Cream of Poblano Soup & Firecrackers

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No matter where you live, you can probably think of that “one place” that has that “one thing” they serve that you have to get every time, right?  It’s the Mom & Pop hamburger stand that has those amazing onion rings.  Or the local coffee shop with the perfect latte and cookie combo. Or the sandwich shop with THAT soup.

For those of you around the Lake Jackson area, we’ve got that sandwich shop. You know the one… it may have changed locations once or twice (or more) but THAT soup is always on the menu, served in a mug, creamy, warm and ready to please.  And they serve it with THOSE crackers, the ones that are so tasty with just a little kick. It’s no soup-of-the-day, it’s Cream of Poblano soup and they serve it with Firecrackers.

When ordered at The Picket Fence, Cream of Poblano soup is more of a sidekick, pairing with whatever sandwich or salad you choose to go along with it.  For dinner at our house, we add in some shredded chicken to make it a heartier, stand-alone meal.  If you want to stay true to the original recipe or prefer a vegetarian option, simply leave out the chicken and swap the chicken stock out for veggie.

You ready to try it out?

And stay tuned, my Weslaco friends.  I’ve got another famous sandwich shop recipe coming your way that you will most definitely remember.  Yogurt Kountry, anyone? 😉


Cream of Poblano Soup & Firecrackers

For the crackers:

  • 3 sleeves saltines
  • 1 C canola oil
  • 1 pkg (3 T) dry ranch dressing mix
  • 2 T red pepper flakes

For the soup:

  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 2 jalapeños (add more for extra spice)
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 4 T flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¾ cup half-and-half or cream
  • Shredded chicken, optional
  • Tortilla chips
  • Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (or other white melting cheese)

Let’s start with the crackers, as they will need to sit for a little bit.

Place the crackers in a large container with a secure lid, or in a large ziploc storage bag.  I’ve found that a gallon size bag usually does the trick for three sleeves of crackers.  I also like to control the salt just a little bit, so I tend to use the saltines with the unsalted tops.

Mix together the canola oil, ranch mix and red pepper flakes.

Pour the mixture on top of the crackers.

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Gently mix the crackers so that the oil mixture coats every cracker.  This is where the Ziploc bag saves you a little mixing stress –  just gently turn the bag over in your hands for a few minutes so that the oil gets into each cracker.  Then, for the next couple of hours, give the bag/container a flip every now and then, making sure the crackers are as evenly coated as possible and a bunch of oil hasn’t settled at the bottom.

After a couple hours, I like to put the Firecrackers in a clean, airtight container where they will keep for several days.  You can switch out the flavors of the seasoning as well – the second picture is a batch we mixed up with a Parmesan pesto blend  in place of the ranch mix.

Now for the soup!

You’ll need to roast the poblano and jalapeños.  If you haven’t ever roasted peppers before, there are just a couple of easy tricks.  

To start, rub a little olive oil or vegetable oil over the peppers and place them on a sheet tray.  Place them under the broiler, or directly on a hot grill, and char the outsides of the peppers.  You want them to be black and blistered.

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Once the peppers are blackened, place them in a bowl and cover it with foil.  Let them sit and sweat for a while so that the blistered skin starts to peel off.  Then just use your fingers to wipe most of the black char and all of the seeds and membranes from the peppers, leaving you with perfectly roasted strips.  Give the peppers a rough chop.

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In a large pot, saute the roasted peppers, onions, garlic and carrots in butter until they begin to soften and the onions become clear.  Season the veggies with salt and pepper.

Add the flour to the pot and stir, cooking the flour just a bit.

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Slowly add the chicken (or veggie) stock, stirring as you do to get rid of any lumps. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Cover the pot and let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.

Using either an immersion blender directly in the soup pot, or transferring the soup carefully to a blender, puree the soup to your desired consistency.  I like a fairly smooth soup here, but if you prefer a chunkier version you can skip this step altogether.

Stir in the half-and-half/cream.  This is also where I mix in the shredded chicken – just  leave it out if you prefer to do so.  I went extremely easy here and took advantage of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken for this one.

Give the soup a good stir and let it heat through for a few minutes.   As soon as it is as hot as you like it you are good to go!

