Homemade Hamburger Helper

I was reluctant to publish this post because to me, it’s not the prettiest meal. But it’s a meal my family eats about once a week, and you know why? Because about once a week, I’m overwhelmed. There are too many clients demanding too many things. There are too many meals to cook. Do we really need all these bathrooms that just get dirty? Why are there so many stairs to vacuum? How is the living room dusty again? Why is there laundry everywhere? Didn’t I just sweep? It’s the normal, little things that all add up and at times, it seems like a lot.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life and I wouldn’t change a single thing. And I’m very grateful that we have too many bathrooms and stairs. But sometimes, we all feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, we just don’t have it in us to put a beautiful meal on the table that took three hours to cook. All we can do is offer food that is simple, easy to bring together, and that doesn’t take too much more of our time.

But even when it’s ugly, it can still nourish our soul. It can still bring us together around the table and remind us that we can face the overwhelm together. And that’s what this one does for my family, even if it’s not the prettiest meal. So, if you’ve ever had a day (and who hasn’t?) this meal may just make it a little better.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound medium ground beef

1 onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano, chopped

2 cups whole canned tomatoes (I have recently fallen in love with Mutti’s line of products)

2 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable broth

8 ounces of penne, or any short pasta

1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.) Place butter in a frying pan over medium heat and melt. Add ground beef, breaking it up as you do. Season with salt and pepper and fry until ground beef is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.

2.) Add onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and fresh herbs, except basil, and cook for three more minutes. This blooms the fresh herbs in the fat, flavoring the dish throughout.

3.) Add the whole canned tomatoes, breaking them up as you do using a wooden spoon or your hands. Add the stock and the penne. Season with more salt and pepper to taste and stir.

4.) Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until the pasta is tender. The consistency of your sauce will depend entirely on the type and brand of ingredients you are using. If the sauce becomes too loose, turn heat up to reduce it faster. If it becomes too tight, add more water.

5.) When pasta is tender, remove the entire pan from the heat. Add shredded mozzarella and basil and stir.

6.) Serve and enjoy!

How to Hard Boil Eggs

During my brief flirtation with vegetarianism, there were a couple of reasons why I knew I couldn’t go full-fledged vegan. Eggs were one of the biggest. I love eggs in all of their forms and can’t imagine my diet without them.

Although I cracked the code on properly hard-boiling eggs some years ago, I still could never seem to peel them effectively. To end up with 3 or 5 eggs, I’d have to boil 6 or 7 because so much of the actual egg would come off with the shell (and stubbornly refuse to let go.) I was left with sad-looking ingredients that resembled eggs but with large pieces missing. Now, thankfully, I’ve cracked the code on cooking perfectly hard-boiled eggs and peeling them while keeping them intact.

I know everyone has their own specific way to boil eggs. I promise you, this is the only one I will ever use again. After figuring out some of the secrets, and using this method many times since, it hasn’t let me down yet. It won’t let you down, either.

Ingredients:

As many eggs as you would like (between 6 – 12 is a good number for a pot)

Directions:

1.) Keep your eggs in the fridge and fill a medium to large-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil. It is important to keep your eggs cold until ready to cook. If you place them in the water and then bring to a boil, the membrane inside will slowly cook and firmly attach itself to the white of the egg.

2.) When water is boiling, slowly lower the eggs in using a slotted spoon. Set a timer for 13 minutes.

3.) Gently drain eggs after 13 minutes. Run cold water over them. If possible, place them in a bowl and completely cover with ice. Leave for 15 minutes. If you do not have that much ice, you can use a mixture of ice and water or continue to run cold water over the cooked eggs.

4.) When eggs have completely cooled, lightly tap one against the countertop in several places. Under running cold water, gently peel the eggs. Rinse of any remaining shell pieces, set aside, and repeat with remaining eggs.

5.) Serve immediately or use for deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches, or in salads!

Spaghetti Carbonara

I love food with a story behind it, and spaghetti carbonara has one of the best. Because the term ‘carbonara’ translates to ‘coal burner,’ it is thought that the name came from workers in the coal mines in Italy. When these workers would come home for a hearty dinner after a hard day’s work, it’s said that bits of coal would fall from their shirts and onto their plates, actually giving the dish its flavor. Going with this theory shows why the dish is often finished with so much black pepper (which is one of the things I love about it the most.)

