Archive for the ‘dinner’ Category

I’m all about good food, but also like to save money and save time.  This recipe covers all the bases.  First off, one of my main grocery shopping strategies is to take advantage of sale meats.  Last week, Kroger had pork shoulder on sale for about 1.39 per pound, so I bought a 6 pound roast and threw it in my garage fridge (check the sell by date – mine was good for a couple weeks).  Yesterday morning around 8 am, I started the Pork Shoulder in the crockpot.   By 6pm, we were ready to eat.   Here’s the recipe:

Crockpot Pulled Pork

1 pork shoulder (6 lbs is a good size and fits in a large crockpot)

olive oil to sear pork

1 can beer

1 onion, cut in half then sliced

salt and pepper

Put the sliced onion in the bottom of your crockpot, add some salt and pepper (use your judgement), and a splash of beer.  Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium high heat and sear the pork as best you can on all sides.  I think you could just throw the pork directly in the crockpot, but I like to sear mine first.  Add pork to crockpot and pour over some more beer.  Add more salt and pepper.  Put the cover on the crockpot and heat on low for at least 8 hours.  I usually like to flip my roast about half way through cooking, but you don’t have to.  About an hour before you want to eat, pull out the pork and set it on a plate to cool, breaking into some chunks if you can.   Let cool for about 1/2 an hour.  You can leave the lid off the crockpot and let the onions and juice cook down a bit.   After 1/2 an hour, don some gloves if you have them (this helps keep your hands clean and also seems to help mitigate the heat a little bit), and start pulling any fat off the meat, take out the bone, and shred the meat back into the crockpot.  The gloves really help with this (I keep a bag of plastic disposable gloves in my kitchen and they are great for lots of things.) and you can usually shred the meat in about 15 minutes or so.  The dog is my best friend while I am doing this!  At this point, the meat is pretty much ready to go, but you can let it sit in the hot broth with the cover on for a while longer until whenever you are ready to eat.

To serve, we eat this on buns, with a little BBQ sauce served table side for those who desire it.  For a family of 4, we got one dinner the night I cooked this, plus I bagged enough to freeze for another generous dinner, and had enough leftover for a couple of lunch sandwiches.

Not bad – 2 dinners and a couple lunches for under ten bucks!




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Yosh was my dad.  Yosh was a straight-laced, standup guy who loved his family, loved to cook, and who died way too young.   “I think he was the best of all of us,” my darling Uncle Dial said to me somewhat wistfully last summer.

All my young life, I adored my father and I adored his  spaghetti and meatballs.  Ironically, he had a pot of sauce and meatballs on the stove the day he died.  In the ensuing months of sorrow, we ate the last tubs of my father’s spaghetti sauce and meatballs and that was the last we had them, since it was not my mother’s recipe.

Many years later, I asked my mom for the recipe.  She tried to recall it as best she could and I made the recipe she pieced together for me, adjusting over and over, but it was never quite there.  A few years before she died, I asked my mother where my dad got the recipe.  She thought he had found it in the newspaper and she did have a bag of recipe clippings saved that went back to the late 1960’s, so I spent hours at her condo patiently digging through every newspaper clipping, to no avail.

In 2006, my mom passed away.  As my sister and I were cleaning the condo, we came across that bag of recipes and my sister didn’t want them, so I took them home, where they sat for months.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, I grabbed a chair and started to sort through them.  Many hours later, I came across a recipe torn from a pasta box.  It was for spaghetti and meatballs.  The recipe called for Red Cross Spaghetti, a now-defunct Chicago pasta manufacturer, so presumably, the recipe came off their box.    I stared hard at that recipe.  “This could be it,” I thought to myself.  I paced over to my husband, “I’m going to make this.  I think it may be my Tata’s long lost pasta sauce.”  Tata is the Serbian word for father.  I started calling my full-blooded Serbian American dad “Tata” in high school after becoming friends with Vera, a full-blooded Serbian American in my school who lived two blocks away from me.  From freshman year in high school to this day, he was and always remains “Tata” to me.

