Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nacho Beef Soup

Last week I got so wrapped up in reading this book. I couldn't put it down. It was an amazing and gripping tale that refused to let me go until I had read every last word. I was so completely entralled with this book that when my family started complaining of hunger - I had to find a quick and easy recipe to throw together so that they wouldn't waste away.

I was able to put this recipe together without having to put my book down too much. Unfortunately I forgot to bookmark my recipe...so I am going by memory. Thank goodness it was quick and easy.

Nacho Beef Soup

Brown 1 lb of ground beef in a large dutch oven with half an onion. Stir in 1 Tbs chili powder and cumin then season with salt and pepper. When beef is cooked through add one can of fiesta nacho cheese soup, 1 can of tomatoes with green chilies and 2/3 cup of milk. Heat stirring continuously until heated through. Top with your favorite nacho toppings: such as avocado, jalapenos. cheese and tortilla chips.

Read any good books lately?


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Monday, November 29, 2010

Is it really supposed to be this hard?

Confession time.  I stink at baking Brownie Bites.  I know, I know.  It has to be one of the simplest treats to bake in the kitchen but, I still stink at it.  I can make my own yogurt, butter and cheese.  I can make my own jams, jellies, preserves and pickles.  I can bake an assortment of delicious home baked breads.  I roast meats with ease.  But Brownie Bites?  I just cannot bake the 'gift giving, picture perfect' batch to save my life!  So I'm asking for your help.  Leave me tips on how you bake these successfully!

I've been collecting these Hershey's tins over the course of the year at yard sales and thrift stores. If they were in like new condition and under $ .50 they went home with me. Here are a couple of my favorites.

When I was able to pick up 8 boxes of Pillsbury Brownie Mixes free, an idea began for forming.  I'll combine the two for gifts to our neighbors and delivery people.  (Forgetting briefly my track record)

I gathered all the ingredients to bake 'cake like' brownies as directed. I prepared the brownie mix according to the package directions. I sprayed the mini brownie pan so the brownie bites wouldn't stick. I baked these for 15 minutes @ $350 degrees.
These are looking good! I let these cool about 5 minutes and tried flipping them out. Nothing! They all stuck to the pan. :( 
After running a knife around them and prying them out, I have 12 pretty good looking brownie bites.

You can see how they stuck though.  And it just got worse as I continued.  I washed and re-greased the pan between each batch and they just continued to stick.  How do you keep these from sticking?

Out of the 4 dozen I attempted to bake, 2 dozen were deemed 'good' enough to gift. Any tips for me?

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Taking it Easy: Thanksgiving Edition

Here on From Blah to Ta-daa we are busy getting ready for our Thanksgiving celebrations.  We are sure you are too!  So we are taking a break this week and leave you with this thought:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

~author unknown

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

PS:  Don't forget to enter our giveaway for easy menu plans!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

5 Meals in 1 hour {menu plan giveaway!}

I have been wanting to discover how to make my life in the kitchen easier for a long time now.   I've been researching freezer cooking and once a month cooking but I have to say I've been a bit intimidated by the process.  Enter Michelle from Make 5 Dinners in One Hour.  She has an easy weekly plan where you spend one hour in the kitchen preparing for five nights of meals. 

I received a months worth of meals broken down into 4 weekly menu plans.  Each week contained two sheets.  The first was a detailed grocery list broken down into categories like dairy, canned, and produce.  This made it easy to check my pantry for what I may have already had on hand and cross it off my list.  It also made shopping easy...no need to create a new list!  I just took that list right into the store with me.  She also includes tips and tricks on here.  The other sheet contained the menus.  It is broken into 3 easy to follow columns:  Menu, Ingredients, Assembly Directions.

I went through all 4 weeks of menus and chose the one that I thought my family of picky eaters would most like.  It included recipes such as Cheesy Ham and Potato Casserole, Slow Cooked Tortellini Stew, and Shrimp Roll Ups.  When I was ready to begin I followed her list of kitchen tools and pulled out everything I would need.  I layed out all of the ingredients and began following the assembly directions.  One hour and 15 minutes later (yes, it took me a tad longer than an hour BUT I'm slow in the kitchen) I had 5 meals in the fridge and ready to go for the week ahead.  Each day all I needed to do is pull out the prepared ingredients and follow the cooking instructions.   She pairs each meal with simple side dishes like a bagged salad or frozen veggies to make completing the meal a cinch! 

What I really liked about her menus is that she marks which ones are good for freezing.  If you are ambitious you could make 2 weeks worth of meals.  Pop the ones that are marked freezable in the freezer and keep out the ones that are best fresh.  In just 2 hours of prep time you'd be set for the next 2 weeks!


Michelle is currently offering her menu planning service for $15 for 3 months of menus, which is only $1.25 per week.  What you get is weekly menus complete with a grocery list, assembly instructions and heating instructions.  You can contact her over at her blog AND you can enter to win a month of menus here!  She is offering two of our readers 1 free month of her menu service. 