Place a few tortilla chips in a bowl and spoon some of the soup over the top, sprinkling with some shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or any other white melting cheese you have on hand – I’m pretty partial to the HEB Mi Comida blends).  You can most definitely play around with other toppings if you like – some sour cream, chopped chives or green onion, bacon bits, sliced fresh jalapeño, whatever you like!  BUT – you must serve them with Firecrackers 🙂

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What’s your place with THE thing they serve?  Let me know!


Full Recipes

Cream of Poblano Soup

  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 2 jalapeños (add more for extra spice)
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 4 T flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¾ cup half-and-half or cream
  • Shredded chicken, optional
  • Tortilla chips
  • Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (or other white melting cheese)

Broil poblanos & jalapeños until blistered on all sides.

Place peppers in a Ziploc bag or in a bowl covered with foil for about 15 minutes.

Peel the skin off the peppers, remove the seeds, then roughly dice the peppers.

Saute peppers, onions, garlic and carrots in butter until tender.

Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with flour and stir.

Slowly add the broth, stirring out any lumps.

Add salt to taste.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Using either an immersion blender or a stand-up blender, puree the soup to your desired consistency.

Add the half-and-half or cream.

Add chicken, if using, and heat through.

Place a few tortilla chips in a bowl or cup.

Top with soup and cheese.

Firecrackers

  • 3 sleeves saltines
  • 1 C canola oil
  • 1 pkg (3 T) dry ranch dressing mix
  • 2 T red pepper flakes

Place the crackers in a large container with a lid or a large resealable plastic bag.

Mix other ingredients together and pour over crackers.

Gently mix for several minutes then cover/seal the bag.

Turn container/invert every 20-30 minutes for a couple of hours.

Sausage Potato Skillet

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Happy New Year!  (We can still say that even if January is already two-thirds done, yes?)

If your house is anything like my house you are ready for an easy, throw-down dinner.  This is it! A one pan wonder!

I truly don’t know where this recipe came from.  I can say, however, that it was a staple in our house growing up in Weslaco.  It’s such a quick, easy go-to that I never much thought about how good it was… other than to give my mom a good (full of love) teasing about it’s frequent appearance at the dinner table.  (We’ll talk about “gourmet sandwiches” some other time, Mom 😉 )

Then I graduated from Baylor and made my move to Lake Jackson.  I’d make this for dinner and take leftovers for lunch the next day.  Without fail, every time, someone would comment on the dish and ask for the recipe.  It threw me a bit because I don’t think my mom or I ever even wrote the recipe down, it was just one of those things we could toss together.  The first time I made it for Will he loved it and began requesting this dish for dinner.  Again, it blew my mind a little.  This dish?  The sausage-potato meal we’ve always had?!

So here it is, all typed up in its one-pan glory from my childhood home to your present day: Sausage Potato Skillet.  May it make one of your upcoming dinners simply wonderful 🙂


Sausage Potato Skillet

  • 1 link smoked sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 can corn or hominy, drained

Pay attention, this one goes quick 🙂

Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in a skillet with a little olive oil until the veggies begin to soften. Use a large skillet with plenty of room to toss everything up together.  Season the veggies with salt and pepper but start a little lighter than normal on the salt as the smoked sausage will bring some of that in for you.

Add the sliced sausage and saute until the sausage begins to brown a bit.

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Add the corn or hominy and toss it all together.

So, I love hominy.  Hominy is made from either white or yellow corn – the kernels are soaked in a solution of either lime or lye which removes the hull, and often the germ, from the kernel and causes the grain itself to puff up much larger than its original size.  The texture is definitely chewier than regular corn and, I think, has a more pronounced corn flavor.  I dig the taste and texture of hominy and often will just saute it with butter, salt and pepper as a side dish. Somewhere along the line, I decided that hominy needed to replace the corn in this dish and I’ve never looked back.   Will, however, does not share my love of hominy.  Bummer.  We often either go back to the regular can of corn here or omit it completely when making this dish at home. In an effort to give you this dish in all its original glory though, I felt it best to demonstrate with the hominy.  (Sorry, Will!)  Don’t worry, y’all.  He still ate it 😉

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Add the cubed potatoes, tossing them around a bit to mix them in. Season again with salt and pepper. (If you like a little kick, this is a great spot for some cajun seasoning as well!)

