Think outside the box: Slow cooker mac and cheese is ooey, gooey good

Now that March is here, and hopefully spring is just around the corner (fingers, toes and everything else crossed), things are probably going to start getting busier for everyone. I know they will be busier for me, though I’m not sure if I have even had a slow moment lately. In fact, if anyone has some extra down time they are not in need of, you can just send it my way, and I may find a good use for it!

There are times when I make myself slow down and enjoy a nice meal and relax. This makes me think of comfort foods.

What are comfort foods? They all mean and are something different to each of us. To me, they are foods that tend to soothe the soul by reminding us of comforting childhood memories.

When you think of comfort food, what is the first thing you think of? Peanut butter and jelly? Ice cream? Maybe cookies? The first thing I think of is macaroni and cheese – to me, that is about as comforting as you can get. The cheesy, creamy goodness is pretty hard to pass up.

I’m not talking about the box kind. In fact, I’ve had a hard time eating the box kind ever since I found a slow cooker recipe that far exceeds that stuff. If you already enjoy macaroni and cheese, you are going to love this simple-to-throw-together recipe.

I’m not kidding. Not even a little. I have brought this recipe to a few potlucks and let’s just say that I do not go home with leftovers.

If you want, you can substitute some of the cheese in the recipe with whatever shredded cheese you would like. For instance, instead of a Mexican cheese blend, I use a blend of Italian shredded cheese. Next time, I might use Colby blend. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it – and enjoy it!

Slow Cooker Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

1 pound processed cheese (Velveeta), cubed

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mexican cheese blend

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded white cheddar cheese

1-3/4 cups milk

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup butter, melted

Directions: Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Place in a greased 5-qt. slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 2-3 hours or until a thermometer reads 160 degrees, stirring once.

Contact Jessica at jessicahoner@hotmail.com 

February is Hot Breakfast Month: Celebrate with these pancake and muffin recipes

As I sit down to write my cooking column this month, I am trying to focus on a couple of things at one time: 1) Thinking of something brilliant to write; and 2) Watching and wondering where Cooper, our new 2-month-old puppy, is at. Can you guess which of these two things is winning my attention right now?

If you guessed, “Not this column,” you’d be right!

Cooper is a German shepherd puppy we got a few weeks ago. I am training him to be a service dog for the Patriot Assistance Dogs program. Right now, he is trouble, with a capital ‘T.’ Cute, fuzzy and adorable, but still trouble. Of course, most puppies are. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But back to cooking.

I wanted to share something with all of you: it’s National Hot Breakfast Month. Did you know that? Well if not, you do now! This actually made me pretty excited, because I have a couple of great breakfast recipes – at least to me they are, but you can be the final judge.

On weekdays I am not big into making breakfasts; it’s usually just some cereal for me. My husband is up earlier than me during the work week, so we are each on our own for breakfast. No need to make anything fancy. Also, I should confess, I am by no means a morning person. He can testify to that and I know a few other people that could, too.

But, on the weekends, I usually love to make a big, hot breakfast at least once. My favorite thing to make is pancakes. Honestly, I will make these for supper sometimes, too. A while ago, I found a great recipe for homemade pancakes – no boxed mix required! I absolutely love them. I have changed the recipe for myself and my husband, using white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, and they are wonderful.

The other recipe I will share this month is for whole wheat blueberry muffins. I love, love blueberries, and to put them in muffins is even better. I froze a bunch of blueberries this past summer, and every once in a while it is nice to pull some out and make a couple of batches of these muffins.

Now, I am off to go and see what a certain puppy is up too. It’s too quiet in the house, and that means either he is asleep somewhere or has found some trouble.

Simple homemade pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

Dash of salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

3 tablespoons melted butter

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a whisk or large fork, mix in the buttermilk and egg until well combined and smooth. Stir in the melted butter.

Heat non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour pancake batter onto hot griddle.

Variations: Blueberry and banana pancakes: Stir in 1 cup fresh berries into batter.

Whole wheat blueberry muffins

Streusel Ingredients:

¼ cup white whole wheat flour

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp cold butter

Muffin Ingredients:

¾ cup milk

¼ c butter, melted

1 egg

1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour

½ cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line muffin cups with paper baking cups or grease bottoms of the pan. In a small bowl, mix dry streusel ingredients. Cut in cold butter until crumbly. Set aside.

In a large bowl or your mixer, beat milk, melted butter, and egg until well mixed. Stir in flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt just until moistened. Fold in blueberries.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups; sprinkle each with streusel. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until done. If using greased cups, let sit 5 minutes before removing from pan. If using paper cups, remove immediately.

