Hamburger And Potato Casserole…

Recently my husband has been having some issues with his mouth that prevents him from doing a lot of chewing. That presented a challenge for me in terms of thinking about meals where he can still get some protein into his system, have something that basically can be “gummed” when eating and still tastes good. And voila, this recipe fit the bill to a tee. The best thing is this is a great recipe all on its own, and it’s so easy to prepare you may find you’ll be making it often.

So let’s talk hamburger and potato casserole…

Lesson Learned 1: If at all possible use a mandolin slicer to cut your potatoes: Perhaps the trickiest part of this whole recipe is cutting the potatoes correctly. Cut them too thin and they will turn into mush in your casserole. Cut them too thick and they will never cook through. The best way to ensure you’ve cut the potatoes to the correct thickness is to use a mandolin slicer (as seen in the picture). A mandolin slicer can be a cook’s best friend if used appropriately. It can also be one of the easiest ways to chop off one of your fingers if used incorrectly. If you’re careful and use the safety features of your slicer you can slice just about anything quickly and consistently.

I cut my potatoes in 1/8 inch slices. I also used Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe although you can use red or russet potatoes. I even peeled my potatoes but it isn’t necessary. When making the recipe, I prepped my potatoes first. In order to prevent them from oxidizing and turning dark while I was prepping the rest I soaked them in cold water. I left them there until I was ready to use them. Before I put them in the casserole I dried them off with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Following this method the potatoes cooked perfectly.

This is probably the first recipe that included only one lesson learned. The reason being, I guess, is how simple this recipe is to prepare. Even the novice cook can be successful with this one. It does not require a lot of technique but it will score high marks in the comfort food arena. Enjoy this super easy recipe and let me know what you think after you’ve made it.

Hamburger And Potato Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef

3 cups thinly sliced potatoes, peeled or unpeeled

1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs. garlic infused extra virgin olive oil (you can also use plain olive oil)

1 12 oz. can Cream of Mushroom soup

3/4 cup milk

2 cups shredded cheese, (I used Jarlsberg and Mild Cheddar)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and cook the onions until they are translucent. Add the ground beef and cook until only a little pink remains. Add the garlic, stir into the meat and onions and cook for another minute. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the soup, milk, salt and pepper.

Layer half the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole dish. Salt and pepper the potatoes. Spread half the soup mixture on top of the potatoes. Add half the cheese and top with half the ground beef mixture.

For the second layer, add the potatoes, salt and pepper them, then the soup and ground beef and lastly top with the remaining cheese.

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the potatoes are done. Uncover the dish and place under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get the cheese golden brown. Serve immediately.

Layer the potatoes on the bottom of the dish

Layer with the ingredients

Right out of the oven

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Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice…

My last blog was about my favorite carb “taters”. This blog is about my favorite protein, chicken! I kid you not, I could eat chicken every single night of the week. Nothing tops it in my book. So, as with “taters”, I am always on the lookout for new chicken recipes and the easier the better.

Let me tell you, nothing can be easier than this one. It is pretty much a retro classic and so good to make when you have little time to prepare something. The only glitch is it takes 2 1/2 hours to roast in the oven, but it’s one of those recipes where you prep it and forget it.

This recipe relies on canned soup, cream of chicken and cream of celery, and with a little water, rice, poultry seasoning and carrots you have an entire meal in one pan ready to serve all at the same time. Plus it creates a fabulous aroma in your kitchen. You can’t beat that.

So let’s talk slow roasted chicken and rice…

Lesson Learned 1 – Buy chicken breasts with skin and ribs and debone the chicken yourself: You want to do this for a couple of reasons. First it is much less expensive to buy chicken this way. Second by leaving the skin on it keeps the breast nice and moist during the slow roasting process. Invest in a good boning knife and regularly maintain it with a hand sharpening tool like the one pictured to the left. It is surprisingly inexpensive and will keep your knife nice and sharp for a long time and boning the chicken breasts will be a breeze. These days it’s pretty hard to find boneless breasts with the skin still on so this may be the only way to do it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a rice mixture for an extra flavor boost: Go ahead, be adventurous and use a rice mixture instead of just plain white rice. You can use wild rice, basmati rice or the mixture that I use which is a combination of white, brown, wild and red rice and pictured to the right. You’ll be amazed at how it punches up the flavor volume and makes the dish even more interesting.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you use thick carrots cut them in half lengthwise: I found the best way to make sure that the carrots are soft roasted is to cut them in half lengthwise if they are an inch or more thick. If they’re thick and you simply cut them in chunks they will not be as tender. If you like a little more body to your carrots you can certainly roast them without cutting them in half. With this recipe I prefer the carrots soft roasted and found the best way to achieve that is cut any that are overly thick. The decision is totally yours.

There are not a lot of lessons learned to share on this one as it is so darn easy to make. I love this recipe because it is a great blend of convenience and good flavor and cooks in one pan. Try this one and I know it will become a staple in your home…

Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 10 ounce can cream of celery soup

1 10 ounce can cream of chicken soup

5 – 10 ounces of water (the more water the creamier the rice)

3/4 cup of rice

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

4 small or 2 large boneless chicken breasts with skin on

4-6 carrots sliced lengthwise and cut into chunks

1 tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl combine the soups, water, rice and poultry seasoning. Chop carrots into chunks.

Spray a 9  x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the soup mixture across the bottom of the pan. Place chicken breasts on top of soup mixture. Arrange carrots around the chicken breasts. Sprinkle the top of the chicken breasts with the rotisserie chicken seasoning.

Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Do not remove the foil during the entire roasting process. Remove from the oven and uncover. If using large breasts, cut them in half before serving. Serve immediately.

Soup Mixture Ingredients

Arrange The Ingredients In A Prepared Pan

Cover With Foil And Roast

Serving Suggestion

Skillet Taco Casserole…

I am always amazed at the versatility of a cast iron skillet. I used to think they were just cheap and heavy cookware but now I think they are the best thing out there when it comes to cooking in the kitchen.  And I am always looking for ways to make a one pot meal so when I decide to make one I go first to my trusty cast iron skillet before anything else. There is nothing that compares to using a cast iron skillet when you have a recipe that goes from stovetop to oven. And that is the kind of recipe I am sharing today.

This particular meal is so easy and so tasty you’ll want to keep it in your arsenal of go-to meals. When you don’t have the time or energy to make tacos the traditional way, you can still get that “taco feel” without a lot of major prep. It’s basically everything in one pan. Serve it with a salad and some tortilla chips, or slather it into a soft tortilla shell with some lettuce and jalapeños and it will be a hit!

So let’s talk skillet taco casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – Get creative with the rice you use: Of course you can always use the old standby white rice. But don’t be afraid to get creative. I used a rice blend of texmati white, brown, wild and red rice for this recipe and found it added great depth of flavor. But you could use basmati rice, paella rice or any short or medium grain rice to this dish. And if all else fails you can even use quick cooking rice. The point is, don’t be afraid to experiment. As long the rice is precooked you’ll be just fine.

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t forget to add the flour: As I’ve become a little more proficient as a cook I’ve come to learn that flour and corn starch are my best friends. If you want to thicken a sauce or a gravy, you need to use one or the other. And along the way, as I have experimented with both, I’ve wondered what the difference is between the two of them.

Flour Versus Cornstarch – What’s The Difference?

The First Difference – Appearance: Flour makes a gravy opaque and can dull or lighten the   color, while cornstarch (when used properly) yields a clear, shiny sauce.

Sauce Thickened With Flour

Sauce Thickened With Flour

The Second Difference – Flavor: flour needs to be cooked enough to lose its raw flavor; cornstarch doesn’t have much flavor on its own so you don’t need to cook it through. And if you use a cooked flour (such as a long-cooked Cajun-style roux, or roasted flour), you can add a roasty-toasty flavor you can’t get with cornstarch.

The Third Difference – Cooking Time: Flour needs to be cooked to lose its raw flavor and to unleash its thickening powers. Cornstarch needs only a short cooking time to thicken. In fact, if you cook cornstarch too long, it lets go and the sauce thins out again. So if you are anticipating a longer cooking time, stick with flour.

What thickening agent do I prefer? Well the answer it easy –  for me, it’s flour. Although you do need to cook it for about a minute, I find it is easier to work with, doesn’t lose it effectiveness over longer cooking times and it always does a great job of thickening. The only time I prefer cornstarch is when I want clear, shiny sauce.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 3 – Judge how much tomato sauce you need: I bought a small can of tomato sauce and after I poured in some I thought using the whole can might make the dish too runny even with using flour. So I only added about 3/4 of the can. But judge for yourself. If you add the whole can and find it reduces the affect of the flour, just mix a little flour with water (thoroughly) and add it in. The sauce will thicken up again in no time.

And that’s it. The recipe is very easy and you’ll have a great dinner on the table in no time. Enjoy!

SKILLET TACO CASSEROLE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 Tbs. Garlic Infused Olive Oil (you can substitute EVOO)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound 85% lean ground beef

2 Tbs. flour

1 pkg. taco seasoning

1 cup chicken stock

1 small can tomato sauce

3 cups cooked rice

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

1 cup Jack cheese, shredded and divided

1/4 cup sour cream

Green onions or flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet (or any other type of oven proof skillet) on the stove saute the onions, stirring occassionally, until they just begin to caramelize (about 7 minutes). Salt and pepper the onions while sautéing. Move the onions to the side of the pan and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon and spooning the onions on top. Cook until the beef is cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste. Once cooked drain any excess grease out of the pan.

Stir in the taco seasoning and flour and cook for at least 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and tomato sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked rice, half the cheeses and sour cream. Cooked until combined. Add the remaining cheese to the top of the mixture, put in the oven and bake until cheese is golden brown and bubbly, approximately 15 minutes.

Garnish with sliced green onions or chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.

Skillet Taco Casserole

 Skillet Taco Casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole…

Casseroles can be deceptive. On the outside what you see is a one dish meal – couldn’t be easier right? But upon closer inspection you see a wide variety of ingredients that have to be “bake-off” ready in order to assemble the casserole. And if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, there’s a lot of work involved in putting a casserole together.  Just be aware of that, especially if you are prepping ingredients from scratch. Let’s face it, casseroles are basically designed to help you use your leftovers – sort of a “fooled you, you ate this the other night for dinner and here it is again, just dressed up differently!” But whether you are using leftovers or preparing ingredients from scratch there is nothing as comforting as a casserole. And besides, I’d rather be relaxing an hour before the meal than scrambling right up to the last minute before you put the meal on the table. For me, that is the beauty of a casserole.