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Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the skillet, about 2 or 3 tablespoons. Cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15-20 minutes.  If you don’t have a lid that fits your skillet, just set a cookie sheet over the skillet or place a piece of foil loosely over the top.  You want the potatoes to steam in that water and a lid helps that process.

Once the potatoes are soft, remove the lid and continue to cook until all the excess moisture has cooked off, about another 5-10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

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What recipes do you have that have survived your childhood home and worked their way into your adult life?  Leave a comment and let me know!


Full Recipe

Sausage Potato Skillet

  • 1 link smoked sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 can corn or hominy, drained

Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in a skillet with EVOO until beginning to soften.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the sliced sausage and brown.

Add the corn/hominy.

Add the potatoes, toss around and saute a few minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the skillet.

Cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat and lightly simmer until the potatoes are soft, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook until all the excess water has cooked off, another 5-10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Chicken Spaghetti

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It’s a busy time of year so I figured for my final post of 2018 I’d share one of my favorite make-ahead, enjoy-now or freeze-for-later meals!

Who doesn’t love a good chicken spaghetti, right? It screams comfort food.  Will and I have a difference of opinion on mix-ins or toppings for this one as he, for some strange reason unbeknownst to me, does not enjoy mushrooms and black olives.  So, you’ll see in the recipe how we navigate that craziness 😉

This recipe makes a healthy amount, so I typically bake one smaller dish for dinner and pack another up in a foil pan to freeze for later.  In this case, we even loaded up some small foil loaf pans to freeze for grab-and-go lunch options.  I love having this recipe, in large or small amounts, on hand!

I hope that you have enjoyed the recipes I’ve shared throughout 2018.  I’d love to hear if you have made one or two, how you enjoyed them and what you would like to see into 2019!  For now – sending you best wishes and many blessings this Christmas season and into the New Year!

-Lindsey


Chicken Spaghetti

  • 1 ½ -2 lbs chicken, boiled & shredded -or- 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz Velveeta, diced
  • 8 oz cream cheese, diced/softened
  • 2 cans “cream of” soup – use chicken, celery, mushroom; mix & match
  • 1 can Rotel
  • 1 small can black olives
  • 1 small can mushrooms
  • 16 oz spaghetti

Preheat your oven to 350.

To start, you can make this recipe even easier by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken, I’ve done that often.  This time however, I picked up a whole chicken when they were on special and boiled it before starting the spaghetti.  If you boil your chicken, simply cover the bird with water and then add whatever veggies and seasonings feel right!  This time, I tossed in a couple carrots, one onion quartered up, a couple bay leaves and some thyme, a bit of parsley left from another recipe, freshly ground black pepper and caldo de pollo.  Whatever you do, add in some caldo de pollo – or in other words, chicken bullion.  It will add a boost of flavor to your stock and we’re going to use that stock later down the road.  So heads up – save the stock!

Once cooked, pick and shred the chicken.  Remember – save the stock!

You can use a variety of peppers here – I like the colorful assortment here of poblano and small sweet red, yellow and orange bell peppers.  Dice them up along with an onion and a few cloves of garlic.  Saute the veggies until they are soft, seasoning with salt and pepper.

If you have a family of mushroom-loving people, add the mushrooms in with the veggies and let them cook a couple minutes as the veggies soften.  Since we are a house divided, I hold off on the mushrooms right here.

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As the veggies are cooking, cook the spaghetti to al dente – just so it has a little bit left to it as it will cook a little more as the dish bakes. If you boiled your chicken, strain the veggies and herbs out of the stock and then boil the spaghetti in the stock rather than plain water so the pasta takes in that delicious chicken flavor.  If you are using rotisserie chicken, add a little caldo de pollo (bullion) to the water when it comes up to boil.  This is your chance to flavor the pasta itself.  Important:  when you drain the spaghetti, reserve about a cup of the pasta water/stock.  We’re putting that stock to use today!

