Hungarian Goulash Made Easy

While shopping at Cost Plus Imports recently, I found this spice pack on clearance:

Gotta Cook Tonight Spice Pack


I’m all about saving time, and this product saves its users from having to measure out all the individual spices (I’ll take whatever help I can get!).  Here’s what you need to make the goulash:

Hungarian Goulash Ingredients


The spice pack, 4 medium red potatoes, 2 medium yellow onions, 2 celery stalks, 2 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (original recipe calls for one, but that doesn’t give you enough sauce at the end), and 2.5 lbs of chuck roast, cut into bite-sized pieces (I purchased a 3.25 lbs roast, and ended up with just under 2.5 lbs of good meat once I cut out the fat).  Start by cutting all the produce into smallish pieces:



Cut celery into skinny strips, then:



dice them up!



Next, start dicing the onions.  I first cut the onion one way, then the other:

Onion Cross Cuts


Make sure you don’t cut through the root when making the cross cuts.  You want the root area to stay attached to make the final dice easy. I forgot to take pictures of this step, but you just lay the onion on it’s side, and make slices all the way down, perpendicular to the cross cuts you previously made.  You should end up with a dice like this:

Onion Dice 

Next, dice up the potatoes by slicing them in about 1/2″ slices…

Potato Slices


…then, stack the slices and cut into strips.

Potato Strips


Now, cut those strips into 1/2″ cubes, so you end up with this:

Diced Potatoes


Finally, I cut up the chuck roast.  I always cut up the meat last, after I’ve cut up all the veggies, so I can use just one cutting board for meal prep.  First, cut up the chuck roast into steaks.

Chuck Roast Steaks

You’ll notice that my chuck roast looks a little oxidized.  That’s because this was a clearance special that had to be used right now!  Also, I didn’t want all that fat in the goulash, so I cut out most of the big pieces of fat.  There’s plenty of flavor in the spices and veggies, so you really don’t need it.  Next, dice up the meat into bite-sized chunks.

Bite-sized chunks


Now, it’s time to get cooking.  First, saute the onions until translucent on medium-high heat.  

Saute Onions


Next, add the meat…

Add meat


…and brown the meat.

Brown the meat


Once the meat is browned, add the remaining ingredients to the pot:  2 cans of diced tomatoes,

Add diced tomatoes


potatoes and celery,

Add potatoes and celery


and, finally, the spice pack.

Add spice pack


Mix up all the ingredients really well.

Mix up goulash ingredients


Now, you just have to reduce the heat, and let it simmer to finish cooking the veggies and tenderizing the meat.  The original recipe calls for one hour of simmering, but it actually took more like two hours to fully cook the potatoes.  This ended up being a much longer process than I expected…I should have read the recipe about how much I would have to chop up a little more closely!  Definitely more of a weekend meal, unless you buy pre-chopped veggies and stew meat.  All are available at most grocery stores, but will cost you more than their uncut counterparts.  The final product was totally worth it, and really hit the spot!

Hungarian Goulash 

Totally took me back to a day I spent freezing on top of a mountain in Germany, and a nice couple from Georgia bought me a bowl of this to warm me up!  Enjoy!

Easy Chilaquiles Dinner Casserole

I love Chilaquiles, and typically make them for breakfast, but the other day I got a hankering for them around dinner time after discovering I had roughly 42 corn tortillas on hand!  Chilaquiles (pronounced chee-law-KEY-lays) is a Mexican dish consisting mostly of tortillas, cheese, and salsa, usually served with eggs.  I’ve tweaked my version to make it as quick and easy to prepare as possible.  For this recipe, you’ll need 20 corn tortillas, 2 cups of red or green enchilada sauce, 1 1/4 pounds ground turkey, 1 16 oz. jar of chunky salsa, 2 cups of sharp cheddar (divided in 3), 2 cups part skim mozzarella (divided in 3).  I use Las Palmas Enchilada Sauce and Ortega Salsa for the sauces in the recipe because they taste good to me, are quick and convenient, and have all natural ingredients.

