My (and the Kids) Favorite Meat Sauce

I recently shared a recipe for Kid Friendly Casserole that contained green beans, which most kids like.
A reader, though, said the hotdish looked good but wondered if the beans could be pureed, so they would fly under her daughter’s kid-dar. I wrote back and said that probably would work. And I have some information that will back my thinking.
I make a meat sauce for pasta (we had it just last night) that my grandkids just love — and so does Therese. It’s simple to make and contains a couple of vegetables that some kids probably wouldn’t tolerate. And that includes my grandkids.
But I’ve found a way to get them to eat the sauce and even request seconds. I put the vegetables — carrots, mushrooms, onion and garlic — through a food processor so they’re indistinguishable when they’re mixed in with the browned ground meat, diced tomatoes and paste.
The recipe is one that I found in a cookbook and have tweaked. Instead of using thyme, which Therese doesn’t like, I use basil and oregano. I also triple the amount of sugar. I’ve found that to be the ingredient that separate a good tomato-based sauce from a great one.
My (and the Kids) Favorite Meat Sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-ounce cans ready-cut tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound lean ground meat such as beef, venison or elk
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
10 fresh mushrooms, diced
Salt to taste
In a saucepan, heat oil and lightly brown onion, carrot and garlic.
Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper and sugar. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, brown ground beef in skillet over medium-high heat, drain off fat.
Add meat and herbs to tomato mixture. Cover and simmer ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes.
Serve over pasta.
Yield: About 2 quarts.

Masala Trail Mix

I’m on the road a lot in the fall. That’s because it’s hunting season, and where I go is a considerable distance from my home in East Grand Forks.

This fall, I’m heading out on my third elk hunting trip to Colorado in as many years as well as at least three forays into eastern Montana and northwestern North Dakota to chase pheasants, grouse and Hungarian partridge with my dogs.

One of the things about traveling such long distances is that you have a lot of time on your hands, and it’s always nice to have some snacks to pass the time. One of my hunting companions on the excursion to Colorado always brings along an ice-cream bucket full of a mix that contains nuts and M&Ms, among other things. Needless to say, it’s long gone before the trip back home.

On my trips to Westby, Mont., I usually pick up a bag of chips on the way, usually some spicy ones such as mesquite or jalapeno, as well as bringing some sourdough pretzels from home.

This fall, I’m going to try my luck making a trail mix from a recipe by Hari Nayak, author of “Spice: Flavors and Recipes from Around the World.” I saw the recipe at a website that was referred to in an e-mail from New Asian Cuisine. The mix contains a lot of nuts, which I love, and numerous spices. But the kicker is the wasabi nuts, which ought to give it a little bite, which I’ve come to appreciate in snacks. I can’t wait to try it.

Masala Trail Mix
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, dry roasted and coarsely ground
3 teaspoons chat masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup almonds
1 cup pistachios
1 cup cashew nuts
1 cup peanuts
1 cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1 cup wasabi peas
1 teaspoon dried mint
Mix together the cumin seeds, chat masala, chili powder and black salt in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a medium-size sauce pan over medium heat and fry the nuts until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the oil as much as possible using a slotted spatula. (Do not drain them on a paper towel, or the spices will not adhere.)
Transfer the nuts into a medium bowl, quickly add the spice mixture and toss well, making sure that the nuts are well coated. In the same pan, stir-fry the seeds over medium-low heat until the seeds are fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Add the spiced nuts and toss together. Add mint and wasabi peas and adjust the seasoning to taste. Cool completely and serve or transfer to an airtight container. Note: This can be stored up to 3 to 4 weeks.
Yield: 6 cups.

The Best Sloppy Joes

One of the best things about having relatives come for a visit is being able to cook for them. This past week, our granddaughter, Naomi, has been visiting from Cincinnati. She’s considering a move here to attend college. Naomi has had a few request to meals, and the latest is for homemade barbecues and potato salad.

When she graduated from high school this past spring, Naomi’s mom asked me for my Auntie Helen’s barbecue recipe so they could have it for Naomi’s reception. On one of their visits back home, I had fixed the barbecues for them, and they thoroughly enjoyed them.