In a large bowl, combine the two cream soups, Rotel, olives, Velveeta and cream cheese.  If you are an H-E-B shopper, there is store brand cream of poblano soup that works very nicely here!  For the Velveeta, you can cube up a brick or, as you see below, the shreds work nicely as well.  You do want to be sure the cream cheese if softened so it stirs in nicely.  Give the mix a taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Again, I skip the olives here…

To the large bowl, add the shredded chicken and the cooked veggies.  Give it a really good stir so the warm veggies starts to melt and combine all the cheeses.

Add the cooked spaghetti and stir well again.  This mixture will be thick – add that reserved pasta water/stock a little at a time until you get the consistency you are after. You want it to be well mixed and that water/stock will help to get all the yummy cheese mixture coating every noodle.

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Spray either one 9×13 baking dish or two small dished with nonstick spray and fill ’em up! Here’s where my mushrooms and olives come into play – they go on top of “my half” 😉

For the baking dishes – cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

For the freezing dishes – let cool completely and cover with plastic wrap and foil. Freeze until ready to enjoy!

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Don’t worry – Will totally missed all the olives and mushrooms in the above picture.  😉

What’s your favorite comfort meal and/or freezer meal?  Let me know what you think!


Full Recipe

Chicken Spaghetti

  • 1 ½ -2 lbs chicken, boiled & shredded -or- 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz Velveeta, diced
  • 8 oz cream cheese, diced/softened
  • 2 cans “cream of” soup – use chicken, celery, mushroom; mix & match
  • 1 can Rotel
  • 1 small can black olives
  • 1 small can mushrooms
  • 16 oz spaghetti

*If you boil the chicken, save the stock to boil the spaghetti in

Preheat oven to 350.

Saute onions, bell pepper, poblano pepper and garlic until soft.

Add the mushrooms and saute a few minutes.

Boil spaghetti (in stock, if available) and cook to al dente.

Reserve about a cup of the pasta water/stock after cooking.

In a large bowl, combine cream soups, Rotel, olives, Velveeta and cream cheese.

Season to taste with s&p.

Stir in shredded chicken and onion mixture.

Add cooked spaghetti to chicken mixture.

Mix well as the cheeses melt.

Add reserved pasta water/stock as need to desired consistency – up to 1 cup.

Grease a large baking dish (or two small pans) with non-stick spray.

Pour chicken spaghetti into dish(es) and cover with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes.

If freezing:  Let cool completely, cover pan with plastic wrap and foil and freeze.  Bake, from frozen, covered with just foil, at 350 for 45-60 minutes.

Green Chile Pork

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Who needs a super easy slow cooker recipe for the winter?  I got ya!

I love a good slow cooker recipe and this one really exemplifies what they stand for – easy to put together, easy to walk away from and delicious to eat!  Set it and forget it, right? You can adjust the heat level to your preference and serve it over rice, polenta or wrapped up in tortillas.

I’d call that a winter win!


Green Chile Pork

  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 ½ lbs pork shoulder/butt roast
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • cumin
  • 1 (16-oz) jar green salsa
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped or torn, plus more for garnish
  • 2-3 jalapeños, halved and seeded, if preferred
  • 1 lime
  • radish, cilantro, cotija cheese for topping, if desired

Spread the onion across the bottom of your slow cooker, making a bed for the pork to rest on.  You can chop the onions into a large dice or strips – whatever you prefer for your end results.  I usually do a large dice as you can see here.

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Sprinkle the pork with the salt, pepper and cumin.  No amounts here – just do what feels right!  You just want a nice base of seasoning across the entire roast, all sides.  This recipe works well with any type of pork roast, shoulder or pork butt, bone-in or boneless.  Today I had a bone-in pork butt so I just keep in mind to remove any bones before shredding later.

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Place the pork in the slow cooker on top of the bed of onions.

Pour the jar of salsa (I’m partial to the Herdez brand) over the pork and add the cilantro and jalapeños.  Here’s where you can control the level of spice in your dish – the salsa can range from mild to spicy and you can remove or leave the seeds in the jalapeños.  If you are feeling extra adventurous, swap the jalapeños for serrano peppers!  I chose a medium salsa and removed seeds from the jalapeños on this one.

Time to walk away!  Cover and cook the pork on low for about 8 hours. You want the meat to be tender and easily shred when done.

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When ready, shred the pork using a couple of forks.  Remember to pull any bones out!

