Starter Recipe: Easy Mazetti

Another one of our family “staple” recipes is this easy and simple Mazetti, a recipe that my mother-in-law gave me early in my marriage.  Over the years, I’ve adjusted the recipe she gave me to either include lots of “hidden vegetables” or to use whatever quick ingredients I had on hand.  NOTE:  for those who are interested in the history of the name of this recipe, I would point you toward my friend, Jenna, at The Gleeful Gourmand, who wrote up this version of “Johnny Marzetti“.  I was fascinated to read the back-story of this great recipe, including her own recipe.  Back to my simple Mazetti… here’s the “down and dirty” of making a quick, hearty meal using just a few ingredients.EasyMazetti

Main Ingredients:

  • One package of ground turkey
  • 1-2 cans tomato soup (I would use one can soup and one can of red wine)
  • 1 1/2 cups of your favorite pasta
  • Cheese (for topping, as desired)

Directions:

  1. Brown your ground turkey in a large skillet in a small amount of olive oil or margarine (whatever you have on hand).  I also like to add 1/2-1 whole diced onion or some green pepper if I have things on hand and want to stretch the food a bit.  I typically will add some red wine and brown the turkey and veggies until the liquid is totally absorbed.
  2. Once the turkey is browned and starting to get a bit crispy, add your tomato soup (or soup and water/wine) and your pasta.  I really like to use large elbow macaroni, but have used ziti, bow tie pasta, or even small shells… use your favorite pasta shape but don’t use egg noodles as they won’t hold up to the cooking process.  NOTE:  You are welcome to cook your pasta separately, but I like the way the sauce flavors the pasta pieces.  Again, it’s entirely up to you.
  3. I enjoy playing with flavors at this point, so I have the unique flavor that I want from each mazetti dish.  I have been known to add more red wine at this point, but I’ve also added a shot of espresso (this darkens the flavor considerably), or just some stock or water.  If the liquid is absorbed and the pasta isn’t thoroughly cooked, you just need to add more liquid.  The pasta will soak up the liquid and become more al dente’… don’t ever give up on the dish as you’re cooking.
  4. To serve, you can pop this into a casserole dish, top it with some shredded cheese and warm it up in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until everything is bubbly.  If you’re serving from the skillet, you can either omit the cheese or add it on top just before serving and put the lid on your pan to give the cheese time to melt.  Either way is delicious… my boys have eaten this dish in many different variations and have loved it each time.

An extra way to make this dish special is to top it with buttered bread crumbs.  I have a recipe for making buttered bread crumbs on my website as a “bonus recipe”, included with “How to make a sauce“.  Both of these recipes would qualify as “starter recipes”, so please feel free to check this one out as well. I’ve just added the “starter recipe” tag, so you should be able to find it that way as well.

I hope you’ll check out Jenna’s recipe and her history of this recipe… it’s so interesting to find out where recipes originate! Since my Mother-in-Law lives in Michigan and is originally from Rhode Island, her recipe could be a variation of Johnny Marzetti, but it will forever be one of my favorites from her.  I was so touched when she shared one of her favorite recipes with me… it always reminds me of her, no matter how I actually end up making the final dish… it’s comfort food to me.

  

Starter Recipe: Easy Chicken Pie

A quick note about this new term; “Starter Recipe”… I have two sons who are learning to cook.  E has been playing around with recipes and ingredients for awhile now, but D has just started to venture into making his own meals.  Because of D’s newly found interest, I’m going to start posting recipes (aptly named “Starter Recipes”) to help those, like D, who want to cook but are intimidated by huge lists of ingredients or just want to make something that can be pulled together with things that are easy to keep on hand.  Use the search engine on my blog for more “Starter Recipes”… until I get more recipes posted, here’s our first of what I hope will become a long list of easy-to-follow and delicious recipes.EasyChickenPie

D wanted to use some of the leftover turkey that I had given him to take back to his apartment, but he didn’t just want to make a few sandwiches… he wanted to make a Chicken pie (with turkey).  We started with a short list of ingredients.

Ingredients:

  1. Leftover turkey/chicken NOTE: You can pull meat off a pre-roasted chicken if you don’t have any leftover from a previous meal.
  2. One can of mixed vegetables. NOTE: I like to use a can of “Veg-all” because it includes potatoes.
  3.  One can Cream of Chicken soup, undiluted. NOTE: If I were making this, I would add a bit of white wine here.
  4. One can of pre-made Biscuits NOTE: Use whatever biscuits you like best… these will be your topping.