Entering is easy!  Just leave us a comment and tell us your favorite trick for saving time in the kitchen.  Please be sure to leave an email address for easy contact. 
(leave in the form of lifeinthebatcave AT yahoo DOT com to avoid the spam bots)

Want a few additional entries?  Leave a comment for each entry.
Follow From Blah to Ta-Daa
Grab our Button!  Be sure to leave a link so we can see it on your site. 

Contest is open until Sunday, November 28

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Congrautlations to Mippy and Angelene!  Winners have been contacted via email. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Won A Sweepstakes!!

Remember when I shared my love of antique shopping? I really really wanted to buy this beautiful set of antique dishes from a local antique store but couldn't stand to spend the $200.00 on them.

Just a little update:

They are mine!

I was one of the winners of the Frosted Mini Wheat's School Years Resolutions!! I won $250.00! Combined it with my saved up change and it was enough to buy the dishes, a great center piece for my dining room table and even the kids Halloween costumes!!


I Now Own a Gravy Boat...lol - who cares if I don't even really like gravy!


I can't wait to serve my Thanksgiving Dinner on my new dishes! I think they are going to make my 2nd year of cooking a great success - now...to figure out how to carve a turkey so that we all actually get to have some and have leftovers.

Do you enter sweepstakes? Have you ever won?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Curry Squash Soup

Note from Sara: This week our recipe comes from Devon. We went to high school together way back in the day (we're not discussing how long ago that was), and we've reconnected via Facebook and the likes.  I've recently been reading about pressure cookers, so when she emailed me this writeup, I got very excited... Someone to tell me all about using a pressure cooker!  And with photos!!  Thanks so much for the yummy recipe, Devon!  I'm now researching hand mixers and pressure cookers for my Christmas list :)

Devon's Curry Squash Soup 

I've been sickly for about a week. I'm on the verge of feeling better, but still coughing and have a lingering sore throat, so I decided that today would be a good time to load up on my veggies and make a creamy healthy soup that I could easily bring to work with me tomorrow for lunch. I love all veggies, but I particularly love it when hard vegetables are turned smooth. Pureeing is a good way to make veggies taste rich, and this recipe I mixed up is extra creamy due to the coconut milk. Cooking the carrots and squash together in the pot with the stock releases a little extra starchiness that makes the soup a little creamier in texture. The spices aren't overwhelming, and it would be great vegan as well if you used a vegetable stock. Easy peasy and heavy on all sorts of healing properties!

I am using a pressure cooker for this soup, but it could also be cooked in a large pot on the stove. If you're cooking on the stove top, you can simmer all of the ingredients slowly and I'm sure it would be just as tasty, but it will be more time consuming as you'll need to check and stir it frequently. If you're a fan of soups, stews, rice dishes, or any sort of slow cooked dish and want to cook them quickly, I'd suggest an electric pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are helpful as they provide an easy way to make dishes with no checking and in a really quick time frame. It's perfect if you want to make something else at the same time, as it won't take up any oven or burner space. Or you can walk away and watch some Boardwalk Empire. Not that that's what I'm doing right now. ;)

Devon's Curry Squash Soup

2 sweet onions
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 of a ginger root (adjust to taste-I like a lot of ginger)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 butternut squash, chopped in small, even pieces
4 carrots, chopped in small, even pieces
1 can (14 ounces) of coconut milk
2 cans (or 28 ounces) of your choice of stock. (I used low sodium chicken stock.)
1 tsp of curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground pepper
pinch of salt

Roughly chop your onions, ginger root, and leave your garlic as whole, peeled cloves. Toss all three ingredients into your pressure cooker (on high) with your olive oil and cook to bring out the flavors for a few minutes. You'll want the ingredients to brown slightly, but just make sure they don't burn. Turn off your pressure cooker for the moment as you're going to add the remaining items. Toss in the chopped squash, carrots, coconut milk, and stock. Stir in the spices and cook until the squash and carrots are soft and mushy. For me, I am cooking this in the electric pressure cooker, and I set it for about 20 minutes on high.

Once the soup is done cooking, release the steam and check to make sure everything is soft. If it's all soft, puree it all together. If it isn't soft for any reason, cook until it is. Pureeing will be easier and less work if you have a hand mixer. Hand mixers are about $30 for a decent one and a sound investment if you enjoy making homemade soups. A blender will work fine as well, but will be more work as you're need to let the soup cool enough to handle it to avoid cooking accidents and transfer it to the blender and then the serving bowl. With a hand mixer, you can carefully puree in the same pot you cooked in, and then just scoop into the serving bowl, or directly into the bowls. Season to taste with salt and pepper and enjoy!

Our star ingredient:

Pressure cooker magic:

Before the hand mixer gets a hold of our soup:

And, after.  This is some serious comfort food, people.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sausage Stuffed Peppers

A few months back I scored a subscription to Redbook magazine for $5 on Amazon.com. It has paid for itself in spades because I've gotten some yummy recipes from it such as this one that I bring to you today.

