Monday, June 24, 2013

Country Crock Casseroles - Easy Mac & Cheese Veggie Chicken Casserole and Giveaway

Winners! We have a winner and 5 Runners Up! Our Grand-Prize Winner is Gayle Daniel and the Runners Up will be notified via email about their prize! Thank you so much to everyone who entered and keep tuned for more great giveaways!


I'm very pleased to be working with Country Crock again sharing fabulous casserole recipes and hosting fun giveaways. If you don't already know, I'm also a Country Crock Correspondent so this chance to share with you was one I readily accepted.

First of all, I need to share this totally cute box I received with all the things I needed to prepare this first casserole and share the giveaway with you.

 From top to bottom, L to R: Top of box; inside the first lid; inside the second lid; the sides and back. Adorable, isn't it? My girls are currently playing "restaurant" with the box, but I have a sneaking suspicion it  make become a new home for some doll clothes.

This month we're sharing a recipe from Country Crock for an easy mac and cheese that you can change up any way your taste buds desire. I took this easy recipe and put my own spin on it. Try both and let me know what you think!

Use the original recipe to create your own version of Easy Mac and Veggie Chicken Casserole and make sure to share it here and on your favorite social media networks. Use the hashtag #CountryCrockCasserole so I can find you and share it, too!

This is the 8-inch, 1 quart capacity casserole dish that I'm GIVING AWAY. Look below for your chance to WIN!

Here's the original yummy recipe from Country Crock:

Easy Mac and Cheese Veggie Chicken Casserole


4 Tbsp. Country Crock Spread, melted, Divided
1 cup 2% milk
8 ounces dry rotini pasta, Cooked and drained
2 cups diced cooked chicken
4 cups assorted frozen vegetables, thawed
2-1/4 cups finely shredded low fat cheddar cheese
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine 3 tablespoons Country Crock Spread, milk, rotini, chicken, vegetables and cheddar cheese in 8-inch baking dish.
2. Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and remaining Spread in small bowl; sprinkle over top of casserole.
3. Bake until heated through and crumbs are toasted, about 30 minutes.

And this is my spiced up version using grilled chicken, Mexican crema, roasted poblanos and Cotija cheese:

Country Crock Spread, green peppers, Cotija cheese and cilantro - just a few of the ingredients for my spicy take on this delicious casserole.
Green Chile Chicken Mac and Cheese Casserole
Green Chile Chicken Mac and Cheese Casserole

Green Chile Chicken Mac and Cheese Casserole


4 Tbsp. Country Crock Spread, melted, Divided
1/2 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)
8 ounces dry rotini pasta, Cooked and drained
2 cups diced grilled chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn - thawed
1 cup roasted and diced poblano chile 
1 1/2 cups green pepper - diced
2 cups finely shredded low fat Mexican blend cheese or Monterey Jack
1/4 cup grated Cotija cheese
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. grated Cotija cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro - chopped fine


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook green pepper in 3 tablespoons Country Crock Spread until tender. Combine peppers and Spread with, milk, crema, rotini, chicken, corn, chiles and cheeses in an 8-inch baking dish.
2. Combine breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon Cotija cheese, chopped cilantro and remaining Spread in small bowl; sprinkle over top of casserole.
3. Bake until heated through and crumbs are toasted, about 30 minutes.

Now, how to WIN!

Grand Prize for one lucky reader includes the following items:

·        Casserole dish
·        Country Crock VIP Coupon (good for one free product)
·        Recipe Card

Five runners up will receive: A Country Crock VIP Coupon. 

To enter: Pin this blog post to Pinterest including the #CountryCrockCasserole hashtag, and the URL to this post. If you do not have Pinterest you can choose one of the following alternatives to enter:

·        Tweet a link to you blog post using #CountryCrockCasserole
·        Post a link to your blog post on Facebook using #CountryCrockCasserole

Do all three and you'll be entered THREE times! PLEASE remember to include the URL of your Pin, Tweet or FB post in a comment here so I can make sure you're entered! This giveaway ends on July 8th at 12:01 A.M. Eastern Time. Good luck!