While today, many people use bucatini, fettuccine, and even (gasp!) bow-tie pasta, spaghetti is most traditional. Conventionally, guanciale is the meat that is used, but it’s very hard to find in my part of the world. I use pancetta or bacon in its place and having small amounts of each when I made it, I used a combination this time. Whatever ingredients you use to make it yours, it’s sure to be one you keep coming back to.

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 cups of chopped pancetta and bacon

1/2 cup fresh pecorino cheese, grated

1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated

3 large eggs

12 ounces of spaghetti

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of butter

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Sea salt, to taste

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

1.) Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Mix the pecorino and parmesan cheeses together.

2.) Beat the eggs in a medium-sized bowl until they are smooth. Season with a bit of freshly ground pepper and set aside.

3.) When water is boiling, salt lightly and add spaghetti. Do not add too much salt, as there is plenty in the meat and cheese. Cook for one minute less than the package instructions, stirring regularly.

4.) As the spaghetti cooks, place pancetta and bacon in a large pan until crips. Use a slotted spoon to remove to a plate lined with a paper towel.

5.) Lower the heat under the pan and add the butter. When butter has melted, add sliced garlic. Cook for 30 seconds, or until the garlic just becomes tender.

6.) Using tongs, lift spaghetti from the boiling water and place directly in the pan. It’s okay if drops of water fall in. You will need even more later. Turns the spaghetti in the fat so it is fully coated.

7.) Whisk 3/4 of the cheese mixture into the beaten eggs. Turn the heat off under the pan and add the cheese and egg mixture. Turn spaghetti quickly in it so it becomes coated but does not turn into scrambled eggs. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta water to bring it to saucy and creamy texture.

8.) Add fresh parsley, more freshly ground black pepper, and salt if needed, and give it a final stir.

9.) Serve with remaining grated cheese, more freshly ground pepper if desired, and enjoy!

Stuffed Peppers

One of the biggest benefits of changing the site up was that I got to review every single blog post. Many of the memories made me chuckle, but I also questioned many of the photographs I took along the way. With these latter posts, I decided to not just take another pic, but to recreate the entire recipe. Now, not only do I have better food pics, but I also get to revisit some of my favorite recipes, such as these stuffed peppers.

These peppers are a meal that Paige gets excited about, which is no easy feat. So, they’re already a winner in my book. I like to make them after a night when we’ve had rice, so that I can simply use the leftovers here. Also, and this is important. I do not recommend using pre-shredded cheese. Buy the fresh mozzarella balls and slice them to place on top of the peppers. The difference is everything and takes an old comfort food up another level.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

3 large yellow, red, or orange peppers

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

8 ounces of tomato sauce

1 cup cooked rice

2 fresh mozzarella balls, sliced as thinly or as thickly as you would like

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice each pepper lengthwise in the middle and remove the seeds and ribs.

2.) Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

3.) Drizzle a bit of olive oil in each pepper and brush to coat the inside. Sprinkle the inside of each pepper with salt.

4.) Place the peppers, cut-side up, in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until the peppers are tender-crisp and slightly browned.

5.) Heat approximately two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the ground beef and break up with a spoon. Season well with salt and pepper and cook until the beef is nearly browned.

6.) Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes, stirring regularly.

7.) Add the garlic to the beef along with the chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Cook for about 30 seconds to one minute, until fragrant.

8.) Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Add the rice and stir well.

9.) Remove peppers from the oven and equally divide the meat mixture among them, stuffing it inside of each.

10.) Lay one or two slices of mozzarella on top of peppers, depending on how much you would like. Place the peppers back into the hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the meat mixture is bubbling and the cheese has melted.

11.) Serve and enjoy!

Classic Wedge Salad

I’m really not a huge fan of lettuce, but that’s just not true when it comes to the Classic Wedge Salad. This one is a classic for a reason. It’s tasty and with just a few ingredients that are easy to pull together, it’s also dead simple. And while steak houses will charge you a pretty penny for it, you can enjoy it in your own home for a very affordable price. The people around my table find an entire ‘wedge’ too big so you can cut them in half lengthwise if this is true for you, too. I find the size of an entire wedge to be just right but like Elaine on Seinfeld, I do really love a big salad!

