely unique.

She didn’t remember where the recipe came from so rather than try to remember it all, she told me to just Google it. My favorite current verb, “to Google”. I wish I could invent something so widely famous that the name becomes a verb. Anywho… The most intriguing recipe I found came from the blog the Girl in the Little Red Kitchen. This is someone who thinks like me, working in a very tiny place, using what she’s learned and instinct and creativity to come up with new and inventive recipes. Based mostly on that but with my own spin (mostly since I’m out of eggs currently), I present to you my Vegan Acorn Squash and Potato Gnocchi recipe.

Vegan Acorn Squash and Potato Gnocchi 

Ingredients:
1 acorn squash
3 medium potatoes
1 1/2 cup flour (plus extra)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt

Sauce:
1 jar pasta sauce
1 can chickpeas
2 carrots
1/2 bunch celery


1. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. If you like, you can rinse the seeds and save them for roasting at 350 for 15 minutes as a light snack.

2. Put the squash in the microwave cut side up with some water in the hole, microwave 5 minutes. Pour out the water, place cut side down and microwave another 5 minutes, then another 5 minutes for 15 minutes total. Squash should be soft when poked with a fork. Remove and set aside to cool.

3. Rinse three potatoes and stick on all sides with a fork. Microwave in 3 minute bursts for a total of 9 minutes.

4. Peel the squash and mash the insides in a large bowl. The peel should slip right off using your fingers, you can use a fork to help lift the squash out.

5. Peel the potatoes as well. If you grab it in both hands and twist, the peel should slide off easily if fully cooked. Mash them into the squash. Get a large pot of salted water to boiling.

6. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp water, 2 tbsp baking powder and 1 tbsp oil. This replaces one egg, so you can use one egg instead. But this is what makes the dough vegan. It should bubble a bit. Add to the squash/potato mixture, as well as the flour (which, if you’re gluten intolerant, you should use gluten-free flour), and mix well. Your hands work best, dough will be slightly sticky.

7. Flour your work surface and take a handful of dough. Roll it with your hands into a 1-2 inch thick log.

8. Cut the log into small, 1 inch cubes. You can try to shape them with a fork but I just tossed them in the pot like so.

9. Boil the pasta for 3-5 minutes. They should begin floating to the top of the water when fully cooked. Boil in batches. Don’t leave them in longer than about ten minutes or they will become mush. Remove to a strainer to let drain. Meanwhile you can start the sauce.

10. Open the chickpeas and drain. Add to blender along with the pasta sauce and puree until completely liquid, adding some water to thin if needed. If you have a juicer, juice the carrots and celery to add. If not you can simply omit them, or boil them for 20 minutes then add to the blender. I also added in a dash of Italian seasonings.

The gnocchi are chewy and salty, just how I like it. This pasta dough could probably be used to create any kind of pasta, with varying degrees of success. I ended up adding quite a bit more flour to help it stay together and be less sticky. It still ended up a little slimier than I would like, but I will try again.

My boyfriend is a hard-core carnivore, so I added some ground beef to the sauce. I didn’t tell him what it was before he tried it (bless his heart he will try anything once if I made it), and he said he actually liked it and would eat it again! Trust me, that’s a stellar review! These have all the taste and texture of traditional gnocchi with an added dose of fiber and vitamins. Why not?

Nutrition Information

For the gnocchi alone, SparkRecipes nutrition info:

  • Servings Per Recipe: 4
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 345.1
  • Total Fat: 2.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 2,017.5 mg
  • Total Carbs: 72.8 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6.7 g
  • Protein: 8.4 g


For the pasta sauce (minus ground beef), SparkPeople nutrition info:

  • Servings Per Recipe: 8
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 90.5
  • Total Fat: 0.6 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 357.0 mg
  • Total Carbs: 18.3 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3.9 g
  • Protein: 3.5 g


Therefore a 1-cup serving of pasta with 1 cup of sauce is only 435 calories and yet 10.6 grams of fiber and nearly 12 grams of protein!


Do you have a favorite way to cook squash?

Chai Apple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal

What is this, a post on Thursday?!? Why yes, turns out I’m just brimming with ideas and recipes lately, so I decided to add in Thursdays to my weekly Sunday/Tuesday posts. This way you get 33% more flavor and information! I’ll keep this up as long as I can y’all.

Warm oatmeal is one of my favorite comfort foods for a cold winter’s day breakfast. You can buy the store packaged versions, or make your own at home for much cheaper. All you need is some oats and whatever you like in your hot cereal. Chai Apple & Brown Sugar is my favorite combo. But try dried apricots and orange juice, or banana and blueberry. Sky’s the limit!

Ingredients:
1 cup quick-cook oats
1/2 medium apple
1/4 cup chai tea concentrate (instructions below)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup hot water or milk

Step 1: Place a chai tea bag into 1/2 cup water. Microwave for 5 minutes or boil on a stove, this will cause some evaporation and the chai tea flavor to concentrate. Chai tea has cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice in it which will add to the delicious taste and smell of the oatmeal! 

