Crock Pot miracles – Stuffed Peppers & Strawberry Apple Crisp

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Crock Pots are miracle workers for students, busy moms, professionals, anyone who is pressed for time but still wants a healthy, home-cooked meal at the end of the day. As a full-time graduate student writing her thesis, with 2 other jobs and several PhD interviews to prepare for, I have been running a pretty hectic schedule lately.
It goes something like this:
7am – wake up, go to lab, begin an experiment.
8 am – rec, run or elliptical.
9 am – home, shower, breakfast, maybe an hour of free time.
10/11 – meetings.
12-2 find time for lunch.
Afternoon – classes and more experiments.
4 – 9: work or write, depending on the day.
So, in the one hour of free time I had the other morning, I realized I had 3 red bell peppers, minute rice, and ground beef. Plus two old apples and baking supplies I hadn’t used in ages. Therefore…

Crock pot stuffed peppers:
3 red bell peppers
1 pound ground beef
1 cup rice
1 can tomato sauce
Spices to taste (garlic, italian, black pepper)
Step 1: Brown the ground beef and cook the rice.Step 2: Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds. In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice and beef and 1 can tomato sauce, plus any spices. Stuff each pepper with mixture.
Step 3: Put in Crock Pot on LOW for 2-4 hours.
Dinner and dessert, will be ready and waiting when I get home.
The pepper, exploded on my plate. =)

 

Dessert went from plain apple crisp to strawberry apple crisp because I couldn’t find any plain oatmeal. So I made do with what I had. And I’m glad I did!

Crock Pot Strawberry Apple Crisp:
2 apples, 1 red & 1 green
1 packet strawberries & cream oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter/margerine
Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract

Step 1: Dice the apples and mix in a bowl with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. Put apples into a sprayed slow cooker.

Step 2: Mix the sugars, oatmeal, flour, butter, 1 tbsp. vanilla and another sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl.

Step 3: Sprinkle a tbsp sugar over the spiced apples in the crock pot, and cover with crumble mixture. Cook on LOW for 2-4 hours. The sugars carmelize, the apples are soft and tangy, it tastes like heaven warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!!!

This is so completely fabulous I can’t even describe it!

Spinach fruit & nut salad

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Well as you may remember, I am eating healthier this year. Working out has been kind of off and on due to sickness, school visits, and I admit, laziness. I have been pretty good about eating better overall though. So today I decided to make a super healthy salad.
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Spinach is one of the best greens out there, with tons of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Then I added some fruit for natural sweetness, and nuts & seeds for healthy fats. The only thing that could make this better is some grilled chicken breast to top it off!
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Ingredients:

2 cups fresh, washed spinach
1/2 kiwi
4-6 strawberries
1 roma tomato
1/4 cup walnuts
1 tbsp. sunflower seeds
Balsamic vinegar & olive oil

Step 1: Cut the peel off the kiwi and cut into slices. Slice the strawberries as well.

Step 2: Put a big pile of spinach leaves on a plate, cover with diced fruits & nuts. Add dressing, enjoy!
Here’s to eating healthy and enjoying it for life!

Balsamic Chicken and Spanish Rice

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I got the basic idea for this from allrecipes.com but of course I tailored it to my tastes and what I had around the house. I had taken out a chicken breast to thaw with the intent of making chicken quesadillas, but my boyfriend used all the tortillas to make tacos. So plan B. =)
Chicken:
Balsamic vinaigrette
Lemon juice
Garlic powder
Chili powder
Rosemary, thyme, dill
Rice:
1 cup Minute Rice
1 cup water
Cumin
Garlic powder
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup corn
First, combine all marinade ingredients in a plastic bag. I cut the chicken breast into smaller, thinner pieces to cook faster. Left marinating in the fridge for about an hour.
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When ready to cook, I put a few tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and heated it up. Then the chicken and marinade was dumped in all together. Cooked over low heat for several minutes with a cover on.

While the chicken was cooking, I put the spices, water and rice in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaved for 5 minutes. Let sit for 3 minutes or so, and fluff with a fork. Then add the salsa and corn, and microwave another 2 minutes. After the chicken was fully cooked, I put the chicken pieces on a towel to drain.

This is what the rice and chicken looked like fresh off the stove/microwave.

 Delicious!

Simple peanut-butter-banana breakfast muffin

This is one of my favorite 2-minute breakfasts. It has grains, fruit, protein and great flavor. Plus I think it’s only 350 calories.
Ingredients:
1 Whole grain English muffin
1/2 banana, sliced
1 tbsp. Jif peanut butter
Step 1:Toast the muffin (you don’t have to) and slice up the banana.
Step 2: Put 1/2 tbsp. of peanut butter on each half. Then arrange the banana on top. Enjoy with your breakfast beverage of choice.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

 

I got the basic idea for this creamy delight from Sparkpeople.com and tweaked it to what I had in my house. It’s like beef stroganoff, just healthier because you use boneless skinless chicken breast. And it’s made in a slow cooker, which is frankly the greatest kitchen invention ever, because you just add all the ingredients, leave it go all day, and come home to a hot-and-ready meal.

