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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Turkey Burgers

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These are not your average, boring turkey burgers. They are so juicy and packed with flavor, that you may never go back to beef burgers again. We served our burgers low-carb style (sans bun), but they are just a yummy served between a toasted bun with your favorite toppings. This recipe will make 6 turkey burgers.

1 package ground turkey (1.5 pounds)
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons diced onion
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Oil for frying

In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, bread crumbs, onion, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, parmesan, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper (don’t over-mix or your burgers will be tough).

Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat (cast iron works well, if you have it). When the skillet is ready, take a handful of the turkey mixture, form it into a patty and place it directly into the hot skillet. (Note: the turkey mixture is loose and can be hard to keep in a patty-shape, so I don’t bother pre-forming the patties. It’s easier just to make the patties, as needed, and put them directly in the skillet.) Put as many patties into the skillet as will fit easily (give them some room, so they can brown). I’m usually able to fit about 3-4 patties in my skillet.

Now is a good time to wash your hands with hot, soapy water.

Cook the patties, turning once, until cooked thoroughly. Resist the urge to press them down with the spatula or move them around too much. They should develop a lovely dark brown crust on each side.

Serve with your favorite burger toppings, and sweet potato coins!

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Turkey Chili

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Mmm, there’s something about a warm bowl of chili on a cold day. It’s flavorful and filling, and it warms you up from the inside. Chili is a versatile dish too, because you can change the ingredients to adjust the flavor, and make it as healthy (or unhealthy) as you like. My chili is in the healthy category since I make it with ground turkey and I throw in a few veggies too. My husband, who is a chili purist, told me that he loves my chili but he wishes that I would stop adding vegetables – to which I laughed heartily. Feel free to adjust the seasonings to your liking. The spices in this recipe are kid-friendly, but you may want to add some of your favorite hot sauce if you want to turn up the heat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package ground turkey (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 of a large onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (kidney beans are good too)
1 cup chopped fresh spinach

Add the olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and cook thoroughly (about 7 minutes), while stirring to break up the large pieces.

Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper to the pot and stir to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3-5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.

Stir in the diced tomatoes (with juice), water, tomato paste, cannellini beans, and pinto beans. Bring to a boil and cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour. A few minutes before serving, stir in the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Serve hot, with your favorite corn bread.

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Turkey Meatballs

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These are my favorite meatballs. They are tender, flavorful, and healthy too, since they are made with ground turkey instead of beef. The crushed red pepper gives them a touch of heat, but not enough to keep my kids from devouring them. They freeze great too, so make an extra batch and store them in the freezer until your next spaghetti and meatball night.

1 package ground turkey (1.5 pounds)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more, if you like them spicy)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, salt, onion, garlic powder, oregano, crushed red pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the bread crumbs, milk, and parmesan cheese, and stir together until well-blended (but don’t over-mix, or your meatballs will be tough).

Using your hands (don’t be afraid to get messy), form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Serve on top of spaghetti with your favorite sauce, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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