Meatballs, Part 2

Once again, I’m hung up on meatballs. Ever since my last post on them, I’ve wanted nothing more than a giant meatball sub, dripping in sauce and cheese. Unfortunately, the only place to get one around my house is at Subway. For some reason, their meatballs have never agreed with me, which is odd because I LOVE Subway. I could eat their roast beef with BBQ sauce, or a pizza sub with extra extra extra peppers and olives, every single day. Their meatballs, though? My body just won’t accept them as food.

So, I’ve been looking at more meatball recipes. I’m hoping that, in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to make a big batch of meatballs and proceed to devour them. I’m talking meatballs on rice, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball subs, and even meatballs on those tiny little cocktail swords my grandma never let us play with on New Years as kids.

So anyway, here is a great recipe I intend on trying from AllRecipes. This is just a basic meatball and tomato sauce, which gives you room for lots of creativity.

Ingredients

8 h 20 m

Directions

  • Prep 20 m

  • Cook 8 h

  • Ready In 8 h 20 m

  1. In a bowl, mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, onion, and egg. Shape the mixture into 16 meatballs.
  2. In a slow cooker, mix the pasta sauce, crushed tomatoes, and tomato puree. Place the meatballs into the sauce mixture. Cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours.

Again, this is just a basic recipe that’s easy yet delicious. This time, instead of baking the meatballs so they get that crispiness to them on the outside, these are just cooked entirely in the slow cooker. That makes these meatballs great for things like sandwiches, but not so great for poking with small swords.

Now, you don’t have to use the Classico sauce used above. There are about 30 different flavours of tomato sauce available in any large grocery store. And you can always make your own, too. I like to get large bottles of tomato puree, or plain sauce. This way, I can season it with whatever I like. I like to add oregano and rosemary for an Italian sauce, or some Sriracha sauce and cayenne pepper for a bit of a kick. Or, you can just add all of that together for a spicy Italian tomato sauce. This is great for spicy subs!

You can also add more to this recipe if you want, too. As you know, I like to pretend to be healthy, so I add veggies to pretty much everything I cook. Sliced or canned mushrooms and diced green peppers are a fantastic addition to any tomato sauce. Get creative, throw you favourite veggies in, or a spice you really love. Half the fun of basic recipe is making it your own, sunshine.

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Slow Cooker Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

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It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Something as simple as macaroni and cheese can be so basic, and so fancy. Some days, when you can’t even muster up the strength or will to make yourself a whole meal, that box of store brand macaroni and cheese that costs a whole fifty cents just screams out to you. When you’re out for dinner with your friends, the mac’n’cheese screams to you from the menu (it sure is a noisy pasta). You know it’s not the boxed stuff you make at home, and a part of you wants to try it. Maybe sometimes, when you’re feeling fancy, you throw you mac’n’cheese in the oven with some bread crumbs on top, to make it look like the restaurant version.

No matter how or when you eat it, macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. It’s just one of those things that people crave when it’s cold, or they’re feeling down, or they just really want cheese. So why not make a rich, gooey mac’n’cheese in your crock pot, so it’s ready for you when you get home?

Here’s the recipe I found on Fake Ginger. This site, by the way, has some great slow cooker recipes on it, including one for Crockpot Candy that I am definitely going to have to try!

Ingredients

12 oz dry elbow macaroni
1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
10 slices American cheese, chopped
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Spray the inside of the slow cooker bowl with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of the slow cooker, combine the macaroni, cheeses, evaporated milk and skim milk. Stir until combined and the macaroni is almost completely covered by liquid and cheese. Cover and cook on low for 1½ hours.
  3. After 1½ hours, the cheese should be melted and the macaroni should be cooked. Fold and stir in the dry mustard, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Make sure to stir well to make sure all the macaroni is coated with cheesy goodness.

Now, a few tips for everyone.

  • don’t panic if you can’t find gruyere, or it’s too damn expensive for you. It’s a cheese commonly used in fondues, and can be hard to come by in a lot of stores. Swiss and Monterey Jack are also great fondue cheeses that melt very well, and are much easier to come by. They even sell store brand bricks of it in many larger grocery stores.
  • I don’t know who decided that elbow macaroni is the be-all and end-all of macaronis to eat with cheese. I like to find what’s cheap and cute, and use that. Fusilli is great because the shape holds the cheese well, and it’s name is fun to say. Bowtie pasta is just fun to eat any time, same with wagon wheel. And you can always get a cheap package of spaghetti and use that.
  • I like to add veggies to my meals, just to pretend I’m eating healthy. If you can find it cheap, cauliflower is great in pasta and cheese dishes (it’s damn expensive right now though, so I’m not using that). Broccoli is also great, and you can get big frozen bags of it cheap when it’s on sale. I’ve also used canned corn and peas and the past, and it turned out great.
  • if you use frozen veggies, thaw them completely before throwing them in. For canned veggies, drain ALL the liquid from the can before dumping it in. You don’t want any water in this recipe!
  • play around with meat if you want. I like to add hot dogs to my regular mac’n’cheese, and like to buy the “good” hot dogs when they’re on sale (the all beef, name brand, 5 per pack because they’re huge things ones). Chop or slice them up and throw them in there for a “fancy” mac’n’cheese with hot dogs!

