Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Ugh, so the weather has been soooo coooold here in Chicago recently.  We took a huge plunge from Fall to Winter in a couple of days and we aren’t looking back!  Cubs are gone, the big coats are out, and Wrigleyville is empty…guys, Winter is here.

Nothing goes better with a cold Winter than hot soup…specifically, beef stew.  I love beef stew so reminds me of cold nights by the fireplace in Oklahoma City with my family.  Nothing says home like stew.

This recipe is very easy and makes a lot of food!  You and your family will get to enjoy the taste of home for several days.

In case you don’t eat meat, I have included some alternatives if you want to do a vegetarian/vegan version.  This recipe would be just as delicious without the beef…just to be sure add more vegetables so the stew stays nice and hearty!

Here’s what you’ll need:


  • carrots, sliced – 6
  • celery, sliced – 6
  • onions, sliced – 2
  • potatoes, diced – 3 pounds
  • garlic, minced – 2 cloves

Note:  If doing vegetarian, be sure to pick up some additional vegetables!  16 ounces of whole mushrooms or 3-4 turnips!  This will help to make the stew nice and hearty.


  • allspice – sprinkle
  • bay leaves – 4
  • paprika – 1 tsp
  • pepper – 1 tsp
  • salt – 2 tsp

Pantry Items

  • beef stock (or veggie if vegetarian) – 4 cups
  • Worcestershire – 2 tbsp
  • sugar – 2 tsp
  • cornstarch – 4 tbsp
  • vegetable or olive oil – 4 tbsp


  • water – 2 1/2 cups

Meat (optional)

  • beef stew meat – 4 pounds

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven.

Add the stew meat.

photo 1

Brown all sides, about 5 minutes.

photo 2

Add the sliced onion.

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Add all the herbs/spices, Worcestshire sauce, garlic, beef stock and 2 cups of water.

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Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cover for 1 hour.

Add the carrots, celery and potato to the stew.  Bring to a boil once again, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.

Remove from heat when vegetables are tender.

To thicken the stew up, mix the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water together in a small bowl.  Add this mixture (called a slurry) to the hot stew and stir.  Heat a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken!


photo 51

Week Summary for 10/13

Here the list of all the groceries that are needed for the recipes during the week of October 13th, 2013.  I have also included the link to the recipes below:

Cuban Baked Chicken and Yellow Rice

Greek Pasta Bake

Teriyaki Salmon and Rice Noodles


  • baby spinach – 2 bags
  • cherry tomatoes – 2 pints
  • crimini mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • garlic cloves – 5
  • leek – 2
  • mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • onion – 2
  • red pepper – 1
  • yellow pepper – 1


  • butter – just over 1/2 cup
  • eggs – 3
  • milk – 4 cups
  • parmesan cheese – 1 1/4 cup


  • allspice – 1/2 tsp
  • cinnamon – 1 tbsp
  • cumin – 1/2 tsp
  • nutmeg – sprinkle
  • oregano – 2 tsp
  • pepper
  • salt
  • turmeric – 1/2 tsp

Frozen goods

  • peas 1 1/2 cups
  • sugar snap peas – 2 pounds

Pantry Items

  • flour – 1 cup
  • mirin – 4 tbsp
  • olive oil
  • red wine, dry – 1/2 cup
  • rice – 1 1/2 cups
  • rice noodles – 3 packages
  • soy sauce – 1 cup
  • sugar – 4 tsp
  • tomato paste – 1/4 cup
  • veggie stock – 3 cups
  • tomatoes, whole – 1 can
  • ziti – 1 pound

Meat (optional)

  • ground turkey – 2 pounds
  • salmon – 2 pounds
  • whole chicken – 1

Feel free to leave me your feedback about the recipes or let me know if you have any questions.

Here’s to easy cooking!


Teriyaki Salmon and Rice Noodles

Final recipe for the week!

I cannot emphasize enough how easy this recipe was.  Marinating the salmon gives it so much flavor, then you can use the marinade liquid as sauce for the dish…how much easier can it be!?

You should be able to throw this recipe together in a half hour or so.  You will get 8 servings which is enough to feed a family of four for two nights!

