Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Easy Spinach Dip

I spent all day yesterday driving home, so no time for a long recipe today. I must have eaten a pound of this stuff during my vacation - try it on sourdough bread!

  • 1 (10 oz.) pkg. chopped spinach, thawed (use the microwave) and squeezed dry (in a spinner, if you've got one)
  • 1 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 pkg. Knorr Swiss dried vegetable soup mix
  • 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and chopped finely
  • 3 green onions, chopped
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours to let flavors meld and dried soup to hydrate. Stir before serving.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I'm still on vacation, so you're getting a post by proxy. Are you trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your leftover turkey and such? Well the Food Network's Alton Brown had a whole show devoted to dealing with that stuff. I just hope you saved the turkey carcass for soup! Check out

We'll be back to real recipes on Wednesday.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sloppy Joes

Today we finish our week with another easy recipe based on Saturday's Meat Sauce recipe. And who doesn't love Sloppy Joes? They're sweet. They're tangy. They get your kids to eat something other than pizza and hot dogs. Best of all, they taste good!

  • 2½ cups of Saturday's (12/20/08) meat sauce (about ¼ batch), fresh or thawed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Toasted buns or hearty sandwich bread
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until the surface becomes shimmery. Add bell pepper and saute until it starts to brown, 5-10 minutes. Add sauce, sugar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer until thickened, 5-10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on toasted buns or sandwich bread. Makes 8-10 sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Here we continue the theme of easy recipes using our pre-made meat sauce (see last Saturday's post for details).

I love lasagna, but I dislike taking the time to painstakingly lay out each layer of noodles, meat, cheese, etc. No-boil noodles make it a little easier, but it's still a lot of hassle. This delicious recipe allows you to forgo the hassle and just dump everything together. It tastes just like the original thing, and you don't miss the layers of noodles at all.

  • 1 box (1 pound) pene, farfalle (bow tie), or fusilli (corkscrew) pasta, slightly undercooked
  • 5 cups (about half a batch) of Saturday's (12/20/08) meat sauce, (fresh or thawed)
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 4 eggs
  • 32 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese (about 1 ounce, you probably want to use the good stuff)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsely
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Nonstick cooking spray or vegatable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add cheeses, parsely, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and mix until well combined. Lube a large baking dish with nonstick spray. Dump pasta into baking dish. Mix sauce with Italian seasoning and basil and pour onto the noodles. Smoothly spread cheese mixture on top with a rubber or silicone spatula. Bake for 1 hour or until the top has set up and is starting to brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Taco Salad

Today, begin this week's theme of stuff you can make with our super-duper all-purpose meat sauce (see Saturday's post). We start out with a great Mexican-American favorite: Taco Salad

  • 5 cups (about half a batch) of Saturday's (12/20/08) meat sauce, thawed (or freshly made!)
  • 1 packet (1 ounce) taco seasoning mix
  • 6 tortillas (flour or corn), 8-1o inches across (or whatever tortillas you have lying around!)
  • 1 head shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce
  • Toppings (any or all of the following, as you like them)
    • diced onion
    • fresh tomato, chopped
    • sliced jalapenos
    • sliced olives
    • corn
    • crumbled corn chips
    • beans, regular or refried
    • shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
    • sour cream, ranch dressing, or queso dip
Mix sauce and seasoning in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly toast each tortilla over medium-high heat in a dry skillet or saute pan until they just start to become brown and crispy. Put each tortilla in a wide, shallow bowl or dinner plate. Add lettuce, seasoned sauce, and whatever toppings you like.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Super-Duper All-Purpose Meat Sauce

Face it: much of the time, we're too busy to cook. Between jobs, kids, and dishes, we'd rather spend our precious free time with a good book while we wait for the pizza to come instead of slaving over a hot stove. Next week, I'll show you how you can use a little bit of advance preparation (like on a weekend when you have nothing going on) to yield several almost-instant meals. It's like convenience food without the extra price! Today, you get the recipe for a sauce that acts as the base for a myriad of other recipes, making those other meals quick and easy. As an added bonus, this recipe can be doubled or tripled (or even quadrupled or quintupled if you have a large enough pot), making that great deal on hamburger at the bulk club look even better.
(Sorry for no pictures this week, I'm on vacation!)

