23 December 2007

I got a new slow cooker for Christmas! It is really great. You can read all about it here. Here is the first recipe I made in it.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup

1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 (16 oz. cans) black beans
1 (15 oz. can) corn (can use frozen also)
1 (8 oz. can) tomato sauce
12 oz. chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes with the juice
taco seasoning (can use the packet or this recipe)
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream
green onions
tortilla chips

Add first seven ingredients to the slow cooker. Mix well so the seasonings are evenly distributed. Lay chicken breasts on top, pushing them down just enough to cover them with the liquid. Simmer on low for 5 hours. Remove the chicken breasts and shred with two forks. Return to slow cooker and simmer an additional hour or so, until chicken is completely cooked through.

Serve with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips. Garnish with green onions.

This is another recipe I got from allrecipes.com and altered a bit. It called for onion and I didn’t have one, so I used a shallot. Also, it called for a can of beer instead of the chicken stock, but YUCK! I don’t like beer and was afraid the taste wouldn’t all cook out, so I substituted the stock instead. Besides, I’m pregnant. I can’t have beer!

The recipe came with a taco seasoning, which I posted separately. As you can read there, I thought it was a little heavy on the chili powder. The soup recipe also called for one can of red chili beans instead of the second can of black beans. That combined with the chili powder gave it a definite “chili” feel. I knew that was going to be an issue when I awoke from my afternoon nap and wondered who was making chili. Next time I will scale back the chili powder and use two cans of black beans instead of one black, one red.

I didn’t simmer it on low like the recipe says. I didn’t get it together until about 1:30, so I put it on high. I shredded the chicken at 6:00 and it was literally falling apart. I hate shredding chicken, but it was so easy. The chicken was so tender. The original recipe says to simmer another 2 hours after shredding the chicken, but I didn’t think it needed that much additional time. It was 98% cooked through by then.

I put “2-3 chicken breasts” in the recipe because it really depends on how big your breasts are. (Lol, no I don’t mean the ones in your shirt!) They are usually so thick that they take forever to cook and make huge portion sizes, so when I bring them home I slice them in half (flat-wise) and freeze them individually on a sheet pan. So, how thick your breasts are will determine the cooking time and how many you need to use. I used three of the thin sliced ones: one med, one large, and one kinda small. When I shredded it, I left out half of the big one because I didn’t think it needed any more chicken.

Even with the chili feel to it, we absolutely loved this recipe. It was really flavorful and the chicken was nice and tender. It had great flavor without being very hot. Next time I might add some cayenne pepper or maybe a dash of hot sauce to give it a little something extra, especially since I am reducing the chili powder. If you like things hot, I strongly suggest you add something like that.

I will definitely be making this again! Please try it. It is so easy and so good!

I have to include this pic. It's of Jim's serving. He insisted I take one of his as well. He completely drowned his in cheddar cheese, as you can see!

22 December 2007

Some very nice church members gave us some venison they had processed recently. I had never prepared venison before and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I thought it is probably best done similarly to beef and stroganoff is one of my favorite beef dishes.

I had made beef stroganoff once a few years ago but we didn’t care for it that much. That recipe had red wine in it and the wine taste really came through in the finished dish. We didn’t really like that. So I knew I wanted a recipe that didn’t use wine. I wanted one that had beef broth and sour cream. There were a handful of venison stroganoff recipes on allrecipes.com, but most of them called for cream of mushroom soup instead of beef broth and sour cream. And most of them didn’t even have mushrooms in them. Sorry, that’s not stroganoff to me! So I came up with my own recipe.

Venison Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. venison steak, cut off the bone and cubed
salt and pepper (go easy on the salt if you aren’t using reduced-sodium broth later)
onion powder
garlic powder
1 ½ cups reduced sodium beef broth
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup light sour cream
5 cups wide egg noodles

Season venison with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Brown in large skillet. When no longer pink, add ½ cup beef broth and the mushrooms. Cover and simmer on low until mushrooms are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until well-mixed. Allow to cook for a few minutes. Add 1 cup beef broth and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, boil noodles until al dente and drain. When desired sauce thickness is achieved, remove from heat and add sour cream.

Serve stroganoff over egg noodles.

It was really good! I had some trouble coming up with the right thickness for the sauce. I wasn’t totally sure how thick I wanted it. I kept going back and forth between, “It’s too thin,” and “It’s too thick,” while I was cooking. My roux didn’t thicken up very much, and I think that might have been because the venison was so lean that there was hardly any fat in the pan when I did it. But it ended up turning out really well.

The venison had great flavor. Jim said he thought it tasted just like beef. I could tell that it wasn’t beef, but I thought it worked really well in this recipe. Some reviewers on allrecipes.com suggested marinating the venison before browning to tenderize it, but I’m glad I didn’t worry about doing that because the venison I had didn’t need it.

This was a wonderful dinner. I will definitely be making it again, with beef too. Thanks for the venison, Tim and Christy!
I make my own taco seasoning.  There certainly is nothing wrong with the little packet, but I like the idea of being able to customize the flavor of my taco meat.  I love chipotle, so I add that to my seasoning.  I also use smoked paprika, which gives it a wonderful flavor.

