everyday food made simple

I don’t know about you, but in our household, Thanksgiving planning started at the end of October (it’s a big deal!). We planned out our menu and everything we may need, and a few days ago I finished up a make-ahead timeline to make things go as smoothly as possible on the big day.

I don’t know about your timeline – if you’re nerdy enough like me to make one – but mine is filled with 2-3 things to prep and make every night leading up to Thanksgiving. And since this week I’ll already be doing lots of chopping, baking, cooking, and prepping after a long day of work, the last thing I need is to worry about the age old question of “what’s for dinner??“.

Enter today’s easy recipe…… *drum roll please*…..

I present to you: Pizza tator tot casserole!

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My taco tator tot casserole is perhaps one of the most popular recipes in our house – we make it at least once very few weeks – it’s just that good. I remember the first few weeks when I started my new job back in February, we actually made a double batch of it in anticipation of being busy and giving me enough time to get settled into my new routine. Now we gave a new spin to our favorite comfort food – combining our favorite casserole dish with tons of pizza flavors! It’s hearty, meaty, and cheesy all at the same time. It’s got pizza sauce, basil, plenty of cheesy goodness, lean ground beef, onions and green peppers, and not to mention to crispy baked tator tots carefully arranged in OCD fashion on top. All the food groups balanced into one delicious meal, it’s guaranteed to be a hit at your dinner table!

Have I mentioned that it’s also super easy and painless to make?

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Just like ordering pizza on a lazy Friday night, you can totally customize what goes into this casserole based on personal preference. We kept it simple by using plain ground beef and pizza sauce, but this dish totally has the potential to be dressed up based on what you like on your pizza..

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Add in bacon bits, crumbled Italian sausage, and pepperoni slices for the meat lovers in your house.

Simply add in more cheese for extra cheesy goodness.

Or if you happen to like your pizza piled high with veggies, just throw in some sliced mushrooms, olives, extra peppers, spinach, or whatever happens to tickle your fancy at the moment.

See? I told you the possibilities are endless.

pizza tator tot casserole
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound lean ground beef
  2. 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  3. 1 medium onion, diced
  4. 15-oz pizza sauce
  5. 1 teaspoon dried basil
  6. 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  7. 1 package frozen tator tots
  8. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the beef over medium heat with the green peppers and onions until the beef is no longer pink. Add the pizza sauce and basil.
  3. Transfer the beef mixture into a 8x11" casserole dish. Top with mozzarella cheese and tator tots
  4. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are crisp and brown. Sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese, bake for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  5. Let cool for 5-10 minutes and serve.
  6. Serves 6
Adapted from Taste of Home - Ground Beef edition
Adapted from Taste of Home - Ground Beef edition
SIMPLE EVERYDAY FOOD http://www.simpleeverydayfood.com/
Recipe adapted from Taste of Home – Ground Beef edition

© Simple Everyday Food. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or kindly link back to this post for the recipe.

1. I can’t believe it’s already November. In less than two months, we’ll be waving 2014 good-bye and welcoming in 2015. It seemed like it wasn’t all that long ago that I was just making new year resolutions! I honestly think the days and years go by faster as you get older.

2. The weather in Minnesota was gorgeous this fall. It was sunny and warm almost every day… until this week. I’m pretty sure as Daylight Savings Time ended, so did our streak of beautiful warm weather. This past week, it snowed. SNOWED!!!!! And the highs are only supposed to be in the upper teens~lower 20s this weekend and next week. 

Can everyone else just pause what they’re doing for a minute and panic with me?

The streets in our neighborhood are completely iced over but thank goodness the highways are clear (for now). I’m already bundled in layers and whining about how cold it is and winter hasn’t even really started yet. I just might decide to hibernate underneath the warmth of my covers for the next 6 months. Wake me up when it’s 50 and above.

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***They said these temperatures are about 20 degrees below average for this time of year!***

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3. Even though Thanksgiving is the next holiday in line, it seems like all the store shelves are already full of Christmas merchandises and everything peppermint chocolate. I was unable to resist the temptation of all things Christmas and already gave in to all the fun Christmas-y things, just one mere day after Halloween was over (sorry, Thanksgiving!).

