Sweet Potato Casserole

Thanksgiving is over, the dishes are done, and even the leftovers are gone. This year I did something a little adventurous (or maybe crazy or even brave) and, with the exception of the turkey and my mother-in-law’s dressing, I made our entire Thanksgiving meal from Pinterest recipes. This is the first of the Thanksgiving Pintesting recipe reviews – the Sweet Potato Casserole.

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

I’ll be honest; I didn’t see this initially on Pinterest. First I saw this TipHero video through my Facebook feed. I really like that TipHero gives credit to the original sources for their videos – just like they did for my Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake when they made it into a video. If you scroll down to the end of the recipe you’ll see the credit. When I went to their site for the recipe, I noticed that it gave credit for the recipe to Nikki’s blog Chef In Training so I went straight there and pinned her Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

Don’t hate, but I find the mini marshmallows on so many sweet potato casserole recipes just too cloyingly sweet. If that’s your thing, then by all means, keep making your sweet potato casserole the way you prefer. But I should warn you – this recipe is now my go-to recipe. More on that later – for now here’s the Pintesting.

 The Pintesting:

The ingredients are pretty simple. Nikki used boiled sweet potatoes while TipHero used baked. I had a LOT of recipes to make so I went with baked since the oven was already on for the turkey.

Note: Multitasking is wise when you are making all of Thanksgiving dinner.

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

Mix until blended and smooth. I like that the baked sweet potatoes were cooked soft enough that I didn’t even have to get the mixer out.

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

Put into a greased 9×13 casserole dish and top with the streusel topping and bake it in a 350-degree oven.

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

This is how it looked when it came out of the oven. It smelled incredible!

Pintesting Sweet Potato Casserole

My HH proclaimed that this sweet potato casserole was better than pumpkin pie. He said it one of the best desserts that I’ve made. I let him know that it is a casserole and not a dessert. He disagrees and calls it dessert. We do agree that it’s delicious both warm and cold. It’s like a crustless sweet potato streusel pie. So if you can’t be bothered with making a pie crust or if you’re on a “diet” and can’t have dessert or if you just want an easy side dish with a lot of wow factor, this is the casserole for you!

The Pintesting Results:

Overall Results: 4.55 Pins

Pintesting - 5 Pins Overall Rating

Accuracy:  This recipe performed exactly as Nikki (and TipHero) said it would.  5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Difficulty: The directions from both the Chef In Training and TipHero recipes were quite simple and straight forward. I really liked that I didn’t have to get the mixer out for this – one less complication when juggling 4 recipes at once. 5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Time: Since I baked the sweet potatoes while working on other recipes I had a tough time judging this. On one hand, it took about an hour to bake them which is a lot of time to add to a recipe. If I had boiled them it would probably have only added about 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, just the post baking time would shorten the prep time to only 5 and 25 minutes of baking time. Averaging out the 1 1/2 hours and 45 minutes that’s still over an hour so I’m giving this 3 Pins.

Rated 3 Pins

Cost: Most of the ingredients are kitchen staples. The pecans and sweet potatoes were all that I had to buy for this recipe and I only needed 2. The recipe makes a 9×13 inch casserole dish which is a LOT of casserole/dessert but due to the pecans and sweet potatoes, I’m giving this 4 Pins.

Pintesting Rating - 4 Pins

Practicality:  This has been a pleasantly surprising Pintesting. I was expecting a good sweet potato casserole. I wasn’t prepared for one that was not only easy but also delicious enough to be one of the high points of our Thanksgiving meal. I was planning on making a pumpkin flan for a dessert, but HH said to not bother and went for another serving of this sweet potato casserole. Bonus points for making my life easier. 5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Does anyone else seem like you make and eat the same meals? The dinner rut is a tough one to deal with because we all have our favorites, comfort foods, and quick-on-the-table meals that are the family approved stand bys. Don’t get me wrong – pizza night is not to be trifled with, but you can completely mix it up with different types of crusts, sauces, and toppings. Taco Tuesdays are a close second, but even there you’ve got a lot of choices that can make it seem different from week to week. Sometimes changing the side dishes can change the taste and feel of a whole meal.

That’s why I was super excited when i saw this pin for Cheesy Broccoli Orzo by Kristin from Iowa Girl Eats. It’s the perfect trifecta of a side dish.

  1. It’s fast
  2. It’s easy
  3. It only uses a handful of ingredients (most are likely to be in your kitchen right now)

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Well, who’s going to argue with a trifecta? Not me – I choose my battles, so let the Pintesting begin.

As I said, there are only a handful of ingredients – 6 if you don’t count the salt or water to boil the pasta and broccoli.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Boil the orzo pasta. Now this seems easy, but wait…

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Kristin says to cook for 3 minutes, add broccoli, then cook for another 3 minutes or so.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

My orzo box calls for 9 minutes of cooking time for al dente. You can see in the picture below that it still has a way to go, so I waited another couple of  minutes before adding the broccoli.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Next I added the broccoli and cooked it for about 3 minutes to let the orzo get to the al dente state and let the broccoli cook well.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Drain everything really well.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

Return to the pot and add the cheeses, butter, and milk.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

After mixing and per Kristin’s instructions, I checked the seasoning. Good call! I added a touch of salt and several grinds of pepper.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

That’s it. Really! We’re done – except for the plating.

