Category Archives: like mom used to make

Shepherd’s Pie


Today was the last day of the semester, and for that I was grateful.  As I’ve mentioned before, this semester has been particularly trying, and I am just thankful to have made it to the end!  I have the next two weeks off on holiday, during which I plan to rest, relax, and do a fair bit of cooking.  I started this evening with our dinner–we’d been eating out all week long as the end of the semester usually is so busy that I don’t have much time to cook, so we resort to going out.  This week we also had a few social engagements that involved dinner, so eating at home happened very rarely this week at dinnertime.

Sometimes you just want a meal that soothes and comforts.  And sometimes you just want something that is easy and quick to fix that doesn’t require a terrible lot of work.  This dinner is both.  We’d been out earlier in the week to one of our neighborhood favorite joints, the Allen Wickers.  It’s a great pub/restaurant that we frequent, and the food there is quite good and includes a few British pub favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.  Their version is ground beef with mixed vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes and a bit of cheese.  There isn’t a gravy or sauce, so while it is good, there isn’t anything that really holds it together.  I decided I’d make a remixed version of their recipe for dinner tonight, with a few modifications to accommodate for SB’s onion allergy.

Comfort food at its best: shepherd's pie. Easy to make, full of vegetables, and sure to be a repeat guest at your dinner table.

Now I’d made shepherd’s pie before, but it had never turned out anywhere near as good as this one did.  As SB said while he ate, “This is off the chain.”

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 package steamable frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 package Alexia Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (about 3 cups)*
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • salt to taste

*you can always make your own mashed potatoes; I used these because they were in my freezer and cut the prep and cook time significantly.  Additionally, this particular brand of steamable mashed potatoes is really good and tastes homemade–SB couldn’t tell the difference!

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground sirloin.  While the meat is cooking, steam cook the mixed vegetables according to package directions (about 5 minutes).  Drain the fat from the meat and add in the garlic.  Carefully open the package of cooked mixed vegetables, and add them to the pan, stirring them in with the meat to combine.  While you are cooking the vegetables with the meat, cook the mashed potatoes according to package directions (about 10 minutes).  Add the dried spices to the meat-vegetable mixture and cook for about 5-6 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the mixture.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

After this has cooked, sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture to lightly coat it and stir to distribute the flour.  Stir in the milk so that a gravy is created, and turn the heat off of the meat and vegetables.  After the mashed potatoes have finished cooking, carefully remove them from the package using a rubber spatula and spread them over the surface of the meat and vegetables so that you create a mashed potato “crust.”  Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Allow the pie to set for about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe made 4 large servings, but would make 8 small servings if eaten with other vegetables or side items.  We elected to eat it as a solo dish.

Easy Potato Soup


Earlier this week, I managed to pick up some sort of stomach bug which made eating anything with any real spice unpalatable.  In fact, my dinner Tuesday night was a sleeve of saltine crackers and a couple of cans of Sprite Zero.  Delicious AND nutritious, I say!

Last night, I decided to test the waters with eating something that had a bit more flavor than plain saltines.  When SB and I first met way back when, we’d gone to his folks’ house, and on that particular day, his mother was making a potato soup for his dad, who’d been out hunting all day.  I remember sitting in their living room, smelling the soup and thinking, “Damn, I really want some, but we just ate.”  I haven’t forgotten that, and it’s been nearly 8 years ago since that day.  So the other day when I was feeling wormy, I had SB ask his mama just how she made that soup that smelled oh-so-good.  And from the information he relayed to me, it was quite simple:  potatoes, broth, onions, salt, pepper and cheese, if you wanted.  I changed the recipe up a bit, but it’s still quite good and could be eaten at any time of year, really.

So yeah, it's 100 degrees out, and what did I fix for dinner last night? Potato soup that did NOT require me to stand over a hot stove for long!