Ingredients:

1 head of iceberg lettuce, cut into quarters so you have four large wedges

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, chopped

1 cup of cucumber, chopped

6 – 8 slices of bacon, depending on how much you like

For blue cheese salad dressing:

1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup of mayonnaise

3 tablespoons heavy cream

3 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, plus 3 tablespoons

2 tablespoons of fresh chives, thinly sliced

Directions:

1.) Place all ingredients for blue cheese salad dressing, except 3 remaining tablespoons of blue cheese and chives, into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into an airtight container and add remaining 3 tablespoons of blue cheese and chives. Stir and let sit in fridge for at least one hour to allow flavours to marry.

2.) When ready to assemble salad, cook bacon until crisp and then crumble into small pieces.

3.) Place wedges of lettuce on four separate plates. Drizzle blue cheese dressing liberally (if you choose; I like a lot of dressing) over the wedge. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, and bacon pieces.

4.) Serve and enjoy!

Chicken Fricassee

Chicken Fricassee is a classic French chicken stew. As with any stew, how you make it and what you put in it is entirely up to you. Some people add cream, some people add mushrooms and other veggies and in fact, you can even use veal or rabbit and make a slight name change. In my house, the dish is known simply as “Lemon Chicken” because I leave it pretty simple. Boneless chicken breasts, chicken stock, and lemons are all I really use. Oh, and white wine. That is a must if you want to call it Chicken Fricassee, but that’s really the only rule.

I’ve made it many ways but I’ve found this recipe to be quite simple and more importantly, it hasn’t failed me yet. Mine also isn’t so much a stew but rather, really tender pieces of chicken in a luscious sauce.

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon of butter

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup dry white wine

3 cups of chicken broth

1 lemon, slice half thinly and seeds removed and leave other half intact

1 tablespoon of dried oregano

Small bunch of parsley, minced finely

Lots of olive oil (about 1 cup)

Salt

Directions:

1.) Starting at the thickest part of each breast, cut chicken in half. Place each half in a resealable bag and pound lightly to an even thickness. Season each side of the chicken lightly with salt.

2.) Place 1/2 cup of flour in a bowl and season with oregano and salt. Dredge chicken in flour mixture and set aside (you can just leave the chicken in the flour until ready to use).

3.) Make a beurre manie by kneading the butter and 1 tablespoon of flour together. The term ‘beurre manie’ is actually French for ‘kneaded butter’.

4.) Place most of the oil in a pan (I really prefer a stainless steel pan for this recipe) over medium-high heat. When hot, add chicken in batches. Cook hard and fast, rotating as needed to ensure even browning. Cook on one side until about 80 percent done and then flip. Cook other side hot and fast, rotating again to ensure even browning. After first batch is done, remove chicken to a plate and continue doing the same with other pieces.

5.) Once all chicken is cooked, drain oil from the pan and cool slightly.

6.) Add a small amount of new oil to the pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds while stirring.

7.) Add white wine to the pan (remove pan from heat first if using a gas stove). Turn heat up under pan and reduce wine until there are lots of little bubbles, about two to three minutes.

8.) Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce chicken broth until it is reduced about halfway.

9.) Add the beurre manie and whisk to incorporate and make sure there are no lumps. Bring mixture back to a boil.

10.) Add in slices of lemon and juice the remaining half into the broth. Taste and season with more salt, if necessary.

11.) Add chicken and any pan juices that collected on the plate back into the pan. Lower heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, just to reheat the chicken.

12.) Finish the dish with fresh chopped parsley.

13.) Serve and enjoy!

Tomato Chicken

Originally published on August 9, 2009

I came up with this recipe one day when I was looking for something different to do with my cans of stewed tomatoes. It’s so good that it’s now something I regularly make for my family. And whenever my mom comes to visit, it’s always what she wants me to make for her first supper. My whole family really loves it too and anyone I’ve given the recipe to always gives it a big thumbs up as well. I usually serve it over rice because my family prefers it over noodles but either can be used.

Ingredients:

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt  
1 pinch ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 can diced tomatoes, with juices
1/2 cup water2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3 cloves garlic, minced
A dash of hot sauce

Directions:

1.) Place a large frying pan on the stove with the butter inside and turn to medium-high heat. Place the flour into a shallow bowl and sprinkle the salt and pepper into it. Pat the chicken breasts dry and dredge them through the flour. Once the butter is melted and hot, place the chicken breasts in the pan and brown on both sides.