Casseroles also feed my love of prepping things. So I’ll admit I made this the other day without using any leftovers. This was a from scratch casserole. But if you’re a prep nut like me who gets satisfaction out of chopping, mincing, dicing and slicing than it really is no big deal.

So let’s talk about making a chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole…

Casserole IngredientsLesson Learned 1 – Get all the individual ingredients prepped first: This is pretty much a rule of thumb for almost any recipe, but since there are so many different types of ingredients in a casserole I’ve found the best thing to do is to get everything “assembly ready” first. That way you’re much more organized and the casserole assembly process is a breeze. That means have the chicken cut up or shredded, slightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the mushrooms, either use leftover rice or cook your rice, and shred all of your cheeses.

And by the way, it is always better to shred your own cheese. Packaged pre shredded cheese has an “ingredient” in it, cellulose, designed to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. And guess what – cellulose is made from wood pulp. So unless you want to have a regular amount of wood pulp in your diet, I’d recommend shredding your cheese by hand. It’s not that hard and obviously healthier for you.

Lesson Learned 2 – A chicken casserole’s best friend – store bought rotisserie chicken: You can always roast the chicken you need ahead of time in your own oven, but it’s so much simpler just to buy store bought rotisserie chicken and use that. I bought a small chicken, removed and discarded the skin and shredded the meat. It saved a lot of time and believe me, no one knew the difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use any melting cheese you have on hand: I had gruyere and havarti on hand so I just combined those two for this casserole. To top the casserole I found a specialty cheese called buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese. That cheese was great because it had a nice kick to it and added a unique flavor to the top of the casserole. Really, you can be inventive with your cheeses. You just want to make sure that whatever cheese(s) you use it is good melting cheese.

Lesson Learned 4 – Just slightly steam the cauliflower: I steamed mine for about 5 minutes. Really all you want is for them to just show the first signs of cooking. Remove them from the heat. No need to shock them. Just don’t feel that you have to steam them for a long time. All you really need to do is give them a little nudge.

Lesson Learned 5 – Once everything thing is prepped, assembly is a snap: Here is what the assembly looks like in pictures.

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread chicken mixture over the rice and cauliflower

Top with cheese

Top with cheese and pop into the oven

And there you have it. Forty-five minutes to an hour later you will be in casserole heaven. So try this one, play with the ingredients and as always let me know what you think…

CHICKEN, CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1  Four pound rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cubed or shredded

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets and slightly steamed (4 cups of florets)

8 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 Tbs. of  butter

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (cooked in low sodium chicken broth for additional flavor)

1 ten ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups shredded melting cheese (I used a combination of havarti and gruyere)

1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese (for the top)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 6 quart casserole dish with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with the cooked rice. Arrange the cauliflower florets on top of the rice.

In a large bowl combine the chicken, sautéed mushrooms, havarti and gruyere cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower. Cover the casserole with the buffalo wing cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If need be, cook up to an additional 15 minutes longer. Casserole is done when the cheese on top is melted and the casserole is bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken, cauliflower mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole

 

 

Sweet Potato Casserole…

For the longest time I associated sweet potato dishes with the holidays. Turns out I was missing something wonderful and nutritious all year long. That being said, I’d like to share with you a recipe that certainly can be made over the holidays but is wonderful with any meal any time of year.

I like this recipe because it’s designed to serve four (or two very large appetites) so you can either finish it off at one meal or have one serving of leftovers. It reheats beautifully. It’s simple to prepare, a colorful addition to any plate, flavorful and good for you. So throw away your preconceived notions of sweet potato casseroles being something only relegated to the holidays and enjoy them all year round!

IMG_4412Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the sweet potato into evenly sized chunks: This is very important for the cooking time. You don’t want some pieces to be mushy while other pieces are hard. I cut mine into one inch chunks. Also keep in mind sweet potatoes cook faster than russet or red potatoes. So be aware of that and start checking them for doneness at about 10 minutes. You want them to be fork tender, not mushy.

Lesson Learned 2 – To mash or not to mash in the same pot you cook them in: I am a student of the game and so I do a lot of research into cooking methods. There is a train of though out there that suggests once you’ve drained the sweet potatoes it’s best to mash them in the same pot you boiled them in. That way any excess water left on the potatoes will evaporate from the heat of the pan. That’s all well and good, but I find if I do that my potato masher scratches the heck out of the bottom of my pan, and I have some really high quality pans. IMG_4415So I’ll leave this up to you. You can certainly mash them in the same pan, but I wanted to warn you about what might happen if you did. This is what I do. Once I’ve drained the sweet potatoes, I prefer to mash them in a bowl. After I do that (and they mash quite quickly) I put them back in the pot they were boiled in and just stir them around for about a half of a minute or so (you can even use some low heat while you’re doing this). That way I get the same effect without playing havoc with the finish on my pans.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can make this recipe in individual serving sizes: Another way to prepare this dish is to divide it up equally into four ramekins and bake it off. That way your guests can have their own individual portions. This recipe adapts well in that regard and the individual ramekins are pretty cute. You can also use ramekins even when there are only two of you. Just cook two of them off for one meal and refrigerate the other two for another meal. Just make sure if you refrigerate some ramekins, or if you have leftovers in a one quart casserole, that you take the dishes out of the refrigerator and let them sit on your counter for about an hour before reheating them. That way you’ll take the chill off and the cooking time will be shorter. Also if just reheating, cover the casserole in foil. Since it’s already been cooked once you can burn the pecans if you don’t cover them.

My husband just loves this recipe. He asks me to make it all the time. Try it. I’m sure it could easily become on of your go-to potato recipes!

Sweet Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 Tbs. butter, divided (2 Tbs. cut into cubes)

1 Tbs. maple syrup

2 Tbsp. orange juice

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 cup pastry flour

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 Tbs. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. shortening, to grease the casserole dish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 1 quart casserole dish. (I use an enameled cast iron dish for this recipe). Set the dish aside.

Place cubed sweet potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until the sweet potatoes are fork tender (10-15 minutes). Drain the sweet potatoes and put them in a bowl (or back in the saucepan if you prefer – see lessons learned above). Add 1 Tbs. butter, the maple syrup, orange juice, salt and cinnamon. Mash until you reach your desired consistency. (At this point, if you mash in a bowl, you can put the potatoes back in the pot the cooked in, turn on a low heat and stir for about a minute to remove any excess water). Put the mashed sweet potatoes into the greased casserole dish.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, pecans and brown sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course sand. Add the vegetable oil and mix until well combined. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the mashed sweet potatoes.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until the potatoes are hot and the top is golden brown.

Ready To Go Into The Oven...

Ready To Go Into The Oven…

Makes Enough For 2-4 People...

Makes Enough For 2-4 People…

Image

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole…

Lately I have been posting a lot of baking recipes so I thought this time I’d go for something savory. I had some ground beef in the refrigerator and I started to think about how I could prepare it in ways other than more traditional faire like burgers, meatloaf or tacos. Then I thought about Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve made Shepherd’s Pie with left over pot roast (the traditional recipe) and I’ve also made a Turkey Style Shepherd’s Pie but I didn’t have any left over mashed potatoes and didn’t feel like making some.

What I did have was a bag of frozen diced potatoes and a bag of frozen vegetables and the recipe grew out of that. I also had a hodgepodge of shredded cheeses in my refrigerator and I decided to try to incorporate that – sort of a clean out your fridge and freezer type of recipe. I never could have imagined how tasty this would be. After we had this for dinner my husband was already looking forward to eating the leftovers.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is assembling the ingredients but once that’s done, like any other casserole, all you do is pop it in the oven and wait for it to do its thing. This recipe requires using two pots and a casserole dish but believe me the end result is worth it. Try it out and see what you think!

IMG_4961Lesson Learned 1 – There is some prep to this recipe: But tell me now, what from scratch recipe does not require some prep. You brown the onions, add the meat and seasonings, add the veggies and cook thru till warm while in another pot you make the homemade cheese sauce. But at least this way you know every ingredient that is going into the recipe and that’s the beauty of making it from scratch – you control all of the ingredients.   There are ways you can shorten the prep time by perhaps using a prepared cheese sauce but  now that I’ve mastered making my own sauces and gravies I very seldom, if ever, revert to buying them packaged or jarred. And really, you have to admit, homemade tastes so much better. So take the time to do the prep – it’s worth it.

kicproductimage-120658Lesson Learned 2 – It’s easy to adapt this to a meatless recipe: Quite often I post on my Facebook page a picture of the next recipe I will blog as a teaser for what’s to come. This time when I posted a picture for this dish I got two very specific comments. The first was that I should write a recipe book and I am seriously thinking about doing an ebook. (Have any of you done that – would love to hear your story). The second was that you could substitute veggie crumbles for the ground beef in this recipe. To be honest, I had never heard of veggie crumbles before and I wondered why you would substitute the meat for veggies when veggies are already included in the recipe. But I was thankful to learn about this. A few of my friends who are not carnivores say they use these crumbles when making chili or tacos and they tell me it’s a great substitute. So I wanted to offer that piece of information here. This is definitely the kind of recipe that could use the crumbles as a substitute for the ground beef. I am not recommending any particular brand. Both MorningStar Farms and Boca make the crumbles. I just wanted to give you an example of what you might consider.

Lesson Learned 3 – Any frozen vegetables will do: I had some frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and I add them to the recipe. You can also use frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, green beans and corn). Just remember to make sure the pieces are not too large. I found I had very large cauliflower pieces so I cut them in half to make sure they would cook. You can also add fresh vegetables. I would cook them until slightly softened and then put them in the casserole. I think I am going to try fresh vegetables the next time I make this. Regardless, my husband told me that this recipe is definitely a keeper!

IMG_5019Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe makes great leftovers: The recipe as written serves 6 and my husband and I could not eat the whole thing the first time. We had it two days later as leftovers and it tasted equally as delicious as when it was first made. The best way to reheat this is to first take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the kitchen counter for an hour. That takes the chill off. Then reheat at 375 for 45 minutes. (maybe 30 minutes at sea level). Make sure you reheat it covered in foil as the cheese will burn if you don’t. The ends result is piping hot and just as delicious as the first time around. This recipe is a winner out of the gate and as leftovers.