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4. Call us lame, but Brian and I usually go all out and plan a full Thanksgiving menu for just the two of us. It’s not that we’re loners (or losers)… it’s just that our families and friends either live far far away or have families of their own. Plus with my job, there’s usually a good chance that I’ll be working one (or all) of the major holidays. So for the past few years, we’ve been celebrating by ourselves. This year we’ll be having our Thanksgiving feast on Black Friday (I’ll be working all day Thanksgiving) – we already planned out our entire Thanksgiving menu last weekend, and this weekend I will be constructing a Thanksgiving timeline… because that’s totally what normal non-type-A-OCD-people do, right?

5. I also decided to be ahead of the game this year and ordered our Christmas cards a few weeks ago. They just came in the mail today, and I will be addressing them this weekend so they will be ready to be mailed out right after Thanksgiving. Getting things done way ahead of time makes me feel like I have my life together.

6. Has anyone had these? They’re ridiculously addicting and delicious! I’ve been having a hard time finding them at my local Target – the only place I have seen them is in the checkout aisle.

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7. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! Just don’t torture your dog with peppermint cookie ice cream like I did…

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For the longest time ever, I didn’t know apple butter didn’t actually involve “butter”. Why couldn’t they call it something like “apple jam” or “apple spread”?

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But then again, peanut butter doesn’t involve “butter” either, and I don’t hear people calling it “peanut spread”…

BUT! They do call the popular Nutella a “hazelnut spread”, not a “hazelnut butter”, even though its consistency is just like peanut butter..

So what qualifies a condiment as a “butter”? Is it its consistency? Like it’s so smooth it spreads just like butter? Or is it just the way people are used to calling it? Maybe I’ll start a new trend and call my apple butter an apple “spread” instead.

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Ugh. Technicalities.

So anyway. I’ve been wanting to make Crockpot apple butter for years now, and I’m so glad I finally did! It’s soooooo easy and so ridiculously delicious that I can’t believe it took me so long to try it! I used a mixture of Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith apples for my apple butter. The Fuji and Honeycrisp apples are sweet, and the Granny Smiths give it a hint of tangy tartness that wonderfully balances out the sweetness of the sugar and apples.

The best part about all this is that you throw all your ingredients in a Crockpot and let it slowly cook overnight, and you’ll wake up to the delicious mouth-watering smell of cinnamon apples. Add a splash of vanilla extract, break up any large pieces with a wooden spoon, and let it cook another 1-2 hours the next morning as you slowly sip on your coffee and read the morning newspaper.

If you own an immersion blender, this would be a good time to use that nifty gadget. If you’re like me and don’t own one of those cool gadgets, then simply puree the apple mixture in a blender in batches (I filled my blender about half full and only had to puree two batches of it).

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If you’re satisfied with the consistency of your apple butter, then simply let it cool completely prior to transferring them into jars. I personally prefer a thicker apple butter, so if you’re like me, then place the pureed apple butter back into the Crockpot with the lid ajar and cook on low for another hour or two, or until it has reached your desired consistency.

If you know how to can things, can this baby up and save it for the dead of winter when you’re craving a taste of fall. Otherwise place it in the fridge and spread it on toast, on an English muffin, on crackers, or just eat it with a spoon.

Or if you’re feeling generous, give away a few jars to friends and family – they’ll love you forever.

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overnight crockpot apple butter
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Ingredients
  1. 3-3.5 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 7-8 apples; I used a combination of Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith)
  2. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  3. 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  4. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  5. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  6. 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  7. 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  8. A pinch of salt
  9. 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Place apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt. Sprinkle over the apples and stir it around until the apples are generously coated with the sugar mixture. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours overnight.
  2. The next morning, add in the vanilla extract. Stir the mixture around, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon. Cover and cook for another 2 hours.
  3. In batches, pour the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth (this would be a time where an immersion blender would come in handy). For a thicker consistency, continue to cook the pureed apple butter on low with the slow cooker cover ajar for another hour, or until it's to the consistency of your liking.
  4. Let cool completely and transfer into jars. Refrigerate apple butter for up to 2 weeks.
  5. Makes about 1.5 pints
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
SIMPLE EVERYDAY FOOD http://www.simpleeverydayfood.com/
Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

© Simple Everyday Food. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or kindly link back to this post for the recipe.

