Shepherd’s Pie. It’s What’s For Dinner During The Great Casserole Comeback!

“Where’d you get the shepherd?” – My boyfriend Kevin

“This looks so bad but it tastes so good!” – My Kids

Cooking has been challenging to say the least being at the mercy of what is available at the grocery store and my own pantry. I  never know what will be out of stock next at the grocery store. I was shocked to see that hot dogs and sausages were totally wiped out with a sign that said people could only purchase one. Hot dogs? Is that because they will last until the end of time? That is all I can think of. Anyway, as a result I have tried to buy things that will last and that I can stretch through the week.  I fondly refer to this time as the The Great Casserole Comeback. Oh what I can do with a roast chicken, rice, carrots, potatoes, 5 pounds of ground beef……endless possibilities! My kids look scared to death when they see a 9×13 dish come out of the oven.

Well, much to their chagrin they loved my shepherd’s pie. They ate it all. Only one little bit left for lunch the next day.  It’s not pretty…nooooooo it’s not. But what it lacks in presentation it more than makes up for in taste. And that is why I share it with you here today. The best part…..it’s healthy and very easy to make from scratch.  Use the vegetables you have and don’t worry if you’re missing any. Don’t have fresh veggies but plenty of frozen? Throw them in! It calls for mushrooms but they were sold out like the hot dogs. My kids were thrilled. Don’t eat meat or it’s not stocked? Leave it out – the gravy is so good with the vegetables and mashed potatoes alone. You can make it with ground beef or turkey.

Recipe is as follows – it’s easier than it looks!

1 lb lean ground beef or turkey

1 1/2 cups low sodium beef broth

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

2 bay leaves

3 whole cloves

1 tsp thyme

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced onion

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1 cup diced celery

1 cup frozen corn

1 tablespoon, plus ¾ tablespoon all purpose flour

½ cup low sodium beef broth

3-4 chopped, cooked, mashed potatoes

½ cup milk – low fat

1 tablespoon butter

1 -2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Brown beef in a large skillet and drain when done. Wipe the skillet clean. Return beef to skillet and stir in 1 cup broth, pepper, salt, bay leaves, cloves and thyme. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

While that cooks chop the potatoes and cover in a pan with cold water. Boil the potatoes until tender for 10-12 minutes. Drain in a colander and return to pan. Add butter, milk, and salt and pepper to taste. I have been known to add a spoonful of sour cream. Mash or mix until fluffy in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Add carrots, onions, mushrooms, celery and corn to the skillet with the beef. Add 1/2 cup or so of more broth if it’s low to cook the veggies. Simmer and cook covered for 7 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Preheat oven to 375. Put flour in a small bowl and slowly whisk in broth. Stir until smooth and blended. Add to beef mixture. Simmer for 5-7 minutes until slightly thickened. Transfer mixture to a lightly greased casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top and cover with mozzarella cheese. Bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted.

I hope your family loves it! I find that cooking for family is psychologically and spiritually nourishing. Food is love!

Proof that my kids loved it:

Lemony Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli and Rice

Back to School + Cooler Nights = Comfort Food

We also call this Chicken Surprise. Because under the melted cheese……Surprise! Broccoli! Surprise! Lemony Sauce! This is one of my kid’s favorite dishes and it has broccoli in it. They don’t like broccoli on its own just sitting on a plate.  My son does not like rice. Except in this recipe – he eats it up!

With tennis, wrestling, lacrosse and lots of activities my kids need protein and vegetables. So if I have to present it under a blanket of creamy cheese sauce so be it. This is also a very easy recipe to make which is a bonus – especially after a busy day. It’s great for dinner the next night or the night after that and it’s so good heated in the microwave for lunch.

When I find a recipe that my teenagers will eat and it has vegetables in it I have to share it! You are welcome!