Contact Jessica at jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

A comfy casserole’s just the trick on a cold day

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season.

Is anyone making their New Year’s resolution list? I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions – never have been and probably never will be. I have goals that I set for myself during certain times of the year, though. For instance, one goal I recently set is to not repeatedly fall on my backside when I go skiing at the end of January. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been skiing, so, fingers crossed that all goes well!

To those who do set a yearly resolution, I wish you the best of luck in the New Year!

P.S. – did you know that January 17 is National Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day? It’s the most common date to give up your New Year’s resolutions. If you can make it past that day, then you are doing great!

Now that winter seems to have fully settled in, I like to make more casseroles, hot dishes and maybe some soups: you know, the warm, filling types of food. I have more time in the winter to really enjoy making them, plus it’s so cozy in the kitchen with a warm stove going.

This month’s recipe is a chicken casserole. It is a warm and filling casserole, which makes a great winter meal.

To make it a little healthier for myself, I use light or fat free sour cream; I also use sodium-free chicken broth and cream of chicken soup. My husband likes to add mixed vegetables to his, but I am not a mixed vegetable fan (I know, bad Jessica!) so they are usually added in after it comes out of the oven and he has his own dished up. He says it’s delicious, and I will just have to trust him.

Enjoy!

Chicken Casserole

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken (or just chicken breast), cut up

8 oz. sour cream

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 box (any variety you choose) Stove Top stuffing

1 stick melted margarine

1 can chicken broth (14 oz.)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Layer chicken across bottom of oblong pan. Mix sour cream and soup together and spread over meat. Take box of stuffing and spread over the meat and sour cream mixture. Mix margarine and broth together and pour over top of casserole. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over top. Bake uncovered at 350 for one hour.

Contact me at jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

Spritz cookies and fudge – need I say more?

I would like to start out this month’s column by clarifying something: I am not blind.

That may seem like a strange thing to bring up in a cooking column, so allow me to tell you a short story. Recently, while on one of my weekly grocery shopping trips, I ran into someone who gave me a very nice compliment on my column, then cautiously asked if I was blind. This was not the first time this has happened.

Why, do you ask, would someone ask me that? If you have ever seen me around town, you know I always have a companion with me, of the four-legged variety. I volunteer to foster and train service dogs for a very special program based out of Detroit Lakes, called the Patriot Assistance Dogs program.

Right now I have a German shepherd named Bella who is usually with me wherever I go: work, grocery shopping, chiropractor appointments, etc. It may look like she is my guide-dog; but on the contrary, I am guiding her into her future ‘career’ as a service dog for a veteran.

Bella is nearing the end of her training and then I will be on to the next service dog. If you see me about town and want to say “Hi,” I gladly welcome it and would be happy to discuss the training program.

One more thing: Bella doesn’t help me bake, she just helps pick out the supplies. You never know, maybe we can even help you with your grocery needs if you see us at the store!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

With Thanksgiving in the books, I have now turned my thoughts to Christmas baking. I’ll be honest with you, I could write a column for every week this month with the amount of recipes that I have for holiday goodies. I have so many favorites that I wasn’t even sure what I was going to pick out to share with everyone.

After a lot of thought, I decided on two recipes that I really enjoy. The first is Classic Spritz Cookies. These cookies are melt-in-your mouth delicious. I love using my Wilton cookie press; the cookies turn out so well with the different disks that I have for my press. The second recipe is for Creamy Chocolate Fudge. First of all, it’s easy to make, and second of all – it’s chocolate – need I say more?

If there is ever a recipe that you would like to see in my column, shoot me an email. Maybe I have just the thing for your collection. I hope everyone has a great holiday season!

Classic Spritz Cookies

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups butter softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon no color almond extract

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, vanilla and almond extract; mix well. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat until combined. Do not chill. Fill cookie press with dough and with desired disks, press cookies onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool two minutes on cookie sheet on cooling rack. Remove from sheet; cool completely.

Creamy Chocolate Fudge

Ingredients:

1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow crème

1 1/2 cups white sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1/4 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk chocolate chips

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Line an 8×8 inch pan with aluminum foil. Set aside. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and pour in semisweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Chill in refrigerator for two hours or until firm.

Contact Jessica at jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

Things to be thankful for: rolls and white sauce

Remember when I said I had an addiction to anything spinach? I might also be addicted to something else: kitchen supply stores.

A friend recently told me she was going to hold an intervention after we were in Fargo shopping and I just could not make myself leave Creative Kitchen. Let’s be honest – I need one of at least everything! OK, maybe not ‘need’ so much as ‘want.’ I may need a bigger kitchen someday.

