Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Comforting Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Recently, I found myself craving something beefy and comforting, so I put out a call for ideas on Facebook. Boy, did my girlies come through for me. Beef Stroganoff. It has a rich history as a classic Russian dish. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got its own website! But essentially, this dish is beef cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Having spent a delicious month in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1993, I know that, at least at that time, most Russians didn’t have regular access to good cuts of beef, and I learned that both of my Russian families made their beef stroganoff about the same way: cooking down wild, handpicked mushrooms and onions, adding some beef in to brown, deglazing with some water (making a bit of broth), and cooking this for several hours on low, then adding in some sour cream at the end to thicken up the sauce.

Sounds like the perfect crock pot recipe to me, but I wanted something a little more compact since I’d be at work all day and wanted my family to be able to put dinner together themselves. So I settled on a casserole that achieves the same purpose and delivers 4 healthy servings an no leftovers to junk up the fridge.

Ingredients (in order of preparation)

  • 1/2 bag of egg noodles, cooked and drained (for gluten free and corn free, use Lehman’s Gluten Free Homestyle Egg Noodles)
  • 2 large green peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz sliced portabella mushrooms, chopped (alternatives: white button or baby bella)
  • 1 lb beef, chicken, or pork (cubed beef is traditional; ground is a great, less expensive alternative)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (for gluten free and corn free, use Pacific GF cream of mushroom soup or my homemade recipe)
  • 1 cup sour cream (or milk if you’re out of sour cream)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

You can see I’ve gone with a little help from the pantry rather than a totally-from-scratch recipe.

So I start with cooking the noodles. When they are drained, pour them into a casserole dish, lightly sprayed with cooking spray if you’re worried about sticking, which is not usually a problem.

Next I move on to the veggies…on medium heat and with 1 t of your favorite cooking oil, sweat the water out of the mushrooms and then add the peppers and onions for a quick saute; I’ve stopped cooking veggies in oil. I do these separate because I want to make sure they keep their crunch. If I put them in with the meat and sauce, they would cook down and have no texture left to liven up the casserole when it’s heated. Before they start getting brown, dump them in with the noodles and give it all a quick stir.

The last part is just as quick. We had some venison stew meat already cut up, so I tossed that into a pan with a little olive oil. When it gets just barely cooked through, dump in the cream of mushroom soup and sour cream, stir, and simmer for maybe 10 minutes, mostly to make sure the sauce comes together. Then dump this in with the noodles, peppers and onions, stir, and viola! Beef Stroganoff Casserole.

Now, certainly, you can pop this in the oven to finish and serve it up in about half an hour.

But I needed this as a make-ahead. And here are the instructions I’ll leave for the family to follow tomorrow:

To have dinner ready to eat by 6:30 pm, start at 5:45 pm

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Take the casserole out of the fridge and stir slowly and carefully
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil
  • Put the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes
  • Take the foil cover off and put in for another 15 minutes

As I’ve got Harris Teeter brown and serve rolls to go with mine, I’ll add the rolls during the final cook since they take 12-15 minutes. My folks will also be cooking up some sauteed squash and onion to go with this casserole.

For 8 nutritional servings or for 6 fuller servings, double the noodle, beef, and soup quantities; I also fully double the veggies, but that can be too much for many. Do not double the sour cream; there’s no need.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Classic Weight Watchers Taco Soup

Last Thursday night at the Weight Watchers meeting in Mount Pleasant, there was a request for a refresher on Taco Soup, a filling, nutrious, very tasty soup…and most importantly LOW in points.

So Jan, the leader, went over the recipe while I wrote it up on the board. Then discussion ensued regarding the possible points change from Points to Points Plus. Well, let’s find out.

Ingredients (classic):

  • 1 lb ground beef (95% lean) = 16 points
  • 1 large white/sweet onion, diced at whatever size you like = 0 points
  • 1 can black beans with juice = 10.5 points
  • 1 can red/kidney beans with juice = 7 points
  • 1 can white/northern/cannelini beans with juice = 7 points
  • 1 can corn, drained or 1 cup frozen = 3 points
  • 3 cans Rotel tomatoes =0  points
  • 1 package dry ranch dressing mix = 0 points
  • 1 package dry taco seasoning = 0 points
  • salt, pepper, and additional taco-ish spices to your liking

Total soup points =43.5

Approximate # of 1 cup servings* = 8

*tested using the Weight Watchers 1-cup ladle and a soup tureen to count the servings.

Saute the onions in cooking spray right in your big soup pot until clear (or carmelized if you like, which I do). Dump in the ground beef and cook thoroughly. Dump in everything else: black beans, red beans, white beans, corn, tomatoes, ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, and any other seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium low for flavors to meld together.

Old Points for WW Taco Soup = 4 points per serving

New PointsPlus for WW Taco Soup = 5.5 points per serving


  • 1 lb ground turkey breast = 16 points
  • 1 lb ground or shredded chicken = 16 points
  • 1 lb shredded pork (bbq) = 16 points
  • 1 can hominy (instead of corn) = 6 points
Posted in Cooking

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Naturally, my first dish is quite possibly my best, but definitely a favorite of all of the families I’ve ever cooked it for. Shepherd’s Pie, or cottage pie, is more truely a “technique” than a recipe.

