SpaghettiOs

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Like Sloppy Joes, here’s another nostalgic dish from my GenX childhood. A few years ago I bought a can to remind myself how amazing it tastes. Ugh. It was awful. Mushy pasta. Flavorless sauce. What kind of meat are in those meatballs? How could it be so bad, so not what I remembered? No wonder my parents didn’t want to waste their money on it, and would make plain spaghetti instead. But I felt like I was missing out.

When I came across this recipe, I just smiled. It has all the good memories of SpaghettOs with the deliciousness that the canned stuff didn’t have. This recipe comes from BA with a few tweets of my own. I split the sauce recipe. I had a few items I needed to use up and I wanted more meatballs. One could never have too many meatballs.

Warning. I didn’t take very many pictures. No gorgeous vegetables. No exotic spices. None of that. We’re down to basics here. Tomato. Pasta. Meat. Grunt.

Make your meatballs. Mix together panko, cheese, seasonings, egg, cream, and beef. Form into little balls. You’ve got yourself meatballs. I wasn’t sure if I’d use them all in the pasta, but they make really good leftovers. Like a meatball sandwich. Or on toothpicks, if we’re going old school.

SpaghettiOs

Time to cook these guys. I grabbed my gorgeous Le Creuset dutch oven. I love this thing. It’s expensive, but you only need one and it’s so durable that I’ll probably pass it on to my son. Hopefully, he’ll cook for himself by then. Right now we’re in the cheese and crackers phase. Another classic not to be overrated.

So, I have a love/hate relationship with meatballs. Mine NEVER stay together when I cook them. Maybe the mixture is too soft? Maybe I’m flipping them over too soon (but I don’t think so)? I honestly don’t know. If I had to do this over again, I’d make my favorite meatballs instead: Ina Garten’s Roasted Italian Meatballs. These never fall apart and are super easy to make.

Cook them up.

SpaghettiOs

Move them to a separate plate when they are cooked. Try not to obsess they aren’t perfect. know that they will taste fantastic.

Now it’s time to make your sauce. In the same pot, you’ll start layering your flavors. Cook up some chopped onion and minced garlic. Add tomato paste and cook. Throw in some spices, a little sugar (yes, sugar….it makes the tomatoes taste better…it’s science…something to do with bringing out the sweetness by toning down the acidity to unripe tomatoes), fresh basil (I’m sure the original SpaghettiOs didn’t use this), and ground tomato sauce. Cook it for at least 20 minutes. If you can cook it longer, you should because it’ll just taste better. It was time to get dinner on the table so after 20 minutes, I gently added my meatballs and meatball pieces, and cooked that for another 10 minutes.

While all this simmering is going on, cook the pasta. You want to use any pasta that looks like rings or is a short tube, like ditalini, which is what I had on hand. Anelleti looks more like rings (I looked it up…I don’t know what all these shapes look like), but I had made macaroni salad a while ago and had a bunch of ditalini leftover. I was tired of it staring at me every time I opened my pantry door.

When the sauce is done simmering and the pasta is cooked al dente. Gently mix together. To preserve what was left of the integrity of my meatballs, I spooned some sauce into the pasta, spooned some on a plate, added a few meatballs, spooned more pasta on top, added another meatball or two, grated some fresh Parmesan cheese, and called it good.

SpaghettiOs

The results were pretty good. Two thumbs up from the boys. The older “boy” laughed at the name. The younger boy thought we were crazy like usual.

SpaghettiOs

SpaghettiOs

Ingredients
  

  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely grated Parmesan plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck 20% fat
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove minced
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 large basil sprigs
  • 28 ounces ground tomatoes
  • 6 ounces anelletti, ditalini, or other short tubular pasta

Instructions
 

  • Whisk panko, cheese, oregano, garlic powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in egg and cream. Add beef. Mix with your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork (if packed too firmly, meatballs will be dense). Form into 1"-diameter balls, about 24. Transfer to a plate.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet or dutch oven, preferably cast iron, over medium-high. Cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides but not fully cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to another plate.
  • Cook onion and garlic in same skillet, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and cook until brick red, about 1 minute. Add paprika and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sugar, basil, and ground tomatoes.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is slightly reduced and flavors have melded, about 20 minutes. Add meatballs and any accumulated juices.Continue to cook until meatballs are cooked through, 5–10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain and return to pasta pot. Pour sauce and meatballs over pasta and stir to combine. Transfer to a platter and top with cheese.
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Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

