Crock Pot Swiss Steak Pot Roast

Swiss Steak Pot Roast
This was one of the very first recipes I ever shared here on the blog, but in the years since I first posted it I’ve fine tuned the recipe and figured it was time to add photos and video. Gosh I’ve been doing this for a long time. Everything has changed.

How I came up with this recipe is another of my favorite stories. On the phone with a friend we were trading recipes and I wrote down both her pot roast recipe and her sloppy joe recipe, but didn’t label anything. So when I next went to make a pot roast I accidentally came up with this concoction – a pot roast with a spicy tomato based gravy full of onions and peppers. Which is pretty much what swiss steak is. Except mine is spicy and delicious and cooks up in the crock pot with barely any work.

Crock Pot Swiss Steak Pot Roast
Pot Roast
1 onion, small diced
1 green pepper, small diced
2 T butter
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 C brown sugar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
hot sauce to taste

In a hot and dry pan, sear all the sides of your pot roast until it’s got a lovely golden brown crust. Meanwhile, roughly chop the potatoes, celery, and carrots and toss them in your crock pot. When your pot roast is fully seared, nestle it on top of the vegetables in your crock pot.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the diced onion and peppers. Saute until soft and the onions are translucent. Pour the onions and peppers out on top of the meat.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients to make the sauce. Add a little water to thin the sauce as necessary, especially if you’re cooking a lot of vegetables or a huge hunk of meat. Pour it into the crock pot and add water if needed to cover the vegetables. Close the lid and cook until the veggies are tender and the meat falls apart with a fork.

This recipe is one of the many reasons I’m a believer in making mistakes. I never would have come up with this without totally screwing up.


Herbal Caramel Chocolates

Herbal Caramel Chocolates
When I was a kid we used to make those microwave wilton chocolate candies for everything. We’d pull out the box full of molds my mom had stuffed in a back cabinet from the week she decided she was going to take up chocolate making, we’d rescue some ancient chocolates from another pantry, and we’d laboriously paint with melted “chocolate” to make little gobs of something that tasted like wax. All the fun was in the making, but now that I’m older and snobbier about my chocolate, I want to make something that is worth the trouble. I’ve been intimidated by chocolate but there’s really no need. It’s way easier than I believed. You just need a thermometer.

For my filling I wanted to make an herbed caramel. Some of my favorite Chocolate Artisans (that’s what they call themselves) make caramels infused with rosemary and lavender and brandy and a whole bunch of other not sweet concoctions. So far, the weirder they are the more I like them, so I had to try my hand at my own version.

To add a flavor to the caramel there are a few different ways you could go. You could just chop up bits of whatever and toss it in and you’ll get a crunchy texture, or you could infuse it by melting the butter and then soaking the flavor item in the butter until it took on the flavor, or you can just go straight to adding a few drops of flavored oils – making sure they’re food grade of course. I tried a few options and I found the oil almost fool proof, while the other ways took more finesse than I seem to possess.

Caramel Filling
4 T butter flavored as desired
1/2 C half and half
1 C brown sugar

Over a gentle heat let this all melt together, whisking frequently. Don’t let the sugar burn or the milkfats cook. When it gets to be the consistency of a good caramel sauce, take it off the heat and let it cool.

Meanwhile, prepare your chocolate. If you just melt it and mold it it will taste fine, but if you want that beautiful shiny coating the fine chocolates have you want to take the time to temper your chocolate. This just refers to a heating process that creates the most preferable texture, and has to do with how molecules line up. It’s a simple three step process.
1.)In a bowl that sits over a pot of water, you melt the chocolate until it’s about 115 to 120 degrees.

2.) While stirring, add unmelted chocolate pieces until it cools down to around 81 to 83 degrees. Remove any chocolate pieces that remain unmelted.

3.) Return the bowl to the heat and bring it slowly back up to the working temperature – 86 – 89 degrees.

When your chocolate is tempered pour it into the molds. After much watching of youtube videos, I found that the paintbrushes I used to use as a kid are for suckers. The better way to get a coating on the molds is to fill it up completely, then flip the mold over and let it drain onto a rack or back into a bowl. You’ll get a beautiful thin even coat. Let that set up thoroughly.

The caramel needs to be cool enough to not melt through the chocolate and warm enough to pour. Room temperature is ideal. Fill the molds up, but resist the urge to overfill it. Top with more chocolate and use a metal spatula to scrape off any excess and leave the clean edge.

I was not super clean when I was making mine, I went through a whole lot of trial and error to get the caramel flavorings down and I just had no more patience for doing things the right way that day. But I still found the experience pretty empowering. Chocolate making isn’t that hard, you guys! If you passed seventh grade chemistry, you can totally make beautiful shiny chocolates.