Ground Beef And Crispy Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 large onion, diced

1/2 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 – 2 cups frozen vegetables

3 Tbs. butter, divided

2 Tbs. flour

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded cheese (I had a white cheddar and gruyere blend)

1/c cup sour cream

1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

Frozen, diced potatoes (enough to cover the top – not quite a full 32 oz. bag)

Flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 10 x 10 casserole dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large skillet heat 1 Tbs. of butter. Add the onions and cook until they start to become translucent (about 5 minutes). Salt and pepper the onions during this process. Add the ground beef and oregano. Cook until the meat is mostly cooked through. Add the garlic and vegetables and cook until the vegetables are slightly heated. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper if needed. Once the vegetables are slightly heated, remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.

In another skillet melt the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute. Add the milk and continue to whisk so the mixture stays smooth. Once the milk heats it will start to thicken. When the milk reaches a desired thick consistency (this takes about 5 minutes), turn off the heat and add the cheese. Whisk until the cheese melts. Once the cheese is incorporated into the milk mixture add the chives and stir to combine. Taste the cheese mixture and add salt and pepper, if needed.

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and stir to combine (You need to do this when the meat has slightly cooled so the sour cream does not curdle). Spread the meat mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the meat mixture evenly with the frozen diced potatoes. Pour the cheese mixture over the potatoes.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes. For the first 20 minutes cover the casserole with foil, then remove the foil and bake for the remaining time. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and spread in the bottom of the dish...

Add the sour cream to the meat mixture and spread in the bottom of the dish…

Arrange an even layer of frozen potatoes over the meat...

Arrange an even layer of frozen potatoes over the meat…

Pour the cheese sauce over the potatoes...

Pour the cheese sauce over the potatoes…

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole...

Ground Beef and Crispy Potato Casserole…

Lasagna Roll Ups

I recently came across a recipe for lasagna roll ups. The recipe intrigued me because one of the go-to recipes I regularly make and really enjoy is chicken roll ups, so I thought making a lasagna version might be interesting. I particularly liked the idea of rolling the noodles with a ricotta mixture instead of layering them flat as in traditional lasagna. The original version of this recipe was for veggie lasagna which I knew would probably not be a big hit with my husband so I decided to work with the concept and create a recipe that would appeal to the carnivores of the world. But you can certainly make this a veggie dish and it will be fabulous.

Lesson Learned 1 – There is a lot of prep work to this recipe: If you’re not a prep person, this might not be the recipe for you. I find it cathartic to chop, mince, slice and dice but not everyone feels that way. You also have to cook the lasagna noodles ahead of time and arrange them individually on wax or parchment paper so they remain straight and don’t stick together before you roll them up with the cheese. The key to this recipe is making sure everything is prepped up front, including cooking and separating the noodles. If you do that, assembling it is a breeze. All I can say is that regardless of the work, this recipe is worth it.

IMG_3630Lesson Learned 2 – Cut all the veggies for the sauce to a similar size: This is important so that you don’t overcook or undercook any of them. Don’t throw them all in at the same time. Saute the onions, peppers and mushrooms first, then add the garlic followed by the squash. By the time the squash is crisp tender everything else will be ready as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh mozzarella and shred it yourself: I think fresh mozzarella tastes better and it definitely melts better giving you that gooey consistency that we all love. It takes a little extra time but it’s worth it. Then again, if you don’t have the time or want to shorten the prep process you can always use shredded mozzarella.

Lesson Learned 4 – Establish a process for assembling this: You can organize cooking and assembling this recipe any way you want but the key is to be organized when you make it. Think through what process might work the best for you before making this dish. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed by all of the various steps.

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Lasagna Roll Ups

This recipe is enough to serve six. And although the lasagna noodles look small when you take them out of the package, they plump substantially when you cook them. One noodle roll up is more than enough for the average appetite.

The original recipe was designed to be frozen once assembled and baked off frozen at a later time. You can certainly do that but if you do make sure to use a meat thermometer to test the temperature of the center of the lasagna to ensure it’s heated all the way through.

My husband REALLY liked this recipe. In order to make it more carnivore friendly I added my homemade meatballs on top when I served it. I cooked the meatballs separately and just heated them through before I served them on top of the lasagna. If you don’t have time to make meatballs you can add partially cooked ground italian sausage to the sauce or just do what I did and use a sauce that already had sausage in it. Or you can simply leave it as a veggie dish. Any way you adapt this recipe, I know you will like it.

Lasagna Roll Ups…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

PASTA:

6 lasagna noodles cooked according to packaged instructions

SAUCE:

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 small sweet pepper, diced

4-6 large cremini mushrooms, chopped small

1/2 medium size zucchini, diced

1/2 cup white wine

1 24 ounce jar of pasta sauce (I used Classico with sausage)

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

16 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan for sprinkling on top

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

RICOTTA FILLING:

16 oz. ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg

1 TBS. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain them and place them flat on a wax or parchment paper lined sheet pan. Make layers of individual noodles as needed separating each layer with a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large skillet heat the olive oil. Saute the onions, mushrooms and peppers for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds to a minute). Add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the wine and salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Pour in the jarred sauce. Add a can of tomato paste. Stir until combined and warmed through. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients for the ricotta filling. Taste before adding salt and pepper as the parmesan is salty. Salt and pepper to taste. Line up the flat lasagna noodles and divide the ricotta mixture into six equal portions. Spread the mixture over each flat noodle. Roll each noodle tightly with the filling.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle some mozzarella and parmesan over the sauce and top with a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Place the rolled lasagna noodles on top making two rows of three each. Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles. Generously top with mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle the remaining Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Tent the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned and bubbly. You can also turn on the broiler for the last 3 – 5 minutes and put the casserole dish under the broiler. If using the broiler, keep an eye on the casserole so as not to burn the cheese on top.

Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

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Loaded Baked Potato Casserole…

I LOVE potatoes. As a friend of mine once said, “I never met a carb I did’t like.” That’s so true, but these days we know you need to balance your carb intake in order to stay healthy. Not an easy task for someone who was raised on meat and potatoes. But I’m trying.

I wanted to try a recipe like this for a while, so I justified it by serving it with baked cod and oven roasted asparagus. It turned out great and I was careful not to over indulge. So for all of my carb lovin’ friends out there, here’s one that you can add to your arsenal of recipes.

IMG_3125Lesson Learned 1 – Give the potatoes a head start: I know this and I still didn’t do it. It’s always best when making a potato casserole to cook the potatoes for about five minutes in boiling water. That takes the edge off of them. Because you cook this casserole for an hour and three quarters I didn’t think I would need to do that. Wrong. The potatoes were done but not as tender as I would have liked. So remember, give your sliced potatoes a bath in boiling water just until they start to soften slightly (no more than 5 minutes). Then drain them, being careful not to break them, and then put together your casserole. You’ll get great results.

IMG_3116Lesson Learned 2 – There can never be too much cheese: Originally I though this recipe would need two cups of cheese (1 of each type). Once I began to put together the layers I added even more (1/2 cup each). Make sure you get a good melting cheese like gruyere, havarti or monterey jack and generously cover the potatoes. You can combine that with some sort of cheddar or better yet be your own chef and experiment. I used a white cheddar gruyere blend combined with a marbled cheddar. It was delish.  I am writing the recipe from what I used, but you can certainly make substitutions.

This recipe is so easy and so good. It’s a great way to get the flavors of a loaded backed potato in casserole form. The leftovers are great as well. Just heat them in the microwave and serve. Enjoy!

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole 2

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

All natural cooking spray for the dish

2 large russet potatoes, sliced

1 large clove of garlic minced

3 green onions sliced diagonally

1 1/2 cup gruyer/cheddar blend, shredded

1 1/2 cup marbled cheddar cheese, shredded

6 slices hickory smoked bacon – cooked, drained and crumbled

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp. fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook, drain and crumble the bacon. Slice the potatoes to 1/4 inch thick (use a mandolin slicer for the best results). But potatoes in a pan with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for no longer than 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes immediately being careful not to break them.

Spray a stoneware tart pan with all natural cooking spray. Layer the potatoes in the dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle half the onions and garlic on top and season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with half the cheese and sprinkle the top with half the bacon. Repeat with another layer.

In a separate bowl whisk the milk and egg. Add some salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley.

Cover and back for 75- 90 minutes or until the custard is cooked. Uncover and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

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Happy Thanksgiving Leftovers…

Happy Thanksgiving to all. And as you begin to wonder what you’ll do with the mound of turkey leftovers you’ll soon have in the refrigerator, think about making Shepherd’s Pie Turkey style(click on the red colored link for the recipe and lessons learned). 

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style...

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

I am thankful for everyone who takes the time to read this blog. Hopefully my lessons learned have helped you become more adept in the kitchen. Have a great Thanksgiving Day and thanks again for following this blog. It means a lot!

Soon I will venture into my holiday cookie baking ritual. Much more to come. Please feel free to share your favorite holiday recipes with me. I’d love to try some of them. Happy Thanksgiving!

And don’t forget:

cooking

 

 

Italian Sausage Tortellini Bake…

When I start to feel that Fall nip in the air I tend to think casserole. There’s just something about taking a bunch of ingredients mixing them together, sprinkling them with cheese and baking them off until they’re golden brown and bubbly. That says Fall to me.

IMG_0723I’m fond of this particular casserole for a variety of reasons. It’s one that helps you empty out the refrigerator, it’s easy to prepare and it also makes great leftovers. It started out with a package of cheese tortellini that I needed to use and then I morphed it into a dish that added a sautéed vegetable trinity, mushrooms, Italian sausage and a variety of cheeses. Needless to say that for a refrigerator clearing recipe it turned out mighty fine. And as with any casserole, all the work is in the prep. Once you’ve got it all together the oven does the rest.

Recipe Rating: A – easy to make, tons of great flavor – a stick to your ribs kind of dish.

IMG_0740Lesson Learned 1 – The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability: The basis for this recipe is tortellini, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. You can do a down and dirty quick casserole with just those ingredients. Cook the tortellini according the packaged instructions, combine with sauce, top with cheeses and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. That’s it.  I had some celery, red pepper and mushrooms that I wanted to use. And I alway like to include onions and garlic whenever I can. To give the casserole more protein I added some italian sausage and I wound up with a “souped-up” casserole.

IMG_0748Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of deglazing: I prepped the ingredients for this casserole in the same pot in stages. I cooked the Italian sausage, browned the mushrooms, sautéed the onions, celery and pepper along with the garlic and at this point I had some lovely crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. I’ve learned over time that you never neglect those crusty bits. I’ll fill you in on a secret – that’s where all the flavor resides! I took a small amount of red wine (maybe one turn around the pan’s worth) and this nice cloud of smoke arose. After that I grabbed my trusty wooden spoon and voila – the crusty bits easily came off the bottom of the pan and combined with the other ingredients. Heaven!

