Unstuffed Pepper Casserole, ready to eat.

Unstuffed Pepper Casserole

Unstuffed Pepper Casserole, ready to eat.

I ended up using orange and yellow peppers because they were on sale and I love the flavor. This would have been super-colorful with red peppers in there too. As you know, I cook like a real person and am not into “plating” food beautifully for the family. This is likely what your meal will look like when you, a real person like me, serves it up!

My grandmother was the queen of figuring out better ways to do things. The dishes of her youth required women to be in the kitchen all day. But after decades of making these dishes the way her mother had and her grandmother, she found little shortcuts that saved time but tasted just as great. 

With her as inspiration, I found a better way to make the traditional stuffed pepper casserole by merely slicing up the peppers in my Cuisinart in about 2 seconds or by hand in about 2 minutes. This step means you no longer have to blanch the peppers to pre-cook them a bit. I take advantage of times when my produce department bags up peppers that are just past their prime (wrinkly but not moldy!) for a little budget move.

Here’s the recipe:

Unstuffed Pepper Casserole

Ingredients:

4-5 medium-size peppers of your choice (green, red, yellow, orange or a combination) 

1 onion, diced

2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce

1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey, pork or sausage to your liking) – or omit for a vegetarian dish

2 cups uncooked rice

4 cups water

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar + 1/4 cup more to sprinkle over top

2 tsp. garlic powder

Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Make the rice by boiling the 4 cups of water, then adding the 2 cups of rice. You can use vegetable or chicken stock to enhance the flavor, which I highly recommend. Cook the rice according to package directions and remove from heat.

  2. At the same time, brown the ground beef and onion, adding salt and pepper to taste plus the garlic powder. Add more of the seasonings at the end if needed. You want the meat to have a lot of flavor.

  3. In a really big bowl, combine the rice and meat/onion mixture until well-blended.

  4. Bit by bit, add the cheese, stirring to incorporate before adding more, otherwise, you’ll just end up with a big cheese lump.

  5. Add the tomato sauce. It should not be soupy, just wet, kind of like oatmeal. If you don’t need all of the sauce, save it to pour over the top of the casserole once it is assembled.

  6. Slice the peppers – your food processor will do the trick but if you want to slice by hand, first, I recommend using a serrated knife because the peppers can be slippery. Slice to about 1/4 of an inch thin. You can remove the seeds and core after slicing, very easily.

  7. Assemble the casserole by first spraying an oblong pan like a Pyrex dish, with Pam or another nonstick spray. Then, spoon in a layer of the rice mixture, spreading it evenly along the bottom. But don’t press it down. Next, add a layer of the peppers. If you’ve used different colors, mix up the colors as you place them in to distribute the difference in flavors. Do another layer of meat/rice mixture and another layer of peppers, and so on, until you run out of both. That will probably amount to about 2 layers. IF you have any tomato sauce left over, you can drizzle it over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top too.

  8. Put aluminum foil over the top, sealing the edges and bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. When the timer goes off, turn the pan around and bake for another 15 minutes because most ovens have hot spots so this provides an even baking. Everything in this dish is cooked, except for the pepper slices so baking just heats it through, melts the cheese and cooks down the peppers a little.

  9. Remove the foil and bake 8 minutes more, then serve, using a spatula to “cut” portion sizes. 

This dish is even better the next day and it freezes well too. Enjoy!

Unstuffed Pepper Casserole, hot out of the oven, ready to serve.

If you have room in your freezer, this meal is easy enough to double. Just let it cool completely before putting it in the freezer. The house smelled SO good as I was cooking it!

 

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Have a cold glass of milk with your Mayan Mystery Cookies

Mayan Mystery Cookies

Chocolate. Cookies. Need I say more? Okay, how about allspice, cinnamon and black pepper? These three ingredients intensify the chocolate of these delicious cookies, lending some sophisitication and mega chocolatey goodness! 

Have a cold glass of milk with your Mayan Mystery Cookies

Perfect little 2-bite chocolatey cookies with just the right hint of heat.

Mayan Mystery Cookies ingredients

You probably have these ingredients in your pantry already!

Ingredients:

¾ c. butter

¾ c. sugar

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. finely ground black pepper

¼ tsp. ground allspice

The dough for Mayan Mystery Cookies will be crumbly, which is normal.

The dough will be crumbly and a little dry. This is normal! It will come together in the next step.

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

¾ c. cocoa powder

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels

 
Instructions:

Roll up the dough into balls and get ready to bake the Mayan Mystery Cookies.

Roll the cookies into little balls. Fortunately, they won’t spread a lot so you can fit more onto one cookie sheet.

Cream the butter and sugar together.

Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and cocoa and add to the butter mixture.

Add egg and vanilla and mix.