I had originally planned on posting this recipe next week, but these cookies turned out so pretty (and delicious) that I couldn’t help but share it with you guys a week early!

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Brian is a fan of the holiday Oreos. He swears that they taste better than the regular ones, and has tried convincing me that the Halloween ones are the best, despite the fact that I personally think they are the same thing and taste exactly the same (except for the different designs and different colored filling)… but I don’t think he believes me.

I think it’s all mental. I think somewhere in Oreo’s headquarters dwells researchers that have conducted market research that show people are more likely to buy “new” products if they change the look of the product and make them “limited edition”, even if they keep the recipe the same.

Do you think the Halloween Oreos taste better than the regular ones?

Since Halloween is just around the corner and my local grocery store has strategically placed all these tempting Oreos right by the checkout aisles, I caved and bought myself a pack of them. I knew they would make the perfect cookie with some of the Halloween sprinkles I bought at the craft store a few weeks back.

You know I’m a sucker for all things sprinkles!

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I purposely made a big batch of these cookies earlier this week, knowing that I had my one-month post-LASIK checkup on Friday, and wanted to bring a couple dozen of these for the staff at the Whiting Clinic to show my appreciation of how wonderful they have been. I hope they liked them!

If you don’t want to make so many cookies at once, you can halve the recipe… although these cookies do freeze well and it never hurts to have frozen cookie dough in case of any late night cookie emergencies. Also, you can definitely use regular Oreos for this recipe (or any flavor for that matter). And it’s definitely not limited to just Halloween sprinkles either – use your favorite kind, none at all, or mix all your favorite sprinkles together to make it one colorful cookie – the possibilities are endless.

I decided to divide the batter in half since I had two different Halloween sprinkles I wanted to use – a spooky green/purple/orange one, and a candy corn colored one… the perfect pairing with some orange cream-filled Oreos! But dividing the batter into two also resulted in a lot of “transferring of the doughs”, which would’ve been a lot easier if I had two electric mixers…

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Basically you’ll be making one basic cookie dough and mixing in the add-ins separately. And trust me when I tell you that your arms will thank you if you use an electric mixer – it saves time and muscle and mixes everything better since the batter will be pretty sticky. The chopped Oreos may come apart while you mix them in and that’s totally okay! You’ll get swirls of the orange filling throughout the dough which will give the cookies a beautiful festive look.

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About 1.5 hours after you chill the dough, make sure to take it out and roll them into dough balls. If you chill them for too long, the dough gets hard, making it difficult to roll. Once they’re rolled into balls, you can refrigerate them up to 3 days if you don’t plan on making them right away.

I normally prefer a thick puffy cookie rather than a thin one, but these turned out so good! They’ll look slightly puffy when you take them out of the oven, but they’ll flatten out a bit as they cool. The outer edges are slightly crunchy, but the insides are oh so soft and chewy with tons of chopped Oreo cookies laced in between each bite.

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So. Frickin’. Good.

