ground meats

I was away the beginning of July and realized today that I had forgotten to post the blog for this column, which appeared in the Aroostook Republican on July 2nd. Sorry about that.

Hamburger, ground chicken, turkey, and pork add variety and convenience to your meals. They can be frozen and available at any time and are a tasty background for herbs, spices, and vegetables, rounding out any family meal.

sweet-and-sour turkey meatballs
Whenever my daughter, Bennet, visits, she asks for this dish, and I enthusiastically comply since I love it, too. You can double the recipe for a crowd. And it is easy to make ahead and heat just before serving. Bring to room temperature first.

For the meatballs:

  • ¾ lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 10 crushed saltines
  • ½ cup canned milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • ½ tsp dried savory or rosemary
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with foil coated with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, soften cracker crumbs in milk. Beat in egg. Add remaining items, mixing well. Use a cookie scoop or form balls by hand, about the size of a walnut. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or till nicely browned.

While meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce:

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp lite olive oil
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbs white vinegar
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place cooked meatballs in a casserole. Mix all sauce ingredients and pour over. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour till bubbly. This can also be heated in a crockpot. Check your unit’s directions for temps and times. Serve over noodles with some buttered corn or green vegetable and crusty bread.

hamburger upside-down casserole
This is my mother’s recipe—simple yet delicious. The kids will gobble this right up.

Boil 1½ cups elbow macaroni or small shells according to box directions to make about 3 cups. Drain and set aside. Spray a 9 x 13” baking pan or large casserole dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350°.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown:

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 lb lean hamburger
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp dried (or rubbed) sage
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Add two 8-oz cans plain tomato sauce to meat mixture and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Place in the prepared pan or dish. In a large bowl, mix 8 oz of shredded sharp cheddar with the macaroni. Place on top of meat mixture.

Beat 3 eggs with ¾ cups milk and pour over entire mix. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more till brown and bubbly.

TIP: If you’re as busy as I am, you forget to defrost things for supper like ground meat or stews and end up with a solid block of ice staring at you at 5 p.m.! Solution? Invest in some good quality zip-seal bags and pack your ground meat flat to fill the entire bag and seal well. A half-inch thick quart-size bag of ground meat will defrost in an hour, or much less if you set it under that faucet and run cold water over it for a while. Same with stew or soup. Fill a large bag about ¾-full. Seal carefully, pressing out the air, then lay it flat in the freezer. No microwave defrosting disasters. So easy to make a last minute meal decision!

white bean and chicken slow-cooker chili
This hearty dish is so easy to prepare and if made ahead, gets better when refrigerated overnight. Go ahead and freeze the leftovers.

Brown 1 large chopped onion in 2 Tbs light olive oil over medium-high heat. When onion is translucent, add 2 chopped garlic cloves, 2 lbs ground chicken, and 1 tsp salt. Cook about ten minutes, stirring often.

Now add:

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs chili powder

Stir constantly until spices are very fragrant, being careful not to burn. Deglaze pan with ¼ cup of lime juice, scraping off brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then add 32 oz chicken broth. Mix well and place in a 3½-quart slow-cooker. Next, add 30 oz of white beans (cannelini), drained and rinsed, and mix well. Cook on low setting for at least four hours. Pass the shredded Monterey Jack, sour cream, and pickled jalapenos. Serve with warm flour tortillas.

marsha’s hamburger pie
When I lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, Marsha and her family lived in the apartment below us. She was a true Southern Belle and the cousin of actress Stella Stevens. Marsha made this for me once when I was down with a bad cold. Believe me, the flavors came through as this is very tasty. You do have to make your own pie crust for this one, but it is totally worth it. You can find Cousin Ralph’s Magical Piecrust recipe at the end of the Memorial Day post in this blog.

Ingredients

  • 1 Cousin Ralph’s top and bottom piecrust, prepared (see directions)
  • ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 2 or 3 dashes cayenne pepper
  • 1½ lbs ground chuck
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 can beef bouillon (1¼ cups)
  • 1½ cups dry unseasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp each salt and black pepper
  • ¼ tsp each dried thyme and marjoram
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare pie crust adding cheese, paprika, and cayenne to the flour before stirring into shortening mixture. Divide crust in two, roll out and place in a pie pan. Cook onion and beef in a skillet till browned. Mix bread crumbs and bouillon and let sit a few minutes. Add beef mixture and remaining ingredients. Mix well, and pour into pie shell. Roll remaining crust and put over top. Pinch to seal edges. Cut vents.