Lay out a piece of plastic wrap and spoon the dough, which will be crumbly, onto the plastic. With the help of the plastic wrap, gather the dough together, pressing it into a log. Wrap the log in the plastic to keep it together and chill the dough log for one hour.  

Form the dough into balls about the size of a ping pong ball, tucking 4-5 chocolate morsels into each as you mold it.

Bake 8 minutes at 350 degrees.

Sunday Baked Chicken Supper

Sunday Roast Chicken - served

Hearty, delicious and homey – Sunday Baked Chicken Supper

When I was a child, nearly every Sunday, my Grandma made a baked chicken. It just wasn’t Sunday without those delicious smells coming from the kitchen and that pageantry of presenting that big meal. As an adult, Sundays felt a little incomplete, or not really official, if I didn’t make a baked chicken. With four children, the craziness of the weekend and just inadequate planning on my part (you do have to plan for making a baked chicken), that tradition fell by the wayside. But on a chilly weekend recently, I just had a hankering and had to make a nice chicken dinner for the family. Drawing on a variety of recipes and methods I’ve collected over the years, I came up with an easy, straightforward recipe I think you’ll love.

Sunday Roast Chicken - herbs and garlic

Herbs, garlic cloves and some lemon, inside the cavity of the chicken, will lend flavor as it bakes.

Sunday Baked Chicken Supper
Serves 6 or 4 with leftovers

Ingredients:
1 5-7 pound chicken, whole
1 onion, sliced
The cloves of one head of garlic, peeled
Roasting veggies of your choice including potatoes, carrots, beats, turnips, parsnips, celery cut into big chunks
Fresh herbs of choice but thyme and rosemary were used in this recipe
1/2 a lemon, cut in half
1 TBS butter, melted
Olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1-2 TBS flour
Salt & Pepper

Sunday Roast Chicken - raw veggies

We used turnips, beats, carrots, onion and garlic here. But you could use other root veggies of your choice like potatoes, parsnips and rutabagas. See below for why I did not cook the vegetables in the same pan as the chicken (besides space).

Method:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

1. Make sure you’ve taken out the bag of gizzards and whatnot (I call it the “bag of yuck”) from inside the chicken. Not every chicken comes this way but I didn’t check once and accidentally baked the bag right in. Don’t make that mistake!

2. Place 1/2 of the sliced onion on the bottom of your roasting pan to create a bit of a bed for the chicken. Place the other 1/2 of the onion in a separate roasting pan that will hold the vegetables (more on that in a moment).

3. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Place the fresh herbs and lemon pieces inside the bird. Brush the melted butter over the chicken, then salt and pepper the bird.

4. Place your veggies of choice in the second roasting pan. I keep the veggies separate from the chicken so that they don’t come in contact with the juices of the chicken. While the chicken and the vegetables can definitely benefit from the flavor the other yields, I like to make extra vegetables and then use them with other dishes later in the week. Because they didn’t touch the chicken, they have a longer “shelf-life” and will also go better with other dishes, like beef or pork. The only time I absolutely cook chicken and veggies together is in my Go-To One Pot Chicken and Peppers recipe  which you’ve got to try on a busy night!

5. Drizzle a little olive oil over the veggies and toss them around.

6. Put both pans in the oven, side-by-side, and put on the timer for 45 minutes. At that point, switch the pans around so they are on the other side and rotated to ensure even baking. Stick a fork in the veggies to see if they are done. If so, remove them at this point. If they are not, stir them around and put a lid, or aluminum foil over them to prevent them from drying out and to create a little steaming to hurry along the baking.

7. Depending on the size of the chicken, it will need another 45 minutes, for a total of 1 1/2 hours (maybe more). A meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh should read 165 degrees when it is done.

8. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let it sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the gravy.

9. Pour the drippings into a small pot and add the chicken broth. Add some herbs like dried basil, rosemary and thyme plus salt and pepper to taste. Make a slurry of the flour and a little cold water in a small bowl and whisk it in to the gravy, boiling the mixture until it thickens a little. Making the gravy is totally optional!

10. Slice the chicken and serve it with the roasted veggies and a drizzle of gravy if desired.

Enjoy!

 

Sunday Roast Chicken - roast chicken

Mmmm, golden brown! You can’t believe how delicious the house smells! Well, you’ll see when you make it!

Sunday Roast Chicken - roasted veggies

Roasting brings out entirely different flavors of vegetables. Onion and garlic tie all of the flavors together.

Bacon Tomato Tart – A Guest Blog

Lynne Cobb - tomatoes and basil - bacon tomato tarte - meTo me, the best parts of a BLT sandwich are the bacon, tomato and bread. Sorry, lettuce, you just don’t thrill me. So when a fellow blogger, Lynne Cobb, shared her recipe for “My Super-Awesome Bacon Tart,” which combines those three perfect ingredients, I asked her if I could share the recipe with my E.A.T. readers. 

