Fettuccine Bolognese (That’s Inexpensive and Easy to Make)

A true, classic Bolognese is made with ingredients such as veal, pancetta and a good beef stock. When you are cooking on a shoestring budget, veal and pancetta aren’t the sort of ingredients you typically throw into the shopping cart. Not to mention the fact that some people object to veal from a purely ethical standpoint.

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Beef Stroganoff Stuffed Crêpes

While this yummy rendition of a basic Ground Beef Stroganoff wrapped in a delicate crêpe might not truly be a French dish, the whole crêpe thing definitely is a French creation. I adore crêpes as an alternative to their heavier cousin, the pancake (which might explain why I love Irish Pancakes, the lovechild of an omelette and a crêpe). Oh the beauty of warm crêpes with a little melted butter, dusted with powdered sugar and served with wild berry preserves! Just thinking about them and I’m in heaven.

I know I’ve talked about Brother Dear in the past. He was (and is) my hero in so many ways. His was a gentle soul. When Brother Dear was going through his lengthy recovery after being fitted with an artificial heart pump, my sisters and I enjoyed taking a break from the hospital food by dining at a lovely little bistro ideally locate near the hospital (not wanting to venture too far). The Crêpe Escape was truly created as an escape from the reality of life. There was a three-dimensional mural forest that climbed the walls and across the sky-colored ceiling. They served up some of the most delicious crêpes, filled with all sorts of delightful things. One of my favorites was a savory crêpe filled with Chicken Florentine. (A posting for another day – I’m still playing around with the filling). Usually when I struggle to recreate a dish I’ve enjoyed in a restaurant, I’ll sample the restaurant’s offering a few times to get it right. Unfortunately, The Crêpe Escape was devoured by the flames of a kitchen fire a few years ago. Now my Chicken Florentine Crêpes are a work in progress, going only by memory.

Some people are afraid of crêpes; feeling intimidated by the prospect of attempting them because crêpes are such temperamental creatures. There are just a few basics to remember – blend batter until smooth; let rest for gluten to do their thing, and have a good sauté pan that maintains an evenly heated bottom.  I have an electric crêpe pan that maintains a nice, constant temperature. It even has a little light to let me know when to add the batter – dummy proof you might say. Way back in the olden (snicker) days when I made crêpes at least once a week (usually for desserts); it was worth the investment. These days my Crêpe pan collects dust more than it gets used, still it is nice to have. For larger crêpes; I need to rely on a good pan. The biggest issue when making crêpes is heat – even heat is the key. Let the crêpe dry before flipping and you should be good to go. And don’t be discouraged if the first crêpe is a flop – they almost always are. Simply step back, examine the flop and adjust accordingly. I’m sure the second crêpe will be a keeper!

Beef Stroganoff Crêpe
Ingredients – Crêpe
2 eggs
1-1/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Beat eggs and place in a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

Pour batter through a sieve set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate batter for an hour to allow gluten to rest. (Note: batter may rest up to 1 day).

Using a small, heavy bottom stainless steel pan (or a crêpe pan), slowly heat pan until reaching medium to medium-high. (Different pans will heat differently – it may be necessary to make adjustments after the first crêpe is cooked. The pan must be hot enough that the crêpe won’t stick, but not too hot that it burns).

Lightly coat pan with a little butter for the first crêpe. (The best way to do this is to unwrap one end of a stick of butter, swirl stick in the bottom and up the sides. A LIGHT coating of butter is all you need).

Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup batter to the bottom of the pan.(A 6″pan will take about 1/4 cup, 8″ pan no more than 1/2 cup). Tilt and swirl pan to coat bottom with batter. Cook crêpe for about 2 minutes or until lightly brown and dry – the surface will no longer appear shiny and the edges just beginning to brown. Carefully flip crêpe to cook the other side for about a minute. Don’t worry if the first crêpe is buttery and a little crisp – consider this your test crêpe and adjust time and temperature accordingly. (Sometimes my first two or three are a little “off” – they might not be the prettiest crêpes around, but they taste just fine).

Continue to cook each crêpe, buttering the pan with a quick swipe after about 4 crêpes.

Ingredients – Stroganoff Filling
1 lb lean ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c chopped fresh mushrooms
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1 (10-¾ oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
¾ cup sour cream
additional sour cream and chopped chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9 casserole dish with cooking spray. Set aside until ready to use.

In a large, nonstick skillet, brown the beef, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, until the meat is no longer pink. Drain meat mixture of juices.

Add the salt, pepper, paprika, and mushroom soup. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes or until warm and thick. Remove from heat and add the sour cream.

