Asher’s Pumpkin Muffins

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The Perfect Pumpkin Muffin

The Perfect Pumpkin Muffin

I’ve been on a baking binge this winter.  It’s unseasonably cold, snowy at times, rainy at others, dark…so to occupy myself indoors I’ve been baking up a storm.  Each week I glance at many different food sites on the internet, saving recipes that sound appealing.  These muffins began as such: a fairly straightforward pumpkin muffin, jazzed up with warming spices and sweetened with brown sugar and honey.  

These muffins made me think of Asher, my 5 ½ year old grandson who is picky picky.  He detests eggs and won’t even walk into the room if he smells them cooking.  He does not like certain textures – ie mashed potatoes.  Since I don’t have to feed him every day, I find this all a bit amusing.  And I have a sixth sense about what will please him.  Chicken soup with matzo balls?  Yes.  Ricotta Lemon cookies?  Uh huh.  Tofu? Certainly.  Noodles of any kind?  You know it.  Sushi and pho? Always.  And I will bet the farm that he will love these pumpkin muffins too.

Asher!

Asher!

This time I read a few reviews from readers who actually made the original recipe that was posted in the New York Times. Some thought they might be a bit bland, others found them too sweet, some said the batter made more like 18 muffins than a dozen. After reading all of this – I devised a game plan.  I used half the amount of brown sugar and switched to dark brown sugar since that is what I had on had. I used half the amount of maple syrup, added in kefir to replace liquid and give them a little tang  (actually I had no buttermilk but I did have kefir), I didn’t use turmeric because I didn’t have any on hand. I ended up making 12 large, overflowing muffins but I’d do that all again.  And I added the zest of a lemon along with a drizzle of lemon glaze after they cooled.  One thing I love is that I made these using just a whisk and spatula, not an electric mixer of any kind!

I am 100% happy with the outcome.  My hubby had some with his morning coffee and ooooed and ahhhhed, something he doesn’t always do (he’s spoiled).  And because pumpkin and squash remind me of fall, I’m thinking ahead to Thanksgiving with the family and planning to bring these for breakfast or just for snacks. That is, if Asher approves!

Asher’s Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

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Ingredients
  • 1 stick of salted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour (I use King Arthur)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 15 oz can cooked organic pumpkin or pureed butternut squash, about 1 ½ cups
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  • ⅓ cup kefir or buttermilk
  • Grated zest of one lemon
Drizzle Ingredients if you wish
  • ⅓ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center.

Spray muffin tin (12 muffins) with nonstick spray or line them with paper liners.

Brown the butter by heating it in a small metal saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter has melted, foamed and started to brown, about five minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together each type of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

In a larger bowl, whisk together canned pumpkin or butternut squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, kefir and lemon zest until totally smooth. Stir in dry ingredients, then add the melted brown butter.

Divide evenly among 12 prepared muffin molds (very very full to top or even a little beyond the top). Bake until the tops are puffed and spring back slightly when pressed, about 25 minutes. Test with a toothpick then remove from the oven.  After about 10 minutes, gently loosen each muffin and place it back in the tin but on it’s side.

Cooling on their sides.

Cooling on their sides.

IF YOU WANT TO DO A GLAZE: Once totally cooled, re-center the muffins the same as how you baked them. Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until the consistency of glue.  Drizzle about a teaspoon on top of each muffin and let harden.

These keep a couple of days covered at room temperature, or frozen for up to three months.

I am thinking if you aren’t into glazes, it might be nice to sprinkle a bit of turbinado sugar on top of each muffin instead.

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Oven Blasted Cauliflower with Lime, Capers and Garlic

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Roasted Cauliflower ... Yes AGAIN!

Roasted Cauliflower … Yes AGAIN!

As I type this out I wonder if you’re thinking I’ve lost my mind. Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “What? Again?? Why is this lunatic posting yet another cauliflower recipe?  Is it not enough to have whole roasted cauliflower, cauliflower pomegranate salad, and four other posts to date?”  

The answer, in short, is no.  I will never have enough ways to prepare cauliflower.  I love the recipes already posted as well as just plain old oven blasted cauliflower, but I kicked it up a notch this summer while in Central America.  This recipe has what I need in super hot weather: salt from capers, tang from lime, and a good mouth feel. Something to keep on hand for when the sun comes out again, or even in winter if you get tired of the same old, same old.