So I made the sauce.  Incidentally, it took a little research to discover that a no. 2 ½ can used to be 29 oz.  A 28 oz. can works fine.    I tasted the sauce as it was cooking and it was a taste of childhood.  Oh my gosh, I think this is it!!  Of course, my dad was not one for fussy preparations and I am pretty sure his meatballs didn’t have fresh parsley in them, but for now, I am sticking with the original.

I haven’t had time to make it since then, but my recent foray into grinding my own meat and a fortuitous sale of pork loin at Kroger this week inspired me to try it again.  Fair warning, this recipe will nicely double, but do not triple unless you use a REALLY large stock pot.  I thought I would be perfectly safe using my huge enameled cast iron dutch oven, but as you can see above, it is filled to within about ½ inch of its life!  Not to mention that 3 lbs of meat (I only used 2 eggs and 4 slices of bread), made 57 meatball and 2 hours after the adventure began, my kitchen looked like a parsley bomb went off in it and I just noticed a piece of dried raw ground beef in the middle of my t-shirt.  Being a sucker for punishment, I decided dinner would not be complete without fresh bread, so I have French bread dough busy in the bread machine as I type.

This recipe, a recent family reunion, and a CD of family movies from a cousin have me a bit nostalgic for childhood.  The food, the stories, the pictures – they almost bring those loved ones back close enough to touch.  And that’s the best thing of all.  If we hold on to our family history, we hold on to all the ones who came before us, who made us what we are, and who filled our lives up.

Let me know if you try Yosh’s Sauce.  If you prefer, you can call it Red Cross Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs, but to me, this taste was all my dad’s.

Best regards,


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This month’s Cooking Light magazine had a feature on hamburgers, and one of the recipes provided details on how to make your own fresh ground beef for really tasty burgers.  All you needed was some time, a cut of beef, and a Kitchenaid mixer with the grinder attachment.   The most time consuming part for me was digging all around my house for the box with the kitchenaid attachments we had bought when we bought the mixer.  They are infrequently used and had been put away SOMEWHERE after our kitchen remodel two years ago.  I had to comb the house for about a half hour before I found the dusty old box on the back of the top shelf in the furthest corner of the basement storage area.

Cooking Light‘s recipe suggested Brisket, but I did some research online that recommended cuts such as chuck steak as well.  A local grocery had boneless “English Roast” on sale for about $2/pound.    This cut apparently comes from the same area as chuck and looks pretty much the same as a pot roast cut to me.  I bought a 2.5 pound package.

Per Cooking Light‘s instructions, I put the parts of my grinder attachment in the freezer for about an hour.    The next time I tried this, I did not have time to chill the attachments and it didn’t seem to matter.   I cut the roast into strips that were small enough around to fit in the chute of the grinder.  They were about 3/4 x 1 inch and maybe 3-5 inches long.  I laid them all out on a cookie sheet and tossed them in the freezer for about 30 min to an hour.

Once the meat was partially frozen, I set the Kitchenaid with grinder attachment to speed 4 as specified by my manual.  Then I put a bowl under the grinder and started feeding the meat into the hopper using the wood plunger to push it through.  As the nice ground meat started to come out, I was reminded of a scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and started singing “we don’t need no education…”

I was able to feed 2.5 lbs of meat through fairly quickly.  Since both Cooking Light and my manual said to grind the meat twice, I dumped what I had in the bowl back onto the cookie sheet and ran it through the grinder again.  This is slightly messier than the first run, but still goes quickly.  I  then put the bowl of beautiful ground meat into the fridge to use for dinner.  All in all, I think i spent about 30 minutes prepping the meat, running it through the grinder, and cleaning up.

The first time, I made burgers from the meat.   I thought they were amazing but my family did not jump up and down as much as I thought I deserved:).  My husband suggested that next time I might try running the seasoning through with the burger on the second grind so that I wouldn’t have to mix so vigorously while making patties and could pat the patties a bit looser.

This week I made tacos with 2 lbs of ground English roast.  I trimmed off a bit of the fat, but left most if it to be ground in with the meat.  I always have trouble breaking up the big chunks of ground beef as I cook it, but this time I got a lovely fine crumble.  I did strain all the liquid and fat out, and in the morning, that bowl had mostly  gel and very little fat.  The tacos were terrific.

