Queso Burgers

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It’s sort of amazing that we always want what we can’t have. On a normal week, I’d kill to have a night of takeout and not have to cook. With the kitchen torn apart and plans to get takeout, there’s nothing I want more than to be able to cook dinner. Of course.

What have we been eating while the kitchen is a mess? Burgers. Lots and lots of burgers. They’ve been easy to put together and throw on the grill without actually needing the kitchen.

This is one of the burger variations we liked best. It’s a basic burger patty (in a pinch, you could totally buy pre-made pattys) topped with queso. So simple and yet really, really tasty.

Queso Burgers
(from The Recipe Critic)
Serves 6

1½ lb. ground sirloin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. Velveeta, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 10 oz can diced tomatoes with jalapenos, undrained
6 hamburger buns

Divide the ground sirloin equally into 6 balls, form into patties and season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, about 4-5 minutes per side, until they reach desired doneness.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the Velveta and diced tomatoes. Microwave on high for 2 minutes and then stir. Continue to microwave in 30 second – 1 minute intervals, stirring between, until the cheese is fully melted and well combined.

Serve burgers topped with queso.

Baked Ziti

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Do you know what today is? It’s 10k day for those of us participating in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated)  is a project to write 50k words of a novel in 30 days. It’s a little crazy and a lot fun. This is my 7th year participating in NaNo and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my past attempts, it’s that you need to plan ahead.

As part of my NaNo prep this year, I stocked our freezer with dinners. I’ve never really done much freezer cooking, but spending less time in the kitchen and more time writing sounded like an excellent idea. This is one of the meals we’ve got in the freezer for this month. The recipe makes two pans – so we ate one when I made in and froze the other. This is a pretty basic, no-frills baked ziti, but it’s a really good one. We’re really looking forward to enjoying the second pan.

I’ve got a whole lot of freezer meals on the menu this month. I’m planning to share the hits and include freezing instructions on some already-blogged recipes. Keep your fingers crossed this goes as well as planned!

Baked Ziti
(from Six Sisters’ Stuff)
Makes 2 8×8″ trays

1 lb. penne pasta
1 onion, diced
1 lb. lean ground beef, seasoned with pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and minced garlic
2 (26 oz.) jars spaghetti sauce
8 slices provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta to al dente, according to package directions.

In a large skillet, cook the onion and ground beef over medium heat until the meat is browned and onions are translucent. Drain off any excess fat. Add in the spaghetti sauce and simmer for fifteen minutes.

If cooking it now, preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Spray two 8×8-inch pans with non-stick cooking spray. Layer in each pan: 1/4 of the ziti, 1/4 of the sauce, 4 slices of Provolone cheese, 1/2 of sour cream,  1/4 of ziti, 1/4 mozzarella cheese and 1/4 of sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, until cheeses are melted. Or, cover and freeze.

To cook from frozen: bake at 350F degrees, covered, until heated through and bubbly.

Barbecue Quinoa Salad #VeryVegetarian

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A few weeks ago, I was selected to participate in the Very Vegetarian Recipe Challenge hosted by OXO and Plated. It’s a really fun event - OXO sent bloggers a package of cooking tools to use in creating a vegetarian dinner recipe for Plated. Plated is a service that sends you the ingredients to make a gourmet dinner in under 30 minutes – and they’ll be selecting a few of the recipes submitted to the Very Vegetarian Recipe Challenge to feature in their meal plans next month. Very cool, right?

I had a lot of fun coming up with a dish to make and submit. This one turned out perfectly - it clocks in at just about 20 minutes and is ridiculously easy to get on the table. It’s also one of those vegetarian meals that will easily please meat eaters too. It can also easily be made vegan – just make sure you’re using a vegan barbecue sauce and skip the cheddar.

Barbecue Quinoa Salad
Serves 2

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small head broccoli
1 ear of corn
1 red bell pepper
1 cup black beans
2 oz. cheddar cheese
4 green onions

Small saucepan
Salad dressing shaker (or small bowl + whisk)
Medium skillet or frying pan
Corn peeler (or sharp knife)
Cheese grater
Mixing bowl


Prepare quinoa: Rinse the quinoa and add to a small saucepan. Add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, until all water is absorbed.

Prepare dressing: In a salad dressing shaker, combine the barbecue sauce, Cajun seasoning and 1/3 cup olive oil. Shake until well combined. Set aside.

