Category Archives: Recipes and other foodie talk

Like the title, recipes and other foodie related talk, restaurants tips and other ideas, Yummy

Taco Pasta Bake ****Updated

taco pasta bake

I saw this recipe on pinterest yesterday and decided I just had to try it, I made it last night for dinner and made a few changes but it was so popular that we had no leftovers, my son asked if I could make it again tonight he liked it so much.  So here it is:

1 small box of pasta (any kind, I have used wheels, elbows, mostaccioli it doesnt matter use your fave shape) 1 large onion, diced and sauteed until translucent in 1tbsp of olive oil, 1 lb of ground beef or ground turkey (we have switched to turkey around my house), heaping 1/8 c home made taco seasoning or 1 store bought package, 1 cup water, 1 8oz pkg cream cheese, 1/4 cup shredded tex mex cheese**optional add ins depending on whether you like beans 1 can pinto beans or kidney beans (your preference)–, and/or 1 can fat free refried beans

boil pasta until just cooked then drain and set aside, brown ground beef/turkey after the onion is cooked, drain any fat in the pan,  add taco seasoning (heaping 1/8 of a cup if you make your own), and 1 cup water w/ ground beef, beans and onion for 5 min, add cream cheese and tex mex cheese to beef mixture, stir until melted remove from heat, put pasta in casserole dish, pour the beef, bean and cheese mixture over the top and mix in.  bake at 375* uncovered for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serve with sour cream, and/or extra tex mex shredded cheese and sliced avocado ( I like all of the above on top) it is OMG delicious!

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Home Made Biscuit/Baking mix

***Update 2-12-17 Now I have been using this recipe for several years and have found that anything that I make with it comes out lighter and much more delicious than anything I ever made with store bought Bisquick so it has become something I always have on hand and have made some changes to the recipe to improve it.

So, I was thinking, what else in my kitchen, that I use  quite a bit, can I make myself?  I was looking around on Pinterest, and saw numerous recipes for home made baking mix to take the place of store bought Bisquick.  I have always had Bisquick around and my mom always did too.  I figured the ingredients are pretty simple and if I make it myself not only will it be less expensive but also healthier since there won’t be any preservatives or chemicals that I can’t pronounce. This recipe costs me even less to make, all told, it takes approximately $5 worth of ingredients and in bulk it replaces about 3 boxes of Bisquick.

After some test runs, this is the best and my own bulk version of this recipe:

5lb bag of flour

3/4 c baking powder

1/4 c sugar

3 Tablespoons salt

3 cups butter flavored shortening

Mix it all in a very large bowl, I have a big stainless steel bowl that I also use for bread making.  I used a potato masher instead of a pastry blender to mix it and it blended it perfectly, keep blending by turning the bowl and pushing the masher down the sides of the bowl until it has a crumbly appearance. Like this:

finished baking mix in the canister

finished baking mix in the canister

This mix can be stored for 8 weeks or so in an airtight container, longer in the refridgerator which is where I keep it. I am using a large cereal storage container, it can also be kept in the freezer and it will last for 6 months. I have also written down the most commonly used recipes (biscuits, coffee cake and pancakes) and used packing tape to attach to the side of the container so we don’t have to go looking for recipes.

I use this often in my house, my son loves to make pancakes, we like biscuits, coffee cake on sunday mornings or holidays as well as a coating for chicken when mixed with spices and there is a pot pie recipe you can make with it that is delicious! If you don’t use baking mix often you can cut the recipe down by half or thirds. This mix substitutes for Bisquick in any recipe that calls for it.  follow this link for Bisquick recipes:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/product-recipes/bisquick-recipes

Try it and let me know how yours turns out or if you come up with a new idea for something to make with it!  as always, thanks for reading 🙂

Make your Own Taco Seasoning

**UPDATED 1-12-17

Making your own taco seasoning  not only saves money but it tastes so much better than the packaged taco seasonings and doesn’t have all the chemicals and preservatives that the store bought packets have, and which by the way include silica (You know those packets that come with shoes and bags, etc that says “do not eat”  and is actually what sand is made of …..yepper!  that is an ingredient in commercial taco seasoning!)  This was yet another Pinterest idea that I tested and I can say it worked out really well although I have also made some changes to the ingredients as an improvement. I have been making my own for several years now and have no plans to go back to store-bought much like with the home-made baking mix, soooo much better and less expensive than bisquick!  If you haven’t seen that post, follow this link https://syrinxasylum.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/home-made-biscuitbaking-mix/

tacoshaker

I have started keeping and washing some empty containers of different types to store all of these new home made products in, recycling at its finest!

