Saturday, June 28, 2008


Strawberry season has arrived. My taste buds are jumping for joy. I made my first trip to my local Farmers' Market this season and picked up these beautiful strawberries.

Just had to brag. My next goal is to get my wonderful husband out picking strawberries with me. Trust me, hon - it'll be fun!

Stuffed Peppers

I recently discovered a liking of green peppers. I'm actually not sure if I always liked them and then finally bothered to try them in a burrito at Chipotle one day or if my taste buds changed. Call me crazy... Either way, I like them.

So, how do you make green peppers unhealthy? You stuff them. I'd been wanting to make stuffed peppers basically since discovering I liked them. All the recipes I found online looked fine, but not exactly my style. Then, one day I was watching Ingrid Hoffman's Simply Delicioso and she made stuffed tomatoes that looked more to my liking. So, using her guidance, I came up with this recipe for stuffed peppers. They were delicious and I'd highly recommend them. You should try them. Beware - they're very filling.

Stuffed Peppers
Loosely based on Ingrid Hoffman's Tango Tomatoes
Serves 3-4
Prep Time - 15 min
Cook Time - 20 min

3-4 green bell peppers
8 oz spicy Italian sausage
1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, diced fine
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & finely chopped
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 TBSP flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt & freshly ground pepper

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop all vegetables and set aside. Cut the tops off of the green peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the Italian sausage and brown. When almost browned, add the onion and garlic and saute about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the celery, jalapeno, parsley, and tomatoes. Saute for about 5 minutes, again stirring frequently. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Remove skillet from heat and add the Monterey Jack cheese. Stir until cheese melts.

Spoon the mixture into each pepper, pressing down with each scoop (this is to ensure the pepper keeps its shape while baking). Place onto a cooking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Top each pepper with Parmesan cheese and bake about 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.


Some Notes
*Next time, I'll probably use a chicken or turkey sausage. Even with draining, the pork sausage produced a little too much excess grease. Also, I think chicken or turkey would give a milder flavor, which would better compliment the pepper. The pork sausage was a little over-powering.

**I'm now interested in turning these into vegetarian stuffed peppers. I'm thinking subbing some rice or orzo instead of the sausage. I can even see using quinoa, if you're into that. I'm not, so I'd probably choose rice.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Swedish Meatballs

Anyone who knows me even remotely well knows that I absolutely love Swedish meatballs. I'd eat them once a week if I could. And when I was younger, I think I probably did.

The region of Minnesota where I grew up is very Scandinavian. So much so that we had a significant number of exchange students every year from Norway or Sweden, and many people, like my grandma, still know how to speak Swedish. Not surprisingly, Swedish meatballs make an appearance at pretty much every family gathering, holiday, or church/community event in the area. Understanding a little more when I said previously that I probably ate them about once a week? I thought so.

Every Swedish-American family has their own version of this classic. If other families are anything like mine, they have several. My dad's is slightly different from my grandma's, which is slightly different than her (late) sister's (may she rest in peace with her delicious recipe that she wouldn't give up). No one in my family will give out their recipe, and all of the above-listed people swear they make the same recipe. Not so, says my taste buds. Once, I was lucky enough to get my dad to tell me how he makes his, only to discover that he wasn't exactly honest with me about the ingredients. Is anyone getting flashbacks to that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond? Or am I the only dork that's seen pretty much every episode of that show at least 3 or 4 times? I am? .... ok. I'll make my peace with that.

I've become convinced that every Swedish meatball recipe in my family will die with its maker. The best one already has. I've been left with no choice to create my own, and I'm determined to make it even better than the recipes they won't give up. And when I do, I'll hesitate before I give it to either my grandma or my dad. Yeah, I can be vindictive like that. But I won't, because I believe that good food should be shared. My family will thank me later.

I'm not sure if I've exactly come up with the perfect recipe, but this one's close. I did my best to remember what I did so I could write about it later. I think with a bit of tweaking, I'll be able to have a recipe far superior to my late great-aunt's. Sorry, Bertha. As much as I loved your meatballs, it had to happen one day.

Swedish Meatballs
Serves 4-6
Prep Time - 15 minutes
Cook Time - 45 min


2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
~1/2 - 2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten
dash nutmeg
1 tsp salt (be generous)
25 grinds freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (do not use the super lean kind)

1 TBSP butter
2 TBSP sherry
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup half-and-half
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium low heat.

Place all ingredients into a large bowl, except for onion and vegetable oil. Grate the onion into the bowl (as in, use a cheese grater) and mix. I'm serious about the grating. You'll be sorry if you don't. Form into small-ish meatballs. Use a cookie scoop if you have to, but make them as round as you can.