Apple Peanut Butter Bars

Peanut Butter Apple Bars
With only a few days before Christmas, it’s time to abandon plans for elaborate home made gifts for everyone from your mother to the mailman and go to the fastest gift of all – food. A plate full of sweet treats is part of what makes the holiday so much fun, so if you haven’t knitted a scarf for your neighbor or crafted an elaborate picture frame for your hairstylist, a plate of cookies is the way to go.

I came up with this recipe based on one of our favorite evening snacks – a fresh apple cut into pieces and dunked into peanut butter. I’d take those two flavors together even over peanut butter and chocolate, but you rarely see them together. So I had to fix that. If you don’t have any apple butter available or don’t feel like making any, you can sub in your favorite jams.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars

1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C butter
1 C peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 C flour

1 C apple butter

Cream together the sugars, butter, and peanut butter. Add the egg and vanilla and mix together, then add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside about 1/4 of the dough.

Butter and flour a casserole dish, then press the remaining dough into the bottom until it’s covered evenly. Poke a fork into the dough all over to give the steam somewhere to escape to so the dough doesn’t puff up. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Spread the apple butter over the cookie layer. If your apple butter is thinner than jam you might want to cook it on the stovetop for a while to thicken it up so the bottom cookie layer doesn’t get too soggy.

Take the reserved dough and crumble it over the top of the apple butter layer.

Bake at 350 for another 15 minutes. Let cool and cut into squares.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars
I made these for Bear’s work party and when I pulled the first batch out of the oven I was debating whether or not I should make more or if one would be enough. I brought a piece over to Bear and Atti and the tore it apart like cookie monster. I ended up making two more batches, so you might want to plan ahead.


Creamy Corn Chili Dip

Creamy Corn Chili Dip
I had a pretty great weekend, filled with party after party, all at my house. Which means that as the week has gone on, I’ve been eating party leftovers every day. I think my cheese addiction has gotten a little out of control, but I regret nothing.

Parties are always a fantastic excuse to break out the food I love but can’t really eat on a daily basis (like spinach artichoke dip. How do you call that a meal? (Hmm…note to self: make that a meal)) but with having so many parties right on top of each other, it gave me an excuse to branch out and find even more food I love but shouldn’t eat daily. This corn dip is a fantastic option if you love the creamy goodness of spinach artichoke dip, but get a bit bored with the ubiquity. The corn gives a sweetness and the chilis add a punch of brightness. I could eat this for a week. Oh wait, I have.

Creamy Corn Chili Dip

2 bricks of cream cheese, softened
2 cups corn, cooked
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded romano cheese
7 oz can diced green chilies

I used frozen corn, because it’s convenient, so if you do to, defrost it before including it in the rest of your ingredients. Toss all the ingredients together and heat for two minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips, veggies, or bread. Makes enough to serve a crowd. Or one.


Creamy Chicken Crepes

Creamy Chicken Crepes

Creamy Chicken Crepes

I really kind of can’t believe I haven’t blogged this recipe before. This has been a part of our family repertoire since before we were a family. It was, like, the *one* “fancy” thing my mom ever made and each of us daughters adopted it when we launched our own domestic efforts. My mom had an electric crepe maker appliance, something like an inside out frying pan you’d dip into the batter, and one sister got one as her most cherished wedding present. Another sister made this so frequently that when I, newly married, called for the recipe, she recited it from memory. In our early married years I made this so often and in such abundance that we got thoroughly sick of it and I haven’t made it in years. Which is probably why I haven’t blogged it. But today is the day. Today is the day I reclaim this part of my history and share it with all of you.

How to make crepes

How to make crepes

Contrary to how I was raised, you don’t need a special crepe maker appliance to make crepes. If you can make a pancake you can make a crepe. In the same pan. Mix up the batter and get the pan medium hot. I like to use a smallish skillet that heats evenly. Coat the pan with non-stick spray – butter is better but you only need a very little bit – and pour a little less than a 1/4 cup of batter in. Unlike pancakes, you don’t just dump the whole amount in the center and let it spread. To get it as light and thin as you want it you have to make it spread. I start pouring the batter in at one side and pour it as thin as I can, trying to get it all around the skillet. Then I tilt the pan to make a solid surface – no gaps or holes – and to use up any batter that is pooling anywhere. You can even use a knife or a spatula to help this process if you’d like, but once you make a couple of wonky shaped crepes you’ll get the hang of it.

Crepes for dinner

Crepes for dinner

Creamy Chicken Crepes

2/3 C mayonnaise
1/3 C flour
4 C milk
3 C jack cheese, divided
2 C cooked and chopped chicken
1 green onion, chopped
1 large jar pimentos

2 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 eggs
4 cups milk

Whisk together the crepe ingredients and cook as explained above.