Well, this post is making me hungry now, and there’s a box of dollar store fifty cent mac’n’cheese in the cupboard calling my name. Have fun in the kitchen, sunshine!

Fall In Love with a Crock Pot

I was never big on slow cookers. I mean, my parents had one when I was a kid, and sometimes we’d make meatballs in it. They bought two big ones for when they host our big New Years Day party, and they cook ham and keilbasa in them. But that was the only time we ever dug them out.

Even at my house, my roommate bought one and hardly ever used it. Again, it would be hauled out to make meatballs, and that was pretty much it. Why does everyone seem to want to make meatballs the second a crock pot is in the room?

Well, that roommate moved back home at the end of the summer this year, and had to pack all of his things into his car for the cross-country trip. He left behind anything he decided was a non-essential to him. So, while he made room for his pizza stone, he decided to leave the slow cooker behind, giving it to me.

And now I am in love.

It started with a can of refried beans, some chicken, and a very busy week. The boyfriend was working extra and in class, I had picked up some extra shifts, had a tonne of housework to catch up on, and had scored some interviews with a few temp agencies in town. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of coming home at 9:30pm after a closing shift, just to stand in the kitchen over a hot stove and make a whole meal. So, I started throwing random things into the slow cooker that seemed like they’d work well together.  I took a large can of refried beans, some chopped chicken breast, a can of green chillies, a can of corn, a bunch of hot spices, and some rice and just threw it all in there on low while I was at work.

This was probably the best dinner I have ever made in my life, mainly because it was delicious and I didn’t have to really cook it.

Next, I tried a bunch of beef, some mushrooms, and  broccoli.Then I just Googled “broccoli beef slow cooker” and started browsing. I somewhat followed this recipe with a few changes to it. I added all my veggies in the slow cooker right from the start. I also served it over egg noodles instead of rice. But again, an amazing yet simple meal.

I’m now becoming obsessed with my crock pot. I use it at least once a week. This makes me a large and easy meal on Monday nights, and gives me plenty of leftovers. This week I made beef stew, and had enough left over to have it for dinner last night and lunch today! Since I used fresh ingredients, it took me a bit longer to prep than usual (peeling carrots and potatoes is not something I’m particularly quick at). But still, I didn’t have to stand over the stove, keep an eye on anything, or even do anything more than make crescent rolls once the lid was sealed shut and the cooker turned on.

I’ve found that anything can be made in the slow cooker. Thanks to BuzzFeed and Google, I have about 97 million slow cooker recipes to choose from, too! So here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your slow cooker.

  • trim as much of the fat off your meats as possible, and remove the skin from poultry. Leaving the fat on just makes it melt into your food. While that sounds utterly delicious sometimes, it leaves a runny and greasy mess both in your food and on your dishes.
  • if you’re using seafood, don’t add it in until the last hour of cooking. Putting it in there for hours at a time will just make it come out rubbery.
  • don’t throw in frozen meat. It will take longer to cook, and your sauces will turn out watered down.
  • don’t lift the lid unless a recipe tells you too! The whole point of the slow cooker is that it traps in the heat. Opening the lid lets that heat out. And once it’s out, it adds another 20-30 minutes on to your cook time. So only open it if you’re using a recipe that tells you to (since it will have that built right into the cook time).
  • using cheap cuts of meat works best. They tend to have less fat, they’re cheap (which is always a good thing!), and they absorb more of the flavour.
  • cooking for 1 hour on high is the equivalent of cooking for 2 hours on low. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to cook things a bit faster, or slower.
  • unless a recipe tells you otherwise, don’t add anything dairy until the last 30-45 minutes. Putting dairy in there for hours at a time will cause it to curdle, which is just nasty and totally unappetizing.
  • if you’re using fresh carrots and potatoes (like in my stew) and don’t want them coming out hard or crunchy, put them on the bottom of the pot. This will help them cook all the way through so you get a nice event texture that doesn’t feel raw.
  • if there’s too much liquid in the pot when your food is done, or your sauces didn’t thicken right, there’s a few things you can try. Cook it on high for 30 minutes with the lid off. This lets some of the liquid steam off. You could also try adding flour, corn starch, or potato flakes to your sauce. It will help thicken your sauce without loosing any to steam.
  • only fill the pot 1/2 to 2/3 of the way. NEVER fill it right to the top! Filling it up all the way increases your cook time a lot, and can damage some cookers.

