Cheeseburger Macaroni

This recipe was not a hit with the family. D doesn’t like meat. Berto doesn’t like cheese. The Hubs doesn’t like ground meat or cheddar cheese. Sigh. This meal, to me, was wonderful! I do believe, though, it had less to do with the actual meal than with the fact this dish is true comfort food and it’s been over 100 degrees here in Cali. Maybe dinner would have been more successful had I just served ice cream. Hmmm, things to ponder . . .


1 Lb ground beef (I Texas Longhorn beef from the farmer’s market and it cooked up similar to ground turkey, but still had a wonderful beef flavor)
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 cups milk
2 cups whole grain elbow macaroni (or whatever you have on hand, I used penne)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I can see any number of types of cheese being used and it being wonderful)


1 1/2 Tbs cornstarch
3 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper


Heat a large skillet to meidum high and brown meat. Once cooked, drain any fat that remains.

While meat browns, mix together seasonings in a small bowl. When drained, return meat to skillet and add seasonings, stirring to combine. Pour in hot water, milk, and pasta. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until pasta is cooked.

Stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes until sauce thickens.

Serve immediately with melty garlic bread and a crisp salad.

Wine Pairing Suggestions (because no matter the dish, we always need wine)

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio
Sauvignon Blanc

Serves 6

Total time: 25 minutes

*Derived from FoodFanatic

Meatballs in Beef Gravy

I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl.  And gravy, well, that just puts it over the top for me!  Gravy makes everything that much better. Like bacon, or something being deep fried. You hear gravy and you just have to go with that option!  This is no exception to the rule. And sorry my friends, this just isn’t one of those healthy dishes. But I know you weren’t expecting that, what with “meatballs” and “gravy” in the name. So, let’s all sit back, ignore the calorie / fat content and just enjoy!


2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1 small chopped onion (time saver: use frozen or pre-chopped in the produce section)
8 oz sliced mushrooms (time saver: buy the pre-sliced mushrooms in the produce section. Go with your favorite.)
5 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 pinch cayenne (I omitted because my kids are still getting used to spicy heat)
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce (this ingredient adds such a rich flavor to almost everything, even Checks mix!)
3 Tbs ketchup
2-4 tsp beef bouillon powder (I didn’t have the powder, so I used the jarred “Better than Bouillon”, you’ll want to go with the least amount as it tends to get salty)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
kosher salt (option and to taste)

For Meatballs:

1 lb ground beef (mix what you like, chicken, turkey, pork)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbs minced garlic (time saver: buy the jarred minced garlic)
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned to add more flavor)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan (or more, you can never have too much cheese)
1 1/2 tsp season salt (I use Lawry’s)
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp dried parsley flakes (such as Litehouse)


Mix all meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Shape mixture into 1″ balls.

Heat oil and butter in large skillet over medium-high heat (be sure to use a deep skillet to hold in the gravy with the meatballs). Add meatballs in two batches and brown until just about cooked through, turning frequently for even browning.

To skillet, with about 3 tbs of fat remaining, add onion and saute until softened, scrape any brown bits that have accumulated in the skillet.  Add mushrooms and cooking, stirring until softened.  Add flour, stir 1 minute.

Slowly add beef broth, bring to a boil whisking constantly until smooth, bubbly, and thickened. Add Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and black pepper; bring to a simmer.  Add beef bouillon powder or ‘Better than Bouillon’ and ketchup (can add more if desired).

Add meatballs and simmer, uncovered, 20-25 minutes.  Stir frequently. Season with salt to taste if needed.