My husband devoured his and finished off the ones 2 of my kids wouldn't eat. My oldest loved it and 2 days later even asked me when I could make them again. I LOVE hearing things like that from my kids about things that I make!

I had left over stuffing mix and my husband took that to work for lunch. Boy, I sure got mileage out of this recipe!

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4 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, cut in half length wise and seeds removed
olive oil spray
3 cups of brown rice (I used white)
8 oz. spicy Italian chicken sausage links, fully cooked and diced (I used regular sweet sausage)
4 scallions, sliced
2 cups marinara sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat oven to 400degrees F
2. Place halved peppers in a large roasting pan, cut sides up and coat with olive oil spray

stuffed peppers

3. In a large bowl, toss rice, sausage, scallions, oregano, marinara sauce and mozzarella sauce.

stuffed peppers

4. Fill pepper cavities with mixture.

stuffed peppers

5. Cover peppers with foil and bake 20 minutes until peppers are tender.

stuffed peppers

6. Serve with extra marinara sauce.
stuffed peppers

Side idea: serve with mixed green salad

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Easy Recipe to Bring to Holiday Get Togethers

I love to bring something with me when visiting for the Holiday's but with 4 kids I don't always have the time to make elaborate dishes. I'm lucky if we all make it there dressed and on time. So when I saw this recipe in Every Day with Rachael Ray - I knew that it would be a great for holiday gift giving...takes only 5 minutes to throw together and while it sets up I can get ready to go.

I love that the magazine talks about using ice cube trays as candy molds - it worked beautifully! They came out mostly uniform and really easily!

White Chunky Chocolates
 Every Day with Rachael Ray


12 ounces white chocolate morsels 
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1/2 cup roasted, salted cashew pieces


In a medium, microwaveable bowl melt chocolate, stirring once, for about 45 seconds. Stir in the raisins, cranberries and nuts.


Spoon mixture into 2 flexible ice cube trays, whacking the trays on the counter to remove any air pockets and to level out the mixture.


Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.
Flex trays to remove candies. 


Bask in the glow of bringing some really yummy candies.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

This is a pitiful sight isn't it? An empty cookie jar. Tsk. Tsk. Well I'll just have to do something about this!

This recipe works really well for selling at a bake sale.  The end product is 4 dozen uniform shaped cookies.  I've heard them called 'Snow on the Mountain' cookies but the name in our cookbook, by William-Sonoma, says Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. 
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2.) Cover your cookie sheet with parchment paper.

3.) Put the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowls and set aside.

4.) In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

5.) In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, until creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with the rubber spatula.

6.) Add 1 egg and beat on medium speed until blended. Add the other egg and vanilla and beat until blended.

7.) Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed just until blended.

8.) Form the cookies by scooping up a rounded spoonful of dough (I used the smallest Pampered Chef Cookie Scoop). Roll the dough into a ball.

9.) Foll the ball in the confectioners' sugar until covered. Place the balls on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart.
10.)  Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until crackled and puffed.  Above is the 'before' picture.  Below is the 'after' picture. 
11.)  Move the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely before storing.

Awe.  This looks so much better.  There is just something so cozy and happy about a full cookie jar.  What's in your cookie jar this week?
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Hi, there!  I decided to share a time-saving recipe that I make every year for Thanksgiving.  I figure that any recipe that saves me a little time and effort (and kitchen mess) on that day is a keeper.  These can even be made up to a few days before your dinner   And, if you're wondering - these potatoes reheat just as creamy and light as when you first make them; they actually puff up a little in the oven.  They're seriously yum yum yum.

There are a few ways to reheat them:  You can pull them from your fridge and let them come to room temp on your kitchen counter before popping them into the oven.  You can put them straight into the oven cold.  You can put them cold in your crockpot on low all day.  Or, you can cook them that morning and then keep them warm in your crockpot all day.  Seriously, they are about as no-fuss as a dish is going to get on Thanksgiving Day.  And if you're like me, and insist on hosting dinner every year, any dish that doesn't require babysitting is worth its weight in gold.

Also?  These can easily be vegan-ized and made non-dairy.  Substitute in your favorite non-dairy milk, and Tofutti brand cream cheese and sour cream.  I've made these potatoes completely vegan, and nobody at the table had a clue.  I've even been known to make vegan green bean casserole that's seriously delicious.  Yes, I do such things.  But please don't let that keep you from stopping by sometime for dinner :)


Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
adapted from Allrecipes
5lbs. potatoes, cubed
8oz. cream cheese
8oz. sour cream
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. garlic salt
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. butter, optional

Boil potatoes over medium-high heat in a large pot of salted water.  Boil until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain potatoes and mash  in a large bowl (either with a mixer or a hand masher).

Add in remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.  Transfer to a 9x13 casserole dish and cover.  Reheat in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes (longer if they are straight from the fridge), or in a crock pot on low for 5-6 hours.   
Ingredient Lineup:

In the dish:

Dig in!

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