Bake on the lowest shelf of your oven to set bottom crust. Bake 45 minutes or more till golden brown. Brushing the top crust with whole beaten egg imparts of wonderful sheen and makes your dish look like it was prepared by the finest chef!

PRINT THIS POST! HERE’S THE LINK:  CJ-7-3-14-GROUND MEAT

full of beans (plus bonus recipes)!

Beans are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and minerals, are fat-free, with a low glycemic load—important to those watching their carbohydrate intake.

south point veggie chili
I named this dish after our wonderful location on Madawaska Lake. I have been making it for about twenty-five years. It is meatless, but I have served it to many guests who, after finishing the meal, swore it had meat in it! Meatless means easy on the budget, too. You’ll find it is deeply satisfying, and the secret lies in the spices and how they are carefully toasted to bring out their flavor.

Main Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs light olive oil (divided)
  • 3 cloves garlic (or use garlic powder to taste)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 sweet peppers (I use one red and one green), diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 8 large button mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 15-oz cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Seasoning Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 Tbs dark brown sugar (if your diet allows, as this one of the secrets to the great taste)
  • 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste; I use about a ½ tsp)

Directions

Place a 5-quart pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Place two tablespoons of oil and heat about a minute. Add peppers and onions and stirring often, cook till they begin to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms and stir well till coated.

Push vegetables back to form a small well and reduce heat to low. Place remaining oil in the well and add chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Stir spices in the well with a wooden spoon for a minute or so, taking care not to burn, until the mixture is aromatic. Stir in the vegetables to coat, and continue to cook for another minute or so till bubbling.

Deglaze pan by adding tomatoes and their juice, scraping up brown bits. Turn the heat up again. Add brown sugar, vinegar, salt, cayenne, carrots, and beans. Mix well, cover, and simmer, stirring often, for about a half hour or until carrots are soft.

Stir in corn. Simmer another half-hour. If too watery, set the lid off a bit to allow some to cook away, or thicken with a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of water. If too thick, add water or tomato juice. Simmer for several minutes afterward to insure the starch is thoroughly cooked and juices are clear. Make final adjustments for heat and salt. Serve with shredded Jack cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, and hot flour tortillas.

white turkey or chicken chili
This stew is a welcome change from ordinary chili. Again, toasting the spices provides a rich “umami,” that indescribable, savory deliciousness missing from many dishes. This calls for boneless chicken or turkey breasts, but you can also use ground chicken or turkey if you prefer.

Main Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs olive oil (divided)
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 1½ lbs of boneless, skinless turkey, chicken breast, or thighs, cut in 1-inch chunks
  • ½ bag frozen shoe peg corn
  • 2 15-oz cans white beans (cannellini) drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • ½ small box of button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 Tbs lime juice
  • 1 small can green chilis
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (or garlic powder)
  • 2 Tbs cornstarch in 2 Tbs water

Seasoning Ingredients

  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp dried oregano

Directions
Pat poultry very dry with paper towels. Salt liberally and brown in 2 Tbs oil. Remove from pan, add onions, garlic, and mushrooms, and follow the directions for South Point Chili to toast spices, taking care not to burn. Deglaze with broth and lime juice, add beans, browned meat, chilis, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer till meat is cooked through. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Add corn and simmer another fifteen minutes. Pass the hot sauce, sour cream, shredded cheese, jalapenos, and warm flour tortillas.

tip of the week – cooking oils

Admit it. We don’t give much thought to cooking oils, and you probably grab whatever’s cheap or on sale like the generic “vegetable oil” or “canola.” But I’d like to put a bee in your bonnet about that choice. Do yourself a favor and buy only pure light olive or grapeseed oil for your general cooking. Both are excellent since they do not impart any strong flavors to a dish, and both are free of any controversy regarding genetically modified content.

Cheaper “vegetable” oil can be a mix of soy, corn, or canola oils and is often over-processed with no nutritional value. Light olive oil is a healthful way to provide valuable nutrients.

