Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crock Pot Chili Recipe

Crock Pot Chili
One thing I've learned while living in Texas this past year and a half is that Texans love Texas! They love living here, playing here, and eating here. Most Texans I've met wouldn't live anywhere else in the world. They don't mind the heat, hate the cold, and have a state pride that they aren't afraid to show to the world. They even have there own holiday, Go Texan Day. This state wide celebration is held on the Friday before the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo starts (February 26, 2010). On Go Texan Day kids and grown-ups alike are encouraged to step out in their finest western wear as they display their Texas spirit.

At my son's preschool where I work, we celebrate Go Texan Day with lots of cowboy and cowgirl hats, boots, and pearl snap shirts, and a chili cook-off. Each of the classes makes a big pot of chili which is enjoyed and entered into a friendly competition. It is quite impressive to watch a room full of four year olds slurp up big bowls of hot chili topped with cheese, fritos, and sour cream. Even better is watching the ones who choose to enjoy their chili perched upon a hot dog, messy and delicious! Little Texans are so cute!

In honor of Go Texan Day, I am sharing my favorite chili recipe. Place all the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning and come home to a luscious aroma and hot meal that everyone will enjoy. Take a lesson from some little Texans and top your big bowl of chili with fritos (sometimes called Frito Pie), cheese, and sour cream. If you're lucky enough to have any leftover chili, rustle up some hot dogs and serve chili dogs for lunch the next day. Happy Go Texan Day!

Crock Pot Chili

2 cans pinto or kidney beans, drained (sometimes I use a combination)
2 cans (28 ounce each) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 large green peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped*
2 large onions, coarsely chopped*
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1 to 3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seed
optional: 2 to 4 Tablespoons tomato paste

*sometimes I used frozen chopped onions and peppers to save time

  1. Brown ground beef or turkey and drain off excess fat if needed (great to do the night before).
  2. Add all ingredients to crock pot. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Cover crock pot and cook on low 8 to 14 hours.
  4. Check one hour before serving. If chili seems to watery add a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Also taste for seasoning and add additional chili powder or salt as needed.
  5. Serve on top of a hot dog, on top of a pile of fritos, or in a large bowl topped with cheese and sour cream. Also, great served next to a big slab of cornbread.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Buzz Lightyear Birthday Cake

Buzz Lightyear Cake
Back in October we celebrated my son's 8th birthday with a Bakugan cake. Shortly after the last piece was sliced and served, my youngest son decided he wanted a Buzz Lightyear cake for his 5th birthday. . . in February. I was glad to oblige and grateful that I had five months to obsess, I mean, plan. Since that time I've created hundreds of Buzz Lightyear cakes in my mind. In fact, I've been to infinity and beyond with Buzz and buttercream. I've browsed Toy Story cakes on flickr, watched the Toy Story videos with my son, and scrutinized all the Toy Story action figures in Target. Some of my mental creation cakes were carved into fondant coated rockets with Buzz perched on the nose, others were in the shape of one of the adorable aliens from pizza planet, and still more included all the Toy Story characters sculpted out of marzipan and posed upon a model of the boy's bedroom in the movie (I think I've watched one too many episodes of Ace of Cakes).

In the end I baked a triple chocolate cake in three pans, whipped up a batch of alien-green buttercream frosting, sorted through a giant bag of M&M's, and purchased a pack of cute Buzz Lightyear action figures. I followed my own advice and baked the cake the night before the party, then frosted and decorated it in the morning. I wish I could say that I didn't have that moment of panic that often arises when I realize that guests will start arriving in a few hours, my kitchen is a mess, and all I have is a few layers of cake and a big bowl of icing to show for my hours of time. Although I did again encounter this brief neurosis, I resisted the urge to have my husband run up to the Kroger to buy a cake. I finished the Buzz Lighyear cake, cleaned up the kitchen, and presented my son and his friends with an adorable and delicious finished product. The Buzz Lightyear cake was a hit!

Now my oldest son has decided he wants a Justice League cake. . . in July. Oh goodie, more mental cakes to create!