Melt the mayonnaise in a pot and when the oil is released add the flour to make a roux. Add the milk a cup at a time, stirring to incorporate the roux and remove any lumps. Add 1 1/2 C cheese and stir until it melts. Add the rest of the ingredients.

Fill the crepes and roll them up. Place in a 9 x 13 casserole dish and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese on the top is browned.

If you hate mayonnaise you can always use regular butter to make the roux, but then you’ll want to be thoughtful in seasoning. The mayo adds a great tangy kick that a regular bechamel sauce doesn’t have.


Recipe: Plantains Fried in Browned Butter

Plantains Fried in Brown Butter
I’m known to be rather…well, “excitable” is the word we use in our family. I scream, I clap, I jump up and down, I have a laugh that shakes the rafters. There’s really no mistaking how I feel about something, especially if I’m enjoying it, and I don’t really have a public filter (which I think is pretty obvious if you’ve been reading here for more than a week).

Bear and I went to a Cuban restaurant once where I ate plantains served with sour cream and onions and the yummy noises I was making were apparently so ridiculous that the waitress started joking with me. But I couldn’t help it. I was discovering a taste that was brand new to me and I was savoring every morsel. It was worth a little embarrassment.

Plantains are common in a lot of South American and Caribbean cooking, but since I’m not familiar with those traditions I just saw the weird green banana looking things at the grocery store and shrugged my shoulders at them. Not anymore. It’s got a freshness like a cucumber as you’re peeling it, and then when you eat it it’s like a banana and a potato had a beautiful starchy baby with just a hint of sweetness. But unlike a potato it cooks up so fast that you can get the rich browned butter flavor on it and it’s cooked before the butter turns black.

Plantains Fried in Browned Butter
1 plantain, peeled and sliced
2 T butter

It really is this simple: Melt the butter in a saute pan and let it heat until foaming and brown. Toss the plantain rounds into the butter and let it cook for 30 seconds or a minute. Flip, cook for 30 or so more seconds, then remove from the butter.

I like to eat mine with sour cream and green onions, just as I had it in the restaurant, and sprinkled with a little chili powder. But the possibilities are endless. They’re like unique little french fries, you could dip them in anything that tastes good.


Recipe: Winter Root Vegetable Gratin

Winter Root Vegetable Gratin
This picture is from our Thanksgiving meal last year and it’s been sitting on my hard drive all year waiting to be seasonally appropriate again. I brought a friend with me to our family Thanksgiving, which meant that she was responsible for contributing a side dish. But since I am a bossy friend who loves to cook, I made her buy the vegetables and then made it myself.

Last year I was OBSESSED with parsnips. I still am, they are woefully underrated, but last year I was putting them in every single dish. So when it came time to come up with a Thanksgiving side dish, I decided to go with my obsession and top it. I pulled out every underrated winter vegetable, threw them in a dish, poured cream and cheese over the top, and called it heaven.

This recipe, like most of mine, is really flexible. I just started chopping vegetables until I couldn’t fit any more in the dish, grated cheese between each layer and more on the top, and poured on as much cream as I could without it overflowing. So basically, what I’m telling you is that my measurements are guesses and you should embrace this recipe as the free form experiment it is.

Winter Root Vegetable Gratin

3 Parsnips, sliced
2 Rutabegas, sliced
3 Turnips, sliced
2 Leeks, white parts only sliced
1 pt heavy cream
1 can chicken broth
2 Cups gruyere cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Rub butter around the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. With all the vegetables washed and sliced into rounds – a food processor makes short work of this – start layering them into the dish one vegetable at a time. Between each layer sprinkle salt and pepper, and some cheese. Save half the cheese for topping. Keep going until your dish is full, saving the leeks for the top layer. Pour in the cream and chicken broth. Cover the dish with tinfoil and bake at 350 for an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the tinfoil, top with the remaining cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted and crispy.

This dish was my favorite kind of “make it up as you go and see what happens” kind of recipe, and was such a huge hit that my family is already double checking that it will be there again this year. One of these days I’ll learn to measure as I go.


Project Put Together: Food Dehydrator

Dehydrating Bananas
Trying to reduce my gluten intake means I need to find all new snack foods. I love snacking. Dangit, I love it SO MUCH! But I have to let go of the crackers and find something else to eat.

When I was a young teenager I used to babysit for a family that had a food dehydrator and would dehydrate everything. Their shelves were stocked with fruit leather and vegetable soup mix, and dried bananas. And every time I was there I made a beeline for that pantry and gorged myself on those bananas. I did it so often that the bananas eventually disappeared and I swore they hid them from me. Gosh I was a terrible babysitter.

