Variety is the Spice of Life

Most of the time when I zip through H-E-B, I have a running list in my head of the staple items I’ll need for the week. The compulsory tomatoes, milk, cereal, hummus, and multigrain bread always make the cut. Sometimes I meal plan for the week and have an agenda for what I will cook on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Other times, I go out on a limb and let the grocery store inspire me. Often I find myself inspired by seasonal produce or fresh seafood.

My most recent inspiration came from the beautiful portobello mushrooms caps in the produce section last week. I created a savory dish that paired perfectly with red wine, artisan bread, and bowtie pasta. Taking a risk in the kitchen, trusting your instincts, a little creativity, and your favorite people around the table are all you need for a perfect home cooked meal. After all, variety is the spice of life!

Savory Stuffed Mushrooms

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 pound of Italian sausage
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion, diced
  • 1 fire roasted red pepper, diced (I used jarred peppers but fresh would work too.)
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • Fresh parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Add the Italian sausage and cook until brown. Add the red peppers, artichoke hearts, salt, and pepper and cook until warmed through. Set aside.

Line an 8×8 Pyrex dish with parchment paper and place the portobello mushroom caps in the dish. Spoon the Italian sausage mix into each mushroom. Then sprinkle with bread crumbs and fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are tender. Serve with a side of pasta and fresh bread. I made a simple side of bowtie pasta that I tossed with fresh parmesan, bread crumbs, and a little olive oil. It was the perfect complement to the savory stuffed mushrooms.

This recipe could easily be adapted to be vegetarian too. In place of the Italian sausage, use fire roasted tomatoes and a pint of chopped portobello mushrooms. The method would be the same with regards to preparation. Additionally omit the pasta and artisan rolls and substitute with a side of roasted vegetables or a fresh salad for a low carb dinner option.

 

A Saturday with my Bears

Yesterday could not have been a more beautiful day. The sky was crystal blue with wisps of clouds painted here and there across its palette. The cooler temperatures were a welcome reprieve from the hot conditions that kept us indoors and out of the blazing sun for a good portion of the summer.

What better way to take in this gorgeous day than with a picnic at the playground! I loaded up our picnic basket with traditional fare including sandwiches, cookies, tomatoes, and grapes. With a basket full of goodies and two boys eager to enjoy the day, we set out to one of our favorite playgrounds in the neighborhood. The climbing structures are perfect for an adventurous five-year-old and the Astroturf and covered playground spaces are ideal for a crawling infant.

With cooler temperatures in the forecast for the next few days, it seemed like the right time to make a hearty pot of vegetable beef soup. It’s a great dinner fix but also pulls double duty by serving as leftovers for the week. I love anything that takes the stress out of midweek meal planning.

This soup offers a wide variety of options and provides an ideal mix of fresh and canned items so it’s easy to pull from your kitchen staples in a pinch. Without the ground beef, it’s also a delicious vegetarian choice. Adding brown rice or barley can stretch the soup even further too.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups of broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable all suffice)
  • 1 pound of lean ground beef
  • 1 can of cut green beans, drained
  • 1 can of whole kernel sweet corn, drained (frozen works great too)
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 4 cups of fresh spinach
  • 1 bunch of carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 4-6 small white potatoes, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • parmesan cheese to garnish

DIRECTIONS:

In a large soup pot over medium high heat, saute onions and garlic in some olive oil until fragrant. Next add the carrots, and saute for a few mintues. Then add the ground beef and saute until brown. Next it’s go time for the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, potatoes, and broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover, turn up the heat (high), and bring to a boil for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then add the green beans and corn and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft. Turn the heat off and stir in the fresh spinach. Serve with artisan rolls and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese.

A hearty soup, delicious artisan rolls, and a glass of red wine made for a perfect dinner. Liam and Atticus had their fill of vegetables, and both smiled through the entire meal. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday with my favorite bears.

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Hurricane Harvey Home Cookin’

The conditions of Hurricane Harvey made it nearly impossible for us to venture too far from the house from last Friday through Tuesday. Even before the storm hit, local grocery stores were out of the essentials including bread and milk. Thursday evening after work, I zipped through H-E-B snatching up food items that were still available, but it was anyone’s guess when I’d have the opportunity to return to the grocery store to restock.

With the kitchen staples I readily keep on hand, I was able to make a home-cooked meal for almost an entire week before restocking the pantry and refrigerator was necessary. Because I was using what I had on hand, most of last week’s recipes included some form of sausage. I capitalized on a sale recently so I had more on hand than usual. Many of them would be delicious with ground beef or even completely meatless. Most importantly though they provided comfort in a time of uncertainty for my family. We weathered the storm together and enjoyed the comforts of home cooking.

I’ve condensed the recipes into more of a brief synopsis of the dish. Feel free to request the entire recipe in the comments section. Buen provecho!

BASIC SPAGHETTI- I posted this recipe earlier in the week, but it was the first of the many home cooked meals that were plated and served to my bears this week.