And they’re certainly not the only ones who’ve fallen for the barbecues I’ve been eating since grade school. That’s because they’re the ones that were served at our school hot lunch. My aunt, Helen Tiedeman, was head cook at the Cathedral School in Crookston.

Years after the school closed and Auntie Helen retired, she shared the recipe with me. And since then, I’ve passed it on to numerous old school mates and friends. And none of them have been disappointed.

It’s a simple recipe to make, and I’d like to share one more time with you. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, either.

Auntie Helen’s Barbecues
6 pounds of ground beef
1 package flaked onions
1 25 ounce-can cream of mushroom soup
½ gallon of ketchup
½ stalk of celery, diced, precooked
2 tablespoons mustard
¼ cup of vinegar
Barbecue spice, to taste
½ cup of brown sugar
Mix all of ingredients and cook for about 2 hours
Yield: Serves 50.

Two-Pepper Chicken Chili

Fall is officially here, but football players and fans alike know that as soon as that first game is in the record books you can kiss summer good-bye.

One of the foods that is synonymous with both fall and football is chili. I bet a lot of football tailgaters have a pot of chili simmering in preparation for today’s games.

I’m going to be making some chili soon. For our annual Colorado elk hunting trip, each of us has the responsibility for providing one meal while we’re up on the mountain. This year, I’m going to make chili

Of course, it won’t be my 10-Alarm version, which would be too hot for some of my hunting companions. I’m contemplating a chicken chili, using some smoked chicken that we get from the Hutterite colony near Forest River, N.D.

I know that one of my co-workers thinks it’s blasphemy to use anything but beef in chili. (He grew up on a farm.) But to me, a chili made with chicken is just as tasty as one made with red meat.

I just about made one today with some of the leftover meat from a chicken we had earlier this week. But Therese used it for some enchiladas that we had last night. I wasn’t about to fight over the chicken, since her enchiladas (either with or without meat) are as good as any you can find in a Mexican restaurant.

Here’s a chicken chili that I might make for my elk hunting crew. This chili has a good bite to it, thanks to the hot New Mexican-style chili powder and fresh jalapeno peppers. The recipe also calls for a chopped poblano chili along with the jalapeno. Poblanos are mild green chili peppers that resemble green bell peppers. You can find them with the other peppers in the produce section.

I probably should make a batch in advance and have one of my hunting buddies try it to make sure it’s OK. I’d sure hate to bring something for the trip that could get me shot.

Two-Pepper Chicken Chili

1 48-ounce great northern beans, undrained
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large clove garlic, peeled, chopped
1 large white onion, peeled, chopped
2 cups chopped celery
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded if desired, chopped
1 poblano pepper, washed, seeded, chopped
1½ teaspoons oregano
1 heaping tablespoon hot New Mexico-style chili powder
3 tablespoons ancho chili powder or favorite chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
6 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
Sour cream (optional)
Shredded cheese (optional)
Sliced green onion (optional)
Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Set aside.
In a larger stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. Cut the chicken breast into ¼- to ½-inch chunks and add to the pot and brown. Remove the chicken from the pot and set on plate. Pour off any liquid from the pot and return to the heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the onion, celery, jalapeno and poblano peppers and saute until softened.
Sprinkle in the oregano, chili powders, cumin and black pepper. Saute about 1 minute, just until the chili powders are fragrant. Return the chicken to the pot and add all but 1 cup of the beans. Stir to combine.
Pour in the chicken broth and bring the chili to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1½ to 2 hours.
Place the reserved beans in a bowl and mash them with about ¼ cup of the bean liquid. Add to the chili to thicken it. If it is still too thin, stir in more of the reserved bean liquid.
Serve garnished with sour cream, cheese and green onion if desired.
Yield: Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 337 calories, 19 percent of calories from fat, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 36 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 426 milligrams sodium, 58 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams fiber.

Kid-Friendly Casserole

Kids can be picky eaters, especially when it comes to vegetables. But with a little ingenuity, you can get them to eat as healthy as you want.

