Mini Meatball Soup

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Hi everyone! Fall is here and that means it’s soup time. Growing up, we always ate canned soup instead of making our own. I don’t know about you, but when I eat canned soup, I’m still hungry afterwards. I need something more substantial. The best way to solve this problem is to just make you’re own soup, which it’s so much easier than you think. For example, to make homemade chicken soup, you just need some low-sodium chicken broth, chopped up veggies, pre-cooked chicken pieces, and some egg noodles. Boil everything together and you’ve got soup. It’ll also impress your family.

Rachel Ray’s Mini Meatball Soup requires a little more work than that, but is still easy and super delicious. It’s a good week night meal with leftovers if you’re a small family like us. I decided to split it, which made two HUGE servings so we still had leftovers. The recipe below is the full recipe with a few tweaks.

Make your meatballs first. The recipe calls for making them while you’re sauteing your veggies, but there’s no way I can make meatballs in 5 minutes. I’m just not that talented.

Mix up ground beef, egg, minced garlic (mincing the garlic would take me 5 minutes alone), grated cheese (see, now I’m grating cheese!), bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg (secret ingredient?).

Mini Meatball Soup

The original recipe called for a blend of beef/pork/veal, but I’m lazy. I’m sure the combination is better, but this is supposed to be easy and I didn’t want to buy three types of meat. Set this mixture aside.

Chop up carrots, celery, and onions. Grab a bay leaf.

Mini Meatball Soup

Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep-pot or dutch oven for about 2 minutes. Place your veggies and bay leaf in the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Don’t forget to stir it so the veggies don’t stick.

After 5 minutes, added a ton of broth (10 cups!), more than the recipe called for. I also used 100% broth instead of broth and water. I think adding all broth makes for a more flavorful soup. Bring the broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and start adding meatballs. Roll the meat into small balls and drop them in. The beauty is that the balls don’t need to be perfectly round. Just make sure they are consistently sized, about an inch across. When you’re done, add the pasta and stir. Cook for 10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and the pasta is tender. Throw in some spinach.

Mini Meatball Soup

When it’s wilted, you’re done. That’s it. See how simple that was?

Mini Meatball Soup

You end up with something that is very reminiscent of Italian wedding soup. It’s hearty, comforting, and perfect for a crisp fall night. And it took you about 30 minutes. Perfect.

Mini Meatball Soup

You can also serve it deconstructed with the veggies push to the side. Sigh…

Mini Meatball Soup
Mini Meatball Soup

Mini Meatball Soup

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 carrots peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks chopped
  • 1 medium red onion chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta
  • 1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves

Instructions
 

  • Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine meat, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  • In a deep pot or dutch oven, heat add oil over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, onions, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Uncover your soup pot and add broth. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat. Roll meat mixture into small 1-inch balls and drop them straight into the pot. When you are done adding meatballs, add pasta to the soup and stir.
  • Cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. When the meatballs are cooked and the pasta is tender, stir in baby spinach. When spinach has wilted, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
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Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak

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The final days of summer are gone. It’s officially fall, but the hot, breezy weather isn’t convincing me to bring my sweaters out just yet. There’s still time to grill.

Keeping with that theme, you must try this easy steak marinate. I chose sirloin steak because it happens to be one of the more “inexpensive” steaks. Beef prices have gone up so inexpensive is a relative term compared to the other pricey cuts of beef. Sirloin is not as tender as filet mignon or marbled like a rib eye, but it’s a dependable, lean hunk of meat. It’s the friend that will never fail you.

This recipe comes to you from The Food Network. I changed a couple things, but that’s because I did not plan in advance and did not have fresh herbs. I was too lazy to run to the store, too. Dried herbs are never as good as fresh, but this marinade is pretty damn good so I think it’s fine to use whatever you have on hand.

Make your marinade the night before. Combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, grated garlic, a trio of herbs, a little honey, and some red pepper flakes.

Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak

In a gallon size resealable bag, add your steaks. The recipe calls for one large 2-pounder, but that’s crazy. I can’t find that anywhere. I plopped in 4 nice pieces totaling to about 1 1/2 pounds. This is plenty of meat for a small 3-person army with leftovers. Reserve a little marinade if you want to drizzle some over your cooked steaks. Pour the rest of your marinade into the bag, and squish the meat and marinade around until the meat is well coated. Seal it up and stick it in the fridge overnight. I like to put it in a glass pan in case the bag leaks. I hate cleaning my fridge, especially after the exploding soda incident. Let’s not speak of that.