SAUSAGE TACOS- A simple and easy dinner ready in no time. Saute sliced onion and sliced bell pepper until the onion is translucent and the peppers are soft. I happened to have orange on hand but red or yellow or a combination are great too. If I have mushrooms on hand, I’ll throw those in the mix too, but I used them all the day before when I made spaghetti. This recipe could easily be vegetarian by nixing the sausage. Add the sausage and saute until heated through. Serve in warm tortillas topped with salsa and a side of rice. I love using Tilda’s Mexican style rice. I saute it in a little olive oil along with frozen corn, peas, and half a can of garlic fire roasted tomatoes (drained). Delicioso!

RATATOUILLE- Ordinarily I would also include zucchini and onion and serve with fresh parmesan cheese over the top but I was out of these items by the time I cooked this dish in the week. Saute onions, garlic, garbanzo beans, and Italian sausage on medium high until brown. Then add the artichoke hearts (drained) and the fire roasted tomatoes. Let simmer until ready. Serve over brown rice.

BACON & EGG CUPS- For my Paleo friends, this is a savory, carb friendly dish that is super easy to assemble and is ready in 15 minutes. This doubles as a great breakfast option so you can make extra and have them ready to grab on your way out the door to work. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a regular size muffin tin with cooking spray. Cut the bacon in half and form a cross in each tin. Crack an egg over each bacon cross, insert asparagus, and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. I typically use fresh asparagus but only had frozen on hand. It proved to be a great substitute and is easy to store in the freezer to use over and over again. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the bacon is crispy. Serve with fresh cherry tomatoes and sliced apples or a side salad.

GRILLED CHEESE- This one is a fan favorite of Liam’s. The secret to perfectly grilled bread is mayonnaise, but don’t tell Liam because he thinks he hates it. Spread mayo onto both side of two slices of multi-grain bread. Grill on medium high heat in a skillet. Brown both sides ensuring that one side is more golden than the other. Sandwich between the more golden sides of each slice of bread. Continue heating until both sides match their center counterpart and are browned to golden perfection. I had mild cheddar and provolone in the fridge so I used both. Serve with tomato soup and a dill pickle spear. My favorite is Pacifica’s Organic Tomato Soup. This is the easiest, throw together meal that your baby bears will love as much as you. It always takes me back to my own childhood!

grilled cheese

CANADIAN BACON CUPS- In essence this dish is a gluten-free, no-crust pizza option that packs the flavor without the carbs. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the muffin tin with cooking spray and layer three slices of Canadian bacon to form a flower. I used an extra-large muffin tin this time around. Depending on the size and thickness, you could also use a regular size muffin tin. I only made enough for each of us to have one, but you could make more and save them for an easy lunch option for work. Top with one tablespoon of tomato sauce and then add the toppings of your choice. I actually used my leftover ratatouille as a topping but picked out the garbanzo beans. The Italian sausage and artichoke hearts were perfect. Pineapple would be a great Hawaiian option or consider pepperoni and olives. Then top with mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is brown. Remove with a spatula and drain the excess sauce at the bottom of the tin before serving. Even Liam thought these “wannabe pizzas” were yummy!

 

Hash it Out

Sunday evening always culminates with a family dinner together. Because Sean’s work schedule during the week rarely affords him the opportunity to join us for dinner, I really treasure preparing a special meal for all of us to start the week off on the right foot.

This Sunday, I made a simple, healthy, and delicious sweet potato hash. I adapted this recipe from http://fitfoodiefinds.com/2016/03/sweet-potato-kale-hash/. It’s an incredibly versatile dish that is ready in under 20 minutes.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled & grated
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • half of a sweet onion
  • 16 ounces ground sausage
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • salt & pepper to taste

ingredients

DIRECTIONS:

In a large skillet, sauté the sliced onions in olive oil on medium high until translucent. Next add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Then add the ground sausage and sauté until brown. H-E-B recently offered their ground sausage products at two for $5. I always love a great deal, so I decided to try their Italian and sage options. The sage proved to be a wonderful compliment to this recipe.

sausage

Toss in the red pepper. I usually keep a jar of fire roasted red peppers on hand. The prep work is even easier when you used jarred peppers because you don’t have to worry about cutting out the stem or cleaning out the seeds.  The fire roasted flavor is a perfect addition to this dish too.

Add the grated sweet potato and sauté for about seven minutes. Grating the sweet potato helps it cook evenly and quickly. I’ve also found that grating a sweet potato is even easier than cutting it. I have the best luck with my large box grater.

sweet potato hash

Fold in the spinach until wilted and then sprinkle the dish with salt and pepper. Serve with multigrain bread and a side of fresh tomatoes for an easy, flavorful, and oh so yummy meal.

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The versatility of this dish makes it an ideal way to hash it out in the kitchen. Make it vegetarian by substituting the sausage with a fried egg served over the top. Mix up your protein with applewood smoked chicken sausage. Add mushrooms for another level of flavor. Substitute the spinach with kale. The sky is the limit!

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It’s the kind of meal that will have your family eyeing you with the, “Is dinner ready yet?” look! Enjoy!