IMG_0743Lesson Learned 3 – All ovens are not created equal: The cooking time in this recipe is based on my oven. When I researched similar recipes they said to bake this in the oven anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I baked mine for 50 minutes and it turned out nicely browned, bubbly and hot all the way through. Get to know your oven and adjust the baking times accordingly. Since I live in high altitude I know that just about anything I cook in the oven will take longer than what is written in most recipes. So check your casserole at about 30 minutes and go from there.

This is a great fall supper. I served with with some roasted asparagus and crusty bread and it was a hit. Enjoy!

 

[recipe: title=”Sausage and Tortellini Bake…” servings=”6-8″ time=”1 1/2 Hrs. Including Prep” difficulty=”easy”]

Fresh out of the oven...

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. ground Italian sausage, cooked – drained on paper towels

1 9 oz. package of tortellini, cooked according to packaged instructions and drained

1 medium sized onion chopped

3 medium sized celery stalks diced

1 sweet pepper, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 8 oz. package baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (half queso mozzarella preferred)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese or half parmesan, half romano

1 24 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce

Olive oil

1/8 cup dry red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Cook tortellini according to packaged instructions. While the water is coming to a boil for the tortellini, add 1 Tbs. of olive oil to a hot pan. Cook Italian sausage until there is hardly any pink left in the meat. Drain sausage on paper towels and set aside.

In the same pan saute the mushrooms until lightly golden. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. In the same pan add a little more olive oil and sauté the onions, celery and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Once slightly soft and translucent, add the chopped garlic and cook until fragrant – about 1 minute or less. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan. Add back the Italian sausage and mushrooms and heat through.

Drain the tortellini. In a large bowl combine the tortellini and sausage mixture until well combined. Pour mixture into a 3 quart casserole dish. Top with mozzarella cheese and then with grated parmesan (I used a grated parmesan and romano mixture as I had both cheeses in the refrigerator) Bake at 375 for 50 minutes (depending on where you live you may want to start checking this at 30 minutes) or until casserole is browned and bubbly.

[/recipe]

 

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

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Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta…

The weather is starting to turn. The temperatures are dropping and you can definitely feel Fall in the air. And for me Fall means cranking up the oven. I love grilling and I love dining al fresco but there is nothing like the smell of a pot roast slowing cooking in the oven. The aromas throughout the house make you want to curl up in front of the fire place with a glass of wine and just be glad you’re alive. I guess that’s why so many of these Fall dishes are called comfort food. They make you feel warm and cozy inside, even while they’re roasting away in the oven.

And this time of year I am also scrambling to figure out how to use my tomato crop. I never know from year to year how my tomato plants will fare but this year, due to the great growing conditions, I got a bumper crop. I was also fortunate this year. Just as the zucchini production began to wane the tomato production came into full force. And there are only so many salads you can make. So with all of these tomatoes I was on the hunt for a recipe that would not only warm the house but help me use a bunch of them. When I saw that this recipe called for 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes I thought to myself, heck – no need to buy a can, I can cut up what I have and that will do the trick. And did it ever. I got a delicious casserole and was able to use quite a few of my tomatoes in the bargain.

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I will say I was a little surprised at how long it took to assemble this casserole. But I think the main reason was that I hand chopped all of the tomatoes and that took the bulk of the time. I was also able to use some of my remaining fresh basil so that was a plus. I substituted bacon for pancetta (our local grocery store was out of it) and that worked well too. So all in all, a flavorful recipe that helped me use some of my garden bounty. Here is my recipe rating and lessons learned:

Recipe Rating: A- Great comfort food recipe: This a such a good recipe on a variety of levels – not only does it taste great but being able to use garden tomatoes and basil was definitely a plus. If you don’t have the tomatoes or the time to chop them just use a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. That will work equally as well and will be much quicker.

IMG_0383Lesson Learned 1- You can substitute bacon for pancetta: You probably know already that when you don’t have or can’t find pancetta you can use bacon as a substitute. But did you know the difference between them? Both are made from pork belly and both are cured for a length of time. The major difference is that bacon is smoked after it’s cured and pancetta is not. So using bacon as a substitute will add a slightly smokier flavor to the dish. Needless to say, I used bacon and it turned out great. And I will definitely try this using pancetta to see if can discern a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – How to perfectly align the stovetop cooking time: I found that if you start out by boiling the water for the ziti and then start the other ingredients right after you put the ziti into boiling water you can align the cooking times of all the ingredients. Keep in mind that this means that all the chopping and non-cooking prep is done prior to this, but once that’s done both the non-pasta and pasta ingredients cook within a similar timeframe. That allows you to do the final casserole assembly easily.

IMG_0404Lesson Learned 3 – The fresher the ingredients the better: Granted this is the first time I tried this recipe but I think the garden fresh tomatoes and basil made the flavor superb. I realize that having garden tomatoes in most areas is a once a year treat. If you have to use canned tomatoes I would recommend San Marzano tomatoes as they are known for their sweet flavor. At least don’t substitute dried basil for fresh basil in this recipe. If you don’t have basil in your garden buy some fresh at the grocery store. It will make a difference.

Lesson Learned 4 – The wonder of queso mozzarella: In the grocery store with the ethnic cheeses I found something called queso mozzarella. Using it I found it gives a creamier texture to recipes calling for mozzarella cheese. What I do is blend half queso and half regular shredded mozzarella when recipes calls for mozzarella. I think it melts better. And keep in mind, any prepackaged shredded cheese has an ingredient in it that keeps the shredded cheese from sticking together. That same ingredient also prevents it from melting as thoroughly as freshly shredded cheese. So the queso mozzarella helps to combat that. It’s very soft and takes no time whatsoever to grate.

Ready to pour into the casserole...

Ready to pour into the casserole…

Lesson Learned 5 – Take the time to grate fresh parmesan: We all love the convenience of pre grated parmesan cheese. I’ve used it over and over again in recipes, that is until I discovered the difference between packaged and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Freshly grated parmesan melts better and is bolder in flavor. And it is very easy to do, especially if your have a mini-prep processor like I do. All you have to do is cut the parmesan into small pieces, put it in the mini-prep and process it until is is grated. If you haven’t  tried it you really should. It makes a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 6 – Using a garnish: Garnishes are just that, something that dresses up the look of a dish but not essential to the recipe. I love Italian parsley for this purpose. I grew Italian parsley in a container on my deck this summer and it grew like a weed. I loved being able to go and snip off a bunch when I needed to.  That way I could control the amount I had versus buying a big bunch at the grocery store and throwing half of it away. Italian parsley is great as a garnish. Simply chop a little and sprinkle it on top of a dish and voila, it looks like the work of a professional chef. Never underestimate the power of a garnish. It can make a dish look fancy with no effort at all!

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

If you’re like me and you like casseroles you will love this dish. It’s also reheats well and is great for leftovers. Warm your house up with this one. You won’t regret it!

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

12 ounces of ziti pasta

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

1 large onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)

1 pound ground Italian sausage

1 cup dry red wine

1 can of diced tomatoes (28 ounces), or diced garden tomatoes

Generous handful of fresh basil (approx. 1/2 cup)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese, divided  (1/2 cup queso and 1/2 cup shredded preferred)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

Italian parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Do all the prep work first: slice the bacon into lardons, chop the onion, mince the garlic, and grate the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook according to the package directions. Meanwhile in a large pan cook the pancetta for about 3 minutes (you don’t want to crisp it). Add the onion and sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add the sausage and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the wine and cook for approximately 3 minutes. Use the wine to deglaze the pan.  Stir in the tomatoes and basil. Reduce the heat and cook for only a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Stir in the ricotta and half of mozzarella. Put into a 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned.

Straight Out Of The Oven...

Straight Out Of The Oven…

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

Serving Suggestion: Baked Ziti with Garlic Bread...

Serving Suggestion: Baked Ziti with Garlic Bread…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake…

I guess at this point you can probably tell that I’ve been a little fixated on zucchini recipes and with good reason. The zucchinis just keep coming and coming. Every day it seems I’m harvesting two to three new zucchinis. Last year my zucchini plant (I only have one as I have limited space in my garden) hardly produced anything. This year my plant is producing prolifically. Go figure. Mind you, I am not complaining. The challenge is to determine ways to use all this zucchini as I won’t let any go to waste. I know I can give them away if I need to, but most of my neighbors are looking to give their zucchini away as well. Some have even gone to the lengths of just leaving them on neighbor’s door steps. The whole neighborhood must be over run. So my challenge – how can I not only use my zucchini but also make it exciting when having it several times a week.

IMG_9540The latest recipe I tried was a side dish.  Those are probably the easiest recipes to find. This recipe came off of a website that featured 35 different zucchini recipes and I always like to one stop shop. This one seemed relatively easy and so I thought I’d try it. The original recipe called for paring zucchini with yellow squash and I think that would have been perfectly fine, but I had so much zucchini that I wanted to use and so I just skipped the yellow squash. I did add some mushrooms that I had and that worked very well (I always seem to have mushrooms in my refrigerator). My point is that this recipe is adaptable and I am all for adaptable. Bottom line, this is an easy recipe to prepare and it’s actually quite good. I had some issues with how the recipe was written and I will share those in my lessons learned.

Recipe rating: B+ – most of my issues came from how the recipe was written as I am a stickler for detail and how to achieve success the first time you make something. In my experience even the best of recipes are seldom tried again if they can’t be done well the very first time. These days everyone is so busy that recipe success the first time around is just about a given for making a recipe again. This one had one critical piece of information missing that, in my estimation, made the dish look great as well as taste great.

IMG_9550Lesson Learned 1 – prepping ahead: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be prepped ahead and put into the oven when needed. I prepped all of the ingredients about an hour ahead of time and simply covered them in plastic wrap and put them into the refrigerator. The only other thing I did was to take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before putting it into the oven to take the chill off. Right before putting it in the oven I topped it with some additional cheese. I am thinking this is something that can be prepped in the morning and then finished off when you get home from work – a nice little advantage especially for a busy day.