Hot Out of the Oven

Hot Out of the Oven

Oven Blasted Cauliflower with Lime, Capers and Garlic

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 1 whole head of cauliflower (approximately 5 cups or 1 pound of cauliflower flowerettes)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. each sea salt and pepper
  • Zest of 1 whole lime
  • Juice of 1 whole lime
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled then cut each clove into 4 pieces
  • 1 ½ Tbsp whole  parsley leaves or cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp capers (rinsed)
Instructions

Preheat oven (or toaster oven if you are me) to 450.   

Toss cauliflower that you have broken or cut into approximately 1 x 1 inch pieces with olive oil, salt and pepper and place it on a foil or parchment lined  rimmed cookie sheet.

Roast 20 minutes and watch it along the way. (I used my toaster oven, so if you are using a conventional oven keep checking-it could take longer).   If it is pretty brown after 20 minutes, remove from oven and stir and then add in slivered garlic and continue roasting another five minutes until tender and golden brown.  Take it out of the oven, scrape the cauliflower into a serving bowl and combine with the lime juice and zest, capers, and parsley or cilantro leaves.

Serve warm or room temperature.  It should make enough to feed four people but PSSSSST….  I have been known to eat this entire batch single handedly.  Don’t judge.  I love this.

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Perfect Pumpkin Seed Pesto (AKA Pepita Pesto)

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roasted-veggies-with-pesto

Roasted Vegetables with Pepita Pesto

I returned to Seattle in the middle of September and immediately signed myself up for a cooking lesson at Book Larder  on how to butcher whole fish.  What really intrigued me about this particular class was the advertised side vegetable dish and the peach dessert.  I have taken at least two other classes from the instructor, Kyle Wisner, and I love that he cooks without exact recipes. Like me, he doesn’t really include measurements so what I have for you are estimates I made from eyeballing the ingredients as he cooked.

Perfect Pepita Pesto

Perfect Pepita Pesto

Don’t worry, I am really accurate with my estimates and have even gone back and measured things after I guesstimate, and I’m happy to say that I am very very close.  One of my hidden talents, I guess.

Pepita Pesto

Yields ~3 Cups

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Ingredients
  • 1 large size shallot, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled
  • Kosher salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)
  • Zest of 1 lemont (my addition)
  • Juice of 2 regular-sized lemons (use extra if lemons are smallish)
  • 2 cups roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 handful of parsley with stems (wash, dry and roughly cut in thirds)
  • 1 handful of cilantro with stems (wash, dry and roughly cut in thirds)
  • Approximately 1 cup olive oil
  • Approximately 2 Tbsp water
Instructions

Roast the pepitas by placing them in a 350 degree toaster oven for ten minutes. They’re ready when they start smelling fragrant and turn light brown so watch them so they don’t burn. Cool before making the pesto.  This can be done a few days before!

Place shallot, garlic, salt, zest and lemon juice in the bowl of food processor and pulse to break them up.

Add toasted pumpkin seeds, parsley, cilantro and run the machine, drizzling in the olive oil to desired consistency.  Add water if you want to thin it out a bit.

Taste and add more salt and lemon juice to taste (I added more salt and another juiced lemon).

In our class, we tossed this with roasted tomatillos, corn and zucchini!  It was the end of summer, after all.  I have since coated other oven roasted winter veggies with the pesto–roasted new potatoes, cauliflower, even carrots.

This can be used as a spread if it is pretty thick – or put on veggie sandwiches, as a spread for bruschetta or thinned out with more oil or water to use as a salad dressing or to marinate meat or present as a vegetable dip..

You could switch up the flavors by changing out the herbs – for example if you don’t like cilantro you could substitute something else like that is fresh such as basil or thyme.

Swap out the pumpkin seeds for any kind of toasted nut or toasted sunflower seeds.

This will last about a week or longer in the refrigerator.

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Lime-Infused Bermuda Onions

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Beautiful Pickled Onions Atop ... Anything & Everything!

Beautiful Pickled Onions Atop … Anything & Everything!