Divide filing among the crêpe (recipe above), spooning into crêpe while leaving enough of the crêpe edge closest to exposed to fold over and tuck slightly under the filling. This will get your roll started. Gently roll crêpe away from you, creating a tightly rolled crêpe that will hold its shape. Place seam-side down in the prepared casserole dish. Repeat until all the crêpes have been filled.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or heated through.

Serve with additional dollops of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives for garnish.

Side suggestion: Pan Seared Asparagus

Simple Ground Beef Goulash

Growing up; every now and again Mom would make Goulash. Just as when Mom would make Picadillo; I thought Goulash was a made-up word for throw a bunch of stuff into a pot and see what happens. After all; Goulash sounds like a made-up word, doesn’t it? No offense to the Hungarian people.

goulashGoulash makes me think about galoshes – you know – rain boots. When Kiddo was a little kid (around 1st grade) and living in the middle of a desert in Nevada; the students were asked to identify which shoes children should wear when it rains. They were shown three pictures – flip-flops; sneakers and galoshes. Almost all of the children picked the sneakers – especially since most of them had never seen galoshes before. Southern Nevada gets an average of 4″ of rain a year – and most of that falls in a day! Special shoes for rainy days just never occurred to these children of the desert.  The same standardized test asked this question: “It’s getting dark outside. What should the driver of this car do?” As adults, we all know the answer – turn on the headlights. Kiddo’s response is one I will never forget. “Go home because it’s bedtime.” Hey, it made sense!

Now where were we? Oh yeah – Goulash is an all around comfort food. It’s also a great campfire meal, utilizing a lot of canned ingredients that are easy to pack and some ground beef that takes up very little space in a cooler. Throw all the spices into a sandwich bag marked “Goulash” and there you go. A great supper for that first night under the stars. (In case you are wondering about the soy sauce – save a packet from your next Chinese take-out).

While I’ve reduced my recipe for our family of three, this recipe can easily be doubled for a larger group gathered round your campfire or dinner table.

Ground Beef Goulash
1 pounds lean ground beef
1 large yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons dried Italian herb seasoning
2 bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon Hungarian Paprika
1 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

In a large Dutch oven, cook and stir the ground beef over medium-high heat, breaking the meat up as it cooks, until the meat is no longer pink and has started to brown, about 10 minutes. Skim off excess fat, and stir in the onions and garlic. Cook and stir the meat mixture until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 more minutes.

Stir in water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, soy sauce, Italian seasoning, bay leaves, and seasoned salt, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the macaroni, cover, and simmer over low heat until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, discard bay leaves, and serve.

Beefy Corn Rice-A-Roni – When “Quick” is All That Matters

I know, it’s hard to fathom that someone can sing the praises of Filet Mignon and wine reduction sauces one minute, then open a box of Rice-A-Roni the next. What can I say – I’m a woman of many tastes.

This really isn’t a recipe. Nothing “original” here – more along the lines of a suggestion.

Sometimes we need to eat quick, as in under 30 minutes quick. Sometimes we need to eat quick, as in not a lot of fuss, and very little clean up. At times like this, I reach for something that is not very healthy but sure is filling. I start with the stuff in a box better known as Rice-A-Roni. Add some meat and a vegetable – presto it’s dinnertime. You can serve it up straight from the pan, or use it as a great stuffing for Bell Peppers.

Beefy Corn Rice-A-Roni
1 ½ lb ground beef
2 tablespoons Butter
2 Boxes Beef Rice-A-Roni
1 Can Corn, drained well
4 ½ Cups Water

Brown ground beef in a large skillet, breaking it apart as it cooks. Drain well in a colander placed over a large bow.

While meat is draining, add 2 tablespoons of butter to the same skillet the meat was cooked in. Empty contents of Rice into the skillet and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Return meat to the skillet. Sprinkle contents of seasoning package over meat. Add corn and water to the skillet. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low.

Simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

This goes well with tomato wedges or a simple salad.


Stuff Bell Peppers
1 ½ lb ground beef
2 tablespoons Butter
2 Boxes Beef Rice-A-Roni
1 Can Corn, drained well
4 ½ Cups Water
4 Large or 6 Small Yellow or Orange Bell Peppers

Stuffed Bell Pepper (1)Prepare Beefy Rice-A-Roni as above. While Rice-A-Roni is cooking, cut the tops from bell peppers and core. Place peppers in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes to help soften. Remove peppers from water, drain well.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange bell peppers on a glass baking dish with about a 2-inch rim.

