Rustic Turkey Ragu

It is the last day of March and, after a fairly mild month, light snow flurries are hinting of a bigger storm passing through the Sierras. We need the snow, desperately. This region is in a severe drought and therefore residents don’t mind if winter chooses to come a bit late. Bring on those April showers.

Even with the mild weather, it has still been challenging to keep those extra winter pounds off. Seems I always pack on about five to seven of them. I’m not always disciplined with my diet and I am partial to a local coffee shop’s vanilla chai lattes. Probably not the leanest things to drink but they sure hit the spot! So now, when my pants feel a bit snug around the waist, I have to think about eating better and getting to the gym (and limiting my chai addiction). Lately, I have been incorporating leaner meats in my dishes, like ground turkey instead of ground beef. Here is a nice rustic skillet dish that is fairly light, but hearty enough to keep you warm on a chilly winterish spring evening. I used pasta that I had in the pantry, but wheat or a gluten-free variety would make an excellent substitute.

IMG_8711Ingredients
12 oz. Ground Turkey
1 tsp oil (olive, Canola)
2 medium Carrots, chopped
1 stalk Celery, chopped
4 oz. Cremini Mushrooms, chopped
1/2 Onion, chopped
1-2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
28-oz can 2 14-oz cans) Diced Tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup Dry Red Wine
1 – 2 tsps. fennel seeds, crushed
12 oz. Pasta
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped, or 1 Tbsp. dried Parsley
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey...

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey…

...until no longer pink.

…until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

All the veggies cooked through.

All the veggies cooked through.

Add the diced tomatoes.

Add the diced tomatoes and mash with a potato masher or meat pounder.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Add the wine...

Add the wine…

...fennel seeds...

…fennel seeds…

...and cooked turkey.

…and cooked turkey.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes. While your ragu is getting its groove on, cook your pasta as directed on the package.

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

 

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Deep Skillet Chicken Pad Thai

Greetings and Salutations…and Happy New Year to boot!

I hope the holiday season treated all of you well. It seems to have flown by! After a crazy year-end cycle at work, I am trying to get back into a normal routine again…especially when it comes to cooking and devoting more time to this blog. It seems harder and harder to make time for certain things in my life…things that are important but seem to end up on the back burner when juggling professional and personal obligations. I know we all experience it in our lives and try to find a balance. I am looking forward to things slowing down a bit so I can stop and smell the roses…or in this case, the Pad Thai!

So, it’s no secret that Thai food is one of my absolute favorites (I’ve raved about it more than a few times on this blog). One of the most commonly known dishes is Pad Thai, which is basically a stir-fry with rice noodles and other ingredients such as chicken, seafood, vegetables, and eggs. One wintery day a few weeks ago I experienced a mean craving for this delectable dish, but did not want to venture out into the cold to a restaurant. I found a basic recipe online and enhanced it a bit, omitting certain items like bean sprouts and amping up the quantities for the sauce, plus adding a little peanut butter. What I discovered is that Pad Thai is very easy to make and perfect for a cast iron wok or deep skillet. Below is a basic recipe compliments of allrecipes.com, with a few tweaks on my part. I hope you like it!

Deep Skillet Chicken Pad ThaiIngredients
1 (12 – 14 oz.) package Rice Noodles
1 pound Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsps. Canola Oil
4 Eggs
2 Tbsps. White Wine Vinegar
3 – 4 Tbsps. Fish Sauce
6 Tbsps. White Sugar (adjust quantity to taste)
1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
1/8 Tbsp. Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 cup Chopped or Crushed Peanuts
3 Green Onions, chopped

First step, prepare rice noodles according to package directions.

Heat 2 Tbsps. of oil in cast iron skillet or wok.

Next, heat 2 Tbsps. of oil in cast iron skillet or wok.

Add chicken and garlic, saute together until chicken is browned.

Add chicken and garlic, saute together until chicken is browned.

Once browned, remove chicken to from skillet.

Once browned, remove chicken to a plate.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat.

Crack eggs into hot oil and cook until firm, looking almost as if they are scrambled.

Crack eggs into hot oil and cook until firm, looking almost as if they are scrambled.

Cooked eggs.

Cooked eggs.

Return the chicken to the skillet.

Return the chicken to the skillet.

Combine with cooked eggs.

Combine with cooked eggs.

Add the cooked rice noodles.

Add the cooked rice noodles.

Add vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peanut butter. Combine thoroughly.

Add vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peanut butter. Combine thoroughly.

Garnish with chopped green onions and peanuts. You are set to start your new year in Thai fashion!

Garnish with chopped green onions and peanuts. You are set to start your new year in Thai fashion!

My Big Fat Greek Meatball Gyro

Wow. Here it is, August already, and I didn’t realize how long it’s been since my last post. Where did July go?