Lesson Learned 2 – use fresh herbs whenever possible: The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I have thyme growing in my garden and I used that. You always need to add more of an herb if it is fresh, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme and I felt it gave the side dish a great flavor boost.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Lesson Learned 3 – you eat with your eyes first: How often have you heard someone say, “Oh that looks delicious!” When you think about it, it’s really a sort of oxymoron since something can only taste and not look delicious. But the truth of the matter is we eat with our eyes first. If something looks great, we automatically assume it will taste great. And this is probably my biggest bug-a-boo with the original recipe. That recipe called for baking the ingredients uncovered for 25-30 minutes then adding the remaining cheese and baking it for an additional 10-15 minutes. I would never have gotten the rich color on the cheese by doing that. What I wound up doing is putting the dish under the broiler for the last 5 minutes thereby getting those nice brown bits of color on the cheese. If I had not done that, the top would’ve just looked gooey white. Getting the browning from the broiler, in my estimation, makes the dish look much more inviting. Believe me, it did not look nearly as inviting when I followed the directions in the original version of the recipe. At 350 degrees you would have to cook the cheese much longer to get it to brown on top.

I realize that my rant about using the broiler may be very picky, and it probably is. Don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. It’s a great way to use up some of that extra zucchini and I’m pretty sure it will be a family pleaser as well.

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 medium zucchini

4-6 ounces of baby portobella mushrooms sliced

3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (this can be adjusted depending upon personal taste)

2 green onion spears thinly sliced (white and green parts)

1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped (1/2 tsp. dried thyme)

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 cup cheese, divided (I used a combination of mozzarella and pizza cheese – you can use more cheese if you like, I think I actually used 1 1/2 cups of these cheeses all total)

1/2 cup parmesan, divided

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut the zucchini into half moons. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Finely chop the basil. Thinly slice the green onions. Chop the fresh thyme.

Combine the sliced squash, mushrooms, basil, onion, thyme garlic powder and half of each of the cheeses. Stir carefully to combine all of the ingredients making sure that the cheese and herbs are well distributed. Season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture in an 8 x 8 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. (At this point I added a little more cheese on the top). Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let bake for an additional 5 – 10 minutes then place casserole under the broiler for the last 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin…

It’s that time of year again. I’ve already harvested five zucchinis from my one zucchini plant and by the looks of things there are plenty more to come. This is the time of year that I start scrambling to locate as many zucchini recipes as I can find so that I don’t waste one precious home-grown squash. And although I am always on the lookout for new recipes, I also have some tried and true ones that I look forward to making every year at this time as well.

A zucchini from my garden...

A zucchini from my garden…

One of my all time favorites is a version of a recipe from Ina Garten. I’ve mentioned Ina several times in this blog. She is a cook that inspired me not only to make new and different things but to believe that I can and be successful at it.

I’d never heard the term gratin before I made this recipe and it’s a term that I found is not in most fledgling cooks’ vocabularies. A gratin originated in French cuisine and it simply means a dish that is topped with a browned crust achieved either through a baking or broiling process. You can make a gratin out of just about anything, potatoes, artichokes, cauliflower – you name it. I especially like to make a zucchini gratin since it is not only delicious but also another recipe in my arsenal to deal with the onslaught of zucchini I get at this time of year.

My very happy zucchini plant...

My very happy zucchini plant…

I saw Ina make her recipe on a Food Network episode and I’ve been making it ever since. I have amended it to appeal to my personal tastes but the basis of the recipe is Ina’s (if you want to see her recipe it is on the Food Network site). So I will rate her recipe and then include my version of it for you to try.

Recipe Rating: A++++++++ This is definitely one of the best recipes ever. It is easy to make and a great accompaniment to any meal. A hint of nutmeg gives wonderful flavor to this recipe. I highly recommend trying this one!

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently...

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently…

Lesson Learned 1- Sautee the zucchini and mushrooms gently: Ina’s recipe calls for cooking the zucchini covered for about 10 minutes before making the white sauce. In my experience, cooking the zucchini for that amount of time made it limp before you even put it in the oven. I cook my zucchini and mushrooms for five minutes just to take the “edge” off of them and let the oven do the rest. That way when you serve the gratin the vegetables still have some body.

Lesson Learned 2- Making a white sauce: This recipe includes making a simple white sauce for the zucchini and mushrooms to simmer in. The first step is to add flour to the zucchini/mushroom mixture. Make sure you cook that flour for at least a minute before you add the milk. It will create a whitish looking goo on the vegetables but don’t worry about that. Just keep stirring until it’s time to add the milk. The reason you cook it for a minute is to get rid of any floury taste. You certainly don’t want your white sauce to taste like flour. Once you add the milk the whitish goo will begin to disappear right before your eyes and you will wind up with a rich, thick white sauce.

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick...

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick…

Lesson Learned 3 – Bread crumbs versus croutons: Last week I made a hash brown casserole that called for a crushed crouton topping. I loved it so much on that recipe that I tried it on this one and it turned out perfectly. The original recipe stipulates to cover the top with bread crumbs mixed with grated Gruyere cheese. Maybe if you made home made bread crumbs the end result would be similar to that of using croutons, but I thought the croutons added a greater crunch and more flavor. You can try topping it either way but at this point I prefer the crushed croutons.

Lesson Learned 4 – A little nutmeg goes a long way: I’d never cooked with nutmeg before I made this recipe and I can tell you it adds a great depth to the gratin but you need to be careful when you use it. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way and it can easily overpower a dish if you use too much. My advice is to use exactly what the recipe recommends. Then in subsequent bakings try to vary the proportion. My guess is that if you choose to vary it, it will be for a lesser rather than a greater amount.

Lesson Learned 5 – Oven times vary: This seems to be a regular “lesson learned” in my recent posts but rarely does a dish come out of my oven the way it is supposed to in the time written in a recipe. I assume that part of the issue is living in high altitude and the other is how my oven is calibrated. The original recipe says to bake the gratin in the oven for 20 minutes. In order for me to get a nice bubbly casserole I have to bake mine for 40-45 minutes. This is where it can get somewhat frustrating for the fledgling cook. But never fear, in time you will learn the ins and outs of your oven and be able to plan accordingly.

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin...

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin…

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s not difficult to make but tastes like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Over time, because the directions are so true to form, I’ve not gleaned a lot of lessons learned making it and I view that as the beauty of the recipe. It is the kind where you can be successful making it the first time and every time. If you’re like me at this time of year, desperately searching for various ways to cook my zucchini crop, this recipe is a must. Try it – I know you’ll like it as much as I do.

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. butter (plus some for on top of the crushed croutons)

1 medium size onion, diced

2-3 medium zucchini cut in to 1/4 inch rounds

4-6 ounces of portobella mushrooms cut in thick slices

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbs. flour

1 cup warm milk

3/4 cup crushed croutons or bread crumbs

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the milk into a saucepan and warm under a very low heat (you don’t want the milk to boil, you just want to get the chill out of it). Grate the Gruyere, dice the onions and slice the zucchini and mushrooms and set aside. Put the croutons in a plastic bag, seal the bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Set the bag aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and cook under low to medium heat until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the zucchini and mushrooms, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes (you do not want the zucchini to be limp). Uncover, salt and pepper to taste and add the nutmeg.

Stir in the flour. Cook for at least one minute. Add the warm milk and 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese and cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart baking dish.

Combine the croutons (or bread crumbs) with the remaining Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with small amounts of butter and bake until bubbly and browned. (the original recipe called for the casserole to bake for 20 minutes, I had to bake mine for 40-45 minutes).

Let sit for 5 minutes, garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.

 

Ready to go into the oven...

Ready to go into the oven…

 

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley...

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley…

Hashbrown Casserole…

Pasta is ok, rice really does nothing for me but give me potatoes and I’m all over it. There is no way that you can cook a potato that I won’t like. Potatoes were a staple at just about every meal I had growing up and my so my love affair with this root (yes it is neither a fruit nor a vegetable but a root) has spanned my entire life. So when I find a potato recipe that intrigues me, I have to try it.

The original recipe from which I’ve based my version in this blog comes from a website called thefrugalgirls.com. I liked the recipe concept because it appeared easy to prepare and was a different way of making potatoes than the traditional ways of baking them, mashing them or grilling them. Coupled with the fact that I already had most of the ingredients plus I needed to fulfill my goal of one new recipe a week, this became no brainer – I had to make this casserole and blog about it. So without further adieu, here is my recipe rating, lessons learned and my version of the recipe.

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients...

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients…

Rating A+ – not only is this very easy to make but it smells heavenly when it’s baking in the oven. Anything that combines flavorful potatoes and good kitchen smells is always a hit with me. You really have to try this one.

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe adapts easily: The original recipe filled a 13 x 9 baking dish. Cutting it in half allowed me to put it in an 8 inch square dish which was just enough for me and my husband with leftovers for an additional meal. But if you have a large family to feed just double everything in the recipe and use the larger pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – Topping a casserole with crushed croutons: Recipes like this are quite often topped with bread crumbs. This recipe called for topping the casserole with crushed croutons. I LOVED IT! The croutons gave a perfect crispiness to the top of the hash browns, just as if the potatoes had been browned in a frying pan. I found the crushed croutons had a much crispier texture than bread crumbs. I am definitely going to try topping other casseroles with crushed croutons instead of bread crumbs. I think it made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh garlic: The original recipe called for 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic salt. I didn’t like the idea of adding that much salt so I substituted one minced garlic clove for the garlic salt. It was fabulous. I figured if the potatoes needed more salt you can always salt them at the table while you’re eating versus adding a lot in the recipe itself.

Lesson Learned 4 – Shred the cheese by hand: The recipe called for shredded cheddar cheese. I’ve recently learned that the shredded cheese bags you buy at the grocery store have an additive in them that is designed to prevent the cheese from clumping together. But that additive also prevents the cheese from melting smoothly. Plus it is an additive and the more you can eliminate additives from your life the better. So take the few extra minutes buy a hunk of good cheddar cheese and use a grater to shred it yourself. The result is so much better in the recipe and better for you as well.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 5 – Make caloric adjustments where you can: This is a very rich recipe so any places where you can make adjustments to lessen the fat or salt will still produce a great casserole that is full of flavor while also having less calories. I used light sour cream, fat free milk, low sodium soup and substituted fresh garlic for garlic salt. The recipe turned out perfectly.

Lesson Learned 6 – Use butter and not a butter substitute or margarine: I know this may seem to go against what I just said in the previous lesson learned, but just take a minute to look at the ingredients in butter and then compare them to the ingredients in margarine or any butter substitute. Tell me if you can pronounce some of the ingredients in the substitutes. It’s scary to think about what you might be eating. If you have to use a fat, use the one that has the purist of ingredients which in this case is none other than good old fashioned butter.

