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

I want a “real” dinner (Momentum 7; PointsPlus 8)

So this morning as we passed each other in the kitchen, my mom says “Tonight, I want a “real” dinner.” What the heck? Oh, yeah, well, I haven’t exactly been around for a couple of weeks to be with my family for dinner. So we review what we’ve got frozen and settle on a pork loin, part of one that we bought at Costco and divied up for a couple of meals. I suggested braised spinach with it and for some reason that made my mom want glazed carrots; weird, but whatever. Keeping it in the simple vein, we agree on herbed egg noodles as our final side selection.

So the menu is

  • Roasted Pork Loin
  • Braised Spinach
  • Glazed Carrots
  • Herbed Egg Noodles

in case you didn’t catch that part already.

So, as you know, you want to start with the item that will take the longest to cook. Now, contrary to past posts, I will recommend that you completely thaw your pork loin before cooking; there’s just something difficult about keeping pork moist that calls for it to be treated special.

Okay, roasted pork loin is really easy. You have a piece of pork loin. You coat it with a dry rub. You put it in the oven. And, viola, roasted pork loin. So what’s this dry rub thingy? Nothing more than your choice of an herb combo. Please feel free to use whatever combo you have on hand (like Greek seasoning, poultry seasoning, pork seasoning, anything already combined that you like); me…well, if you’ve read anything of mine, you know I’m a sucker for the simple song herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Tonight, I combined about 1.5 teaspoons of each along with salt and pepper in a mortar and blended them all into a fine powder rub with the pestle. Don’t know what a mortar and pestle are? Click here. Don’t have a mortar and pestle? You can also use a spice or coffee grinder (one reserved for spices) or just combine the herbs as they are.

Coat both sides of the pork loin, rubbing the spices in with your fingers. If you don’t need to wash your hands, you’re not done. Set the loin fat-side up on a rack placed inside a foil-lined baking dish (9×13). Here’s my rationale: foil-lining the dish saves a lot of time on clean-up; using the rack allows excess fat to drip away rather than greasing up the loin; and placing the loin fat-side up helps keep the meat moist and crisps up the remaining fat (that didn’t melt down the sides) for those who enjoy it.

Roast uncovered at 350 for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check it for doneness and either set it out and cover for its resting period or put it back in the over for a little while longer (try 15 minutes at a time). Generally, you want your pork to read 155 on a thermometer before you pull it out of the oven for the resting period; 160 is your goal.

When the pork has about 30 minutes left to cook, you’ll get your sides going:

  • Set a large sauce pot on to boil, with some salt in the water. This one is for the noodles.
  • Set a large skillet (one that has a lid that fits) on a high-heat burner with a drizzle of olive oil. This one is for the Braised Spinach.
  • Set a medium skillet on a high-heat burner with a drizzle of olive oil. This one is for the Glazed Carrots.

As the water works on coming to a boil, you will quickly set the other two dishes to cooking.

In the medium skillet, drop in one clove of minced garlic and chopped carrots. Salt and pepper lightly and stir quickly for about 1 minute to coat the carrots with the little bit of oil in the pan; it’s on high heat, so watch carefully that you don’t burn the garlic. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the carrots and again stir quickly for about 1 minute to coat the carrots and dissolve the sugar in the oil; this allows the sugar to begin carmelizing just a tiny bit. Add 1/3 cup of water, stir, and bring to a boil. Let the carrots and sauce boil until the carrots are as “done” as you like them; I like mine with bite still, so for me it’s about 7 minutes. And they’re done.

While the carrots are glazing in their boil, you’ll start dropping in ingredients for the Braised Spinach. Start with 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1 whole sliced red onion. Stir continuously to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn and to cook the onions through without carmelizing them. Drop in 2 bags of baby spinach and snap the lid on tight; turn off the cooking heat and let the dish sit for about 5 minutes. Lift the lid and stir using a folding motion. Salt and pepper and drizzle with good quality balsamic vinegar.

With these two dishes just about done, the water is probably boiling for the noodles (use Lehmans if you need a gluten free, corn free option). Just drop them in and cook like the package says. When they are done, drain, drizzle with olive oil, and add herbs: salt, pepper, and herbs de provence are our favorite and a good complement to the pork rub.

By now, the pork is probably done and resting on the counter. Just slice it into nice sized servings (about 4-5 oz each, perhaps 1/2-inch thick).

And tonight I decided to try a new beer, one on sale at the grocery store (so if it’s not good, I haven’t lost that much). But it’s really nice. I chose Pyramid Breweries Apricot Ale, hoping to marry the sweet notes in the beer with the sweeter flavor of white meat pork loin. I wasn’t disappointed!

Weight Watchers Momentum Points:

  • 5 oz roasted pork loin = 5 points
  • 1/2 cup herbed egg noodles = 2 points
  • braised spinach = 0 points
  • glazed carrots = 0 points
  • beer = 3 points

Weight Watchers Points Plus:

  • 5 oz roasted pork loin = 5 points
  • 1/2 cup herbed egg noodles = 3 points
  • braised spinach = 0 points
  • glazed carrots = 0 points
  • beer = 5 points
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Cooking Four Dinners at Once



Rich with aroma and flavor…a dense, satisfying dinner!

