Mexican Polenta Casserole

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Hello my friends. I am 2-weeks in to my new job and I’m loving it, but my weeknights are crazy! I used to have plenty of time for a lengthy dinner preparation, but now I’m getting home around the same time that we used to be sitting down for dinner. So my meal prep time has basically been reduced to zero.  Yet, I still want to provide a healthy and filling meal for my family. What’s a hungry mom to do?

Make-ahead meals to the rescue!! [Enter corny super-hero music here]

I simply spend an hour or two on Sunday afternoon, preparing a couple of meals like this yummy Mexican Polenta Casserole. Then during the week, all we have to do is heat up our delicious dinner, and enjoy!  You know the best part? No pile of dirty dishes to wash at the end of the day!

This casserole is full of delicious Mexican flavor, which only gets better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. I love how the slices of polenta get crispy around the edges and smothered with melted cheese. Yum!

I adapted this recipe from; click here to see the original recipe.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup bottled salsa
2 16-ounce tubes cooked polenta
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (or your favorite cheese), divided
2/3 cup chopped fresh tomato

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.

Add the garlic, ground beef, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the ground beef is thoroughly cooked.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add the beans, canned tomatoes, corn, and salsa to the beef mixture, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer gently, uncovered for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease a 13×9 rectangular baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.

Cut 1 tube of polenta into small pieces and press evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. (Note: this was a bit labor-intensive. Next time, I may try heating the polenta slightly, so it is easier to press into the bottom of the baking dish. I also think this would be good without the polenta on the bottom – although I haven’t tried that yet.)

Halve the remaining tube of polenta lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and set aside.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese over the polenta in the baking dish. Top with all of the meat mixture. Arrange the sliced polenta over the meat and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the fresh tomato.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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Burrito Bowl

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Happy Friday everyone! On Fridays I get a bit lazy and slack off on my domestic duties a bit. After a busy week, the last thing I feel like doing is preparing a big dinner. I usually have some extra homemade meals in the freezer, but I also like “re-purposing” leftovers into a delicious new meal like this one.

The beauty of a burrito bowl is that you don’t even need a recipe. My basic burrito bowls consists of leftover carnitas meat (if you haven’t tried my carnitas recipe, you are missing out!), rice, and beans. Then you can toss in whatever else sounds good. Chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, shredded lettuce, fire roasted chiles, sauteed onions – the possibilities are endless.

Leftover carnitas (or any leftover taco meat)
Leftover brown rice
1 can black beans, rinsed
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Sour cream
Green onions, chopped

Heat the carnitas and the rice in the microwave until warm. (Tip: add about a teaspoon of water to the rice and cover, before reheating. This will prevent the rice from being too dry.)

To serve, place a generous scoop of carnitas, rice, and black beans into each serving bowl. Sprinkle with a bit of cilantro, and then add a spoonful of sour cream and salsa. Top it off with a few green onions. Mix it all together and enjoy your delicious no-cook dinner!

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Perfect Beef Chili

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Chili is a simple meal, consisting usually of meat, beans, tomatoes, and spices, but if you ask 10 different people to describe the perfect chili, you will likely get 10 different answers. I, for example, like to have veggies in my chili, but my husband considers this chili blasphemy. (That doesn’t stop him from devouring several bowls of my chili, however.) 

I realize that your idea of the ideal pot of chili may be different than mine, but for me, this is the perfect beef chili: thick, hearty, and tons of flavor (without being spicy). I keep the chili mild, for my kids, but I like to add a dash or two of hot sauce to my bowl, after serving. If you like your chili spicy, then you can add a couple of diced chili peppers, before simmering.

1 lb ground beef
1 15oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cubes beef bouillon
1/4 cup beer
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon hot New Mexico chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of water

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, and cook, using a spatula to break the beef up into small pieces. When cooked through, drain the excess grease and return to the stove.

Add all of the remaining ingredients to the pot, stirring well to combine. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 2 hours.

Serve hot, with a slice of cornbread.

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Boeuf Bourguignon

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Well, I finally got up the courage to make Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. There aren’t too many recipes that intimidate me, but this dish is legendary and, frankly, I was afraid that I would mess it up.