******I store this taco seasoning in an empty parmesan cheese shaker container, the benefit to this is that not only can you measure the heaping 1/8 cup that you need to make tacos out of one side but you can also use the sprinkle side to treat it like a condiment to add zing to other foods, this version could be classified as medium as far as level of heat, to make it hotter just add more cayenne and red pepper flakes to your liking or to make mild use a little less. I store the excess in an empty mayonnaise jar to refill the sprinkling container and because we use it a lot and it’s easier to mix up a bunch at one time to save time later. We use this in chili, add it to rice while its cooking to make Mexican rice and on so many other things just like you would use salt but we are a family of Mexican flavor lovers.

I make this in large batches and since I buy my spices at a discount all the time (for instance the $1 and even .50 spices that is at walmart and even big lots.  I am sure that making this quantity is saving us money, and we know for sure what the ingredients are so is also healthier i.e. no additives or preservatives.

mixstorage ingredients

Ingredients (on the left are the amounts for regular size batch which makes about 1-2 taco dinners ****on the right in parentheses is the amount for a large batch)

3 Tablespoons Chili powder (1 cup)

2 teaspoons paprika (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons onion powder (1/2 cup)

1 heaping tsp salt (2tablespoons)

1 teaspoon garlic powder (1/4 cup)

1 teaspoon cumin (1/4 cup)

(this believe it or not is what makes it have that “taco” scent, who knew?…well, YOU will as soon as you open the container 🙂  )

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (1 tablespoon)

optional depending on how much heat you like:

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (1 tablespoon)

pinch red pepper flakes (2 teaspoons)

Measure all your ingredients into a bowl, mix slightly, use a small funnel to pour from the bowl into your storage container, then shake well before each use to make sure they stay well mixed right before you use it.  and that is all there is to that, see?  couldn’t be easier!

******Here is another Pinterest recipe from my blog for Taco Pasta bake that use this seasoning for.  We love this so much we make it almost every week now! follow this link for that recipe:  https://syrinxasylum.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/taco-pasta-bake/

taco pasta bake

Late August in the Garden, the Eggplants are here!

The garden did not fare as well I had hoped this year, we had a very rainy summer and the cucumbers and squash did not survive despite my best efforts.  I think they just got too much water, they all had flowers on them especially the squash but no fruit ever did develop and finally the vines all turned brown and died.  The other problem may have been that using window boxes for them was not a good idea, they weren’t deep enough for a proper root system to form so next year I will be looking for deeper containers to grow those in.  It’s a lesson that I will use to make next years’ garden better, it’s all a learning experience for me.

The good news is that the eggplant seeds that I planted all the way back in February have finally matured.  It seemed to take forever for them to grow and I repeatedly thinned them based on which ones seemed the most viable.  I now have 5 mature plants.  At this stage they all have multiple flowers on them and one plant has had an eggplant start growing from a flower.  It has been very interesting to me to watch the process as I have never in my life seen how they grow so during all stages of the process it was new to me.  I was very excited to see fruit actually growing a little over a week ago and I took a picture of it.  It started out white in color with only a little light purple striation to it and really did look like an egg.  I was very surprised that it took 6 months for the plants to get to this point.  We are lucky to have a long growing season here in the south.

eggplant flower

eggplant flower

Eggplants growing

Eggplants growing

early eggplant fruit

early eggplant fruit

first stage of eggplant fruit development

first stage of eggplant fruit development

eggplant2

 

Yesterday when I got home from work I was pleasantly surprised to see that this “egg” had turned purple and shiny!! 

 

turning purple and shiny!

turning purple and shiny!

