Family Dinners

My family’s favorite meatloaf

It always makes me laugh to see my eight-year-old get excited about mama’s meatloaf. Someone forgot to tell him that it wasn’t cool to like meatloaf!  He even requests that I pack the leftovers in his lunch box the next day.  There’s a bunch of different ways to make a good meatloaf.  I think it’s more about how you assemble it than anything else.  Traditional meatloaf mix is 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork and 1/3 ground veal.  That’s good but you can make up your own mixture, just be sure you have enough fat in the mix to keep it moist.  If you use 100% ground beef, I recommend 80/20 meat.  You can also drape a piece of bacon over the top of the baking loaf to infuse some moisture.    You should mix up all your ingredients BEFORE you add the meat so as not to over-mix the meatloaf.  I like to form several small loaves to speed up dinner prep time, just be sure you make the loaf as “rectangular” as possible and flatten the top with a little concave dip in the middle to keep juices in and ensure even cooking.    You don’t want any skinny little ends to over-cook.  Cook it to an internal temp of 155 degrees but no longer.  Here are a few combos to get you going:

For meatloaf mix:
2 lbs. ground beef
1 pkg. onion soup mix
1/2 cup barbecue sauce mixed with 1/4 cup milk
2 pieces torn up sandwich bread or  1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs
1 egg
1 can mushrooms, drained
-Form into six mini loaves

Sauces:   pour over meatloaf prior to baking or halfway through
1/3 cup barbecue sauce and 1/4 cup mustard mixed together
OR  Bottled Chili Sauce
1 cup dark corn syrup, 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, 6 Tbsp A-1 Sauce, 4 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard.  Mix together in saucepan and stir over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.

-Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until internal temp reaches 155 degrees.

Good for You Comfort Food– Turkey Taco Soup

I love sharing recipes with my neighbor!  She’s a terrific cook and always has a good story to go with her dish of the day.  She shared a recipe with me that she found for Weight Watchers Taco Soup.  It’s delicious and guilt-free!  I decided to heighten the flavor profile a bit with some cilantro and crushed red pepper.  Comfort food you can live with!

Turkey Taco Soup

1 lb ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
1 (1 oz) package of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix
1 (1 oz) package of Taco Seasoning Mix
1 (16 oz) can of pinto beans, undrained
1 (16 oz) can chili beans, undrained
1 (16 oz) can whole kernel corn
2 (14.5 oz) cans Mexican-style diced tomatoes
3 Tbsp. chopped, fresh cilantro
1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Brown meat and onions, draining if desired.  Stir seasoning packets into meat.  Add rest of ingredients, except cilantro.  Simmer 1 hour.   Stir in cilantro and serve.  12 servings.

Basic Crock Pot Pasta Sauce and Breakfast Casserole

Pasta sauce doesn’t have to come from a jar!  A friend of mine asked me for a basic recipe that would allow her to control the herbs and spices to taste.  I found this recipe years ago in a Best of Country Cooking book and have changed it only slightly over time.  It’s a winner and the slow-cooking aromas will make you wish it were dinner time!  If you’re a sausage lover, you can substitute half the ground beef for bulk Italian sausage. Just brown all the meat together.

Beefy Pasta Sauce

Another friend I ran into asked me to suggest a good winter breakfast casserole.  I like this one because it has apples in it.  NIce little change from the normal casserole fare.

Country Sausage, Cheddar and Apple Bake


A Meatball Lover’s Sandwich .. Or Appetizer

I recently made some “game food” for my husband and some of his pals.  He said I’ve been cooking A LOT lately so he wanted to make it easy on me by ordering pizza and having me make just a few items to give his gathering that Homemade Love touch.  I made some fresh chocolate chip cookies, mini cheesecakes and these meatballs.  I did them appetizer-style and served them in a crock pot alongside some party rolls for mini sandwiches.  We skipped the cheese and didn’t miss it because the sauce is DDD  (drop dead delicious!!)  You can make the full sandwich recipe for a hearty lunch or dinner.  This is another one of those recipes that the men love.

Meatball Lover’s Sandwiches


A Southern Tradition: Country-Style Steak

If you’re from the South, you probably like Country-Style Steak. I have eaten this my whole life.  I got the hankering today and it just had to happen.  I broke out the big skillet and got that oil sizzling!  Delicious, y’all!  If I sound like Paula Deen, it’s because my favorite Country-Style Steak is adapted from her recipe.  I love how tender the steak is after simmering on the stove. A siesta in the sauna tenders up even the toughest cuts of meat.  Here’s the recipe.  It’s easy, affordable and can feed a crowd.