Feel free to use any  mushrooms you like!  You can also add any additional vegetables.  This recipe is very flexible, so make it what you want!

Here is what you’ll need:


  • soy sauce – 1 cup
  • mirin – 4 tbsp
  • sugar – 4 tsp
  • salmon – 2 lbs
  • cherry tomatoes – 1 pint
  • baby spinach – 2 bags
  • crimini mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • rice noodles – 3 packages (8-9 servings worth)
  • olive oil

First step, mix the marinade ingredients together in a large Tupperware.  Add the salmon and marinate at least an hour, recommended overnight.

photo 1

Begin to soak your rice noodles at least a half an hour before you plan to eat.

After the salmon has marinated, heat olive oil in a skillet over high heat.

Brown each side of the salmon, about 3-4 minutes each (until golden brown).

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Left Brain Tip:  If you have really thick pieces of salmon, searing the sides may not cook it all the way through.  Feel free to sear it, then back it at 350 for another 10 minutes or so.  You are going to shred the salmon anyway for the recipe, so go ahead and cut it in half to make sure it’s cooked to your level of preferred done-ness.  

Remove salmon from skillet and put on a plate.  Cover the plate in foil.  This will help keep the salmon warm and will help it to cook through.

Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven.

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the oil.

photo 11

Cook both until the mushrooms soften and the potatoes begin to blister.  The tomatoes should be easily pobable…feel free to use the back of your spoon or spatula to pop them.  This adds great flavor to the dish.

Add the first bag of spinach.

photo 31

Let this wilt down a bit so you have room to add the second bag.

photo 41

Once the second bag begins to wilt, add the remaining juices from the marinade.  Let the mixture simmer together for about 5 minutes.

Left Brain Tip:  If you want the marinade juice to thicken up, feel free to add cornstarch.  Just mix about 2 tsp of corn starch with 1/4 cup of water in a separate bowl, then add to the pot.  Sauce should thicken as heated.

Divy up the noodles between 8 servings.  Spoon the mixture over the top of the noodles.  Shred the salmon and put on top of the noodles and veggie.  You should be able to get at least 8 servings.  3-4 ounces of salmon per serving should be plenty!

photo 15

So healthy, so yummy, so easy!!!!

*Greek Pasta Bake recipe

This recipe was such a great way to make lots of food all at once.  The pound of pasta easily makes 10 servings when you serve a vegetable on the side.  It is rich and delicious and is sure to be a family favorite.  The bechamel sauce on tops makes for a beautiful, brown topping over the pasta.

It might look like a complicated recipe, but it is really just 3 sections…the meat sauce, the bechamel and the pasta itself.  Don’t let the multiple parts overwhelm you as you can do them all very quickly.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the meat sauce:

  • olive oil
  • ground turkey – 2 lbs (you can use ground lamb or beef, but I used turkey for a healthier option)
  • onion, chopped – 1
  • garlic, minced – 3 cloves
  • red wine, dry – 1/2 cup
  • tomato paste – 1/4 cup
  • cinnamon – 1 tbsp
  • allspice – 1/2 tsp
  • whole tomatoes, canned – 1 (14 oz)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel

  • butter, unsalted – 1/2 cup
  • flour – 1 cup
  • milk, 1% – 5 cups
  • parmesan, grated – 1 cup
  • egg yolks – 3
  • nutmeg – 1 pinch
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the pasta

  • ziti – 1 lb
  • olive oil – drizzle
  • egg whites – 3
  • parmesan – 1/4 cup

The first step is to start heating your pasta water.  Be sure to add plenty of salt!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Put your five cups of milk in a pot and begin to heat over medium-high heat.  Be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch!

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add a drizzle of olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions.

photo 1

Cook onions for about 5 minutes until they start to become translucent.

Add the ground turkey and garlic to the pan.

photo 2

Cook until turkey is browned.

photo 3

Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon and allspice.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes.

photo 4

While the sauce is cooking, start your bechamel.

Tip:  Your water should be close to boiling now.  Once it is, add your pasta and cook as directed.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk.

photo 5

Add the scalded milk and whisk until smooth.

photo 11

Remove sauce from heat and add parmesan, egg yolks, nutmeg and salt and pepper.  Stir to incorporate.