If you do a fair amount of high heat frying, like French fries, fried chicken, and the like, choose peanut or safflower oil. They stand up well of sustained heat and will not smoke at higher temperatures.

Although a popular TV “chef” uses it for everything, extra-virgin olive oil is much more expensive and has a strong flavor. It also has a low smoking temperature so it isn’t suitable for everyday frying. Reserve it for dishes that require that deep, “olivey” flavor like salad dressing, Italian sauces and the like. Happy cooking!

bonus recipes
These recipes are not included on my newspaper column because of space constraints. Checking my blog every week will reward you with several more meal ideas and handy tips.

three-bean salad
This classic salad is so easy to make, you’ll never go back to buying that stuff in a jar. This is a tasty dish that even kids will eat, and you can keep a container of three-bean in your ‘fridge year round. This is a nice accompaniment to any meal and is an easy fix for potluck suppers—just double or triple the amounts. When fresh beans are available, you can use them, but they’ll have to be cooked tender-crisp before you can use them in this recipe.

  • 1 can cut green string beans (Blue Lake variety is best)
  • 1 can cut wax beans
  • 1 16-oz dark or light red kidney beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2/3 cup sugar (or substitute of your choice)
  • 1/3 cup light olive or grapeseed oil (Reduce or eliminate if you are restricting fats)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste

Drain and rinse all canned vegetables and place in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl place vinegar, sugar, and salt, and stir till sugar is dissolved. Add oil and whisk till emulsified. Pour over vegetables, add onion, pepper, and mix thoroughly. Place in a covered container and refrigerate 18-24 hours, mixing now and then to distribute dressing. Serve cold. Delish!

tuna & white bean salad
This is a fun lunch, but very nutritious. I prefer chunk light tuna because it has a more defined taste, but you can use whatever you like. Water-packed is best for this recipe. Serves four.

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ tsp salt (if you use coarse salt, increase to ½ tsp)
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ sweet red pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 1 can cannellini (white kidney) beans
  • 1 pouch or one 5-oz can chunk light tuna (or albacore—your choice), drained and flaked
  • Basil (fresh is best, but dried is fine) You can also substitute fresh parsley.
  • Lemon zest (optional but it makes a huge difference in the flavor)
  • Directions

In a small bowl, mash garlic with salt using the back of a spoon. Mix in lemon juice and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Add lemon zest and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, toss red pepper, onion, and beans together. Add tuna and mix, tossing lightly. Mix in garlic and oil dressing and basil.

Serve at room temperature in lettuce cups or over garden greens with some crisp toasted bread or crackers.

black beans & rice
This delicious dish requires a special seasoning made by Goya. It’s available in almost any grocery store and adds an authentic Mexican touch.

  • 1 can undrained black beans (Goya brand is best quality)
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 packet Goya Saizon Without Annetto
  • 1 Tbs white vinegar
  • ½ brown sugar
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • ½ cup each diced green bell pepper and diced onion
  • Prepare rice and keep steaming hot. While rice is cooking, sauté peppers and onions till soft. Stir in remaining ingredients, heat till blubbing, and pour over rice. Serve immediately.

WANT TO PRINT THIS POST? HERE’S THE LINK:  CJ-7-23-14-BEANS

memorial day ideas

Remembering loved ones, and especially those who have died for us, deserves a special meal and appreciation of family, friends, and country. Memorial Day weekend here is the time for raking the yard, getting the garden in, spreading the last of the snow around to melt, and unofficially welcoming in the summer season. With hopes the black flies haven’t started biting yet, we head outdoors to enjoy the warm air and share a meal or two.

I hope these dishes will bring a smile to your face as they are unconventional but delicious, and can become a tradition you can repeat year after year.

homemade onion dip
Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to the old onion-soup-mix glop again! This one’s much less salty and tastes a lot better, too! All it asks of you is a bit of your time—and it’s totally worth it. Make this a day or two ahead for convenience. It tastes much better if the flavors have time to marry.

  • 2 large Spanish or Vidalia onions (2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbs light olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 16-oz. container sour cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 8-oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs Gravy Master
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or use fresh 2 garlic cloves, finely minced (even better)
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • Dash or three of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Remove cream cheese and sour cream from the ‘fridge at least two hours before starting. Brown onions in oil over medium-high heat, taking care not to burn, till brown and well done. Set aside to cool.