Directions:

  1. Spray a 9×9 baking pan with cooking spray and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Chop or shred meat and cover the bottom of your pan with bite-sized pieces.
  3. Open and drain the canned vegetables.  Spread them over top the meat in an even layer.
  4. Open and spoon the soup over the vegetables.  If you would prefer to mix these three ingredients together and then pour them into the pan, feel free to do so.  This is your dish, so make it however you like.
  5. Top with approximately 5 biscuits (as shown in the photo).  You can also cut each biscuit into smaller pieces and layer them on top of your pie… again, this is your dish.
  6. Spray top of biscuits with cooking spray (“Pam” is cooking spray) so they brown as they cook.
  7. Put pan in oven and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling.  Serves 2-4 (depending on serving sizes)

I do hope that you’ll try this recipe, especially if you’ve never cooked before.  Cooking can be a relaxing experience, as long as you have all your ingredients at hand and feel confident that your final outcome will be tasty and satisfying.  By following these recipes, I hope to help you learn how to become more comfortable with cooking for yourself and for others.  There’s really nothing as wonderful as making a meal that satisfies both body and soul.

Enjoy the journey!

Leftover Recipe: Holiday Turkey Casserole

I have to confess that I absolutely LOVE our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  I love cooking them, I love serving them to my family, and I especially love the leftovers.  Creating a new meal from the leftovers is just so much fun!  Everything has already been cooked at some point, so all you’re really doing is re-assembling the foods in a new and different way… how hard can that be?  TurkeyCasserole

Last year, I used the stuffing to create “stuffing waffles”… if you haven’t tried this before, you HAVE to try it.  They were simply incredible!  You can check out my recipe here, which also talks about topping them with turkey gravy.  Serious “yum” factor here.  This year, I decided not to get the waffle iron down, so I came up with this new casserole.  Same sort of “yum” to the flavor… just a whole new twist.

I layered about 2 cups of our Mimi’s Peas Casserole (it’s the same “green bean casserole” that everyone else does… we just use frozen peas instead.  GENIUS!), sprinkled 1 cup of diced turkey on top, then spooned 3/4 cup of leftover gravy just to cover the turkey.  To finish this off, I took scoops of leftover stuffing and put stuffing balls over the entire casserole, then smooshed them down with my fingers to “connect” them as a topping.  Just for extra flavor, I crumbled about 3 slices of bacon over top, but these really weren’t necessary… this casserole was stellar all by itself.

NOTE:  Before you ask where the “wine” is in this recipe, remember that I used wine when I made the stuffing AND the gravy (and it’s in the peas as well), so I didn’t really feel the need to add more, but you’re welcome to add a little to the gravy if you think it’s too thick.  Just use your best judgement.  

Once everything was assembled, I baked the casserole for dinner at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until the gravy was visibly bubbling.  This dish was honestly so good that we ate it for two nights in a row… all the flavors of a holiday dinner wrapped up in one meal.  YUM!

Recipe: Apricot Chicken and Snow Peas

This recipe was such a huge success this week!  I was trying to come up with a simple recipe to use a sweet/spicy sauce with chicken and I ended up with this winner of a meal.  You’ve GOT to try this one… truly!

I started with a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  I salted/peppered each side and seared them in a medium-large skillet pan into which I had melted a small amount of olive oil and sesame oil.  Once they were nicely browned, but definitely NOT cooked through, I added a rather creative sauce.ApricotChickenSnowPeas

My sauce consisted of the following ingredients:  Gewurztraminer (dry) wine, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, apricot jam, commercial orange sauce, and soy sauce.  All these ingredients can be used, to varying degrees, depending on your taste preferences. NOTE: I chose to use a dry Gewurztraminer wine because of the heat that was going to come out from the orange sauce, but you could easily switch out a sweeter Riesling or Vidal Blanc white wine (or even chicken stock if you don’t want to use wine) but if you choose a sweeter wine, I’d decrease the amount of jam used.  It’s totally up to you!