Tip:  Sauce should be thick enough that it covers the back of a spoon.

Pasta should be done by now.  Drain.

Add egg whites, a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan to pasta.  Stir to incorporate.

photo 21

Now you are ready to bake it:

Layer the sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.

photo 31

Add the noodles on top of the sauce.

photo 41

Cover the noodles with the bechamel sauce.

photo 51

Bake this in the oven for 45 minutes until top is golden brown.


Can you even handle how good that looks!  The bechamel looks beautiful on top!  I was able to cut this into 10 pieces and serve alongside some snap peas.  The recipe can be found here:

Italian Snap Peas with Tomatoes

photo 46

Enjoy!  This was a hit in our household all around!

September 22, 2013: Full week recipes and grocery list

As promised, here is the summary for this past week of food, including our final recipe for Mac and Veggies!  Just to recap, this week we made Thai Noodles (with tofu or chicken), Zucchini Lou and Mac and Veggies!

photo 41Thai Chicken with Rice Noodles

photo 4

Zucchini Lou

photoMac and Veggies

Here is the corresponding grocery list!


  • broccoli – 2 cups
  • carrot – 8
  • garlic cloves – 4
  • green pepper – 2
  • lime – 4
  • mushrooms – 24 ounces
  • onion – 4
  • tomatoes – 3
  • zucchini – 6


  • basil (dried) – 1 tsp
  • black pepper – to taste
  • cilantro (fresh) – 1/4 cup
  • crushed red pepper – 2 pinches
  • cumin – 2 tsp
  • marjoram (dried) – 1 tsp
  • oregano (dried) – 1 tsp
  • parsley (fresh) – 3/4 cup
  • salt – to taste


  • cheddar cheese – 3 cups
  • cottage cheese – 1 cup
  • eggs – 2
  • feta cheese – 1 cup
  • heavy cream – 1/4 cup


  • brown sugar – 4 tbsp
  • light coconut milk – 1 cup
  • diced tomatoes – 1 can
  • fish sauce – 2 tbsp
  • flour – 2 tbsp
  • macaroni noodles – 1 lb (16 ounces)
  • olive oil
  • red curry paste – 4 tsp
  • rice (brown or white) – 2 cups
  • rice noodles – 2 packages (6.75 ounces each)
  • rice vinegar – 1/2 cup
  • soy sauce – 1 tbsp
  • tomato paste – 2 tbsp
  • veggie stock – 1/2 cup

Meat (optional)

  • chicken breast – 4
  • ground beef – 1 lb
  • ground turkey – 1 lb

*If you are vegetarian, get one package of tofu this week!

I hope you enjoyed all the recipes from this week!  As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to ask through comments and I will be quick to answer!  I hope you are finding this system useful for creating hearty and healthy meals for you and your family.  With my help, cooking as never been healthier and planning has never been easier!

Here’s to easy cooking!

-The Left Brain Chef

September 11, 2013: Mid-week recipes and grocery list

So here we are….it’s Wednesday and some of you might be wondering what you are going to do to feed your family for the rest of the week.

The middle of the week is always a challenge with food.  It’s easy to be motivated at the beginning of the week, but once the week really starts picking up, it gets harder to make time for a home-cooked meal.

For those of you who are looking for a healthy, cost effective way to feed your family for the next 5 days, I have the perfect two recipes for you.  Both of these recipes are so simple and are packed with nutrition and flavor.  They are guaranteed to please the whole family.

Pot Roast Pot Pie

Spicy Chicken Penne


Not only will I give you the recipes, but here is an organized grocery list to help you out at the store!