Here is the recipe – preheat oven to 350

  1. 2 large chicken breasts about 1.5 pounds. Boil or bake until done. Coarsely chop and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  OR buy a rotisserie chicken and pull it off the bone.
  2. Broccoli florets – about 2 cups. Steam for about 3 – 4 minutes. Squeeze a lemon wedge over it. Set aside.
  3. 2 cups of cooked rice – set aside.
  4. Sauce: 1 can cream of chicken soup, ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 cup sour cream, ¼ cup milk, juice of half of a lemon, and 1 cup of cheddar cheese – mix all of that together in a bowl.
  5. 1 tsp of olive oil spread in bottom of 9×13 baking dish.
  6. Spoon rice in bottom of pan and spread evenly.
  7. Layer broccoli over the rice.
  8. Add the chicken on top of the broccoli.
  9. Pour the sauce over all of it.
  10. Sprinkle 1-2 cups of cheddar cheese on top.
  11. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly.

It is so creamy good and the lemon juice makes such a difference. I hope you like it and that it becomes one of your family’s favorites, too.

Sea, Sand, Books, and Beach Shrimp

Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly. – Van Morrison

I just returned home from another great beach vacation. We celebrated my mom’s 70th birthday at her favorite place – the beach on 30-A in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. If you haven’t been let me tell you it’s one of the most beautiful beaches I have been to and I’ve been to many coast to coast. Pristine natural beauty and the color of the water is truly gorgeous. The Watercolor community in Santa Rosa on 30-A is so aptly named for the aqua and turquoise crystal clear sea water. The gorgeous water color combined with sugar white sand is breathtaking. We stayed a few miles from Watercolor in the charming Blue Mountain Beach area and loved it.

Typically, we pack in activities such as snorkeling, boating, shopping and enjoying as many restaurants as possible. This time, my kids let me know they wanted to relax vs. being dragged everywhere. Dragged everywhere? Poor children. That was music to my ears. I read two books and lounged on the beach everyday all day. Heaven on earth. I read Educated by Tara Westover and Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Read them! Even if you don’t like to read. Read them! They will change you for good.

When I did pull myself out of my chair it was to figure out dinner. There was a fantastic fresh seafood market next door and I bought tons of fresh shrimp. Old Bay, lemons, boiling water and in minutes I announced that dinner was served. Fresh watermelon, a salad, and crusty French bread accompanied. Lunch the next day was shrimp tossed in a little mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, avocado, salt and pepper. So fresh and healthy! I call it Beach Shrimp. Yes, it’s on a paper plate. I barely washed my hair much less styled dinner.

I’m back home and it’s hot. I’m craving this perfect meal as it is cold, light and healthy. The best part – it just takes a little time to prepare!

Here’s the recipe if you can call it that:

Shrimp – only fresh. Please. I bought a little over 2 lbs.

Old Bay – ¼ of a cup or 2 heaping tablespoons per pound I’d say

Lemon – a big one – cut into quarters

Add water to a large pot – a little over half way to the top. Squeeze juice from a lemon into the water and toss it in – I quarter it and add it to the water. Add Old Bay and stir. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp and boil 3 minutes for medium and 4 minutes for large shrimp.

Beach Shrimp:

1 lb of cooked, chilled shrimp – peeled and deveined

Tablespoon of mayonnaise

Tablespoon of sour cream

Juice of half of a lemon

One avocado, coarsely chopped

Coarsely ground salt and pepper.  I like Himelayan pink salt.

Toss it all together. I like it alone or over a spring mix salad. It’s also good in French bread served po-boy style.

This will definitely be a recipe made at the beach each summer and enjoyed at home when the mood strikes.  I hope you like it! Comment if you feel like it if you have any beach recipes you enjoy.

Birthday Girl!
My Sea Urchins!

My Friend Mary’s Basil Lemon Yogurt Cake

Bakers gonna bake, bake, bake, bake, bake! – A baker I don’t know said or sang this

Have lots of basil and lemons lying around? If you do, you should make this for breakfast this weekend. And if you don’t just run to the store and get some. My friend Mary made this for her daughter, Ava, for breakfast on a Sunday morning. She found Meyer lemons at the store and decided to make it and serve with fresh lemonade and fruit. I can’t wait for my daughter, Sarah Kate, to make it for me. Ha! I am a terrible baker. I don’t even like baking. I have ruined brownies out of the box. Yes, it is possible.

I love the story behind the recipe. Mary and her daughter volunteer at an assisted living facility – which sometimes my daughter and I will volunteer also playing bingo with the ladies. It is such a gratifying experience! I always think I am going there to help brighten their day but I think I leave a little better than when I walked in. I love their stories, advice and company.