I’ll admit it – I have been holding out on you. But I figured it was finally time to let you in on the easiest, tastiest, and bestest condiment out there: lime-infused Burmuda onions.

I make these onions often when I do my weekly “mise en place” preparation…along with toasted nuts, toasted seeds, homemade croutons…doing a lot ahead of time is what makes meal prep quick and easy for me.  I’m not a raw onion lover, ever.  These still maintain their crunch but lose the bitter onion flavor as the lime juice removes the harsh aftertaste.

Such Simple Ingredients

Such Simple Ingredients

So here is the deal…I have embraced  this way of pickling red onions because they are delicious, prep is simple and the onions stay crunchy. But too – there’s the color.  They transform from a gorgeous, deep purple to a beautiful, bright magenta.  And when you pile these on a sandwich (My favorite is hummus and arugula) , on any kind of burger, on fish or chicken or meat, as a finish for rice or grains, in an omelette…suddenly the colors pop and whatever you are serving looks much, much more appealing.  Summer, fall, winter or spring…there is nothing like these onions!

These literally take five minutes to prepare, so there is no reason not to try them.  

Lime-Infused Bermuda Onions

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Ingredients
  • 1 medium purple onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise then sliced into ⅛ inch semi circles
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
Instructions

Put all the ingredients into a glass jar or glass container with a lid and stir together.  Leave at room temperature for an hour , stirring every 15 minutes.  The onions will shrink in volume and produce juice.

After an hour, cover well and keep in the refrigerator.  Use these as often as you can and make them again and again.  Mine keep well for up to a week or even a bit more.

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Banana Chocolate Waffle “Omelettes”

Banana Chocolate Waffles!

Banana Chocolate Waffles … I mean Waffle Omelettes!!

While my husband was still in Central America, our soon-to-be eight year old grandson and his 5 ½ year old brother spent the night with me in Seattle.  Both had been a bit out of sorts  as they were moving to a different house in a different neighborhood and thus would be switching schools and leaving old friends behind.  Their dad was gone for the weekend in Montreal…there was a new au pair at their house…And then there was the election…..

And so,  I figured a sleep-away at Grandma’s was the cure for tired and anxious little boys.  My goal was to have them relax, not be required to ” hurry up” or be pressured by time, and to do what they wanted at my house.  Pretty simple.

They were both exhausted when I went to their house  on Saturday, but we rallied and went out for Chinese food with Uncle Jakey Boy whose wife (!) was in the middle of a 30-hour shift at the hospital.  The boys didn’t eat much and yawned their way through dinner.  Next, we drove to my place and immediately they brushed their teeth, put on PJ’s and watched a short age appropriate TV program.   A half hour later, they virtually begged to go to bed.  NOT usual behavior.  We agreed that they needed sleep and shouldn’t come out of the bedroom until eight in the morning.  Zay had my glow-in-the-dark wrist watch and can tell time.

Sunday morning at 6:30 AM, Zay sneaked into my room.  I gave him the choice of reading or resting in my bed, and he chose reading…as always.  I got my book too and both of us propped ourselves up with pillows, covered up with the down comforter and read for over an hour.  Little brother Asher actually slept until eight and then joined us to snuggle for a bit.  The boys then had a leisurely shower and used my grown up shampoo and hair conditioner.

Next I asked the boys  to come to a consensus as to what they wanted for breakfast.   Choices were any variety of pancakes, waffles, eggs (Asher hates eggs), oatmeal with the fixings, granola with the fixings, or another doable option.  After a lot of discussion, they chose waffles “with chocolate chips and bananas and whipped cream.”  I did not have cream so offered plain, full fat yogurt and they said YES.

I used my pancake/waffle recipe (cut in half since it was just the three of us).  Zay is in second grade and did an awesome job figuring out how to compute half of the recipe.  Half of two cups is one cup, half of a teaspoon is a half teaspoon, etc.  And he learned how to make buttermilk using milk and vinegar and mixed and poured himself.  The kid is going to be a cook, I swear.

We discussed how putting the chunks of bittersweet chocolate in the batter would be a problem in the waffle iron and could cause sticking.  Zay came up with the idea of making a regular waffle, then placing chocolate pieces and banana slices on half the waffle, folding it in half and re-grilling it for 30 seconds until the chocolate melted. Genius.