Ingredients:
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 bag frozen veggies
1/2 pack of cream cheese

Step 1: Dice the chicken into cubes. Mix the soups and cream cheese in a crock pot, add the chicken. Cook on high 2 hours or low for 4.

Step 2: Add the vegetables and cook another half hour. It really is that simple! Served it over tri-color pasta for myself, and poured over some leftover biscuits from KFC. Both great options.

Chicken stroganoff over pasta.

Chicken stroganoff over biscuits.

Tilapia with rice & mixed veggies

Since I have resolved to eat healthier and exercise regularly this year, I will be adding many healthier recipes (I hope). I have been doing well so far, working out 5 days every week. By working out I mean go to our rec center and do 20-30 minutes on the elliptical, or run a mile on the track. Plus weight training 3-4 days a week.
So, as fish and vegetables happen to be two of the best foods for you, I decided to whip up one of my favorites, tilapia. As a side dish, a mixture of every vegetable I had in the house. It turned out delicious, and made enough of the rice & veggie mix to last 2 more lunches.
Ingredients:
1 tilapia fillet
Juice of 1 lemon or 4 tbsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper
Nature’s seasoning
1 large carrot
2 celery sticks
1 spear broccoli
1/2 onion
1 pint mushrooms
1 can black beans
1/2 cup brown rice
To cook the tilapia, I took it straight out of the freezer and put it in a frying pan with about 2 tbsp. olive oil and the lemon juice. Cover with a lid, and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes. While cooking, I diced all the vegetables into small bite-sized pieces and boiled 1 cup of water.
Once boiling, I added the 1/2 cup rice and let simmer 20 minutes. In a second frying pan I added the carrots first to cook in about 1/2 cup water for 3 minutes. Then in order of hardness: the celery, broccoli, onion and mushroom. Covered that with a lid and let steam.
By this time I was ready to flip the tilapia to cook the other side. I sprinkled on some pepper and seasonings and a bit more lemon juice. Let cook for 5 minutes or so until done. Then flipped it back over for a minute and moved to serving dish.
In the pot which I was steaming the rice, I added all the cooked veggies and let steam another 3 minutes, then served 1 portion of it with the fish.

The fish was lemony and peppery, white and flaky. The vegetables were a good mixture of tastes and textures, and the beans add extra fiber and protein. Little to no fat overall.

Nutritional Info – Rice & veggie mix
  • Servings Per Recipe: 4
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 125.6
  • Total Fat: 0.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 63.6 mg
  • Total Carbs: 24.3 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 7.4 g
  • Protein: 7.3 g

Goat cheese lasagna

 

Well, as December is chock-full of holidays and I spend half of it at home, I did not do much cooking past the 20th. It’s nice to be at home where someone else cooks for me and does the dishes. Like a restaurant, but with more love and fighting.

Anyhow, it’s 2012 now, time for some more creative kitchen adventures. I’m sure I will have plenty of old standbys like tacos and ramen noodles, but there are also some recipes on my mind I’d like to try soon. Plus, I’ve resolved to eat healthier and exercise more because the holiday weight gain really snuck up on me this year. So hopefully you will see lots of salads, soups and veggies.

Since I have not yet made anything spectacular, today I will post the last meal of 2011 that I made, goat cheese lasagna! This stuff is amazingly delicious, and terribly detrimental to the health of anyone kidney-stone-prone. But I had goat cheese and I love the stuff, so I went ahead and made it anyways as an end-of-the-year treat.

Ingredients:
Lasagna noodles
Pasta sauce
Ground beef
Goat cheese
Ricotta or cottage cheese

Step 1: Boil a large pot of water. Add the noodles once fully boiling and boil for 7-9 minutes. Once al dente, drain.

Step 2: While water is boiling, brown about 1 pound ground beef and drain excess grease. If you want, you can combine the meat and sauce in a bowl.

Step 3: Mix the cheeses together well in a separate bowl.

Step 4: In a baking pan or crock pot, layer the noodles, cheese, sauce and meat. Bake at 375 for 1 hour, or on high for 4-5 hours. You can also sprinkle some mozarella on top.

Then just sit back and enjoy! The salty tang of the goat cheese is phenomenal. I’d recommend adding a layer of spinach in there to healthify it and add extra nutrients.

Wedding Soup

 

As I was browsing some old cooking magazines one slow day at work, I came across a recipe for wedding soup that sounded absolutely wonderful. Seeing as I had most of the ingredients (though the list is super short anyways) I decided to try it out. Here is my version of it.

Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots
  • 1 head of escarole
  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 8 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 can cooked chicken
  • 1/2 bag frozen Italian style meatballs (ok, so I took a bit of a shortcut here)
  • black pepper to taste
Here’s the ingredients laid out on a cutting board.
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Step 1: Put a half pot of water on to boil and open up the bouillon cubes and drop them in.
Step 2: Cut the end off the head of escarole and chop into thin strips, maybe 1/2 inch. No real science to it. I diced up the carrots into small pieces, put that in, and added the spinach and the escarole to the pot. I opened the chicken and added in about 1 tbsp black pepper.
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Step 3: Put that on medium-high and let it come to a boil. Then put it on to simmer while I made the noodles. (Yes, I made up for frozen meatballs by making my own noodles!)
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To make the noodles, I mixed about 1 cup flour and 2 eggs in a bowl until dough-like. I then pinched off tablespoon-sized balls of dough one at a time and rolled them with my hands into logs. Then I sliced those into tiny dumplings and boiled them for about 5 minutes.
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Seriously, making your own noodles tastes a million times better than the store! Although it is quite a bit of work. I got maybe a pound out of 2 hours’ work.
The final step is to add the meatballs, put it all together in a bowl and enjoy! It is super healthy (besides the probably astronomical sodium…) and pretty cheap overall to make quite a bit. You should definitely sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top! Next time though, I will add 2 or 3 times as much chicken, because 1 can into a gallon or so of soup gets lost easily.

Slow cooker enchiladas

Since I have no oven in my current apartment, I have been looking for new and creative recipes to try in the slow cooker. I found one for enchiladas on Allrecipes.com and decided to use that as the basis for dinner tonight. Of course, I am terrible about measurements, so maybe you’ll want to look up their recipe if you want exact amounts.
Ingredients:
~1.5 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup taco seasoning
1/4 cup water
1 can cream of chicken
1 cup salsa
handful of fresh cilantro (because it was on sale 0.74 a bunch!)
Corn tortillas
Shredded cheese
Step 1: Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain off as much of the grease as you can. Add the taco seasoning and water, and cook the seasoning into the beef until most is absorbed. This is the second layer over the tortillas.
Step 2: Mix the chicken soup, salsa and diced cilantro in a bowl. This will be your third layer.


Step 3: Spray the inside of the crock pot so hopefully there will be no burnt-on mess later. Put down a layer or 2 of tortillas. Then a layer of meat. Then the cheese mixture. Over the topmost layer of beef, I added some slices of pepper jack to give it an extra little kick.

Keep layering until you use all the beef and soup mixture. Put a top layer of tortillas on and sprinkle with more cheese. 
Put on High for 45 minutes to 1 hour. We will see in an hour how well I did!

Stuffed peppers

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Stuffed peppers have become known as my signature dish among certain people. I made them once, my friend fell in love and shared them with his family, who also loved them. Through trial and error, I have perfected the recipe and learned that shortcuts are usually not worth sacrificing taste!
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The typical stuffed pepper is made with a green bell pepper and stuffed with a combination of meat, rice, and spices. I like using the red ones so much better because they are sweeter. As always, there is plenty of room for experimentation, and they can easily be made vegetarian. I made some yellow ones stuffed with a combination of quinoa, carrots, brown sugar, celery and raisins that were quite delicious.
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However, this is “the” recipe for my famous peppers. Perhaps I shouldn’t share, but they are so good I feel everyone should have a chance to make and try them!
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The most recent batch I made was a dozen for myself and my friend’s family. If you are only making 2 or 4, the recipe can easily be pared down, just cut amounts by 1/4 or whatever you need.
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Ingredients:

12 red bell peppers (ok, 2 were yellow)
~1.5 pounds ground beef
~2 cups rice
2 cups chicken broth or 2 bouillon cubes
1 packet onion soup mix
1 large can (24 oz?) tomato sauce or 3-4 smaller ones
Nature’s Seasons

Step 1: Boil the rice in the chicken broth. This gives the rice extra flavor and saltiness.
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Step 2: Brown the ground beef. Put it in a pan and cook over medium heat until there is no more pink. Drain the excess grease.
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Step 3: In a large bowl, mix the cooked meat, the cooked rice, the seasonings and the sauce. (Honestly, I could just eat this mixture itself with a spoon!)
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Step 4: Cut the tops off the peppers and pull out the white rinds and seeds.
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Step 5: Stuff the mixture into the peppers.
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Step 6: Bake at 350 for at least 1 hour. Be sure to add some water to the pan so they don’t dry out or burn. You can rinse the tomato sauce can and use that for extra flavor. Depending on how tender you want your peppers to be, you can leave them in a little longer or shorter. You can also add some shredded cheese on top during the last 5-10 minutes of baking.
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You will know they are ready when the skin is soft to the touch and wrinkled, and the tops are nicely browned. You can also cook these on high in a crock pot for 1-2 hours, they will just not develop the crispy brown top. Enjoy!
They also reheat great for lunch or dinner the next day!

 

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.