Week Night Dinner Series: Beef and Lentil Hash

A cold and foggy morning.

A cold and foggy morning.

As I was lamenting what to make for dinner the other evening, I started pondering the fact that so many of my articles and recipes are for special evenings or weekend cooking. But what about work nights? Believe me, I certainly am one for opening up a jar of spaghetti sauce and boiling up some pasta. Or tossing some chicken sausages together with some veggies. Or a big salad with some added chicken. Work night dinners need to be quick, easy, and healthy, so I thought I’d start this series where I occasionally will pass along a recipe that fits this description perfectly.

One of the big things these days in the nutrition world is to have a good fat, a healthy protein, and a complex carbohydrate in one meal. This dinner brings together all three, healthy olive oil for the fat, some lean beef, and lentil beans. Add some spices and it is dinner! The only thing that really takes any time is cooking the lentils, but you can either make them in advance, or put them on to cook when you get in the door. Once you put them in boiling water, it takes about 30 minutes for them to get soft, so you don’t need to hover around the stove, you can go off and do other things.

From beginning to end, once the lentils are cooked this takes about 15 minutes at the most to put together. And this can be versatile too; I thought some mushrooms might be a great addition, or if you have some leftover rice or another grain, you could toss those in too. Add a simple green salad and you have dinner for a work night!

Beef and Lentil Hash
Serves 2

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ of a large onion, finely chopped
½ pound beef
About 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils
A few dashes of curry powder
A dash of cayenne pepper (optional for those who aren’t chili heads!)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Warm the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion and cook until soft.
2. Add the beef and cook until done.
3. Add the lentils and spices. Dinner is ready!

Cook’s Notes:
• To cook the lentils, take a medium-sized saucepan, fill with water, and bring to a boil. Stir in ½ cup of lentils and simmer until soft, about 30 minutes or so.
• If your beef is rather fatty and gives off a lot of grease, just drain it in a colander before adding the lentils and spices.
• I didn’t measure the spices, I just tossed in enough to flavor the dish. You can do the same; experiment by adding as much or as little as you would like!

Cooking for a Crowd

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As you can see, I’m a bit rusty shopping for more than two people, I doubled everything!

I recently offered to make dinner for the eater of the house’s book club. Here’s the lowdown: up to nine people, it had to be dairy-free, and since I was making it the night before, it had to be something that would still taste delicious the next day. I was up to the challenge!

A baked pasta dish was mentioned, but I thought about it and took it one step further, baked ziti with lots of veggies. The perfect recipe, with the cheese served on the side! I took five minutes and thought about what I like to put in my lasagna and baked pasta dishes. I frequently make dishes vegetarian, but since this was a meat-eating crowd, I decided to tame them by  adding some spicy sausage.

From beginning to end this took about an hour to put everything together. I worried it would be dry the next day, but the wine and water (as well as the water-filled mushrooms and zucchini) were a good addition to keep it moist as was the remaining sauce; a nice, new layer of sauce was added before it was baked. I refilled the sauce jar and had almost a full jar. You can do that or warm it to top your serving.

The report back was “dinner was a hit” and some went back for seconds. Phew! And leftovers the following night were delicious!

Bove's is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Bove’s is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Baked Ziti
This made enough for nine people plus leftovers. And of course, for a vegetarian version, just leave out the sausage and up the veggies!

1 pound hot (or sweet) sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, chopped
2 zucchini, diced
10 ounce mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used baby bella mushrooms)
1 6 oz can large black olives, halved
1 jar spaghetti sauce
¾ cup white wine, optional (if not using, substitute water)
1 cup water
1 pound box of ziti, penne, or mostaccioli

1. Cook pasta according to directions.

2. Warm a tiny bit of oil in a medium saucepan. Add the sausage and cook until it is done. With a slotted spoon, place on a plate lined with paper towels. Rinse the pan.

3. With the same skillet, warm about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and green peppers and cook until just soft. Add the zucchini, stir, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the veggies are soft but not mushy.

4. To the pan of veggies, add the jar of sauce, wine, and water. Stir and cook for about 10-15 minutes to incorporate the flavors. Add the black olive and remove pan from burner.

5. In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta, about three-fourths of the  sauce, and mix until incorporated. Add mixture to a large baking dish.