Place them in the pan you've had heating up and brown on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

Drain the oil from the pan. If there's any brown bits at the bottom of the pan, get rid of those too. You don't want them. These are not the yummy brown bits you have from when you fry chicken breasts.

Add the butter and melt. Once melted, add the sherry and chicken stock, to deglaze the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook until sauce thickens.

Add the half-and-half, Worcestershire and bay leaves. Keep whisking. Bring to a simmer, whisking often until thickened. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Remove pan from heat, add meatballs back to the pan. If do not have an oven-safe pan, transfer meatballs into a baking dish and then pour the sauce over the top. Cover. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Discard bay leaves before serving.

Serve this over egg noodles. You could do mashed potatoes instead, but that's not as good. Do egg noodles. You'll thank me later.


After careful consideration, I have decided to submit this recipe to this round of Homegrown Gourmet. It's my first submission. I'm so excited!

(Non) Eggplant Timbale

I saw Giada make this on Everyday Italian probably about a month ago, and even though I don't like eggplant, I wanted to make it. Well, I wanted to make the filling, that is. It looked like everything I'd want to make on a rainy Friday night. Well, my plan was foiled a bit when I stepped out of my office at 6 p.m. to find blue skies and sunshine instead of the heavy wind and torrential downpour going on when I walked by a window an hour earlier. I decided to make it anyway. I liked it, but I would make some changes the next time I make it. Those will be noted at the bottom. I hope you enjoy it!

Penne Timbale
Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, originally Eggplant Timbale
Serves 4-6
Cook & Prep Time - about 1 hr


2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound penne pasta
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 pound ground beef
1/3 pound Italian sausage
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (I omitted)
2 cups store-bought marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups diced mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and pork, and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the peas and marinara sauce and stir to combine. Add the cheeses, basil, and cooked pasta. Set aside.

Fill a casserole dish with the pasta mixture and bake the timbale about 30 minutes. Let rest on the counter for 5 minutes to set.

* I think I would add ricotta or mascarpone cheese next time. The flavor was good, but it was missing a certain creaminess. I think mixing ricotta or mascarpone cheese with mozzarella would create that needed texture

** This needs a chunkier tomato sauce. I used a smooth marinara and found it to be a bit lacking.

***I'm not sure what the ground beef added, except to dull down the Italian sausage spice. I think I'd try it with just Italian sausage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cheesy Hashbrowns

I was just looking through my blog posts and was shocked to discover I'd never posted about this recipe. My family makes this at pretty much every holiday/family gathering and I never get sick of it.

Apparently this recipe reveals my true Minnesotan, but I prefer to think it just reveals my wonderful culinary sense. As a bonus, it reheats really well.

Cheesy Hashbrowns
True source unknown - from my dad
Serves about 8

2 lbs frozen hashbrown potatoes (use the chunky ones, not the shredded potatoes)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pint (16 oz) sour cream
2 TBSP melted butter
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 medium onion, finely diced
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together all ingredients. I find it helps to add the potatoes last.

Place in casserole dish or 9x13 pan, cover, and bake 45-50 min.

** My family tops this with a mixture of crushed cornflakes and melted butter. I don't like it that way, but if you do, knock yourself out.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Penne in a Creamy, Spicy Cheese Sauce

It's been a terribly long, stressful week. Most days I felt like I barely had time to eat, let alone cook anything. When Friday arrived and I got to leave work early, I decided it was time to whip up some creamy, gooey comfort food. If you like cheese, you must make this recipe.

Penne with Chicken in a Creamy Brie Sauce
From What's in My Kitchen, adapted
Serves 4
Prep Time - 7 min
Cook Time - 25 min

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
8 oz pasta (I used penne)
2 Tbsp butter
1 green bell pepper, sliced (I omitted)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup half and half
4 oz Brie, rind cut off, cut as small as possible (I used Raclette, another semi-soft French cheese - I'm sure any softer cheese would be delicious)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cook pasta, drain and move to a large bowl.

Season chicken with salt, pepper, & garlic powder. Cook chicken completely and cut into cubes. Set aside. (I did this step on the George Foreman grill)

Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet and add garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. If you're using green pepper, add that at the same time. Stir in the red pepper and Italian seasoning and cook for another minute. Add the chicken stock and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer for a minute or two.

Add half & half and stir constantly until it starts to thicken. Add the cheese and continue stirring. When the cheese is melted and the sauce starts to thicken, turn off the heat and stir for another minute.

Add pasta and chicken to the skillet and stir until coated.