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I made this seemingly simple meal a few weeks ago, but mixed up the beef packages so instead of using one pound of skirt steak, I used two pounds of flank steak meant for the Bulgogi. The good news is that my Bulgogi turned out amazing with just one pound of skirt steak. I’ll never use flank steak for that recipe. The bad news is that my stir-fry turned into stir-steamed. The taste was good, but the color and texture was not what the recipe promised. A few nights ago, I made it again, but this time with the correct amount and type of steak. I expected amazing results. Well, let’s just say this blog is a personal one where I show my wins and my losses. Sometimes you think you end up with loss, but sometimes a loss is just something new, something you didn’t expect, and not a loss at all.

First, slice up your ingredients. Pat your meat dry and slice against the grain.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Now that you’ve sliced the meat, combine sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and salt to create a marinade. Let the steak sit in that for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice up a red onion into rings using a very sharp knife. If you use a dull knife, the onion might slip and that’s how you cut yourself. If you are still a bit nervous because your knife isn’t all that sharp or you just don’t like the idea of slicing a rolling object (I get that!), cut the onion in half and cut the onion in half slices, flat side down. For me, I was brave, but mainly because I just had my butcher sharpen my knives. BTW, if you need to sharpen your knives and you don’t know how, check to see if your supermarket’s butcher will do it for you for free or a small fee. It’s completely worth it.

And before I forget, be sure you are holding that onion with a clawed grip, knuckles slightly out. Your knuckles will prevent the sharp blade from reaching your fingers.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Finally, I peeled and sliced some ginger. If you ever wondered how to peel ginger, I learned a cool trick. No need for a vegetable peeler or knife. Use the edge of a spoon and scrape the peel off. It’s as simple as that!

To thinly slice the ginger, I pulled out my trusty mandolin because I wanted very thin slices that I knew I wasn’t skilled enough to do with a knife, no mater how sharp it is. Be sure to use the guard so you don’t slice your fingers. Ouch. If you don’t have a mandolin, consider buying one. I use mine all the time to slice carrots, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, and pretty much any veggie that you want thinly sliced. The alternative is to use your knife and slice as thinly as possible. It’s not the end of the world.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet until it’s so hot that the soil is shimmering and there are wisps of smoke. I swear I did this, but apparently it was still not hot enough. When I added the meat to the hot pan, the temperature of my pan shot down and the meat steamed instead of browned. ARGH. I think I should have used a cast iron pan instead of a skillet. It probably wouldn’t have hurt turning up the heat to counter balance the temperature change. As I was standing there, swearing to myself, wishing for a do-over, I realized I could continue to make a trucker blush with my language or just go with it. I chose the latter. There’s no point of crying over spilled milk. Or steamed steak.

After a couple minutes, add your onion, ginger, lots of pepper, and a little water.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Cook, stirring often, until the onion is barely tender and the ginger is soft.

Now the secret ingredients. Call me crazy, but I would have never thought to add BUTTER to the pan. Really. Move over 90s, this is not a low-fat meal! Remove that pan from the heat, and add 3 tablespoons of butter (that’s almost a half a stick, people!), lemon juice (for acidity), and the rest of the soy sauce. Toss until the steak is coated with melted butter. Serve over rice.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Although the beef looks nothing like the glossy picture on BA, the beef was super tender and flavorful. The onions were not caramelized, but perfectly respectable. The ginger was not seen, but definitely heard. The boys gobbled it up and asked for seconds. Maybe a loss is sometimes a win. In this case, it’s not only a win, but a new dish.

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Beef and Ginger Stir-Fry

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound skirt steak trimmed of fat, sliced against the grain into 1/4-inch strips, patted dry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
  • 1 medium red onion sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
  • 3 inch ginger peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • cooked rice for serving

Instructions
 

  • Trim the steak of any excess fat. Slice steak into 1/4-inch strips and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • In a medium bowl, combine sugar, sesame oil, 1 tsp. soy sauce, and 1 tsp. salt. Add sliced steak strips, stir to coat, and let it sit for 20 minutes.
  • Slice onions into rounds with a sharp knife, and peel and thinly slice ginger using a manxdolin or sharp knife.
  • Place a large skillet over high heat. Pour in vegetable oil and swirl to coat bottom of pan. The oil should be shimmering and you should see some wisps of smoke. If the pan is not hot enough, the meat will steam instead of getting deeply browned.
  • Add the steak to the skillet in an even layer. It’s okay to crowd it a bit. Cook, undisturbed, until brown around the edges, about 2 minutes. Turn steak over and add onion, ginger, lots of pepper, and 1/3 cup water. Cook, tossing often, until onion is just tender and ginger is softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Remove skillet from heat and add butter, lemon juice, and remaining 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Toss until butter is melted and coats steak. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
  • Serve over cooked rice.
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Cheesy Taco Pasta

