Beefaroni: A New Take On A Childhood Classic

March 10, 2015

Beefaroni:  A new take on a childhood classic
I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I used to love Chef Boyardee Beefaroni when I was a child. My mother used to split one can between my brothers and I and we would each get a little piece of toast to go along with it.  It was so good!

Somewhere along the way, I grew up and had children of my own.  One afternoon I wanted to recreate for them one of the meals I loved as a child.  So, I bought a can of this magic stuff and warmed it slowly in a sauce pan while toasting some bread.  I set the table and sat down with my kids to share in this meal from my childhood...and wondered what the hell happened.  This was not delicious.  In fact, this stuff was awful!  And Orange!  The noodles had a weird fake texture...and the meat?  Just what kind of meat was that, anyway?  It didn't taste like beef at all!  Needless to say, that was the end of that.

But what if it didn't have to be, I wondered to myself.  So I set out to recreate the taste I remembered, even if it wasn't what Chef Boyardee really tasted like.  In my mind, the sauce was a little sweet, and cheesy too.  It had beef in it, but it was seasoned really lightly - not too much oregano or garlic either.  Beyond that, I wanted it to be smooth - except for the chunks of beef.  To achieve that, I minced the onions finely so when they cooked, they would only provide flavor not texture to the sauce.

The result was a prefect recreation of all the best things I remembered.  My version was quickly approved by all four of my hungry kids.  To be honest, they would laugh me right out the door if I came home with cans of plastic tasting canned pasta now.  When I say "Beefaroni," this dish will be the memory of their childhoods.

Best of all, it's a quick dish that can easily be prepared on a a busy weeknight.  I want to point out that this is *almost* a one-pot meal.  I actually used two stock pots to whip this up, but it is still a really fast and easy cleanup.

I'm finding more and more things that I used to eat as a child or young adult, to be completely disgusting now that I have a different perspective on cooking and taste.  This continues to surprise me, because I used to really enjoy eating some of these things!  If you have food you used to enjoy that you can no longer tolerate, please share it with me in the comments.  Two that come to mind for me are Stove Top Stuffing and Jenny-O frozen turkey in the square aluminum box.  When I was a young adult, this was a meal I would cook frequently.  It was fast and easy, and I thought it tasted good too.  Not great, but certainly good enough for a weeknight.  I made this same meal about two years ago and couldn't even bring myself to take more than one bite!  It's now laughingly referred to as the Great Jenny-O debacle of 2013.

Homestyle Beefaroni


2 lbs ground sirloin
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper

2 cans tomato sauce, 28 oz. each
1 can tomato paste, 6 oz.
1 1/2 cups of water or tomato juice
1 cup Locatelli Cheese
1 medium onion very finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons sugar

2 pounds of cooked pasta - I used Barilla Ziti because it's the closest thing to the Beefaroni I remember as a child
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
*  Fresh basil and Locatelli Cheese to garnish


 In Pot # 1
1.  Add Olive Oil to a large stock pot and allow it to heat over medium high heat.  Add onions and cook them until they begin to sweat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

2.  Add tomato paste to the pot stirring frequently,  Allow it to cook it with the onions and garlic until it begins to soften and everything is well combined.

3.  Add water (or tomato juice), tomato sauce, Locatelli Cheese, salt, sugar, oregano, and Italian seasoning. Allow the sauce to cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, but my preference is around an hour.  Taste the sauce and adjust spices to suit your palette.

 In Pot # 2
1.  Spray bottom of  large stock pot with cooking spray.  Add ground sirloin, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and begin to brown the meat.  Brown it until bits just start to stick to the bottom and you can see it is beginning to get a little crust.

2.  Add browned meat to the sauce pot.

3.  Wash the pot, then fill with water, olive oil, and salt.  Bring to a boil and add noodles, cooking until they are slightly past al dente.  Before draining, remove a large mug of the starchy cooking water and set aside.  Drain noodles into a colander.

Assembling the dish
1.  Add noodles back into the pot they cooked in.

2.  Pour in about half of your reserved starchy cooking water and stir gently.  You should have enough water that the noodles can move freely, but not be too watery.

3.  Add sauce to the noodles in 2 cup increments until the noodles are coated to your preference.  I used about 5 cups to two pounds of pasta in the photo above.   Stir gently to combine.  Add more starchy cooking water if necessary to loosen it all up.

4.  Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with more Locatelli Cheese and some fresh sprigs of basil.

Tip:  Put the extra sauce on the table for anyone who wants their portion to be saucier.