Country-Style Steak
Adapted from Paula Deen’s Country-Style Steak recipe

6 large cubed steaks
1 cup flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons of Beef flavored Better than Bouillon or beef bouillon granules
2 tsp cornstarch

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season steaks on both sides with salt and pepper.  Place flour on a plate and coat steaks on all sides.  Fry steaks in hot oil until med-dark brown on both sides.  You may need to cook steaks in two batches if they won’t all fit side-by-side into pan. Pour off excess oil, leaving 2-3 tablespoons in the skillet.  Place all browned steaks in the skillet and scatter onion slices on top.  Mix bouillon with 2 1/2 cups water and pour over steaks and onions.  Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer and cover pan with tight-fitting lid.  Simmer for 45 minutes until steaks are tender and gravy starts to thicken.  Dissolve cornstarch in 1/8 cup water.  Add to steaks and gravy, shaking pan to distribute.  Increase heat to medium and cook until gravy reaches desired thickness.  Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.  Serves 6.


Dinner Salad Night

If your fridge looks like mine, there are small bits of cheese, random veggie pouches and meat packets hanging around looking for something to do.  Well once a week or so, I put them in the spotlight.  Dinner Salad night!   I usually go by the store and get really fresh greens to pair with whatever ingredients I might have on hand.  I like to start with a bed of organic salad greens like green leaf, baby romaine, spring mix or spinach.  Then top with chopped vegetables, some kind of protein (poultry, beef, tuna, pork), maybe a chopped egg, something salty or spicy (olives, Jalapenos, pickles, sun dried tomatoes), a little something sweet (dried cranberries, apples, pears, candied walnuts), chopped fresh herbs (any kind will do), cheese and a sprinkle of seasoned salt.   Be sure you have at least one crunchy element in the salad for extra satisfaction.  You can add croutons, nuts, leftover Chinese noodles, or sunflower seeds.  My son sprinkles on Goldfish! Pick any dressing you like or keep it simple with vinegar and oil.  You can layer the ingredients on top of each other (salad bar style) or present them in separate little rows like a Cobb salad. Add a bread basket and you have a man-sized dinner.  I go heavy on the protein ingredients to keep everyone full for the evening.  Now go diving in that fridge and whip up a delicious salad!

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

Napa Salad
Smoked turkey slices, julienned
Spring Mix and Baby Spinach
Red onions, diced
Crispy bacon, crumbled
Baby bella mushrooms, sliced
Tomatoes, chopped
Toasted pecans
Sun-dried cranberries
Gorgonzola crumbles

-Mix together in quantities of your choice.  Be sure to wash and spin or dry greens so salad isn’t soggy.  I like a balsamic vinaigrette dressing with this or balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Renea’s Green Salad with Chicken
Green leaf lettuce
Grilled chicken strips
Apple, finely chopped
Sundried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
Dried cranberries
Toasted almonds or sugared pecans
Crumbled feta cheese
Sunflower seeds to sprinkle on top

-Toss with balsamic vinegar or raspberry vinaigrette


Beef Stew for a busy weeknight dinner

Fall is a busy time of year for families and a home-cooked dinner can often fall by the wayside in favor of drive-thru or take-out.  This is the time of year that I love my slow cooker!  I actually have three of them in different sizes.   It’s awfully nice to walk into the house at the end of the day and be greeted by the aroma of dinner!  Here’s a really easy beef stew recipe that requires very little prep.  You only have to chop one thing!  Take a few extra minutes in the morning to get this dinner started. You can also prepare the crock for cooking the night before, cool it down and place into the fridge overnight.  Next morning, just plop it into the slow cooker base and crank it up, allowing a little extra cooking time for cooking chilled ingredients.  Serve this with mashed potatoes and rolls and you have a delicious October dinner.  Hint:  Bob Evans refrigerated mashed potatoes and Sister Shubert rolls are delicious and ready in just minutes!

Easy Weeknight Beef Stew

A couple of Easy Weeknight dinner ideas.. Chicken Parmigiana and Steak & Cheese Subs

Here are two of my go-to’s during a busy week.  Good, basic food that everyone in your family will most likely devour.

Chicken Parmigiana – what makes this so easy and tasty?  Shake ‘N Bake is the breading!  I serve over spaghetti with garlic toast.  Remember to drain spaghetti well before serving. A plate full of watery sauce run-off is not very appealing.  Conversely, don’t let drained spaghetti sit too long before adding to sauce.  You’ll get spaghetti glue!

Steak and Cheese Subs The secret to this delicious sandwich is the thinly-sliced London broil.  I use an electric knife to slice it diagonally. You can also freeze it a little to make slicing easier.

Eat your green beans!

We created Food Baseball at our house to teach my son about healthy eating.  Some foods are singles, some doubles, some outs and so on. He knows that many vegetables are home runs.   I’m amazed at how many people of all ages say they don’t like a lot of vegetables.  We know we should eat our veggies, but it’s just hard to get excited about bland, greasy, over-cooked, under-cooked, watery, freezer-burned or metallic-can-tasting veggies!  Yes you can hide them, disguise them or smother them casserole-style, but it’s also nice to have a few simple go-to vegetable recipes that just plain taste good. Here is one that is a hit with most anyone I serve, including the little ones.  Now go eat your veggies!

Home Run Green Beans