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Last week, I combined two wonderful foods: taco and soup. Today, I’m sharing a taco + pasta recipe from Delish. I’m starting to see a theme here. Maybe next week I’ll invent taco ice cream. Kidding. That sounds awful.

At first I thought this was a mac n cheese recipe with taco meat, but far from it. It’s definitely cheesy, but the main star is still the pasta sauce, which happens to have a lot of cheese in it. Better yet, it’s absolutely delicious and super easy to make. You seriously can whip this up in 30 minutes on a weeknight and everyone will love it. What’s not to love? There’s cheese. There’s taco-ness. There’s pasta. Win-win.

First, boil some pasta until al dente, and it’s really important not to overcook your pasta because you’ll cook the pasta some more in the sauce later. When you drain the pasta, be sure to save some of the pasta water too. You can use any type of pasta. The original recipe uses macaroni, but lately, I’ve been using pasta shells because it has pockets to trap the sauce inside and I like that.

Now for a little lesson on chopping an onion. If you know about this trick, skip ahead. Otherwise, this will be life changing for you. I don’t know what I used to do before other than nick my fingers and end up with unequal pieces of stuff. Unfortunately, the onion will still make you cry, but let’s just pretend they are tears of joy.

Cut off the non-root end of the onion and then peel the skin off. Next, cut it in half through the root. Flat side down, cut in half towards the root.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Now, slice the onion lengthwise.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Finally, cut across and admire your handiwork.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

After you’re done patting yourself on the back for you perfectly chopped onion pieces, you can apply your new trick to a jalapeño. If you want a spicier dish, include the membranes when you chop up the pepper.

Gather the rest of the ingredients and arrange them next to the stove you can dump them in the pan as you go.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Saute the onion and jalapeño. Add your ground beef. When that’s cooked, throw in your taco seasonings. Next, add the canned tomatoes. Fire-roasted are best, but you can use any type of canned diced tomatoes. Hopefully your pasta is done by now because you need some of that reserved pasta water too.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Drop in the grated cheese and let it melt. Stir.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Dump the cooked pasta in.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Stir it all up until the pasta is well coated and combined with the sauce. Dish it out, garnish with cilantro, and eat!

Cheesy Taco Pasta

As you can see, it’s not mac and cheese, but your familiar and comforting pasta and meat sauce, enhanced with a bunch of cheese and taco seasonings. It makes great leftovers, but you might not have any. Instead, you’ll breakdown, have seconds, and soon it’ll be all gone.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • olive oil
  • 12 ounces pasta shells
  • 1/2 large white onion chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 jalepeno chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 15 ounces diced fire-roasted canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • fresh cilantro chopped, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Boil a large pot of water. Salt the water and then add the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain, saving at least 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Return pasta to the pot.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion and season with salt. Cook until tender, 5 minutes.
  • Add jalapeño. Cook 2 minutes more.
  • Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink, 6 minutes. Add taco seasoning. Drain fat.
  • Add canned tomatoes and 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Stir.
  • Add cheese. Let it melt in while stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes.
  • Add cooked pasta and toss until completely combined.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve.
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Bulgogi

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I’ve always been interested with how food intersects with culture. I like to connect with other cultures that are not my own to experience other places. Partly it satisfies my interest to travel. Partly it feels like I’ll making up for a lack of culture. You see, I’m embedded in the nondescript culture of California. I know that someone far away imagines we’re the land of sunshine, fresh produce, and wine, and maybe we are, but when you’ve only grown up with this, you don’t know anything else and you take it for granted. It’s mundane and not so exciting or unique. What you don’t have is more interesting. The grass is greener on the other side.

Not to get all deep on you guys, but sometimes you just have to go outside of the box and make something you’re completely unfamiliar (and maybe even uncomfortable) with to learn from the experiences you’ve never had. This has lead me to trying new Asian dishes lately. Today, I share with you bulgogi, which is a South Korean dish I can barely pronounce, but absolutely love. This recipe is probably not authentic, but it’s fast and delicious, and it exposes me to a bit to Korean culture.

This “weekend-style” bulgogi recipe comes from the Kitchn. Naturally, I changed it, but more by accident than anything. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, the marinade. Unlike most marinades I’ve made, this owe uses shredded pears with the juices to tenderize the meat. Who would have thought?! Combined with ginger, garlic, onions, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes, it screams Asian flavors. I almost wish there was a candle for it because it smelled that good.

Bulgogi

Next, slice up a steak in thin strips.

Bulgogi

This is where I went off course. Instead of grabbing the 2-pound package of flank steak from the back of my fridge, I accidentally pulled out the 1-pound package of skirt steak. Doh! A steak is a steak, but not exactly. It turns out that skirt steak has a super meaty taste (more so than flank steak) and holds up to marinades better than flank steak. Cool! Sounds like I chose the wrong meat wisely! Fortunately, it’s perfectly acceptable to use other cuts of beef (such as rib-eye) in bulgogi, or even chicken or pork.

After adding the meat, I had a lot of marinade going on and no idea why. What a weird recipe. No, I was just missing a pound without realizing it. Sort of wasteful, but no harm to the beef.

Marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours. After that, it’s time to cook it up. But where are the veggies? Green onions count, right? This is a meat-lovers dish although you can add green peppers if you like. I used a cast iron pan, hoping to get a good sear. Bulgogi is typically grilled, but it was cold outside. Probably 60 F. Welcome to California culture.

Bulgogi

When it’s done, garnish with sliced green onions and serve over rice, if you wish. I had mine plain. The meat wasn’t as seared as I had hoped for, but the steak was so incredibly tender that it practically melted in my mouth. I might need to start marinating everything in pears.

Bulgogi
Bulgogi

Bulgogi

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 2 large pears grated
  • 2 inches fresh ginger grated
  • 3 cloves garlic grated
  • 4 green onions thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 pounds skirt steak
  • 1-2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • cooked rice optional

Instructions
 

  • Grate the pears on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Make sure to collect the juices along with the peel and flesh of the pear. Grate ginger and garlic on the small holes of the grater into the same bowl.
  • In the same bowl, add the white parts of the green onions, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine.
  • Slice the steak into thin pieces across the grain of the meat. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.
  • Cover the bowl and let the beef marinate for 30 minutes to 8 hours.
  • When ready to cook, heat a large, wide cast iron or other pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of the oil to the hot pan and about a pound of meat. Sear until slightly charred and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a serving dish. If you are using more than a pound of meat, repeat with another tablespoon of oil and the rest of the meat.
  • Garnish with the green parts of the green onion. Serve over rice (optional).
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Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf

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I’m always on the hunt for the world’s best meatloaf recipe. It’s a home-style classic that is making a comeback, but it’s different now. We will no longer settle for the dense, dry loaf of our youth. Meatloaf can be delicious!

The secret lies with a few tricks.

Meat. You cannot use lean ground beef alone. It’ll come out dry because there’s no fat in it. When it comes to meatloaf, fat is your friend. If you want to make a leaner meatloaf, try a combination of lean and not so lean meats. For example, use lean beef or ground chicken with ground sausage (like in the recipe I’m going to share with you).

Breadcrumbs. Your best meatloaf might not be Keto or low-carb friendly. Sorry, but someone needs to discuss these truths. I’m sure there are bread substitutes (like almond flour) you can try, but that’s not this recipe. Straight up breadcrumbs make meatloaf less dense and help to hold in the juices. Remember, you are making meatloaf, not a meatbrick. If you are watching your carbs, just eat less meatloaf and more salad.

Vegetables. Shhhh! Meatloaf is a great way to hide those veggies your picky eaters won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. It also adds a bunch of moisture when the veggies break down and cook. The key is to chop them really finely so no one notices them. They’ll make your meatloaf tasty. The breadcrumbs will capture the juices and do its thing.

Do not over mix. I actually have a difficult time following this one. My OCD comes out. I have a tendency to mix everything together a lot because I want it well blended. But over mixing messes with the texture and leaves you with tough, dry meatloaf. You should barely mix it. You’ll end up mixing it a little more when you add the vegetables and then again when you put it in the pan. Whatever you do, do not compress it in the loaf pan. Smooshing (a real word) makes it dense, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid.