Steps for Creating An Amazing and Homemade Buzz Lightyear Cake

  1. Gather all accessories: a Buzz Lightyear action figure pack that includes aliens, star shaped birthday candles, a cardboard round (I use a piece of cardboard left from a frozen pizza), candy Happy Birthday letters, and tinfoil. A few weeks before the big event keep your eyes peeled for fun and inspirational items for the cake.
  2. Bake your favorite cake in two 8 or 9 inch pans and one significantly smaller pan, maybe a 3 or 4 inch round (mine is from my daughter's baking set). Don't fret over specifics. The best part of creating birthday cakes for your family is that the way they turn out is always a pleasant surprise.
  3. Cool the cakes completely then wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in an air tight container until you are ready to decorate.
  4. Cover the cardboard round with tin foil.
  5. Make a double batch of Buttercream Frosting. Tint frosting to a pleasing alien green shade using green food coloring paste with a touch of blue and yellow.
  6. Attach the tin foil covered cake round onto a cake stand using a dab of frosting.
  7. Trim the cakes with a serrated knife to create a level surface.
  8. Place 3 strips of wax paper onto the edges of the cake stand overlapping onto the tinfoil covered round and then place one of the large cake rounds on top. Ice the top of that layer with about one cup of frosting using a large offset spatula.
  9. Place the next layer on top. Ice the top of the cake. Ice the sides of the cake. Using a bench scraper smooth the top and sides of the cake. Ice the small cake using a mini offset spatula. Place it in the center of the top of the cake. Smooth the icing on the small layer.
  10. Carefully pull out the wax paper from the bottom of the cake. Use a moist paper towel wrapped around your index finger to clean up any icing that has stuck to the cake round.
  11. Gently press blue M&M's all around the base of the large and small cakes.
  12. Gently press the Happy Birthday letters around the top of the cake or pipe on the message.
  13. Place Buzz Lightyear and one alien action figure on top of the small layer.
  14. Place the other aliens around the edges of the large layer.
  15. Take lots of pictures and enjoy the party!
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Can't Leave Alone Bars Recipe

Can't Leave Alone Bars
A few weeks before my daughter's 13th birthday I asked her what kind of cake she would like to have to celebrate. She answered, "Mom, you know I'm just not that into cake." Insert a teenage twang with a touch of eye rolling and you'll understand exactly what type of reply I received. Cautious of the down hill trap that I've recently discovered when I respond to my daughter with even a touch of sarcasm or negativity in my voice, I sweetly said, "Well, honey, what would you like for dessert on your birthday?" She humored me with three possibilities (none of which were cake) and then a few days before the big day decided on "Can't Leave Alone Bars". Good choice!

The recipe for my daughter's birthday uncake choice was shared with me one summer while my kids and I were at Camp Hebron. Now every time we enjoy a pan of "Can't Leave Alone Bars" it conjures up memories of the incredible adventures we had at Moms and Tots Camp and Family Camp in Halifax, Pennsylvania. In fact my kids actually call this dessert "Camp Leave Alone Bars". I love how good food can transport our minds and stimulate fond memories.

I also love that this recipe for these luscious chocolaty bars starts with a cake mix and only has 6 ingredients. It is perfect to involve the children or whip up the night before a party or bake sale. You can cut these bars into 2 dozen small pieces or 15 larger ones. Either way "Can't Leave Alone Bars" are easy, yummy, and even loved by teenagers who are "just not that into cake".

Can't Leave Alone Bars
also fondly called Camp Leave Alone Bars

1 package (18-1/4 ounce) white cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter, cubed

  1. In a bowl, combine the dry cake mix, eggs, and oil with an electric mixer. With floured hands, press two-thirds of the mixture into a greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan to create a crust. Set remaining cake mixture aside
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and butter. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 45 seconds; stir. Microwave 45-60 seconds longer our until chips and butter are melted; stir until smooth. Pour over unbaked crust.
  3. Drop teaspoonfuls of remaining cake mixture over top.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not over bake. Cool before cutting.
Yield: 2 dozen small squares, or 15 large squares.

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage