Posts filed under ‘Avoiding Food Ruts’

Recipe for the Perfect Hamburger

I know you’ve seen plenty of recipes for the perfect burger before, but before you move on to the next recipe, take a few minutes to review this one. What I’ve learned over the years is that the technique for making the burger is as important, if not more so, than the ingredients. There are just a couple of must-do steps here to make everyone stand up and take notice, or more likely sit down and ask for another one.

Recipe: The Perfect Burger


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes


  • 2 lb. brisket, ground
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. ketchup
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of chili powder
  • 1 c. finely shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 4 light brioche buns or other large hamburger buns, split
  • 1/4 lb. medium-sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
  • 4 thin onion slices
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste


  1. Lightly shape the ground beef into four patties that are about four inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Refrigerate the patties for 1 to 2 hours.
  2. While the burgers chill, combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, cayenne, chili powder, and an pinch of salt and black pepper in a bowl and whisk. Add the lettuce and stir to coat.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a hot fire on a grill, or heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle each burger all over with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and season generously with black pepper. Sear the burgers on the grill or in skillet for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the burgers to a broiler pan and bake for four more minutes for medium-rare, 6 for medium.
  5. Remove the broiler pan from oven and position an oven rack closest to broiler element and heat the broiler to high.
  6. Toast the buns.
  7. Top the burgers with the cheese and broil until it melts, about 30 seconds. Set the burgers on bottom buns and top with the lettuce sauce mixture and the onion slices. Cover with the top bun and serve

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

  • Though packaged ground beef is easier to buy, it is worth the extra few minutes to have the butcher counter at your favorite grocery store grind up some brisket. It contains about 30% fat and the meat is from a very heavily worked area, making it far more flavorful than your typical tube of ground beef.
  • My family’s favorite sauce is very tasty, but you can certainly substitute your favorite spreads, cheeses and toppings. From fresh sliced tomatoes to pickles and beyond, it’s easy to make this burger your own.

May 5, 2010 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Classic Easter Dinner: Lamb Shank with Orange and Mint

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably had a scary lamb experience: tough as shoe leather legs of lamb, gamey mutton, or unknown lamb parts covered in a “not found in nature” green mint jelly. I’m here to tell you that lamb can be not just good, but great, and you don’t have to be a professional chef to make it great. Lamb is one of the most forgiving meats out there and can be very affordable when you catch cuts like leg and shank on sale. So, I am asking you to give lamb a chance this Spring. For a fool-proof way to get your feet wet, start with a slowly braised lamb shank. While this recipe is a bit more involved than a typical weeknight dinner recipe, it’s not particularly difficult and you can get other things done while the shanks braise.

And while mint really does go very well with lamb, put the jelly down. Seriously. Put it down. As this recipe shows, there are many better ways to pair lamb with its familiar partner.

Recipe: Lamb Shank with Orange & Mint


  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours


  • 1 oz. canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 whole lamb shank, trimmed
  • 1 small onion, diced large
  • 5 baby carrots, cut into thirds
  • 1 rib celery, diced large
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 oz. white wine
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 c. beef or lamb stock
  • 1 orange
  • 3 sprigs of fresh mint
  • ¼ c. orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the oil to large, deep oven-safe skillet (preferably one with a lid) and heat to medium high. Salt and pepper the lamb shank generously and sear it on all sides. Remove the lamb from the skillet and set it aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften.
  4. Add the garlic and the tomato paste and cook until the tomato paste is cooked and no longer raw tasting, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine to the pan and stir, scraping up all of the brown bits off of the bottom. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced by half.
  5. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and the stock to the pan, stirring everything together to combine. Return the seared lamb to the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and then move it to the oven. Cook until the lamb is fork tender (around 2 hours), adding more stock if necessary to keep it from drying out.
  6. While the lamb braises, fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Zest the orange and add the zest to the boiling water for 1 minute, then remove and strain.
  7. Slice the peel off of the orange, cut the slices of orange out from between the white skin, and set aside.
  8. Pull the mint leaves from the sprigs and set them aside.
  9. When the lamb is fork tender, remove the skillet from the oven and move the lamb to a serving platter to rest.
  10. Remove the thyme stems and bay leaves from the sauce and put the skillet back on the stove over medium heat.
  11. Put the mint stems and the zest into the liquid in the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid to about a cup and then strain it into a clean pot (the one you boiled the zest in is fine).
  12. While the liquid is reducing, mince mint leaves very finely.
  13. Add the orange juice to the reduced liquid, place it over medium heat, and reduce the sauce again by half. Taste the sauce and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Add the butter, the finely minced mint leaves, and the skinless orange slices. Stir until the butter is melted then pour onto the serving plate around the lamb shank.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

  • Use an oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven with a fitted lid if you have one. This will prevent the liquid from evaporating too quickly during the braise. If you don’t have a lid for your pan, use a double thickness of foil and seal it tightly around the edge of the pan.
  • You can use dried herbs for this if you prefer, but use the fresh ones if you have access to them. The flavors will be brighter.
  • Make sure you remove the thyme sprig and the bay leaf before serving; no one wants to chew on twiggy stems or inedible leaves.
  • Serve this over polenta or mashed potatoes for a hearty Easter dinner.

March 31, 2010 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

Simple and Tasty Trout Meuniere

I’ve been on a steady campaign to get more fish dishes into my menus and onto our table. In a perfect world we’d have fish twice a week, but for now I’ll settle for once every couple of weeks until I find a collection of recipes that my family truly enjoys. This recipe is a classic French preparation for fish and while it’s very simple, it’s also very tasty. Of course, anything with lots of butter is always tasty. One of the points of adding fish dishes to the menu is to lighten our plates, but first I have to get my family over the fish hurdle, so I’ll settle for the healthy fish plus the decadence of butter as a starting point.

Recipe: Trout Meuniere


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 minutes


  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 4 large trout fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 oz. all purpose flour
  • 4 oz. clarified butter, canola, or safflower oil
  • 2 lemons, sliced in half
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley


  1. In a small pot over low heat, melt the stick of butter until melted. Stir occasionally and keep warm over low heat.
  2. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.
  3. Put the flour in a shallow dish or plate and dredge the fillets on both sides until lightly coated.
  4. Heat the clarified butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  5. Place the fillets skin side down (if your fillets still have the skin) into the oil. Sauté for about three minutes, ladling the oil over the fillets continuously to help cook the fish through.
  6. When the fish no longer sticks to the pan, flip the fish. Increase the temperature on the pot of butter to medium-high and heat until it begins to brown and smell nutty, about 5 minutes.
  7. When the fish is golden brown on both sides, remove it from the pan and drain quickly on paper towels.
  8. To serve, put the fish on the plate (a bed of rice is a perfect accompaniment) and squeeze the juice one of the lemon halves down the length of the fillet. Sprinkle a generous amount of parsley on the fish, followed immediately by the boiling hot browned butter.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

  • Clarified butter is butter that has been melted and had the milk solids and water removed so only the butter fat remains. The main benefit of clarified butter in this recipe is that it has a higher smoke point which is necessary to sauté the fish. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own clarified butter, check the ethnic food section of your grocery store dairy case for ghee. It’s the same thing and you don’t have to do anything other than scoop it out of the jar.
  • Depending on the size of your fish and the size of your skillet, you may have to sauté the fish in two batches. Be careful not to over-crowd the pan or you won’t get a good crust on the fish.
  • Be ready to serve this fish as soon as it’s cooked, so choose a no-fuss side dish like steamed broccoli so you can focus on finishing the fish.
  • For the adults on a special evening, a nice white wine without too much oak is a nice pairing with this fish.

February 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm Leave a comment

Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of February 15

Menu Plan Monday LogoMy family has been really open minded over the last six weeks as I’ve focused on menu planning and trying out new recipes. As I was putting this week’s menu together I asked them what meals they’ve enjoyed most since the New Year and I matched those with what’s on sale this week to come up with our menu. I’m happy to report that they’ve enjoyed more than half of the new recipes we’ve tired, and they’ve also really enjoyed the ways I’ve used the leftovers from one night in another dish later in the week. If these first few weeks of the year are any indication, this approach to meal planning has been a success. With family favorites as the theme, our menu plan for the week looks like this:

  • Monday: Honey-Ginger Grilled Salmon with roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts
    We’re still working on having fish at least once a week, and more if different types of fish are on sale. Roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts are easy because the oven does most of the work – just what I need on a Monday night.
  • Tuesday: White Chili with Ground Turkey with cornbread (Freezer Stash)
    I’m using up the rest of my freezer stash of this chili next week to make room for a new batch of freezer-friendly recipes I plan to make next week. My family really likes this chile and leftovers become another favorite on Sunday: Frio pies.
  • Wednesday: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Shallots with steamed rice and sautéed green beans
    If you ask my family about this dish they can’t tell you the name but will say “that chicken that we had in the cheese steak sandwiches”, but that’s good enough for me. While white wine and shallots may seem a little fancy, they really are family friendly. We’ll of course be having the leftovers in cheese steaks on Sunday.
  • Thursday: Lamb Chops with Balsamic Reduction with asparagus and long grain and wild rice
    It seems like lamb has been on sale almost every week so we’re having
  • Friday: Frito pies made with leftover chili
    Frito pies are perfect for a Friday night when we’re all tired and ready for a simple and fun dinner. These were another family favorite and they couldn’t be simpler: reheat the left over chili in a sauce pan, open an individual bag of Fritos or other corn chips, put a cup or so of the chili in the bag on top of the chips, and sprinkle on some grated cheese. While you can dump the chips into a bowl first, it’s much more fun to eat this dish right out of the bag.
  • Saturday: Chipotle Shrimp Tacos with Uncle Ben’s Mexican rice and black beans
    My family loves these as an alternative to the same ol’ tacos.
  • Sunday: Chicken cheese steaks with french fries
    One of my favorite local restaurants makes the most amazing cheese steaks, but the cost and calorie counts are through the roof. I can turn the chicken from earlier in the week into “mom’s chicken cheese steak” with some fresh rolls, grilled peppers and onions, and provolone cheese. Oven-baked fries are healthier alternative to the ones we’d have at the restaurant.

February 15, 2010 at 11:02 am 1 comment

Hamburger Meat Recipe: Hash Brown-Crusted Ground Beef Casserole

Casserole. Is there any other word in the English language that carries such promise and yet usually ends so badly? I remember eyeing just about anything served at my parents table in a 9×13 glass dish with fear and trepidation, which was too bad because it’s not at all difficult to make a great casserole with the right ingredients and approach. Casseroles are great because they are easy to put together and help you make the most of pantry and on sale ingredients, which is important right now as we all watch our wallets. However, being budget conscious doesn’t mean you have to ignoring flavor, as this recipe shows. This dish works on all fronts: it’s inexpensive and easy to make, it is hearty and filling, and most importantly, it’s delicious.

Recipe: Hash Brown-Crusted Beef Casserole


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 can (14 oz.) beef broth
  • 1 10.5 oz can cream of potato soup
  • cooking spray
  • 1 20 oz. pkg. shredded hash browns
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Brown the ground beef in skillet over medium high heat until cooked through. Drain off the extra fat.
  3. Mix the broth and soup into the cooked and drained beef. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Spray the inside of a 9″x13″baking dish with cooking spray.
  5. Spread the hash browns in the bottom of the baking dish and top with beef mixture.
  6. Cover with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
  8. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

  • This recipe works equally well with all ground meats: chicken, turkey, bison, pork, and beef. You can even use a combination of ground meats.
  • Low fat and low sodium versions of the soup and the broth work well in this recipe. Choose your favorite brand or what’s on sale.
  • Stir a package of frozen mixed vegetables into the beef, broth, and soup mixture to make this a one-dish meal.
  • For an extra-crispy crust, spray the baking dish with cooking spray and add the hasbrowns just as you start to brown the meat. Put the baking dish with the hashbrowns into the oven while it’s pre-heating so they can start crisping. When the beef, broth, and soup mixture is ready, add it to the hot baking dish (step 5) and proceed with the rest of the instructions.

January 14, 2010 at 10:55 am 1 comment

Easy Chicken Fingers Recipe: Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders

The benefit of cutting back on fried foods and bad fats is something we can all understand, but knowing and doing are two very different things. Let’s face it, fried food can be a hard habit to break, especially when you have kids who want chicken nuggets and they want them for every meal. To help my family continue to transition from bad food without facing rebellion, I use this incredibly simple recipe when we have that drive thru craving. These chicken tenders are baked instead of fried. Even so, the crunch of the toasted pecans is extremely satisfying, and the strips remain juicy.