I’m a fan of several meatloaf recipes. Let me count the ways. Ina Garten’s Meat Loaf, BA’s Meat Loaf with Barbecue Sauce, and The Pioneer Woman’s Meatloaf are good choices, although I’m not a fan of ketchup on meatloaf. I’d like to try BA’s Best Beef-and-Bacon Meatloaf, but I’m skeptical because bacon on meatloaf never seems to crisp up for me. If you want to try a leaner one with turkey, go for Giada’s Turkey Meatloaf with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I was impressed with the short cooking time of Sheet-Pan Glazed Meat Loaf and Blue Cheese Spinach Meat Loaf Muffins.

This recipe was inspired by The Spruce Eat. I needed to use up the leftover sausage from the Christmas dressing I made and this seemed like a perfectly good recipe to try out. I changed up the type of sausage to use and added a few tips for you. I was also surprised that they want you to pack the meat into a loaf pan, which is a big NO in my book.

Barely combine the meats, egg, and breadcrumbs. Remember, you’ll be mixing it again. Pulverize your canned tomatoes. I like to use a NutriBullet, but you can use a food processor or even chop it up with a knife. Chop up onion, garlic, and bell pepper into tiny pieces. Add these to a bowl along with your seasonings and cheese.

Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf

Mix it up with half of the tomatoes and meat mixture. Lightly press into a loaf pan.

Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf

Go find something fun to do while it bakes. Like make a bundt cake while watching HGTV. I know. I’m weird.

After an hour, spread the rest of the tomato mixture over the top of the meatloaf. I like it better than ketchup. There’s something not right about warm ketchup.

About 15 minutes later, pull it out of the oven and let it rest a bit like you would a steak. This helps keep the juices in. I did expect the tomato to brown a little, but it didn’t. and that’s okay.

Not your mom’s meatloaf. Better. But don’t tell her.

Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf
Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf

Beef and Italian Sausage Meatloaf

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 14.5 ounces diced tomatoes divided
  • 1/2 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 bell pepper any color, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese freshly shredded

Instructions
 

  • Spray cooking oil in a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • In a large bowl, combine meats, egg, and breadcrumbs until barely blended.
  • Puree tomatoes in a food processor.
  • Add half of the tomatoes to the meat mixture. Then, add diced onion, minced garlic, diced pepper, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and shredded cheese to the meat mixture. Mix until barely blended.
  • Put meat mixture into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour.
  • Top with remaining tomatoes. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 155F.
  • Allow the meatloaf to rest for about 5 minutes, slice, and serve.
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Beef Stew

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Beef stew is comforting. Don’t deny it. It’s also really easy to make. Mix all your ingredients together and let it do its thing. No babysitting. The problem is that it takes sooooo long to cook for the meat to become tender. Then again, it’s called stew for a reason. By definition, it means to cook something…slowly. Stewing is not fast.

There are a lot of methods to make stew, like using a slow or pressure cooker, which I do like, but the best stew I’ve ever had is braised in the oven for at least 2 hours. You could make this during the week if you had the time. Right. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have two hours between work (or taxiing the boy around to various extracurricular activities) and dinner time. Therefore, I like to make this dish on a lazy Sunday afternoon when I can smell the homey deliciousness of beef and veggies. There needs to be a candle for that.

For stew meat, I’ve learned to avoid the stew meat packages like the plague. Yes, it’s all pre-cut and very convenient, but you really have no idea what cuts of meat you’re ending up with. It could be a combination of different types, all that cook at separate times, so in the end, you end up with some tender pieces and some tough ones. Blah. Instead, buy chuck meat and cut it up yourself. I’m sorry, but trust me on this one.

Don’t forget to season the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Unless you are on a medically prescribed low salt diet, you do not need to avoid salt. It brings out the flavor of meat. It’s also better to season as you go instead of all at the end so start now.

When you’re cutting up your veggies, try to cut them in similar sizes. Your carrots don’t need to be the same size as your celery, but your potatoes should be the same size to each other. I tried that here by cutting in half and then in quarters.

After you’ve chopped your meat and veggies, toss it all together in a baking dish.

Combine tomato juice (the secret ingredient!) instead of beef broth, water, tapioca (your thickener instead of flour), and seasonings. Pour it over the meat and veggies. Cover it with foil (to braise it) and pop it in the oven. Then, go find your happy place. Maybe that’s watching a TV show or reading a book. For others, it’s hiding in the closet, taking a nap. Not judging.

