Manicotti Pasta Bowl

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Manicotti Pasta Bowl! Comfort food. We all have our favorites. Some include melted cheese, rich chocolate, home made soups, or peanut butter sandwiches. And then there’s pasta; guardian of the energy boost. Not only is pasta a healthy option, it satisfies by keeping hunger pangs at bay. Being affordable, versatile, and nutritious make it even more enjoyable. And a little pasta goes a long way. We all know that. Sure, pasta is a carb…but in a good way. It partners well with low fat protein and veggies. Go, Team Pasta!

MANICOTTI PASTA BOWL

Ingredients:

6 manicotti shells

3/4 pound lean ground beef

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

3 cups prepared spaghetti sauce, chunky

1 ounce cream cheese, softened

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook manicotti shells according to package directions. Drain shells; rinse in cold water. Set aside. In a large skillet, brown ground beef until cooked and crumbled. Remove from heat. Drain liquid. Add sea salt, oregano, marjoram, basil, and garlic powder. Pour prepared spaghetti sauce over meat. Mix well. Spoon 1/3 of meat mixture into the bottom of two single-serving casserole dishes. Add softened creamed cheese and mozzarella cheese to the remaining meat mixture. Stuff each shell with filling. Arrange three filled manicotti shells in a row over sauce. Repeat in second casserole dish. Spread remaining filling over the tops of the stuffed shells. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; serve in casserole dish. Garnish with fresh basil.

Huevos Rancheros

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Huevos Rancheros! The nice thing about a breakfast like this is it’s basically made from leftovers. Beef roast. Check. Baked potatoes. Check, check. If you need ingredients on short notice, no worries. Substitute cooked chicken instead. Potatoes with the skin on cook very quickly in the microwave before being transformed into tasty hash browns. Just remember to pierce them first. Then cook on High for 5 minutes each. For this morning’s heuvos rancheros, I skipped the tortillas and substituted a couple of corn chips for crunch. It’s all good.

HUEVOS RANCHEROS

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups beef, cooked and shredded

10 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, mild

1/3 cup onion, chopped

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 potatoes, baked and cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons butter

4 eggs

Fresh cilantro

4 tortillas or corn chips

Fresh cilantro

Instructions:

Combine shredded beef, diced tomatoes with green chilies, chopped onion, cumin, oregano, and sea salt in a large saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. This makes the beef moist and tender. Set aside. In a skillet over medium heat, drizzle olive oil. Add cubed potatoes. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Cook 5 minutes or until golden brown. Do not stir. Turn potatoes for a crispy finish; cook 5 minutes longer. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed to avoid burning. Remove potatoes from heat when desired texture is reached. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. In another skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet. Fry eggs sunny side up in butter, 3-4 minutes for runny yolks. To assemble huevos rancheros, layer corn chips or a tortilla on the plate. Next, add spicy meat mixture, then crispy hash brown potatoes. Top with fried egg. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Quest Fundido Poblano Dip

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Quest Fundido Poblano Dip! When my garden harvested a nice crop of poblano peppers, I was already counting the days until I would take these mildly rich green peppers and transform them into an earthy Mexican favorite. Poblanos, you see, are a cross between a jalapeño and a bell pepper. Hot, but not a scorcher, if you know what I mean. You may be more familiar with them in a popular restaurant dish called a chile relleno or another known as chile poblano. Either way, they’re amazing.

QUEST FUNDIDO POBLANO DIP

Ingredients:

2-4 chili poblano peppers

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

4 ounces feta cheese

Corn tortilla chips

Instructions:

Heat an iron skillet on the stove over medium-high setting. Place poblano peppers into pan. Allow peppers to blister and blacken. Turn with tongs to allow even roasting. When the peppers are charred and soft, transfer them to a covered bowl to steam and cool, about 10-15 minutes. When able to handle, peel skins and discard. Cut poblano peppers into strips or chop into smaller pieces. Layer in the bottom of a casserole dish. Set aside. In a medium skillet, cook ground beef over medium-high heat. Break into small pieces, turning often until ground beef is browned and crumbled. Drain, if necessary. Add sea salt, cumin powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Mix well. Layer crumbled ground beef over poblano peppers. Top with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and feta cheese crumbles. Broil until cheeses are melted and golden brown in spots. Serve warm with corn tortilla chips.