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Squeeze some lime juice into the pork and serve over rice or polenta.  This pork also makes some delicious tacos and quesadillas!

What’s your go-to slow cooker recipe for the winter?  Let me know!

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Full Recipe

Green Chile Pork

  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 ½ lbs pork shoulder/butt roast
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • cumin
  • 1 (16-oz) jar green salsa
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped or torn, plus more for garnish
  • 2-3 jalapeños, halved and seeded, if preferred
  • 1 lime
  • radish, cilantro, cotija cheese for topping, if desired

Spread onion on bottom of slow cooker.

Sprinkle pork with salt, pepper and cumin; add to slow cooker.

Pour salsa over pork, sprinkle with cilantro, and add jalapeños.

Cook, covered, on Low until meat falls apart easily, about 8 hours.

Shred the pork and veggies using 2 forks.

Squeeze lime juice over pork.

Serve over rice or polenta.

Garnish with radish and more cilantro and cotija cheese, if desired.

Beef Stroganoff

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Baby, it’s cold outside! We just blew past those fall-like temps into the frigid winter of Gulf Coast Texas.  For a couple days at least 😉

While our winters may not be as brutal as our Northern friends, or last as long, the chilly outside still calls for warm dinners inside. In our house, that typically means either a slow-cooking something on the stove or a quick, warm, filling dinner before dark falls. This one fits the latter.

This recipe is adapted from one a friend shared with me years ago – back when we were just college babies learning to fend for ourselves. We didn’t add mushrooms and if we had there surely wouldn’t have been good wine to flavor them with! This beef stroganoff is time-tested and one I’ll happily make, good wine in hand and fond memories of friends in mind, for many years to come.

Here’s to you, Becca!

What recipe have you held on to for years?  Tell me about them!


Beef Stroganoff

  • 12 oz egg noodles
  • 6 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Worcestershire
  • 4 T flour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • salt & pepper black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Salt the water fairly generously and cook the egg noodles until al dente.  Set aside.

Let’s talk mushrooms for a minute:

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To start, mushroom storage.  If you purchase prepackaged mushrooms, leave them in their packaging and place them in the fridge.  If you purchase bulk mushrooms, don’t worry about cleaning them first, just place them in a paper bag and stick them in the fridge.  This allows them to breathe a bit and stay firmer longer – plastic grocery bags can cause them to fade quicker.

To clean your mushrooms, avoid running them under water. Mushrooms retain moisture like a sponge, giving them more will prevent the mushrooms from browning nicely and give more of a chewy texture to them once cooked. Instead, use a damp paper towel and brush off any excess dirt.  Slice or chop them in similar sizes so that they cook up evenly.

Finally, don’t crowd the mushrooms in your pan and wait a bit before salting them.  Give your fungi some room to groove as they cook so that they saute and brown rather than steam.  Salt will bring out the moisture in the mushrooms, which is true for any veggie.  With mushrooms though, you want them to retain the moisture for a bit so that, again, they brown rather than steam. I’m willing to be that those that don’t care for mushrooms have had ones that lean more towards the steamed, flavorless side of cooking.  Let’s avoid that!  Mushrooms are like a sponge, right?  They’ll take on some of whatever flavor you give them but you want to give them a chance to develop their unique nutty, earthy flavors first.

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If you have a mushroom-loving family, you can most certainly start the mushrooms in a larger skillet and once they are beginning to brown, add the ground beef and cook it all together in the same skillet.  Just remember, you want to give the mushrooms a little time to brown up before salting them. I live in a house divided – one of us says they do not like mushrooms.  It’s okay, we can’t all be perfect 😉 I’m willing to go with it on this one though – I kind of like the presentation of having the sauteed mushrooms on top of the stroganoff rather than all mixed together.

Back to the recipe! In a medium skillet, cook the mushrooms in just a touch of olive oil or butter. Once the mushrooms begin to brown and release their liquid, season them with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and let the mushrooms continue to cook as you move on to the beef. I may be biased… but a splash of hearty red wine never hurts here.  You know the rule though – make sure it’s a wine you would drink as the flavor intensifies as it cooks. Worcestershire sauce is also a nice addition to the earthy veggies.