When you are ready to grill, remove the steaks from the bag, dripping the extra marinade off, and place on a plate. Heat up your grill or grilling pan in my case because I didn’t want to send my husband out to grill in the unhealthy smoky air. I’m a nice wife.

Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak

What you end up with is perfection. The rosemary, parsley, and oregano give it a delicious herby quality while the sweet honey and garlic/pepper kick rounds it out. Everyone gets along and you end up with summer on a plate.

Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak
Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak

Italian Marinated Sirloin Steak

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves grated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • sirloin steaks

Instructions
 

  • Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, parsley, oregano, honey, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Combine the remaining marinade with the steak in a large resealable bag. Turn the bag several times to coat the meat. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, turning the bag occasionally.
  • Preheat a grill or grill pan to high. Transfer the steak to a plate or baking sheet, letting the excess marinade drip off. Season the steak with salt and pepper. If possible, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Grill the steak until a thermometer inserted into the thickest side reaches 130 degrees F. For a 1 1/2 to 2 inch steak, this is about 16 to 20 minutes for medium rare, flipping every 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let it rest 10 minutes. Serve whole or slice the meat to your preferred thickness, against the grain. Serve with the reserved marinade.
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Beef and Lentil Stew

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Someone told me I cook a lot of chicken. I’ve never noticed, but I do. I love chicken. What’s not to love? It’s inexpensive and easy to work with. Thighs happen to be my new favorite meat because they are completely forgiving and the hoarders have mostly left them alone. But I do love beef so let’s branch out a bit.

I had a bag of brown lentils that I bought when the shelves were bare of canned lentils and most beans (hoarders!). I never used them because I found canned lentils a few weeks later that I used for another recipe. So I felt obligated not to waste these lentils and use them. But I’m actually really unfamiliar with lentils. It turns out that lentils are the easiest thing to make. They’re a legume and a cousin to the bean. You don’t need to soak them overnight like beans plus they are loaded with fiber and other good stuff. I thought lentils were just another bean, but not so.

With my trusty dried lentils, I made Beef and Lentil Stew from A Spicy Perspective. I made this during early summer, but I plan to make it again this fall when I need something super comforting.

I changed the recipe up a little based on what I liked and had in the pantry. Start by gathering and prepping your ingredients.

Beef and Lentil Stew

In a large pot (like a heavy Dutch oven), saute beef chuck and onions together until the onions are soft. Then throw in some minced garlic and cook for another minute or so. Season the meat mixture with some salt and pepper and cook until beef is browned.

Beef and Lentil Stew

Add your veggies, those lentils, beef stock (not broth), and seasonings. I used a half a cup more stock than the recipe called for because I wanted a slightly thinner stew, but mostly these cartons have 4 cups in them and I didn’t want to keep track of a half of cup of stock.

Beef and Lentil Stew

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer for at least an hour. Curl up with your favorite beverage and go watch an episode of Tiny House Nation. Episode 3 of season 1 on Netflix was particularly good. Just saying. You’ll even have time to spare.

The stew is ready when the beef and lentils are tender. Fish out those bay leaves if you can. Add some tarragon, salt, and pepper. You’re done.

Beef and Lentil Stew

This stew is fall in a bowl. The soft texture of the lentils with the hearty chunks of beef makes it both luscious and substantial. The veggies round out the dish, giving you all your food groups. Treat yourself to dessert, which is perfectly acceptable after eating this healthy meal.

Beef and Lentil Stew

Beef and Lentil Stew

Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds beef chuck cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 carrots sliced
  • 2 celery stalks sliced
  • 3/4 cup dried brown lentils
  • 14 ounces finely chopped canned tomatoes
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon
  • salt and pepper

Instructions
 

  • Prepare your ingredients, such as cut beef into cubes and slice vegetables.
  • Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the beef and onions for 3-5 minutes until the onion are soft. Add garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until beef is browned.
  • Add the carrots, celery, lentils, tomatoes, beef stock, bay leaves, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper.
  • Bring to a boil. cover, reduce heat, and simmer, for about 60-75 minutes until the beef and lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the tarragon Add salt and pepper to taste.
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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

Servings 6

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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