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Upgraded Hamburger Helper

I did not grow up eating Hamburger Helper, or Tuna Helper, or any of those “add a pound of meat and enjoy” type meals.¬†It just wasn’t something my mom bought. My dad did make his own version though, adding ground beef, onions and peas to mac and cheese. While I haven’t had that in a really long time, it was always a hit in our house growing up, and it’s easy to see why: cheese, pasta and meat, all in one pan.

Now that I’m responsible for making dinner every night, I can totally appreciate the convenience of a one-pot meal. Especially one that’s full of pasta and cheese. If I’m really on the ball with things, I can have all of the prep dishes (which are just a couple measuring cups / spoons, a cutting board, cheese grater and a knife) washed before dinner’s ready.

When I first saw this recipe, I thought it had a lot of potential. I mean, we love pasta, beef, cheese and Tex-Mex flavors. The sour cream and cream cheese worried Andy at first, but he was hooked after one bite, and now it’s one of our favorite comfort food dinners. Sometimes I take a page from my dad’s playbook and throw in frozen peas for a true, one-dish dinner. It’s also great with a side salad if peas in your Tex-Mex sounds weird to you. ūüėČ

creamytacomac
Creamy Taco Mac

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green (or red or yellow) pepper, diced
1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes
3 cups beef broth
4 tablespoons taco seasoning (I always make my own.)
8 ounces small / short pasta
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (optional)
shredded cheddar cheese
chopped cilantro

Brown the ground beef in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the meat is close to being browned, add the onion and chopped pepper. Cook until the onion had turned translucent. Drain any extra fat off of the pan, if necessary.

Add the diced tomatoes, taco seasoning and beef broth to the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then stir in the pasta. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender (about 7-10 minutes).

Add the cream cheese to the pot and stir until it has melted into the broth. Add the peas, if using. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sour cream. Stir until the sour cream is well-incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and garnish each serving with cheese and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Barely adapted from Elly Says Opa, who adapted it from Delish

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Beef, Main Dishes

 

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The Perfect Summer Side

Ah, summer. The season of picnics and cookouts, graduation parties and camping trips. You know what all of those things have in common? Food! Whatever’s happening, people need¬†to eat, right? And most of the time, there will be pasta salad on the table. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s drowning in mayo and isn’t¬†so good. Sometimes, much to Andy’s dismay, it’s the only¬†side dish at the party.

Unless, of course, this pasta salad is available. It’s so good that Andy (who says pasta salad makes him gag), eats more than just a polite serving. He goes back for seconds and thirds. And then he raids the fridge for the leftovers.

The first time I tried it, I was amazed ¬†that¬†something so simple could be so delicious. It’s just orzo, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh basil, feta and dried cherries, with some greens thrown in for good measure. My friend Bethany made it for a¬†get-together, and wow. It was summer loving¬†at first bite for me.¬†Clearly, this was something special.

Like any good summer salad, this one is easy to throw together. It tastes good straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. I can’t decide if it’s the basil, the cherries or the feta that puts this one over the top. Maybe it’s all three together, in a trifecta of awesomeness.

I didn’t have arugula on hand, but I’d gotten a bunch of Swiss chard in our CSA the week beforehand, so I figured that would work out OK. I ended up sauteing the stems and then the chopped leaves, since I think they’re a little tough and chewy raw. It didn’t take that much longer, and it gave me something to do while I waited for the pasta to cool. Good thing too. Otherwise I might have eaten all of the feta before it made its way into the salad. ūüėČ

I almost skipped the pine nuts because they were ridiculously expensive in my grocery store but decided to splurge when I found a slightly cheaper package of them. I used some of my awesome Italian olive oil from Andy’s brother, Dan, and I think it really made a difference in the end¬†result. So if you have the good stuff, this is the time to break it out.¬†And then you may want to keep it out, since you’ll probably need¬†to make a second batch to take to a picnic or something.

OrzoPastaSalad

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

1 lb. uncooked orzo pasta
3 tablespoons plus up to 1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped greens (arugula, spinach or Swiss chard)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t measure this.)¬†
1 teaspoon pepper ¬†(Again, I didn’t measure.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain the pasta and quickly rinse it with cool water.

Spread the cooked pasta in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside to cool.

While the pasta cools, prepare the rest of the salad.

If you’re using Swiss chard, separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into 1/4″ pieces. Add some olive oil to a large skillet and saute the stems until they are crisp tender. Chop the leaves into bite-sized / manageable pieces and then add them to the skillet when the stems are almost done. Take the pan off the heat.

If you’re using spinach or arugula, simply wash the leaves and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Place the greens in a large bowl and then add the pine nuts, cherries, basil and feta cheese. Scrape the orzo into the bowl and add the lemon juice. Gently mixed until everything is well-distributed. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil (up to 1/4 cup) until the pasta is well-coated and doesn’t appear dry. Mix everything one more time, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Hide store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From my friend Bethany

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Side Dishes

 

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My Kind of Comfort Food

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather here in Wisconsin. Sunny days in the 60s aren’t typical in November, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining. However, all good things must come to an end, and it looks like things are headed back to “normal.” Not that normal is bad by any means. Living somewhere with four seasons is one of my favorite things about living in the Midwest.