  • Baby carrots – 1 bag
  • Baby spinach – 2 bags
  • Garlic – 4 cloves
  • Mushrooms – 6
  • Onion – 2
  • Red potatoes – 1 bag
  • Shallot – 1


  • Artichoke hearts, quartered – 2
  • Corn, frozen – 1 cup
  • Peas, frozen – 1/2 cup
  • Pie crust, refrigerated (quantity of 2 per box)


  • Cilantro – 1/4 cup
  • Crushed red pepper – to taste


  • Butter – 2 tbsp
  • Egg – 1
  • Milk, skim – 2 cups
  • Mozzarella, grated – 1/2 cup
  • Parmesan, grated – 1/8 cup


  • Flour – 3 cups
  • Penne – 16 ounces
  • Stock – 6 cups (48 ounces)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Meat (optional)

  • Chicken – 4 breasts
  • Pot roast – 10 ounces (or any leftover amount)

These recipes together yield 22 servings of food.  For a family of 4, that’s over 5 dinners!  These recipes are so simple that you could throw them together in under an hour…5 nights of food for under a hour of work….you just can’t beat that rate of return!

Both of these recipes can easily be made vegetarian by eliminating the meat.  Even without the meat, the flavor will still be wonderful.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.  Feel free to cook right along with me or ask me any questions you like.  I love to talk food.  Trust me, this method of cooking in bulk has saved me so much time without sacrificing health and flavor.  I do the planning, you cook the food…it’s that simple.

Here’s to easy cooking!

-The Left Brain Chef

Rosh Hashanah Dinner

It has been a couple of days since my last post…sorry, I was in a sort of food coma after the wonderful dinner on Thursday evening!  This menu is one of my favorites so far.  The brisket was a great center of the meal, but all the fresh veggies on the side put it over the top.  I was also surprised at how quickly the meal came together.

Any time I cook for a group, I always like to cook extra to make sure I have a couple of meals left over.  All-in-all, the food made about 9-10 servings of food, which is great.  I was able to feed the 6 people at the dinner party and have lunch the next day!

The brisket recipe I used made one of the best briskets I have ever had.  It was labelled as “Sweet and Sour Brisket” which sounded interesting….plus, it had almost 5 stars.  When selecting recipes, I never choose below 4 stars.  That usually eliminates a lot of the mediocre recipes.

I started with a 5 pound brisket.  Any time you cook large hunks of meat, you always want to sear it first.  This helps give the meat a nice, brown outside and it helps to lock in the juices.  So, I cut my large, flat 5 pound brisket into 2 equal pieces and seared each side in separate skillets.  I seared one half in a dutch oven that I later used to cook the meat over low heat for several hours.

Tip: To properly sear meat, heat oil over high heat in a skillet.  Add the meat and cook about 5 minutes.  You’ll know it’s properly seared when the meat can be pulled up without sticking to the skillet.  If it sticks, give it a few minutes more.

Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl:  1 cup water, 1 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 onions (sliced), 2 garlic cloves (minced), 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon salt.

Put both halves of the meat in a large pot or dutch oven (I prefer the dutch oven).  Add the ingredients you mixed in the bowl.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook on the stove for 2 1/2 hours.

ImageTip:  Since I had two pieces stacked on top of each other, I rotated the pieces every half hour to ensure both pieces were cooked equally.  Also, make sure the each piece is placed fat side up.

This brisket recipes is great because it only takes about 10 minutes of prep, then it just sits and cooks for 2 1/2 hours (and you can get busy working on the side dishes)!

The next dish I tackled was the scallop potatoes.  These take the second longest to cook so you want to get them in the oven about an hour before the brisket finishes.  This is a delicious dish that is easy to throw together.  Always a hit!

The longest part of the whole process is prepping the potatoes.  I used a 5 pound bag of russet potatoes.  Peel all the potatoes and slice them very thin.  If you have a mandolin, I recommend using it.  Or use a food processor.  If you don’t have either of these and have to do it by hand, just do your best to cut each slice the same width.  This will ensure that all the potatoes are cooked evenly.

Once potatoes are sliced, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large skillet.

Tip:  For a healthier option, mix 3 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

Once butter is melted, whisk in 6 tablespoons of flour until smooth.  Once smooth, whisk in 3 cups of milk (any kind).

Tip:  Have the milk already measured out so you can add it as soon as the flour is incorporated.  The butter/flour mixture can brown very quickly so you want to add the milk before that happens.

Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.  Turn heat to low.

Put a layer of sliced potatoes to cover the bottom of a large casserole.  Pour half of the pan sauce over the potatoes to cover.  Add grated cheddar cheese to this layer.