Ortega and Las Palmas Salsas

Since I was making this for dinner, I wanted to add a more substantial protein to the dish than eggs, so I used ground turkey.  Brown the 1 1/4 pounds of ground turkey in a large frying pan, to be exact.  While it’s browning, chop 20 corn tortillas into about 1 inch pieces (they don’t have to be exact – I have larger and smaller pieces in mine).

Chopped Tortillas

When the turkey is finished browning, drain the meat, and then return it to the frying pan.

Drain Meat

Drain the meat to remove excess fat

Drained Meat Back In Pan

Add the drained turkey back into the frying pan.

Next, add the chunky salsa to the meat.

Add salsa

Mix up the meat and salsa really well to incorporate them.

Meat With Salsa Incorporated

Now, on to the tortilla pieces!  To make clean up easier, use one 9 x 13 baking pan to mix up the enchilada sauce and tortilla pieces and to construct the casserole.  First, in the 9 x 13 baking dish, layer out half the tortilla pieces, and cover with 1 cup of the enchilada sauce.  Then, layer the other half of the tortilla pieces and cover with the other 1 cup of enchilada sauce.  Mix up really well to cover all tortilla pieces in the enchilada sauce, then remove the mixture to the cutting board.

Tortillas With Sauce

Half of the tortilla pieces covered by one cup of enchilada sauce

Now, put together the casserole by layering 1/3 of the tortilla pieces, then 1/3 of the turkey meat/salsa mix, then 1/3 each of the mozzarella and sharp cheddar cheese.

Meat Layer

Tortillas, then meat

First Cheese Layer

Add cheeses

Last Layer Before Cheese

Repeat the layering process twice…tortilla pieces, meat, cheese

Before Oven

Finish with the cheeses!

I didn’t have the queso (cheese) typically used to make them, cotija or queso fresco, so I substituted mozzarella and bit of sharp cheddar (because I like that sharp flavor).  You can always replace my cheeses with the Mexican cheeses.  I particularly like the cotija with chilaquiles.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until the cheese on top has completely melted and slightly crispy in spots.

Finished Chilaquiles Casserole

Can’t wait to dig in!

Serve with corn as a side dish, or, for a one-dish variation, add a 15 oz. can of corn (drained) to the casserole layers.  Enjoy!

Just Add Lettuce!

Let me start by saying I am not affiliated with the product I’m about to discuss in any way.  I just love convenience products that help me create yummy meals without a lot of time!

Just Add Lettuce

I found “Just Add Lettuce” at Costco a few weeks back.  The product bills itself as the first “3-D” salad dressing, with provolone cheese, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, celery, and lots of other delicious stuff.  Basically, it’s an Italian vinaigrette-type salad dressing, with the salad extras mixed in ahead of time.  All you have to do is “add lettuce.”  Here’s a closer look at the jar contents:

Just Add Lettuce Jar Contents

I did try it with lettuce, and liked it, but decided to branch out for this post and make a tomato salad.  I used one, 16 ounce container of Trader Joe’s Baby Heirloom Tomatoes (cherry and grape-sized fruit), and half of the jar above (8 ounces).  Simply wash and dry the tomatoes, then add the Just Add Salad, and mix well.  The whole process took less than five minutes!  Love it!

Easy Tomato Salad

The only negative I could find with this product is that the sun-dried tomatoes contain sulfites, and the pepperocini contain sodium benzoate and sodium bisulfate.

Just Add Salad Nutritional Information

These three food additives should be avoided by people with sensitivity to them.  My family doesn’t have the sensitivity, and the amounts involved are small, so I don’t have a problem using this product.  However, I will soon be trying to replicate this product without those food additives for those of you who do have sensitivities, but want the convenience product…look for it in the next few weeks!



Balsamic Almond-Garlic Asparagus

During the school year, I commute at least 2 hours a day.  Because I work so far away from home, I’m always looking for quick, easy, and healthy dishes for dinner.  The shorter the prep time, the better!   For this dish, you’ll need one bunch of asparagus, olive oil, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, and sliced almonds.  To save prep time, I buy minced garlic and sliced almonds in bulk from a discount club store.   This whole recipe takes me less then 20 minutes to prep and cook, so it makes an appearance at least once a week when asparagus is on sale.