Lesson Learned 7 – Not all baking times are created equal: The original recipe called for baking the casserole at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. My long standing experience with high altitude made me leery of not only the timeframe but also the temperature. I will include in the recipe below the original cooking instructions but will tell you that I had to crank my oven up to 375 and cook this for an hour and it turned out perfectly. What I’m basically saying here is you may have to adjust your cooking time based on your oven and where you live. Just be aware of that.

Lesson Learned 8 – The leftovers are fabulous: The leftovers are equally as good if not better than when it was fresh out of the oven. Just reheat them covered in foil in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. The flavors have had some time to meld and the top and ends get even crispier. Can’t beat that!

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Once again, the real work in this recipe is preparing it. Once you get the mixture together, all you have to do is pop it in the oven and let it do the rest of the work for you. This is a great accompaniment to almost any meal so try it. I know you’ll like it!

Hasbrown Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 pkg. frozen shredded hasbrowns (package size usually 1 lb. 14 oz.)

8 oz. light sour cream

1/2 can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium preferred)

4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (freshly grated not packaged preferred)

1/8 cup milk (fat free or low fat preferred)

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/2 stick of butter, melted

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup seasoned croutons crushed

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. (*The original recipe called for the oven to be set at 350 and to cook the casserole for 35-45 minutes. I live in high altitude so everything takes a little longer to cook and at a higher temperatures. Use what you think will fit your needs but I think keeping it in the oven a little longer gives it an even crispier crust). Thaw hashbrowns slightly for easier mixing. Crush the croutons (the easiest way to do this is to put them in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pin or meat mallet). Set the croutons aside.

Combine the hashbrowns, soup, cheese, milk, onion, garlic, salt and half the melted butter. Grease a 8 x 8 pan with a very light coating of butter. Place the hashbrown mixture in the prepared dish. Spread croutons evenly over the top and drizzle them with the remaining butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (*see notes at beginning of recipe). The casserole should be bubbly and the top should be golden and crisp. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Hashbrown Casserole

Hashbrown Casserole

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

I’ve always liked the concept of Shepherds Pie, it’s a great way to use leftover pot roast – but what about using poultry as the main protein? A grocery store near my home often features fresh half turkey breasts on the bone and I love them. Because of their smaller size, it’s a great way to have turkey more often than just during the holidays, it’s easy to cook and you still get great turkey leftovers to boot. The only difference is that now I don’t have all of the other holiday side dishes to serve with the leftover turkey, and I wanted to try something a little different than just a turkey pot pie.

Spread The Turkey Over The Bottom of the Dish

Spread The Turkey Over The Bottom of the Dish

I’m beginning to wonder what I would do without Pinterest. What great way to find recipes from sites I would probably never find otherwise. My blog now also links to my taste.com and there you can find a compilation of tons of recipes from a variety of different food blogs. I’ve just started connecting with that site and if you want to find my recipes (and there are only a few of them featured right now but there will be more to come) just type in “jan geden” in the search engine and my recipes will pop up.

But this time I found a recipe on Pinterest that I adapted and to my surprise it turned out great. I am now becoming a little more sure of myself in the kitchen with a better understanding of what will and will not work, especially in high altitude. And although this was adapted from a recipe called turkey potato casserole from all recipes.com, it is my version of it with several changes I made based on what I had in my refrigerator at the time. So, here are my lessons learned and recipe rating.

Saute the Veggies...

Saute the Veggies…

RATING: A+ – I wish I could give it a few more pluses but the only drawback was the casserole did not get as hot as I would have liked it even with the time I added on to the original recipe. Next time I will bake it longer and at a slightly higher temperature. Otherwise it was very flavorful and definitely a great way to use leftovers in a casserole.

Lesson Learned 1: COOKING TIME – and once again as I’ve stated several times before, things take longer to cook in high altitude. The original recipe called for the casserole to bake for 30-40 minutes at 350. 350 to me automatically means at least 365-375. I baked it for 50 minutes at 365 and it was warm, but this recipe needs to be served piping hot. Next time I will do 375 for an hour and I bet it will be perfect.

Layer The Veggies Over The Turkey

Layer The Veggies Over The Turkey

Lesson Learned 2: ADAPTABILITY – I love this recipe because it is easily adaptable. The original recipe called for adding only onion and frozen green beans. When I read the reviews, someone suggested that they used peas instead of the beans. I liked that idea better. I also had some mushrooms (don’t I always) and a lot of carrots in my refrigerator. I chopped the onions and carrots, sliced the mushrooms and sautéed them until the carrots were softened and added them to the mixture along with some frozen peas. The next time I might even add a little chopped celery. The vegetable medley really added to the flavor of the dish in my opinion.

Lesson Learned 3: PRE-MADE MASHED POTATOES – what a time saver they were. The pre- made mashed potatoes that you can get now in the grocery stores are really very good. I think I got a tub of Country Crock garlic mashed potatoes, but any brand will do. All I did was microwave them for about 3 minutes, stir them and spread them on top of the casserole. It worked out perfectly.

Spread Soup Mixture On Top Of Veggies

Spread Soup Mixture On Top Of Veggies

Lesson Learned 4: CHEESE – the recipe called for cheddar cheese to be mixed with the cream of mushroom soup and the mashed potatoes. I decided to get a three cheese blend and I only mixed it with the soup and not the mashed potatoes. That way you save a little on the calorie side and the cheese blend, in my opinion, melted better than just using cheddar cheese alone.

Lesson Learned 5: LEFTOVERS – this also makes great leftovers and warms up very nicely after a few minutes in the microwave.

On average I’ve found that although casseroles have the appeal of a one pot meal, they generally take some work to put them together. And although this version involves some chopping and sautéing, the finished product is well worth the time and effort. I plan on making this one often it was that good. Enjoy!

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups diced cooked turkey meat

1 onion chopped

1 large clove of garlic chopped

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup carrots diced small

4 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms

1 can cream of mushroom soup

6 ounces shredded three cheese blend

3 TBS butter

1 tub (28 oz) pre-made mashed potatoes (or you can use leftover fresh mashed potatoes)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Dice turkey and put in the bottom of a 8×8 casserole dish. In a large pan, melt  the butter and sauté the onions and carrots for a few minutes before adding the mushrooms. Continue to sauté until onions are translucent and carrots have started to soften. During the last minute of cooking add the garlic until the garlic becomes fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Microwave the mashed potatoes for approximately 3 minutes. While potatoes are in the microwave, mix the cheese and the soup together in a small bowl. After 3 minutes, take the potatoes out of the microwave and stir to soften.

Put the vegetable mixture over the turkey and spread the soup and cheese mixture on top of it. Spoon the softened mashed potatoes over the soup mixture and spread out evenly to cover the entire casserole.

Bake in the oven for 40-60 minutes or until heated through. Serve immediately.

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style...

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

 

Chicken, Broccoli, Mushroom, Cheese and Rice Casserole…

Casserole Ingredients

Casserole Ingredients

Right out of the gate I will tell you that I had a love-hate relationship with this recipe. I loved the way it tasted and I will definitely make it again. My husband gave it a two thumbs up so I know it’s a keeper. What I hated was how the recipe was written and that is always a big sticking point with me. I try to be empathetic toward recipe authors as I understand I live in high altitude and that changes the rules somewhat. But even with that, I find it hard to believe this recipe (I amended it for you in this blog) as originally written would even work at sea level. So for my non-intuitive cooking friends out there, beware. I suggest you do the recipe the way I’ve written it and I think you will be successful on the first try.

This recipe came from the website http://www.keyingredient.com. From what I can tell, it appears that people submit recipes and they are published on this site. This particular recipe was intriguing to me as I had all of the ingredients already and I was looking to try something different. My goal is to try one new recipe a week and blog about it. So this recipe helped me on both fronts. So here is my rating and lessons learned along with my version of the recipe. You can always search for the original recipe on the key ingredients website.

RATING: A: for flavor and ease of preparation, F: for how the recipe was written. With a few simple adjustments this recipe could easily get an “A” on both counts. But in my estimation it was not well written.

Saute the Mushroom and Onions First

Saute the Mushroom and Onions First

LESSON LEARNED 1: The original recipe called for either 3 cups of cooked rice or 1 cup of uncooked rice, with no differentiation in cooking time for either one. Even I know that there has to be some sort of a difference, right? You can’t expect uncooked rice to turn out the same as cooked rice without some adjustment to the cooking time. So adjust I did, and even with that the rice still turned out slightly crunchy. The original recipe called for a cooking time of 350 for 30 minutes. So for me, in high altitude, that normally means I set my oven to 365. But I just had a feeling that 30 minutes would not cut it, so I planned on a 45 minute timeframe. After 45 minutes I looked at the casserole and it still did not seem as hot and bubbly as I would like it so I cranked the temperature up to 375 and cooked it for another 15 minutes. And even with all that time, the rice was still not fluffy and in some instances slightly crunchy. Lesson learned for me: the next time I make this I will cook it at 375 for 1 hour using cooked rice. I will cover the casserole with foil for the first 45 minutes and leave it uncovered for the last 15 to get some good browning on top of it.  If you choose to use uncooked rice remember to adjust your time. What that time might be I cannot tell you as I have no clue. All I can tell you is that after an hour it was not completely cooked through for me.

LESSON LEARNED 2: This is also a big bug-a-boo of mine. In a recipe be clear about whether a dish should be covered or uncovered in the oven. Don’t assume I know. This recipe calls for cheddar to be put in the sauce as well as sprinkled on top and did not indicate anything regarding whether the dish should be covered or not. In my experience, cheddar cheese left uncovered on casseroles for a long time tends to look burnt. I covered the casserole with foil for the first 45 minutes and then left it uncovered for the last 15. It worked out beautifully.

Blend the cheddar cheese with soup mixture until completely melted

Blend the cheddar cheese with soup mixture until completely melted

LESSON LEARNED 3: The orignal recipe calls for sautéing the onions in margarine. Why margarine instead of butter? Butter is a much purer ingredient. I used butter instead.

LESSON LEARNED 4: I was surprised how long it took for the cheddar cheese to melt in the soup mixture. It took about 5 minutes and required constant stirring. So be patient, it will melt but it does take time. (This was probably the most labor intensive part of the process).

