Mexican Casserole

Casseroles are just so much fun in my opinion.  You throw a bunch of stuff together, and as long as you put ingredients in that go well together, you have a wonderful one dish meal.  I used to try and make up a different casserole every week.  Then, I got tired of casseroles – they started all tasting the same, even though I used different ingredients.  Now I try and make a casserole about once a month, maybe twice, but not more than that.  I have to say though, when I make one, usually I have plenty of time to do other things…and I am not trying to coordinate multiple dishes being done at the same time.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, and immediately starting thinking about how I could change it to be more to my liking.  I decided instead of beans, to substitute cilantro lime rice.  Instead of meatless crumbles, I would use extra lean ground beef.  I also thought that adding some peppers would be good – and intead of plum tomatoes, how about diced tomatoes with green chiles.  The outcome, a casserole that was not only easy – but actually tasted great!  Now I am starting to think I should make casseroles more often…

Ingredients

  • 4  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
  • 1  cup  chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped red/green bell pepper
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1  teaspoon  chili powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  lb. leanest ground beef
  • 48  baked tortilla chips
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • 1  tablespoon  fresh lime juice
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
  • 2  tablespoons  minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2  tablespoons  fat-free sour cream
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped green onions
  • 1/4  cup  sliced ripe olives
  • salsa

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell peppers to pan; cook 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and jalapeño (if you want more heat); cook 1 minute. Add ground beef and break up into crumbs – until nicely browned.  Stir in chili powder, cumin, black pepper; cook 3 minutes. Arrange half of tortilla chips in an 9 x 9 –inch (or 11 X 7 inch) baking dish coated with cooking spray; top evenly with ground beef mixture.

Mix rice with cilantro, lime juice and salt.

Layer rice mixture on top of the beef mixture, then top with the tomatoes and chiles. Top with remaining tortilla chips, pressing to slightly crush. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake at 375° for 13 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Cut casserole into 6 equal pieces; top each serving with 1 teaspoon sour cream, 1 teaspoon onions, and 2 teaspoons olives.  Serve with salsa.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Mexican Casserole

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Carrot Cake Pancakes

I love to go out for breakfast – and even though I am pretty much an egg person, I enjoy looking at the menu to see what types of pancakes the chef has come up with.  It seems like every restaurant has their *special* version of pancakes.  Most of the time it is not too unusual:  pumpkin pancakes in the fall, apple pancakes, gingerbread pancakes around the holidays, but every once in a while I am amazed at the creations.  I was reading my Cooking Light this month and noticed a section on Denver, CO (where I lived for a few years) – there was a breakfast place that they noted had lines snaked out the door and around the block.  That is my kind of place.  They printed their version of Carrot Cake Pancakes, and I just had to give them a try.  Now, as I have mentioned before, my kids love their pancakes for breakfast  – but they are not into vegetables – so I knew this would be a challenge – but one that I was up for.  I grated the carrots as finely as I could (as the recipe stated) – and that was the key.  The carrots were able to cook so they were nice and soft, and both girls ate them – ok, one liked them more than the other – but they were a hit.  With the honey butter on top, it was a perfect breakfast treat.  The recipe comes from Snooze in Denver, and was printed in this month’s Cooking Light.

Ingredients

  • 5.6  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/4  cup  chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2  teaspoons  baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground nutmeg
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • Dash of ground ginger
  • 1/4  cup  brown sugar
  • 3/4  cup  low-fat buttermilk
  • 1  tablespoon  canola oil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 2  large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2  cups  finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
  • Cooking spray
  • 3  tablespoons  butter, softened
  • 2  tablespoons  honey

Preparation

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 cups carrot.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan, spreading with a spatula. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter. Combine butter and honey in a small bowl; serve with pancakes.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2 pancakes and about 2 teaspoons honey butter)

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Carrot Cake Pancakes

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Lentil Soup with Italian Chicken Sausage