Philly Style Steak Sandwiches

March 9, 2015

Philly-style Steak Sandwiches

All Winter, I've been waiting for snow.  I mean, a really good snowfall that would completely shut the roads down encourage us to stay inside and keep warm. Well, this past week it finally arrived!  I was so excited with anticipation that I planned out our snow-day food in advance.  Yeah, not kidding here...just tryin' to keep it real.

The plan was to make something hearty, warm, and filling.  This was important because I knew that guy I have a huge crush on would be out shoveling the driveway and sidewalk and I wanted to make something he'd especially love:  Philly-style Steak Sandwiches.   My take on these delicious sandwiches is a little different because it's even heartier than the original IMHO.   I use tender fork-shredded chuck roast slow cooked all day in a delicious marinade which is then reduced to sandwich-ready perfection.  To really top it all off, I served it with my homemade hand-cut French Fries.   Man food at it's finest, although the kids and I wolfed it down too.

For anyone wondering, the answer is yes.  This meal would turn out just great in a crockpot.  I love my crock pots and use them all the time when I need to have something ready when I come home after work.  I have several because my family is so big that one simply isn't enough.  That said, cooking in a enameled cast iron dutch oven low and slow all day allows the flavors to deepen and develop in a way that crock pot cooking simply cannot match.  Trust me, you will see a huge difference if you compare the two.   So if you have the time and can be home while it cooks, try it in the oven and let me know what you think!

After taking it out of the oven, I remove any bits of fat and fork shred the beef.  It's really easy because the meat is so incredibly tender.  The next step is optional, but I like the meat to be dry enough that it doesn't cause soggy sandwiches.  I put the pot on the stove top over high heat for a few more minutes just until the juices begin to cook off and it's obvious that the only thing left in the pot is moist (not wet) beef, onion, and peppers.  This further concentrates the flavor and takes it to the next level.

I serve these babies on toasted rolls with garlic mayonnaise, provolone cheese, lettuce, and a few freshly sliced green peppers.  The crunch of the roll and bold and hearty flavor of the beef makes it truly a mouthwatering experience.  And they're even better the next day.

Philly Sandwiches

Philly-style beef sandwiches


4-lb chuck roast
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 green pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 packet of Lipton onion soup mix
1/2 cup beef stock
1 shake Worchestire
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar 
Salt and pepper
Package of crusty steak rolls


1. Season chuck roast by liberally sprinkling with salt and pepper.  I usually use two times the amount of pepper to salt.

2.  Heat butter to medium high in an ovenproof heavy dutch oven.  When it begins to bubble, add chuck roast and sear it on both sides and the edges too if it's particularly thick.  Keep searing until it develops a lovely dark brown crust.  This is where the best parts of the flavor come from, so don't stop when it simply starts to get brown.  Take it all the way.  Don't even try to turn it for at least 8 minutes, otherwise you'll inturrupt the process and prevent the beautiful crust from forming.

3.  Remove chuck roast to a plate and allow it to rest. Allow juices to collect and do not discard them.  Now the pan is probably covered with browned bits and you might even be afraid that it'll just make a burnt mess it you put it in the oven, right?  Never fear, we're going to collect those browned bits and deglaze the bottom of your pot in the next step.

4.  Add onions and peppers to the pot and cook them over medium heat.  As they begin to sweat, the juices will begin to deglaze the pot.  

5.  When onions and peppers are soft and have done the job of deglazing the bottom of the pot, add the meat and any juices back into the dutch oven.

6.  In a small measuring cup of bowl, add the beef stock, onion soup mix, worchestire sauce, and sugar.  Mix well, and pour down over the roast.

7.  Cover dutch oven and place it in a 300F oven for 4-6 hours.  

8.  Use a fork to shred the meat and remove any obvious bits of fat while doing this.  

Note:  At this point, I usually stick it on the stove and cook on high to further reduce and concentrate the remaining juices.  Since this is going on a sandwich, I don't like it to be too juicy but hey, this is your sandwich and you can have it the way you want to.

Romertopf Bread: The easiest loaf of bread you'll ever make.

March 3, 2015

Romertopf White Bread:  The easiest loaf of bread you'll ever make!

Clay pots or earthen-ware may be the oldest type of cookware ever found.  In fact, they've been unearthed by archaeologists at historic sites all over the world!  We know that these ancient civilizations put these clay pots in the glowing embers of fires, and used them to bake, roast, poach, and braise all sorts of meals.  

I admit that I'm new to clay pot cooking.  My mother-in-law gave me a beautiful covered Romertopf roaster for Christmas and when I started learning about how to use it, all I could think about was bread.  I make a lot of bread in my oven, but I was incredibly excited to try it in a clay pot!  After all, I reasoned, this would have to be as close to an authentic brick oven as I was likely to get, and I couldn't wait to get started.