LESSON LEARNED 5: The original recipe called for 2 cups of frozen broccoli. Although frozen vegetables are of much higher quality than they used to be, why not use fresh? I used fresh broccoli chopped into bite size pieces. The broccoli turned out perfectly, crisp tender. So use fresh broccoli if you can. I think frozen broccoli might turn out mushy in this recipe.

The first layer of rice, broccoli and 1/3 of the soup mixture.

The first layer of rice, broccoli and 1/3 of the soup mixture.

Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this recipe. It would have been tremendous if the rice was cooked properly. So give this one a try and try it the way I am writing it. I think you will be much more successful that way.

Chicken Broccoli Mushroom Cheese and Rice Casserole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups cooked rice

3 cups cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken or any other type of precooked chicken, drained)

2 cups broccoli (fresh or frozen – no need to thaw) chopped into bite size pieces

1 can cream of chicken soup (low sodium preferred)

1 can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium preferred)

3 TBS. butter

1/2 cup chopped onion (more if desired)

1 clove garlic, minced (more if desired)

1 cup sliced portobello mushrooms

8 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Cook 1 1/2 cups of rice (this should yield 3 cups of cooked rice) according to package directions. (Minute rice is not advised for this recipe). Cut chicken and broccoli into bite sized pieces. Slice mushrooms, chop the onion and mince the garlic clove. Melt butter and sauté the mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and cook until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add both cans of soup and stir until combined and hot. Add 6 ounces of the cheddar cheese and stir until melted (this could take about 5 minutes before the cheese is completely melted).

Grease or spray a 3 quart casserole dish. Spread rice evenly on the bottom. Put broccoli on top of rice. Pour about 1/3 of the soup mixture over the broccoli and rice. Add chicken and top with remaining sauce. Top with remaining two ounces of cheese.

Cover with with foil and cooked covered for the first 45 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven for an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Ready to pop in the oven...

Ready to pop in the oven…

 

Fresh Out Of The Oven...

Fresh Out Of The Oven…

Chicken Broccoli Mushroom Cheese and Rice Casserole

Chicken Broccoli Mushroom Cheese and Rice Casserole

Three Cheese Spinach Strata with Sundried Tomatoes and Peppers

I was raised a meat and potatoes girl so I don’t often cook meatless meals, but I do enjoy them. So when I was tasked to make something for a meeting at work, knowing that some of the associates do not eat meat, I went to my tried and true friend Pinterest to get some inspiration. And, as always, I found a wide variety of options from which to choose.

Strata Ingredients

Strata Ingredients

I was intrigued by this recipe for several reasons: 1.) I’d never made a strata, [and was always intrigued to make it especially after watching one of my favorite holiday movies “The Family Stone” with the strata being a “Morton family tradition – lovers of the film know what I mean]; 2.) I love the combination of ricotta, gruyere and parmesan and; 3.) the recipe appeared to be very adaptable even for a nonintuitive cook like me.

This recipe originated from a website called onecaketwocake.com and I can certainly understand why since the finished product is almost like an egg cake. I adapted it by adding sliced baby portobella mushrooms (one of my favorite add-on ingredients) and doubling it for a 9 x 13 pan. I also added more cheese than called for, used kosher salt instead of table salt and opted for frozen instead of fresh spinach, although fresh spinach would be very good as well.

I was a little nervous to bring something to a meeting that I never made before but I decided to take a risk and try it. So here are my lessons learned and recipe rating:

Rating: A++ I always LOVE it when you make something the first time and it turns out perfectly. This definitely did. All of the work is in the prep (and I’ll get to that in my lessons learned) but after that you just let it chill in the refrigerator overnight and bake it off in the morning. I will definitely make this for dinner sometime. You know it’s good when the whole pan disappears, which it did. It looks good and tastes good. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

Strata Filling

Strata Filling

Lesson Learned 1: This takes a long time to prep, and I mean a LONG TIME especially if you grate the cheese yourself which I did. I had a slab of parmesan in the fridge as well as a slab of gruyere so I had to process both of them. I grated the parmesan in the food processor and the gruyere with my hand grater which added a lot to the time and extra clean up. There is also a lot of chopping, mincing and dicing from the onion to the garlic and the sun dried tomatoes, peppers and bread. I never realized how time consuming cutting the crust off a loaf of french bread can be. All in all this took me about an hour to prep and that surprised me. Was it worth it – DEFINITELY. Just be aware that this recipe has a lot a prep and set the time aside to do it.

Lesson Learned 2: Make sure you take the onion, garlic, spinach and roasted red pepper mixture (and in my case I also added mushrooms) off the stove and let it cool somewhat before building the strata. This is the only area where I thought the recipe directions could be clearer. Anytime you have anything warm to add to an egg mixture you either have to temper the egg mixture (slowly warm it) or let the warm ingredients cool somewhat so you don’t wind up with scrambled eggs. I found removing the veggie mixture from the pan and letting sit on a plate for just a few minutes got it to a point where it would not adversely affect the egg mixture.

Lesson Learned 3: Saute the mushrooms first for about 3-5 minutes then add the onions until they turn slightly translucent then add the spinach, tomatoes and peppers and cook until the pan is showing no moisture. The mushrooms give off a lot of moisture so you want to begin by sautéing them.

Strata Layers

Strata Layers Before Adding The Cheeses

Lessons Learned 4: After the prep, the rest is a breeze. This dish could be a great holiday breakfast or simply a breakfast-for-dinner meal. You have to let the strata “cure” in the refrigerator overnight or at least for 8 hours so that the bread soaks up the egg mixture. Just cover it with foil once you’ve assembled it and forget about it. I love that part of it!

Lesson Learned 5: This recipe is very adaptable. I could see adding broccoli or asparagus or even zucchini to this. I think this might be a good clean out your vegetable bin recipe. Just be aware of the various cooking time of your vegetables and plan accordingly. For example, I might add asparagus uncooked or only slightly cooked into the mixture. Since the strata bakes for 50 minutes, it gives the more tender vegetables plenty of time to cook in that process. I may try that the next time and I’ll let you know whether it works or not. You could also add meat to this. I’m thinking breakfast sausage would be the best compliment. Just cook it three quarters of the way through, let it cool slightly and add it into the layers. Don’t worry, the sausage will cook through during the remaining 50 minutes in the oven. I do the same thing for my Ravioli Lasagna recipe and the meat turns out just fine.

Lesson Learned 6: If you want to make this for dinner, just prep it first thing in the morning and let it sit in the refrigerator all day. Plan to try to keep it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

As you can see, I have very few lessons learned since the recipe is basically easy – it’s just the prep that’s time consuming. But what you’re left with is something that looks fancy, tastes delicious and comes out perfect the very first time you make it. Enjoy this one!

Three Cheese Strata With Mushroom, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

3 TBS butter

1 small onion, chopped

2 packages frozen spinach (6 ounces each), thawed

3/4 cup roasted red peppers (jarred or homemade), chopped

1 tsp kosher salt

I loaf french or italian bread (approximately 1 pound or 10 cups), remove the crust

10 large eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 TBS Dijon Mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

2 cups gruyere cheese

1 cup parmesan (or more if desired)

DIRECTIONS:

Thaw frozen spinach. Once spinach is thawed, place in a cloth towel and wring out several times until all excess water is removed.  Chop spinach and set aside. Make sure sundried tomatoes are soft. If not, cover them with boiling water and let them seep for 15 minutes and then chop them and set aside.

Over medium heat melt half the butter and sauté the mushrooms for about 3-5 minutes. Add the onions and cook the mixture until the onions begin to look translucent. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Add remaining butter. Stir in the spinach and pepper. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir until mixture is dry. Remove mixture from the pan and set aside to cool.

Cut bread (remove the crust first) into large cubes and place half in the bottom of a buttered 9×13 dish. Spread half of the spinach mixture on top. Take half of the ricotta and place by spoonfuls on top of the mixture followed by half of the gruyere and parmesan. Repeat the layering.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, mustard and a half teaspoon of salt and pepper. Pour the mixture evenly over the ingredients in the casserole dish. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

In the morning, take the casserole dish out of the refrigerator and let it stand while you heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the casserole for 50 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Three Cheese Strata With Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers

Three Cheese Strata With Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers

Chicken Roll Ups…

Chicken Roll Ups (right out of the oven)

Chicken Roll Ups (right out of the oven)

I think I may be related to Ina Garten’s husband Jeffrey, at least in the love of chicken department. Like him, anyway you prepare it I just love chicken. Ina makes it for him every Friday. I have it at least once a week and sometimes more. Because of that fact I’m always looking for new chicken recipes and especially the ones that are easy to prepare and super delicious.

This recipe is one of my husband’s favorites. Every time I make it he always comments on how much he enjoys it. I love it for its combination of ingredients – boneless chicken breasts, genoa salami, provolone cheese, asparagus and pasta sauce. In my mind it doesn’t get much better than that.

But I have to admit there is a catch to this recipe. Like any recipe for a roll up, the challenge is rolling it up. It took me a few tries to perfect the technique but hopefully through my lessons learned it will be easier for you. There are a few recipes that I’ve posted so far on this blog that are my go-to favorites. I put this one right up there with one of my all time favorites, my ravioli lasagna recipe. Once you master the art of the roll up you will make this recipe often as it is so simple and yet very flavorful.  So here’s my rating and lessons learned:

ru1Rating A+  The only thing difficult about this recipe is mastering the roll up technique so that all of the ingredients are covered by the chicken breast. Once you’ve got that, the rest is a breeze. You’ve basically got your meat and vegetable all in one. Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread and you’ll have a dinner that will become a staple in your household! I’ve learned a lot of lessons making this recipe and hopefully these will help you be successful the very first time you make it.

ru2Lesson Learned 1: It is so important to make sure the chicken breast is the right thickness. If it’s too thick you’ll never get it to roll up, if too thin all the provolone will ooze out.  I used to use one breast for each roll up but it seems like they are getting larger and larger and once you pound them out you are left with an enormous roll up. Now I take my boning knife and halve the chicken breast. From there I put them between two pieces of wax paper and pound each to a quarter of an inch thick. I found doing it this way makes for a much more reasonably sized portion and one breast now serves two.ru3

Lesson Learned 2: Figuring out the art of the roll up took a few tries on my part before I perfected it. What I learned is if you put the cheese, meat and asparagus closer to where you begin rolling and leave a little more just plain meat toward the end the process seems to work. As you are rolling the meat and cheese tend to move a little along with you. If you leave some “wiggle room” at the end you can get all of the insides covered with the chicken breast.