Positively Popular Poutine

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Positively Popular Poutine! While traveling to Canada recently, I was taken aback by a friendly waitress who recommended a very popular dish on the menu made with crispy French fries, fresh cheese curds, and rich brown gravy. She called it Poutine. Like a deer in the headlights, I was completely frozen at the thought. So I shook my head no, thanked her, and ordered my fries plain. By the end of the meal I was convinced I had missed out on something spectacular. Practically every restaurant listed Poutine as their specialty. Some Poutine platters were loaded with bacon, others chunk lobster, beef brisket, jerk chicken, or sautéed veggies. One place even boasted “Award Winning Poutine” and stayed open til 4:00 a.m. just to meet the late-night cravings of college students. Maybe this dish will catch on, after all.

POSITIVELY POPULAR POUTINE

Ingredients:

2 pound bag of frozen extra crispy seasoned crinkle fries

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

2 cups cheddar cheese curds, white and yellow

1-2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

2 cups beef broth

Fresh parsley to garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Arrange frozen French fries in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Season with sea salt and black pepper, to taste. For the gravy, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Do not scorch. Whisk together cornstarch and cold water until no lumps remain. Add cornstarch mixture to melted butter, stirring constantly. Gradually add beef broth, continuing to stir until all broth is used. Bring gravy to a boil, as you stir. Allow gravy to boil at least one minute to dissolve thickener. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Divide the crinkle fries among serving bowls. Cover each bowl with cheese curds. Ladle rich brown gravy over each portion. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Hand-Packed Burgers

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Hand-Packed Burgers! For a hamburger worthy of a gourmet chef, begin with a low-fat lean meat. Divide the ground beef or sirloin into four equal portions. Form each one a little wider than the bottom bun to allow for shrinkage during grilling. Press your thumb into the center to create a small well, or dimple. If you’re a perfectionist, choose a jar lid slightly larger than the hamburger bun. Line the lid with plastic wrap, press the meat into the shape, flip the patty, and continue on to the next one. That’s way cheaper than buying a hamburger press. The secret’s out. Now you choose.

HAND-PACKED BURGERS

Ingredients:

1 pound ground sirloin or lean ground beef

1 beef bouillon cube

1-2 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon steak seasoning mix

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sesame Seed Buns

Cheese of choice

Toppings

Condiments

Instructions:

Heat water to boiling. Add beef bouillon cube. Stir to dissolve. Fold into ground beef. Sprinkle steak seasoning into meat. With clean hands, mix gently until all ingredients are combined. Divide into quarter-pounders. Hand-pack ground beef into equal size patties. Rub both sides with olive oil. Refrigerate one hour before grilling. To cook, preheat gas grill on High heat. Place burgers directly on grate; cook for 4-5 minutes; flip and cook 4 minutes longer for medium doneness. Do not press on burger to flatten because it will release all those flavorful juices. Transfer to a platter. Immediately top with cheese of choice. Add sliced onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce leaves. Dress up with ketchup, mustard, and mayo. You’ve just made the best backyard burger!

The Luck ‘o the Irish: Corned Beef Brisket

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food Junkie Favorites: Corned Beef Brisket! Eating corned beef brisket isn’t just for St. Patrick’s Day anymore. However, it’s the best time to stock up when it’s popular and readily available at the nearby market. Go from the traditional favorite dinner one day to corned beef hash and eggs the next morning and Reuben sliders for a late night snack. Are you getting the idea? Be creative and tell me yours!

CORNED BEEF BRISKET

Ingredients:

3-pound corned beef brisket, boneless

1/8 teaspoon thyme

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1 tablespoon peppercorns

1 tablespoon bay leaves

1 cup ginger beer or water

1-pound baby carrots, peeled

4 tablespoons butter

1/8 teaspoon paprika

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300°. Place corned beef brisket, fat side up, in a covered roaster. Sprinkle spices on top. Add 1 cup of ginger beer or water. Cover and roast for three hours. The guideline is one hour per pound. After 2 hours add carrots to roaster. Cover and cook for 1 hour. At that time, the contents should be fork tender. Let the brisket rest for 15 minutes before slicing across the grain. Remove carrots and place in a bowl. Add butter to coat. Sprinkle with paprika.

BOILED CABBAGE

Ingredients:

1 head of cabbage

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

Instructions:

In a deep pan, add 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add cabbage quarters and salt. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Turn cabbage with tongs. Simmer 5 minutes longer until tender. Drain well. Add butter to coat cabbage thoroughly.

PARSLEY BOILED POTATOES

Ingredients:

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into sections

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon parsley

Instructions:

Place potatoes in 2 quart saucepan. Pour in enough water to cover. Add salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook potatoes 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Add butter to coat. Garnish with parsley.