A couple hours later, check on it. The meat should be tender and your vegetables fork tender, but not falling apart or mushy.

Eat with bread. Yum. This is also a great dish to make ahead, chill, and bake later.

Beef Stew

Beef Stew

Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pounds chuck beef cubed, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 medium potatoes halved and then quartered into 1" pieces
  • 4 medium carrots cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 2 stalks celery cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 1 medium onion large dice
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Coat a 9×13" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In the baking dish, combine beef, potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. Mix well.
  • In a large bowl, combine tomato juice, water, tapioca, sugar, salt, and pepper. Pour over beef and vegetables.
  • Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 2 – 2 1/4 hours.
  • To make ahead, follow the recipe and then chill. Bake for 2 1/2 – 3 hours.
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Slow Cooker Halloween Stuffed Peppers

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Aka…spooky peppers. Yes, they were pretty scary alright.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know I love cute food. Give me a theme and like a person who dresses up at parties, I create cute food. What can I say? It’s ridiculous and brings a smile to my face. Someone once accused me of showing off, which actually hurt my feelings because I was having a good time just for being me. Can I help it if I made chocolate dipped strawberry footballs for the Super Bowl?

So it comes to no surprise when I decided to make something Halloween-y. I wanted to avoid making a dessert so I pondered on what dish I could make that is both cute and scary, without being disgusting. Stuffed orange peppers popped into my mind. I have no idea what inspired me.

First, I looked for a stuffed pepper recipe with an Italian bent. I also wanted to be able to make something that I wouldn’t have to babysit…the slow cooker! I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but close enough. I came across Crock-Pot Stuffed Peppers from Delish.

Take four orange peppers, slice off the tops, keeping the green stem intact. With a small, sharp knife, carve jack o’ lantern faces. Here’s an example of one of the scary dudes.

Because the original recipe was inspired by Mexican flavors and I wanted Italian, I skipped the black beans and frozen corn, and substituted Italian seasonings instead of cumin, chili powder, and oregano. I also bumped up the amount of garlic powder used.

I recommend using lean or extra-lean ground beef to avoid the grease. I prefer a 90/10 or 93/7 blend instead of a 80/20 blend, which is better for grilling cheeseburgers. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the next time you buy ground beef, look at the package. Ground beef is measured by the lean-to-fat ratio. 80/20 means that 80% lean to 20% fat. The more fat, the more flavor. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but not when you end up with a oily mess because the fat has melted into a pool of grease.

Mix all your stuffing ingredients together.

Use a spoon to scoop into your cute little pumpkins. Ohhhh…scary!

Stick them in the slow cooker for 3 hours on high. What you get is this little fella.

Ok, so he’s not as cute or as spooky as I had hoped. He’s kind of funny looking with rice oozing out of his mouth and looking a bit wrinkly. I did have to chuckle, but frankly, I was disappointed because the pepper was squishy. I want my cute food to taste delicious too. There’s no way these peppers should have been cooking for 3 hours. If I make them again, I would definitely check on them after 2 hours to see if the ground beef was cooked through and the pepper was soft, not mushy. If you make them, let me know how they turned out.

Happy Halloween! Boo!

Slow Cooker Halloween Stuffed Peppers

Slow Cooker Halloween Stuffed Peppers

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 4 orange bell peppers
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 15 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded jack cheese divided
  • 1 cup white rice cooked
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings

Instructions
 

  • Slice the tops of the peppers and keep the green top attached to the cap. Remove the seeds inside. With a small, sharp knife, carve little jack o' lantern on each pepper.
  • In a large bowl, combine beef, 1 cup cheese, tomatoes, rice, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasonings. Stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
  • Stuff peppers with the beef mixture. Place them in a slow cooker, top side up. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.
  • When the peppers are tender, top peppers with remaining cheese and cover. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes more, or until cheese melts.
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Beef Stroganoff

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This recipe is a favorite in the Deter household. Beef stroganoff is originally a Russian dish with beef sauteed in a sour cream sauce. It’s morphed into a dish that can contain any type of beef, sometimes has mushrooms, and is often served over egg noodles (although I have been known to serve it over cauliflower rice for myself). It’s incredibly retro and there’s absolutely nothing fancy about it.