Pintesting Cheesy Broccoli Orzo

I love risotto, and this totally puts me in mind of that creamy dish but without the half hour of constant stirring. It’s the perfect alternative if you need something quick, and want to get some extra veggies in your meal. And who doesn’t need extra veggies? That’s what I thought. So let’s get to the Pintesting Results:

Overall Results: 4.6 Pins

Pintesting - 5 Pins Overall Rating

Accuracy:  The dish was delicious, uncomplicated, and quick. The flavors of the pasta with the broccoli and cheeses all played wonderfully together. But the pasta cooking time was off by 50%, and a novice cook might not catch that. In all fairness, it might have been the difference from one pasta brand to another, so keep an eye on what the directions on your box indicate. 4 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 4 Pins

Difficulty:  There’s nothing hard about this dish. I bought the broccoli florets pre-cut which eliminated a lot of the prep work. I did grate the cheeses to balance the level of work (and because I like fresh-grated cheese better). Boil, drain, mix, serve. 5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Time:  The whole recipe came together in under 20 minutes even with me taking the pictures. PERFECT for a busy weeknight dinner. 5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Cost:  The broccoli ($2.00 on sale) and orzo pasta (less than $2.00 – not on sale) were the only two ingredients that I had to buy, and there was enough of each to double the recipe and still have leftover broccoli. The remaining ingredients came to about $2.00. At $4.00 for 4 servings, that’s $1.00/serving.  5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

Practicality:  The trifecta totally worked with this recipe. Not only is it a delicious side dish, but it has the makings for an easy casserole just by tossing in a cooked protein of choice. (I’m thinking this would be a great way to use up some leftover turkey next Thanksgiving…)I bet you could play with the cheeses for slightly different takes on the flavor, too. It’s also very kid-friendly – it’s practically mac & cheese with broccoli. 5 Pins

Pintesting Rating - 5 Pins

 

 

Outback Style Baked Potatoes

Baby it’s cold outside! It’s been years since I’ve seen truly cold weather – I mean single digit temperatures with below-zero wind chill. In order to help keep the heat bill down but stay warm, we’ve weather proofed our ground-floor apartment; plastic over the patio slider, towel rolled up as a stopper under the front door, using candles almost daily, and lots and lots of baking.

Soups are also very warm and comforting, and I’ve been making a lot of soups lately, too. One of our favorite soups is a loaded baked potato soup that’s easy, hearty, creamy, and delicious! It calls for baked potatoes, and in the past I’d just pop several in the microwave to get them done quickly.

This apartment doesn’t have a microwave. I need to bake potatoes. Bummer? No. Opportunity? YES!

I had seen this pin for Outback Style Backed Potatoes by Shawn from I Wash You Dry. There’s something wonderful about a perfectly baked potato with a nice crispy skin, fluffy interior, and slightly salty outside for flavor. Mmm!

And baked potatoes are so versatile! This one pin will bring four recipes – FOUR!  That’s a lot of bang for your baking buck. In addition to the baked potatoes, I’ll be making the baked potato soup, potato skins, and a breakfast post.

http://www.iwashyoudry.com/2012/05/02/how-to-wednesday-baking-a-potato/

http://www.iwashyoudry.com/2012/05/02/how-to-wednesday-baking-a-potato/

So here we go. I got a bag of Russet potatoes and used 8 for what I had in mind.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Potatoes - Pintesting

I scrubbed them all clean because I like to eat the skins, but not the dirt.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Washed - Pintesting

Pat dry – very important if you want crisp skins.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Dried - Pintesting

Pierce them several times on both sides with a fork. Please do this carefully. Do NOT look away for a second.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Pierced

Brush the potatoes with olive oil.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Oil Brushed - Pintesting

Sprinkle with course salt. The recipe called for sea salt, but I used kosher salt. It was still salty.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Salted - Pintesting

I put them on a sheet pan to transfer them to the oven more easily.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Ready for Oven - Pintesting

Bake in a pre-heated oven. Since they sit directly on the rack, and the bottoms as well as the tops had been pierced, it’s best to put the sheet pan under to catch the drips. Yes, they will drip.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Oven - Pintesting

***NOTE: Do you see the oven thermometer hanging from the oven rack just below the potatoes? If your baked goods don’t consistently come out right – GET ONE! It will be the best $5 you will spend. Once you know how true (or off, in my case) your oven is, you’ll be able to compensate and get accurate temps.  This will improve ALL baking immensely.

Back to the recipe…

The potatoes are done. The outer skins are crispy and salty, and the insides are soft and fluffy.

Outback Style Baked Potato - Baked - Pintesting

Yum!

Outback Style Baked Potato - YUM - Pintesting

Since I’m not using these to eat as baked potatoes, I’ve let them cool a bit then cut them in half for easy scooping. The insides will go into the soup and the outsides will be potato skins. The two uncut potatoes on top will be the breakfast recipe.