So why not try out a slow cooker? There are some fantastic models out there that are cheap. You can also usually find older models in thrift stores (just be sure to check the cord for shorts). Even if you don’t use it weekly like I like to, you’ll be sure to get some fantastic meals out of it, sunshine!

Meat Balls – Part 1

I don’t know why, but everyone seems to make meatballs in slow cookers. Is that what they were invented for? My parents made them when I was a kid. It seems like every pot luck I’ve ever been invited to had at least one slow cooker full of meatballs at it. And the first, and possibly only, thing my roommate ever made in his slow cooker was meatballs. And they’re not even fully done in the slow cooker half the time. You have to prep them in the oven first, so they get that yummy crispiness on the outside first. Then you slow cook them in sauce, so they absorb it and burst with delicious yumminess.

But, since this is like THE thing to make in a slow cooker, I guess I’ll have to try them out some day. I mean, they ARE delicious. I always loved making egg noodles, and pouring on big ladles full of meatballs and sauce. And there’s so many different types of meatballs you can make!

So here’s a basic recipe, showing you how to make the meatballs themselves, and then make the sauce in a crock pot and let them simmer in it. AllRecipes is a great place for beginners in the kitchen, as a lot of their recipes are quite simple, yet impressive and delicious.

Later, I’ll throw on another recipes for one of my all-time favourites, Swedish Meatballs! And later on this month, I’ll throw in a few more meatball recipes. The great thing with these is you can either make your meatballs from scratch using the recipe below, or you can buy a box of them and throw them in the slow cooker. Either way, when someone asks if you cooked this, you can honestly say “yes”!

Your Basic Meatballs

Ingredients

1 h 45 m 

Directions

  • Prep 20 m

  • Cook 1 h 25 m

  • Ready In 1 h 45 m

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, egg, water, bread crumbs, and minced onion. Roll into small meatballs.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once.
  4. In a slow cooker or large saucepan over low heat, blend the cranberry sauce, chili sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Add meatballs, and simmer for 1 hour before serving.

These meatballs are your basic cocktail meatballs. They’re what you would find at a pot luck, with little cocktail swords stuck in them.  If you’re not a big fan of the sauce, that’s ok. The first three steps in this recipe show you how to make the meatballs themselves from scratch. You can now use that recipe with OTHER meatball recipes, in place of store bought meatballs that so many recipes tell you to use.

Now, one of my favourites is the Swedish Meatball. As a kid, I was a HUGE fan of the Swedish Chef. He was one of the many Muppets who started my great Muppet obsession. I was convinced that anything that had Swedish in its name would be as awesome as him. As it turns out, both Swedish Meatballs and the candy Swedish Fish ARE delightful!

These meatballs also helped me through a tough time. My baby brother (he’s in his mid-twenties now, so I should really stop calling him that) moved away to teach in Sweden for a while. He and I have always been pretty close, and his leaving hit me hard. I think that’s why my roommate made meatballs in the first place: to help me handle that.

Anyway, I’m rambling about Muppets and family again. Now this is a delightful Swedish Meatball recipe from the folks at Yummly. You may have to sign up for their website in order to see the recipe, but it’s a free site (as far as I can tell. I’ve never been billed for using it) and has some delicious recipes on it.

Swedish Meatballs

Ingredients
  • 1 (10¾ oz) can cream of mushroom soup
  • ½ cup fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp A1 steak sauce
  • dash of paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) bag frozen meatballs (this is around 33 meatballs)
  • 1 c sour cream
  • prepared mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles
Instructions
  1. In your slow cooker, combine the soup, mushrooms, beef broth, onion, garlic powder, steak sauce, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add meatballs and toss to coat.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Before serving mix in sour cream and serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles. Serves 6.

Again, you can use the meatballs in the recipe above for the meatballs here. Or, you can just buy them frozen if you really want. No one will judge you for not hand-forming 30+ individual balls of meat and then baking them, especially if you are short on time and/or patience.

So, have a little fun with your slow cooker this weekend. Have a (meat)ball, sunshine!

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken

Ok, so this recipe is sort of a pre-recipe to other great recipes. If you have a slow cooker, and you eat chicken, then this is definitely something you need to try. I read a dozen shredded chicken recipes, and the best one I found is this one from the wonderful folks behind Love Grows Wild. What I love best about this recipes is the simplicity of it. It’s so damn easy to make, and you can make a whole lot of it too.

