Skillet Rice and Beans

Toasted rice and seasoned beans, simmered in a hearty broth - this is one incredible side dish. In fact, I served this with my Tex Mex Meatballs and they were awesome together! My boys actually spooned the meatballs (with the salsa and cheese) over the rice and beans and made one big pile of goodness.

Why cook the rice in a skillet? I cooked the rice in a skillet because, in the first step, you gently toast the rice in a little bit of olive oil. Toasting the rice gives it a subtle nuttiness and adds depth to the overall dish.

Skillet Rice and Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup white rice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups beef or chicken broth
15-ounce can seasoned black beans, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with the oil. Cook for 1 minute, until the rice gives off a nutty fragrance.
Add the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper and stir to coat.
Add the broth and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Stir in the beans (with the liquid from the can) and replace the lid.
Cook for 5 more minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.
Top with the cilantro before serving.

Serves 4

Tex Mex Meatballs with Salsa-Cheese Sauce

Taco seasoned meatballs, roasted to perfection and then nestled in an easy salsa and cheese sauce. All that, and just 5 ingredients!

Why roast the meatballs first? I chose to roast the meatballs first (before adding them to the salsa-cheese sauce, because I like the way roasting browns the exterior of each meatball. I also like the fact that a lot of the fat drips away and is discarded. You can see the fat in the picture below - I just crinkled up that parchment paper and tossed it in the trash!

About the taco seasoning: I used the ready-made taco seasoning you find with the taco shells in the grocery store. If you want to make your own, simply combine 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. You'll also need to add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper to the beef mixture.

Side dish suggestion: I served these meatballs with my Skillet Rice and Beans and it was the perfect culinary marriage!

Tex Mex Meatballs with Salsa-Cheese Sauce

1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon taco seasoning of choice (or make or own by following the suggestion above)
1 cup prepared salsa
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
Combine the beef and taco seasoning and mix well. Shape the mixture into 16 meatballs and place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown (the meatballs don't need to be cooked through at this point). Remove the pan from the oven and keep the oven at 400 degrees.
Pour the salsa into the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Add the meatballs.
Top with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes.
Uncover and bake for 5 more minutes, until the cheese melts.
Top with cilantro before serving.

Serves 4

Pumpkin Mug Cakes with Caramel

Moist, delicious and, get this - healthy too! You will adore this sweet and cinnamony pumpkin mug cake. It's quickly prepared in one bowl, and then, after just 90 seconds in the microwave, it's ready for a caramel drizzle (and a spoon for devouring)!

So why is it healthy? First, pure pumpkin puree is crammed with powerful nutrients and antioxidants that protect against a host of diseases. Secondly, there are just 2 teaspoons of oil in the batch, and that's for 2 servings. Oh, and just 1 egg (not that eggs are bad, but each yolk contains 5 grams of fat, so...).

Which mug to use? Most regular sized mugs will work, just make sure the batter only reaches about halfway (or 2/3 of the way) up the sides of the mug, otherwise you'll have a mess in the microwave.

Need just one cake? No problem - divide the recipe in half.

Pumpkin Spice Mug Cakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Caramel sauce for drizzling over top
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, milk, egg, oil, and vanilla. Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until completely blended.
Spoon the batter into 2 microwave-safe mugs (the batter should fill the mugs about 1/2-2/3 full). Microwave the mug cakes one at a time, and cook on HIGH (uncovered) for 90 seconds. Drizzle the caramel over the mug cakes just before serving.
Makes 2 mug cakes

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

How fun are these?! Served warm or cold, you'll love the orzo salad inside these sweet orange peppers. The tender pasta is spiked with parmesan, onion, garlic, and oregano; it's also made velvety smooth with a touch of olive oil. And I love how the orzo makes crooked teeth! You could also use rice for the same effect...

To create Jack O'Lanterns: Use a small, sharp paring knife to cut out the eyes, nose, mouth... whatever you want! It's a LOT easier than carving a pumpkin.

No need to bake! This is great because baking wilts the peppers and makes them wrinkly (instead of Early October fresh pumpkins, they look aged gourds from late November).

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

1 cup orzo pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper
4 green bell peppers, tops sliced off and reserved, seeds removed and cut like a Jack O'Lantern (if desired)

Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain and return the warm pasta to the pot. Add the oil, cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Stuff the pasta into the prepared peppers and serve warm, room temperature or chilled.

Serves 4

Chicken and Gravy Stuffed Baguette

Oh my!!! This recipe was a complete "test run", as in total experiment. It's freakin' incredible - skillet browned chicken and creamy country gravy, stuffed into a French baguette and topped with parmesan cheese. Then, the stuffed baguette is baked until the bread is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside (and spiked with the gravy). This is a MUST for your recipe to-do list.

About the baguette: I used a classic French baguette. Use whatever you want, but note that sourdough and Italian baguettes will be wider, so you won't need to scoop out as much of the bread to make a channel. Also, my baguette was about 2 inches longer than my baking sheet - so I trimmed off the end!

About the "channel": To make room for the chicken, you need to create a "channel" down the length of the baguette. Use whatever tools you find easiest to do the job - I used a small knife to cut through the crust and then I used my hands to remove the bread.

Don't throw away the bread you pulled from the channel! Pop it in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. You can use it to make stuffing, dressing, French onion soup, croutons, and more!