Step 2: Dice up the apple. In a bowl, mix the oats, tea, water or milk, sugar and apple pieces. Microwave for about 2 minutes. The apple will become soft, the oats cook, and all the flavors mix.

Step 3: Mix well and pour on a drizzle of syrup.
This warm, sweet, hearty breakfast will satisfy your taste buds and fill you up to keep you going until lunch.


What’s your favorite type of oatmeal?


Stuffed Pork Chops

What would Thanksgiving be without stuffing? Incomplete, in my opinion. I had never made stuffing myself before (I know, pause to gasp in shock) and so as per usual, I turned to multitudes of online recipes, compared that to what I had in my kitchen, and then just dove in with both feet. Hands, actually. You’re welcome. To prepare for next week’s big day, I made some stuffing and wrapped it in a slab of pig. Because ‘Murica.

Stuffing is also called ‘dressing’, and rarely ‘forcemeat’ (because who wants to eat bread mush with a name like that?); it is a mixture of carbohydrates and occasionally other meats, sometimes with eggs mixed in. It is usually stuffed inside the body cavity of an animal (hence the name) and baked within it, then served alongside the meat. Records of various stuffing recipes exist as far back as the Roman Empire, which published a kitchen anthology titled Apicius which lists thousands of Roman recipes. An article from Kitchen Project goes more into detail about the history and evolution of stuffing if you’re interested or want to try something different this year. But if you love the old easy standby, Stove Top, don’t feel bad. Introduced in 1972 and now owned by Kraft Foods, they sell nearly 60 million boxes every year around Thanksgiving. That’s a lotta stale bread.

So with that in mind, let’s get to the stuffing of meats! For stuffed pork chops, I made the stuffing, pounded the meat thin, then rolled it around a gob of the bread mush. It tastes way better than I’m making it sound, trust me! This recipe can also easily be doubled, tripled, whatever, depending on how many you’re feeding. It can also be a great way to use up leftover pre-made stuffing in the days after Thanksgiving when you’re tired of just having it with turkey.

Ingredients:
2 pork chops
3 sliced day-old bread, cubed
1 tbsp Italian seasonings
1 tsp dried onion
1 tsp paprika
1 egg
2/3 cup broth 


Step 1: Use fresh pork chops, or thawed if frozen. You’ll need to cover them with plastic wrap, then using a rolling pin or other such heavy, blunt object, pound the meat until it is about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Ideally your chops will be wide yet long, so they can close around a cups’ worth of stuffing.

Step 2: Chop up the stale bread slices or lightly toasted bread into inch cubes. Put into a medium bowl, and mix in the broth and seasonings. You want the bread wet but not soupy. Finally add the egg to bind and mix it all well. This should make about 1 1/2 – 2 cups. 

Step 3: Divide the stuffing between the two chops, and scoop a handful into the center of one. Roll up both sides so they touch or cross on top and secure with a toothpick or twine.
 

Step 4: Put the stuffed chops in an oven-safe pan and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, until pork is totally done, at least 145 degrees. The chops should be nicely golden and tender, the stuffing soft inside and crunchy without. Serve with side dishes of your choice. I made some rice and poured my ‘special’ mushroom gravy over it. (Secret: It’s a can of cream of mushroom soup. For reals.)
 


If you have a favorite recipe which uses up leftover stuffing after Thanksgiving, please share!

Sausage gravy & biscuits

 

If you asked my family if ever they thought they’d see the day where I not only willingly ate sausage gravy and biscuits, yet alone cooked it myself, they would call you crazy.

For the longest time I was very against sausage in any form; ground, patties, links. Well, I’m living proof that tastes change over time. The more times I tried sausage gravy & biscuits, the more I liked it. However, I am also aware that commercial gravy is horrific for you. I had a can of biscuits in the fridge and sausage was on sale $3/pound at my farmer’s market.

I couldn’t resist buying a nice, fresh ground pound of sausage and trying my hand at this artery-clogging breakfast favorite. Turns out, it is actually quite easy. I did cheat and use canned biscuits rather than make my own. But the gravy is more art than science, use your own judgment and tastes when adding milk and flour to make it the consistency you want. You could also use cornstarch to thicken it rather than flour for a gluten-free option.

Pro tip: this sausage gravy would be great over just about any meat or grain, like chicken and mashed potatoes, or ham and rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sausage
  • 1 can biscuits
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • Salt & pepper

Step 1: Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Once fully cooked, remove the sausage, drain the fat and set aside.

Step 2: Bake the biscuits in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.

Step 3: Add the flour to the pan you cooked the sausage in, slowly whisk in the milk. Add all the milk, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4: Add the cooked sausage back in and mix well. Pour over warm biscuits and enjoy!