At the end of cooking, stir in sour cream until combined and heated through.  Serve over mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon

Serves 4 medium portions

Total time: 1 hour


Derived from: Kittencalskitchen /

Baked Ziti

I have an almost irrational obsession with baked ziti.  And I can pinpoint exactly where it comes from.  It was, I’d say, wow, about 10 years ago.  My wonderful Hubs (who was not my  Hubs yet) invited a coworker to go to dinner with us.  We went to Pasta Pomodoro in Rockridge (amazing outside seating with equally amazing heaters).  I very clearly remember ordering the very rich and creamy baked ziti.  When the waiter brought our food and said, “baked ziti?” I watched in dumb-founded amazement as Hector said, “Yes, right here.”  Right here?!??  “No, RIGHT HERE!!!” I silently screamed.  I don’t even remember the non-baked ziti dish I ended up with that night.  How could I?  It wasn’t baked ziti.  Ever since that fateful evening I have been on a baked ziti quest.  Each variation of a recipe that I try gets put in the “never again” pile, the “hmm, give it one more try” pile, or THIS could be the ONE” pile.  I made this ahead for our Tahoe trip.  My dad loved it, which is a whole other story, but got it added to the THIS could be the ONE pile.  🙂 


16 oz dry ziti pasta
1 small / medium onion chopped (depends on preference)
1 lb extra lean ground beef (can sub turkey or chicken)
2 (26 oz) jars pasta sauce (such as Classico Tomato & Basil)
6 oz sliced provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
6 oz mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbs grated Parmesan


Add ziti to slightly salted boiling water.  You want to cook to al dente because this dish will go in the oven.

Over medium – high heat, in a large skillet, sweat onions until soft, add ground beef.  Once browned, add pasta sauce and simmer 15 minutes.

While simmering sauce, preheat oven to 350°.  Spray a 9×13″ baking pan with nonstick spray.  Layer 1/2 of the ziti, provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake 30 minutes, or until cheeses are melted

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Pinot Noir

Serves 10
Total time: 1 hour

Baked Ziti

Not a great picture, we got busy in Tahoe and I forgot to take another when cutting into it!

*Derived from

Mini Meat Loaves

A few awesome things about these mini meat loaves: 1) they are mini, so everyone gets their own personal meat loaf, which is key if you are 5 and 6 years old; 2) you can even kind of make them to order, as far as the toppings go since they are pretty small, and; 3) the cook so much faster than your grandmother’s meat loaf.  The pasta sauce, basil, and cheese really made these tasty.  Add a nice green vegetable (such as the roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese that I did) and you’ve got the start of a quick and filling meal.


1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup prepared marinara sauce
½ cup Italian style bread crumbs
2 Tbs Gourmet Garden basil paste (one of the best inventions ever)
1 lb lean ground beef (can use turkey, chicken, etc)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ tsp salt


Preheat oven to 450°.  In a large bowl, combine egg, 1/2 cup marinara sauce, bread crumbs, basil paste, and salt.  Add beef and 1/2 cup of cheese; using hands, mix well.  Divide mixture into four equal parts.  Shape into a small loaf.  Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Spoon remaining marinara sauce over the top of each and sprinkle with cheese.

Bake 15 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 160°

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Petit Sirah
Syrah / Shiraz

Serves: 4 large helpings (or 6 smaller servings)

Total time: 25 minutes

Mini Meat Loaves

Mini Meat Loaves

*Original Serves-4 Recipe

Middle of the Week “Spaghetti”

Have you ever seen a 5 and 6-year-old attempt to eat spaghetti?  Let me tell you, it isn’t pretty.  And neither is the table, chairs, the floor, and their clothes when they are done.  Especially my son, who is 6.  He LOVES to hold that long dangly noodle as far aways from his mouth as he can and try to suck it in.  I know, I know, we’ve all done that, but not when I was the one doing the laundry!  And then there is sauce all over the place, including his face.  His little sister thinks it’s awesome to copy her brother.  You can see where I’m going with this and what my dining room looks like when dinner is over.  I thought my problem was solved when Barilla started selling their cut pasta.  How smart was that??  Already cut pasta!  But then I discovered that was almost harder for them to eat because the cut pieces would slip and slide off their fork.  So we tried spoons.  Same thing.  So, I went back to using elbow macaroni, penne, rotini, rigatoni, etc.  And that usually results in wrinkled noses and requests to make “pascetti”.  Not this time, though!  They were perfectly happy with the elbows and my son even had 2 helpings!  PS – You can easily make this vegetarian by subbing the meat with mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant whatever you have.


1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can water
1/2 can tomato paste
8 oz elbow macaroni
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese


Cook pasta according to package directions.