Chicken and Gravy Stuffed Baguette

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 French baguette
1-2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the chicken and cook until golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Remove the chicken from the skillet, leaving any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Set the chicken aside.
Melt the butter in the same large skillet over medium heat.
When the butter is bubbly, whisk in the flour.
Keep whisking until blended and smooth, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
Whisk in the broth, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika and bring to a simmer.
Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer.
Return the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, until the gravy is thick and creamy.
Meanwhile, using a small knife, cut a channel into the length of the baguette, leaving about 1-inch of bread on the bottom. Scoop out the rest.
Place the baguette on a baking sheet and spoon the chicken and gravy into the channel. Top with the parmesan cheese.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the baguette is warm (crisp on the outside and soft on the inside). Slice crosswise and serve warm.

Serves 4

Mini Cheese Calzones

Chewy bread filled with gooey mozzarella and garlic, topped with toasted parmesan cheese. Pure hand-held joy. Oh, and don't even get me started about how easy these are... Frozen dinner rolls, cheese sticks, garlic, olive oil, and parm. That's it!

About the garlic granules: I chose to use garlic granules (also called granulated garlic) over garlic powder for this recipe - and it's really just a textural thing. Garlic granules are coarser - like fine cornmeal, whereas garlic powder is more flour-like. Both work here. Garlic granules are sold next to the garlic powder in the spice aisle.

Serving suggestion: My boys like to dunk their calzones in warm marinara sauce, so serve some on the side if you also like dunking! I bet pizza sauce would be amazing too...

Prep ahead friendly: Despite what you may think about yeast rolls (that they can't be refrigerated once they've risen), they're actually pretty flexible. You can assemble the calzones as described below and pop them in the fridge for up to 24 hours (cover loosely with plastic). Pull them from the refrigerator 45 minutes before baking.

Mini Cheese Calzones

12 refrigerated or frozen dinner rolls (if frozen, thaw them according to package directions)
6 cheese sticks of choice (mozzarella, mozzarella and cheddar, etc.), halved crosswise
1 teaspoon garlic granules or garlic powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Press the dinner rolls out onto the parchment paper, until about 1/4-inch thick.
 Top each roll with a piece of the cheese (1/2 cheese stick per roll).
Fold over the dough, making mini calzones. Pinch the edges together to seal. Brush with the olive oil.
Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Bake for 15 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown
Serve warm or room temperature (with warm marinara or pizza sauce if desired!).

Makes 12 mini calzones

Chocolate Ganache Stuffed Banana Bread

I keep trying to outdo myself, and this recipe is no exception. I've been making banana bread (using my original recipe or a version of it) for over 20 years. And I keep finding ways to make it better. I've added chocolate chips. I've topped it with sugary walnuts. And, in this case, I laced the moist bread with dark chocolate ganache. In one easy step, the bread changes completely. Each chewy bite delivers sweet bananas and fudgy ganache. Everything is right in the world.

I served this banana bread for breakfast (and I put slices in my boys' lunchboxes), but thanks to the rich chocolate ganache, you can also serve it for dessert! 

Chocolate Ganache Stuffed Banana Bread

Cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medium ripe bananas (as overripe as you can get!)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
To make the ganache, in a small bowl, combine the chocolate chips and cream.
Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave on HIGH for another 30 seconds, or until the chocolate melts. Whisk until smooth and glossy. Set aside.
To make the banana bread batter, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well with a fork and set aside.
Place the bananas in a large mixing bowl or food processor (as you can see, I used my food processor), and mix or process until the bananas are mashed.
Add the milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Mix or process until blended. Add the flour mixture and mix or process until just blended (don't over-mix; stop when the flour is incorporated).
Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
Pour the chocolate ganache over top, making an even layer.
Top with the remaining banana bread batter and smooth surface.
Bake for 50t to 60 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean, or with little moist bits clinging to it.
Cool on wire rack for a least 10 minutes before removing the bread from the pan.

Makes 1 loaf (about 6-8 servings)

Baked Spaghetti Brain

Let's face it, October is the only month I can get away with a recipe like this! Why a spaghetti brain? It's pretty simple actually. I found the brain mold in one of my favorite New York City shops (Flying Tiger). Clearly it's meant for jello and other dessert-type dishes. But, as you've probably noticed, I prefer straying from what's expected.

So, I decided to whip up a pasta dish to stuff into the mold. Even without a shape, the pasta is amazing - tender noodles, marinara, pesto, copious amount of cheese, and an egg to hold it all together.

No brain mold? No problem: Prepare the dish as instructed below and press the pasta mixture into 4 to 5 mini Bundt pans or an 8-inch loaf pan. Whatever you decide to use,  make sure to spray the pan(s) with cooking spray first.

Prep ahead friendly: You can press the pasta mixture into the mold (or any pan you're using), cover with plastic and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before baking. Pull the dish from the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before baking (to give it a chance to come closer to room temperature).
Baked Spaghetti Brain
Not hare-brained, angel hair-brained!

Cooking spray
1/2 pound angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti
1 cup marinara sauce, plus more for serving if desired
2 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat the mold, mini Bundt pans or loaf pan with cooking spray.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the 1 cup marinara sauce, pesto, and egg.
Fold in the mozzarella and 2 tablespoons of the parmesan.
Add the pasta to the sauce mixture and stir to coat. Spoon the mixture into the mold (or whatever pan you're using) and press down to ensure there are no pockets of air.
Bake for 30 minutes, until set. Cool for 5 minutes before unmolding.
To unmold, place a serving plate or thin cutting board on top of the mold, flip over and tap the mold to release the pasta (if you're using a silicone mold, just pull the sides until the pasta releases).
Serve with warm marinara sauce and grated parmesan cheese on the side.

Serves 4