*Disclosure: I received product, a product coupon and stipend for extra ingredients from Country Crock for free.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Making Homemade Goat Cheese

Homemade Goat Cheese
Homemade Goat Cheese
When it comes to cheese everyone has a favorite. Speaking with Jeff Mauro recently I found that his was aged cheddar. Most of my kids love Muenster (so do I!), but my all-time favorite-hands-down cheese is goat's milk.

I really can't recall the first time I had it, I wish I could, but I do know for years and years it's been the one I can never get enough of. It seems that the youngest of my 3 children can't get enough either. The cost for that many of us is so prohibitive that it's become a once-in-a-while treat.

We made a short trip to get raw milk a couple days ago and on this trip I also found raw goat's milk for a very nice price: $2.50 for a half gallon. I bought it with my cow's milk and fresh eggs and came home wondering why on earth I'd bought it.  Did I really think the kids would drink it? Would I drink it?

I did drink a small amount and found that the particular milk that I'd bought wasn't "goaty" like I expected. I'd hear horror stories about the taste and smell and expected something not-so-good (which made me wonder even more why I'd bought it!), but was pleasantly surprised to find it slightly sweet and smooth like cow's milk.

Now, what to do with it? There's no way I would drink a half gallon myself and the kids kept turning up their cute little noses at it. Then it hit me ... cheese, glorious cheese! Yes. I looked up many recipes on the internet and consulted a book or two before venturing forth.

I found that 5 quarts of milk will yield a pound of cheese, so I didn't expect a whole lot from my half gallon. I also wasn't thoroughly convinced that I could make cheese of any type (beyond yogurt cheese), so I channeled my great-grandfather the cheese maker and got to work. Oh, yes - my great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother's side was a cheese maker! Look, here's a shot and info from a census in Canada:

Name: George Minard F****
Sex: M
Birth: 23 AUG 1880 in Williamsburgh Twp, Dundas Co, Ontario
Occupation: Cheese Maker

Cheese M ... for Maker

Now that our ancestry lesson for the day is over ... on to making goat cheese! There are conflicting recipes out there and some use chevre cultures and some do not. Some heat to 72 degrees F and others higher. Some add acid while the milk is over heat, others don't. This recipe results in something closer to ricotta and less like chevre bought at the store. This is the method I chose for my first time out, I'll be doing this again with different methods to determine which I like best.

I'm not writing up a full printable recipe, the photos and instructions should be enough. Do start with:

1/2 gallon goat's milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
salt and seasonings to taste

This CAN be halved! Most recipes on the web call for just a quart of milk and a 1/4 cup of lemon juice.

Cooking with Anne Raw Goat Milk and Lemons

Start with fresh goat's milk. It doesn't need to be raw, just fresh. Pasteurized is fine as well, but not ultra-pasteurized. Have a source of acidity - I used lemon juice and you can use citric acid, though I've lost the amounts for that so I'm unsure.

Put the milk into a non-reactive pot. This means stainless steel, glass or ceramic. The other metals will have an effect on the cheese making process, so don't use them. Add a thermometer. I used a candy thermometer because it attaches to the pan and I don't have to check and recheck each time I want to know what the temperature of the milk is.    

 Heat the milk over medium heat until it reaches 185 degrees F.

Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice. Stir until tiny curds begin to form. These do not look like large soft curds you would get with cow's milk, they are very tiny, but they DO form a cheese. Let stand for 15 minutes or so to be sure all curds have formed.

Sometimes the curds are larger and softer, but I have found that these tiny curds make cheese just as well, as you will see. I really worried at this part, but it did work!

Set a mesh strainer or colander over a bowl or pot and line with fine muslin or any clean and thin tea towel. Cheesecloth is too large for this and the tiny curds will fall through. Ladle in the curds and whey and let stand for 15 minutes. I had to do this slowly because I used a half gallon of milk which was a larger volume than my strainer and tea towel was able to withstand all at once. You can see the curds clinging to the towel as the whey pours through the strainer.

