Seven Layer Dinner

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If you’re looking for haute cuisine, folks, this ain’t it.  Seven Layer Dinner is Old School comfort food, right out of the Midwestern US, circa 1950.  Exotic ingredients? No.  Fancy presentation? Nope.  Just the thing to win a contest on one of those Cable TV foodie shows with celebrity judges? Not a chance.  HOWEVER, if you’re having one of those days where you were late for work, spilled coffee all over yourself, and spent your lunch break trapped in an elevator, Seven Layer Dinner might be just the dish to turn your day around.

In the recipe below, I’ve made a few minor changes to an old recipe hand written by my Great Aunt Nancy. I added a yam with the potatoes, some garlic with the ground beef, substituted Arborio rice for Minute Rice, and used salsa instead of plain canned tomatoes.  The premise of the dish really hasn’t changed; I don’t think Aunt Nancy would mind.

WIN_20150127_174417Ingredients (Serves 4, with leftovers)

2 large yellow potatoes, sliced into bite size pieces 1/2 inch thick

1 large yam, peeled and sliced into bite size pieces 1/2 inch thick

1/2 of a small onion diced

3 large carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 cup Arborio (risotto) rice, uncooked

WIN_20150127_1752243 cloves garlic, diced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 quart of salsa

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Directions

Step 1) Brown ground beef with garlic. Drain and set aside.

Step 2) Grease a large casserole dish. Line the bottom with potatoes and yams.

Step 3) Over the potatoes and yams, layer (in order) onions, carrots, raw rice, browned ground beef, salsa, and celery.

Step 4) Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper. Cover and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 2 hours. Relax and enjoy!

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Bacon Wrapped Chicken Legs

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This recipe is stone simple – I mean simple as in “if you can make a frozen pizza, you can handle this!”  There are no strange ingredients, making this dish a real crowd pleaser even in a finicky crowd. When chicken legs or “drumsticks” are on sale for 99 cents per pound, this recipe is also very economical.  Add a starch like mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, along with the vegetable of your choice, for a complete meal. Leftovers freeze well, so go ahead and make a few extra!

Ingredients (Makes 12 chicken legs, or about 6 servings)

12 chicken legs

6 strips of bacon, cut in half

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari)

1 tablespoon brown sugar (or use honey as a Paleo alternative)

WIN_20150123_174457Directions

Step 1) Grease a baking pan with the raw bacon.

Step 2) Wrap a half slice of bacon around the meaty part of each chicken leg.  It’s OK to stretch the bacon a little if needed; make sure the bacon ends meet underneath the WIN_20150123_175636chicken leg on the pan.

Step 3) Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 35 minutes.

Step 4) Mix together the soy sauce and brown sugar.  After the chicken has baked for 35 minutes, remove chicken from the oven and turn your oven up to 400 degrees.

WIN_20150123_190326Step 5) Baste the tops of each bacon wrapped chicken leg with the soy sauce/brown sugar mixture. Return chicken legs to the oven for a final 10 minutes.  Enjoy!

Kids in the Kitchen: Let’s Make Ice Cream!

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All set to play with our food!

Cooking with children is dreadfully messy but delightedly fun!  Few things are more fun than making ice cream.  Personally, I’d like to try the semi-famous “Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball” – allow you to play with your food quite literally, for just a few dollars.  Here’s a link, if you’re curious:

YayLabs Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker, Pint, Blue

If fancy-schmancy grown-up ice creams are more your thing, Cuisinart has a few models that will set you back a few more dollars, but still cost less than a good stockpot:

Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, White

We used a “Young Chef” brand children’s ice cream maker, which for some strange reason I can no longer find online (sorry).

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Young Chef brand ice cream maker

The premise behind most ice cream makers, however, is essentially the same.  Milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring go on the inside, while ice and salt go on the outside.  The rest is just window dressing.  Here’s what we did…

Step 1) Add 2 cups of ice cubes, 1/3 cup salt, and 2 tablespoons hot water to the inside of the metal “freezer drum.”

Step 2) Seal tightly and set the freezer drum inside the ice cream maker so that it locks into the gears of the handle (very easy).

Step 3) Combine 1 cup milk, 1 cup cream, 1 heaping tablespoon sugar, and a flavoring in a small pitcher.  For flavoring, you could add 1 teaspoon of any baking extract, a bit of pureed fruit, or perhaps a tablespoon of chocolate sauce.  We used 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Step 4) Pour half of the ice cream mixture over the freezer drum and turn the handle.  Give the handle about ten turns, then use the orange lever to “scrape” ice cream off of the freezer drum and into a wide container (to avoid spills). Transfer ice cream into little serving cups.

Step 5) Continue turning the handle, scraping, and adding more ice cream mixture.  You will end up with about 2 cups of ice cream.