I’ve discovered that a food processor or something similar can make even vegetables such as mushrooms and onions, vital ingredients to some recipes, slip under the radar of even the most observant child. There’s a meat sauce that I make that has finely chopped mushroom and carrots in it that my grandson just loves. If the mushrooms were whole, though, it probably would be a different story.

I also make a wild rice dressing, which is served with baked pheasant, that contains mushrooms, onions and garlic, in a finely chopped form. It’s another of my grandson’s favorites.

But there are some vegetables that most kids will eat. Green beans are one of them. Therese makes a hamburger hotdish or casserole that the kids just love, and it contains green beans as well as a little finely diced onion and a can of tomato soup. It’s a meal that can be made after you get home from work and be on the table in less than an hour. In fact, we had it just last night, at the request of our granddaughter, Naomi, who is visiting from Cincinnati.

The hotdish is similar to the one my mom made when I was a kid, except it doesn’t have peas or kidney beans, which are found in most canned vegetable soups. If you’re looking for a winning recipe, I recommend it.

Kid-Friendly Casserole

1 10¾-ounce can tomato soup
1 14½-ounce can cut green beans
1 small onion, diced
1 cup macaroni, uncooked
1 pound ground beef, bison or venison
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in cast-iron frying pan. Brown meat and diced onion. While the meat is cooking, cook macaroni according to package directions.
After meat and onion have cooked for about 5 to 10 minutes, add tomato soup, green beans (with water) and salt and pepper. Mix well.
When macaroni is cooked, drain it and then add it to the frying pan. Mix well.
Place mixture in greased casserole dish and bake in 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

Art and Soul Grilled Lamb Miniburgers

It’s officially fall, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that it’s time for the last installment of The Associated Press’ “20 Burgers of Summer” series.
The final entry to be presented comes from Art Smith, whose burger memories stretch back to the 100-year-old Florida cattle farm on which he grew up — and from which his ground beef came, according to AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch.
Smith, Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef, in an e-mail said, “Mother only made them for Saturday noon dinner, and only in the hot summertime. She would make fat burgers out of the very red meat and season it carefully with salt and pepper. What makes hers great is that she would heat a cast-iron skillet blazing hot, and the burgers would get a beautiful sear, which makes the best flavor.”
Smith said his for toppings his mother had crispy iceberg lettuce, warm tomatoes from the garden, mustard, mayonnaise and her pickles. But forget about ketchup. “That was for hot dogs.”
He added, “Burgers are pure comfort. They remind me of my childhood, the people I love and the simplicity of life. We live complicated lives. Why make your food complicated?”
Smith offered a lamb slider topped with cucumbers and a tomato-kalamata olive relish, all tucked in a wedge of whole-wheat pita bread, for the burgers series.
Art and Soul Grilled Lamb Miniburgers8 ounces ground lamb
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons crushed pistachios
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large whole-wheat pita pocket, cut into quarters
Tomato-kalamata relish (recipe follows)
Yogurt cucumbers (recipe follows)
Heat a grill to medium-high. Coat the grates with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the lamb, feta cheese, pistachios, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix well, then form the mixture into 2-ounce patties.
Grill the burgers for 2 minutes per side for medium-rare, or until desired doneness.
Briefly toast the pita pocket quarters.
To serve, place each burger in a pita quarter then garnish with tomato-kalamata relish and yogurt cucumbers.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 414 calories, 56 percent of calories from fat, 26 grams fat (8 grams saturated, no trans, 46 milligrams cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 1,134 milligrams sodium.
Yogurt Cucumbers
3 tablespoons plain Greek-style yogurt
1 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, julienned
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces rice wine vinegar
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until needed.
Yield: About 2 cups.
Heirloom Tomato-Kalamata Relish
1 medium heirloom tomato, finely diced
8 pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and finely diced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt, as needed
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, then cover and set aside.
Yield: About 1½ cups.

Grandma’s Pickled Beets

The beet goes on. I should clarify that. I have a nice pot of beets cooking on the stove, destined to be canned in a homemade brine within hours.

