Thursday Recipe Exchange: Portuguese Beef and Pasta

Years ago, when I was first learning to ski, I was very frustrated by the amount of time I spent on my ass and not skiing.  Someone told me that if I wasn’t spending  a lot of time picking myself up, I wasn’t really skiing. I needed to push my limits to get better. In other words, it was all good.  I find that information works for a lot of things in life.  Cooking is no exception.

This week, I spent a lot of time on my figurative ass, playing with the new crock-pot making various recipes.  There were epic failures.  The first thing I tried was a slow cooker meatloaf.  It called for a basic meatloaf recipe – I have a favorite – and then cook all day on low.  The results were not stellar.  More like steamed meatloaf.  An unappetizing color and texture.  Not the nice deep brown of a good baked loaf.  I was able to salvage it by cutting it into thin slices and frying it up for sandwiches.

I'll stick to these scalloped potatoes from now on.

The next failure was the scalloped potatoes.  This called for a slightly modified recipe, a bit more moisture than in the baked method.  The flavor was fine, the texture was horrible.  Kind of like if you reheated some that you baked.  Rubbery and chewy.  I’m not sure how you could modify the recipe to get a creamier texture.  I’d love to hear any ideas in the comments.

The rest of the week was spent making traditional slow cooker foods – soups and a lovely pot roast.   It wasn’t a total loss.  I did learn that for a fool-proof slow cooker recipe it’s best to have a recipe that can cook, unattended, all day without risk of ruin.  Both the potatoes and the meatloaf really could not have cooked any longer than they did.  They would have turned out even worse.

So that was adventures in cooking this week.  What foods do you use your slow cooker for successfully? Anything usual that we’ve never thought of?  Hit the comments.  Next week I think our theme will be Mardi Gras, and I’m hoping you’ll come prepared to share some favorite drinks as well as Cajun food recipes.  Someone should bring the King’s cake recipe, too.

Here’s one of my favorite fool-proof slow cooker recipes:

Portuguese Beef & Pasta

This works best if you cook the pasta separately and either add it to the beef the last 15 minutes or serve the beef over the pasta.  This is one of those slow cooker recipes that the longer it cooks, the better it gets, usually 10 hours minimum for best flavor.

  • 1 lb round steak, cut into thin strips, remove excess fat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2-14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz dry macaroni**

Slow-Cooker and saucepan

Add beef, salt, pepper, onion, green pepper, garlic, paste, diced tomatoes, water, bay leaf & red pepper to Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low) until beef tears easily with a fork. In saucepan, cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain well (you don’t want any water in your beef mixture) and mix beef and pasta and serve.

**Ditilani works really, or any tiny pasta, like tiny elbow macaroni or tiny bow-ties.

Mmm…Mexi-corn

Well, that’s what one of the big food companies calls their version.  I cut the kernels off three ears of fresh sweet corn, diced some bell peppers, a few cloves of garlic, and half an onion.  Saute the veggies in an olive oil/butter mix, salt and pepper and Yum!  Cooks with more tolerant spouses will add minced jalapenos or the like, and maybe a sprinkle or two of chili powder, or some ground chipotles and/or anchos.

Standard meatloaf-hamburger, sweet Italian sausage, onions, an egg, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, some dried herbs, chopped bell peppers, salt and pepper, garlic powder-you know the drill.  This one was reading 180+ degrees in the center after 50 minutes at 350 so I took it out- the lack of toasty brown crust notwithstanding.  That’s Heinz chili sauce on the top, just a wee bit tastier in this application than ketchup.  YMMV

The chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes were tossed with a garlic-y olive oil and roasted.  Kosher salt and fresh black pepper finished them off.

All in all, a decent dinner:

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Italian meatloaf

I had a yen for a good old fashioned dinner of meatloaf.  I cruised the recipes Google fetched and looked at a few before I saw this one.  Right away I knew I had to do it.  Pretty well followed the recipe as written except I used half beef and half Italian sausage.  A thorough rummage through the cupboard yielded no mushrooms in a can so I soaked some dried shiitakes.

Mac “n cheese and  the beans are standard sides.  I did use five kinds of cheese but it turned out just a bit too dry.  I have to remind myself that I really need to go with “soupy” in the casserole dish prior to baking.  I rescued the mac leftovers today with additional cream and some yogurt, along with a spoonful of cream cheese.

Enjoy!

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Men Who Cook…for me.

While I was away I was lucky enough to have someone cook for me.  My friend Paula is married to a wonderful guy named Butch, and he is a really good cook.  It is always fun visiting because we like to talk recipes and see what’s cooking, and he usually rolls out some family favorites for dinner.  And after dinner we usually get in a couple rounds of Scattergories with the kids.  Just a great way to end the day.