Spoon rice mixture into peppers. Top with a little cheese. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

I like to use orange bell peppers at Halloween and carve little faces into the peppers before filling. It makes for a simple dinner that is perfect for Halloween, when dinner is filled with cute interruptions of “Trick Or Treat”.

Picadillo – Filipino-American Style

1950s-cover-3My love for cooking came from my parents. They knew their way around the kitchen, and Mom loved to entertain. Our home was always filled with people – extended family, neighbors, friends. Ours was the house with the door open to everyone and plenty of good food to share. Many of the recipes I like to share come from those warm memories.

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Nachos for Supper?

Nachos are so often thought of as a snack food or appetizers. Piled high with spicy taco meat, nachos can also spell dinnertime meal. We love nachos on movie night or game night or just because. After all, what are nachos but a taco on a chip?  Hubby usually piles his plate a mile high with meat. Kiddo goes for plenty of Jalapeno Peppers. I love the gooey stuff – lots of sour cream, bubbly cheese and guacamole. Nachos are also a great way for casual entertainment. Put each of the “fixings” into a pretty bowl and set a buffet table. The meat can be kept warm in Chafers, the cheese in fondue pots. Make up a pitcher or two of margaritas. There ya go . . . a festively fun supper for friends and family alike.

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Three-Alarm Beefy Chili with Chorizo and Southern Skillet Corn Bread

Wow!  This is one spicy, hot chili.  When I told Kiddo it was Three-Alarm Chili, he said it was more like four.  This from a kid that eats roasted jalapeno peppers like candy!  All I can say is that you’ll want to have plenty of cheese and sour cream handy to take the edge off this smokin’ hot chili.  If you can’t take the heat, use half of the spices.  Let it cook a little longer for the heat to intensify, then adjust if necessary.  Remember, you can always add more, but once it’s in – it’s in there for good.

I grew up on chili and corn bread.  Love the stuff.  My dad makes a decent chili, but I’ve taken it up a few degrees.  I like the extra flavor that good quality chorizo adds to the mix.  The longer you let the chili cook after the spices are added, the more intense the heat becomes.  Dad’s is saltier than mine, while mine is much hotter.  Still, the basic technique is the way he taught me.

Good chili takes time – time to pick through the beans, time to soak them and time to cook them tender.  The best way to make chili is to allow the beans to soak in a pot of water over night, rinse well the next morning and the cook them slowly in a crock pot. Sometimes I forget to soak my beans the night before.  No worries, you can speed up the soaking time by bringing the beans to a boil, remove from heat and let them steep for about an hour or so in the heated water before proceeding.  This works fine, but the over night method is better.  I don’t know why, it just renders a more “beanie” bean.  The beauty of cooking chili in the crock pot is that you don’t need to tend to it much.  When cooking chili in a large pot on the stove-top there’s always the danger of browning the beans at the bottom of the pot.  The only way to avoid that is to stir the pot regularly – every hour or so.  And the cooking liquid tends to evaporate.  With a crock pot, you won’t have those problems.

chorizo_meatOne final note regarding the chili – this recipe is made with both ground chuck and chorizo. Make sure you use good quality bulk chorizo. Make a little trip to the Mexican Market, make it from scratch or look for Texas Brand Chorizo. I cannot stress this enough – DO NOT use that stuff in the grocery store in a long plastic rope.  All you’ll end up with is a skillet of red grease You want a chorizo that is going to crumble up just like ground beef.

Like most cooks, I have several corn bread recipes at my disposal.  This particular recipe is truly rooted in the South. Start with the fact that it is baked in a cast iron skillet.  Then there’s the use of bacon grease both to season the skillet and flavor the bread.  I don’t know of many Northerners that keep a tin of bacon grease handy, but no self-respecting Southern kitchen would be without it.  Okay, so I was born and raised in California, but my dad was an Okie through and through.  He did a lot of things “Southern” that he learned from his momma, and she from her momma.  He passed those on t me, and I to my children and grandchildren.  That’s just the way it works, from generation to generation, each adding their own personal touch while preserving the basic heritage of the dish.

There are two ways to keep your bacon grease – on the stove top (that’s the old southern way) or in the fridge, which is how most cooks today hang on to that wonderful fat.  Some folks strain the bacon grease through a coffee filter to remove all the little bits of bacon, saving only the pure fat renderings.  There is some speculation that having little bits of pork in the fat might cause it to go rancid.  I suppose that could happen, if you left it long enough.  We use it all the time so it never sits for very long.  Next time you make some refried beans, try putting a little bacon grease in the skillet and really “fry” those beans.  The flavors are amazing.  I’ve tried frying eggs in other oils, but nothing compares to dirty fried eggs, speckled with little flakes of bacon.   Next time you’re having bacon and eggs, keep the bacon warm and fry the eggs in the same skillet.  It’s the only way to fry eggs if you ask me.