Once I rolled the chicken in the sauce, I chose to roast this dish, covered, in a 200 degree oven for 2 hours.  I had the time and really wanted to have the scent permeate the house before we had dinner.  If I were more pressed for time, I could easily have left this on the stove top and kept the heat on medium for about 45 minutes or until the chicken thighs were cooked through.

Once the chicken was done, I added half of a small package of snow peas (sugar snap peas would be a great substitute) and allowed them time to cook in the sauce. Just before serving, while the sauce was still a bit runny, I mixed a few tablespoons of sauce with a little bit of cornstarch to make a slurry and added that into the sauce to thicken the mixture.  NOTE:  Make sure to add the cornstarch to a small amount of liquid rather than adding the cornstarch directly to the pan to prevent lumps in your sauce.

When I added the snow peas, I started cooking a small batch of egg noodles so they would be ready in time for dinner. This was a great bed for the dish and really allowed the flavors to pop.  If you prefer, brown rice would also make an excellent accompaniment.

I do hope you’ll try this recipe sometime.  I’ll be using the basic idea of this sauce for a shrimp dish tonight for dinner and expect it to present the same stellar results.  It’s all about finding the flavors that mix best for your family and playing with them to make your own arsenal of go-to recipes.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Red Turkey Chili

Last night was windy, cold, and rainy here in Maryland, so my first impulse was to make chili.  This dish is one of my favorite things to make, especially in the fall and winter, because I can change out the recipe so easily.  I’ve made it many different ways, but last night’s was a much healthier rendition that still warmed us up nicely.  See if you and your family notice a difference if you try this version!

I started by heating a large stock pot on the stove and dropped in one diced onion with some olive oil. Once the onion was translucent, I added one package of ground turkey and took some time to let it all brown thoroughly.  To add a bit of smokiness to the finished product, I added a bit of bacon that I pulled from the freezer and gave that some time to cook. RedTurkeyChiliNOTE:  I had previously taken a one-pound package of bacon and sliced it into 8 portions.  Each portion went into a small freezer bag and I use a portion any time I want a little bacon flavor without having to thaw or cook an entire package.  I diced this portion so the bacon wasn’t discernible, but the flavor permeated the chili nicely.

I then added about a cup of diced sweet pepper (as you can see, I used a variety of green, red, orange, and yellow peppers) as well as a generous pour of red wine.  NOTE:  For this recipe, I had a bottle of red wine from Adams County, PA, but any good dry red wine is great to add, provided it’s a red wine that you like to drink.  Don’t ever add wine that you wouldn’t drink to a recipe, since cooking will concentrate the flavors from the wine.  

Once the vegetables and wine are incorporated into the chili, I then added one can each of light and dark red kidney beans (rinsed and drained) and one can of diced tomatoes (not drained).  I was now ready to add my spices to make this dinner into something memorable.

Since my family is not a fan of hot/spicy flavors, I used a conservative amount of dark chili powder, ground cumin, and smoked paprikaone teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, along with some salt and pepper.   At the very end, I drizzled in a bit of a prepared Balsamic Glaze, which really gave this dish a bit of zing without overpowering the traditional chili flavors.

I do hope that you’ll try your hand at this chili recipe.  Feel free to substitute other meats, beans, or vegetables as you like – that’s what makes each person’s recipe unique and special.  We thought this version had a great balanced flavor… exactly what I wanted on a cold, rainy fall evening.  This would be a great dish to share with friends and will freeze nicely, so feel free to double or even triple the recipe if you have the time (and freezer space)!

Recipe: Red & White Stir Fry Salad

Here’s a recipe PLUS a bonus!  Each part of this recipe deserves it’s own post, but since they are connected, I decided to post them together.  It’s a recipe for “stir fry” AND a chicken salad recipe…in one recipe!RedNWhiteStirfrySalad

I was trying something new… I wanted to make a shrimp stir fry, but wondered how it might work if I tried to “bake” the ingredients for a stir fry.  To do this, I sliced a pound of de-shelled shrimp length-wise and used them to cover the bottom of a 9×9 pan.  I sprinkled a  package of slaw (the kind with shredded cauliflower and broccoli) over the shrimp and then made a sauce of hoisin sauce, red wine, garlic, ginger, and a little cornstarch (for thickening) to pour over the entire pan.  I covered the pan with foil and allowed it to bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  A package of microwave brown rice finished off my first meal nicely (see top right-hand photo).  While the technique was unconventional, it was a great way to make a simple dinner without standing beside the stove top.

