The Ultimate Comfort Food – Beginning With Mirepoix

Do you know what I like about mirepoix (pronounced meer pwa)? Besides the fact that it is fun to say, it’s the basic foundation of many soups, stews and sauces. It’s commonly made up of aromatics such as carrots, celery and onions. I’m adding garlic and green bell peppers to the trio because I find it packs a lot more flavor. It’s the beginning of many layers of flavor I’ll be using today in my hearty homemade tomato sauce which then goes on to the star of the show, American Chop Suey.

Sweat or sauté

The idea of mirepoix is to sweat the vegetables over a low heat for about an hour in a small amount of fat. I like to use a little butter and extra virgin olive oil for an additional layer of flavor. You don’t necessarily want to sauté the veggies because that method cooks the product too quickly and you will get a much different flavor result. Sweating is similar to sautéing, however, at a much lower temperature and for a longer period of time. Sweating softens the veggies, releases water from them without browning. This will draw out their natural sweetness and will be helpful later when we add the tomatoes. The reward for your patience in the slow cooking of the veggies is that the sweetness from the mirepoix will neutralize some of the acid from the tomatoes.

There are many different combinations to make a mirepoix. The possibilities are endless. Most often you will see a basic mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. That is an excellent starting point. However, you may want to experiment with the ratios to find different flavors that suit your tastes. I find I like more carrots than onions and that is what I use in this recipe.

As I mentioned, mirepoix is found in many foods. I like to make a big batch of it so I can have it on hand for a quick soup or stew. Depending on the dish you’re making, you might even consider adding some bacon to the mixture for additional flavor. Likewise, ginger adds a lot of flavor and goes well if you use a mirepoix when making a stir fry. For other recipes, which I will share another time, I use different combinations.

The. Ultimate. Comfort. Food.

For now though, get ready for American Chop Suey, the ultimate comfort food. I’ve made this dish countless times for lunches or casual get togethers. People always seem surprised that this dish has mozzarella cheese in it. How could it not? I mean, all of the ingredients are just screaming to be covered in cheese. *Disclaimer* I am a cheese fanatic. If I could find a way to add cheese to my breakfast cereal that isn’t gross, I would totally do it. Stay tuned, you never know what challenges await.

American Chop Suey

A hearty pasta dish packed with a hearty tomato sauce, ground beef and mozzarella cheese.

Course Dinner
Keyword Pasta
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Author Lisa

Ingredients

Mirepoix

  • 2 cups carrots shredded or diced
  • 2 cups red and green bell peppers diced
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • drizzle olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • pinch salt

Hearty Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste (optional - as needed)
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef

American Chop Suey

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3-4 cups mozzarella cheese shredded

Instructions

Mirepoix

  1. In a large skillet over low heat, drizzle olive oil  to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the butter until melted.

    Mirepoix ingredients
  2. Shred the carrots, dice the onions, celery and bell peppers, mince the garlic. Add to the skillet. Toss the ingredients until well coated. Add the pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for approximately one hour. (Be sure to keep an eye on the vegetables, you shouldn't hear loud sizzling while it's cooking and your ingredients shouldn't turn brown. If this starts happening, reduce heat.) 

    Mirepoix simmering

Hearty tomato sauce

  1. While the vegetables are sweating, in a separate skillet, over medium heat, brown the ground beef. Add half of the broth, and all of the seasonings. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

    Ground beef for tomato sauce
  2. After the mirepoix has simmered for the hour, add the remaining broth to the mixture and bring to a low boil. 

    Mirepoix plus broth
  3. Combine the mirepoix mixture and the ground beef mixture. Then add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Continue to simmer up to another hour. The sauce will thicken and get sweeter the longer it cooks. If the sauce is too thin for your liking, you can gradually add some of the tomato paste a little at a time until your sauce reaches your desired consistency.

    hearty tomato sauce
  4. Meanwhile, cook one pound of pasta according to the package directions.

    Elbow macaroni

American Chop Suey

  1. When the pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness, gradually add the sauce and mozzarella cheese to the pasta and mix thoroughly. 

    American chop suey assembly2

Classic Potato Salad – A Summertime Standard

With summertime BBQ season upon us, what is the best side dish to bring to the party? Potato salad, of course. There are so many variations of potato salad out there, but I prefer the classic American, creamy, potato salad. My grandmother made this recipe, then my mother made this recipe, so naturally, I make this recipe, too. I do not have children to take over the recipe, so I hope someone else finds it and makes it a tradition in their family, too.