I can’t wait to try fresh ground beef for other recipes like sloppy joes, meatballs, and bolognese sauce.

Try it, I think you’ll enjoy it.


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My daughter had some friends over yesterday for an end of the year sleepover, and we had a family favorite that was a big hit with the girls.  It is a “make your own Calzones Party” and is easier than you think.  What you’ll need is a variety of pizza toppings/fillings and some easy to make homemade dough (recipe follows).  For fillings, I usually have shredded mozzarella, thinly sliced sweet peppers, mushrooms, sliced pepperoni, and my husband usually peels the casings off one or two hot italian sausages and fries the crumbles up for sausage.  I also put out a bowl of pizza sauce.  I buy a gigantic can of Ragu Pizza Sauce at Sam’s a few times a year and freeze the sauce in ziplock baggies, which I line up accordian style in a shallow plastic container.  So easy to pull one or two of them out.

First step is to prepare the pizza dough.  The recipe that follows makes 4 calzones.  Yesterday I doubled it to make 8.  I have a large Zojirushi Bread machine that I make my dough in using the quick dough cycle and I was happy to see it handle the double recipe easily.  While dough is rising, prepare all filling ingredients and set out on a large work surface such as a kitchen island, counter, or table.  Preheat oven to 425 F.  Have 1-2 cookie sheets ready.  I put a piece of parchment paper on mine to keep the sheets clean, make sure the calzones won’t stick, and to give me a place to label each person’s calzone by writing on the parchment with a sharpie:).

When dough is ready, working on a floured surface, divide dough into the number of calzones you are making.  Roll out to a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.  Each person should then fill their calzone by putting toppings on one half, leaving about a 3/4 inch edge clean for sealing.  When calzones are filled, dampen the edge around filling with a finger dipped in water, then fold over the top half and seal by pressing all around edge with a fork.  Poke a few holes in the top with fork.  Carefully transfer each calzone to a cookie sheet and label the parchment so you know whose calzone is whose.  If you don’t use parchment, you can poke initials in the top with the fork or otherwise do something to mark each one.   I can usually fit 4 calzones on my largest cookie sheet, but it is close, you may want to use 2 cookie sheets for 4 calzones.   Bake at 425 for 18-20 minutes. (these work great in my convection oven at 400 F also).  Allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before attempting to eat – they are HOT inside!


Calzone Dough (makes 4 calzones)

1.5 t. yeast

1 c. warm water

2.5 c. flour

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 T. sugar

1 t. salt

2.5 T. olive oil

Use whatever method you would normal use to mix and knead ingredients for bread or pizza dough.  I use the quick dough cycle on my bread machine.




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For those of us who cook most of our family meals at home, menu planning can help save money, time, and frustration, but sometimes it is hard to find the time or initiative to get a meal plan going.  In the past, I have used weekly or even monthly menu plans, but as our family gets busier, they have fallen by the wayside.  I have also noticed that it is not always easy to track if you are having variety in your menu (my family often accuses me of cooking nothing but chicken!) or to remember to make old family favorites.

I have spent the last two years teach Excel skills to college students in my job as a visiting faculty, and this summer decided to use a spreadsheet to track my menus.  It gives me a good way to see if we are getting variety, and also to remember old family favorites or to know when we actually cooked the leftovers languishing in the fridge.  Here is an example of my spreadsheet (you can click on it to see the full size version – use your back button to come back to this page when you are done):

The beauty of this list is that I can sort it in a variety of ways if I want.  For instance, sort by protein type to look for ideas for chicken.  Or if it is a special day for a certain family member, sort to find their favorites.  Another thing that sometimes happens at our house is that one family member may miss a dinner due to other plans and on that day, we try to cook something that person doesn’t like.  So we could sort by the “hated by” column to find dinners to make when someone is absent.  I often forget where I have the recipe saved for some of our infrequent dinners, so there is a column to help with that as well.

You could customize this however it works best for you.  You might want to add a column with costs, so that you can find cheap dinners when you need to.