Lynne took advantage of the best of her garden’s tomatoes, basil and oregano when developing this recipe. If it’s too early in the season for a great harvest, try to find the best tomatoes and herbs you can from the market to make this recipe really shine. 

Lynne’s recipe calls for easy-to-find ingredients: 

(Preheat oven to 350 degrees.)

1 unbaked pie crust shell (homemade or purchased)

12 oz of bacon – cooked until crisp. (Reserve a few tablespoons of bacon drippings).

1/2 cup of chopped onion – saute in bacon drippings

6-8 oz of soft mozzarella, shredded or cubed

1 large tomato, sliced thin (Note, I didn’t have large, beautiful tomatoes from the garden so I used cherry tomatoes which worked fine)

A few leaves of basil, cut into thin strips

Crumble the bacon into pie shell. Layer it with the onions and mozzarella; add tomato and basil.

Mix together:

1 cup of milk, 4 eggs, salt, pepper and a few teaspoons of freshly chopped oregano. Pour over ingredients in pie shell.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then slice and enjoy. 

 

Tomato Bacon Tart - Mine - Lynne Cobb

 

 

Thank you Lynne, for sharing your recipe! My family loved it. It was the perfect meal with a nice salad on the side. The leftovers were great for breakfast too! 

 

 

Pork and green chili burritos

Make-Ahead Pork Green Chili Burritos

I keep thinking life will calm down a little bit and I’ll have more time to cook more elaborate meals. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. How could it, with kids in the picture?! Thankfully, I have enough dishes in my repertoire that taste great but don’t take a ton of time, that I manage to put a good meal on the table ALMOST every night. The night I came up with this dish was definitely a proud moment. I got ooo’s and ahhh’s when I took it out of the oven and raves as the family ate it eagerly. There were enough leftovers for a couple of lunches too and it tasted even better then.

pork and green chili burritos

Under all that wonderful, warm chile cheesiness is nestled pork burritos for an easy dinner.

Make-Ahead Pork Green Chili Burritos

Serves 6-8 depending on whether they are cut in half or not

Ingredients:
6-7 large flour tortillas
1-1 1/2 pounds cubed pork*
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can beans of your choice, drained (I used black beans)
1 large jar 505 brand Green Chile (any brand or variety would do but I liked their All Natural one)
1/2 pound shredded cheese of choice (I used a Mexican blend but you can use whatever you prefer)

To garnish:
Shredded lettuce, diced red onion, avocados or guacamole, sour cream or plain yogurt, cilantro, diced tomatoes – all of these things add a fresh element, some crunch and additional nutrition.

Directions:
1. Cook the meat and onion. If you have a pressure cooker, this is the time to use it. Brown the cubed pork in some oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker, add the onion after the meat has started to brown. Add enough water (plus a chicken bouillon cube if you want for additional flavoring) to cover the meat. Then use the pressure cooker function and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain off the liquid and throw in the garlic. If you DON’T have a pressure cooker, dice the pork into smaller pieces and brown it in a skillet low and slow, adding the onion and then garlic, in that order. Because it’s diced, the garlic can burn easily so it shouldn’t go in until you are almost ready to take everything off the heat.

2. Add the beans to the meat mixture.

3. Spray the bottom and sides of a long baking dish with non-stick spray.

4. Place a tortilla at one end of the baking dish and add some of the meat/bean filling. Roll it up snuggly, keeping it in the baking dish, placing it seam side down. Repeat the process, continuing to assemble the burritos in the baking dish until you can’t fit anymore. For the average baking dish, 6-7 fit. Don’t squeeze them in too much or it will be too difficult to get them out.

5. Pour the green chile over the top making sure every bit of tortilla is covered so that it all stays moist. Then sprinkle cheese over the top, evenly.

6. Spray non-stick spray to a large piece of aluminum foil and cover the dish very loosely, leaving some space between the cheese and the foil if possible. NOTE: If you are making this ahead, go ahead and snugly cover the baking dish and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Remove the foil for the last five minutes.

7. Bake for approximately 30 minutes (if it has not been refrigerated) at 350 degrees to heat everything through and melt the cheese. If you have refrigerated the dish, figure another 20 or so minutes more.

8. Just like the first piece of cake or pie, the first burrito out of the pan is a tricky thing to manage. If it comes out looking a little mangled, quickly cover that one with all the garnishes and no one will ever know the difference!

