Starter Recipe: Healthy Shepherd’s Pie

I have been making some version of “Shepherd’s Pie” for ages, but I wanted to try and make something that would be a simple recipe for others to duplicate.  This recipe is pretty healthy, has lots of “hidden vegetables”, and tastes absolutely divine… a perfect comfort food dish for those who are just learning to cook and those who are proficient.  HealthyShepherdsPie

Ingredients:

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • Coconut oil – I used about a Tablespoon
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 handful of baby carrots, diced
  • 1/2 sweet pepper, diced (I used 2 small yellow peppers)
  • 3 mushrooms, diced fine minus stems (I was trying to hide them)
  • 1 handful of frozen peas (added at the very end)
  • red wine (I like the flavor when added to ground turkey)
  • granulated garlic (or use fresh, if you have it)
  • salt/pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dollop ketchup
  • flour (use as a thickener – I just sprinkled some over the pan)
  • mashed potatoes (I used a batch of leftover potatoes, but use what you’ve got… if you don’t have any on hand, just boil two or three potatoes and mash with milk/butter)

Directions:

  1. Brown onion and carrots in coconut oil over medium heat until onions are translucent.  I then added the peppers and mushrooms but feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand.  This is a great way to use up things in your fridge!
  2. Once veggies are cooked, add the ground turkey and brown thoroughly.  I use a potato masher to get all the meat separated so it browns evenly.
  3. You’re now going to flavor your dish.  I always use red wine when I’m cooking ground turkey – I feel it adds a depth of flavor to the turkey and gives it a more “full” taste.  Once the wine was incorporated, I sprinkled granulated garlic, added salt and pepper, and flavored things with the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.  I like to add the ketchup in something like this because it adds a touch of sweetness without getting a cloyingly sweet/sugar taste.
  4. When the flavors are balanced, I sprinkled on some flour to thicken the dish and tossed in the frozen peas.  Stir all to combine and put into your serving dish.
  5. Top your dish with mashed potatoes.  I love to use this dish when I have leftover mashed potatoes but it’s not difficult to make a small batch of mashed potatoes if necessary.
  6. Bake this dish for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly, in a 350 degree oven.  I love to serve this with garlic toasts (made from sliced ciabatta rolls, this is a simple side that can add a lot to the meal).

I hope you find this to be an easy recipe that makes your winter a little “warmer”.  Comfort food that doesn’t take hours to make is something that makes me very happy!  If you have any questions, as always you are welcome to message me and I’ll do my best to help walk you through the process.  Cooking should be fun and enjoyable… don’t stress over making it too “perfect”… it’s simply food and you’re feeding the ones you love.

Enjoy the process!

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Red Turkey Lasagna

I have a confession to make…. I love lasagna.  Rarely will I order it in a restaurant because I know that I love the taste of this recipe and can’t imagine ordering something *out* that I can make myself.  I’m sure that there are tons of variations on this recipe… with or without meat, red sauce vs white sauce, cooked noodles vs the no-bake noodles… but this is my favorite “go to” recipe to use if I’m being honest.  It originally came from a Weight Watchers cookbook but, as with most anything I make, it’s been altered and adjusted to fit our unique tastes.  Here’s how I make it:RedTurkeyLasagna (1)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Dry red wine, about 1/2-3/4 cup
  • Spinach leaves (I used about 1 1/2 cups and sliced them fairly thin)
  • 1 large can pasta sauce (use your favorite… I like a basic meat sauce)
  • 1 16-oz container of low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • Italian seasoning (1 teaspoon or so… I simply shake it on until it “looks right”)
  • freshly grated nutmeg (don’t go crazy on this… you just want a hint)
  • 1 package lasagna noodles (you won’t use the entire package… I typically use about 9 or 10)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Spray large skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium high setting.  Brown ground turkey, using a potato masher to break up the meat into small pieces.  NOTE:This is the BEST way to brown meat, in my humble opinion. Add onion and red wine to the meat and cook until the wine is thoroughly incorporated.  Add spinach (or any other vegetables you care to add), cook until spinach wilts, then add pasta sauce and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Boil noodles, as directed on package, or immerse them in boiling water until softened.  Drain and set aside.
  • Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, egg whites, Italian seasoning, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Begin to layer your lasagna together. NOTE: I used a 9×9 pan and a 9×3 pan – normally, I’d simply use a single 9×13 pan.  This is where your noodle amounts may vary.  I used 11-12 noodles to cover these two pans, but the rest of the ingredients remained the same.  I also vary the direction of the noodle placement with each subsequent layer so the finished lasagna holds together well.  
  • Start by spooning a bit of the sauce to lightly cover the bottom of your pan(s). Place noodles over the bottom in a single layer.  Top with 1/3 sauce mixture, then dollop half of the cheese mixture over the sauce.  Repeat noodle, sauce, and cheese layers.  Top with noodles and final third of the sauce, then sprinkle with Parmesan.  NOTE: If making ahead or freezing lasagna, this is the place to stop.  Cover with foil and pop in fridge or freezer, then allow dish to thaw overnight before continuing.
  • Cover and bake lasagna for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake until lasagna is bubbling and cheese is lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow the lasagna to set for 5 minutes before serving.