Butch has contributed recipes here before and I wanted to include the dinner he made on Monday, because it was really terrific.  And as he said in the email he just sent me, really easy, too.

Butch’s Meatloaf and Roasted Potatoes:

Hearty Meatloaf

  • 1.5 lb of 90/10 ground beef
  • 1 cup of oatmeal, ground fine
  • 1 envelope onion dip mix
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp ah-so sauce
  • 1 egg
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste

Mix it well and bake in a loaf pan at 350 degrees for 55-60 mins.

Roasted Potatoes

  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 4-6 pieces
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Toss all ingredients together well, spread in a single layer in a 9 x 12 baking glass baking dish until crispy (about 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees)

In Praise of Meatloaf

I don’t make a lot of meatloaves.  I cannot remember that last time I actually made one.  But the stars aligned last week and it had to be meatloaf.  I had gotten a great deal on good ground beef, so I had purchased it in bulk, JeffW had posted an amazing looking meatloaf earlier, and I had some homemade tomato soup I had to do use up.

A quick call to mom, to make sure the recipe I was thinking of was a good one and I was all set.  I put it together the night before and let it sit, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator until I was ready to form it.

I have 2 mini-loaf pans that I use for making holiday breads.  They are the best size to make banana breads or other fruit breads to wrap for the holidays.   And as it turns out, perfect size for making meatloaf.  Each pan holds about half the amount of  a regular pan.  This shortened cooking time by about 30 minutes and kept the meatloaf from drying out.  One for dinner, one for sandwiches the next day.   Here’s my recipe.  Nothing fancy at all:

Meatloaf

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1-1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup tomato soup*
  • 1/2 finely chopped small onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

large bowl and 2 mini-loaf pans or 1 regular loaf pan

Mix oats and milk together and let sit for 5 minutes until milk is absorbed. In the bowl, add beef and create a large well in the center.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Shape into 1 or 2 loaves and place in pan.  Bake at 350 degrees until center reaches 160 degrees.  Time will vary depending on pan type – glass, aluminum or mini.  Makes 8 servings.

* the tomato soup had peppers, carrots and lots of spices in it, so I didn’t feel the need to add more to the loaf.  But you can add finely chopped carrots, green peppers and some basil or thyme as desired.

While I was searching for my meatloaf recipe, in my trusty Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook (that I have had since high school), I came across one that sounded interesting.  If I had ricotta on hand, I would have made it.  I used their recipe as a guide, but because I think theirs was only a good start I changed it quite a bit.  So in case you are looking for a change-up in your regular meatloaf, this one might be one to try.

Italian Meatloaf

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1-1/2 lbs ground beef

Filling:

  • 12 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 3 button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed oregano and basil
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic

8×8 baking dish

Mix the meatloaf together as above.  Pat half the mixture into the baking dish.  Beat ricotta and eggs together well, add remaining ingredients and spread over meat in the baking dish.  Cover with remaining meat mixture, spread evenly.  Bake at 350 degrees until meat in both layers is 160 degrees (about 50 minutes).  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Noodles with Lamb Loaf and a Lil Salad

Wore out on gyros, still have that lamb meatloaf.  What to do…Noodles? I saved the stock from boiling the bones and scraps of leg meat.  That’ll work.  Blah lookin on the plate though.  Needs some color.  The red pepper flakes just didn’t do it.

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Gyro and a Teaser

Here’s that gyro I talked about in the previous post.  I diced a smallish onion very finely and added it to the yogurt, along with the cucumber and a few cloves of garlic.  The green onion was just for some balance of color.

And here’s the teaser, also mentioned last post.

Be back in a bit…

Enjoy!

Finicky Eaters, Chapter One

A friend and I were running errands today, one of which was at the local Asian market.  This prompted, as it always does, a great discussion on different types of food.  I’m forever picking things up and wishing there were directions on how to cook it or what it is good for.  There’s this big, prickly fruit, bigger than a pineapple that I always want to know what to do with it.  My friend can tell me somethings, but others she’s at as much of a loss as I am.  We talk about regional foods, like, oh, SPAM…or fish flakes and dried squid. 

This leads us to talking about finicky eaters.  Today she shared a great idea that her kid just loves.   When she makes mac ‘n cheese, she boils cauliflower with the macaroni adds her cheese sauce and finishes up by baking it in the oven.  It’s now a family favorite.

There are lots of ways to get creative with familiar recipes to help the finicky eater.   Adding a variety of vegetables to meatloaf, making a hearty vegetable broth to add to soups or stews.  Up the nutrition and introduce subtle new flavors.

There’ll be more tips for finicky eaters as we go along.  And later this week I’ll dig out my favorite mac ‘ n cheese recipe and post it.  Cauliflower optional.