Recipe: Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes


For the chicken:

  • 1/3 c. flour
  • Srinkling of salt and pepper
  • 2 lb. chicken tenders
  • ¼ c. honey
  • ¼ c. spicy brown mustard
  • 1 c. finely chopped pecans

For a dipping sauce:

  • ¼ c. honey
  • ¼ c. spicy brown mustard


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill a shallow plate with the flour and a second one with the pecans. Mix the salt and pepper into the flour.
  3. Put the honey and mustard in a bowl and stir to combine.
  4. Roll the chicken tenders in the seasoned flour until they have a thin, dry coating.
  5. Dip the floured chicken tenders in the honey and mustard combination, shaking off any excess.
  6. Roll the chicken in the pecans, making sure to get an even coating.
  7. Place the strips an inch or so apart on a cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes.
  9. While the chicken cooks, mix the second batch of the honey and mustard for dipping.

Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut lengthwise into thirds can substitute for the tenders.
  • Line your cookie sheet with foil to make cleanup easier.
  • Let the chicken strips rest for just a minute or two after pulling them out of the oven so the pecans can become wonderfully crunchy. If you dive in right away, they might seem slightly chewy because the nuts’ natural oils haven’t had a chance to recede back into them yet. Plus, the strips will still be really hot and you’ll burn your tongue.
  • Make sure that you don’t use the same honey mustard mixture that you dipped the raw chicken into as a dipping sauce!

January 7, 2010 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Healthy Eating: Practical Tips and Tricks for Helping Your Family Eat Better

Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle against food that’s just plain not good for my family. Fast food restaurants line the roads as far as the eye can see, and that burger and fries seems like they are calling my name, and that of every person in my family. And while we all know that artificial cheese food isn’t even in the same nutrition universe as fresh vegetables or fiber-rich multi-grains, that doesn’t stop us from wanting what’s not good for us. My family will dive right into and demolish a pizza, but somehow they won’t attack a plate of veggies with the same gusto. I know that we need to make changes to our habits, but knowing and doing are two very different things.

As I contemplated the ways I could start to move the needle on healthy eating in my household, I once again turned to the blogosphere to see what kind of useful advice I could uncover. I did find some really great and highly practical tidbits that I’m pretty sure I can start to work with almost immediately.

  • Choose healthy snacks. Sometimes healthy options are already family favorites, or they are close enough to favorites that they are easy to work into the routine. Nuts, granola bars, and raisins are just a few of the suggestions has for helping kids snack better. My big take away from this post is to look for healthy options in and among what my family already likes.
  • Get a little help from peanut butter. This story provides details on a study that looked at what impact dipping fresh vegetables in peanut butter had on the chances of a child actually consuming said vegetables. It turns out that kids who said they didn’t even like veggies would eat them more readily when dipped in peanut butter. I’ve used things like ranch-style dip in the past as a way to make vegetables more appealing, but hadn’t thought of peanut butter. This just goes to show that condiments can help get nutrients into the family and sometimes that’s just good enough.
  • Make a few healthy substitutions. It’s unrealistic to expect my family to give up their favorite foods all together. There would be mutiny if I banned pizza or mac and cheese from our regular rotation. However, it is possible to make those favorites healthier with just a few substitutions. This Café Mom post has some easy and healthy recommendations for keeping the family favorites while making them a better source of nutrition. With a few changes here and there, you can keep them on the menu without feeling guilty.
  • Take one step at a time. Sometimes I think I try to run before my family is ready to walk. I remember when I banned all white flour products from the house – it wasn’t pretty. Instead, I should have started with one or two ingredients first, to get the family used to a new version of their favorite breads and pastas. The Super Healthy Kids blog not only made me feel better about my picky eaters, but pointed out that you have to start somewhere, and starting small is okay. Incremental changes are still changes, and a year’s worth of them can make a big difference in a family’s overall attitude toward healthier foods.
  • Start by eating together. As a child, I remember how important it was that we all ate together at the dinner table several nights a week. As a parent, even with our hectic schedules, I try to get us all around the table as much as possible so we have a bit of quality family time at least once a day. It turns out that this doesn’t only strengthen our family ties, it is a key element of helping my family eat better. The Raise Healthy Eaters blog interviewed Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding. Dr. Satter’s first piece of advice to parents is to eat together as a family because this sets the foundation for building healthy eating habits. I was so excited to hear that this technique is so powerful, because it makes the extra effort I go through to gather the family around the table all the more worth it.

In the end, it’s not about making big changes all at once – upsetting the apple cart as it were. Instead, I can look for the low-hanging fruit (to exhaust that metaphor) and start there to help my family be more helpful. Many small changes will add up over time, and that’s something I can work with.

December 1, 2009 at 9:52 pm Leave a comment

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