The second half of this recipe (the “Salad” portion) came about from my need to use up the half-cup of leftover stir fry.  I had a chicken breast in the fridge that also needed to be used, so I decided to try putting everything together to make a chicken-shrimp stir fry salad sandwich.  Weird, but it really was tasty.  I combined the following ingredients: leftover stir fry, one diced chicken breast, one diced stalk of celery, a small palmful of craisins, some mayo, white wine, salt and pepper.  I mixed everything until it was well combined, adding either mayo or white wine, depending on the desired texture, and then put the mixture on some toasted low-calorie bread to make a sandwich.  The threads of veggies from the stir-fry provided some interesting texture in the salad, but it was a great mix and the bits of leftover stir fry sauce added some zing to the flavor.  It was definitely a great way to use up leftovers in my fridge.

I hope this set of recipes gives you some ideas of ways to re-use foods in your own fridge.  Using red wine in the stir fry and white wine in the chicken salad was a fun inspiration as well… see what you can create when you go beyond the traditional and let your creative juices flow!

Crock Pot Recipe: Red Pulled Pork

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that I’ve already posted a recipe called “Red Wine Pulled Pork“.  That recipe is really great… but I also wanted to post this one because it is just so incredibly simple.  Simple to the point of being a “marinate, cook, shred, serve” type of recipe… how tough could that be?

I started with a large pork roast… I bought it because it was on sale that Friday and I was looking for something that could feed a crowd while watching Saturday football games in our living room.  When I got home from the store, I put the roast into a plastic storage bag and poured a mixture of smoked paprika, Montreal steak seasoning, and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt over the pork, massaging the seasonings into the meat.  I then put the bag into the fridge to marry the flavors overnight.RedPulledPork

On Saturday morning, I pulled out my crock pot and put dinner together.  I sliced two onions into thin strips (cut the onion in half, root to tip, cut off the top and slice the onion into strips the entire way down to the root, discarding the root) and put it into the bottom of the pot.  I placed the seasoned roast on top of the onions and then poured the end of a bottle of dry red wine (feel free to use as much or as little as you like) into the bottom of the pot.  I chose not to pour the wine over the roast because I really wanted the spices to have time to season the top fat layer as the meat cooked.

I set the crock pot to cook on high for 6-7 hours, but I could have easily chosen to cook it on low for 7-8 hours.  Much will depend on how comfortable you are with your crock pot.

I’m impatient when I use the crock pot, so I did check this about an hour before it was ready.  I like the feel of the meat when it falls apart, so I tend to push the envelope when I’m making this sort of dish.  I removed all the bones and then allowed it to cook until al the meat fell apart exactly as it should.  The onions were a nice addition into the meat, since they just “melted” into the pulled pork.

When I got ready to serve this dish, I sliced homemade kaiser rolls in half and spooned some meat into each roll before topping with a small bit of a jarred BBQ sauce from my fridge.  Potato rolls or chewy rolls from the store are also delicious with this meal… don’t feel that you *have* to make your own rolls for this meal to work.  This recipe was simple… the pork cooked all day and perfumed the entire house with a spicy warm smell that ushered football season into our home in the best possible way.  Enjoy playing with this recipe and making it your own… feel free to use whatever spice your family likes so your meal hits all the “high notes” for your favorite fans. Most of all… have fun!

Recipe: Easy Cheesy Chicken & Beans

We’ve all seen the mayonnaise ad that tells us to smear mayo on chicken, cover with cheese, and bake to create the “juiciest chicken”, right?  If you haven’t, here’s a link to see what they do.  I had been viewing that ad for ages and finally decided to put my own twist on something that would be a simple yet fun adaptation.  My final product was similar to the original, but I thought it had some really tasty flavors going on.  See what you think…

I started with two partially frozen chicken breasts (the kind you can get in the big bag from those warehouse stores?) and sliced them across to open them up like an envelope.  I didn’t want to cut them the entire way through, although I certainly could have done that to create four separate servings.  Feel free to tackle this step however you like.  I laid them on a piece of foil (I really hate to clean baking sheets, so I use foil anytime I can) and flattened them with my hands.EasyCheesyChicken&Beans

I then mixed the creamy topping that would be the “sauce” to hold the cheese onto the chicken.  For this recipe I used mayonnaise, dijon mustard, red wine, and dried parsley.  I blended it all together with a whisk and then brushed the mixture all over the top of the chicken breasts to cover them evenly.  Using a packaged blend of cheddar and colby, I spread the cheese over both chicken breasts and then topped them with salt and pepper.