Add another layer of potatoes.  Add the rest of the sauce and another layer of cheddar cheese.

Add final layer of potatoes and another layer of cheddar cheese.  Sprinkle salt and paprika over the top layer.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour fifteen minutes.  (If potato slices are thicker, then the cook time will increase)

Once you put potatoes in the oven, you will begin prepping the stuffed peppers.  You will need 5 red peppers to make 10 servings.


Slice each pepper in half.  Keep the stem in place if you can as it gives the plate a great look.  Remove the seeds from inside of each pepper.

Tip:  I just use a medium side spoon and scrape the inside.


(Doesn’t that green stem look good!?)

Next, mince 3 garlic cloves and 4 tablespoons of Kalamata olives (if you don’t like olives, just omit them).

Dice five tomatoes.  Mix the garlic, olives and tomatoes together in a bowl.

Spoon the tomato mixture into each of the pepper halves.  Sprinkle the halves with feta cheese.

Drizzle the peppers with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees (until peppers are soft and browned without being mushy).

On to my favorite part of the meal; the sauteed mushrooms.  I love mushrooms so much and I found a great way to serve them as a side dish.

You will need 64 ounces of mushrooms.  This can be eight 8-ounce packages, or 4 16-ounce packages, whichever is cheaper.  Make sure the mushrooms are whole, not sliced.  Rinse the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Place the mushrooms button side down.  Cook until brown (about 5 minutes).

photo 3

Once the tops are golden brown, place the mushrooms on their sides.  Add 1/4 cup of white wine to the skillet.  Squeeze a lemon over the top of the mushrooms.  Sprinkle with garlic salt.

photo 4

(I love the color of these mushrooms…scrumptious!)

Cook mushrooms for another 5 minutes, continuing to shake the pan to rotate the mushrooms.  Cook until tender.

Tip:  Taste, taste, taste!  Once the mushrooms begin to soften, go ahead and try one.  If you like yours saltier, add more salt.  If you like lemon, add more lemon.  Mushrooms can taste like whatever you want, so make sure you add enough flavor to your liking. 

Repeat these steps until you have all the mushrooms you want!  I found that 64 ounces made about 10 servings.

When your timer for the brisket goes off, remove it from the pot and place on a large plate.  Cover with tin foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes (preferably 30 if you have the time).

After the meat has rested, cut the meat into slices.

Tip:  Always cut across the grain to make sure the meat stays nice and juicy.  What this means is, look at the meat and see which way the fibers are going.  Do not cut the same direction as the fibers, but cut perpendicular to them.

Place all of these dishes on one or two large platters.  The colors go great together.  Sprinkle some parsley over you mushrooms to give them a nice pop.  Don’t forget to drizzle some of the juices from the brisket onto to the meat.  There’s a ton of flavor in there!

              photo 5photo 6photo 9

It was a wonderful meal!  I was very pleased with every dish and will make these all again in the future.  Happy New Year!

Ingredient Summary


  • 5 pound brisket
  • Water – 1 cup
  • Ketchup – 1 cup
  • Apple cider vinegar – 1/2 cup
  • Onions, sliced – 2
  • Garlic, minced – 2 cloves
  • Brown sugar – 3/4 cup
  • Salt – 1 tbsp

Scalloped Potatoes

  • Potatoes, sliced – 5 lb bag
  • Butter – 6 tbsp (or 3 tbsp butter, 3 tbsp olive oil, for a healthier option)
  • Flour – 6 tbsp
  • Milk – 3 cups
  • Cheddar cheese – 1 1/2 cups
  • Paprika

Stuffed Peppers

  • Red peppers, halved – 5
  • Garlic cloves, minced – 3
  • Kalamata olives, minced – 4 tbsp
  • Tomatoes, diced – 5
  • Feta cheese – 1/4 cup
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Sauteed mushrooms

  • Button mushrooms – 64 ounces (8 eight-ounce packages, or 4 sixteen-ounce packages
  • Olive oil
  • Wine – 3/4 cup
  • Lemon – 3
  • Garlic salt – to taste

Servings: 10