So what’s the difference between a technique and a recipe? Well, it’s simple really: a technique is a way of putting types of ingredients together while a recipe is a very specific collection of ingredients that blend together to make a whole new substance and flavor. Hmmm, maybe this will work better: if you can still identify the ingredients separately, then you have just made a technique; when the finished dish resembles nothing like the individual ingredients, then you’ve just made a recipe.

So back to Shepherd’s Pie: leftover meat, vegetables, potatoes. Yup, that’s it. Literally. So how does this work? Tonight’s Shepherd’s Pie is very traditionally American in the meat and potato layers, but perhaps a bit different in the middle veggie layer.

See, just a drizzle of olive oil, not even coating the bottom of the pan.

So start with a sprinkling of olive oil in your hot hot pan and toss in one rather large onion, roughly diced. Of course, if you like a finer textuer, use a fine dice. Whatever. You might also use an earthily flavored oil (rosemary, garlic, sage) as well as shallots and/or garlic at this stage. (NOTE: if you use fresh garlic, wait til you are almost done cooking the onions so you don’t risk burning it).

What you want to do is carmelize the onions, or turn them brown; at least, that is my preference. Others may just sweat them until they are clear.

When you get the onions where you like them, crumble in 2 lbs of meat. Here’s where that technique thing comes in handy. Secret: it doesn’t matter what meat you use, whether it’s ground, shredded, chopped, fresh/raw, or leftover from last week, as long as you like it. In the US, ground meat (beef or lamb) is the most traditional.

Onions carmelized, meat browned, worchestershire sauce simmering nicely

Okay, so I tossed in 2 lbs of 12% lean ground beef, sprinkled that lightly with salt and liberally with pepper and thyme. Use a spoon and break it up, browning it completely and mixing it well with the onions as it cooks. When you’ve nearly got all the pink out of the pan, sprinkle in about a quarter to a half cup of worchestershire sauce (use this GF/CF/SF recipe). This will help to deglaze the carmelized onion bits and stuck on browned meat from the bottom of the pan. I like to let the whole mixture simmer in the sauce for about 5 minutes for that delicious sauce to get into all the meat and keep it moist.

Okay, the first layer is done and ready for the baking dish. Now, because two of my family hate vegetables and the other two love them, I make two 9×9 pans of pie. Only one will get the next layer of veggies.

How pretty is that! See how the cut sides of the brussels sprouts are all browned…perfect!

So, true to form, tonight I used some fresh veggies that are coming to the end of their shelf life in the veggie crisper: some brussels sprouts (aka baby cabbages) and baby carrots. Brussels sprouts are super easy to cook and come out tasting like sweet cabbages when cooked in the skillet. Just cut off the root end, peel off any yucky leaves, slice the whole little head in half and place in the skillet (yes, with a drizzle of olive oil) cut side down. And just leave them there, place each new one as you clean and cut it. Yes, I said it, just leave them sitting there, alone, untouched, unloved. Trust me, you won’t regret it. After you’ve cut up the carrots and thrown them in the pan, stir it all around a bit. Oh, yeah, don’t forget the salt and pepper…just a light sprinkle.

Okay, all done with that layer, so onto the meat it goes in the pan. Just the one pan, remember, for the veggie lovers.

All finished with three layers of yumminess and parsley on top!

The final layer is mashed potatoes. Well, tonight, I’m taking a page out of Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade book and using instant potatoes: Betty Crocker butter and chive instant potatoes, to be exact. Now since you are going to bake all of this when the layers are done, don’t even bother with boiling water, etc. Just mix hot tap water with the other ingredients and mix up the potatoes. Spoon them into the pan(s) and use your spoon to smooth them out into a nice layer.

Now mashed potatoes are the simple, American way to prepare this dish, but originally, it was made with thinly sliced or even shredded potatoes. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine some major goodness in doing a crispy hashbrown-ish top layer, frying up the tiny diced or shredded potatoes in a thin layer in the skillet and just sliding onto the top before baking. I think I would serve that with some sour cream and chives on the plate.

If you are a garnish kind of person, go to town. I’ve enjoyed a number of toppers including roasted garlic, various herbs (parsley, chive), different cheeses, but my favorite topper has always been horseradish chedder…mmmmmmmm.

Last step: shove the whole pan in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

All the yumminess oozing out of the pie!

Now see all that juicy, saucy yumminess just oozing out onto the plate. Imagine the full, rich flavor of the beef complimented by the tangy worchestershire sauce, the lightly sweet brussels sprouts and carrots (now that they are fully roasted), and the smooth, buttery potatoes. This supper is well-paired with a Guiness beer or a spicy Malbec wine.

Casserole Reminder: make ahead of time and freeze until you are ready for it. This is a casserole, people. And all casseroles can be made up in double batches so you can freeze one for a later date. Same amount of effort for double the reward!!!

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: this makes 8 servings with each serving being 7 points.

Ingredients List:

  • 1 very large onion
  • 2 lbs meat
  • fresh or frozen veggies of your choice (need 2-3 cups worth)–briefly sautee or microwave-steam fresh veggies, place frozen directly onto cooked meat
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes (that’s 8 half-cup servings)
  • seasonings and toppings of your choice