Sausage gravy & biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sausage
  • 1 can biscuits
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Once fully cooked, remove the sausage, drain the fat and set aside.
  2. Bake the biscuits in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.
  3. Add the flour to the pan you cooked the sausage in, slowly whisk in the milk. Add all the milk, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add the cooked sausage back in and mix well. Pour over warm biscuits and enjoy!
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I can feel my taste buds cheering, and my arteries crying…

Slow cooker chicken soup: “Just like grandma used to make”

When I was younger, Sunday was always early dinner, and almost always chicken noodle soup. Grandma or mom would put a pot of soup on to simmer, we would go off to church or on a Sunday drive around town, and come home to a house that smelled delicious and a pot full of warm delight. I like continuing that on my own, though I use the modern miracle of the crock pot so I don’t have to worry about it burning on the stove (that’s a hilarious story for another time…).

Since I had recently roasted a chicken, naturally I made soup from what wasn’t eaten the first day. We had eaten the legs and drums, so I cut off and saved the whole breasts for sandwiches for lunch the next day. The rest of the bird plus a few extras was made into a huge crock pot full of chilly weather goodness. There is nothing like coming home to the smell of homemade chicken soup!

Ingredients:
1 chicken carcass
3 large carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, diced
1 whole onion, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 pint fresh mushrooms
1 cup barley
1 tbsp butter
Water

Step 1: That gorgeous roasted chicken had a tray full of juices and spices that I added into the crock pot first. Waste not want not, and that’s some powerful flavor I don’t want to waste.

 Step 2: I diced up all the assorted veggies and added them and the chicken (skin, bones, extra meat and all) into the crock pot. I added water all the way to the top and put it on low all day (about 8 hours).

When I came home, the house just smelled amazing. The chicken had been brined in all that lovely salt and sugar and pepper and spices, so I didn’t even really need to add anything to the broth.

Step 4: I boiled 1 cup of barley in 1 1/2 cups of water with 1 tbsp butter for 45 minutes. 

Barley is a bit chewy, and I added some of the broth after 40 minutes to let the flavor soak in for the last 5 minutes. Maybe a 1/2 cup.

 

Just look at all those gorgeous veggies! And the sheen on the surface, that’s from the natural chicken fat that dissolved into the broth. Sure it isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for you, but boy howdy does it taste great! And you can let it cool in the fridge then skim the extra fat off the top.

The barley was surprisingly perfect for this soup. Normally I use egg noodles but didn’t have any on hand. The flavors blend so well and are perfect for nippy fall nights. It is so easy to make, and you will have leftovers for days (unless you share). I guarantee* you won’t get sick, or if you already are you will immediately feel better.

*Guarantee based only on personal experience, not actually backed by anything or redeemable for anything. But other experiences and comments are welcome to be shared. =)

Cheeseburger Mac

This classic student-loved recipe is still delicious as an “adult”, though you can fancy it up with different cheeses and noodle shapes if you want. Super simple to make yet very filling. It’s like macaroni & cheese only beefier.

Ingredients:
1 pound of macaroni
2 cups of cheese (any kind, shredded or cubed)
1 pound of ground beef
1 cup of milk

Step 1: Boil the macaroni for about 7 minutes, until al dente. Meanwhile, brown the ground beef and drain the fat.

 Step 2: Drain the pasta, add it back to the pan. Add in the cheese and milk, heat until the cheese melts, stirring often so the cheese doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Add the beef back in, mix well.

I used half cheddar and half pepper jack cheese, so it was a little tangy. I’d recommend trying it. You can use any kind of cheese and noodle shape you want, and even add veggies if you’re feeling crazy.

Breakfast Strata

This breakfast strata is filling, delicious, cheap and surprisingly easy and customizable. All your typical breakfast favorites make an appearance: eggs, milk, bread, cheese. Then you add in some breakfast meats if that’s your thing (bacon, sausage, ham) and/or some vegetables if you like that sorta stuff (spinach, onion, peppers, asparagus), bake it up nice and warm and gooey and enjoy! Whatever you like and have on hand can be mixed in. This turned out divine!

Ingredients:
6-8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 slices bread
1-2 cups cheese (cubed, sliced or shredded)
1/4 cup milk
4 slices ham (or bacon or crumbled sausage)
1/2 cup chopped spinach

Step 1: Beat the eggs and add the milk, mix well. Lay the bread in a sprayed 8×8 oven safe pan.

Step 2: Layer the meat, veggies and cheese on top of the bread.

Step 3: Pour the eggs over top.

Step 4: Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until the eggs are fully cooked. Let it cool a few minutes, cut into pieces and enjoy!

Tastes even better than it looks, which is pretty darn good!

The bread is slightly mushy but holds texture, and the flavor combination was just perfect. This can easily be vegetarian, but it’s just not the same without eggs so I’m not sure if it can be vegan. Maybe a tofu egg substitute? I’ll have to dabble more in vegan cooking in the future.