halloween cake batter oreo cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  2. 2 and 1/2 cups vanilla cake mix (I used Betty Crocker)
  3. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  4. A pinch of salt
  5. 1 and 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  6. 1 cup granulated sugar
  7. 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  8. 2 eggs, at room temperature
  9. 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  10. 1 cup Halloween sprinkles*
  11. 20 Halloween Oreos, roughly chopped**
Instructions
  1. 1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cake mix, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. 2. Using an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter and sugars together on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well in between each addition. Then add in the vanilla extract and mix until combined, scraping down the sides in between if needed.
  3. 3. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and gradually increase the speed to low-medium until everything is combined.
  4. *** If you plan on using only one kind of sprinkles, go on to Step 4 ***
  5. *** If you plan on using two different kinds of sprinkles, skip to Step 5. ***
  6. 4. Add in the sprinkles and mix on low. Then add in the chopped Oreos and mix on low until everything is evenly distributed.
  7. 5. Divide the batter in half (approximately is fine), and place one half of the dough in a separate bowl (we'll call this Dough #2). Add in Sprinkle #1 to the dough that is still in the mixer bowl, mix on low and then add in the chopped Oreos until combined. Remove Dough #1 into a bowl and set aside. Put Dough #2 into mixer bowl, mix in Sprinkle #2 and chopped Oreos until combined.
  8. 6. Cover bowl(s) with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for at least 1.5 hours. Roll dough into balls (I used a 1.5 tablespoon cookie scoop) and place in a tupperware, cover tightly, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Cookie dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days.
  9. 7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes and let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing them onto a wired cooling rack to cool completely. Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
  10. Makes 60 cookies
Notes
  1. *If you plan on using two different kinds of sprinkles like I did, you'll need 1/2 cup of each
  2. **If you plan on making two different batches, divide the roughly chopped Oreos into two separate bowls
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
SIMPLE EVERYDAY FOOD http://www.simpleeverydayfood.com/
Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

© Simple Everyday Food. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or kindly link back to this post for the recipe.

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So while I’m sitting here at my local coffee shop writing today’s post, I contemplated about telling you guys the horrifying experience I had at this very same coffee shop just a few days ago, which involved two small birds flying into the glass window with a loud “thud!” right next to where I was sitting and landing on the sidewalk. And a phone call to a local emergency veterinary clinic regarding said collision that left me angry and frustrated. I started writing and then proceeded to deleted the two paragraphs I have written, because I figured this story is probably pretty dang unappetizing for a food blog, and the last thing I want to do is to turn you guys off.

So let’s start over…. despite the numerous pumpkin recipes I have posted here on SEF, would you believe me if I told you there once was a time where I hated pumpkin-flavored anything? I still don’t care for pumpkin pie to this day, but I do like some things that are pumpkin-spice-flavored. I have been seeing a lot of seasonal pumpkin flavor-related items on my Instagram feed lately and a lot of people stocking up on all things pumpkin (apparently Trader Joe’s have transformed itself into America’s pumpkin headquarters), but other than these pumpkin spice Oreo cookies, I have yet to stock up my pantry with any of these seasonal items.

I have to admit, these Oreos are pretty dang amazing. I had to hoard a stack of these babies and tuck them away in my cupboard for this recipe, just in case I didn’t have the self control to stop eating them.

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These cookies are soft, puffy, and filled with pumpkin deliciousness! You may remember these ooey gooey pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I made last year. This time, I switched out the milk chocolate chips for white chocolate chips instead, and I think I actually like these better!

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The white chocolate chips are a perfect complement to the golden Oreo cookies. All the flavors shine through and the ingredients don’t overpower one another. They are slightly crunchy on the outside, but so soft and chewy on the inside. And when you get a bite with the chopped Oreo cookies, it’s like a little bite of heaven.. so good!

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soft and chewy pumpkin spice oreo cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  3. 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  4. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 pumpkin puree
  6. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  8. 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  9. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  10. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  11. 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  12. 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  13. 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  14. 1/3 cup white chocolate chips
  15. 1/2 cup pumpkin spice oreos, coarsely chopped
Instructions
  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the melted butter and both sugars. Add in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. Mix over medium speed until combined. Gently stir in the white chocolate chips and chopped Oreos.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Using a medium cookie scoop (about 1.5 tablespoons), drop dough balls approximately 1" apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway to ensure even baking. Remove from oven and gently press the tops with the back of a spoon if the cookies are too puffy for your liking (I did, because I love my cookies with slight cracks but yet still slightly puffy). Let cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring them to a wired cooling rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  5. Makes 2 dozen cookies
Adapted from The Domestic Rebel
SIMPLE EVERYDAY FOOD http://www.simpleeverydayfood.com/
Recipe adapted from The Domestic Rebel

© Simple Everyday Food. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or kindly link back to this post for the recipe.