Maggie Swan

Archive for the ‘dinner’ Category

Easy Shepherd’s Pie

In dinner, ridiculously easy on April 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Shepherd's pie

I shared this blog concept with my colleague Kate, and she immediately suggested this homestyle dinner that uses just a handful of ingredients, is super-easy to prepare, and is super-delicious. I made this last night, and couldn’t stop stuffing my face.


  • Baking dish or disposable foil pan (8×8 is ideal)
  • Microwave
  • Pan/skillet
  • Spoon/spatula
  • Oven


  • One bag of frozen veggies (Recommended: Steamfresh – green beans, carrots & peas)
  • One 16 oz jar of beef-flavored gravy
  • One tub of pre-made mashed potatoes (Recommended: Bob Evans or similar brand – you can usually find these near the hot dogs)  * Note: if you have leftover mashed potatoes, you can use those instead!
  • One pound of ground beef
  • Pam or olive oil spray
  • Salt and pepper  * optional
  • Shredded cheese   * optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the frozen vegetables in the microwave following the directions on the bag. (If you don’t have access to a microwave, follow the instructions for stovetop preparation.) Drain the liquid and set aside.

Cook the ground beef in a skillet until browned. Drain the fat (NOT down the sink!), drop the heat to low, and add the cooked vegetables to the ground beef in the skillet. Stir, add salt and pepper to taste (optional), add the jar of gravy, and stir again.

Lightly spray the baking dish with Pam or olive oil spray. Pour in the meat, vegetable and gravy mixture. Press down gently with a spoon to flatten.

Open the mashed potatoes and mix with a spoon. Add heaping drops of potatoes on top of the meat mixture in the baking dish, and flatten as you work around the pan. Put the dish into the oven and bake until the potatoes are lightly golden on top. This could take between 20 – 40 minutes. When I tried out this recipe last night, it took a full 40 minutes for it to finish baking.

Pull the dish out of the oven and let it rest for about five minutes. If you want to add cheese, sprinkle the shredded cheese on top – it will melt as it rests.


Bangers and Mash

In dinner on March 25, 2012 at 11:49 am


Bangers and mash is a funny name for a dish that is really tasty and simple to make. If you can find actual “banger” sausages, it really elevates the flavor of this dish, but you may substitute chicken sausages. My local Fresh Market sells bangers for about $5 a pound, and they are delicious.


  • Baking sheet/sheet pan
  • Large saucepan
  • Colander (you may use a pot lid if you don’t have a colander)
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Something to mash the potatoes – masher, handheld mixer, strong forks


  • 1 lb banger or chicken sausages
  • 1 lb potatoes (I like to use the “gold” varieties), peeled and diced
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2 oz Greek yogurt (not fat free)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Get your prep done: peel and dice the potatoes. The key is to make the pieces as uniform in size as possible so that they will cook evenly. Next, dice the butter. This will help the butter melt more quickly.

Put the diced potatoes in a large saucepan or pot, and add enough water to cover the potatoes, along with a half-tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 20-25 minutes. The potatoes should be tender.

While the potatoes are simmering, place the sausages on the baking sheet in a single layer, and bake them for 18-20 minutes. The sausages should be just cooked through. Let them rest for about 5 minutes before cutting them.

I like to warm the milk before adding to the potatoes. You can do this in a small saucepan on the stove over low heat, or in the microwave at 50% power. You don’t want to do this at high heat or and you don’t need to do it for long.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain in a colander and then return them to the pot. Add the diced butter, Greek yogurt, milk, Dijon mustard, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Mix together with a masher or mixer until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.

You’re ready to eat! Mound a scoop of potatoes in the center of the plate. Cut a sausage diagonally in half, and place the two pieces on top.

Easy Pasta Carbonara

In dinner, pasta, Under 30 minutes on March 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Easy Pasta Carbonara

For those nights when you want something a little more than pasta with jar marinara sauce, this easy carbonara will delight your taste buds.

Pasta Carbonara

If you routinely cook pasta and add a jar of marinara sauce on top, or (horrors) if you cook a processed pasta product in the microwave, try this recipe for a palate-pleasing change of pace. It’s a basic carbonara, which simply means it contains bacon… and as we know, everything is better with bacon!