Fold the towel up around the cheese and secure with twine to anything that will hold it above your bowl or pot. Let drain for several hours at room temperature until no liquid is released when you gently squeeze the bag.

 Untie and open the towel to reveal your cheese.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape all the cheese to the center of the towel.

Put into a bowl and add salt and herbs or garlic or other seasonings as desired. 

Set cheese onto plastic wrap and roll into a log. Refrigerate for an hour or until you're ready to eat! Let stand at room temp for about 15 minutes before consuming. This will last a week in the refrigerator, keep covered well. I was able to get an 8 ounce log from a half gallon of milk so a full gallon should yield nearly a pound! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Garden Frittata

Garden Vegetable Frittata
Garden Frittata
Nearly every year since I began gardening my yard has been filled with zucchini, grape tomatoes and fresh herbs. One of the quickest and easiest way to use them up is in a frittata. Economical and fast, it's a favorite here and the ways to change it up are many. Whatever is growing in your garden or being sold at your local farmers' market is game here. Serve with a green salad and toasted bread for a delicious and frugal meal.

Garden Frittata
Hands-On Time: 7 minutes
Ready In: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
Printable Recipe


6 large eggs
1 Tablespoon milk
3 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 Tablespoon freshly snipped herbs - flat leaf parsley, basil and chives were used here
1 cup zucchini - diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter
10 grape tomatoes - halved
salt to taste


1. Prehat broiler and place rack 4-5 inches from element or flame.
2. Mix eggs and milk with a whisk until frothy. stir in Parmesan cheese and herbs.
3. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add oil or butter. Toss zucchini into pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until barely softened.
4. Add eggs and stir several times bringing the cooked parts to the top. Tilt the pan as necessary to keep the bottom covered in egg. Cook for 2 minutes until the bottom is just set and the top is still wet. Remove from heat.
5. Arrange grape tomato halves cut-side down across the top of the frittata.
6. Place pan under broiler and cook for 2-4 minutes keeping an eye on the frittata so it doesn't burn. Remove from oven.
7. Allow the frittata to stand for another 3-4 minutes to finish cooking before cutting in wedges to serve.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Jeff Mauro and Cracker Barrel Cheese

Guess what I did yesterday? Yes, I ran the kids all over, did laundry, washed dishes, cooked and tried to breathe in-between, but guess what else? Give up? I had the chance to talk with none other than Jeff Mauro. Yes, Jeff Mauro Sandwich King. Jeff Mauro winner of the 7th season of The Next Food Network Star. Jeff Mauro host of not just one, but TWO shows on Food Network, Sandwich King and $24 in 24.

He's just as personable and funny as you'd think and as an added bonus, his mom was visiting and was in on our call. How fun! We talked all things cheese and food in general with a sprinkling of kids and moms and life.

I had questions on-hand, but we veered a time or two and I was able to tell Jeff just how great my kids think he is. In our house you don't even need to say "Sandwich King", the kids know exactly who Jeff Mauro is. Ian and Cassidy in particular were really excited that I'd be speaking with Jeff and I let him know that. He was very happy to hear what fans we are.

Jeff Mauro has teamed up with award-winning Cracker Barrel cheese that recently placed best in class because of its rich full flavor with its sharp cheddar at the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest (sweet!) so we chatted about all-things-cheese yesterday and here's the basic gist of our conversation:

