A Frying Pan Full of Bacon Offers a Gift of Time

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Late summer is a busy time for me. The start of school looms closer for my daughter, and I am helping to cover for vacations at work. When I’ve had time to spare, I’ve preferred to devote it to conversations with my daughter or my husband. If they would prefer time alone (because the three of us are an alliance of natural loners), I’ve indulged in some TV or light reading. For once I’m reading Father Brown stories with both of my eyes open, instead of dozing off as Chesterton zooms in on the cleric and his frequent sidekick Flambeau as they witness and anatomize yet another variety of mayhem.

Right now I have bacon frying on my stove top. I used to regret that I take so long to cook bacon. Whenever I rush the process, flavor is the sacrifice. I’ve grown to appreciate the time it affords me to slow down for a spell after work.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

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Here’s a comfort food recipe that is ideal for summer. The entire recipe may be cooked on the stove top, but I usually finish it in a glass casserole dish in the microwave. It has the bright flavor of this season’s savory fare, but the potato topping mellows the recipe just enough to give it staying power over the appetite.

Sometimes I make this recipe in the cold of winter to remind me that everything will thaw and rebound again.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 4-6

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • dash seasoned salt
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 yellow mustard
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 T ketchup
  • Dash hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 15.25 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 cups warm mashed potatoes, can be leftovers or the store-ready kind
  • 1/4 cup diced green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles, for topping

Brown and crumble ground beef with chopped onion and seasoned salt over medium heat in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Drain fat. Pour in beef broth and bring to a simmer. Mix in mustard, tomato paste, ketchup, hot sauce, garlic powder, thyme, and black pepper. When all is well combined and bubbling, stir in the corn. Next add 1/2 cup cheese and stir until melted.

To finish on stove top:

Turn down heat to medium low. Spread mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the green onions. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until all is heated through and cheese is melted.

To finish in microwave:

Empty ground beef mixture into 2 quart microwave-safe casserole dish. Spread mashed potatoes over mixture and sprinkle with the remaining half cup cheese and the green onions. Heat in microwave for 5-7 minutes or until heated through.

Both versions are good served with pickles. I’ve made this dish with a bit of crumbled, cooked bacon on top, too. Just about any cheeseburger topping is a festive addition to this recipe at the dinner table.
 

This recipe is adapted from Better Homes and GardensCheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie. I tried that recipe three years ago, and I’ve simplified it a bit more every time I make it. In this house, it has evolved into the version I offer here.

Succotash Dinner

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This recipe is my take on Cooking Light’s Edamame Succotash. It’s one of those simple recipes that value whole foods, and it looks as if can be adapted liberally to suit a wide array of preferences. I prefer lima beans to edamame. While canned lima beans are infamous for adding a bitter note to mixed vegetables, the dry and frozen forms have a neutral flavor and smooth texture that yields well to seasoning.

I should mention why I decided to blog about what I’m cooking. I have a tendency to make a dish differently over time based on the contents of my fridge and pantry. My husband suggested that I start making notes of how I’d made a dish a particular time it turned out well. For someone as disorganized as I am, a blog is an ideal place to record recipes.

Writing about cooking also honors a task that it is vital yet so undervalued among tasks done day to day. When there is no record in writing or photos to show what I’ve done in the kitchen, it is all too tempting to strip meaning and purpose from all the time I devote to this kind of work. When I click through my recipes here, I am reminded that my time has value, and time spent on cooking is not wasted.

By the way, ham isn’t necessary to this finished dish. It could taste intriguing with a pound of shrimp or chicken instead. The beans provide a decent amount of protein, so the meat can be omitted entirely to create a vegetarian main as well.

Succotash Dinner

8 servings

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

8 oz white mushrooms, sliced

1 T salted butter

1 T olive oil

1/2 t black pepper

1/4 t salt

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 lb frozen lima beans, thawed

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

2 T white vinegar

1 t dried thyme (or 1 T fresh thyme)

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley

1 lb cubed ham

1 large fresh tomato, diced

Hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, shallots, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, until onions are transculent. Stir in corn and let sit for a minute or two over the heat so the corn browns just a little. Pour in stock, add bay leaf, and sprinkle in thyme. Add lima beans, turn down heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for ten minutes. Stir in ham and vinegar and heat five minutes more. Remove bay leaf, sprinkle parsley and tomatoes over all, and serve over rice.