Cook vegetables: Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Chop the broccoli into bite-size pieces (florets only) and dice the red pepper. Add both to the pan. Using a corn peeler, remove the kernels from the corn and add to pan. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until broccoli starts to soften. Move the veggies around with tongs occasionally to keep from burning. Add the black beans and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Prepare toppings: Shred the cheddar cheese and dice the green onions.

Assemble the dish: Add the quinoa and cooked veggies to a large bowl. Pour the dressing mixture over and toss using the tongs until evenly coated. Divide between two bowls and top with shredded cheddar and diced green onions.


Easy Roasted Eggplant

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I’ve been loving all the gorgeous eggplant at the market. I’ve pinned about a million eggplant recipes to try and eggplant has been on my weekly shopping list. This was the first eggplant dish I made this season, and it’s dangerous.

Eggplant dishes (at least the ones I tend to pick out) seem to take a lot of prep. This one takes all of three minutes and then you can do other things while it roasts. After a busy day at work, it’s an awesome dinner and now that I have something so delicious and easy under my belt, it’s been hard to get motivated to do anything else with my eggplant!

 Easy Roasted Eggplant
(inspired by purevege.com)
Serves 2

1 large eggplant
1 T. olive oil
1 T. herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F degrees.

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score a diamond pattern into the white side. Place cut-side up on a baking sheet. Spread half the oil over each side, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the herbs over each half.

Roast until lightly golden brown and a knife slips in easily.

Serve with a side of tomato sauce.

Roasted Garlic Macaroni and Cheese

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We usually have some sort of pasta with red sauce with our Christmas dinner. When I was flipping through my bookmarked recipes, looking for some inspiration for this year’s pasta dish, I came across this one.  It wasn’t what I was planning on making, but it looked too good not to try anyway.

This was one of the Christmas dinner favorites. It’s perfectly creamy and cheesy and the roasted garlic really makes this something special. I roasted the garlic the day before so I’d have less prep time when I actually made it.

Roasted Garlic Macaroni and Cheese
(from Annie’s Eats)
Serves 10-12 as a side

1 head garlic
1 tsp. olive oil
12 oz. dry pasta
3 T. unsalted butter
3 T. all-purpose flour
3 c. milk
1/4 t. dried parsley
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
8 oz. white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. crumbled garlic and herb boursin cheese, divided
Salt and pepper

Cut about 1/2 in. off the top of the garlic. Cut the roots so that the garlic will sit flat. Remove the papery skin for the garlic, but leave enough so that the cloves stay together. Put garlic into a small casserole dish or baking pan, drizzle olive oil over it and cover with a lid or foil. Bake at 325F degrees for 1 hour. Remove garlic and let it cool until you can handle it. Squeeze all of the garlic out of the skins and smash with a fork to make a paste.

Increase the oven temperature to 400F degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta until about 2 minutes shy of al dente according to the package directions. Drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot and set aside. Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and the roasted garlic paste and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, dried parsley, and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce comes to a low boil and thickens noticeably. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar and about 3 ounces of the boursin. Whisk until the cheese is completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the sauce over the drained pasta and toss to coat well. Transfer to a lightly greased 2 quart baking dish and top with the remaining boursin. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling. Let cool at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

Fig and Orange Glazed Ham

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I was still undecided about what to make for Christmas dinner the week before. The week before was also the annual Christmas party for my Mom’s side of the family. Her cousin, Suzie, gave us all jars of homemade fig jam. When I saw this recipe, it was a Eureka! moment.

Included below are the instructions for glazing a half ham. I took a shortcut and cut slices off our spiral ham, laid them in a baking dish and then spooned the glaze over. I preferred it this way for two reasons 1) it would heat up quicker and 2) every slice got more glazed goodness like this.

Fig and Orange Glazed Ham
(from Food Network)
Makes enough glaze for 1  Spiral Sliced Half Ham

1 c. fig jam
2 T. dijon mustard
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 c. fresh orange juice

Combine the jam, mustard, and orange zest and juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, just until the jam melts (do not boil).

For ham slices, layer in pan and spread glaze over. Cover with foil and bake at 350F degrees until warmed through.

For a half ham, preheat the oven as directed on the ham package and follow the instructions for baking the ham. Remove the ham from the oven about 30 minutes before the end of the warming time. Spoon half of the glaze over the ham and bake for the remaining 30 minutes. Remove the ham from the oven and spoon the remaining glaze on top. Transfer to a cutting board and carve.