Summer is always super busy for me, as I’m sure it is for everyone. I hope all of you are taking advantage of sunny days and warm weather. I am trying to get outside as much as possible, packing in camping trips, Dutch oven events and dog trials while the good weather lasts. Maybe I should call this post “My Big Fat CRAZY Summer!” Because it has been.

But, since I actually have this one weekend off, I thought I’d share a fun twist on a Greek classic. The traditional gyro is usually served with lamb, but not everyone may be a fan (like my husband). And, as I am always trying to find ways to jazz up staple proteins like ground beef, I found this fun recipe to create a meatball version of the gyro. This meal is quick, tasty and can be pretty lean if you use lean ground beef or ground turkey. You can take it one step further and turn it into a lettuce wrap, instead of using pita bread or Naan. So many options for a light and tasty summer dish.

What really makes the gyro so tasty, for me, is the creamy and slightly tangy tzatziki sauce made from yogurt and fresh cucumber. And it is probably one of the easiest and healthiest sauces to make.

TTzatziki Saucezatziki Sauce Ingredients
1 6 oz. container Greek Yogur
1/2 Cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1 clove Garlic, crushed
Salt to taste

Remove the seeds from a cucumber and dice.

Remove the seeds from a cucumber and dice.

Add the diced cucumber to a bowl with the Greek yogurt.

Add the diced cucumber to a bowl with the Greek yogurt.

Add the crushed garlic clove.

Add the crushed garlic clove. Season with salt to taste.

Combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve with the gyros.

Combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve with the gyros.

My Big Fat Greek Meatball GyroGyro Ingredients
1 lb. lean Ground Beef
2 Eggs
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. dried Marjoram
1 tsp. dried Oregano
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper
1/2 Cucumber, sliced
8 oz. Grape Tomatoes, halved
Naan flatbread (found in deli section of most grocery stores; Pita bread or lettuce leaves may be substituted)

Place the ground beef in a bowl.

Place the ground beef in a bowl.

Add the two eggs.

Add the two eggs.

Add all of the spices, including salt and pepper.

Add all of the spices, including salt and pepper.

Combine thoroughly.

Combine thoroughly.

Form into large meatballs. This will make about 12-18 meatballs.

Form into large meatballs. This will make about 15-18 meatballs, depending on the size.

Spray a cast iron griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium temperature.

Spray a cast iron griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium temperature.

Cook the meatballs, turning often to cook evenly. Internal temperature should be between 155 - 165, depending on how rare you like your beef.

Cook the meatballs, turning often to cook evenly. Internal temperature should be between 155 – 165, depending on how rare you like your beef.

Starting to get a nice sear.

Starting to get a nice sear.

If you are using Naan, warm in a microwave for 30 seconds to soften. Add the meatballs, tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Opa!

If you are using Naan, warm in a microwave for 30 seconds to soften. Add the meatballs, tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Opa!

Good ‘Ol Fashioned Sloppy Joes

Growing up, sloppy joes usually came out of a can. Who can forget that “a sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” I loved Manwich night at my house as my mom wasn’t the greatest cook. For example, her pork chops were of the consistency and flavor of cardboard. Stick a fork in it, if you can, because, yes, it is well beyond done. And that’s usually how we ate Mom’s pork chops…stuck on the end of a fork and us desperately gnawing at it since we couldn’t cut it. Thankfully, Mom couldn’t screw up a Manwich so sloppy joe night was often requested by us youngsters.

Today, I try to avoid “canned” meals as much as possible, having found that it is just as easy and a lot healthier to make my own from scratch. I have even found a number of sloppy joe variations that are truly delicious, such as Aarti Sequeira’s Bombay Sloppy Joes. A lovely Indian twist of an American classic made with ground turkey and seasoned with warm Indian spices like garam masala.

But today’s recipe is the traditional version, made with organic ground beef, bell peppers, ketchup and mustard. Quick to make, tasty to eat and so much better than a Canwich, I mean Manwich.

Sloppy JoesIngredients
1 lb. Ground Beef or Ground Turkey
1/4 cup chopped Onion
1/2 cup each chopped Green and Red Bell Peppers
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsps. Prepared Yellow Mustard
3/4 cup Ketchup
3 tsps. Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a cast iron skillet, brown the ground beef, peppers and onion together.

In a cast iron skillet, brown the ground beef, peppers and onion together.

Nicely browned beef and veggies.

Nicely browned beef and veggies.

Remove the beef mixture and drain the fat from the skillet.

Remove the beef mixture and drain the fat from the skillet.

Return the beef mixture to the skillet. Add the garlic powder.

Return the beef mixture to the skillet. Add the garlic powder.

Then add the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. If you want your mixture to be less sweet, don't add the brown sugar. Add more mustard and Worcestershire sauce for extra tanginess.

Then add the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. If you want your mixture to be less sweet, don’t add the brown sugar. Add more mustard and Worcestershire sauce for extra tanginess.