This recipe could easily be made vegetarian or vegan with the use of veggie broth and the exclusion of the bacon.  Here’s how I made mine.  You will need:

  • 4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 slices uncooked bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • black pepper
  • cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the carrots and celery until they are slightly soft.  You don’t want them to give too much; you want to cook them until you can smell the sweetness of the carrot, about 10 minutes.  Add the broth, bacon and potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stir in the black pepper and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring periodically.  Using a potato masher, smash the potatoes slightly to break them up.  You do not want mashed potato consistency, but rather a chunky soupy consistency.

Serve hot, with a salad if you like.  You may garnish the soup with shredded cheddar cheese, or you can stir it into the entire pot at the end of the cooking process if you want your soup to be more cheesy.  I sprinkled a couple of tablespoons on my bowl and stirred them in, which is why the bowl above appears a bit orangey.

This recipe made 6 1 3/4 cup servings.  Since we ate ours as a meal by itself, you could reduce the serving size and serve it alongside a salad or sandwich.

The Untidiest of Sandwiches


One of my favorite easy, one-pan meals to fix is Sloppy Joes.  A friend of mine from high school once told me that her mother used to call them “untidy Bartholomews” instead.  Quite a mouthful for a simple, messy and tasty sandwich.

Generally, when people make Sloppy Joes, they buy that stuff in a can that you can add to ground meat to make them.  That’s all good and well if you’re pinched for time, but truly, this version is far superior.  Not only does it get in the half cup of vegetables the canned stuff claims to provide per serving, it eliminates the corn syrup the canned stuff adds.  As corn syrup is a no-no in our household (as are onions), the canned stuff isn’t an option.  So I developed my own version of the Sloppy Joe.  Et voila:

The untidiest of sandwiches, this recipe mimics the stuff you can get in a can, but minus the corn syrup, and full of flavor.

I make mine using either 93/7 ground turkey (99% lean is too lean here) or ground sirloin.  Certainly ground chicken or pork could be substituted, but I feel that for this particular rendition, beef is best as it holds its own against the spices I use to flavor this sandwich filling.  The cayenne and red pepper flakes could be left out to make it kid friendly, unless your kid is a connoisseur of spicy foods, and then by all means, leave them in!   I also add celery and bell pepper to boost the veggie content, and they are a great addition here.  Here’s how I make this particular dish.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin*
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 8 oz. can no salt tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (also called Spanish paprika)
  • salt to taste

*ground chuck, regular ground beef or ground turkey can also be substituted here.

Brown the ground sirloin in a large skillet, then drain and reserve.  Heat the olive oil in the same skillet, and once the oil is hot, toss the bell pepper and celery in.  Cook them over medium-high heat until they soften a bit, about 7-8 minutes.  Near the end of this cooking time, add the garlic, ground sirloin, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and water.  Stir to combine, and then add the tomato paste, stirring in the paste thoroughly so that there are no chunks of it remaining.

Add all your seasonings, adding salt to taste.  Once the mixture begins to bubble, reduce your heat to just below medium, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring periodically to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom of your pan.

When the cook time ends, serve with crusty hamburger rolls.  I served mine on whole wheat bakery buns, but I have also eaten it as a baked potato topping.  This recipe made approximately 6 1-cup servings.

Chile Verde


A couple of weeks ago, I made chile colorado, which was quickly gobbled up by SB and me.  I’d been wanting to replicate the green chile stew I periodically ask my mom to make, and when I asked her how to make the chile colorado, I was sure to ask her how to make the chile verde as well.

It turns out that it’s just as easy to fix as chile colorado.  First, you need some green chile:

When you can't get Hatch chiles, this is a good substitute.

Since I didn’t have any Hatch on hand, as my mom always does (she buys 50+ pounds when they are in season and freezes it to use all year long), I had to settle for a tub of Bueno, which I found in the frozen vegetable section at Central Market.  It had a little bit of a bite, but not as much as I like my green chile to have.

Green chile puree adds heat to this simple beef stew.