  • 2 pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (4 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
Put beef in a large skillet or dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat until it starts to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add onions, salt, and pepper and continue to cook until onion is completely cooked, another 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, about 1 hour. Cool to room temperature before putting into two 48-ounce freezer containers. Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. When using, place frozen container in microwave on high for 3 minutes, then stir (or break up) the sauce with a large wooden spoon, and repeat until thawed.

Stay tuned here over next week to see what you can do with this incredibly convenient stuff!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grilled Hamburger Salad with Corn Salsa

So normally, I'm not a fan of the "low-carb" craize. I mean, half the point of a hamburger is the delicious, toasted-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, sesame-coated goodness that is the bun. However, I may have to change my tone a bit, as this salad is effectively a hamburger without the bun, and it is good! To make up for the missing carb-laden bread, we dress the patties with a zesty corn salsa that brings contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures.

Salsa Ingredients
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomato, drained
  • 1 can (7 ounces) diced green chiles
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
Hamburger Ingredients
  • 24 ounces ground beef
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
Other Ingredients
  • Butter Lettuce Leaves
  • Shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese blend (optional)
Salsa Directions
Simmer tomatoes, chiles, and corn in a small saucepan till the corn is cooked and the mixture tightens up, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Chill in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes (if desired).

Hamburger Directions
Gently mix all hamburger ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Your hands are the best tools for this - overworking the mix is not good for the texture of the patties. Form into 3-inch patties. Grill over medium heat (or place under a broiler 4-5 inches from the heat) for 3-5 minutes on a side, or until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Place 2 hot patties on a chilled lettuce leaf. Top with salsa and cheese. You could also add salad dressing (Catalina or French would be good), sour cream, or sliced Jalepenos.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tomato and Barley Soup

I love tomato soup. It is one of America's true comfort foods. Using roasted tomatoes intensifies the tomato flavor, and adding barley gives it an earthiness and body that makes it even better.

  • 3 cans (14 ounces each) fire roasted tomatoes, with juice
  • 24 ounces beef broth (use vegetable broth for a vegetarian option)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 cup quick-cooking barley (uncooked)
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, ground in mortar or blender
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Place tomatoes (with juice), broth, garlic, barley, rosemary, and Italian seasoning in a large pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly (about 3 minutes). Add fresh basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If fresh basil is not available, you may use 1 teaspoon dried basil, added with the Italian seasoning.

Serving Suggestions (Try one or all of them!)
  • Add fresh pasta and simmer for another 3 minutes (or until al dente, 7-8 minutes for dried pasta)
  • Put a 1/4 cup of cooked (or canned and rinsed) white beans in each serving bowl before pouring in soup
  • Top with freshly toasted sourdough croutons and Parmesan cheese

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Pampered Chef ® Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Torte Recipe

Here's a favorite dessert from when Michelle was a Pampered Chef Consultant. She always loved demonstrating the cookware when this was the result!

  • Nonstick cooking spray with flour
  • 1 pkg (18-21 oz) traditional or chewy brownie mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 pkg (1.5 oz each) peanut butter cup candies
  • 1 bag (10 oz) peanut butter morsels (1 2/3 cups)
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray Torte Pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Place 8-in. circles of parchment paper over centers of pans; set aside. In a 4-qt. mixing bowl, combine brownie mix, eggs, 1/2 cup of the oil, water and peanut butter; mix well. Divide batter between pans, spreading to edges. Bake 10-12 minutes or until centers feel firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, dice peanut butter cups; set aside. In a Classic Batter Bowl, combine peanut butter morsels and remaining 1 tbsp oil; microwave on HIGH 1-2 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring after each 30-second interval. Spoon 1/4 cup of the peanut butter mixture into resealable plastic bag; set aside. Fold marshmallows into remaining peanut butter mixture.