In my opinion, the star of the show is the dressing. The dressing is where the flavor is packed. Adding different toppings, such as bacon crumbles or hard-boiled eggs are delightful, too. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about what type of potato to use in your salad. Pick the wrong potato and they could end up getting smooshed during mixing when you add your dressing. Then you’re left with mashed potatoes with mayonnaise.

TUBER OR NOT TUBER?

Yes. A potato is a tuber, specifically a stem tuber. A stem tuber is basically an enlarged structure of the plant where it stores its nutrients it will need for winter and for regrowth. In order to pick out the right kind for your dish, you’ll need to know a few things. Essentially, there are three categories of potatoes based on their texture. Starchy, All-Purpose, and Waxy. Potato salads need potatoes that will hold their shape after cooking. So, understanding what happens during the cooking process will help when making your selection.

Starchy potatoes, such as Russets are good for baking, mashing or French fries. The highly dense starch cells swell and separate from one another when cooked which give these potato items a fluffy texture.

Waxy potatoes, such as Red Bliss, have the least starch, so there is less cell separation and are best for boiling, stews, and salads. There is less breakdown, so these potatoes will hold their shape very well.

All-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, have a moderate amount of starch and are ideal for au gratins, roasting or steaming. As the name implies, they can also be used for any purpose, but just note that your results may vary slightly.

Potato Salad

The creamy, classic American potato salad. 

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword Potato Salad
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Cooling time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds Red Bliss potatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt for potato water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda or sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste for dressing
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery

Instructions

  1. Scrub potato skins then cut into bite-size cubes.

    Potato Salad
  2. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water, add 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Cover the pot with a lid. 

  3. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Remove lid, lower temperature to medium/high heat and continue a slow boil for 8-12 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. 

  4. Drain the liquid from the potatoes and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. (Spreading them out over a cookie sheet will speed up the cooling process.)

  5. In a large bowl, add the vinegar, Splenda, salt, pepper, milk, and sour cream.

  6. Add the mayonaisse, a little at a time until the dressing reaches the desired thickness. 

    Potato Salad Dressing
  7. Add the celery and onions.

  8. Once the potatoes have cooled completely, add them to the dressing and lightly toss the dressing to coat the potatoes. 

    Potato Salad 3

Recipe Notes

I use Splenda instead of sugar because I have diabetics in my family and try not to use sugar where it doesn't make a difference to the outcome of the dish. It also dissolves a lot quicker than sugar. But, sugar absolutely works too.  

What is your favorite summertime side dish? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Southwestern Skillet Easy To Make, Easy To Clean Up

As a kid, and even as a young adult, I loved those easy-to-make, one-skillet box mixes. All you had to do was brown the ground beef, dump in some powdered  sauce and the pasta, rice or potatoes along with some water. And boom! Dinner was ready. Well, I’ve been an adult for a long time now, but I still love the idea of throwing together a quick meal with an even quicker clean up. As I grew older and learned how easy those dinners are to make from scratch, I’ve made what seems like, a million variations. This Southwestern Skillet is just as easy as the packaged products, but tastier.

Tonight’s dinner came about by necessity of finding a use for some leftover rice. I searched the freezer and decided that I would use the ground beef. I was beginning to have tacos and Mexican-style rice on my mind, but I didn’t have any taco shells. Then I thought stuffed peppers would be good, but I didn’t have enough peppers. As I was running out of ideas, I looked through the pantry and pulled out a few cans of vegetables and my homemade taco seasoning, checked the fridge for some cheese and this one-skillet creation came to life. This would be better with all fresh vegetables but, in a pinch, canned will do.

Southwestern Skillet

Just as easy as the boxed food products, but tastier.

Course Dinner
Cuisine Southwestern
Keyword one-skillet
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 packets taco season **Or 4 tbsp of my mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz whole kernel corn
  • 1 16 oz kidney beans
  • 2 cups Mexican blend cheese shredded
  • 4 cups cooked white rice

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, over medium/high heat, brown ground beef. Drain the fat.

    Southwestern Skillet Ingredients
  2. Reduce heat to medium, add the diced onion and minced garlic, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent.

    Southwestern Skillet Ground Beef
  3. Add the taco seasoning to the ground beef with 2 cups of water. Stir until the seasoning is dissolved.

    Southwestern Skillet Seasoning
  4. Drain the liquid from the vegetables then add them to the skillet. Discard the liquids. (I save the liquid from the tomatoes in case my sauce gets too thick, I can add the tomato juice which will have more flavor than adding more water.)