For baking the next day:
• Cover and place pan in fridge.
• Remove pan from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking.
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add the additional sauce (or warm it in a saucepan to serve on the side) and put foil over pan.
• Bake at 325 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.

For baking that night:
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.
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That’s Amore!

CookingVintageValentineI have never been one to go out for a big high falootin dinner on Valentine’s Day evening. The restaurants are packed and the prices raised just for this one meal. Home cooking is always healthier, and less expensive, and in some (many?) cases, just better tasting.

If you are thinking of making dinner tomorrow night, I thought I would give you a dinner menu that is special enough for the holiday, but also easy enough so it can be put together on a work night.

Depending on how fancy the dinner is, how about starting with some appetizers? The stuffed mushroom recipe I make is easy, and you can make these the night before and just pop them in the oven when you get home. If you have extra time, this recipe for gougères is to die for, and are best right out of the oven–just don’t burn your tongue!

Soup or salad? I will always go for salad whenever given the choice. You could make a simple salad of  greens but include something special like my favorite, Hearts of Palms. These run about $3 a can, so I buy them only on rare occasions. Maybe a few grape tomatoes, a quick vinaigrette, and you’re set!

I always think seafood always makes for a special meal. You could make this scallop recipe (and forego the aforementioned salad), or linguini with clam sauce, which is quick and easy. Or what about this salmon recipe? Just pop the fish in the oven and make the quick sauce on the stove.

Dessert anyone? That is, if you haven’t given up sweets for Lent! If you want something chocolaty, you could make these brownies the night before and serve warmed with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. Or what about gingerbread? This is warm and cozy and another recipe you can make in advance. Of course, one of the most special recipes of all is chocolate mousse, and this must be made in advance, so you can focus on the rest of the meal.

So open up a bottle of your favorite wine, turn on Dean Martin, and just relax and cook for the ones you love.

Feeding the Soul

I spent more than seven years as a vegetarian, with nary a bite of meat (except for bacon!) during those years. That was a long time ago, but following that time, I discovered my body craves, and needs, meat. Forget chicken or pork, beef is it.

When it’s chilly outside is a great time to make a big pot roast because it warms the house and makes several meals. You can even freeze leftovers and it will still taste good. And the best part, aside from a few minutes on the stove, you just pop it in the oven and let it braise for hours while you go off and read a book or watch a movie.

I tend to look for chuck roast for this dish, although there are several pieces of beef you can find in the supermarket that advertise that they are great for pot roast. Pot roast tends to be a fattier cut of meat, so I always select one that has less visible fat.

In terms of how long to cook it, generally it’s between two to three hours, but if you have a dense piece, it might take longer. I don’t tend to take the temperature, my gauge to tell whether it’s done is if the meat is “fall off the bone” tender, if there was a bone; it’s so tender it breaks apart with a fork when you test it.

This is what I mean by fall off the bone tender.

This is what I mean by fall off the bone tender.

For sides, mashed potatoes are usually what I make to accompany this dish, but mashed cauliflower would be just as good. For a nice sauce to go with the beef, just mix together some sour cream and horseradish.

The light outside is definitely telling us spring is coming, as did Puxatawny Phil. So this probably will be the last time I make this dish this winter; I’ll tuck this recipe away until next December. But if you have a cold evening in the near future, make this dish, and you’ll too will be feeding your soul.

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Pot Roast

Make sure your Dutch oven is oven-proof before starting this recipe. If you’re not sure, take the name of the company and the model, if you have it, and type it into Google and ask the question. Yes, I’ve done this before!

3-4 pound piece of beef, chuck roast is preferred
2 cups beef broth
About 1 cup red table wine
1 onion, cut into quarters
2-3 carrots, chopped into fourths
2-3 celery stalks, chopped into fourths
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme or sage (or if dried, about a teaspoon)
Salt and pepper to taste (watch out with the salt, as the broth can be salty)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat warm 2 teaspoons olive oil.
3. Add the beef and brown on both sides. Watch carefully so it doesn’t stick to the pan.
4. Add the remaining ingredients (broth through thyme).
5. Cook in the oven until it is tender to a fork, generally 2-3 hours.
6. Make a sauce made up of a mixture of sour cream and horseradish sauce to accompany the beef if you like.
7. Salt and pepper to taste.