Place all other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Add cooled onions. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. Serve at room temperature with chips, crackers, or pita bread wedges, then watch it disappear!

chinese chicken salad
I got this recipe from my friend, Dawn King and tweaked it a bit. It is so delicious your kids will gobble it up while getting some veggies in the process! You’ll need a tight-fitting plastic container—low, flat, and rectangular in shape—that’ll hold about 6-8 cups. You’ll need to get a small bottle of toasted sesame oil in the ethnic section of the supermarket, but it is totally worth it. It imparts a most memorable flavor.

For the salad, prepare the following:

  • 2 large or 3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently poached, cooled, and diced
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds sautéed in oil till golden brown and cooled
  • 1 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available, is best)
  • ½ head of medium size cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles (discard seasoning pack)

For the dressing, mix together in a shaker:

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive or peanut oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce

Directions:
In a plastic container, break up squares of ramen noodles into 4-6 pieces. Pour mixed dressing over noodles, then add tossed remaining ingredients over. Cover and shake vigorously. Flip over and refrigerate at least overnight. If you are worried the lid will leak, be sure to enclose in a large plastic bag. Check in the morning to test that noodles are soft. Remove from refrigerator two hours before serving. Can be served in lettuce cups. Crunchy good!

mamie’s blubarb pie
A divine concoction of blueberries and rhubarb makes this pie a true celebration. Serve with a scoop of lemon sherbet!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Pastry dough, for double-crust 9-inch pie*

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine sugars, salt and tapioca in a large bowl and mix well. Add fruit and toss until well coated.

Place fruit mixture in 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry dough. Top with second crust, and trim so the top crust hangs 1/2 inch beyond rim, then tuck edge of top crust under bottom crust and crimp or pinch to finish.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, until pie is golden and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 2 hours and then serve.

*See my magical pie crust recipe below, OR use prepared rolled pie dough.

tip: crumb topping can replace top crust
My mother didn’t much like using a top crust on a pie. She loved to make a crumb topping—sweet, rich, and crunchy. I’ve kind of gone over to her side. This recipe can be mixed up quickly and doubled or tripled, always ready in your ‘fridge or freezer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for a month or more. PLUS it’s delicious.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter (do NOT use margarine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats (optional)

Mix with fingers till crumbly.

cousin ralph’s magical pie crust
This recipe first appeared on cans of Spry—a solid shortening—back in the 1960s. My wonderfully creative cousin ripped the label off his Spry can and gave it to me when I raved about the crust on the pie he’d served me in 1963. I can’t understand why this method never caught on with the pastry crowd or with anyone, for that matter. When I tell you this is the easiest crust you’ll ever make, I mean it. You’ve probably never made crust like this, and the process flies in the face of all those pastry experts and seasoned bakers out there who’ve always preached that pie crust must be prepared cold—very cold—and that is a real pain to do correctly. This crust uses hot liquids, but it works and is a snap to prepare. It is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and freezes well, so you can make it two months ahead and pull it out to prepare a delicious homemade pie any time! Great for chicken or beef pot pies, too. You’ll never go back to that pastry blender!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup solid shortening (plain, NOT butter-flavored)
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
Measure out flour and salt; mix and set aside. Place shortening in a medium bowl and spread it evenly over the bottom. In a small saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil, and pour over shortening. Beat with a fork till smooth and thick. Add flour and salt. Stir gently with the fork, then mix with fingers gently so as not to toughen till well blended.

Form two equal balls of dough, which will be soft and warm. I like to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about ¼-inch. It’s easy to peel off the top paper, pick the whole mess up and flip it on to the pie pan. Carefully peel the other paper off,. If you tear the crust, it is easily patched. Position, trim and pinch taking care to eliminate any air bubbles. (I prick them with a fork then pat it to close the holes.)

Makes 2 crusts

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Print this post: CJ-MEMDAY-BLOG

I’d love to hear from you if you try this or any other recipes on A Cook’s Journal. Just scroll down to the end of this post to comment. Happy cooking!