I will be interested to see how large it gets.  I transplanted that plant into its own pot hoping it will continue to send roots down.  I moved another robust plant to its own pot months ago and that one is covered in flowers so I believe I will have a pretty good crop of them or at least I hope it continues.  My tomato plants were looking pretty sad, it looks like something has been munching on the foliage although I never saw any pests on them.  Last night I pruned off all the damaged foliage and tied up the rest of the plants on one side of the gazebo like a trellis, there are some flowers and a little green tomato so we shall see if they can rally and produce some more tomatoes.  We have picked quite a few but not as many as I had hoped since I have 3 very large plants in that pot.  We have diced them up and put them in spaghetti sauce and in alfredo so at least we got some output from them.  Again, I think all that rain did a lot of damage to them.  I fed all these plants with miracle grow last night and harvested some more basil.  The basil has grown beautifully this year, this is at least the 4th time I have harvested it, I just cut off the tops and leave 6-8 inches of the plant so it can grow back, like giving it a haircut.

We used some of it in our seafood alfredo dinner last night and I have to say there is nothing like fresh basil just harvested to add flavor to your Italian cooking!  I have been trying different methods of preserving it for future use.  I have some of it frozen in ice cube trays using olive oil (saw that idea on Pinterest LOVE that site!)  There are 2 ways; water and oil but I felt that using water would just leave me with wilted leaves and too much moisture.

Preserving in olive oil seems to be the best method.  I froze the chopped basil by filling compartments of the ice cube tray, then pouring the olive oil just enough to cover.  I have already used some of these cubes by putting them in a pan (I used 4) , letting them thaw over heat, thickening with a little flour to make a roux (thickened starter for any white sauce), adding fat free half and half and fresh grated parmesan and viola I had a very nice pesto parmesan sauce! 

 

Bsil preserved in oil and salt in a jar kept in the fridge

Bsil preserved in oil and salt in a jar kept in the fridge

freshly harvested basil

freshly harvested basil

basil frozen in Olive oil "cubes"

basil frozen in Olive oil “cubes”

 

I am also experimenting with putting the chopped basil in a glass jar and using the same method, covering with olive oil and about ¼ tsp salt and keeping in the fridge like you do with garlic but that probably won’t keep as long as the frozen ones but I can take out the amount I need for a particular meal as needed since it doesn’t need to thaw first.

I hope this post helps out you other “foodies” and gardeners out there!  Have a great day and a great weekend and as always, thanks for reading! 🙂

Make your own Fruit Preserves, it’s not as hard as it sounds! Really!

For the first time ever, in my life, I decided to try making preserves by canning them in glass jars.  We had the jars left over from Stephanie’s wedding last April, she had used them as table decorations with flowers in them.  I thought canning would be a lot harder than it was.  I had rescued about half of my peach crop before they fell off the tree and when I was in Florida a couple weeks ago I bought a half bushel of them to bring home.  I had frozen my own peaches, sliced, until I could get enough to make the preserves.  It turned out to be pretty easy, so easy that I was able to make them on Sunday morning last weekend before we went to the beach. 

First you have to clean your canning jars, running them through the dishwasher on the heated wash and heated dry setting to sterilize them.  If they are still warm from the dishwasher you only have to keep them warm until the preserves are ready because if you put hot preserves in a cold jar they will break.  Since I didn’t do that, I put the washed jars in a pot of slightly boiling water until the preserves were ready.  The lids need to also be hot so they too go in a separate pan of just under boiling water, this softens the rubber gaskets on the lids so they will seal.  Leave them in the pots of water until you are ready to put the preserves in the jars.

All you have to do is bring some water to just under a boil and put the fruit in for about 1-2 minutes so that when you take them out and run them under cool water, the skins peel right off.  For the frozen, sliced ones, I just put the whole bunch in the water so it thawed them and made the skins easier to remove.  After that you just pit them, slice them, put them in a large pan and mash them up, I used a potato masher, it worked great.  The amount of sugar and pectin you need depends on the amount of mashed fruit you have.  I had about 8 cups of mashed fruit.  For every 1 1/3 c of fruit you need 1 2/3 c sugar or for the reduced sugar  version, 1cup.  I made the full strength, I decided to live a little! Hee hee.  Add 1 tbs lemon juice for every 1 1/3 c fruit to the pan and mix then add 1 ½ tbs pectin per 1 1/3 c fruit gradually to the mixture and bring to a rolling boil stirring constantly.  At this point add entire measure of sugar for the amount of fruit you have and return the mixture to a rolling boil for 1 minute still stirring constantly then remove from heat.  If foam has formed, skim it off at this point.