Baked Potato Soup - Potatoes - Pintesting

Watch for these upcoming pins and recipes!

And now for the Pintesting results!

Overall Results: 5 Pins

5 Pins Overall

Accuracy: This recipe is very simple and straight forward. Shawn did a wonderful job with her step-by-step photos, and the potatoes turned out perfect. 5 Pins

Rated 5 Pins

Difficulty: Wash, dry, pierce, oil, salt, bake. Grunted out monosyllabic instructions are about as easy as it gets. I wouldn’t let young children pierce the potatoes or use the oven, but they could do the rest of the steps very easily. 5 Pins

Rated 5 PinsTime: The prep time was about 5 minutes (not including the time to take the pictures). Due to the 45-60 minutes of baking time, this gets 4 Pins

Rated 4 Pins

Cost: The bag of potatoes was $3, and I had the salt and oil. 5 Pins

Rated 5 PinsPracticality: On their own, baked potatoes are delicious (salt and butter, no sour cream on mine). But considering how versatile they can be – I mean, 4 posts from one baked potato recipe – that’s about as practical as you can get. 5 Pins

Rated 5 Pins

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans

Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines; right up there with Italian, Greek, French, Indian, German, Puerto Rican, Turkish, Southern, Spanish, Americana… Okay, I just like food. A LOT. I’d love to eat and drink my way around the world in a culinary tour; the kind that would take months and months or even years. Now THAT’s a fantasy!

Back to Mexican food – a Fiesta for your mouth. One of my dearest friends, Martha, is Mexican and makes some of the best food all from scratch, and almost never uses a recipe. She was a real cook when it was still popular to use boxes and mixes and frozen cheats. In fact, she had so much trouble trying to figure out how to make a blue box of mac and cheese that I had to go over and show her how it was done. We still laugh about that.

Martha made the most amazing refried beans, from scratch of course. They would be simmering on the back of the stove for hours, making her house smell soooo good. (*insert drool here*) So when I saw this recipe for refried beans in the crock-pot, I was muy emocionado (very excited).

http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/08/29/recipe-easy-slow-cooker-refried-beans/

http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/08/29/recipe-easy-slow-cooker-refried-beans/

The recipe is from Lisa’s blog, 100 Days of Real Food. Since my family is trying to eat a more real and healthy diet, this was a major bonus. On to the Pin Test!

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans - Ingredients

The ingredients are real, honest, and basic.

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans - Add Water

Add the water and stir,

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans - Cook on High 8 Hours

…then cook on high for 8 hours. Can I just take a moment here to say how wonderful it is to cook with a crock-pot? Put in the ingredients, set the temperature, and walk away. How great is that!? Add to that the wonderful aroma wafting through the house – oh, yum!

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans - Done Cooking

Fast forward 8 hours, and the beans are fully cooked, there is very little water left, and I’m salivating.

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans - Mashed and finished

The recipe said to remove the onion chunks and drain the water before mashing. I didn’t see any water so I removed the onion and commenced with mashing. I guess I didn’t think about the liquid that the beans had absorbed over the past 8 hours, and should have tried to drain them after all. Even so, the texture didn’t seem overly runny and I couldn’t wait to dive in. After a quick taste check I thought the beans were a bit bland, so I added a bit more salt and pepper, then plated them for my husband’s approval.

Let me mention that my husband is part Mexican and has been eating home-made refried beans since he was able to eat solid food. He still thought they were lacking something. We diced up some onion and mixed it in with a bit of Tabasco. That helped a lot, but these were definitely not like the ones I remembered from Martha’s kitchen. My husband said they are traditionally cooked with lard, oil, or some kind of pork meat that would render fat and flavor. I called Martha to get her opinion, and she said they missed the second cooking step, which is to fry them in a skillet while mashing them, which is where they get their name – REFRIED BEANS – of course!

So now for the results.

Overall Rating: 4 Pins

4 Pins Overall

Accuracy:  The recipe seemed to work well, but it lacked the authenticity of flavor that comes from making refried beans the traditional way. I will definitely make these again, but will add a little more jalapeno, will cook them with a bit of salt pork for the flavor, and will fry/mash them in a skillet with a bit of oil or bacon. Watch for the update when that happens. For now, 3 Pins.

Rated 3 Pins

Difficulty:  This dish was simple to put together in the crock-pot, and the steps were few and easy. 5 Pins

Rated 5 Pins

Time:  Although it took 8 hours of cooking time in the crock-pot, the prep and finishing time was roughly 15 minutes total. 4 Pins

Rated 4 Pins

Cost:  Beans, onions, garlic and spices are cheap cheap. Even if you had to buy every ingredient, this would cost roughly $5-6. 5 Pins

Rated 5 Pins

Practicality:  I think most everything is best home-made, and this is no exception. As stated before, I would definitely modify the recipe a touch, but I prefer the crock-pot method (and being able to walk away, prepare before work, etc.) to the stove-top method and needing someone at home to keep watch. 4 Pins

Rated 4 Pins