Pour into a casserole dish and bake for about 15-20 minutes. You may need to stir a bit before you put it in the oven - my cheese sauce poured out more quickly than the pasta so it wasn't very even.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Guinness Stew, take II

I've been on a quest to find the best tasting, most authentic traditional Guinness stew since I returned from my first trip to Ireland about 4 years ago. I've even blogged about Guinness stew, and made a pretty good recipe around St. Patrick's Day. Except, the flavor wasn't quite right, and it was a bit too runny. So, I kept searching. I found a recipe in a cooking blog I read occasionally that looked fantastic. My husband was hungry for stew, so I decided it was time.

The review? This is the right one. If you ever want to make a traditional Guinness stew, make this one. You won't regret it. It brought me right back to County Wicklow.

Beef in Guinness
from Thyme for Cooking

1 lb (450 gr) beef suitable for stewing or braising
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
3 carrots
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 pint Guinness
2 tsp beef paste (I used about a cup of beef stock)
1 TBSP oil
3 TBSP cornstarch
1 tbs paprika
salt & pepper

Cut beef into 1" (2.5 cm) cubes. Cut onion into quarters, then slice thinly. Mince or press garlic. Cut carrots in half the long way, then into 1" (2.5cm) pieces.

Combine paprika and cornstarch in a plastic food bag. Add beef and toss to coat evenly.

In sauce pan large, enough to hold everything easily, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add beef and brown on all sides. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer at least an hour.

If it starts to dry out, add more Guinness. If you would like the sauce thicker stir in 1 tbs cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbs water.

Add a lot of salt & pepper to taste. You also probably want to add some cayenne pepper, garlic salt, oregano, and paprika.

When ready to eat, remove bay leaf and serve with boiled jacket potatoes.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I'm probably biased, but I think my lasagna is the bomb. In the past, I tended to shy away from making lasagna because they're so time consuming to put together, but this one comes together in about 30 minutes. I took several very time consuming recipes, and combined it with my parents' super simple recipe, and came up with what's becoming our regular lasagna. Enjoy!

My recipe
Serves 6
Prep Time - 30 min
Cook Time - 1 hr

1 jar marinara sauce*
~1 cup water
1/2 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 TBSP flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb ground beef (optional)
salt & pepper

8 oz cottage cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten

6-8 lasagna noodles**

1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In medium to large saucepan, combine marinara sauce, water, 1/2 of the diced onion, 3 cloves garlic, parsley, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Let simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf after about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the ground beef with the rest of the onion and garlic. Season with salt & pepper. When browned, drain any excess fat and add to the marinara sauce. Remove from heat.

Also while marinara is simmering, combine cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, and beaten egg in a separate bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the lasagna in 8x8 pan as follows:
  • Thin layer of marinara sauce
  • 1/2 lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cottage cheese mixture
  • 1/3 Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 marinara sauce
  • Remaining noodles
  • Remaining cottage cheese
  • 1/3 Mozzarella cheese
  • Remaining Marinara
  • Remaining Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
Bake covered for 45 minutes, and uncovered for 15 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

*Feel free to use your favorite marinara sauce, but I really like to use Stokely's brand for this lasagna. It's cheap & plain, but it has the right texture and tastes great with the additions I make to it. If Stokely's is not available, I really suggest using a cheaper, plain marinara - nothing chunky - and adding to it as I indicate above. Trust me on this.

** I like no-boil lasagna noodles, but my husband prefers this recipe with regular lasagna noodles. No matter which you use, do not boil them. If using regular noodles, add about another 1/2 cup water.

Steak & Potatoes

I love steak. I discovered it about 9 months ago after thinking I didn't like it. Despite that, I was hesitant to try making one at home. Turns out, it's really easy. Nothing to be afraid of. You should try it. If you do, you can have a meal like this at home.

Here's what you do:

1. Buy a good steak. It doesn't have to be filet mignon, but get a good cut of meat. Avoid "No Name Steaks" at all costs, unless you enjoy eating stew meat.
2. Let it sit out about 15 minutes.
3. Coat with a little bit of olive oil and then season liberally with salt & pepper on both sides. Let it sit out like that for about 30 minutes.
4. After about 30 minutes, heat a couple TBSP butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
5. Fry the steak for about 5 minutes on one side, then flip and fry for about 4 minutes. Try really hard not to flip it more than once. For a 1-inch thick steak, this will give you medium-rare.

See, doesn't that sound easy?

These roasted potatoes go great with it:

Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Recipe by Ina Garten, adapted
Serves 3-4
Total Cook & Prep time - 1 hr, 10 min

1 1/2 pounds small red or white-skinned potatoes (or a mixture) (I like reds)
1/8 cup good olive oil
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 TBSP minced garlic
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves (If you don't have fresh, omit. Don't use dried)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Dump the potatoes on a baking sheet and spread out into 1 layer; roast in the oven for about 1 hour, or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking to ensure even browning (be careful not to burn the garlic, or it will get bitter tasting).

Remove the potatoes from the oven, season to taste, and serve.