WIN_20150102_172550On a scale from 1 – 10, I’d give the “Young Chef” ice cream maker…

10 for fun! The kids loved it.

8 for ease of use! This wasn’t complicated, but I suspect the “Ice Cream Ball” ice cream maker would be even more simple.

5 for ice cream quality! As you can see from the photo on the left, the ice cream wasn’t very creamy. I still give this a solid “5” because the kids really didn’t care about the consistency.

Whatever model of ice cream maker you try, just go play in the kitchen. There will be plenty of time to keep sugar off of the floor when the kids grow up.

Tortilla Soup

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Recently, I had lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant on a subzero day. As a thoughtful “thank you” to customers who braved the frigid temperatures, the restaurant offered free cups of tortilla soup to each diner. It was an appreciated gesture, and the soup was fantastic!  I enjoyed it so much that I began tinkering in my kitchen to create something similar.

If you are unfamiliar with Queso Fresco cheese, don’t worry – it is readily available in any supermarket with a decent selection of tortillas and other Central/South American staples.  If you are preparing this soup in parts of Europe where Central/South American grocery items are not as ubiquitous as they are throughout the US, you may need to get a bit creative and substitute another fresh, crumbly cheese.  Feta might work, although the flavor will be stronger. Here you are. I hope it keeps you warm!

WIN_20150111_172241Ingredients (Makes 4 hearty servings)

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (hot or mild)

6 cups good quality chicken stock

1 cup of salsa

1 ripe avocado, sliced thin

1 lime, quartered

4 ounces Queso Fresco cheese, crumbled

WIN_20150111_170919Directions

Step 1) Brush tortillas with oil. Stack and slice into thin strips.  Spread tortilla strips onto a large baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and chili powder.

Step 2) Bake tortilla strips in a preheated 350 degree oven until they are slightly browned and crispy. Check after 10 minutes, and every minute thereafter – once the tortillas dry out (which you want), they will burn quickly!

WIN_20150111_173519Step 3) While the tortilla strips bake, combine chicken stock and salsa in a saucepan and heat to almost boiling.  Ladle stock into 4 large bowls, filling the bowls halfway.

Step 4) Squeeze the juice from a lime quarter into each bowl (I leave the squeezed lime right in the bowl).  Divide your sliced avocado and crumbled cheese between the 4 bowls.  Top each bowl with a handful of warm, baked tortilla strips.  Serve immediately!

Olive Pull-Apart Ring

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Olive Pull-Apart Ring

If you have a Bundt pan, you can make a fancy looking ring of pull-apart rolls without any more effort than plain old regular rolls (have I mentioned that I love my Bundt pan?). I like to add olives, but feel free to be creative… a few tablespoons of sliced, sun dried tomatoes and perhaps a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese would work just as well.

 Cuisinart AMB-95FCP Chef’s Classic Nonstick Bakeware 9-1/2-Inch Fluted Cake Pan

Ingredients (Makes 24 bite size pieces)

24 round pieces of bread dough, a bit smaller than golf balls

2 tablespoons Kalamata olives, halved

2 tablespoons pimento stuffed green olives, halved

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

1/4 cup melted butter

WIN_20150104_163126Directions

Step 1) Grease Bundt pan well with butter. Layer bread dough, olives, and Italian seasoning blend in pan. Drizzle melted butter over all other ingredients.

Step 2) Cover pan with a clean towel and let rise in a warm (not hot) draft free location for one hour.

WIN_20150104_183146Step 3) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until top of loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Step 4) Gently loosen sides and around inner ring with a butter knife, and invert pan onto a large serving plate.  Serve while warm!

Fish Tostadas

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Fish tostadas are a pretty common dinner item here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. My pint size diners call tostada shells “big chips,” and seem to think they are getting away with something sneaky when they enjoy “big chips” for dinner. Fish tostadas are a healthy, economical, complete meal. They’re also fast – small filets of tilapia and other whitefish bake in just minutes.  Enjoy!

WIN_20150106_181339Ingredients (Serves 4)

8 tostada shells

1 small onion, sliced

1 pound tilapia (or other whitefish) filets

1 lime, halved

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

2 cups shredded red cabbage (add a bit of Do Chua for something a little different, if you wish)

1 avocado, sliced into thin strips

1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese (optional)

WIN_20150106_183943Directions

Step 1) Lightly grease a baking sheet with coconut oil. Line baking sheet with onion slices.  Place fish filets over onion. Squeeze lime juice over fish and sprinkle with chili powder.

Step 2) Bake fish (uncovered) in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until fish flakes easily.

Step 3) Flake fish into bite size pieces using two forks.

Step 4) Assemble tostadas. If using cheese (not strictly traditional, but tasty), sprinkle cheese on tostada shells first so that it melts underneath the fish. Add fish and onions, then cabbage, then avocado slices.  Serve immediately.