My dilemma:

No one in my family eats the same thing, which makes dinner prep sometimes challenging. One of my family does not eat salmon, which means any time I cook salmon, I have to also cook some other major protein for him.  Tonight, chicken is the compliment. Luckily, I’m in the mood for a preparation that I can use on both: oven poaching. Another eats only certain carby dishes and no veggies, while I want to keep a good balance of carbs and veggies. And, guess what, I can and will do this with only three dishes: 1 entree (2 meats), 1 carby side, and 1 veggie side.

Okay, the game plan:

    1. poached salmon and poached chicken breast (both currently frozen)
    2. potatoes au gratin (Betty Crocker box mix)–for the boys
    3. frozen peppers and onions sauteed with some fresh onion and purple cabbage over egg noodles–for the girls

Step 1. Put the fish and chicken out to thaw…or not. Since oven-poaching is the regular person’s way of saying steam or even en papillote, you have probably done this before…with frozen meat since the water and juices help with the cooking.

Light and fruity

Step 2. Choose a flavor combo. This will determine the liquid and herbs you use throughout the meal, but most importantly in the pan or baking dish with the fish/chicken. Tonight, I have decided to finally open and use one the bottles of Rose Merlot I recently purchased on my trip to Long Island to visit Rachel, Al, Carter, and Samuel. Rachel and I have always made at least one of our visit days a Long Island vineyard day. This past November, I found this Rosé Merlot at Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island; Palmer can ship wines to the following states: AK,DC,IA,ID,IL,MN,MO,NH,NY,OH,RI. With the lightness and fruitiness of this wine, I will pair the classic Herbs de Provence, a combination of thyme (dominant), fennel, savory, basil, and lavender (only in the US).

Alternative combos that I like:

  • lemon juice and basil/oregano/garlic
  • balsamic vinegar and garam masala (or curry and coriander)
  • pineapple juice and cayenne pepper
  • soy sauce and ginger/dry mustard
  • apple juice and all-spice (think pork chops that will be paired with butternut squash or pumpkin


You can barely see the wine, but it’s there, with a liberal dusting of herbs de provence. That’s two boneless breasts, two bone-in thighs, and two bone in legs

Step 3. Prepare the poach.

Since the salmon and chicken will need different cooking times, I use two 9×9 baking dishes. Since most of the liquid bases are acidic (I guess you could use water?), I try to use glass or ceramic baking dishes, but if I have to use a metal one (because everything else is dirty), then I am careful to line it with aluminum foil so that the acid doesn’t leech anything out of the metal and into my food.

Simply pour in about 1/4-inch of liquid. For a 9×9 pan, this is usually about 1/3-1/2 cup of liquid. Place the meat in a single layer in the dish (yes, touching sides is okay) and season as lightly or liberally as your palette desires.

Cover the dish very tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees: salmon for 30 minutes, chicken for 40 minutes.

NOTE: this is a fantabulous way to cook just one meal at a time and cut down on dishes to wash. Just prepare your one piece of meat in a parchment or aluminum foil pouch, no pan at all.

Step 4. Set water to boil on the stovetop and get crackin on the Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin. Sure, I can and do make these from scratch, but I have a 6:30 meeting tonight, and my family doesn’t care if it comes out of a box.

Noodles in the back, veggies and potatoes in the front

Now, the directions offer both oven and stovetop directions; I am choosing the stovetop preparation tonight because the oven temp and cooking times vary so significantly for the meat and potatoes that one or the other would be…well, yucky, to be technical. The stovetop directions require only boiling time and 15 minutes of simmering. And since I’ll already be at the stove doing the veggies (coming up next), it’s an efficiency of effort that I can’t pass up.

So, Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin, prepared just as the directions say. Once you get to the simmering step, you should be ready for the next step.

Step 5. Drop the egg noodles into the other pot of boiling water and cook just as your package’s directions say…around 8-10 minutes. Go ahead and set up the strainer in the sink now.

Step 6. Drop your veggies into the skillet with just a drizzle of olive oil. Fresh veggies go in first since they need a little more softening; the frozen ones were blanched before freezing, so they only need to thaw. Tonight I’m using fresh onions and carrots. And I’ll let them just sit still in the skillet for a few minutes with their salt and pepper and herbs de provence sprinkle, until I’m convinced they are getting a little soft…and they start to get a little brown…not actually carmelized but just a hint of starting. That’s when it’s time to drop in the frozen peppers and onions and pop the lid onto the skillet. Trap in the heat and let the water from the frozen veggies steam the combo with the lid on. Chop up the purple cabbage ( just a quarter head we had leftover from cole slaw a few weeks ago) and drop it on top at the last minute. Snap the lid back on for about 3 minutes…and you’re done.

I like to mix my noodles and veggies in the skillet together, but if you need to keep them separate for pickiness sake or figuring out nutrition, you can mix them on your plate.

My plate…a little bit of everything…with the leftover chicken ready for tomorrow night 🙂


All done. Ready to plate:

  • For brother: salmon and potatoes au gratin
  • For dad: chicken, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles
  • For mom: salmon and veggies and noodles
  • For me: salmon, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles

That’s four specialized dinner plates making four people happy and full coming out of one 45-minute dinner preparation, which is pretty normal when you consider all the chopping and pulling out pans and stuff.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: for this meal, I’ll break down each item:

  • 3 oz poached chicken breast = 3 points
  • 3 oz poached salmon = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup egg noodles = 4 points
  • veggies = FREEEEEE!

So my dinner = 12 points