Taco Seasoning

1½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp oregano
½ tsp paprika (I use smoked)
1½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

pinch of ground chipotle powder

Combine all ingredients.  Add to ground beef along with 2 tbsp flour and ¼ cup water.

Makes 2 tbsp.

I know that it's a pain to get 10 different spices out of the cabinet every time you make tacos.  That's why I make a big batch of this (8x the original recipe) and keep it in a jar in my spice cabinet.  Then I just measure out 2 tbsp for each batch of taco meat.  To spare you from doing the math yourself, here's the recipe for a big batch.

Big Batch of Taco Seasoning


¼  cup chili powder
¼  cup ground cumin
3 tsp pepper
6 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½  tsp chipotle powder
2 tsp oregano
3 tsp paprika

Combine all ingredients.  Place in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Store in cabinet, away from heat and direct light.
Use 2 tbsp of seasoning for each 1 lb. taco meat.

Makes 8 (2 tbsp) servings.

18 December 2007

After almost two years without a crockpot, I finally got a new one! The one I registered for when we got married was a little cheap deal that basically started disintegrating on me in our third year of marriage. The little plastic feet kept slowly chipping away, the casing that housed the dial started cracking and then oozing some strange blue substance, then finally the whole dial just fell out of the machine! I didn't bother moving it back to St. Louis; it got trashed.

Some very generous members of our congregation gave us a housewarming gift and then a Christmas gift and it was the perfect amount with which to purchase this really nice crockpot (yes, I know "Crockpot" is a trademarked term for the Rival brand, but it's so much easier to say and type than "slow cooker," so that's what I use.)

It is the Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker, model 33966. Check it out on

It comes with a temperature probe. If you are cooking meat, you stick the probe in the meat (there is a hole for it in the lid) and tell the crockpot what temperature you want the meat to be when done. When it reaches the desired temperature, the unit will automatically switch to the "warm" setting from whatever you had it on to cook. So no more overcooked, mushy meats!

You can program it to cook on "high" for a certain number of hours then switch to "low." It's completely programmable. Neat! You can also use it just like the traditional crockpots by simply setting it on high, low, or warm.

I've only made one dish in it so far,
Crockpot Chicken Taco Soup, but I love it already. Even though I am home most days, I think I will use it a lot simply because it's so easy and hassle free. And it means spending less time on my feet which is becoming more taxing the bigger this baby gets!

I really like the oval shape of this appliance, too. I was able to lay flat three chicken breasts without them touching each other. That means things will cook more evenly. And on an aesthetic note, it is very sleek looking with the black and stainless steel. So shiny and pretty!
Thank you so much, Virgil and Carol!

10 December 2007

This is a punch I made for our housewarming party yesterday. I was looking for a cranberry-flavored one because cranberry has become a holiday flavor, for some reason. I had some punch in Texas once that had Jell-O in it, and it was really good, so I looked for a similar recipe. I found one on allrecipes.com that was meant to be a green Halloween punch, as it called for lime Jell-O. I decided to use it and add cranberry Jell-O instead of lime. Well, I wasn't able to find cranberry Jell-O the day I went to the store, so I got raspberry instead so it would still be red at least. Then when I was looking for the ginger ale, I found that Canada Dry had a cranberry flavored ginger ale. So it ended up being a cran-raspberry punch.

Holiday Punch

2 (3 oz.) boxes raspberry Jell-O
4 cups hot water
46 oz. pineapple juice
1 can frozen no-pulp orange juice concentrate, thawed
4 ½ cups cold water
2 liters cranberry ginger ale

Dissolve the Jell-O in the hot water. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, pour the pineapple juice through a fine mesh strainer to reduce the amount of pulp. When the Jell-O mixture is cool, add it to all the remaining ingredients, saving the ginger ale for right before the party so it doesn’t lose its fizz.

It was a huge hit at the party. We had a total of 31 guests and I had to make two batches of it. Tip: Only one batch would fit in the punch bowl, but I guessed that one might not be enough, so before the party, I dissolved the Jell-O in water for the second batch so it would be cool if I needed to whip up another batch during the party. This is a really good idea because it takes a while for it to cool.

This ended up being a bit different from the recipe I found online. First I changed the Jell-O flavor, as I mentioned before. Also, it called for additional white sugar, 2 cups, I think. The reviews from others suggested leaving this out and I’m so glad I did. It was perfect the way it was; I can’t imagine it with extra sugar. And the original recipe didn’t call for straining the pineapple juice, but I think it would have been a little sludgy on the bottom without doing that. I was surprised how much pulp I ended up with after doing that.

This recipe really lends itself to changes. You can use any flavor of Jell-O you like. Ditto with the ginger ale. Also, when I made the second batch, I didn’t add the can of orange juice, and no one could tell a difference. I love flexible recipes!

(The photo above is of the punch when I made it again for my daughter's fourth birthday party in February 2012. Weird that she wasn't even born when I first posted this recipe! It didn't have a picture, so I snapped one of it then. That time I used strawberry Jell-O to get more of a lighter pink color because the party was "My Little Pony" themed.)

Update (3.18.13): I made the green version of this punch for St. Patrick's Day.