Almost Ready...

Almost Ready…

KA POW.  The boys named this “Waffle omelette” and the results  tasted great.  Most important it  was a fun experience for both the boys and for me.  And my daughter and granddaughter who stayed at their home got more sleep, unpacked and enjoyed a quieter house.

No recipe really other than the previously published pancake/waffle mix.  And these notes:

  • I subbed one cup of 2% milk plus one tablespoon of white vinegar to create the cup of buttermilk.  Let is sit at room temperature for about ten minutes until it starts to curdle, then it is ready.  
  • On each of the six waffles I made with half the recipe, I used about eight pieces of chocolate chunks and five or six half-moons of banana.  Then I stirred some maple syrup into the plain yogurt to replace the whipping cream.
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Cranberry Delish Relish

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Cranberry Relish (along with this year's Thanksgiving Turkey!)

Cranberry Relish (along with this year’s Thanksgiving turkey!)

Our extended family loves cranberries in most forms.  And Thanksgiving?  We often end up with four or five varieties:  Traditional cooked berries, Tim’s weird (sorry Tim) spiced cranberries, one of my sister’s latest, greatest recently published non-traditional versions and Kal’s cranberries.

My kids love the old school cranberries I make — the one on the package of fresh cranberries… basically sugar, orange juice, water and berries.  Easy and always good.

Thanksgiving 2016 Art Project

Thanksgiving 2016 Art Project

But the grandkids?  They go bonkers for Great Uncle Kal’s cranberries, and we make them throughout the winter while cranberries are fresh.  Nothing could be easier, and the red mashed up stuff looks pretty alongside poultry, fish meat or vegetarian dishes.  

Cranberry Delish Relish (Kal’s recipe – doctored up by Rachel)

Serves 8 (but we eat it like a salad, not like a side dish)

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Ingredients
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries-most stores carry these around Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • ⅓ c sugar (or more)
  • 2 seedless Satsuma oranges, cut off ends but leave the  rest of the peel intact
  • 1 apple with peel on, only core removed and cut into 8 pieces.  I usually use Granny Smith since that variety  is firm.
Instructions

Rinse cranberries and pick out any brown or spoiled ones.  

Quarter the oranges and cut apples into 8 pieces after coring it..  

Place all in food processor and pulse to desired consistency, less if you prefer texture and more if you want it more smooth.   Taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter.

Transfer to a container with a lid and keep refrigerated for up to a week.  It will never last that long.

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Cranberry Tart

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Colorful Cranberry Tart

Colorful Cranberry Tart

When my youngest son Jakey Boy was approaching his thirtieth birthday, he found a recipe for cranberry tart in the New York Times.  He cut it out and brought it to me, asking what I thought of it.  Now, you may not know Jakey Boy, but he is not a dessert person by any stretch of the imagination.  This has nothing to do with health reasons or dietary restrictions – quite the opposite since Jakey Boy is on the skinny side.  He just prefers savory foods, even more than I do.  In this instance, I believe the tartness of cranberry appealed to him.

He also showed the recipe to my brother.  Uncle Kal bakes way more than I do, believe it or not.  And Uncle Kal said this was way too much work to make.

So what is a mother to do?  Of course I couldn’t help myself, chirping, “Let me make this for your 30th birthday!”

And so it came to pass that my version of cranberry tart was produced, eaten and oooooed and ahhhhd over for Jake’s 30th-birthday-celebration-family-dinner.  Everyone agreed it was wonderful.    I did change the recipe a bit – I couldn’t help myself.  The result? A bright magenta-colored tart bursting with flavor.  Frankly, it wasn’t that hard to make.  A lot of steps, but very doable as long as you plan ahead.

Curd & Crust

Curd & Crust

I’ll be making this again – maybe for Thanksgiving.  For you folks who celebrate Christmas, this would be a beautiful dessert.