My recipe has morphed a few times and probably resembles nothing like the traditional stroganoff of the 70s and 80s. First of all, no mushrooms. I happen to like them, but the boys don’t. So don’t even think adding them or using cream of mushroom soup. Mine doesn’t have any nutmeg, but you’ll find a ton of chopped rosemary. More than any normal person might like so feel free to use less. Finally, no beef tips. This one has ground beef.

I’m starting to wonder how this can even be called beef stroganoff, but let’s go with it because it’s tasty and filling and all that good stuff.

It starts out fresh rosemary, garlic, and red onions. It’s so much better with fresh rosemary, but you can use a teaspoon of chopped dried rosemary instead. Just don’t use that jarred minced garlic stuff. Always use fresh garlic. Never mind that it’s annoying to peel and chop.

Chopped these up and add them to your crumbled ground beef that’s been browning. I like to use the leanest beef possible to avoid a pool of grease.

Warning…the following photos you are about to see might seem scary and disgusting. Apparently beef stroganoff is not the supermodel of foods and looks rather unattractive. I swear it tastes better than it looks.

Add cream of chicken soup and some seasonings. Told you that no mushrooms would be harmed in the making of this dish.

Add sour cream and parsley. I use dried parsley, but fresh parsley works really well too.

Cook a little longer, toss with egg noodles, and this is what you end up with.

This recipe makes plenty for six people. Because there’s only three of us, I usually boil half of a bag (8 ounces) of noodles instead of a full bag, and use half of the sauce. Keep the leftover sauce and boil fresh noodles when it’s time for leftovers.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped finely
  • 1 cup red onions diced
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 10.5 ounces condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 16 ounces egg noodles cooked
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley

Instructions
 

  • Crumble and brown ground beef with garlic, rosemary, and onion.
  • Add salt, pepper, paprika, and soup. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add sour cream and parsley. Simmer until heated through.
  • Mix with cooked noodles and serve.
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Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs

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I love my Instant Pot. Seriously. Yes, I also love my KitchenAid mixer, my grill pan, my Crock-Pot, my apple peeler/slicer/corer, etc. but I REALLY love my Instant Pot. I would have never attempted pressure cooking without it. I wouldn’t say using it cuts cooking time in half, but between the way it tenderizes tough cuts of meat and that it’s such a cool gadget, what’s not to love? It’s sort of magical. In goes something and out comes something else. It just makes life easier in so many ways.

Like spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve seen Instant Pot pasta recipes and many swear by them, but I wasn’t all that impressed. Boiling over the stove is still faster. But throw in meatballs and that’s a game changer.

Meatballs are time consuming. Working with raw meat that is best mixed up with your hands, but not too much or your meatballs will end up hard like golf balls. Forming a few dozen of them into perfect shaped balls. I’d rather be making cookies, frankly. Frying them in batches in a pan…ok, I did find this awesome Roasted Italian Meatball recipe by The Barefoot Contessa that is out of this world and cuts out the frying part. But it’s still a lot of work and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Making a beef sauce is so much easier.

But there’s something about spaghetti and meatballs that reminds me of a simpler time.

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table
And onto the floor,
And then my poor meatball
Rolled right out the door

But I digress. Back to the Instant Pot. I’ve made Instant Pot pasta. I’ve made Instant Pot meatballs. Now I make them together.

I couldn’t find a recipe so I made up my own.

First, peel and mince your garlic. Let’s talk about peeling garlic. I know there are a million and one garlic peelers on the market, but you only need one. Your knife. I swear it’s true. I like using a cleaver, but any wide knife will do. Just vent your frustrations of the day by pressing down hard on each clove of garlic to smash it to smithereens. They’ll look like this and you’ll be able to easily peel the papery thin skins off the garlic with no trouble at all.

Add your minced garlic, shallots, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, milk, and seasonings to a large bowl.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the shallot. I like shallots. In my opinion, they are underused. When you don’t want the sharpness of onions, use shallots, which are milder, sweeter, and are reminiscent of garlic. And one can never have too much garlic so shallots are a perfect compliment to garlic.

Add your ground meats (you’ll be using both ground beef and sausage). Mix it all up with your hands. No, you can’t get around that. All power to you if you use a cooking spoon or fork, but I never get the right results. Next, form into balls until you have about about a dozen. They might seem a little sticky, but that’s ok.