Rinse and trim the asparagus to remove the tough bottom parts.  I probably over-trim, but I like to make sure I get it all gone!

Trimmed Asparagus

The knife marks where I usually cut. You can see some spears that I already cut at the top of the picture.

Then, place 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan on medium heat.  When it’s warmed up, add 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic and saute it for about 2 minutes.

Brown Garlic

Next, add 1/2 cup of sliced almonds, mix them up really well with the minced garlic, and saute the mix for another two minutes.

Add Almonds

Then, take the garlic-almond mixture out of the pan, and leave it resting on a plate to add back to the dish in a bit (try not to eat too much of this mixture…it is delicious!  I sometimes make just this part of the recipe and use it in salads).

Almonds and Garlic


In the meantime, add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar to the pan, and simmer it for about 2 minutes to reduce it just a bit.

Reduce Balsamic

Next, add the asparagus to the pan, and mix it to make sure the spears are coated with the balsamic vinegar.  Saute for about 2 minutes, then turn the asparagus and saute for 1 more minute.

Add Asparagus

Asparagus And Balsamic

Mix the asparagus and balsamic vinegar well.


Add the garlic-almond mixture back to the pan, and mix it with the asparagus, sauteing the mixture for just 1 more minute to heat everything back to the full temperature.

Balsamic Almond-Garlic Asparagus

This goes great with chicken, beef, fish, or as a stand-alone vegetarian meal.  Plus, leftovers can be cut up into bite-sized pieces and added to salad for lunch the next day!  Delicious, healthy, and quick…no need to hit the drive through on a work night

The View from My Kitchen Window

I love looking out my kitchen window.  Even thought I live in the city, there’s a railroad easement behind us.  This old, out-of-use railroad line means there are no houses directly behind us, so I can pretend like I’m out in the country, with nothing but miles of open land and sky behind us.  Even when I’m having a totally bad day, I can look out my window and feel happy about the sun, the water, the lavender, and the big, big sky.  It really helps when you don’t want to the do the dishes, too, because this is exactly what I see when I’m doing them.   Enjoy!

View from my kitchen window


My Clean and Organized Refrigerator

Remember my dirty refrigerator from yesterday?  It’s gloriously cleaner and more organized today!  I started by taking everything out of the refrigerator:

Fridge Items

How’d all that get in there?

Then, I cleaned all the inner surfaces with cleaning wipes:

Empty Fridge

Shiny and bright!

Finally, I put everything back in, trying to keep likes with likes and cheeses with cheeses:

Clean Fridge

And for those of you playing along at home, here’s the solution to how many cheeses I had out yesterday:

Cheeses With Numbers


You’ll remember that I thought I had eight cheeses in plain view, but when I sat down and really looked at the picture, I realized I had 10 different cheeses in 11 different places.  Here’s the key…
1.  Port Townsend Creamery Red Alder
2.  Port Townsend Creamery New Moon
3.  Feta
4.  Whole Fat Mozzarella
5.  Steakhouse Onion Cheddar
6.  Sharp Cheddar
7.  Parmesan
8.  Dubliner Cheddar
9.  American
10.  More Sharp Cheddar
11.  Part-skim Mozzarella

I guess it’s time for some grilled cheese sandwiches?  Or maybe some homemade mac and cheese?  Either option sounds good to me!