Some carbonaras use cream or milk, but my family doesn’t do well with dairy so we usually make variations on this recipe.

This recipe is sized for 1-2 people, but can easily be doubled.

TIP: Prep everything in advance, including the sauce. The pasta needs to be hot when you add the egg/cheese mixture, or the eggs won’t cook properly.


  • pot to boil pasta
  • skillet
  • knife and cutting board
  • small bowl to mix egg and Parmesan cheese
  • glass, mug or small dish for reserved pasta water
  • colander/strainer (if you don’t have one, you can use the lid for the pot to help drain the pasta water)
  • tongs (*optional)


  • 1/2 lb. of dry pasta, such as fettucine, spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. bacon (sliced into thin strips – bacon is easier to cut when it is cold)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 garlic cloves (smash and chop)
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Italian flat-leaf parsley (*optional)


Because you want the pasta to be hot when it’s time to add the egg/cheese mixture, start making the sauce first.

To make the sauce:  heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced bacon and cook until it is golden and  crispy (about 3-4 minutes). Add the chopped garlic and cook for about one minute to soften. (Burnt garlic is gross, so don’t overcook.)

Get your water boiling for the pasta. The water should be salted – “salty like the sea.”  Don’t use oil in the water! To keep the pasta from getting sticky, stir it during the first minute or two of cooking. That is when the starches begin to release into the water.

I prefer my pasta al dente, which means firm, not mushy. When the pasta is done, grab your mug or glass and scoop out about a half cup of pasta water. This is used to thin out the sauce should it become too thick. You may not need it, but it’s good to have it just in case.

Drain your pasta, and then add it to the skillet. Tongs are helpful to mix the noodles with the bacon/garlic/olive oil sauce, but you can use a fork or two to make sure the noodles are well coated with the sauce.

Now remove the skillet from the heat. This is important because if the skillet is too hot, the eggs will scramble.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and add the grated Parmesan cheese. Once it’s well mixed and the lumps are gone, add it to the pasta in the skillet. You want to mix it around quickly so that it evenly coats the noodles.  If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water, a little at a time, until it is the consistency you want. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

If you want to make it look pretty, sprinkle some chopped parsley on top.

In my picture, I’ve added some chicken. If you want to do this, just get a chicken breast, season on both sides with salt and pepper, and then cook it in the skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. (I did this in the skillet before making the sauce so I wouldn’t have to clean two pans!) Put it on a plate and let it rest; when you’re ready to serve, slice the chicken and add it on top.

Bon appetit!

Sloppy Joes

In dinner, Under 30 minutes on March 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I don’t know who Spenser is, but the Neelys (Food Network chefs) have come up with a winner recipe: Spenser’s Sloppy Joes. It’s so easy, and ridiculously good. This version sizes down the recipe to feed 1-2 (depending on whether you eat leftovers). Best of all, this is a one-skillet meal that takes less than 30 minutes. Feeling creative? Substitute or add other ingredients. (I once substituted diced carrots for the bell pepper.) Eat some tonight, and have yummy leftovers tomorrow.

TIP:  There are a few ingredients that I always keep on hand: garlic cloves (because everything is better with garlic), vegetable and olive oil, and of course, salt and pepper. I prefer to use whole garlic cloves instead of the pre-minced garlic. All you need to do is smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife blade and the papery skin will just come right off. 


  • skillet (preferably with straight sides)
  • large spoon or spatula
  • knife and cutting board
  • can opener
  • measuring cups/spoons


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 (4-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce *Look for a brand that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup.
  • 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • a few shakes of hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco) *This is optional, although I recommend it.
  • 2 hamburger buns, split
  • Barbecue sauce, for topping


Prep everything in advance – chop your vegetables and lay out all of your ingredients. I like to open the cans and measure everything out before I begin cooking.

Heat the oil in the skillet. Once it gets hot, add the bell peppers and garlic. (Here is where you can get creative – for example, if you want to include chopped onions or use up some extra carrots, this is the time to add them.)  Saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Be sure to season with salt and pepper.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the ground beef to the skillet. You want to cook the meat until it is no longer pink (about 8 minutes).

When the meat is fully cooked, add the rest of the ingredients (except for the buns, of course) and stir.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until it gets nice and thick. To serve, scoop onto a hamburger bun and top with extra sauce.