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Saute the onions, garlic and ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat.  When the meat begins to brown and the veggies soften, season the pan with Worcestershire, salt and pepper to your liking.

If your ground beef was fairly lean, add a tablespoon or so of butter to the pan. Add the flour and stir to absorb the fat and cook the flour a bit. Stir in the beef broth and cook until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes.

Stir in the sour cream and check your seasoning, adding salt and pepper as you like. Let the stroganoff simmer until heated all the way through.

Spoon the stroganoff over the egg noodles and top with mushrooms.  Enjoy!

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Full Recipe

Beef Stroganoff

  • 12 oz egg noodles
  • 6 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Worcestershire
  • 4 T flour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • salt & pepper black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cook egg noodles in boiling water until done; drain.

In a medium skillet, cook mushrooms in just a little olive oil.

Once the mushrooms release their liquid and begin to brown, season with salt and pepper.

Saute the ground beef, garlic and onions in a large skillet over medium heat until the meat begins to brown and the veggies soften.

Season the meat with Worcestershire sauce.

If the beef was fairly lean, add a couple tablespoons butter to the skillet.

Add the flour and stir to absorb the fat and cook the flour.

Stir in beef broth and cook until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes.

Stir in the sour cream,  season to taste with salt and pepper.

Continue cooking until sauce is hot all the way through.

Serve sauce over egg noodles and top with mushrooms.

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

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Who needs an easy weeknight meal? Everyone, yes?!

I think we have all seen variations of a tater tot casserole – meat on the bottom, covered in cheese, topped with tots and baked.  This is no exception, but I am pretty proud of it.

I like a good Sloppy Joe now and then, the tangy almost-BBQ style sauce is a familiar, comforting flavor.  However, a Sloppy Joe sandwich presents a problem to me… soggy bread.  I am a hard pass on soggy bread. So to me, replacing bread with tater tots was a moment of brilliance. 😉

Will was challenged with the sauce recipe.  He played around and this one is our hands-down favorite.  It does closely resemble a BBQ sauce with the tang and sweet heat and utilizes ingredients that we consider pantry staples.  Perfect for a weeknight throw-down dinner.

Here’s my challenge to you: please enjoy this Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole.  But then, think about the ways you could change up the meat (Italian sausage or ground turkey anyone?), the sauce (is that jar of marinara in the pantry calling to you?) or the cheese (what about a Pepper Jack?) to enjoy a different flavor profile. You could also sneak in some veggies by adding beans or corn as you are sauteing the meat and veggies. Customize the dish to the likes of your family – and let me know how you do it!

Weeknight dinner – COVERED!


Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

  • 1 pound ground meat
  • Bell or poblano pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1-2 T flour
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup (pretty much a 20 oz bottle)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as needed
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Frozen tater tots
  • Green onion, sliced for topping

Preheat the oven to 375.

Saute the ground meat, pepper and onion in a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet.  As for the pepper – we like a little heat and tend to use poblano peppers in place of green bell peppers.  Coming up, the sauce also calls for red pepper flakes so you can adjust the heat level easily by either using bell peppers here or adding/removing the red pepper flakes later.  Customize the heat levels to your taste!

*Heads up here – you are going to bake the casserole after it comes together.  If you have one available, an oven proof skillet is great way to go here.  You can transfer it right into the oven and not mess with another dish later. I love our Calphalon cookware for this very reason!  If you don’t have an oven proof skillet available, spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick spray and set it aside for now.

As the meat mixture is cooking, grab a bowl and mix up the sauce ingredients. Whisk together the flour, ketchup, garlic, brown sugar, chili powder, dry mustard, red pepper flakes and Worcestershire.  Once it is all combined, check for seasoning and add salt & pepper as you like.

When the meat is browned and the veggies are softened, stir in the sauce mixture.  Simmer the mixture on low heat for about 10 minutes and check again for seasoning.

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At this point, if you are not using an oven safe skillet transfer the mixture to your prepared 9×13 pan.

Top the casserole with the shredded cheddar cheese, then the frozen tater tots.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tater tots are toasty and brown.

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Top with the sliced green onions and enjoy!