Mary likes to go on Wednesdays because that’s when they bake. She said they might not remember what day it is but put a recipe in their hand, let them boss you around, and they are off to the races! So that’s where she scored this delicious recipe. From one of the sweet residents in assisted living. She hand wrote the recipe for her. I love that. This led to a discussion about our grandmothers and their handwritten recipes we still have. My grandmother Ann didn’t have recipes. I learned to cook from her and so I don’t have a lot of recipes either. I just learned. My other grandmother, Maxine, typed all of her recipes on a typewriter of course and then made notes on the cards. One handwritten comment says, “Extra good!”. I have them! Here is her beautiful recipe box she gave to me with her typed recipes – along with the name of the person who gave it to her.

Mary found this gorgous box recently and it holds her recipes. It’s so pretty!

Here’s the sweet handwritten recipe for the cake. So sweet. I love that Mary’s hand and phone casts a shadow over the page. Lol!

Sarah Kate! Are you reading this? I have all the ingredients you need to whip this up! Can’t wait. Love, mom.

Basil Lemon Yogurt Cake

3 cups of flour

5 tsp baking powder

1.5 cups sugar

Zest of 4 lemons

1.5 cups of plain yogurt

2 tbspn lemon juice

1 cup oil

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup chopped basil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour cake pan. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix sugar and lemon zest. Add yogurt and lemon juice and mix well. Add oil, eggs and vanilla. Add basil and mix well. Fold in flour mix just until it crumbles. Pour in bundt pan or cake pans and bake 45 minutes.

Glaze: 1 cup of powdered sugar, 4 tsp lemon juice, and 1 tsp milk. Pour over cooled cake.

Cocktails That Taste Like Summer

When life gives you lemons, mint, basil, and thyme add some vodka and hurry to the porch.

-Shannon Hunter (that’s me)

Summertime brings about the most delicious herbs. Whether you grow them yourself, go to the farmer’s market or the grocery store, now is a great time to enjoy fresh basil, thyme and mint. My neighbor, Elizabeth, brought over an entire bouquet of basil and a craving for a lemon, basil and vodka cocktail. So I made her one. I always have lemons and vodka just in case.

I like to grow basil and mint in containers on the porch near the kitchen door. That way I can run out with my kitchen shears and cut some to add to whatever is on the stove or muddle in a drink. Basil and mint together is so good in sweet iced tea with lime. Love it!

So far this summer I have three delicious cocktails that are my favorites! I will say a gin and tonic is my absolute favorite in the summer, but I decided to make use of overflowing pots of basil and mint. I am not growing thyme so I have to get that from the farmer’s market or the grocery store when they have it.

They are so easy to make but you must have two things on hand…simple syrup and good quality tonic and soda. I highly recommend Fever-Tree. It truly is the best brand of tonic and soda I have ever had. Indian, Mediterranean and Elderflower are my favorite flavors. Here is a picture in case you aren’t familiar:

The best bargain for Fever Tree is to order it by the case on Amazon – otherwise it is between $5 – $6 for four bottles. Here are the links to my favorites:

Indian Tonic Water:

Elderflower Tonic Water:

Meditarranean Tonic Water:

To get started on porch sitting and sipping, you must have chilled simple syrup.

Simple Syrup:

1 cup of sugar – I also squeeze in a little honey. Especially if I add a sprig of thyme to the water.

1 cup of water

Bring water to a boil and stir in the sugar and honey. Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk. Pour into a Pyrex cup or heat resistant container and let it cool. I keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Thyme infused simple syrup – add a sprig or two to the simmering water.

Basil, Lemon, Vodka Cocktail:

Muddle 2-3 leaves of fresh basil in a glass – leave them in the glass

Fill glass with ice

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the ice

Add a shot of vodka – roughly 1.5 ounces

Add 1 tablespoon of simple syrup or more to taste

Top with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic

Garnish with a lemon slice and basil leaf

Stir and Serve!

Thyme, Lemon, Vodka Cocktail:

Fill a glass with ice

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the ice

Add one shot of Vodka – roughly 1.5 ounces

Add 1-2 tablespoons of thyme infused simple syrup or more to taste

Add Fever-Tree tonic or soda to top – I prefer tonic but others prefer soda – make two and decide!