Cranberry Tart

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Nut Crust Ingredients
  • 1 ¼ cups raw shelled pecans
  • 1 cup rice flour
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  ½ cup sugar
  •  1 stick softened salted butter-room temperature
Cranberry Curd Ingredients
  •   12 ounces frozen or fresh cranberries (thaw if they are frozen)
  •   1 cup granulated sugar
  •   Juice and peel (orange part only) of 1 orange (juice = ¼ cup juice as I measured it)
  •   1 stick softened butter
  •   2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (large eggs)
Instructions

Prepare the crust:

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, grind pecans (I did not toast them first) with half the rice flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining rice flour and salt and pulse briefly.

Cream the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl by hand with a wooden spoon for a minute or two until pale and thick. Add nut mixture and combine until dough comes together. If it seems crumbly, add a little cold water.  (Mine did not need more water but I used more butter than the original recipe.)

Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch pie plate or pie dish. Use half the dough for the sides and half for the bottom. Prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork and freeze the crust for 30 minutes (or several days if desired).

Bake chilled tart shell in preheated oven about 15 minutes until lightly brown. Cool.

Prepare the cranberry curd:

Put cranberries, sugar and orange juice and peel in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer without covering until cranberries have popped and softened, about 10 minutes. Turn down to barely simmering for five minutes and don’t stir.  Transfer to a medium mesh sieve and press cooking liquid into a bowl.  This took me about 15 minutes of pressing on the back of a spoon against the strainer, then scraping the pulp from the back of the strainer into the bowl.  Over and over and over. Whisk the butter into the warm liquid.

Put eggs and egg yolks into a bowl and beat lightly. Slowly whisk a cup of warm cranberry liquid into the eggs to temper them, then combine both egg mix and the rest of the cranberry liquid and whisk together. Wipe out the original cranberry cooking pot if necessary, return liquid (about 2 cups) to the sauce pan and cook over low heat until nearly bubbling and thickened, about 10 minutes. If using immediately, let cool to room temperature. If working ahead, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap (press wrap against curd) and refrigerate. (Curd may be cooked up to one day ahead.)

Pour cooled cranberry curd into the cooled, prebaked tart shell and smooth the top with a spatula. It’s thick so it won’t be that smooth but baking helps.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to set the curd. Cool on a rack. Store at room temperature for up to two days.

Serve with soft whipped cream and mint leaves or lemon curls.

Cook’s notes:

The ratio of crust to filling is 1 to 1, half crust and half filling.  I might want to make one and a half times the filling next go around….we’ll see.  If I made this in  a real tart pan, no way would there have been enough cranberry filling!

Personally I wouldn’t do the final baking step until the day I was going to serve the dessert so the crust doesn’t become soggy.  

PS: This is gluten free!!!

And healthy to boot!

And healthy to boot!

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Not Your Grandma’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

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Tasty Tuna Noodle Casserole - A Modern Twist

Tasty Tuna Noodle Casserole – A Modern Twist

If any of you were born in the mid 1900’s (THAT sounds old!) you will absolutely know what tuna noodle casserole is.  This comfort food graced every table in my youth in some form – usually that of canned tuna (not line caught, not wild), elbow macaroni or thin egg noodles (certainly not penne made from fine Semonlina flour) and cream of mushroom soup (from a can, naturally).  School cafeterias served this, some called this “end of paycheck casserole” and it was kind of a go-to meal for many families.  Oh, and some lucky kids had it served with crumbled potato chips on top!

At my house, my mom must have prepared this from time to time.  For sure it was an option for hot school lunches.  Believe it or not, I sometimes get a hankering for the taste of mushrooms, tuna and noodles.  But I’m happy to report that today, I have what I believe is a much better version.  I even tried it out on my grandkids when they were in town. The verdict? Huge hit! Of course.

Basically, this is an easy dinner with leftovers to boot.  You make a white sauce, stir in sauteed veggies and spices, then fold this into cooked bowtie pasta along with high quality canned tuna and frozen peas.  Crispy panko crumbs (available in most grocery stores in the Asian section) which have been sauteed in butter are added as topping during the final part of baking.  Oh, and because my grandsons pick cooked mushrooms out of foods, my daughter had the brilliant idea for me to put the mushrooms in my Nutribullet and chop them to almost a mushroom paste.  In other words, you end up with a mushroom taste without the visual look and texture of mushrooms.  In other, other words, the perfect way to fool your kids (or adult sons, not that I am naming names…Daniel) who THINK they don’t like mushrooms.