The recipe is:

Ingredients
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thawed or frozen will work)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
Then the instructions are so simple!
Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. Carefully remove the chicken onto a cutting board and dice or shred into bite-size pieces.
And that’s it! That is the entire recipe!
But wait, you’re saying. Surely that can’t be it. You can’t expect me to just munch on shredded chicken as a meal!
And you’re right. That’s why I call it a ‘pre-recipe’. Once you make this, you can freeze it for later. You can throw some in the fridge to use tomorrow. And you don’t have to worry about shredding chicken in the middle of a recipe (which I always somehow mess up).
So what can you use this for? Well,how about sandwiches? I love sandwiches, and shredded chicken takes them to the next level. Since you haven’t seasoned the chicken much, you can add whatever you want to it. Mix some shredded chicken with buffalo sauce or the hottest spices you like, throw down on some bread with some spicy mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, and a bit of lettuce, and you’ve got a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Or try just regular mayo, some diced celery and carrots, and make some chicken salad.  Basically, pick a sauce, mix in chicken, spread on bread, add some other toppings, and you’ve got your sandwich!
This works great for wraps too. Too often, using big chunks of chicken in a wrap means I’m pulling chicken out, which pulls out more of the other filler, which then falls down my top. Shredded chicken eliminates that problem for me, making my wraps boob-food-free!
You can use this with salads too. Chicken Caesar salad is as simple as scooping a little chicken into a Caesar salad (yes, it’s almost too simple). Why not substitute the fried bacon chunks in your cob salad with a little shredded chicken? Or just add some to a regular garden salad for some added protein.
And it doesn’t stop there. The chicken in your freezer, thaw it out for other recipes. Throw some in with a can of refried beans, some green chillies, and some enchilada sauce. It’s your own take on a chicken and bean burrito!  Add shredded chicken to pasta sauces, homemade (or even canned) soups, or use it to make homemade chicken burger patties. The options are damn near endless!
Basically, if you have a slow cooker, and you like chicken, then this is definitely something you need to try for yourself. You can do so much with a bit of shredded chicken, and it makes cooking on the fly so much easier when you have what you need pre-cooked and right in front of you.
So go ahead, have a little fun with chicken, sunshine!

Loaded Broccoli and Cheese Soup

When you’re on a budget, soups are easy. Have some veggies that are going bad soon? Throw them in a soup! Ramen on sale? Make some soup! 

So, this here is a recipe for a delicious cream soup. Most of the ingredients can be found at any local grocery store. Here’s a few tips for students, or anyone on a budget or living without a car (meaning you have to carry all your groceries home while you walk).

  • Yes, it’s cheap to buy potatoes by the bag. But what if you know you won’t eat that many potatoes before they go bad? Thanks to one of my current roommates, I’ve seen the fruit-fly-filled-mess left behind when good potatoes go bad. Many grocery stores sell individual potatoes, or very small bags. This is great for those who don’t want to waste food, and for those who don’t have a vehicle to transport their groceries in. I mean, who wants to lug around a 10lbs bag of potatoes on top of all their other shopping?
  • Another option is canned potatoes. I always buy a few cans when they go on sale, and keep them in my cupboard. You can buy them pre-diced, cutting down on prep time. And they’re good for so many things (have some leftover chicken sent home with you from your folks? Throw it in the oven with a can of potatoes, a few baby carrots, cheap olive oil…… it’s to die for!).
  • Again, do you really need to buy a big bag of carrots? As much as I love them, I know I won’t eat a whole bag (and I’m accident prone. Vegetable peelers are not my friend). You can grab cheap bags of baby carrots to use instead. You won’t get the big slices of carrots seen in the picture above, but you won’t have as much leftover produce either. I can usually find them for about $1.50 a bag, and they’re great for cooking.
  • Broccoli goes bad so quickly sometimes. If you have the freezer space, grab some frozen broccoli when it’s on sale. Just let it thaw a while as not to water down the soup.
  • Again, buying a giant bag of flour is very economical. But what if you can’t lug that giant bag home, or you can’t afford to buy an entire giant bag right now? Most bulk stores or bulk grocery sections have flour. You can buy small bags for next to nothing. When you only need 1/3 of a cup, why buy 15lbs?
  • This also works with most spices. If it’s something you use all the time, like salt or pepper, it might be worth it to grab a big container, or get it at the dollar store. But how often do you use garlic powder, or onion powder, or any other spice? If the answer is “probably just when I make this one specific recipe”, then get very small quantities from the bulk foods store. Some spices can be close to $10 for a decent sized jar. Let’s face it, we don’t always have $10 to spend on a random spice!

So, have fun trying out this soup! I just grabbed some clearance canned potatoes and on-sale frozen broccoli last weekend, so I will be making this as soon as the weather gets chilly again!