Stir and garnish with lemons and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Mint Juleps aren’t just for The Kentucky Derby ya’ll. It’s a great drink that is so refreshing during the summer. And helps with what to do with all that overflowing mint.

Mint Julep:

5 fresh mint leaves, muddled

2 ounces of simple syrup

2 ounces of bourbon – Woodford Reserve is my favorite mixing bourbon

Muddle 5 mint leaves in a glass. Fill the glass to the top with ice. Add simple syrup and bourbon. Garnish with mint sprigs.

What is your favorite summer cocktail? You know I’d love to hear!

Easy Summer Salads

Cook once, eat all week.

My approach to summer cooking.

I’m so lazy in the summer. I love to cook but I really don’t want to spend hours and hours in the kitchen when I could be outside. Or fanning myself on the sofa drinking a lemonade that may or not have vodka in it. So when I am busy with either of those activities and someone living in my house screams “I’m hungry” I can point them to the fridge. I’ll spend a little time on Sunday boiling pasta and chopping fresh veggies and cheese. I just squeeze lemon juice, pour a little olive oil over the pasta, add fresh basil, salt and pepper, and toss. Then I have fresh mozzarella, olives, salami, pepperoni, grilled chicken, hard cheeses, cucumber, artichokes and tomatoes ready to toss in. Sometimes I toss together and store in a covered container to enjoy all week. If my children complain about all the stuff they hate in it , I’ll store the sides in separate smaller covered containers and everyone can choose what they want. Kind of like a covered salad bar in the fridge.

My daughter just wants the pasta and chicken. My son adds pepperoni and whatever cheese he sees first. I add everything. It lasts for a week. So easy. I always have different variations that includes feta, asparagus, green beans, grilled corn, whatever sounds good.

Another favorite in my house is 3-5 bean salad. I say 3-5 because I don’t know what I have in the pantry. If I have five then great! If not, then three it is and great! It’s such a perfect side dish to serve with grilled hamburgers, chicken or anything off the grill. I like it alone for lunch, too. It also lasts in the refrigerator for a full week. The dressing is easy to make and it’s delicious!

These are also easy and ideal to bring to a potluck or serve when guests come over. Isn’t it nice to have a go-to at the ready when you are entertaining in the summer. Spend time with friends not with your stovetop or oven!

Store in the refrigerator in a Pyrex covered container or any covered container for up to a week.

See below for my recipes. I’d love to know what you add to make it your own and especially if your kids love it.

Serve anytime in your favorite dish that makes you happy. These bowls from Anthropologie are my absolute favorites.

Pasta Salad:

  1. Any pasta. I like rotini veggie pasta and I use the whole box. Follow directions on the package.
  2. Drain the water and keep in a colander to cool.
  3. Combine the juice of one lemon, 1/4 cup of olive oil and salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Dice a cucumber, tomato (I like to halve cherry tomatoes), zucchini, onion, whatever veggies you like.
  5. Coarsely chop any cheese such as feta, aged cheddar, fresh mozzarella, manchego, whatever you like!
  6. Add fresh basil leaves.
  7. Mix with the pasta and pour the lemon and oil over the salad. Toss to coat. Or just pour over the pasta and place the other ingredients in separate containers to add later.
  8. Store in the fridge up to a week and enjoy all week long.

Other variations:

I’ll add leftover grilled corn, sauteed green beans, avocado (add fresh to each serving each day or it will turn that yucky brown color) and serve with grilled chicken, shrimp, salmon or burgers. Balsamic vinaigrette is great with it, too.

Bean Salad – Any Variation Of:

1 can cut green beans

1 can red kidney beans

1 can wax beans

1 can garbanzo beans

1 can black beans

1 can northern beans or white beans

1 Vidalia onion or any type you love – shallots are good!

Green pepper, or red or yellow or none at all

Dressing:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup vinegar – any kind is fine but I prefer champagne or apple cider

1/4 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Drain and rinse the beans and put into a large serving bowl or large pyrex that has fitted lid. Add the onions, peppers, and stir gently to combine.

Mix the dressing ingredients well. Pour over the beans and stir well. Store in the refrigerator up to a week. When you take the salad out to serve, make sure to stir well to distribute the dressing.

So good! I hope you like it! If you add anything else, please comment and let me know. I’m always up for new ways to make favorite recipes!