But we are not just here to talk about my addictions. Let’s talk about November. November is one of my favorite months, and not just because it’s when I have my birthday, though that does help. I love it because it’s time to prepare for the holiday season. I’m not just talking shopping for gifts or decorating. I am talking about the food, of course! I have dedicated weekends – yes, weekends – for baking and cooking.

I love to make bread and rolls, some with the help of a bread maker and a lot from scratch. A few months ago, I found a great dinner roll recipe when looking for new recipes to use with my bread maker. I plan on making plenty of these for Thanksgiving, because you can’t just have one of these dinner rolls.

What comes with all this baking and cooking, though? Leftovers. Ever wonder what to do with that leftover turkey you have? I think I have just the recipe for you! Medium White Sauce. This is a delicious sauce that you serve with rice.

Chop up some turkey (or chicken), mix it all together, and you have an easy to prepare meal. Added bonus? You can also turn it into a yummy cheese sauce! I suggest doubling or tripling the recipe to have enough sauce to mix with the rice. (Thanks to my mother-in-law for giving me this recipe).

Enjoy the rolls and white sauce recipes. I know I do!

Medium White Sauce

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine in a bigger bowl in the microwave. Blend in 1/2 teaspoon and 2 tablespoons flour.

Stir in 1 cup milk.

Heat 2 to 3 minutes in microwave, stir and heat some more until sauce is thick.

Add cubed cooked Turkey or Chicken. Season with celery salt and onion powder and serve over cooked rice. (Double or triple for better amount).

For cheese sauce: Omit celery and onion salt and add American or Velveeta cheese before continuing to heat in the microwave. Add cheese to individual taste.

Bread Machine Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

Ingredients:

1 cup water

2 tablespoons butter (unsalted), softened

1 egg

2 cups Bread Flour

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Instructions:

Measure carefully, placing all ingredients in the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer.

Select Dough/Manual cycle. Do not use Delay Cycle.

Remove dough from pan, using lightly floured hands; place on lightly floured surface. Cover dough and let rest 10 minutes.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch pan with shortening or cooking spray. Divide dough into 15 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a ball; place in pan. Brush with melted butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place about 30 minutes or until double in size. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.

Heat oven to 375°. Uncover rolls; bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm, or cool on a cooling rack.

Reach Jessica at jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

Be the apple of everyone’s eye: Make and share some perfect fall treats

Fall is here. I love fall.

A couple weekends ago a friend and I went out to Maplewood State Park and went on a nice, long trail ride. During our five-and-a-half-hour ride, I got to thinking about the reasons why I love fall: warm sweaters, bonfires, the colors changing, and of course the apples are ready on my apple trees.

If I want to get apples from my trees I have to get to them before my dogs do – they love apples as well! If they can reach them on the tree they will pick them off (or they check to see if any have fallen on the ground) and then use them as toys to play chase with. So if I see our golden retriever, Zoe, chasing our German shepherd, Bella, I know they have found an apple. Now if I could just teach them to pick the apples, put them in a bucket, and bring them to the house, I would have it made!

Someday, maybe.

During the fall and winter months I also do a lot more baking and cooking. When I want to bake, I make a day out of it and bake or cook multiple things. I love playing in the kitchen, especially during the cooler months, when I don’t mind a warm kitchen.

This month I decided to share with you a couple of different apple recipes.

The first one is Snickerdoodle Apple Crisp. Who doesn’t love a good apple crisp? This one’s so good! Top it with some vanilla ice cream while it is warm and you have the perfect dessert.

The second apple recipe is Slow Cooker Spiced Apple Cider. This was just what I needed on the rainy, cooler Saturday we just had, and it’s so easy to make. Plus, my house smelled so good while it was in the slow cooker. I hope you enjoy them both!

Snickerdoodle Apple Crisp

Ingredients:

Apple filling:

8 cups apples, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cookie topping:

1/4 cup softened butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

2/3 cup flour

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large mixing bowl, toss apples with brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Dump into a greased 8X8 baking dish.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1/3 cup sugar. Add in egg and mix well. Stir in flour, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Add a little more flour to dough if needed to be able to roll into balls.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar and 3/4 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll dough into 12 balls and roll cookie dough in sugar mix (if not able to roll into balls, using a spoon works well, too). Top apple filling with cookie dough and flatten slightly.

Bake 45-55 minutes until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned.

*Allow to cool slightly before serving for the juices to thicken up a bit. Store leftovers in fridge.