I love pickled beets and have been making them for several years. The recipe I use came from my Grandma Menard. It’s one she used since my mom was a kid. They were called “Grandapa’s pickles” back then because they were a favorite of my great-grandpa, Rudy Burkhardt. Mom tells me that they would be have to be at table for every meal because the old gentleman liked them so much.

I know why, and so do a lot of my friends who use Grandma’s recipe. They’re also a favorite at our house, where they’re called “Grandma’s pickles” because Therese likes them so much.

I’m only making one batch of pickled beets this year, since we have a dozen or two pints left in the pantry from last fall. It was a banner year for beets in 2009, so I went nuts and made upward to three dozen pints, some of them just plain canned beets – for use in borscht or cooked alone and buttered.

Nutritionally, beets can’t be beat. One cup of cooked diced beets contains only 50 calories. They also are a good source of fiber, folacin and a source of vitamin C, iron magnesium and potassium as well as being very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Beets also contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.

Grandma Menard’s Pickled Beets
3 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
2 sticks whole cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
Place about two to three dozen small to medium-size beets in 1 gallon of water that contains 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook until tender.
While beets are cooking, mix the other ingredients and bring to a boil.
When beets are done, pack in hot pint jars, and cover with brine. Process 30 minutes in water bath.
Yield: About 6 pints.

Grilled Tenderloin Sliders

I imagine there’s a lot tailgating going on already in the Alerus Center parking lot in Grand Forks in anticipation of today’s Potato Bowl game between UND and Northeastern State of Oklahoma.

I know of several who will out there, including Jon Dorner Pat Healey and Clark Cvancara, who are legendary in UND football tailgating circles. I’ve had the opportunity to sample some of their wares, and to say it was an epicurean delight would be an understatement.

People who like to tailgate always are looking for new ways to prepare and present food. I recently came across some tailgating recipes from chef Jon Bonnell, owner of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, Texas. He likes to call what he does “gourmet tailgating.”

Among the recipes he’s developed for tailgating is one for minisandwiches of grilled beef tenderloin and boursin cheese. If you know what a “slider” is, you have an idea of what these sandwiches are like.

Bonnell says you don’t have to be chef to elevate your tailgating to another level. Here are a few tips from Bonnell, plus the recipe for the grilled beef tenderloin sandwiches.

Bon appetit.

— Grill space is always limited, so pick items that can grill quickly and don’t take up an entire grill. Tenderloin medallions can be easily cooked to order in just a few minutes if they are cut thinly for mini-sandwiches.

— Plan dishes that can be prepped ahead of time so you can enjoy the party. You don’t want to be working the entire time.

— Don’t try to do too much. A few really well-prepared items work much better than an elaborate spread.

— Think finger foods.

Grilled Tenderloin Sliders
1 whole tenderloin (4 to 5 pounds)
Nonstick cooking spray
36 minirolls
3 5-ounce packages Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin Cheese
4 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips peeled and seeded
2 bunches arugula
Creole seasoning blend, to taste
Slice the tenderloin into small medallions, about 2 ounces each, and season on both sides with Creole seasoning blend. Spray seasoned medallions lightly with nonstick olive oil.
Cut each roll in half and spread with boursin.
Place beef medallions on a hot grill and cook to medium-rare, about 1 minute per side.
Place a few leaves of arugula, a few strips of roasted pepper and a hot slice or two of tenderloin in each roll. Serve immediately.
Yield: 36 sandwiches.

Approximate nutritional analysis per sandwich:184 calories, 10 grams fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 202 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.

Polish Sausage Casserole

It was with great interest that I read msnb.com senior writer Allison Linn’s story today on how the corner meat market is making a comeback in larger cities in the U.S. (/www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39219833/ns/business-consumer_news/). Butchers interviewed said they are seeing demand for pricier beef, pork and poultry raised nearby on small farms with a minimum of additives like hormones and antibiotics.

It reminded me of the days when our small-town butcher shops carried a lot more local meat. I remember the meat markets that my dad frequented in my childhood carried products that were locally raised. Usually, the owner would strike up deals with local farmers for beef and pork as well as chickens, and the animals would be butchered onsite.