My Dirty Refrigerator

I’ve been traveling the past couple weeks for a conference and a baby shower, and am finally getting back into the swing of things back at home.  I opened my fridge this afternoon, to figure out what to make for dinner, and this is what I saw:

My Dirty Fridge

Notice the precariously stacked plastic containers next to the gallon of milk?  The two different types of pizza sauce (both opened) on the shelf above the sodas?  Here’s a close up:

Top Shelves

I didn’t realize I had so many different types of cheeses on the top two shelves alone (Eight in all…can you spot them all?  I’ll post the answers tomorrow).  So, take a look at my dirty fridge and feel better about your own housekeeping skills today!  We’ll see how successful my cleaning skills are tomorrow…

Round Rock Donuts

I’ve been in Austin, Texas this past week to visit with my cousins and attend my cousin’s baby shower.  They love to indulge my inner foodie, and always introduce me to new and tasty places to eat.  This trip has been no different – from Mighty Burgers, to Gigi’s Cupcakes, to the subject of today’s post – Round Rock Donuts. 

 Round Rock Donuts

Just north of Austin is the city of Round Rock, and home to Round Rock Donuts.   Donuts, breads, kolaches, and other pastry items are available, and they are all yummy!  You walk in, place your order, pay, and warm kolaches and donuts are soon delivered into your eager hands!  I had the sausage and cheese kolaches:


and a glazed donut and a chocolate donut:


Definitely worth the drive north from Austin!

Mouth-watering Pork BBQ Ribs

For Fathers’ Day dinner last night, I decided to make my California version of BBQ pork ribs for my Texas cousins.  I always struggled to make my ribs fall-off-the-bone good, like I like them.  So, I started to experiment a few years back, and came up with this surefire recipe that never lets me down (even when compared to Texas BBQ!).  Let me preface the recipe by saying that I like sweet, non-smoky BBQ, so that’s how I make my ribs.  But, the cooking technique is what makes it work.  You could use the cooking technique and substitute your own favorite BBQ flavorings in place of mine.  Here’s how I do it:


Start with some (a rack or two) extra meaty pork ribs (wait for them to go on sale, though, before you buy them), salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and aluminum foil.  Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.  Layout one strip of aluminum foil, longer than the rack of ribs, which will run parallel to the ribs.  Then, two more strips perpendicular to the original sheet of foil that will help seal up the ribs for cooking.  Open up those juicy ribs and remove the membrane like this:

 Removing the membrane 

Once the membrane is removed, move the rack of ribs to the aluminum foil, and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste on both sides of the ribs.  Here’s what mine looks like:

Seasoned Meat

Next, seal up the aluminum foil, starting with one side of the perpendicular pieces, then both sides of the parallel piece, then the other side of the perpendicular pieces.  It should like roughly like this:

Foiled Ribs

Place the aluminum foil-wrapped rib rack (or racks) on cookie sheets, meaty side up if you don’t like the meat to sit in its own fat or meaty side down for juicier, fattier (is that a word?) ribs.  Bake for 2 1/2 hours at 275 degrees.  It’s going to smell so good!  At the end of those 2 1/2 hours remove the ribs from the oven and aluminum foil, and baste them with your favorite BBQ sauce (I love Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar). 

Basting Ribs

Then, take those bad boys (the ribs) out to the grill, and grill them just long enough to get a nice carmelization on the sauce.  They should look something like this:

Ribs on the Grill

Pull them off the grill, cut them up into individual ribs, and add a little extra sauce to them.  Then, serve them to the masses and say thank you when they tell you how good your ribs are!

Finished Ribs

Happy Fathers’ Day!

It’s Fathers’ Day, and I’m thinking about all the great fathers I know…my dad, the boyfriend, uncles, cousins, friends, etc.  What makes them great?  It’ the way they hug you to make you feel better when you have a boo boo (and continue to pick you up when you need it as you grow older).  It’s knowing they’ll always be there to catch you if you fall (which gives you the courage to go after your dreams).  It’s the way they constantly brag to their friends and family about how their kid is “the best” at whatever they do (and sometimes what they haven’t done – to this day, my dad swears I would have been the next Diane Sawyer if only I’d have become a news anchor).  It’s the way they scare your boyfriends to make sure they’re good enough for you.  It’s the way they teach you how to do the things they do…in my case, this involved farming, paleontology, lapidary and gold panning, hunting, reading, astronomy, eating, and lifelong learning.  So, here’s to you dads…thank you for all you do and all you will do for us.  Enjoy your day!

Fathers Day