Place ingredients more toward the bottom before you roll the chicken

Place ingredients more toward the bottom before you roll the chicken

Lesson Learned 3: I have yet to find a toothpick that will hold the roll up in place without breaking off. Now I use a turkey skewer (the kind you use on your holiday turkey to keep the stuffing in place) and that seems to work well. I use the skewer to secure a flap on the bottom (opposite the asparagus tips) so that cheese does not ooze out and then weave it through the chicken flesh to hold the rest of the roll up in place. Just make sure you remember to tell people that you used a skewer. With the pasta sauce it is not always easily visible and whoever is eating it could be sawing away wondering why they can’t completely cut through the roll up. If I can I remove it before serving. If I can’t remove it, I make sure the person eating it knows it’s there.ru5

Lesson Learned 4: This is probably the biggest lesson I learned from making this – covering the asparagus tips with aluminum foil. You are baking this dish for 45-50 minutes at 350. If you don’t cover the asparagus tips they will turn to mush. If you do cover them they turn out beautifully as can be seen by the picture at the bottom of this blog.

Lesson Learned 5: Put about a quarter of a cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan before you put the roll ups in. That way the roll ups won’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Put sauce on the bottom of the dish before adding the roll ups

Put sauce on the bottom of the dish before adding the roll ups

Lesson Learned 5: This recipe is a version that came from a Bertoli pasta sauce add I clipped from the newspaper. The beauty of this recipe is that you can basically use any red sauce that you like and top with any cheeses that you like. The original recipe called for topping the roll ups with the sauce and shredded romano cheese. I like that and so that’s what I do, but you could use a combination of parmesan and romano and you could even top it with some mozzarella for the last ten minutes of the baking process.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

All the work in this recipe is up front. Once you get the prep work done it’s just a matter of baking and eating it. Serve this with a side salad and crusty bread and you have an easy, flavorful and fun meal.

Easy Chicken Roll Ups

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (halved)

Genoa Salami (12 thin slices)

Provolone Cheese (4-8 slices)

12 Asparagus Spears

1 Jar Tomato-Based Pasta Sauce (15 oz. or larger)

Shredded Romano Cheese (at least 1 cup)

Italian Seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Place your hand on the top of the chicken breast and using a boning knife start on one side and cut the breast in half (see pictures above). Place each breast between two pieces of wax paper and use a meat mallet or rolling pin and pound moving from the center out until the breast is 1/4 of an inch thick.

Beginning at the bottom of the breast, place one or two pieces of provolone cheese and three slices of salami on top of the cheese making sure to leave about an inch of just plain meat at the top of the breast (see picture above). Trim the woody bottoms off of the asparagus spears and place at the bottom of the breast. Roll the chicken breast so that the cheese, salami and asparagus (except for the tips) are all covered by the meat. Take a skewer and close off the flap a the bottom (the opposite end from the asparagus tips) and lace it through the roll up to secure it in place. Cover the asparagus tips with aluminum foil.

In a casserole dish, spread about 1/4 cup of the pasta sauce to cover the bottom. Place the roll ups in the casserole dish and cover with the remaining pasta sauce. Sprinkle with shredded romano cheese and italian seasoning.

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Remove skewer from roll ups and serve.

A Chicken Roll Up

A Chicken Roll Up

Ravioli Lasagna…

Ravioli Lasagna

My part-time job at Crate and Barrel requires me to work longer than normal hours over the holidays. No worries, I love the hustle and bustle of the holidays and there’s no better place to experience that than working retail. The challenge for me is how to plan dinners that don’t consist of take-out, pizza or soup and sandwiches. That menu faire gets boring rather quickly. I found one solution in a Costco cookbook – that’s right a Costco cookbook!

Ingredients

Ingredients

If you are a Costco shopper you know that every year they give away a pretty substantive cookbook. The recipes in the book are designed to use the products they sell, but all in all there are some pretty decent recipes included. Over the years they’ve even featured recipes by prominent celebrity chefs such as Ina Garten, Sandra Lee, Ree Drummond and Michael Symon. What I like about the cookbook is that every recipe has a picture of the finished product. I am not a big fan of recipe books that don’t have pictures. I need something visual to help me understand what I am trying to achieve. The books provide a myriad of recipes from appetizers, main courses, celebrity chef favorites, desserts and beverages. And the fact that it is free is just icing on the cake. They usually give the books away at holiday time, so be on the look out for them. This year they started giving them away on Black Friday and continued as long as quantities lasted. I made my husband make a special trip to get ours as every year I have been able to glean a couple of family favorites from each of them.

The recipe I’m going to share comes from a book they produced three years ago. The title of the book is always the same, “Creative Cooking the Costco Way,” and this recipe is called Baked Ravioli (Lasagna Style). I like this recipe because it is simple, it can be adapted in a variety of ways, and it’s one that can be made a day ahead so it’s perfect for those nights when you want something more for dinner without a lot of thought or effort. I’ve been making a version of this for over three years now so I’ve got this one down pat. Here is my rating and lessons learned:

Rating: A – a great go to recipe, can be adapted in a variety of ways, easy to prepare and definitely something your better half can start while you’re still at work (with my husband I write the directions on a post-it and put it on the door of the microwave so it’s there in plain view for him to see).

Lesson learned 1: Don’t be afraid to play with this recipe. You can basically use any type of ravioli you like. I first started out using Bertoli four cheese ravioli and then branched off into some of the more gourmet-type blends. The ravioli used in the pictures in this blog were half-moon mushroom and cheese ravioli, but you can use any kind you want. This time I also added some additional left over mushrooms that I partially sauteed as well as some partially cooked italian sausage that I crumbled, cooked and put in the layers. No need to cook your additional ingredients completely through as the dish will bake in the oven for at least an hour. Depending on the ingredients you use, this dish can also be meatless.

Before baking...

Before baking…

Lesson Learned 2: If you are making it the day before, make sure you take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit on your counter for at least an hour and a half before baking it. If you don’t it will take much longer to bake and will not cook evenly.

Lesson Learned 3: I like to make sure that my oven is not only preheated but at the desired temperature for at least 10-15 minutes. That way I feel I have a true temperature. My oven takes about 15 minutes to get to 400 so I usually plan on a preheat time of 25 minutes.

Lesson Learned 4: Don’t forget to use a little bit of cooking oil and sauce to cover the bottom of the pan before doing the layering. If you don’t you won’t be able to get the finished product cleanly out of the pan.

Lesson Learned 5: I like to make sure that the ravioli is positioned tightly together, even with a slight overlap. That way you have a nice firm layer when it’s cooked.

Lesson Learned 6: Make sure to tent the foil over the dish for at least the first 50 minutes of the cooking process. After that, remove the foil so that the cheese can become golden brown.

You can make this recipe as simple or as intricate as you want. All of the work goes in to putting it together. Once that is done it’s simply a matter of popping it in the oven, baking it and enjoying it. Serve this with some garlic bread and a salad and you’ve got a delicious and easy meal. Try this one – I guarantee you will use this as a go-to recipe just like I do!

Ravioli Lasagna...

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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THE INGREDIENTS:

Cooking oil (I use olive oil) – just enough to very lightly grease the bottom of your pan

1 – 29 ounce jar of a red sauce of your choice

1 large package of ravioli (again your choice, the ingredients and shape – square or half moon – do not matter)

Italian sausage or meatballs (again the amount your choice, depending on how much you want in the recipe. I normally take two sausage links, crumble and partially cook the meat, drain it on paper towels and then put it over the ravioli when I make the layers).

Other ingredients to taste – (I often add partially sauteed mushrooms or peppers. No need to cook them through, just give them a good start).

Mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano Cheeses

Italian seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the bottom of your pan (for the two of us I use an 8 inch square pan) and spread a layer of sauce over the bottom. (You don’t need a lot, just enough to lightly coat it). Put down a layer of ravioli flat side up on the sauce. Position the ravioli close together, even with a slight overlap. Add any additional ingredients you have prepared (I did mushrooms and italian sausage on this one). Put another layer of sauce on top and then add a layer of mozzarella, romano and parmesan. Sprinkle with italian seasoning and pat the layer down lightly. Repeat the layering. Pat down again and cover with tented aluminum foil. (If you are making ahead, just cover with foil and put in the refrigerator. Just don’t forget to tent the foil before putting it in the oven as you don’t want all the cheese to stick to the foil).

Bake for one hour or until completely heated through. For the last 10 minutes of the baking process, remove the foil so that the cheese can brown. Let stand for five minutes before serving.

Ravioli Lasagna

Ravioli Lasagna

South of the Border…

I just knew Mexican food was not for me. Who in their right mind would want to burn their mouth with jalapeno’s? And refried beans looks like baby poop. And remember I was born and raised on good old potatoes – what is this rice stuff all of a sudden?

Well, thank goodness I’ve changed my ways. I now love just about everything Mexican including a good mouth cleansing with some spicy jalapeno peppers! But somehow, Mexican food was something I ordered when I went out, never trying to make it at home… that is until the other day. I subscribe to a site called “One good thing by Jillee”. It’s a site that sends out blasts on all sorts of topics, from how to make homemade soap to getting out those nasty stains to how to fix those too tight shoes.

Lo and behold, the other day I got an email from the site with a quick and easy recipe for sweet corn chicken enchiladas. It seems the author adapted it from a recipe she found on Lovely Little Snippets. Instead of making homemade enchilada sauce, she used store bought, and substituted rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken herself.

I was intrigued. So I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool and try them. To my surprise, they were rather good. The next time I try them I will add some jalapenos to the mixture to spice them up a little bit. I had some frozen chicken breasts so I did cook them to use in the recipe. I used a Mexican blend cheese inside the tortilla and for the last ten minutes added a queso cheese on top. But you can do whatever is easiest for you. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Chicken corn enchiladas

Chicken corn enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

12 tortillas (the recipe called for corn but I used flour)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 cups frozen sweet corn

2 cups shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend and added a queso cheese on the top)

1 large can of enchilada sauce (19 ounces)

sour cream and guacamole (for serving if desired)

DIRECTIONS:

In a bowl, mix the shredded chicken, corn and 1 cup of cheese. Pour approximately 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute to soften. (30 second did the trick for the flour tortillas). Fill them with the chicken and corn mixture and roll them up. Place each rolled tortilla seam side down in the casserole dish. Repeat with all the tortillas and then pour the remaining enchilada sauce on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and top with cheese. Put it back in the oven just until the cheese melts and then take it out and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. It will be VERY hot. Garnish with sour cream and guacamole.

This makes divine left overs as well. Try it, and let me know what you think.