The basic bread recipe, which was included with my cookware, was the first one I tried.  Because you soak both pieces of the clay pot prior to putting it in the oven, it holds a lot of moisture in the pores of the clay.  This must make a lot of steam which I imagine keeps the bread moist.  The high cooking temperature keeps the crust crisp without burning it.   The end result was this amazing loaf of bread with a shiny crackled crust and incredibly tender crumb.   My children and husband loved it so much, that I've repeated this recipe many times over the past few weeks.  I even doubled the ingredients listed below with perfect results.  

Now I'm trying to learn all I can about cooking in clay pots.  If you have any recipes you can share with me, I'd love to see them!  Respond in the comments if you can share any of your favorite Romertopf recipes.

Basic Romertopf Bread Recipe

*This recipe is adapted from the Romertopf insert included with my cookware


1 cup lukewarm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups all purpose flour


1.  Add lukewarm water to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.

2.  Sprinkle yeast on top of the water and let stand for around 5 minutes, until yeast is visibly softened.

3.  Stir in salt, sugar, and oil.

4.  Add 2 cups of the flour and mix until fully incorporated.

5.  Add the final cup of flour slowly and allow the machine to knead the dough until the it pulls away from the sides cleanly and begins to appear softer.  This may take 10-15 minutes.

6.  Roll the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, rotating to fully coat the dough ball.  Cover, and let stand for 1 hour in a draft-free area.

7.  Soak bottom and top of clay Romertopf for (at least) 15 minutes, by fully immersing in water.

8.  When dough has doubled in size, after about an hour, drain the bottom of the clay cooker, and pat dry.  Coat the bottom of the cooker with oil and sprinkle with corn meal to prevent sticking.

9.  Punch the dough down, shape into a loaf, and put in the bottom of the clay cooker.  Cover and let stand for 45 minutes in a draft-free area.

10.  Cut 1/2" deep slashes in the loaf of bread with a razor or sharp knife.

11.  Remove the top of the clay cooker from the water and pat dry.  Place cover on the bottom of cooker.

12.  Placed covered clay cooker in a cold oven.  Set the temperature to 475F.  Bake for 45 minutes.

13.  Remove cover and continue to cook until top is brown, which will be anywhere from 5 to 15 more minutes.  Do not put clay cooker on a cold surface when removing it from oven.  I use a large wood cutting board as a trivet.

14.  Allow to cool for a few minutes then remove bread from cooker and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Vegetable Lo Mein: A simple weeknight meal

March 1, 2015

Elizabeth Obsesses
Vegetable Lo Mein

Lo Mein is a delicious Chinese dish, featuring sliced vegetables and soft noodles that are stir fried and married in a sauce, bringing everything together.  I love it because it's so versatile.  You can make it as an accompaniment to a main course, or it can even be the main course by simply adding some meat to the mix.  It's simple because you can use whatever you have on hand and it always seems to work.  Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients.  It literally takes 10 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of sizzle, before you'll be eating and wondering why you didn't try this sooner.

I'm always looking for food the whole family will enjoy that's easy to prepare on my busy work night evenings but tastes like I spent all day cooking.  This one came together in a flash, and everyone loved it.  Everyone!  I wasn't sure my sons would try it...not only did they try it, they loved it so much I had to stop them from eating it to make sure I had enough to photograph for the blog!  Truth be told, they were appalled at this last part, but it made for a great laugh at the table.

Vegetable Lo Mein

Ingredients for lo mein

1 1-lb box of wheat noodles
1 cup bok-choy, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, julienned
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 4 oz. can sliced water chestnuts
sliced scallions to garnish
5 teaspoons vegetable oil

Ingredients for lo mein sauce

1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons corn starch
pinch of red pepper flakes


1.  Make the lo mein sauce by stirring all ingredients together.  Set aside.

2.  Boil noodles.  When al dente, drain them and return them to the pot.  Toss with some vegetable oil
     to keep them from sticking to one another.  Set aside

3.  Heat some vegetable oil on high in a large pot or (preferably) a wok.

4.  Add onions, carrots, bok-choy, and water chestnuts and cook until the onions become soft.

5.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

6.  Add the noodles to the wok and toss to incorporate with the vegetables, adding a little more
     vegetable oil if they begin to stick.  Allow them them to cook for a few moments, no longer.

7.  Add the lo mein sauce, and continue to toss until it coats all the noodles and vegetables (2-3
     minutes).  It should begin to thicken almost immediately.

8.  Serve hot and enjoy!  Don't forget to sprinkle with the sliced scallions at the table.  They're
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