  • When it comes to cheese, what's the best way to get kids to delve in? Cracker Barrel Cracker Cuts are the best! Now that my son is 4 1/2 he's big enough and strong enough to open the fridge so I keep them on a low shelf so he can grab them for himself. It doesn't take much to fill them up between meals and it's a healthier and easier alternative to other snacks.
  • When it comes to fruit and cheese in a sandwich, what's your favorite pairing? Thinly sliced Granny Smith apple, which doesn't get mealy like other apples and still stays crunchy even in a grilled sandwich, and a good cheddar. (My favorite, too!)
  • If I'm making a good cheese soup, what goes well as far as a sandwich goes? I like something saltier to cut through the richness of the soup, maybe a smoked turkey and cheddar. I'm also a "dunker", I'd rather take a cold sandwich to pair with a hot soup. Cut it in triangles and dunk away! I'd rather eat a bowl of soup with a sandwich instead of a spoon.
  • What's your favorite kind of cheese? Aged cheddar. Really. There are Amish farms a couple hours out of Chicago where you can find the best cheese. I once found an 18-year cheddar. It was so good, but you could only eat 3 or 4 bites because it was so deep in flavor.
  • Lastly - what's the easiest way to entertain on the fly using cheese? Fruit and cheese is so easy for entertaining. Everyone has cheese in the drawer, some roasted nuts in the cabinet and fresh or dried fruit (it's true!) so the quickest way to get something together for last minute guests is to toss together a plate of cheese, fruit and nuts.
Cheese and Fruit
Even I had cheese, fruit and dried fruit on-hand for a quick after-school snack.

As for what's new this season on Sandwich King? More of dad! Jeff tells me dad will be on the show a couple times this season and that he's "stealing the show". I wholeheartedly agree!

Read below for some more tips from Jeff Mauro on entertaining and cooking with cheese. And, the next time you're at the store, grab some Cracker Barrel to have on-hand for all your cheese needs!



Grilled Summer Sausage & Vermont Cheddar Sliders
Fire-grilled slices of summer sausage, topped with Cracker Barrel Vermont cheddar, sun-dried aioli and BBQ potato chips.

Chedderdella Kabobs
Grilled cubes of mortadella, cubes of Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar, balsamic marinated cherry tomatoes all skewered into on easy to eat burst of summer flavor


  •         When constructing a cheese plate, think about variety of color as much as variety of flavor!  The color spectrum of CRACKER BARREL sharp yellow cheddar combined with the deep red of dried cranberries, shiny glazed walnuts, golden honey & juicy green grapes will impress your guests!  Remember we eat with our eyes first.
  •        Cheese and fruit are nature's best friends.  Add in a crunchy, salty nut to the mix, and a tender piece of cured meat, and you have nature's happiest family!
  •          If you have children, keep CRACKER BARREL cracker cuts in an easily accessible drawer or shelf for easy, do it yourself healthy snacking.
  •         Store cheese with the wrapper pulled back or cut away, but still intact.  It keeps the cheese fresher for longer, plus reminds you of what variety of cheese you’re actually snacking on.
  •         Use CRACKER BARREL EXTRA-SHARP CHEDDAR on your children's grilled cheese instead of the standard American.  It introduces your children's palette to a more robust flavor and fun natural texture that they will surely love right off the bat.
  •        Nothing too heavy!  Cracker Barrel cheese-based appetizers are perfect for whetting your guest’s appetite without overfilling their stomachs.
  •        Try to hit several sensations in one bite!  Something sweet, something spicy, something cheesy, and something crunchy.   This creates a complex & soul-hugging spectrum of flavor in each bites, which makes your guests very happy.
  •         Wine & Cheese is great, but Beer & Cheese is even better. World Championship Cheese Contest Gold Medalist 2012 CRACKER BARREL AGED RESERVE combined with a robust & nutty brown Ale or Pale Ale will make the pallet sing and quench your thirst on a hot summer afternoon!
  •        Have your appetizers out 15 minutes before your guests are scheduled to arrive.  My in-laws are perpetually super early, and they always come HUNGRY.  Having some easy to prepare and present sliders or Chedderella Kabobs ready to go before the official start time will insure you’re prepared for the early birds and not scrambling to accommodate those silly early birds.
  •        Enjoy your party!  Keep things simple by giving your guests a handful, NOT a BOATFULL of delicious options.  Concentrate on making a few dishes fantastic, rather than serving up 2 dozen mediocre dishes.  This not only makes your food more memorable, but also frees you up so you can actually PARTY at your party. 

Interview opportunity and cheese samples provided by Taylor Strategy. This is NOT a paid endorsement, all opinions are my own.