As for the type of container – true Southerners would use a coffee tin.  Now a days, coffee rarely comes in a tin.  For years I used a small metal mixing bowl with a lid.  Somewhere between moves, it got lost in the shuffle.  So now I use a glass bowl fitted with a lid.  I’ve seen people use mason jars or clean out a jelly jar.  The only problem with glass is that you need to let the grease cool a little or you run the risk of breaking the glass with the sudden change in temperature.

What’s the difference between Northern and Southern Corn Bread?  That’s easy – Northern Corn Bread is moist, sweet and more cake-like.  It is usually cooked in a cake pan or square glass dish. Generally speaking, Northern Corn Bread uses equal parts corn meal and flour.  Southern Corn Bread usually isn’t sweetened (although I like mine sweet, so I add some sugar to the mix). Southern Corn Bread uses more corn meal than flour and is usually cooked in a very hot skillet, making the crust crisp.  Northern Corn Breads use butter or oil as the fat, Southern corn bread uses bacon grease.

Enough chatter from me – let’s get to cooking, shall we?

Beef Chorizo ChiliBeefy Chili Beans with Chorizo
1 cup pinto beans
1 cup pink beans
1 Can Beef Broth
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb chorizo
1 tablespoons Cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon Mexican Hot Chili powder
½ teaspoon Cumin Seasoning

Pick over the beans.  Rinse lightly.  Soak beans in water overnight. Drain and rinse beans again.

Pour beans into a crock pot.  Pour beef broth over beans.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 hours.

Brown ground beef and chorizo together in a large cast iron skillet. Crumble the meat as it cooks, breaking it into small, uniform size pieces.  Once cooked through, drain off any fat. Add meat to beans, stir well and continue to cook in crock pot on LOW until beans are tender, about 2 hours. (At this point, add an additional cup of water if the beans appear too dry).

At the end of 7 hours of cooking time, add all the spices. (You want your beans to be tender BEFORE adding any seasonings.  Adding spice, especially salt, too early will cause beans to become tough). Continue to cook 45 minutes.  Taste and adjust spices as desired.

Serve with grated sharp cheddar cheese, chopped onions and sour cream as garnish.


Southern Skillet Corn BreadSouthern Skillet Corn Bread
4 teaspoons bacon drippings
1 1/2 cup yellow corn meal, preferably stone ground
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup rapidly boiling water
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten lightly

Cornmeal mush of just the right texture is essential to this bread. The mush must be smooth without overworking the batter. Don’t rush the buttermilk and you’ll have less lumps to break up.

Another “must” is a hot cast-iron skillet. Although the bread can be made in a cake pan or square casserole dish, that would just be too “Yankee” to do the bread justice.

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Set 8-inch cast iron skillet with bacon fat in heating oven.

Measure 1/2 cup cornmeal into medium bowl. Set aside.

Mix remaining 1 cup cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in small bowl; set aside.

Pour boiling water all at once into the 1/2 cup cornmeal; stir to make a stiff mush. Whisk in buttermilk gradually, breaking up lumps until smooth, then whisk in egg.

When oven is preheated and skillet very hot, stir dry ingredients into mush mixture until just moistened. Carefully remove skillet from oven. Pour hot bacon fat into batter and stir to incorporate, then quickly pour batter into heated skillet.

Place skillet back into the oven, then immediately lower the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees.

Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and instantly turn corn bread onto wire rack; cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.

If desired, spread a little honey butter over the top of the corn bread and let it seep in just before serving.  The honey will help to off-set the heat of the chili.

Here’s to good eatin’!

Nacho Taco Boats aka Nacho Tacos

On the menu was an easy, south-of-the-border favorite in our house – Nacho Tacos. Just as the name implies, it’s a cross between a taco and nachos. Take your typical Nacho toppings, but instead of piling all the yummy ingredients over a big plate of tortilla chips, you stuff them inside a crunchy taco shell.

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Hamburger Helper Style Chili-Cheese Macaroni

Some call it comfort food; others convenient; while others simply have that warm nostalgic feeling whenever they think of Hamburger Helper – the meal in a box from the early ’70s.  The problem with Hamburger Helper is that its packed with artificial “stuff”. No one wants to feed their family “stuff”. Still, the convenience of it all – some milk and ground meat was all you needed to add to the stuff in the box.  With this recipe, you can have that same convenience, minus the box and the “stuff” inside.

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