2.) While the chicken is browning, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until it is blended. Once the chicken has browned on all sides, remove from pan. Add the tomato mixture to the hot pan and bring to a boil. Add the chicken back into the pan and reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, depending on your stovetop. Cook for 30-35 minutes until the chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

3.) Serve and enjoy!

Martha’s Barbecue Sauce

Originally published on August 21, 2009

As the name suggests, this barbecue sauce recipe comes from Martha Stewart, off of her own website www.marthastewart.com. I found it one day when I really wanted to make ribs but went to the fridge and, to my dismay, discovered that I was all out of barbecue sauce! Quick and easy wasn’t really a concern to me with this one. I just wanted something that tasted really, really great. And you know you can always count on Martha for that! It was a pleasant surprise to me when I found out that not only does it taste great, but it’s quick and easy too! Needless to say, I will never buy another jar of barbecue sauce again!

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped 
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon mustard powder 
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoon light brown sugar 
2 cups ketchup 
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce  
1/3 cup cider vinegar 
1 tablespoon molasses 
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 

Directions:

1.) Place oil into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.

2.) When oil is hot, add the onion and the garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.) Once onions are ready, add mustard powder and red pepper flakes. Cook for another 30 seconds.

4.) Add the rest of the ingredients: sugar, ketchup, molasses, worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and pepper.

5.) Turn heat down to low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.

6.) Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place in an airtight container to keep in the fridge. It will keep for at least a month!

7.) Serve and enjoy!

Mom’s Chili

This is one of those meals that got me excited when I was young and noticed Mom cooking it. It’s hearty and it makes the house smell terrific. More importantly than anything, it’s delicious! Mom always told me that the secret to this chili is in the stewing beef and she might not be wrong. Everyone that I’ve ever served this chili to loves the addition of the stewing beef. And now I add even more to keep Brent, the meatatarian, happy! I personally though, think that the real secret to this yummy chili is in the onion rounds. It’s just not Mom’s chili unless you have a honkin piece of onion hanging off your spoon! And they get so soft and delicious because they’re in the pot for so long, there’s no beatin it!

When you’re finished, you’re going to have a massively sized pot of chili – no matter how much you eat for dinner! Divide it up into portions that you like and toss them in the freezer. The chili will stay for months and months! When I take it out, I like to turn it out into a pot and slowly reheat it but you can throw it in the microwave too!

Ingredients:

2 pounds stewing beef 
2 pounds ground beef 
4 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
4 cans diced tomatoes 
1 can tomato sauce 
1 large onion, cut into thick rounds 
1/4 cup paprika 
1/4 cup chili powder 

Directions:

1.) Brown the stewing beef and the ground beef in a frying pan.

2.) Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients in a very large stock pot.

3.) After the meat has finished cooking, add it to the chili pot and stir to make sure that everything is mixed together.

4.) Cook on very low heat for at least 2 hours.

5.) Serve and enjoy!

Sweet N’ Sour Chicken

Originally published on October 11, 2009

I love pairing this recipe with chicken fried rice when I’m in the mood for some good Chinese food. And my kids love it too, which always make any recipe score big with me. And super easy to make! But,  you can make it even easier.

My best friend makes this recipe but she browns small pieces of her chicken first. Meanwhile, she has the sauce simmering away and reducing on the stovetop. When the chicken is done, she tosses them into the pan with her sauce and lets it cook a little while longer. I’ve never tried it so if any of you do, you’ll have to let me know if you love it as much as she does – and which version you like better!

Ingredients:

8 bone-in chicken pieces (legs, thighs, or breasts)  
2 eggs, beaten 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour  
2 tablespoons canola oil  

For the Sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce  
3 tablespoons water 
1/2 cup brown sugar  
1/2 cup honey  
1/2 cup white vinegar 

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.) Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken legs, one by one, through the egg and then through the flour.

3.) Place all the chicken legs in the pan and brown on all sides. It should take about 15 minutes.

4.) Meanwhile, mix all the remaining ingredients together to form a sauce.

5.) When the chicken is ready, place into a casserole dish and pour the sauce evenly over the chicken. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning throughout.

6.) Serve and enjoy!