Comfort food is another one of my favorite things about fall, and I made this dish on a very typical late fall¬†day – cool, cloudy and rainy.¬†Andy had spent the entire afternoon working outside (raking the leaves, washing and waxing the car, mowing the lawn), and even though I was feeling lazy, I didn’t think I should tell him to make a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. ūüôā So I went ahead and tried a recipe that one of my coworkers shared with me a couple weeks beforehand.

He raved about the recipe. “It will make squash edible!” With that ringing endorsement, I took a copy of the recipe but told him I’d probably make some tweaks, especially since the original recipe called for eight ounces of mushrooms. “You can’t omit the mushrooms,” he said. “They make the dish!” Umm… not in our household. Caramelized onions, on the other hand, are¬†something I can get behind. I added an extra slice of bacon (because more bacon is always better), and I roasted the squash on the bacon pan, rather than microwaving it. Not only was the oven already on, but I figured that roasting the squash (especially in bacon grease) would give things even more flavor. I used my cast iron skillet to caramelize the onions and make the sauce, and since it was already dirty, decided that it would be the perfect pan to finish baking the dish.

Wow. The squash was more than edible; it was amazing. The flavors came together in the perfect way. We ate half of the pan for dinner, and I seriously contemplated warming up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. And it’s¬†safe to say that the rest of our butternut squash may not be destined for soup after all.

ButternutsquashPasta

If I was a better food blogger, I’d have a much more appetizing picture to share. But it was dark and we were hungry, so I snapped this one with my phone and dug in.

 

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (Approximately 3-5 cups of squash. The recipe called for three cups; my squash yielded closer to 5, and I used every bit of it.) 
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces short pasta
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons AP flour
4 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
3 slices of bacon
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the uncooked bacon on the sheet. Bake bacon until it is crispy, then remove the pan from the oven and allow the bacon to cool on paper towels.

If your bacon left an overabundance of grease on the baking pan, drain off a little. Spread the squash cubes on the bacon pan. Place the thyme sprigs on the squash and season the pan generously with freshly ground black pepper. Roast until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.Remove the squash from the oven. Place the squash in a large mixing bowl and lightly mash with a fork.

While the squash is cooking, melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet. Place the onion slices in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the onions are caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan and transfer the onions to the bowl with the squash.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet and saute the white parts of the green onions. When the onions are tender, add the flour and cook, stirring often, for a minute. Slowly pour the milk into the skillet, whisking constantly. Keep whisking the mixture until it has cooked and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the sauce over the squash and onion mixture and stir to combine. Gently fold in the cooked pasta.

Spoon/pour about half of the squash/pasta/onion mixture into the bottom of an oven safe skillet or casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded fontina cheese. Add the rest of the squash/pasta mixture to the pan and top with the remaining cheese, bacon pieces and green onions.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the dish is heated through and the cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, courtesy of my coworker, Rich

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Main Dishes, Pasta

 

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Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner.¬†Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day¬†in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. ūüėČ

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.

LemonAsparagusFetaPasta

 

Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Main Dishes, Pasta, Side Dishes

 

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Who Wouldn’t Want This?

Remember me? You know, the long-lost blogger who has been MIA most of the summer? I’m going to blame my latest absence on our two-week vacation to Maine and New Hampshire, OK? And, for what it’s worth, I thought about blogging on our trip, but somehow never got around to it. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) We thoroughly enjoyed our time off and did our very best to eat New England out of seafood, ice cream and wild blueberries. I kid you not – we picked this vacation solely because blueberries were in season. See?

Pickingblueberries

Andy and his brother picking blueberries for our pancake dinner.

We were lucky enough to pick up some tomatoes from Andy’s parents on our way home from Maine, and we spent a steamy Friday evening processing tomatoes. (Literally. It was 80+ outside when we got started, and with three cauldrons pots of boiling water, our kitchen turned into a sauna in no time at all.) We put up 7 quarts and 27 pints of tomatoes, so I think we’re going to call that good for the year.

In other news, I feel like this has been the summer of the zucchini for me. I don’t remember receiving¬†nearly as many zucchini and summer squash in our CSA last year. And while we love our fritters, I can only handle so much of the same thing.¬†(Unless that same thing is chocolate. I have yet to reach my limit there.) So when this¬†¬†recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I figured it was worth a try… after I made a few modifications, that is. I eliminated the mushrooms (still don’t like them, sorry Mom!), added sausage (I tried it with bacon as well, but it’s better with sausage), added some broccoli and onions, and used Swiss chard instead of spinach.