Remove pans from oven to Cooling Rack; let brownies stand in pans 4 minutes. To assemble torte, invert one brownie well-side up onto a platter. Using a spatula, spread marshmallow filling into brownie well. Invert remaining brownie well-side up onto cooling rack; slide onto bottom layer. Evenly distribute diced peanut butter cups into brownie well. Trim corner of filled bag to allow peanut butter mixture to flow through; drizzle over torte. Serve immediately.

Yield: 16 servings

Nutrients per serving: Calories 470, Total Fat 24 g, Saturated Fat 10 g, Cholesterol 40 mg, Carbohydrate 53 g, Protein 10 g, Sodium 250 mg, Fiber 2 g

Cook's Tip: To easily cut torte, knife into hot water between cuts and wipe dry with a damp paper towel.

It's best to use a nonstick cooking spray containing flour (for baking) when baking these brownies.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chilly Cheer Punch

This festive drink is great during the holidays, or whenever a non-alcoholic cocktail is called for.

  • 16 oz whole cranberry sauce (from the can or homemade)
  • 12 oz frozen unsweetened raspberries
  • 24 oz. ginger ale, plus more for drinking (we use Diet Canada Dry, no corn syrup)
Place cranberry sauce, raspberries and 12 oz ginger ale in blender; blend until smooth.
Place mixture in gallon-size re-sealable food storage bag. Add remaining 12 oz of ginger ale, seal tightly and shake to blend ingredients. Place bag in freezer overnight or until frozen.
To serve, use meat mallet (not the pokey kind!) or side of a can to crush frozen cranberry mixture in bag until slushy. Spoon into dessert cups or wine glasses and enjoy as an ice or pour more ginger ale over it for a slushy drink. Serves 10

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cauliflower and Pea Salad

I was going to a potluck lunch the other day at work and I needed to bring a vegatable dish. I had planned on making a salad I had seen on TV, but I forgot to buy the ingredients the day before. So I went to the Albertson's deli to see what looked good. They had a "Crunchy Pea Salad" that looked good, and it tasted good too! Since the deli didn't list the ingredients, I had to reverse-engineer the recipe on my own. This is what I came up with.
  • 12 ounces peas (fresh or thawed), about 2 cups
  • 6 ounces chopped fresh cauliflower, about 3 cups
  • 2 ribs celery (about 6 ounces total), split in half and thinly sliced
  • 4 strips bacon, fried, drained, and crumbled
  • ½ cup chopped toasted cashews, about 3 ounces
  • 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

Mix mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and pepper in a small bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and gently toss. Fold in dressing. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes before serving

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beef Stew

Today we have recipe written up by my wife, Michelle. This stew is especially good served in sourdough bread bowls.
  • 3-4 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1” cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, medium chop (1½ cups)
  • Celery, large chop (¾ cup)
  • Carrots, large chop (¾ cup)
  • ¼ c. flour
  • chicken broth and beef broth, 1 can each
  • 3-4 garlic cloves.
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 6 small potatoes – red bliss or Yukon gold
  • 1 tsp. rosemary, crushed (in mortar or blender)
  • ½ tsp ground thyme
  • 2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped – divided
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 4 oz. peas, frozen

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Place cubed beef in a large bowl. Season beef with salt, drizzle lightly with oil, then toss to coat. Lightly brown the meat (in batches) in a Dutch oven on medium high heat. As the batches cook, remove beef to a clean bowl, set aside. Add 2 Tbs. vegetable oil to Dutch oven. Saute celery, onion, and carrots on medium high heat until onions begin to cook down and carrots are softening. Sift flour into veggie mix (use a mesh strainer or flour sifter). Cook until flour is lightly browned.

Turn heat down to medium. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add equal parts beef and chicken broth to just barely cover everything (about 1½ cup each) & deglaze the pan. Add potatoes, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and 1 Tbs. parsley. Bring mixture to a simmer, then place in oven. Cook for 2 hours.

Remove stew from the oven, and add peas and 1Tbs. parsley. When peas are heated though, serve.

8-12 servings

Friday, December 5, 2008

Home Fries with Sausage and Eggs

A breakfast favorite in my home, I can even get my boys to eat these with no complaining (and I have very picky boys)! You will want to use your largest frying surface to cook the potatoes, either a 12-inch skillet or a large griddle. Cast iron works best for this, but anodized aluminum or stainless steel would also be fine. You probably don't want to use a Teflon pan - they don't brown things very well.