Slow Cooker Hot Apple Cider

Ingredients:

2 quarts (64 ounces or 8 cups) apple cider

Six 3-inch cinnamon sticks, plus more for serving if desired

1 medium orange

1/8 cup whole cloves

Directions:

Pour apple cider into a 2.5-quart or larger crock pot or other slow cooker. Add cinnamon sticks to cider.

With a toothpick, poke holes all around the orange, about 1 inch apart. Carefully poke the cloves into the toothpick holes in the orange. Place orange into the cider in the slow cooker.

Cook on low for about 4 hours. Ladle into mugs. Place a cinnamon stick in each glass. Serve. Leftovers can be stored in fridge and reheated in a mug later.

With questions or comments, email jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

Easy to make, easy to eat: Spinach Lasagna Rollups

I would like to start out this month’s “A Dash of Sass” by saying ‘Thank You!’ to everyone who let me know how much they loved the first column and the Raspberry Dream Bars recipe.

I’m not a professional chef and I’ve never been to culinary school. I’m just your regular, average, ordinary girl sassing about and making a mess in the kitchen. Each month I will feature a different recipe – it may be something sweet, it may be a full meal, and it may be a quick snack. I love variety.

I do have a confession, though: I have an addiction. I have an addiction to spinach and most recipes that involve spinach.

Ok, so it’s not that bad of a confession. I just thought I would see if anyone was paying attention.

Now, it’s not like I’m Popeye or anything. I don’t have cans of spinach just lying around my house and I don’t pop them open whenever I can. I just like spinach.

Let me tell you why.

A little over a year ago, I started a journey toward a healthier me. During this journey, I learned about better portion control and also started taking recipes and seeing if I could turn them into healthier versions of what I loved. In doing this, I developed a taste for spinach, and started looking for more and more recipes involving spinach. With that little bit of information in mind, I am going to share with you my recipe for Spinach Lasagna Rollups.

These are easy to make and are so delicious. Seriously, I make these at least two to three times a month. I have made these using whole wheat/grain noodles and they are wonderful. (One tip: make sure to watch the cook time on the noodles, as you don’t want to overcook them).

Spinach Lasagna Rollups

Ingredients:

9 lasagna noodles, cooked (can use whole wheat noodles)

10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained

15 oz fat free ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and fresh pepper

32 oz tomato sauce

9 tbsp (about 3 oz) shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, a dash of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Ladle about 1.5 cups of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.

Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

Ladle the rest of the sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top each one with 1 tbsp mozzarella cheese. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes. Makes 9 rolls.

To serve, ladle a little sauce on the plate and top with lasagna roll.

Jessica Honer may be reached at jessicahoner@hotmail.com.

‘Dream Bars’ a flavorful way to bake with berries

Welcome to A Dash of Sass!

Let me introduce myself – my name is Jessica Honer and I have lived around Perham my entire 30 years and have been married to my husband, Brian, for eight of those years.

I love to cook and bake, and in the past few years I have started to do a lot more of it. My kitchen is a happy place for me, a getaway from the world when needed. It is a place where I explore recipes and try new flavors and techniques.

Starting today, I will relate my successes (and failures) to you here, on this blog and in the Perham Focus newspaper, on the first Thursday of every month.

I find my recipes from various places (Internet, cookbooks, family, etc.). Some recipes I love and some, well, not so much. Some I make and like, but then make my own changes to them to see if it makes them better. It’s all about trying and seeing (well, tasting in this case).

I usually make new recipes and try them out on my poor, unsuspecting friends, family and coworkers – I mean very willing participants. (I find that I never have a lack of these willing participants.) Even my dogs at home would love to participate, if I would let them. (Bribes may be considered, if you would like to participate.)

I am always asked how I made a particular item or to share a recipe, and I am always happy to do that. Now, through this column and blog, I plan on sharing with a lot more of you. I have made all the recipes you will see here in my columns at least once, and probably more than that. I hope that, over time, you’ll find one or more that you like.

This week, with summer being here in full force, my raspberries are finally producing a good amount of berries. I love raspberries and about any recipe that involves raspberries. Therefore, my first recipe will be Raspberry Dream Bars. You can also make this recipe with strawberries, rhubarb or blueberries. In fact, this last weekend I made both raspberry and blueberry.

Enjoy!

Raspberry Dream Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

1-1/2 cups flour

Mix all together and press into a 9×13 pan. Bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Topping:

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

4 heaping cups of raspberries (or rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries)

Mix together and pour over crust and return to oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. These bars stay soft. After they have cooled, it is best to store them in the refrigerator.