As I mentioned, this is my favorite lasagna recipe.  Not only is it easy to make, it has delicious flavor and is a simple way of getting vegetables into your meal without much effort.  I like to add a side of garlic toasts to accompany this dish.

NOTE: To make garlic toasts, I start with a roll from the freezer (Ciabatta rolls work well for this, as do sub rolls).  Slice the frozen roll into bite sized slices and lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Spray the slices with cooking spray and sprinkle with garlic salt.  When you remove the lasagna from the oven, turn oven off and pop the baking sheet into the hot oven.  The toasts will crisp as the oven cools and be ready to eat by the time you finish plating the lasagna.  I put the garlic toasts into a wooden serving bowl and pitch the foil… no messy cleanup!

I hope you’ll try this lasagna recipe sometime… it makes an amazing dinner and is always appreciated by my neighbors if I am able to share.  Enjoy!

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.

  

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: Petit Goulash

I’ve been told that this isn’t really a goulash recipe, but since that’s what my husband called it, that’s what I’m going to call it as well.  This was a two-pot dinner… one medium pot for the pasta and one large skillet to brown the meat and mix everything together.  Simple and comforting… that’s what I was craving last week when the snow hit our area.

PetitGoulash

I started by dicing together a large onion and half a large green pepper and sautéing them together in a pat of butter.  Once the vegetables were browned, I added a package of ground turkey and cooked this until the meat was thoroughly browned.  To this mixture, I added a healthy pour of a dark Petit Verdot and cooked the meat mixture until the wine had been thoroughly absorbed.   The last “flavor addition” was a can of petit diced tomatoes, which added some great color to the dish.

While I was cooking the meat, I started cooking a pot of water with jumbo elbow macaroni and salt.  Once the pasta was cooked, I drained it and added it into the large skillet and stirred everything together, seasoning with garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika.  This recipe is very similar to the mazetti that my mother-in-law makes (which is absolutely delicious) and was a huge hit with my family.  The flavors melded together nicely and the dish was hearty enough to be filling without adding bread on the side.  A simple green salad would have been a nice addition, but not totally necessary.

Enjoy playing with this recipe if you choose to make it for your family.  A wonderful Hungarian smoked paprika would be fabulous – Think  I might be able to talk my local grocer into stocking this spice if I whine about it enough?  Have fun making your own family’s favorite “goulash”… after all, you’re creating something for those you love.  What could be wrong about that?  Enjoy!

Recipe: Taco Wine Braid

Here’s a recipe that is has it ALL.  It tastes fabulous, it’s simple to make, and it looks really impressive… what more could you want?!  I made this for my family this weekend and everyone agreed that it was a terrific recipe that I had to share as soon as possible.  I’ll admit that the name of this recipe sounds a bit odd, but it really is a good descriptor, if you look at the photos.   I was using the base from a previous post (Weeknight Taco Pie) and then got a little creative after watching our cousin Ann whip up a delicious lunch that looked like something from a magazine.

Since I wasn’t going to have a lot of time for dinner prep on Sunday, I decided to cook the “taco meat” part of this meal a day ahead of time.  I started with one package of ground turkey, one packet of taco seasoning and some red wine.  I cooked the ground turkey, added the entire packet of taco seasoning, and then added the red wine.  I substituted approximately the same amount of red wine as the packet called for water (ok… I guestimated, since I didn’t want to use a measuring cup) and allowed the browned ground turkey to soak up every ounce of liquid and taco seasoning before adding one jar of black bean salsa (of the “medium-heat” variety).

NOTE: Since I wasn’t at home and didn’t have any James River Cellars wine on hand, I used a bottle of Malbec that I chose at the local market.  I like Malbec, as a general rule of thumb, so this was an easy call for me.  Remember… use the wine you like to drink or have on hand.  If I’d had an open bottle of Pinot Noir, I could certainly have used that.  The flavor will differ slightly from varietal to varietal, but that’s what makes cooking so much fun.  You can also leave the wine out entirely and just use water OR you can add beef stock/broth in place of the water.  USE THE FORCE… be brave!

TacoWineBraidI cooked the taco/salsa mixture until it was very dry and allowed it to cool a bit before storing it in the fridge for the night.  I don’t always do this, but it actually allowed the flavors to meld and mellow a bit, which was welcome surprise.  If you like your food spicy, feel free to use more seasoning or amp up the flavor using a different salsa.  That’s the beauty of making your own food… you can do what you like!

The fun part of this dish came when I decided not to put the taco mixture into a pie plate and bake it.  On a cookie sheet lined with foil (and sprayed with cooking spray), I laid out two packages of refrigerated crescent dough beside one another (so it looked like a really long rectangle.  I then spooned the taco/salsa mixture down the center and topped it with one package of shredded Mexican-style cheese (again… use what you like here).  Using a knife, I made slits along each side (making sure they matched), starting at the meat mixture and going to the outside edge of the dough (but don’t cut through the foil).