    Southwestern Skillet Veggies
  5. Add the rice. 

    Southwestern Skillet Rice
  6. Add about 1/2 of the shredded cheese. Then reduce heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes. The sauce will start to thicken.

    Southwestern Skillet Cheese
  7. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the top of the mixture. Cover, remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. The cheese will continue melting and the sauce will thicken. Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream - optional.

    Southwestern Skillet Cheese 2

Recipe Notes

**Instead of store bought packets of taco mix, why not try my homemade mix. You can find the recipe here.

Did your family rely on the hamburger skillet dinners for something quick? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

The Jack Of All Herbs Medley – A blend of herbs for soups, salads, sauces and spreads

I love annual harvest festivals.  Farmers and vendors from all over the state gather to sell their goods to people like me who don’t have the magical green thumb required to produce such wonderful produce. They always offer so many specialty items along with the fresh produce, herbs, cheeses and meat products, too. Not to mention that the vendors usually offer samples of their delicious creations. So, while you explore the festival, you can usually sample enough items to make a lunch out of it.

About 6 or 7 years ago I stopped by the local harvest festival and found a vendor selling herbs. I was looking for saffron for a bread I will share with you at a later date. They didn’t have the saffron, but they did have a variety of other herbs on display in cute gift jars. They also had a separate display of their own blend of herbs. They offered pretzels to their visitors to sample the herb blend mixed with cream cheese. Well, I could have stood there all afternoon enjoying that concoction. But, instead, I purchased a large jar for myself and few smaller packets with salad dressing jars to use as holiday gifts then continued my quest for the saffron.

Over the course of the next few months, I found many uses for this blend. It has a bit of an Italian seasoning flair, so it goes great in marinara sauce, added to soups, salad dressings and to butter or cream cheese for delicious spreads. You can add it to some oil and vinegar and drizzle it as a condiment for Italian hoagies…or maybe you call them subs. No matter what you call those delicious sandwiches, this condiment is yummy on them.

So, when I started to run out of the blend from the harvest festival, I became very stingy with the remaining portions and decided to use it sparingly until the next harvest festival, so I could replenish my stock. Well, much to my dismay, none of the vendors at this particular festival sold anything like it. I didn’t keep the bag or the tag from the jar with the company name. I have looked for it everywhere, with no luck. Since I have no idea where to get it now, I had to get inventive and try to re-create the blend.

Well, after many batches of cream cheese and herb spread, I have a version that is similar to what I was trying to re-create. Even though it is still slightly different, this medley adds a little pizzazz to many dishes. It has many uses and is good on many things, hence the name, Jack of all Herbs Medley. The recipe is below along with some of my favorite uses.

Jack Of All Herbs Medley

This medley is a re-creation of a blend I can no longer find to purchase. It's slightly different but is still a nice addition to many dishes.

All of the ingredients used in this recipe are dried; although you could use fresh herbs. Just keep in mind that one teaspoon of dried herbs equal 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped herbs. 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder is the equivalent of 1 medium clove of garlic. 2 teaspoons of onion powder is approximately 1/2 a medium onion. 

Course Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp chives
  • 4 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp orange peel
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sage

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients and store in an air tight container or jar.

Now that you have combined all the ingredients, why not try one of these?

Jack of all Herbs Medley and Cream Cheese Dip

This recipe will work as a dip for your favorite chips or pretzels or as a spread for crackers.

Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Herb Medley
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese softened
  • 1/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Refrigerate for at least one hour. For best results, make one day ahead to give the flavors optimal mingling time.

    Cream cheese and herb dip

Jack of all Herbs Medley Bread Dipping Oil

This herb blend is perfect for adding to olive oil in place of butter for your dinner rolls.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pinch Herb Medley
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients until well blended.

    Herb medley bread dipping oil

Jack of all Herbs Medley Butter

Excellent substitution for garlic butter for use on Texas Toast or Italian Bread.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter softened
  • 1 tsp Herb Medley

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients until well blended. Serve in place of butter for dinner rolls or in place of garlic butter for garlic bread.
    Herb medley butter

Jack of all Herbs Medley Salad Dressing

A great substitution for Italian dressing. Use as a salad dressing or veggie dip.

Course Dressing
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp herb mix

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a jar, seel tightly and shake until well blended. Shake well before each use. 

    Herb medley salad dressing

Hoagies or submarines? What do you call them? Let me know in the comments below along with where you are from.