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Zucchini-Beef Enchiladas

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Enchiladas are one of my favorite foods, but they are a bit filling and heavy for summer fare.  I had a few zucchini to use up, and decided to try adding one to enchiladas.  Worked great, added some low-calorie nutrition & a little extra texture without detracting from the yummy flavor.  These were a hit, and we all liked them so much, I know I will never make my Mom’s Beef and Cheese Enchiladas without zucchini added in again.  And pssst: you can totally “bake” these in the microwave – doesn’t take long, just until the cheese is melted.

Zucchini-Beef Enchiladas

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium zucchini, quartered & chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
2 1/2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning (or 1 packet store-bought)
2 tablespoons water
15 corn tortillas
1 (8 oz) package cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 (19 oz) can red enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9×13 dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil, swirling to coat bottom of pan.  Add the zucchini and cook about ten minutes, stirring often, or until soft.  Remove to a plate, then add the ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain and add taco seasoning, water, and the cooked zucchini.  Stir well and cook a few minutes longer. Remove from heat.

Wrap four tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside a cup of the cheese to use for the top. Take tortillas one at a time, keeping the others wrapped, and put a little cheese in a line down the middle, then some of the beef mixture, about 2-3 tablespoons. Roll up tight and place in prepared dish. Repeat, warming additional tortillas as necessary, until all the filling is used. Pour enchilada sauce over the top, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over. Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Veronica’s note: I know it’s so much easier to buy pre-shredded cheese, but you just will never get the same glorious melt that you get with cheese you’ve shredded yourself. It’s worth the few minutes and extra clean up. Also, if you’d like to “bake” these in the microwave, it’s best to divide the recipe between two smaller microwave-safe dishes. Keep an eye on it and just let it go until the cheese is melted – should take five minutes or less. I prefer to do a few at a time on a plate.

Low Country Boil {Northern Stovetop Version}

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I got this recipe from my friend, Suzie, who ironically lives up North, so I don’t know how authentic this is to the “low country” but it’s really good!  I actually ate this whole recipe by myself over the course of several days while pregnant because Den hates shrimp. Usually I avoid shrimp dishes because I don’t like to prepare myself a separate dish, but this is so worth the minimal effort.  So flavorful! The second best part is, this is an indoor version you can make on your stovetop any time of year.

Low Country Boil

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4 cups red potatoes, quartered
4 ears corn on the cob, cut in half
1 (14-16 oz) package polish sausage or kielbasa, cut into bite-size pieces
2 lbs. of uncooked large shrimp

For the stock:

12 cups water
1 package Zatarain’s crab boil
1/4 cup Old Bay Seasoning
1 lemon, quartered
1 large onion, quartered
9 whole cloves of garlic (or to taste)
3 tablespoons kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tablespoons table salt)

Add all stock ingredients to a large stock pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add potatoes and corn and boil for 15 minutes. Add kielbasa or polish sausage and cook for 5 more minutes. Turn down heat to medium and add the uncooked shrimp. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until shrimp turns orange, and drain into a serving dish. Serve with butter and old bay seasoning mixed together and/or cocktail sauce. Enjoy and have plenty of napkins ready!

Veronica’s note: you can use frozen “mini” corn on the cob, and add along with the shrimp at the end.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

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I was challenged by a former co-worker years ago (five years ago, to be exact), to reproduce the Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie you could get at Long John Silvers.  He was slightly obsessed.

Although I didn’t duplicate it exactly, the crust is almost spot-on (it’s an unbaked graham cracker crust, unusual but so good), and it’s fairly close.  It has taken me this long to share the recipe because I couldn’t share the first one with you – I used wild strawberry essence in it, and not many people would have that on hand to use in a humble pie, such as this.  But I remembered how good it was and wanted to see if I could recreate my recreation of Mrs. Smith’s pie by concentrating the strawberry flavor in another way.  Then I made jam a few weeks ago, inspiration hit.  Jam, to me, is the essence of the fruit used to create it.

So I tried it, replacing the gelatin and fresh strawberries in my original recipe with the homemade jam, and it was perfect. It’s not as light as the original*, but so good in it’s own right. So thick and creamy, so cream cheese-y, so strawberry-y. And so perfect for summer because, unlike most of my recipes this summer, no part of it requires an oven. You’re welcome.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

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Crust
1 ½ envelopes graham crackers (13 1/2 sheets)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Filling
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1 heaping cup (13 oz jar) good quality strawberry jam
1 (14 oz) can (minus 2 tablespoons for the crust) sweetened condensed milk
2 cups whipped topping or homemade (sweetened) whipped cream

Garnish
Leftover whipped topping or 1-1 1/2 cups homemade sweetened whipped cream
Leftover crust crumbs

While still in the package, smash up the graham crackers a little bit, then empty into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse & process until fine crumbs. Add the butter, sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar & water and process until thoroughly combined. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumbs and press the remaining crumbs into a 9” pie plate. Place in fridge.

Wipe out the food processor. Add the cream cheese, jam, and sweetened condensed milk, and process until smooth. Add the whipped topping or whipped cream and pulse until mixed. Pour into prepared pie plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Pipe whipped cream around the edge in stars or rosettes using Wilton tip 2110 (1M). Garnish with whipped cream & the remaining crumbs before serving.

Veronica’s notes: If you’d like a lighter pie, you could use 3 cups of whipped cream, or the entire carton of whipped topping, and use another cup or two for garnish. You will have too much pie filling, but I doubt you’ll complain about eating the extra. ;) Also, it’s important to use the best jam possible, as this is what gives the pie its strawberry flavor. If you buy cheap Walmart jam, it will taste like you bought a Great Value frozen pie, not made it yourself. I’ve actually tried this using Walmart strawberry jam, so I unfortunately speak from experience (it was bad).  Homemade is ideal, and Bonne Maman is the only brand I can put my own stamp of approval on if you go with store-bought.