Add olive oil to a large nonstick skillet.  Sauté onions and garlic over medium high heat until translucent, 2 – 3 minutes.  Add ground beef and cook until browned, then spoon off any grease.  Add tomatoes, water, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to skillet with beef and onion mixture.  Turn heat down to low and allow to cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While sauce bubbles away, drain pasta.  When sauce is done, slowly add pasta to sauce and mix to combine.  Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Pinot Noir


Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes; Total time: 35 minutes

*Original Serves 4 recipe

Layered Beef Enchiladas

Sometimes it can really be tough to cook food for someone from their native country.  The flavors and texture have to be what they are used to, what they grew up with.  For a lot of people, food has so much meaning and can transport them back to their childhood, which for me personally, is my goal.  And I want to create those memories for my kids.  It does not, however, always work.  I thought this dish was good, maybe not the absolute best I’ve ever done (after all, it’s not salmon) but certainly good.  My littlest foodies thought it was too spicy.  The Hubs didn’t like it at all.  Wouldn’t even eat it.  He and the kids had quesadillas.  And I get it, he’s from Mexico and this was enchilada sauce from a can.  I’m sure, compared to home cooking, well, I’m sure there IS no comparison.  Suffice it to say, no memories were created and no one was transported back to their childhood.  And me? I’m now on the hunt for a quick, yet simple, enchilada sauce I can make and use during the week that will hold up to the memory.  Or will make some new ones.


1 lb lean ground beef
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs Morton & Bassett Mexican Blend seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 (10 oz) cans preferred enchilada sauce
10 (6 inch) corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
Sour cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 375.  In large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, onions, and garlic until beef is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently.  Drain.  Add Mexican blend seasoning, salt, and pepper, mix well.  Remove from heat.

Pour 1 can enchilada sauce in bottom of ungreased 13×9 glass baking dish.  Arrange 5 tortillas in dish, overlapping slightly.  Spoon beef mixture evenly over tortillas, sprinkle with half of the cheese; top with remaining 5 tortillas.  Pour remaining can of enchilada sauce over top.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Serve with sour cream.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:   
Cabernet Franc

Serves 6
Prep time: 20 minutes; Total time: 45 minutes

photo (5)*Derived from Pillsbury

Easy Peasy Linguine

Tonight was the first night, as my family snuffled quietly in their beds and I retreated downstairs to make sure all of the windows were closed (or to pour another glass of wine, maybe?) that I smelled fall. I leaned over the kids’ tub to close the window and stopped short. That unmistakable smell, even here in Cali, was fall. How can that be? It seems like just yesterday I was filled with the excitement of all summer had to offer. Finally one drop off as Berto heads into the first grade and D into kindergarten. A summer filled with swimming; catching our first lizard; saying goodbye to my sweet, sweet German shepherd Lobo; growing tomatoes and basil in our first attempts at a garden; surfing for the first time; losing 2 bottom teeth (resulting in feeling oh so big now); day trips; a vacation; and, the return of summer hours at my office. But all of that is coming to a close, with a shiver in the early evening air. Makes me glad there is always comfort food. And, what is better comfort food than pasta?


The wonderful thing about this dish is all of the possible meat options. Feeling healthier than extra lean ground beef? Sub ground turkey or chicken. For something different try pork or sausage (be sure to removed the casings first!). How about going even meatier? Use ground sirloin. Or, you can make it vegetarian like I did tonight by subbing the meat with mushrooms.

1 (9 oz) pkg fresh linguine
1/2 lb extra lean ground beef / or the item you are subbing
1/2 cup pre chopped onion (I use prepared veggies as often as possible, such a time saver)
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (whatever you have on hand; shaved, grated, shredded)
Handful of basil leaves, sliced thinly (nothing like walking into the backyard and picking your own basil!)


Cook pasta according to package directions. Omit oil and salt. Drain and return pasta to pot.

While pasta cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, onion, garlic, oregano, and salt; cook 5 minutes, or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Serve over pasta and top with cheese and basil.

Serves 4

Total time: 30 minutes

photo (1)

*Derived from Cooking Light