peachpreserves

Remove your jars from the water bath (this is no easy feat, I finally resorted to using the glove type pot holders on both hands to grab them after sam lifted them out of the water with tongs) and ladle your preserves into them to desired level.  Once the jars are filled, remove the lids from their water bath and put them on and tighten.  To preserve them, the filled, sealed jars go back into boiling water, making sure the jars are covered completely by about 2 inches of water for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars and place on heat proof surface to cool.  I was worried that only one of the lids popped down during this process but as they cooled the other jars “buttons” popped down indicating that they were sealed.  All in all it took less than an hour and the sealed jars have a shelf life of 1 year although I seriously doubt mine will even last 6 months they are so delicious!  I made a pint sized jar to be used immediately and that one didn’t have to go into the 5 minute boil bath, I just cooled it off and into the fridge it went.  It was so easy, I have plans to try this with other fruits and possibly even vegetables.

TADA! peach preserves!

TADA! peach preserves!

in the boiling water bath

in the boiling water bath

Monday, while we were at work, Sam had a great idea to make turnovers with my preserves.  He used my homemade baking mix to make a dough, (although you could probably use bisquick too) the recipe for home made baking mix can be found here:  https://syrinxasylum.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/home-made-biscuitbaking-mix/ he rolled it out thinner than for biscuits and cut it into squares, he filled the center of each square with a big spoonful of preserves and folded them over sealing the edges with a fork.  He baked them at 350 for about 15-20 minutes and surprised us with this as an Anniversary dessert.  I guess I taught him well if he can think up yummy things like this on his own, he will do just fine at college cooking for himself and probably his room mates too I am so proud!

delicious peach turnovers

delicious peach turnovers

DIY Home Made Coating Mix for Chicken or Pork better than Shake n Bake!

Making your own coating mix for chicken or pork is so easy and tastes so much better plus you avoid all the un-necessary chemicals added to store bought “shake n bake”.  I made enough to fill an empty breadcrumb container and I keep it in the freezer since we don’t eat meat that often.

Speaking of breadcrumbs I am also now making my own from the bread ends that we always have, I just keep putting them in a freezer bag until I have enough then, process them down to crumbs, season them and bake them in the oven for a bit but more about that later…..

DIY Coating Mix

3 sleeves of store brand ritz-type crackers

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp sage or poultry seasoning

2 tsp paprika

1 teaspoon ground pepper

1 tablespoon seasoned salt

You can put everything in a food processor and pulse until you have large crumbs  or the low-tech method I used was to put all the ingredients in a gallon size freezer bag and use a meat mallet to crush everything together then shook it until well mixed.  This is also good for getting out all or at least some of your frustration from your day!

When I made the chicken in the picture I dragged the pieces through an egg wash first, (1 egg and a little water beaten together) and then dunked them in the coating mix.  Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes and this is what you have:

before baking

before baking

yummy!

yummy!

coatedchicken

Banana Oat breakfast/snack muffins updated

This recipe is my own creation.  I was looking for something filling, yummy but healthy to take to work.  I also happened to have 3 bananas that I needed to do something with before they were too far gone.  So yesterday I started poking around in my baking cupboard and came up with this:****update:*******I have revised this and they are much better with the new recipe which is why it’s been re-blogged.  I was all out of baking powder like the first recipe called for so I substituted baking soda.  They rose a little bit and became airier so now I will only make them this way:

3 cups of rolled oats (not quick oats), 1/2 cup honey wheat germ, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix these ingredients together in a bowl, in a separate bowl, mash 3 bananas, mix in 2 eggs, 1/4 cup lowfat milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/8 c honey and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.  Combine thoroughly and then add dry ingredients, mix until completely combined but don’t overmix. 

Scoop into muffin tin and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. makes 12 muffins

banana oat muffins

The great thing about these is that they are very low fat and have no refined sugar or white flour and also satisfy a sweet craving from the brown sugar and the bananas being in them.  Let me know how you like them if you try making them I would love to hear if anyone comes up with a variation on this.  I am going to try some different versions of this myself.  I have also made these without the bananas and they are very good that way too, you just need about 1/2 c milk instead of 1/4.  Enjoy!