When winter comes, I stock up on lentils.  I like to have all varieties available; french lentils, turkish lentils, beluga lentils – pretty much any kind I can find in the market.  Lentils are so versatile, I can pretty much make any flavor profile, and they work.  Most of the time I make lentils without meat – they are definitely filling enough, and if I use chicken or beef stock, I get enough flavor – but I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, and I had to give it a try.  The recipe called for spicy italian sausage, but I prefer chicken sausage, so I went with that.  I thought it was delicious – nice and comforting, rich in flavor, but not too heavy.  I served it with a big green salad, and it was very satisfying.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound italian chicken sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 large celery stalks, chopped about 1 cup
  • 21/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 pound brown lentils (about 2 1/3 cups)
  • 3 quarts (or more) low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach leaves

Preparation

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage (without the casings) and cook until nice and crumbled and browned, breaking up the sausage with the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to bowl. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, celery, and Italian seasoning blend to drippings in pot; cook until onion is translucent and vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes. Add lentils; stir to coat. Add 3 quarts broth. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if soup is too thick, 20 minutes.

Add sausage to soup and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors blend, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Lentil Soup with Italian Chicken Sausage

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Mongolian Beef

I love stir fry.  I love that you can throw whatever you want into a pan, mix up some soy sauce and rice vinegar, and like magic, you have a delicious dinner.  I am not an expert on Asian cooking – so I am not sure why this dish is called Mongolian Beef – because to me it looks pretty much like all the other stir fries I make, but I will go with it.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light and adapted it slightly below to what I had in the house.  The sauce was flavorful, the beef was tender, and it took less than 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish.  For a week-night dinner after working all day, it can’t be beat.  I know it would taste excellent with either chicken or pork as well.

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1  teaspoon  cornstarch
  • 2  teaspoons  dry sherry
  • 2  teaspoons  hoisin sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  rice vinegar
  • 1  teaspoon  chile paste with garlic
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  teaspoons  peanut oil
  • 1  tablespoon  minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1  tablespoon  minced fresh garlic
  • 1  pound  sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 16  medium green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

Preparation

Combine first 8 ingredients, stirring until smooth.

Heat peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, and beef; sauté for 2 minutes or until beef is browned. Add green onion pieces; sauté 30 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture; cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Mongolian Beef

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Banana Bread

Happy New Year everyone!  Tomorrow marks a big milestone for me – for those of you who know me, you know what that means.  The anticipation of tomorrow was one of the reasons why I started this blog to begin with.  Time was running out for me to finish things on my list…the blog being one of them.  The purpose of this blog was for many reasons – to document recipes, especially my family recipes, to write about food, and to share my passion with others.  I wanted this to be a blog about food, not about me or my family – and for the most part I think I have stayed true to that.  Every once in a while you get a glimpse into my crazy life, but for the most part – I just talk about my love of cooking and food.  I love cooking for many reasons:  it calms me to be in the kitchen, I love eating, but most of all, I love sharing what I make with others.  There is nothing that makes me happier than to see other people smile when they eat something I have made.  It almost gives me more pleasure than eating myself…which definitely helps me fit into my jeans.  Well – here’s to many more blog posts about cooking, baking and food.  I will definitely be drinking to that tomorrow night at my favorite restaurant.

I think everyone knows how to make banana bread – everyone has their favorite recipe that they like.  The truth is, when your bananas get too ripe, what else can you do with them other than bake?  Sure, you can make banana muffins – but banana bread is just a little quicker.  What amazes me though is the varieties of banana bread out there – and even when you do find a recipe that is similar to yours – how different the end result can look.  My mother’s recipe is very simple and produces a very pure (in my mind) taste and texture.  It is not too dense, but not too fluffy either – in my mind it is perfect.  With 1/3 cup oil per loaf, the bread is not too greasy either.  I have made this recipe with chocolate chips, and that tastes great as well – so feel free to get creative.  This bread freezes really well – just wrap it in plastic first, then in foil.  Let it defrost on the counter, and you will be amazed how delicious it is.

Ingredients

  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk or buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cups chopped nuts (optional)

Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Mash bananas with a fork and set aside.  Mix oil, sugar, milk, vanilla and eggs well.  Add mashed bananas.  Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl, and add to banana mixture with nuts (optional) until just combined well.  Pour into 2 greased and floured 9 x 5″ loaf pans.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from pans while still warm and wrap with plastic.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here: Banana Bread

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