This stew is rather easy to fix and requires little attention while cooking.  It does take quite a bit of time to cook, though, so be sure you either start it early on in the evening if you plan to have dinner on the table by 6, or make it on the weekend and reheat.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 13 ounce tub frozen green chiles, pureed (canned green chiles would work here as well), about 2 cups
  • 2 pounds stew beef or chuck roast, cubed into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 onion, diced (NOTE:  I did not add onion to my version, but this dish really needs onion to add more complexity to the flavor)

In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil.  Add the beef and stir, being sure to brown all sides of the meat.  Cover and cook the beef until most of the liquid has cooked off.  If you are using onions, add them here.  Next, add in the garlic cloves and powder, chile puree, black pepper and salt with enough water to cover the meat by about an inch and allow this to simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring periodically.  You want the meat to be fork tender at this point.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add the potatoes with a bit more water.  Allow the potatoes to cook until they are easily pierced with a fork.

Serve with warm tortillas and cheese.  I served a pot of spicy pinto beans alongside ours.  This makes an outstanding burrito filling, and is how I usually eat it when I have it at my mom’s.

This recipe makes about 10 1 1/2 cup servings, or thereabouts.  We have dinner for tomorrow night, with scant leftovers for a third night’s dinner.

Cheesy Barbecue Meatloaf


When thinking about what you want to eat for dinner, have you ever wanted to whip up something that screamed “comfort food?”  The definition of comfort food varies from person to person but generally it’s a food that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside that likely evokes pleasant memories while eating it.

Mind you, meatloaf is not my own personal comfort food, but it does in a pinch, and hey, it’s easy to make and pretty tasty.  I’d been craving beef for a while since I hadn’t had any in quite a while (the new eating habits haven’t totally gotten me to eschew beef altogether, but my consumption of it is greatly lessened), so I decided to put together a meatloaf for dinner tonight.  Most meatloaf recipes call for a meat mixture that includes ground beef, pork or veal, a veggie base that includes onions, a binder that is usually egg and breadcrumbs and ketchup or tomato paste for a bit of rich flavor.

I made mine a bit differently, and used ground sirloin and light breakfast sausage for my meat mixture, celery and garlic as my veggies, egg white and oatmeal as my binder, and barbecue sauce as my tomato base.  I added in some brisket rub for flavor, and sharp cheddar cheese and the result was amazing.  To wit:

Comfort food at its finest...and relatively healthy, too: this flavor-packed meatloaf uses egg whites and oatmeal in place of whole eggs and breadcrumbs as the binder.

As you can see, I served mine with a baked potato and broccoli crowns, and boy was it ever good!  Hubby ate all of his in nothing flat, and I ate slowly so I could savor every bite.  I did think about how awesome the leftovers would be in a sandwich for lunch tomorrow, which I will most certainly be having!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 3/4 pound ground sirloin
  • 1/2 pound lean breakfast sausage (I used HEB brand light breakfast sausage)
  • 2 tablespoons Brisket of Love rub (I implore you, get this rub; it is AWESOME)
  • 1 cup diced celery (onions would be good here too, but I used celery to accommodate for food allergies.  The texture is similar.)
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, divided (I used Fox Bros., but any will do)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 egg white, or 1/4 cup liquid egg whites
  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a skillet, heat the oil until hot and then saute the celery and garlic until the celery is soft.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, place the two meats, egg whites, spices, cheese, half the barbecue sauce, egg whites, oatmeal and cooked celery.  You can use your hands to mix all of this, or do like I did, and put all the ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer (love my KitchenAid!) and mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes so that everything combines and all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Cover a small baking sheet with parchment paper.  If you don’t have any parchment paper, a loaf pan will do just fine, but trust me on the parchment paper–this loaf will not stick to it!  Using a large silicone or rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl you have mixed the meatloaf in until the mixture makes a round mound in the bowl’s center.   Carefully invert the mounded meatloaf onto the parchment paper and form it into a rustic loaf shape (if you are baking on a baking sheet, as I did).  If you are not baking the loaf on a baking sheet, line a loaf pan with the parchment paper and fill the loaf pan with the meatloaf mixture.   Regardless of how you shape your meatloaf, pour the remaining barbecue sauce over the top of the uncooked loaf and place the loaf in the oven to cook for 55-60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads no less than 170 degrees F.

This recipe made 6 very generous servings.  We definitely have leftovers, some of which I will be eating tomorrow as my lunch!