Since the chicken was so large, I decided to keep things simple and just roast some green string beans as the accompaniment for this dinner.  I could have easily added mashed or baked potatoes, but I really wanted the chicken to be the star.  To make the beans, I grabbed another baking sheet and lined it with foil (easy cleanup, folks… this is my favorite thing about foil!) and spread out the beans on the sheet.  I then sprayed the beans with cooking spray and topped with salt & pepper.  

Baking this dinner was also pretty easy.  I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and baked the chicken for about 40-45 minutes.  I popped the beans into the oven underneath the chicken after the first 10 minutes, so they were cooking for 30-35 minutes.  NOTE: I’ve been under-cooking beans lately, so I went a little overboard on the beans this time – will probably back their cook time down to 20-25 minutes next time, but they were still tasty.

Once dinner was done and plated, I got rave reviews from my husband about the chicken.  It was still juicy but cooked through, full of flavor and simply delicious.  Changing out the flavors and using different ingredients for the “sauce” will be done next time, but this is a great way to start.  Try using white wine, horseradish mustard, different spices, anything that your family likes is fair game in this one.  You could even make it into an Italian version with italian spices and an Italian blend of cheeses… it’s really all up to you.  Enjoy and let me know what you try! 

Recipe: Simple Chardonnay Dinner

I’ve been sharing this recipe with people for ages, but I thought I’d better get it down in type before I get too much grief.  Seems I have a few people who like to use this blog as a simple cookbook, so I want to keep everyone on the same “page” as it were.  I’ll try and get a photo of this dinner soon, but until then, you’ll need to use your imagination.

There are days when I just don’t want to have to think about how I’m going to throw dinner together when I get home.  I love to cook and be creative, but it’s nice to have a simple “go to” available if I’m not in the mood to experiment.  That’s where this recipe comes into play.

I always have frozen shrimp and frozen chicken (of some sort) on hand.  I also like to have those wonderful orange bags of Uncle Ben’s 90-second brown rice in my cupboard… and I will, as long as my local grocer keeps them in stock.  (Note to self: give grocery store manager the address of this blog so he knows how important that item is to keep in his available inventory.)  That being said, I can get a fairly simple dinner done as long as these main ingredients are available to me.

I start with either frozen shrimp or frozen chicken.  I thaw whatever I’m planning to use, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s pretend that I’m using shrimp for dinner.  Once I remove the shells from the thawed shrimp, I spray my saute pan with cooking spray and cook the shrimp to a hard sear on both sides, until they’re pink and just cooked.  I then remove the shrimp to a plate and cover lightly with foil to keep warm.  (Note:  if I’m using chicken, I use skinless, boneless chicken and cut it into thin enough pieces to cook about as quickly as the shrimp does in this recipe.)

Next, add 1T margarine and 1T flour to make a roux.  Allow the roux to bubble and cook the flour a bit – this mixture should turn slightly brown and toasty.  Add Chardonnay, along with a bit of chicken stock to make a sauce. I tend to add the wine first, then add some stock and taste the sauce before continuing. (NOTE: I like to use an oak-aged chardonnay but any tasty stainless Chardonnay is also stellar in this recipe.   Use something you enjoy drinking – if the wine is too salty or not flavorful enough, you won’t enjoy the sauce you create.  Add enough wine to make a sauce that is to your liking.)  Take time to allow the flour to thicken the sauce as it cooks and don’t be so impatient that you add too much liquid… adding flour at this point is when you’ll get little flour lumps as it’s difficult to incorporate  thoroughly.

Once you have the sauce completed, replace the shrimp in the sauce and add a little touch of parsley or a fresh herb of your choosing.  While your shrimp are soaking up the flavors of your sauce, pop a bag of 90-second rice into the microwave and use to plate your dinner.

You can add a crisp green salad, bread, and a vegetable to this dinner if you so desire, but I find that the simple dinners are best served simply.  Let the food shine and enjoy the accolades that accompany such a delicious dinner.  If someone feels compelled to thank you by doing the dishes, so much the better, right?

Enjoy!