Not Your Grandma’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

Serves 6-8 (at least)
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Ingredients:
  • 2 cups 2% milk (heat in microwave or saucepan until hot)
  • 8 oz bowtie pasta-egg noodles or whole wheat if you can find them 
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • ½ large onion, finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • ⅓ c red or orange or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cups sliced brown mushrooms (If you have kids, put these in the food processor or nutribullet so they become mushroom mush and are not identifiable as mushrooms.)
  • ¼ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ cups frozen peas
  • 3-5 ounce cans of water packed tuna – drained (15 ounces total)
  • ½ tsp dried dill or 1 ½ tsp fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 grinds black pepper
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko which was crunchy and good)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter (for breadcrumbs)
Instructions:

Butter or oil a 9 x 13 pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 with the rack in the middle.

Start a large pot of water to boil the pasta – add a half a teaspoon salt.  When it is boiling, add bow tie noodles and cook until al dente but not totally soft.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, (noodles can be cooking away) melt butter and sauté the diced onion, celery, pepper and mushrooms or mushroom moosh.  When everything is soft, sprinkle with flour.  Stir and cook about three minutes. Continue stirring then add heated milk slowly until it makes a thick sauce.  Cook another minute.  Turn off the heat and add the  dill, drained tuna, and frozen peas, salt and pepper  Stir to combine and taste to see whether you might need additional salt or pepper.

Scrape everything into the prepared baking pan and bake uncovered at 350 for 20 minutes.  

While the tuna casserole is baking, heat the 1 ½ Tbsp of butter in a small fry pan on medium heat, add panko crumbs and stir until they get a little brown. Remove from the heat.

After 20 minutes pass, remove the baking pan from the oven and top with browned panko crumbs and bake an additional ten minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, let it rest about ten minutes and serve with a nice fresh fruit salad and green salad.

Leftovers reheat well!

Cook’s note:  this is also good if you prefer leftover or canned salmon or even cubed chicken/turkey in lieu of tuna.  

 

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Meat & Pasta Many Meals Stew

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Savory Meat & Pasta Stew

Savory Meat & Pasta Stew

For one week this summer I hosted “sleep away” camp for my 5-year old and 7-year old grandsons. During the day they headed to zoo camp, and after/before camp they slept, ate and lived with us in our Seattle condo. This was our second annual grandparent camp, and it was perfect because I live close to the zoo, and my husband and I divided up the driving. Our daughter lives a half hour away in good traffic and there was simply no way she could have the boys in camp on time, particularly with work schedules and a six month old in tow. This was my week to be a superhero grandma and it was their week to give their 6 month old baby girl some individual attention.

We live right in the heart of Seattle within two walkable blocks of a great sushi restaurant, a pho restaurant, countless pizzarias, ice creameries, and grocery stores. We usually go out with the kids one night for dinner, but I love to cook and to make food memories with them . The boys helped me plan menus, pack lunches and cook breakfast and we ate together every night — just the kids with their grandmother and grandfather. What could be better?

I like to plan a little ahead of time so that during the day while they were in camp, I wasn’t consumed with grocery shopping and food preparation. So, the Friday before they arrived I was culling my “to try” file of recipes (Yes, I actually have such a file) and decided to combine some ideas and try a one-pot make-ahead pasta and meat dish that seemed very kid-friendly.

The night before I actually did the cooking, I finely chopped the mushrooms, onions and peppers in my food processor because I know the boys are less likely to eat dinners where they can actually identify these vegetables. And I had everything else I needed on the counter, ready to go. The next morning, it took me 45 minutes or so and I ended up with a huge pot of meat and pasta, enough for four meals. This recipe requires only one pot to cook in and to clean – you gotta love that. Ka ching! Three containers were filled, dated, labeled and put in the freezer for future consumption, and one stayed in the fridge for a dinnertime meal and packable lunch box item. I let both boys sample the final dish before freezing it, and they both gave it a huge thumbs up. The 5-year old said he would love to pack it and eat it room temperature for camp lunches. Done.