How will you enjoy this casserole?  Traditional Sloppy Joe?  Or change it up to something like Mexican taco flavor or Italian red sauce and mozzarella cheese?  Let me know!

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Full Recipe

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

  • 1 pound ground meat
  • Bell or poblano pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1-2 T flour
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup (20 oz bottle)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as needed
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Frozen tater tots
  • Green onion, sliced for topping

Preheat oven to 375.

Saute the meat, peppers and onions in a couple tablespoons olive oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients.

When the meat is browned and veggies softened, stir the sauce mixture into the meat.

Simmer over medium-low heat, about 10 minutes.

Pour in a 9×13 pan if not using an oven safe skillet.

Top with shredded cheddar and frozen tater tots.

Bake 40-45 minutes.

Top with green onion and serve.

Braised Chicken Thighs

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This recipe is definitely not complicated but instead re-introduces the concept of braising. Loosely defined, braising is “frying or searing meat to then slowly stew in broth or other liquid”. The result? Tender, juicy, flavorful meat! Chicken thighs are a great protein to try braising on as they are easy to work with and fairly forgiving. (Not to mention they are frequently a bargain purchase at our local grocery store) The vinegary braise packs a flavorful punch and you can play around with the veggies you use in this recipe.

We’ve explored this a little bit with the Osso Bucco previously and it’s a technique I enjoy. What’s your opinion? Do you have a favorite braising recipe?


Braised Chicken Thighs

  • 4-6 chicken thighs (or quarters)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3-4 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 T butter

Preheat the oven to 375.

You are going to want to use a large, heavy, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven for this recipe.  I like using our enamel-coated cast iron for this job as it is easy to take from stove to oven and back again.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in your pot of choice.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to the pot, skin side down to start.  Let the chicken brown on the skin side, then flip over and brown the other side. You want a nice dark brown sear, the chicken will finish cooking as it braises in the oven.   When browned, transfer the chicken to a plate or tray.

Spoon off all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add the carrots, celery, garlic and onion and cook over medium heat until the veggies are softened.

Add the flour and stir for a minute, cooking the flour a bit.  Add the cider vinegar and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot and avoiding lumps from the flour.  Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, thyme, season with a little salt and pepper and bring the sauce back up to a boil.  Nestle the chicken thighs into the sauce, skin side up.  It doesn’t matter if the chicken is completely covered, you just want to make sure that all the chicken is tucked into the pot.  Put a lid, or foil, on the pot and transfer it to the oven.  Braise the chicken for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the pot from the oven.

Optional step:  if you want a crispy skin, transfer the chicken skin side up to a sheet tray and set the oven to broil. Broil the chicken until the skin is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.

Ladle a cup or two of the braising liquid into a small pot. Simmer the sauce over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is as thick as you like it.  When it’s just about done, add the butter and taste for seasoning.

When serving this dish, I like to strain some of the veggies from the braising liquid and plate those on top of the chicken thighs.  I then drizzle some of the thickened sauce across the top of the chicken and serve typically with mashed potatoes and a green side.

Try this one out and let me know what you think!


Full Recipe

Braised Chicken Thighs

  • 4-6 chicken thighs (or quarters)
  • 2 T olive
  • 3-4 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 T butter

Preheat oven to 375.  

In a large oven-safe pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.

Season chicken thighs with s&p and add to pot, skin side down.

Cook in batches, turning once, until golden brown.

Transfer chicken to plate/tray.

Spoon off all but about 2 T of fat in pot.

Add carrots, celery, garlic and onion.

Cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add flour and stir for 1 minute.

Add cider vinegar and stir, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pot.

Bring sauce to a boil and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add broth, thyme and season with s&p; bring to a boil.

Nestle the chicken in the sauce, skin side up.

Cover and transfer the pot to the oven and braise chicken for 40-45 min, until cooked through.

Remove pot from oven and preheat to broil.

Transfer chicken to a baking sheet, skin side up.  

Broil on middle rack of the oven until skin is golden and crisp, about 5 min.

Ladle a cup or two of the braising liquid into a small pot.

Simmer sauce over moderate heat until reduced to your desired thickness.

Stir in butter and taste for seasoning.

Serve chicken with veggies strained from braising liquid and sauce drizzled over the top of each piece.