But that memory came back to me when I was thinking of what snack food could possibly replace my beloved Cheez-its. So I kicked up the old Amazon Prime and in a couple of days I was making them myself. Although I made the mistake of giving Atti some, and now a war is waging over the “candy bananas.” They don’t last very long around here.


Canned Soup

Home Canned Soup

As I try to keep my gluten reduced, trying to eat from scratch, really just cutting out some processed foods “diet”, I knew I needed to give myself a safety net. There are a lot of days around here, a LOT of days, where dinner time comes around and I am too worked over to even think about lifting a finger. Or I’m up against a deadline and can barely stop to eat let alone cook. Or Bear is working late and then planning a seminary lesson and I’ve got Atti by myself for his whole waking day. Dinner is one of the first things to go when I’m evaluating my ever shifting priority list. That and laundry. And sweeping. And basically cleaning anything in my house that doesn’t create smells.

So to try and set myself up for success I knew I had to have something prepared and handy for those days when I couldn’t scrounge something together. Whether it’s for our health or for our budget, whenever we set the goal of eating at home I always blow it when I’m too tired to make dinner and the call of In N Out is too strong. I had to have something ready to beat back that temptation.

My love of canning comes in handy again. I bought a pressure canner years ago once I realized that I was ready to commit to canning as a way of life, but the only time I’ve used the pressure feature is when I canned tomatoes earlier this summer. Pressure canning is no harder than water bath canning, but there is a bit of a learning curve.

I put up my homemade vegetable soup, my garlic cilantro chicken soup, and a curried split pea and ham soup, and the process was not entirely successful. I started with the chicken soup, and it was there that I learned you need to give yourself a lot more headroom in the jars. Like, an inch and a half. The high pressure gets the soup boiling hard and high and I had a LOT of lids that didn’t seal because the broth was bubbling out. I refused to learn my lesson and had to process a bunch of the jars so many times that I basically have vegetable mush in chicken broth.

Canning the split pea soup I learned that the long canning process REALLY intensifies the seasoning. Of course, I didn’t realize this until all the canning was done and I cracked open a jar to discover that the soup was basically inedible because of the amount of salt and curry flavor that overpowered everything else. Go easy on the salt. The liquid reduces during canning and you’re left with a whole lot more salt flavor than you had going in.

By the time I canned the vegetable soup I figured out what I was doing and had nothing but success. This round of chicken soup and split pea soup might all end up in the compost and chalked up to a lesson learned, but at least I’ll have a whole bunch of vegetable soup to rely on as the weather turns cold and I’d rather curl up with a blanket and a cat instead of cooking a meal from scratch.


Spicy Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers
With how many variations of meat and carbs Bear insists on eating, I’m amazed I haven’t gotten around to trying my hand at stuffed peppers until now. To him it’s just not dinner without a meat and a heaping pile of white stuff – potatoes, or rice, typically, but he’ll make do with egg noodles in a pinch. And since I was actually a vegetarian when we got together, that has meant 14 years of complicated meals. I gave up vegetarianism quickly, mainly because I knew that one of us was going to starve if I kept at it and I was really only doing it because I was poor and it was the 90’s.

If you can believe it, he was still resistant to this. It didn’t matter that the pepper is essentially a bowl for meat and carbs, the fact that a vegetable played such a prominent role was enough for him to wrinkle his nose at me. Bear feels about food the way Mr. Darcy feels about people. His good opinion, once lost, is lost forever. And unfortunately for me his opinion of vegetables was made in childhood.

Once he actually tasted it, however, he was a convert. He ate two helpings, which equaled an entire pepper. Probably the first entire vegetable he’s ever eaten in his life. A few more recipes like this, and I might just be able to get him to eat a tomato.

Stuffed Peppers

Tresa’s Spicy Stuffed Peppers

2 large cans of tomatoes, blended
3 small dried peppers
2 tsp salt
1 tsp diced garlic
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano

2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 lb ground beef
2 C cooked rice
2 eggs

3 large red peppers
Mozzarella cheese

Cut the peppers in half vertically and remove the stems and seeds. Place in a pot of heavily salted boiling water until the peppers are tender. Don’t rush this step! Raw peppers won’t be nearly as tasty.

Blend the sauce ingredients together and place in a saucepot. Simmer.

Add the olive oil to a saute pan and sweat the onions on low until they are translucent. When ready, add to a bowl with the beef, rice, and eggs, and half of the sauce. Mix well with your hands.

When the peppers are tender, remove from the boiling water and place, cavity side up, in a casserole dish. Stuff the peppers with the meat filling, then pour the remaining sauce all over the top. Top with grated mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.