Pour the water and sauce in. If you like a thicker sauce, use more than a jar of sauce. Gently place your meatballs in your Instant Pot, without stacking them, but they can touch a little. The point is to make sure the meatballs are covered with liquid. Next, disregard the cardinal rule of making spaghetti: break the strands in half. I don’t know who made up this rule, but professional chefs on those cooking shows seem to frown on that. Whatever. Just listen to me. This won’t work unless the pasta is flat in the pot.

Add more water. And whatever you do, resist the temptation to stir! Seal the lid and cook. When it’s done, open it up and now you can stir.

What I like best about this recipe is that the mess is contained to one pot and you don’t need to babysit sauce, meatballs, and pasta. Dinner is served!

Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs

Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 shallot finely diced
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces uncooked ground Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated
  • 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings
  • 2 cups water divided
  • 24 ounces marinara pasta sauce
  • 8 ounces dry spaghetti
  • grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Instructions
 

  • Lightly beat an egg in a large bowl. Mince garlic cloves and grate Parmesan cheese. Add both to the bowl. Add breadcrumbs, milk, kosher salt, and Italian seasoning. Add the ground beef and sausage to the bowl. 
  • Gently mix with your hands until well combined. Form and shape into 12 meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each). Set aside. 
  • Add 1/2 cup of water and sauce to the pot. Stir to combine. Add meatballs to the bottom without stacking them and with minimal touching.
  • Break the spaghetti in half and spread them in two layers over the meatballs. Do not stir.
  • Pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups of water over the pasta. Remember not to stir.
  • Seal the Instant Pot. Set to cook on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes.
  • Open the pressure release valve (quick release) as soon as the 8 minutes are up. Open the pressure cooker and stir the spaghetti into the sauce. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
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Homemade Sloppy Joes

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I am child of the 80s, but I was deprived of Sloppy Joes. Sad, but true. Apparently my parents didn’t think much of it. I wished for that magical messy sandwich with the red sauce that came from a can because everything artificial was cool and I desperately wanted to be normal like the rest of the kids at the expense of taste. Put Capri Sun pouches and cheese handi-snacks in my lunch like the popular girls.

Wake up and move on to 2019. Everything is flipping healthy and homemade including Sloppy Joes. No cans. Tomatoes are locally grown. Beef is grass-feed and organic.

But I realized that my son had no idea what Sloppy Joes are (or Jello pudding pops, which I really need to address). To bring back a bit of my youth, I decided to make homemade Sloppy Joes, much to my husband’s chagrin. Apparently he’s blase about it too.

I found this recipe on The Kitchn and changed it up a bit like I usually do.

First, brown the ground beef.

I read somewhere that using a potato masher is awesome for crumbling meat. I tried it. Not so much. Could it be me? Not so much.

While browning the meat, FINELY chop up red bell pepper and onion (any type…I like red). I emphasize finely because I did not and my 12-year old son, the surgeon, dissected his meat to remove every damn single piece of vegetable. Argh.

By the way, I love this onion chopping trick. Cut the onion in half, but be sure to retain the root at one end. It holds on to the onion layers.

Slice lengthwise. Slice in 2-3 layers width wise. Chop. Voila! Diced onion. It’s a beautiful thing.

After admiring your onion handiwork, smash a garlic and minced it to smithereens. Throw the red bell pepper, onions, and garlic in a bowl and stage it for the next step.

Assuming your ground beef is cooked and crumbled, dump it in a bowl. In the same pan, add a tiny bit of olive if the pan is dry and throw in your pepper/onion/garlic mixture.

Let it do its thing and then add your seasonings. The kitchen should be smelling pretty good right now. Too bad there’s no fragrant candle to burn that would do it justice.

Add the tomato sauce, paste, sugar, and mustard. Add the meat back in.

Let it simmer for 15 minutes while the sauce thickens up.

Meanwhile, toast the buns. I love soft buns, but apparently using soft buns is the reason why my burgers end up soggy so just toast them. You won’t regret it.

When everything heated through and toasted, you’re ready to assemble.

Mmmmm…

It looks awful, but tastes amazing.

It also makes a lot. The boys had “sloppy tacos” the next night. LOL.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes

Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar packed
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • hamburger buns toasted

Instructions
 

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef. Crumble with a cooking spoon and cook until browned and cooked through, about 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer the browned beef to a plate; set aside.
  • Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook until
    softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the chili powder, paprika, and salt. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, and mustard. Stir to combine. Return the ground beef to the pan. Stir to incorporate.
  • Simmer the sauce, stirring often, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon onto the toasted buns.
Keyword beef
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