9. Garnish as you like and enjoy!

*Helpful hint about the pork – Sometimes you can get pork already diced but a handy trick I use is to buy a large pork loin at my local big-box store. The price-per-pound is usually very good and the meat is lean. From one long one, which is usually about a foot and a half long, I cut off a big chunk to be a roast, six slices for pork chops and then the rest, I cut into cubes. That will be three different meals from one pork loin! Good deal. 

Pork and green chili burritos

Beautiful! And tasty. Add all the fresh veggies you want for crunch and cool.

Harvest Pumpkin and Chocolate Muffins

As soon as there’s a slight nip in the air, my children start asking me to make my pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. I first made these muffins for a kindergarten party, and even now that my kids in their teens, they still ask me to make them like some sort of seasonal ritual! They are delicious and moist and, as with most of my recipes, lend themselves to putting your own spin on them, such as adding nuts or white chocolate chips. One change I made a while back, that I encourage you to stick with is using melted butter. I once heard a trick that if you melt butter you can use HALF of the required amount, reducing fat. But this only works with quickbreads and muffins! You won’t be able to tell the difference.

Harvest Pumpkin and Chocolate Muffins
Makes 12 regular or 48 mini muffins

Ingredients:

Pumpkin

Mix the wet and dry ingredients for Harvest Pumpkin and Chocolate muffins.

1 2/3 cups unbleached, all purpose flour. (You can also do half all purpose and half whole wheat flour.)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup of plain pumpkin puree
1/4 cup butter, melted
6 ounces (1 cup) chocolate or white chocolate chips (or do half and half)
Optional – 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Method:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin cups or use paper or silicone inserts.

Pumpkin

Make sure there aren’t any lumps of dry ingredients as you mix the batter.

Mix the dry ingredients in one large bowl and the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. If using chips and nuts, add them to the wet mixture and blend thoroughly to evenly-distribute them. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. They don’t rise a lot so you can fill them almost to the top. Bake them 20-25 minutes or until they are puffed up and feel a little springy when you gently push on the crown of the muffin. Let the muffins cool, out of the muffin tin, on a rack. They are delicious warm, with the melty chocolate but they are even better in the day or two after, when the flavors have melded and the chips solidify adding bites of fudginess to the soft, bready muffin.

Ta da! A

Ta da! A “bountiful” bunch of Harvest Pumpkin and Chocolate Muffins. It’s the perfect thing for fall.

Overnight French Toast

Easy Overnight French Toast

Something as time-consuming as French Toast lends itself to weekends only when you can take your time dipping and cooking each slice. I love French Toast and don’t want to have to wait until weekends to make it. Thank goodness for the concept of Overnight French Toast, in which you just pour a batter over a baking dish full of slices of bread, ready to toss in the oven in the morning. It means you CAN have the treat of French Toast any day of the week! Yay!

Overnight French Toast

French Toast yumminess even on a busy weekday!

Easy Overnight French Toast
Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients:
1 loaf of old (and starting to harden) bread * sliced approximately 1/2 inch thick
12 ounces whole milk
4 whole eggs or 3 whole eggs plus one egg white (egg substitute can also be used)
1 TBS flax meal or wheat germ
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
Diced pecans and/or walnuts (optional)

Directions:
Coat an oblong baking dish or two square baking dishes with butter or spray with non-stick spray (make sure to spray over the sink to avoid messy over-spray).

Lay the bread slices into the pan, turning them however you have to to make them fill the pan as completely as you can. You may have to cut some slices in half but that’s totally okay.

Mix all the liquid ingredients (and flax or wheat germ), starting with the milk. A handy tip is to measure the milk into a 4-cup measuring cup, adding each of the other ingredients. Then use a fork or whisk right there in the measuring cup to mix it up. It makes it easier and tidier to pour directly from a measuring cup and saves a mixing bowl or two.

Before pouring the liquid over the bread slices, mix in 1/4 of the brown sugar, retaining half. Pour the liquid as evenly as possible over all the bread. Don’t worry about how liquidy it all looks. The liquid will be absorbed as it sits.

Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the top, as evenly as possible. Don’t worry that it doesn’t cover every inch. After all, you’ll be pouring sweet syrup over it. Sprinkle pecans or walnuts over the top too. Because I have a child who doesn’t like nuts, I didn’t chop mine up so that he could easily remove them (and give them to me because I LOVE them!).

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator where it can sit evenly and isn’t likely to get nudged overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With the foil still on, bake the dish for 15 minutes. Then remove the foil and brown it another 10 minutes for a total of 25 minutes. I preheat the oven and get the pan in as soon as I get up in the morning so that the French Toast is warm and ready by the time we’re all ready for breakfast.

Using a spatula, scoop out servings and enjoy with syrup.

Note: Italian or French bread work great but this dish is a great reason to check out the day-old bread rack at your grocery store and try different breads including ones with seeds and nuts or even cranberries inside. Experiment!