And… we have a keeper here. It’s filling and hearty without being too heavy. It’s loaded with summer veggies, which helps keep the crisper drawer under control. The leftovers reheat well too. As Andy likes to say, “Who wouldn’t want this?!” ūüėÄ

ZucchiniPastaBake

First thing, you’ll have to forgive the questionable picture. I was hungry. This picture is from the time I used bacon, but you get the idea…

Zucchini / Summer Squash Pasta Bake

8 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium-large zucchini or summer squash, sliced and cut into half-moons
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 ounces spinach or Swiss chard, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
3 ounces cooked sausage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces cream cheese or¬†Neufchatel cheese, cut into 1″ chunks
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and saute for another minute or two, until the zucchini begins to brown. Add the flour to the pan and cook for a minute or so, stirring often. Add the spices to the pan, and then add the stock, scraping up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth has thickened and cheese has melted, about 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the broccoli about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli and set aside.

Spread the pasta and broccoli mixture into the prepared baking pan. Stir in the zucchini mixture, sausage, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and spinach/chard. Gently stir until pasta is coated and everything is well-combined. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is browned and bubbly and mixture is heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Click here for a printable version

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Main Dishes, Pasta

 

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Our Favorite Chicken Soup

I was going to talk about dessert. Sorbet, to be precise. After all, that’s a relatively “healthy” dessert for January, right? But then things got cold. Not just “grab a hat and gloves” cold, but ridiculously cold. I’d almost call it “not fit for human life” cold, except that I know there were parts of the country that had it worse. My thermostat may have read -17, but I talked to people who saw -27. And that was before the wind. Like I said. Ridiculous.

So yeah. No sorbet today. Even though the temps are practically balmy by comparison (31 degrees, anyone?), I’m not really feeling a frozen dessert. Let’s talk about soup instead, OK?

Everyone needs a favorite chicken soup, right? It’s the perfect winter pick-me-up. It’s good for whatever ails you. And if you’re lucky, it won’t require massive amounts of planning ahead or hours of simmering for the flavors to meld. In fact, I can run errands after work and still come home with enough time to make this for dinner. How’s that for efficiency?

What sets this soup apart from other chicken noodle soups is the lemon flavor. With both fresh lemon juice and zest, it has a bright, fresh taste that most other chicken soups don’t. I have noticed, however, that the orzo acts like a million tiny sponges in the broth, which means that more often than not, we have leftover lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, rather than soup. It works out OK though – Andy likes the casserole consistency of the leftovers, and I just add a little extra water to my share before microwaving it.

Take that, polar vortex. ūüôā

LemonOrzoSoup

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4″ circles
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, diced (or two cups of cooked, shredded chicken) 
10 cups of chicken broth
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1-2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
1 cup frozen peas
large handful chopped fresh parsley (feel free to substitute dried if necessary)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large stockpot over medium heat and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Place the chopped chicken into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Saute until chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken chunks. (Skip this step if you’re using already cooked chicken, obviously.) Remove chicken from pan and reserve for later.

Pour remaining olive oil into the hot pan. Saute the onion, carrots, garlic and celery in the oil until the vegetables are tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour the broth and lemon juice into the stockpot. Add the lemon zest and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture reaches a boil, add the orzo and simmer until the pasta is nearly done, about 8 minutes.*

Stir into the cooked chicken, and then add the peas and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf before ladling into bowls.

Serve warm.

*Side note: In my attempts to avoid lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, I’ve cooked the pasta separately and then stirred it into the individual soup bowls. As far as I can tell, this works, but it’s an extra step, and like I said before, I’m all about efficiency. ūüėĬ†

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Click here for a printable version.

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Chicken, Soups & Stews

 

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The One That Just Came Together

Some nights, we have dinners that are elaborate, well-planned and impressive. Some nights we eat grilled cheese. And some evenings, I just throw random ingredients together. This dish came out of one of those evenings. I had fresh peas to use from our CSA, a little bit of feta cheese (left over from our favorite breakfast), chickpeas in the freezer and stray scallion in the crisper drawer.

I threw it all together with some herbs from our garden, some garlic and a lemon, and we had a surprisingly tasty dinner. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right? ūüėČ The leftovers made a great lunch for the next couple of days as well!

Chickpea CousCous

Lemon Herb Couscous with Chickpeas, Peas and Feta

3/4 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh peas
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
1 scallion, finely chopped
zest and juice of one lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, minced (I used a combination of oregano, basil, parsley and thyme. Fee free to choose your favorites!)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon (or so) of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chickpeas and garlic to the pan and cook until just heated through. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the peas until crisp-tender. (I took the easy way out and microwaved them for a minute or two.) Drain the peas and set them aside as well.

Pour the couscous in to a large, heat-proof bowl. (I used my Pyrex mixing bowl.) Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan set over medium high heat. When the stock comes to a boil, pour it over the couscous and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for five minutes.

Uncover the couscous and fluff with a fork. Zest the lemon into the pasta, then stir in the peas, chickpeas and garlic. Toss the peas, scallion and herbs into the couscous mixture, and then add the lemon juice. Stir to combine. Finally, mix in the feta cheese. Taste, and season with additional salt, pepper or olive oil as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Beth’s Blue Plate Special Original

Click here for printable version.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2013 in Main Dishes

 

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