  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and partially cooked in the microwave for 3 minutes.
  • 8 ounces of Italian or country sausage (hot or mild, your choice), casings removed and cut/broken into ½ inch cubes/chunks
  • 1 onion, frenched - i.e. ends removed, peeled, cut in half longitudinally, and then sliced radially (see illustration)
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • salt and black pepper
Illustration: How to "French" an onion


Thinly slice the potatoes about ⅛ inch thick (you can use a mandolin slicer or food processor). Put the potato slices in plenty of cold water and soak for 5 minutes to remove extra starch. Remove potatoes from water and rinse in a collander under running water (do not just dump potatoes into the collander or all the starch in the water will collect on the potatoes as it runs over them). Dry potato slices in a spinner or with paper towels. Heat oil in your largest skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and salt and pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon each). Fry the potatoes until deep golden brown, gently stirring them over every minute or so to ensure even cooking. Meanwhile, put sausage in a large skillet and turn on medium heat. When the sausage is just starting to brown, add the onions. Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the sausage is cooked through. When both the potatoes and sausage are done, gently fold the sausage into the potatoes and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Fry the eggs in the other pan. Serve with toast and juice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chinese Chimichangas

My wife Michelle plans our meals a few weeks at a time, so she can coordinate grocery lists, shopping schedules, store sales, etc. One Sunday, the meal plan called for "Mu Shu Pork," something I didn't really feel like eating. What I did feel like eating was a chimichanga (a fried burrito). I did the next best thing - I took the ingredients for the mu shu pork and put them into chimichangas. They turned out to be quite tasty - at least tasty enough to include here!


  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 red bell pepper cut into short strips
  • ¾ pound pork tenderloin, cut into short strips
  • 1 small zucchini or summer squash, cut into short strips (about ½ cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1½ cups fresh shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 4 large flour tortillas
  • 1/4 cup plum sauce
  • 1 gallon peanut or safflower oil
Heat sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides. Move pork to a clean plate and add bell pepper to the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes and add zucchini. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini softens slightly (about 5 more minutes). Add cabbage, garlic, and ginger. Cook, tossing frequently until the cabbage starts to wilt (about 2 more minutes). Add browned pork and hoisin sauce, cook for one more minute.

Heat oil in deep fat fryer or large dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fill each tortilla with the stir-fry mixture, tightly roll up (securing with toothpicks, if necessary), and deep fry, 2 at a time, for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on a wire rack

Monday, December 1, 2008

Meatball Subs

Although I've put these yummy meatballs in a sandwich here, they would work equally well on spaghetti or baked into a casserole with noodles.


  • 8 ounces lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces italian sausage, casings removed
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 8 shredded wheat crackers (like Triscuits), about 1½ ounces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon basil (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon vegatable oil
  • 12 ounces spaghetti sauce (about 1½ cups)
  • 1 french baguette, split in half lengthwise and then halfed crosswise (making 4 open-faced sandwiches)
  • your favorite Italian dressing (I like the Good Seasons packets)
  • 1 cup Shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend


Mix together beef, sausage, spinach, crackers, eggs, and 1 tablespoon basil in a medium bowl until thoroughly integrated. Shape into 16 meatballs (I use a #40 disher). Heat a medium nonstick skillet (just large enough to hold all the meatballs in a single layer) with 1 tablespoon vegatable oil over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmery and just barely starting to smoke. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides, turning frequently. Once the meatballs are brown all over, add spaghetti sauce and remaining basil and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 8 minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Cover and keep warm.

Preheat the broiler. Slightly hollow out each piece of bread (save the removed bread, it makes good croutons or breadcrumbs). Put the bread under the broiler until lightly toasted. Remove bread from broiler and brush lightly with Italian dressing. Add 4 meatballs and sauce to each piece of bread. Sprinkle the sandwiches with the cheese and toast under the broiler for 2 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble. Serve immediately with salad or chips.