Urban Taco Pizza

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Sunshine Eats: Urban Taco Pizza! If you’re caught between the Taco/Pizza dilemma of what to have for dinner, simply combine the two for a taste extravaganza. Everyone wins. By using a prepared crust, taco seasoning packet, and bottled salsa, dinner can be ready in as fast as 30 minutes. For the cooking enthusiast, I know you already have all the homemade ingredients on hand. Either way, time is valuable in a life of constant motion. Do yourself a favor and prepare a healthy option at home. It’s easy, delicious, and most of all kid-friendly!

URBAN TACO PIZZA

Ingredients:

1 prepared pizza crust, any variety

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1 pound lean ground beef

1-ounce packet taco seasoning mix

1 cup salsa plus more for topping

1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1 cup Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup Spring Mix salad greens

1-2 tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup slices black olives

Crushed tortilla chips

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a pizza pan with nonstick oil. Sprinkle cornmeal on pan. Cover with pizza dough. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. In a skillet, cook ground beef until crumbly. Add taco seasoning mix. Mix well. Cover pizza dough with 1 cup salsa. Layer ground beef mixture, spreading almost to the edge. Top with both cheeses. Bake 15-18 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is completely melted. Remove from oven. Top with mixed salad greens, chopped tomatoes, and sliced black olives. Spoon on more salsa, to taste.

German Pretzel Burger

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: German Pretzel Burger! One glance at this plate will have you snapping your head back in a double-take. What appears to be a classic burger suddenly reminds you of something else. Could it be the bun? The “x” on top is a dead giveaway as well as the deeply browned glossy finish. That’s because it’s a pretzel bun. Oktoberfest wouldn’t be the same without these signature foods: soft pretzels, aromatic sauerkraut, buttery cheese, and tepid beer. Are you up for the culinary adventure? Climb aboard the passenger train. Que Será, Será…Whatever will be, will be.

GERMAN PRETZEL BURGER

Ingredients:

4 quarter-pound frozen ground beef patties, thawed

4 slices Swiss cheese

4 pretzel burger buns, sliced

4 tablespoons butter

14-ounce can shredded sauerkraut, drained

4 leaves romaine lettuce

Dijon mustard, as condiment

Instructions:

Prepare hamburger patties per package directions. Top with a slice of Swiss cheese. Set aside. Butter tops and bottoms of pretzel buns. Place buttered side down in a warmed iron skillet over medium heat. Heat until buns are toasted golden brown. Warm sauerkraut in a covered microwave-safe dish for 1 minute on High. To assemble burgers, place a romaine lettuce leaf on the bottom bun. Transfer a burger with Swiss cheese to place over lettuce. Spoon sauerkraut on top. Season with Dijon mustard. Replace lid of pretzel bun. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Enjoy!

Grass-Fed Beef Tostados

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Grass-Fed Beef Tostadas! If you like the taste of corn tacos, the tostada is a distant cousin. Basically, one is folded, the other is flat. Brushed with oil, then “toasted” crisp, the tostada is made to hold the toppings. This recipe allows you to bend the tortilla if you prefer to eat it that way. Whatever falls onto the plate can be scooped back up into your mouth. No judgment here. Now, about grass-fed beef. It’s going to cost a little more per pound due to the lack of fat content, compounded by the extra time it takes to fatten the cow. Grain makes cows get fat faster, just like it does for humans. I like grass-fed because it is more nutritious with heart-healthy omega 3s plus vitamins. It’s all about the choices we make.

GRASS-FED BEEF TOSTADAS

Ingredients:

1 pound grass-fed ground beef

1 packet fajita seasoning dry mix

1/3 cup canola oil

8 corn tortillas

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, gently torn

1-2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Fresh cilantro, leaves only

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250°. Because grass-fed beef has a lower fat content, steaming it is a good option. In a medium skillet, cover the bottom with water. Crumble the ground beef into the water. Set the stovetop temperature to medium-high. Break up any large clumps. Allow the water to boil. Stir the meat to cook evenly. Turn often. When the meat is brown, it is done. Drain the cooked ground beef using a strainer. Dispose of water and grease. Return ground beef to the pan. Sprinkle with fajita seasoning mix. Stir well to coat. Have the burner on lowest setting to keep warm. Spray a shallow skillet with nonstick oil. Set heat to medium-high. Brush one side of corn tortilla with canola oil. Place oiled side down in skillet. Brush the remaining side with canola oil. Fry the shell until golden for 30 seconds to a minute per side. This makes the shell fairly stiff. If the pan begins to smoke, lower the heat setting slightly. Remove the tortilla and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Keep tortillas warm in the oven. Repeat process with remaining tortillas. To assemble, begin with a fried tortilla. Layer with iceberg lettuce, seasoned ground beef, chopped tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese, and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with guacamole and salsa.