Things have changed, but one thing I know is that we still have some pretty good local meat markets. Right here in Grand Forks, L&M Meats has one of the best displays of meat around. In my hometown of Crookston, Minn., B&E Meats is doing the same. And across the region, there are numerous other small shops that specialize in meats such as Neil’s in McIntosh, Minn. And, of course, local supermarkets have a much better selection of meats than they did 20 to 30 years ago.

My most recent trip to one of these local meat markets saw me coming home with a half-dozen homemade Polish sausages. We cooked a couple of them on the grill last night, and they were delicious.

Since I still had four of the Polish left in the refrigerator, I went on a search for a recipe. What I found really looks interesting. The recipe is for a casserole that contains several of my favorite foods. Besides the sausage, the casserole also features beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion and garlic. I can’t wait to give the recipe a try.

Sausage and White Bean Bake
1 pound Polish sausage, sliced diagonally
1 each, chopped: green bell pepper, red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed
1 14½-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the sausage in a Dutch oven or oven-proof casserole over medium heat until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add peppers; cook until peppers soften, about 2 minutes. Remove sausage and peppers from pan with a slotted spoon; set aside. Pour off the fat; reserve fat.
Heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion; cook 1 minute. Add mushrooms, cook until liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sausage, peppers, beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste; heat to simmer.
Combine bread crumbs with the reserved fat; sprinkle on top of beans. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 855 calories, 45 percent of calories from fat, 44 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 2,065 milligrams sodium, 84 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, 15 grams fiber.

Lola Burger

Anyone familiar with television knows Michael Symon. Symon is the Food Network’s Iron Chef. Recently, his beef patty topped with his own pastrami, Swiss cheese and coleslaw — all layered on a brioche bun — was the biggest hit at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash challenge.

Symon is the latest celebrity chef to take part in The Associated Press’ “20 Burgers of Summer” series. His contribution is called the Lola burger, a supermoist burger made from three grinds of beef and topped with pickled red onions, cheddar cheese and a spicy ketchup — all inside a toasted English muffin.

Syman told AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch that he spent spent three years perfecting the right ratio of the different cuts of meat — brisket, cheek and sirloin — as well as settling on a cooking method. And that was beyond finding the right bun for the burger. Today, the burger is one of his signature dishes at his Cleveland restaurant, Lola.

To me, the burger looks mighty tasty, especially its onion, cheese and spicy ketchup toppings. I can hardly wait to try it.

Lola Burger
½ pound ground beef brisket
½ pound ground beef cheek
½ pound ground sirloin
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
4 thin slices cheddar cheese
4 English muffins, toasted
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
Pickled red onion (recipe follows)
4 eggs, cooked over-easy
8 slices bacon, cooked until crispy
Spicy ketchup (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl, combine the brisket, beef cheek and sirloin. Divide the meat into quarters and form into patties. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a grill to medium-high.
Place the burgers on the grill and cook for 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. After flipping, top each burger with a slice of cheese.
Place each burger on a muffin half and top with cucumber slices, pickled red onions, an egg, 2 slices of bacon and spicy ketchup.
Note: If you have trouble finding beef cheek, substitute an equal amount of ground sirloin.
Yield: Serve 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 864 calories, 423 calories from fat, 49 percent of calories from fat, 47 grams fat (18 grams saturated, no trans), 370 milligrams cholesterol, 52 grams carbohydrates, 60 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 1,365 milligrams sodium.
Spicy Ketchup
2 tablespoons minced yellow onion, minced
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
3 cayenne peppers, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
6-ounce can tomato paste
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup water
In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the onions, garlic and oil. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until just beginning to color.
Add the brown sugar, cumin seeds and cinnamon stick. Cook for another 2 minutes.
Add both peppers, the tomato paste and vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and return to a simmer.
Pour through a mesh strainer to remove any solids. Set aside to cool.
Yield: 1 cup.
Pickled Red Onions
½ cup water
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the water, vinegar, sugar, coriander, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Arrange the sliced onions in a medium bowl. Pour the liquid through a mesh strainer and into the bowl of onions, discarding the solids in the strainer.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 48 hours or (for best results) up to 2 weeks.
Makes ½ cup pickles.