Simple Strawberry Jam {No Pectin}

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Strawberries were $1.25/lb a couple weeks ago, so I got more than I usually would to make some jam.  Ever since I made raspberry jam and realized how good homemade is, I don’t tolerate store bought very well.  Bonne Maman is the only thing I’ve found that even comes close, and why pay $4 for a jar of delicious jam when you can make your own for less than $1 a jar?

So I made a simple jam, and it’s just amazing how boiling few ingredients can make something so delicious.  It is the concentrated flavor of perfect, sweetened & ripe strawberries, and pretty much makes everything you put it on taste like heaven.

The second best part is it’s so easy to make! The butter in it keeps it from foaming, so you don’t need to skim it, and you don’t have to boil the jars after filling them.  Perfect for a lazy (or first time) canner like me.

Simple Strawberry Jam

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2 lbs strawberries, stemmed & hulled
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat while mashing with a potato masher. Mash it as smooth or chunky as you like, and continue to stir the mixture while boiling it. Boil until the jam reaches 220 degrees, or until it gels up when you put a spoonful on a frozen plate and stick it in the freezer for a minute. You’ll know it’s getting there when it turns from watery to starting to get thick and coating your spoon. Using a funnel (this is my favorite for canning), pour into sterilized jars, then screw on the lids and allow to sit until sealed. Jars may be stored in refrigerator for up to a month. For instructions on how to can the jam to keep it at room temperature for up to a year, click the recipe link below.

Recipe source: adapted from Sweet & Savory by Shinee

Oh, and if you’re interested, the bread I used for my photos is non-alcoholic honey beer bread. Made the Buttery Soft Beer Bread with a bottle of non-alcoholic beer (Beck’s) and used local raw honey in place of sugar. So good!

Cake Batter Lovins

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Remember the “Cake Batter Everything” craze that swept over the food blog world in 2011? Yeah, I hopped on that and enjoyed it to the fullest.  I shared only one of my cake batter explorations with you, the Cake Batter Crispy Treats, which were my favorite cake batter flavored treat, but do you think I let the remainder of my bag of yellow cake mix go to waste? No way, Jose.

Here’s a few ideas if you need some ways to use up extra cake mix.

Cake Batter Oats. This is actually a pretty healthy recipe, considering there’s cake mix in it. And tasty too!

Cake Batter French Toast. What can I say, cake batter is such a great way to start the day. And sprinkles just make everything so happy.  This one would be fun for a birthday breakfast! I made a simple icing glaze by mixing like 1/4 cup powdered sugar with just enough milk to get it a drizzling consistency.

Cake Batter Candies. For these, I just melted some vanilla almond bark and added enough yellow cake mix to make it taste like cake batter, but not so much it got too thick.  I poured most of it in a chocolate bar mold (like the one I used for this Vegan White Chocolate), but I didn’t get a picture of that before I gave it to a friend as part of a thank you gift for turning a stain on my jeans into a work of art. The rest of it I poured into peanut butter cup molds and put sprinkles over the tops while it was still setting up.  Kids went crazy for these at a get together, even more so than my Cupcake Bites!

Have you made any cake batter flavored yums?

Potato, Onion & Spinach Hash

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This is something I threw together to use up a few things before they went bad, and ended up with a plate of magics. Weeks later, we are still eating this once or twice a week and is one of Joshua’s favorite meals.  I’ve never been very much of a potato person, but man, you can’t hardly beat crispy seasoned potatoes dipped in runny egg yolk.

Potato, Onion & Spinach Hash

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1 medium potato
2 thick slices of sweet onion
1/2 cup fresh spinach
Extra-virgin olive oil
Garlic salt & pepper to taste

Pierce the potato through the middle with a knife and microwave for 3 minutes, or until tender all the way through. Meanwhile, dice the onion. Once the potato is cooked, put a skillet on medium-high heat, and cut the potato into small cubes, removing the peel if you wish. Once the skillet is hot, add a generous swirl of olive oil to the pan, along with the potato and onion. Stir to coat with the oil, then sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook without stirring until golden brown on one side, then stir, trying to turn over as many of the pieces as possible. Allow to sit again until golden brown, then add the fresh spinach and cook for a few more minutes, until wilted and soft. Serve hot with eggs, or as a side dish.

Sweet Salsa Slow Cooker Meatballs

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I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Independence Day!  It was the best 4th of July of my whole life, and hands-down the best day Joshua’s ever had period. I want to share some photos but will be doing that tomorrow.

Today I have a simple crockpot meal that is great any time of year, because in summer, it doesn’t heat the kitchen, and in winter, it’s just nice to have something hot and ready at the end of a cold day.  I got this recipe from my friend, Holly, who actually had posted it in response to a mutual friend’s request for crockpot recipes on Facebook. I nabbed it and made it soon after because I’d just made my own apricot jam.  These were very satisfying and tasty.  Hope you enjoy, and stay cool!

Sweet Salsa Slow Cooker Meatballs

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1 (26 oz) bag frozen meatballs
3 bell peppers in different colors, sliced (optional)
1 (24 oz) jar salsa
1 (18 oz) jar apricot preserves

Place the meatballs in the bottom of your slow cooker and layer the bell peppers over, if you’re using them.  Whisk the salsa and apricot preserves together in a bowl, and pour over the top.  Cover and cook on low until heated through, 6-8 hours. Holly suggests serving over rice or with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Recipe source: adapted from Holly W.

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