Not only is this kid friendly…the adults truly enjoyed it. My husband loved it because it was moist and “really really good.” I’ll keep this one-pot meal in mind for when I want to cook and bring food to a neighbor, a new mom or anyone else who needs a little TLC. It might remind you of Hamburger Helper but it is SO MUCH BETTER! Oh, and I put some of this in my Nutribullet to make baby food for the 6-month old who loved it as well.

Zesty One-Pot Meat & Pasta Stew

Feeds 12-16

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Ingredients
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb ground lamb (If you don’t like lamb, use 2 lbs ground beef instead)
  • 1 large brown skinned onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeds and veins removed and chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh brown mushrooms, remove stems and slice thinly or pulverize in the processor for kids
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced by hand
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-15 ounce cans tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 Tbsp dried basil (or 4 Tbsp fresh slivered basil)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano (or 2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves)
  • 1 tsp. regular paprika
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2½ cups uncooked macaroni or rigatoni (regular semolina pasta OR whole wheat pasta, which makes it a lot more healthful)
Instructions

In a large 5 qt. Dutch oven, crumble beef and lamb over medium-high heat and cook until it is no longer pink chopping it up so it doesn’t stick together in hunks. Drain fat but don’t wipe out the pan or remove the meat.

Add the chopped onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add in garlic, water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, basil, oregano, paprika, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Remove the lid and add the dried pasta and stir well. Return lid and continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until the noodles are done, checking and stirring every five minutes. Note that whole wheat pasta might take a bit longer to cook. Once the pasta is al dente, remove from the heat (it will still appear to have too much sauce) and let it remain covered for 10 minutes to finish absorbing the juice. Stir well before serving.

Leftovers reheat nicely and freeze well

You could give this a Vietnamese twist by subbing fish sauce for worcestershire, and adding fresh mint, basil and cilantro with a squeeze of lime.

OR

You could garnish this with some fresh oregano leaves, feta cheese and diced kalamata olives for a Greek flair.

OR

You can give this a Central American twist with lots of cilantro, some finely diced hot peppers to taste, lime and a dollop of sour cream or cheese

OR

I’m sure ground chicken would taste lighter but wonderful if you aren’t anxious to use beef or lamb.

Fresh grated parmesan cheese would be nice on top here but by no means does it need it. We ate ours naked..no cheese. No, we weren’t naked!

But of the three bins I have in the freezer, I will make each meal a little special with one of the above tweaks.

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Making A List – Checking It Twice

Chopped veg, cooked beans, cauliflower, lentils

Chopped veg, cooked beans, cauliflower, lentils, 10-grain cereal

Ahhh.  Until very, very recently I thought it was normal to pre-plan weekly meals and regularly assess kitchen staples and keep a running grocery/farmers market list at all times.  I can distinctly recall a list clipped to our refrigerator when I was very young – the door was magnetic and fastened to the fridge was a piece of recycled paper with a list of items needed from the grocery store.  Meals were planned out too – after all my childhood home was a beehive of activity – there were five kids (and often additional family or friends) eating three or more meals a day, seven days a week.  Prepared foods were simply not an option then, and my mother never used mixes or shortcuts of any kind.  Oh, except back then canned fruits and vegetables and such were common.

My handy, dandy app (called Wunderlist)

My handy, dandy app

Jumping ahead 60+ years, I run my household in much the same way with a few modern twists. Now I keep my grocery list on a cell phone app that I access from any device – ready for any grocery store or farmer’s market outing.  As I load my grocery cart, I check the item and hear a nice bell sound.  I do my major farmer’s market/grocery shopping on the weekend and then use an hour or two Sunday to prep vegetables, toast seeds and nuts, grate cheese, make lentils or beans or both, toast croutons, make hot cereal, pickle onions and so on.  I multitask well so it never takes me more than an hour to do all of this – with the exception of beans, which take a bit longer.   I make beans for an army and freeze smaller portions so cooking them does not need to happen weekly.

I also make sure my flavor enhancers are ready when I need to punch up my cooking – lemon, tahina, pesto, garlic, fresh herbs, sesame oil to name a few.

Nothing like a well-stocked fridge!

Nothing like a well-stocked fridge!

Once the shopping is done and the prep is completed, making meals during the week is a cinch.  And one of the best parts – when my vegetables are prepped in advance, I tend to eat more of them on a regular basis. It’s simply a win-win scenario.

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