Chicken Gyros

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Until recently, I’d never had Greek food. I made up a batch of tzatziki sauce for a recipe and sort of fell in love with it – now I end up starring almost every Greek-inspired recipe that shows up in my Google Reader.

Being new to Greek food, this was my first gyro. I know, it’s sad – but after this I’m sure I’ll be making up for lost time. We loved these and loved how easy they were to make.

Chicken Gyros
(from Prevention RD)
Serves 2

3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe of tzatziki
1 small tomato, chopped
1/4 small red onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 pocketless pitas

In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, yogurt, and oregano. Transfer mixture to a large resealable bag and add the chicken. Refrigerate for about an hour, turning occasionally.

Preheat grill on medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade. Grill chicken until just cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, or until meat thermometer inserted into the chicken read 160 degrees F. Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing into strips.

Wrap pitas in aluminum foil and place directly on oven rack and heat for 6-8 minutes.

Divide chicken strips evenly among pitas; top each gyro with 1/4 cup tzatziki sauce, tomato slices, red onion slices, and 2 tablespoons feta. Wrap aluminium foil around gyro, cut in half, and serve immediately.

Thyme Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

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A roast chicken seems like the perfect Sunday dinner to me. Not only is it an excellent meal, it makes enough leftovers for us to make several other dinners throughout the week – it’s a win-win.

This chicken was perfectly seasoned and roasting the vegetables alongside make for a delicious and easy side.

Thyme Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
(adapted from All Recipes)
Serves 4-6

1 (5-6 lb. pound) whole roasting chicken
1 T. butter, melted
4 medium red potatoes, quartered
4 medium carrots, cut into chunks
1/2 large white onion, chopped into 1″ chunks
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. orange juice

Brush the chicken with the butter. Place the chicken and vegetables into a roasting pan. Season with the thyme. Mix the stock and orange juice in a small bowl and pour half the stock mixture over the chicken and vegetables.

Roast at 375F degrees for 45 minutes.

Stir the vegetables. Add the remaining stock mixture to the pan. Roast for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Chicken Spaghetti

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This recipe is from another recipe swap. One of the reasons I’m enjoying these swaps is because it’s making me try dishes I wouldn’t have otherwise – like this one. If I had seen this on a blog, I don’t think I would have given it a second look – Mark’s not a fan of casseroles and I try to cook healthier than pasta drenched in cream soup.

In the spirit of the swap, I made it anyway – and I’m so glad I did. We loved it. It’s a rarity that we both go back for seconds but we did with this dish. It’s a great, comfort food dinner and can be made ahead and frozen.

Chicken Spaghetti
(adapted from Pioneer Woman)
Serves 3-4

1 c. cooked chicken, cubed
1 1/2 c. dry spaghetti broken up into 2 inch pieces
1 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, grated and divided
1/4 c. diced onion
1/2 t. seasoned salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper
Cook to spaghetti al dente. Mix spaghetti with the chicken, onion, cream of mushroom soup, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper and 1 c. of cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Spread into a casserole dish and top with remaining cheddar.  Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Linked up with Ingredient Spotlight: Chicken & Pasta at Finding Joy in My Kitchen.

Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon

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In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I should mention that this is the first time I’ve ever had beef bourguignon, so I don’t know how it compares to a more traditional version – but we both really enjoyed this.

I made this on one of the many snow days we’ve had recently and it smelled awesome all day while it was cooking. The meat came out very moist and tender and the carrots picked up a nice tartness from the red wine. We used the extra red wine sauce as a gravy to top everything off.

Despite being a nearly zero-effort meal, it seemed like a special dinner. It’s something I’ll definitely make again.

Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon
(from A Year of Slow Cooking)
Serves 3

1 1/2 lbs. beef roast, or beef stew meat 
4 slices bacon, uncooked
2 T. olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced in rings
1 cup baby carrots 
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. herbs de provence
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 T. tomato paste
2 cups red wine 

In the bottom of your stoneware, smear around the olive oil. Then lay down 2 slices of bacon. Add sliced onion and garlic. Put the meat into the pot on top of the onion and garlic and sprinkle on dried spices and herbs. Toss the meat to distribute the spices to all sides. Add tomato paste. Lay the other 2 slices of bacon on top of the meat, and throw in the carrots. Pour wine over the whole thing.

Cover and let cook on low for 8-9 hours, high for 4-5, or until meat has reached desired tenderness. If you are using a roast, you may want to flip the meat about an hour before serving so more liquid is absorbed into the meat.