Here’s where it got COOL.  Gather up corresponding edges of dough, bring them to the center, twist them, and lay them back down in line (or slightly overlapped… YOUR CHOICE).  Repeat this with all the strips of dough until you get to the end, then pinch the ends closed.  It should look like the photo on the bottom left-hand corner.  If you want to be really fancy, top with cheese (like I did in the photo), brush with a simple egg wash (easy if you use some egg substitute and a little water), or just spray with cooking spray.  Pop your Taco Wine Braid into a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is nicely browned and you can see some bubbling of the taco meat peeking through the holes in the braid.  Let it sit for a few minutes while you gather the plates to serve this gorgeous dinner to your adoring public.

I like to serve this dinner with some lettuce, tomato, and sour cream… again, this is all personal preference.  For our dinner, I used one head of butter lettuce (because the romaine looked like it would be too much), a small container of grape tomatoes, and a tiny package of light sour cream.  Whatever you choose will be wonderful as long as you use what you like or have on hand.

This was a dinner that was a huge hit with everyone in my family.    See if you don’t get some rave reviews of your own if you make it sometime soon for your own family.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Sloppy Joes and Pretzel Rolls

My boys will recognize this recipe as the one we always have on Halloween.  You know… the time of year when everyone is ordering pizza because it’s so much easier to handle with all the trick-or-treating?  I started making a recipe of my Auntie Jean’s Sloppy Joes (she calls it BBQ) when the boys were small because I wanted them to have a filling dinner before heading outside to beg for candy.  I’m not a huge fan of Halloween (See my feelings on this “holiday” on my other blog) but since my boys loved it, this was my way to add some “normal” to the evening… add in some homemade rolls, and I was a happy camper.

Some of you will be happy because this recipe starts as an actual “recipe”.  My aunt gave us the ingredients, my cousin dutifully wrote them down, and I amended it into my own version.  I always pull out the recipe card when making Sloppy Joes, because I can’t always remember exactly what goes into this delicious meal, but I also rarely use a measuring device of any sort, since I cook using The Force.  Here’s the original:

Auntie Jean’s BBQ (Sloppy Joes)

  • 2 lb hamburger – brownedSloppyJoes and PretzelRolls
  • 1 bottle ketchup (small, 28 oz size)
  • 3 Tbs vinegar (we always use apple cider vinegar)
  • 3 Tbs mustard (plain yellow mustard works best here)
  • 3 Tbs worchestershire sauce
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seed

Note: I typically use one package of ground turkey instead of ground hamburger – I think it takes flavors even better than traditional beef.  I also like to add a diced onion along with the meat, but this is purely up to you.   When I make my version of Auntie Jean’s Sloppy Joes, I also add two turns around the pan of red wine to the ground meat to bump up the flavor a bit.  For this recipe, I used a bottle of Pinot Noir that I had open in the fridge, but if I were opening something specifically for this dish, I’d reach for James River Cellars’ Rad Red or James River Cellars’ Meritage.  Both have great cooking capability and are delicious all alone.

I browned the diced onion, added the ground turkey until everything was nicely browned.  Add the wine at this point and allow it to cook until the wine is incorporated into the mixture.  Start adding your Sloppy Joe ingredients at this point.  Remember that this recipe is written for DOUBLE the amount of ground meat, so you’ll need to have a light hand when adding ingredients.   I always add much less ketchup than is called for, simply because you can always add more of an ingredient but you can’t remove it once it’s been incorporated.  Allow the mixture to cook for a good half hour to really meld the flavors.  I’ve found that really makes a difference with this recipe.  NOTE: I served my Sloppy Joes on spaghetti squash (a la MomUncorked) and it was amazing!

We have loved this Sloppy Joe recipe on all sorts of rolls, but here’s a BONUS RECIPE for you… Pretzel Rolls!

PRETZEL ROLLS: (using a recipe from Donna German’s Bread Machine Cookbook VI)

  • 1 1/8 cups water
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast

I make my pretzel dough in my bread machine, according to the machine’s directions.   I then divided it into 10 sections and formed thick pretzel shapes before allowing them to rise for about an hour in a warm, dry place.  The key to making pretzel rolls is to boil the rolls (2-3 at a time) in 2 quarts of water plus 2 Tbs baking soda, flipping the roll and allowing to boil on both sides.   I removed the rolls to baking sheets, sprayed with cooking spray and dusted with cornmeal (I used grits, since I was out of cornmeal).  As the rolls came out of the water mixture, I  brushed them with an egg wash and sprinkled them with coarse salt.  Once all the rolls had been treated, I baked them in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10-13 minutes.  Note:  If you want to make this recipe into large soft pretzels instead of rolls, you can adjust the directions by making the pretzels thinner and then bake them just a little longer, until they’re even chewier.  

We did find that these rolls are a little chewy for sloppy joes… they’re more suited to burgers or grilled chicken… but they are just so darn delicious that I had to include this recipe for my readers.   I hope you try this recipe sometime… they are TOTALLY worth the effort!