Stir ingredients thoroughly and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir ingredients thoroughly, season with salt and pepper, and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Toast some buns and slop on the joe. Good stuff!

Toast some buns and slop on the joe. Good stuff!

Wild Mushroom and Beef Soup

Well, a little skiff of snow fell last night, reminding me that winter really is still here, even if spring is supposed to arrive early. Yesterday, it was 55 degrees here in Reno. Current temp…about 35. Sounds like a good day for soup.

Here’s a tasty recipe for some earthy wild mushroom and beef soup. Dried wild mushrooms or soup mushroom packets can be used for this recipe. They are usually found in the produce or soup sections of your grocery store. Any ‘ol mix of mushrooms will do.

Wild Mushroom and Beef SoupIngredients
1 1-oz. package dried wild mushrooms or soup mix mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil, divided
2 lbs. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 shallots, chopped
2 medium carrots or about 20 baby carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb. bag baby Dutch yellow potatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
2 32-oz. containers low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup red wine
Chopped parsley
Fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)
Worcestershire Sauce (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and boiling water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and boiling water. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsps. of oil over medium-high heat until very hot.

In a Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsps. of oil over medium-high heat until very hot.

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

Add meat and cook in batches until browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes.

Add meat to Dutch oven and cook in batches until browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove to a plate.

Remove to a plate.

Lower heat to medium and add another Tbsp. of oil to the Dutch oven. Saute onion, carrots and garlic until softened, about 7 minutes.

Lower heat to medium and add another Tbsp. of oil to the Dutch oven. Saute onion, carrots and garlic until softened, about 7 minutes.

Nicely cooked veggies.

Nicely cooked veggies.

Add the tomato paste...

Add the tomato paste.

and combine thoroughly.

Combine thoroughly and cook for about 2 minutes.

Return the meat to the pot.

Return the meat to the pot.

Add the beef broth and wine.

Add the beef broth and wine.

Add the potatoes and bring to a boil.

Add the potatoes and bring to a boil.

Drain the mushrooms. Chop them and add to the soup.

Drain the mushrooms. Chop them and add to the soup. If you want an even heartier soup, add the sliced fresh mushrooms as well.

Simmer the soup for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until beef and potatoes are tender.

Simmer the soup for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until beef and potatoes are tender.

Don't be surprised if your soup smiles back at you.

Don’t be surprised if your soup smiles back at you.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce for a little added flavor.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce for a little added flavor. Enjoy!

Seared Scallops with Spinach Salad and Pomegranate Gastrique

Looking for a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day? This light and tasty seafood dish is sweet, savory and a little tangy – just like most relationships. Pair it with a nice bottle of wine and anything chocolate for dessert and you’ll be sure to get someone’s heart pounding.

Seared ScallopsIngredients
1-2 Tbsps. Oil (olive or canola)
8 – 12 Sea Scallops, fresh or thawed
1 Tangerine, Clementine or Tangelo (a citrus hybrid of a tangerine, pomelo or grapefruit)
2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, shaved
Salt and Pepper

Pomegranate Gastrique:
3/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1/3 cup Pomegranate Juice

Spinach Salad:
2 Tbsps. Oil (olive or canola)
Juice of 1 Lime
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1/2 tsp. Brown Mustard
1/2 – 1 tsp. Honey
1 cup Baby Spinach
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the gastrique by combining sugar, rice wine vinegar and pomegranate juice in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat.

Prepare the gastrique by combining sugar, rice wine vinegar and pomegranate juice in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat.

While the gastrique is thickening, prepare the salad dressing by combining 2 Tbsp. oil, lime juice, minced garlic, brown mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake well. Don't have a mason jar? Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.

While the gastrique is thickening, prepare the salad dressing by combining 2 Tbsps. oil, lime juice, minced garlic, brown mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake well. Don’t have a mason jar? Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.

Place the spinach in a bowl.

Place the spinach in a bowl.

Drizzle with the honey mustard dressing and toss.

Drizzle with the honey mustard dressing and toss.

Now for the main event. Heat 1- 2 Tbsps. of oil in a cast iron skillet. Make sure the oil is hot.

Now for the main event. Heat 1- 2 Tbsps. of oil in a cast iron skillet. Make sure the oil is hot.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper.

Place in the hot skillet and sear on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side.

Place in the hot skillet and sear on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side.

Lovely golden seared scallops.

Lovely golden seared scallops.

Serve scallops on a bed of the spinach salad.  Top with the tangelo sections. Drizzle the pomegranate gastrique over dish and top with shaved cheese. Voila! A homemade gourmet dish for your honey.

Serve scallops on a bed of the spinach salad. Top with the tangelo sections. Drizzle the pomegranate gastrique over dish and top with shaved cheese. Voila! A homemade gourmet dish for your honey.