I’m happy to report that it was much easier to prepare than I expected, and IT IS SO GOOD! This is no ordinary beef stew, my friends. As Julia put it, “It is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.” Picture this: tender potatoes smothered in a rich savory sauce with melt-in-your-mouth pieces of beef, topped with mushrooms and onions sautéed to golden-brown perfection. Oh, and did I mention it also has bacon – and wine? 

I tweaked the recipe just a tad to suit my taste (and laziness) but most of the ingredients and steps are the same. You must make this recipe soon, but be sure to allow plenty of time, as this will need around 3 hours to cook (don’t worry, only about 30 minutes of that is hands-on).

8 oz of bacon, cut into 2-inch long pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
3 lbs beef rump roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot sliced
2 ribs of celery, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced (divided)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups full-bodied red wine
2-3 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 yukon gold potatoes, cut into quarters
1 package mushrooms, sliced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat a large Dutch Oven or enameled cast iron pan (something that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven) over medium low heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until the bacon is browned lightly. Remove the bacon to a plate, reserving the bacon grease in the pan.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon grease and heat over medium-high heat. Grab a wad of paper towels and dry each piece of beef before placing it in the hot pan. Only add a few pieces at a time, so they don’t touch. Sauté until nicely browned on each side, then remove to the plate with the bacon, while you brown the remaining pieces of beef.

Remove all of the beef from the pan, and then add the carrots, celery, and ½ of the sliced onions (you may need to add a bit of oil to the pan first). Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned. Return the beef and bacon to the pan, and then add the salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss to coat. Place the pan, uncovered, in the oven for 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, toss the meat again, and then return to the oven for another 4 minutes.

Return the pan to the stove and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

Add the wine and enough beef broth so that the meat is barely covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Bring to a simmer on the stove, then cover and set in the lower third of the oven. Cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, adjusting the heat if needed to maintain a very slow simmer.

While the beef is cooking, add the potatoes to a large pot of water and boil until tender. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining sliced onions and sauté for several minutes until golden brown. Remove to a plate and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Sauté the mushrooms in batches, so the mushrooms have plenty of room to brown (remember from the movie . . . “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!”). Add the mushrooms to the onions and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place several potato pieces in a large bowl, cover with the beef and broth, and then top with the sautéed mushrooms and onions. Prepare to say “Yum!”

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Simply Delicious Burgers

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Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. I spent many years in pursuit of the perfect homemade burger. I’ve tried countless burger recipes, containing a variety of ingredients, but none of those burgers were as delicious, or as easy to prepare as this one. The only ingredients you need are barbeque sauce, salt, and pepper to get juicy and flavorful burgers at home. Give Kinder’s BBQ Sauce at try; it’s our favorite! 

These burgers are great to make ahead and store in your freezer for an easy week-night dinner. Simply prepare the burger patties (uncooked), place each patty on a piece of waxed paper, then stack them and freeze in a freezer bag.

Ground beef (approx. 1.5 pounds)
Barbeque sauce (approx. 1/2 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sliced cheese (optional)
Hamburger buns
Burger toppings

Add the ground beef, barbeque sauce, and salt and pepper to a large bowl and stir until combined (be careful not to over-mix).

Use your hands to form patties about 3/4-inch thick. After you form each patty, use your fingers to make a depression in the center of the patty (the center of the patty should be thinner than the outside), so you don’t get a bulge in the burger while it cooks.

If you have time, cover and refrigerate the patties for several hours before cooking to enhance the flavor of the burgers. You could also freeze them at this point.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Allow the patties to sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes before cooking. This will bring the meat to room temperature, which will ensure the burgers cook evenly.

Place the burgers on the grill and cook for about 5-6 minute a side, or until cooked through, being careful not to over-cook them. If desired, place a slice of cheese on each burger about 1 minute before they are done.

Serve the burgers on hamburger buns with your favorite toppings. I served our burgers with sweet potato fries (I’m still perfecting that recipe) and awesome baked zucchini fries (I’ll post that recipe soon). Enjoy!

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