As I always told my students, Excel is an amazing tool and you can do so much with it, both within your career and in your life.  Let me know if you find this idea helpful.



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I made this yesterday for company and everyone went back for seconds and thirds, so I would say it was a hit.  My mother made this recipe all through my childhood and I make it pretty much as she instructed me when I asked for the recipe in college.  I don’t know where she got the original recipe or idea – I think she may have just created it on her own.  It is not like other Sloppy Joe recipes I have tasted – it is much milder.  Yesterday, this recipe served 6 with enough leftovers for a couple lunches.  When I make it for my family of 4, we usually have enough leftover to freeze for another dinner.  Yesterday, I made this with a pack of Ground Turkey from Sam’s club, but my mother always made it with ground beef.  I also use any color sweet pepper I have handy, but my mom always used green peppers.  Works great no matter what I do differently.

Veronica’s Sloppy Joes

2.5 pounds ground beef or ground turkey

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 green pepper, chopped (or use red, yellow, or orange sweet peppers if that’s what you have)

3 small cans of tomato sauce, 8 ounces each

3 T. sweet relish

3-4 T. prepared yellow mustard

Hamburger or deli buns

Heat large skill over medium heat and begin browning ground meat.  When meat is about half cooked, stir in chopped onion and chopped sweet pepper.  Continue to cook until meat is no longer pink.  Drain if desired.  Stir in tomato sauce, sweet relish, and mustard.  I don’t actually measure the mustard, just squirt in about what I think is right.  For measuring the sweet relish, I actually use a tablespoon from my flatware set rather than a measuring spoon.   Simmer the mix for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then serve.  You can let it simmer longer if you like.  Either put a lid on it, or add a little bit of water as it simmers if it gets too thick.

Best regards,


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Here is an adaptation of a recipe from Desperation Dinners by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.  A very good idea book, by the way, for quick dinners.    Like Rachel Ray, they are big fans of using pre-prepped ingredients like frozen chopped onions.  I don’t mind chopping onions and am not even sure my stores carry such a thing as frozen onions, so I have modified their recipe a bit to fit my tastes and procedures.  The chicken in this recipe can be anything from leftovers to quick thawed frozen chicken breasts to canned chicken.  I have used all 3.  In fact, yesterday, I used one leftover grilled chicken breast and added a can of canned chicken.  Sam’s Club sells a stack of 5 large cans of chicken for about 10 bucks.  I forgot to put them on my pantry list, but I keep them on hand for soup and casseroles.

Tortilla Soup

1-2 T. Olive oil (I just squirt a coating in the bottom of my pan – I keep olive oil in a squeeze bottle for this purpose)

1 C. Diced Onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

Roughly 2 C. diced, cooked chicken – use leftovers or canned chicken or boil some frozen breasts

½ t. chili powder

¼ t. ground cumin

2 cans (14 ½ oz each) chicken broth or bouillon and water to make 4 c. stock

1 c. salsa (from a jar – I keep plenty in the pantry – opened jars go  in fridge)

Store bought tortilla chips

Shredded cheese – cheddar, jack, etc.

Frozen corn, if desired

Sliced avocado, if desired

Heat a large (at least 4 qt) sauce pan over medium heat and add oil, then add in diced onions and garlic.  Cook for at least 5 minutes to soften onions, then add chicken and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Add spices and cook for 1-2 minutes more.  Dump in chicken broth and salsa, stir well, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook at least 10 minutes more, but can simmer for longer.  Cover if you will be letting it simmer for a while so it doesn’t thicken up too much.

To serve, dish soup into bowls, crack some tortilla chips by hand and dump on top along with a bit of cheese.  We usually dish soup up at the stove and then garnish at the table.

I am the only one in my house who likes corn and avocado in my soup, so while the soup is cooking, I toss a handful of frozen corn in my bowl and slice up about 1/3 of an avocado into the bowl.  Pouring the hot soup on top heats up the corn and avocado.  You could add the corn directly to the soup with the broth and salsa if everyone in your house will eat it.

This is fast and tasty.  Yesterday my daughter also made corn bread to go with it, but the soup and a salad are usually plenty filling.

Best regards,


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