Dinner Rut

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A frequent visitor to my dinner table: pork tenderloin, rice and beans

There is a stack of cooking magazines in my kitchen. My phone and computer are loaded with recipe bookmarks. I love to read about food, especially researching the food I am eating at that moment. If I am eating beans, I want to learn more about beans and see if anyone has crafted a novel, fresh recipe featuring that ingredient. As I eat a food, I also like to get reacquainted with data on that item’s vitamins, minerals, etc. This tandem reading and eating (a habit I can’t fully indulge unless I am eating by myself, lest I appear rude to my dining companions) enhances both the intellectual and sensory experience of eating.

Why is it that I have no shortage of inspiration available to me, yet I keep making many of the same dinners time and again? I know that I would be better off in trying new techniques, different ingredients, etc. A broad palate is a wise strategy for health as well. In eating a wide variety of foods (especially produce), there is a greater opportunity for getting all the nutrients one needs.

Still I fall into a dinner rut. Periodically, I’ll venture into something different that becomes part of my regular playlist. A couple years ago, I bought a pork tenderloin on a whim, and I’ve been roasting one a month (or more) ever since. They are tender, low in fat and hard to mess up. There’s plenty of pre-marinated ones in the grocery store and even more recipes online for marinade if one prefers the DIY approach.

As side dishes, I’ll choose a rice dish and some beans. This evening I paired the tenderloin with rice pilaf and lima beans. I think that toasting the rice and orzo to a golden brown really deepens the richness of a pilaf. I’ve also found that simmering lima beans in low sodium broth brightens their flavor and cuts away their bitterness.

This is an easy dinner I can multitask with chores like laundry. By the time I had the dishes finished at 6:15, my evening was wide open. There was nothing left I absolutely had to get done before bedtime.

That’s what I want from a new dinner recipe worth repeating: ease, great taste, nutrition . . . . and an evening full only of the things I really want to do, by myself or with my family.

Spaghetti Dinner

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This evening’s edition: rigatoni and ground beef with Mid’s sauce

Like chili or tacos, spaghetti is one of those dinners I regret I can’t serve more often. If I make spaghetti more than once a fortnight, I risk seeming lazy or obsessed. Since I seldom cook my own sauce, spaghetti is indeed an easy dinner for me to serve, aside from that moment of juggling pans as everything seems to finish at the same moment.

Here in the Midwest, spaghetti is actually two different things, a product or a dinner genre. The difference depends on whether you are buying or making spaghetti. In the grocery store, spaghetti is what you’d call a box of dried semolina dough that is cut to uniform length and ~2 mm girth. When you cook dinner at home around here and call it spaghetti, it could be almost any combination of tomato sauce, pasta and ground meat. Actually the meat is optional. If it is present, it may be crumbled or shaped into meatballs.

Spaghetti dinner has the rare quality of growing with a cook throughout a lifetime. It can be both a starter dish for a beginner or the signature meal of a master. I have made several attempts at creating a decent homemade sauce, but I end up with a bland but nice looking result, like a Penney’s catalog of cuisine. Since these efforts have not yet been worth the time I’ve spent on them, I usually buy a tomato sauce and add meat. My favorite store bought sauce is Mid’s, which is a bit pricey but has a much deeper tenor than typical jarred sauces.

Spaghetti dinner can be varied to the point of using a starch other than pasta. A few years ago, I tried substituting polenta for pasta, with favorable results. I can now make spaghetti dinner twice as often by disguising it as a polenta casserole. The next time I make this casserole, I will post its simple recipe. It is just a bed of polenta covered in meatballs and tomato sauce then topped with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

I just had a vision of making a chili variation on the polenta casserole.

That’s what I need to make next.

If it works, I have an excuse to cook more chili, which is even more satisfying than making spaghetti dinner.

This could be how tamales were born. They are a taco variant of the polenta casserole.