Recipes: Making the Grade

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The bell has rung and while you might not be going back to school, it doesn’t mean you don’t crave classic childhood comfort foods. Here are a few that are as perfect as ABC and easy as 123.

The Best Beef Chili

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium white onions, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

2½ lbs ground beef

1 (28oz) tin diced tomatoes
1 (5.5oz) tin tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2½ cups canned red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Sour cream
Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
Sliced jalapeno pepper
Corn tortillas

1) In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and stir often, cooking 4 minutes. Add diced red pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika, cocoa powder, salt, oregano, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1 minute to combine spices, stirring continuously. Add the ground beef and cook 10 minutes until no longer pink. Break beef up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth and cider vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kidney beans and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes more.

2) Serve topped with sour cream, cheddar on Monterey Jack cheese, sliced jalapeño and/or fried tortilla strips (cut corn tortillas into thin strips, fry in 1-inch of oil for 1-2 minutes and season with a little salt).

Serves 8-10

Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Shells

2 cups tomato sauce

24 jumbo macaroni shells

8 oz macaroni noodles
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
3 cups whole milk
3 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1 tsp kosher salt

Cracker Topping
15 Ritz Crackers, crushed
1 tbsp butter, melted

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 13×9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread tomato sauce evenly over the bottom set aside.

2) In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the jumbo macaroni shells according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water set aside. In the same pot cook macaroni noodles in lightly salted boiling water until tender drain, rinse and set aside.

3) While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, stirring continuously for 2 minutes, making sure it is free of lumps. Add milk slowly, continuing to whisk. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook mixture for 10 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese and salt. Fold the smaller cooked macaroni noodles into the cheese mixture. Spoon about 2 tbsp of macaroni and cheese mixture into cooked jumbo shells and place stuffed shells over tomato sauce in the prepared baking dish.

4) For the topping, in a small bowl mix together crushed Ritz crackers and the melted butter until all the crumbs are moistened sprinkle evenly over stuffed shells.
Bake covered for 30 minutes, remove cover and continue to bake for 10 minutes more.

Serves 8-10

Bottomless Bowl Chicken Lasagna

1 tbsp olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cups chicken broth
1 (28oz/796ml) can diced tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

6 oven-ready lasagna noodles, broken

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup ricotta cheese, for topping
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, for topping
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

1) Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté chicken for 4 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in carrots, mushrooms and onions, cooking an additional 4-5 minutes.

2) Add broth, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for 5 minutes. Turn heat to high and return to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until tender.3) In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and a ladle of liquid from the soup pot. Mix to combine and stir into pot, thickening the broth.

4) Spoon the stew into bowls and top each serving with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Serves 6


Sweet & Sticky Honey-Baked Chicken Wings

3 lbs chicken wings, split, wing-tip removed
1 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp Heinz chili sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1) Coat a 13×9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place the wings in the dish and set aside.

2) In a small saucepan, combine honey, soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, chili sauce, garlic powder and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, pour honey mixture over chicken wings. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

3) Preheat oven to 375°F. 4) Remove wings from refrigerator and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in marinade for 55 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove foil cover and bake wings for an additional 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Serves 6

Parmesan Chicken Fingers

Chicken Fingers
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 cup butter, melted

Honey Mustard Dip
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey

Parmesan Dip
3 tbsp freshly ground Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch of kosher salt

Sweet Ketchup Dip
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1) For the chicken fingers, preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Cut each chicken breast into 4 or 5 lengthwise strips. Place eggs in a medium bowl. In another bowl, combine Parmesan, panko, oregano, salt, pepper and paprika. Dip chicken pieces in eggs, letting any excess drip off, then dredge in Parmesan-panko mixture, pressing to adhere. Place on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle chicken strips with melted butter and bake 8 minutes. Flip the strips and bake for another 8 minutes, until cooked through and crisp on the outside.

2) For the honey mustard dip, in a small bowl, whisk mayonnaise Dijon and honey until combined.

3) For the Parmesan dip, in a small bowl, whisk Parmesan, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, garlic powder and a pinch of salt until combined.

4) For the ketchup dip, in a small bowl, combine ketchup, honey and Worcestershire sauce. All dips can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve.

Serves 4-6

Sweet & Sour Pineapple Meatballs

2 lbs lean ground beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Sweet and Sour Pineapple Sauce
3 cups canned pineapple chunks, with syrup
1 3/4 cup Heinz chili sauce
1 cup cubed red bell pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup water

1) For the meatballs, preheat oven to 500°F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, breadcrumbs, milk, eggs, salt and pepper until combined. Add 2 handfuls of very cold water to the bowl and mix until combined. Shape the beef mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and drain on paper towel.

3) For the sauce, in a large saucepan, combine pineapple chunks (with syrup), chili sauce, red peppers, soy sauce, vinegar and brown sugar. Place cornstarch in a small dish, stir in 1 cup of water until smooth and add to saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, continuously stirring until sauce thickens. Gently stir meatballs into sauce, cooking until heated through.

Serves 8-10

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Roasted Tomato Soup
2 (28oz/796ml) cans diced tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 dried bay leaf
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Grilled Cheese Croutons
4 slices white bread
2 tbsp margarine
2 slices cheddar cheese

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Strain tomatoes, reserving their juices in a medium bowl. Spread strained tomatoes on prepared baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and season with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Roast in oven for 15 minutes.

2) While the tomatoes are roasting, in a large soup pot, heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic, cooking until softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour and stir to coat. Over high heat, add the roasted tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer, cover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes.

3) Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and puree the soup (using a hand held or countertop blender) until smooth. Stir in 2 tbsp butter and chopped basil.

4) For the croutons, spread margarine on both sides of bread slices. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and place 2 slices in the pan. Top each with 1 slice of cheese and place remaining bread slices on the cheese. Cook for 2 minutes, until underside is golden brown, flip and cook 1-2 minutes more. Remove from pan, cooling a few minutes before slicing. Cut into 1-inch squares and sprinkle a small handful on each bowl of soup.

Serves 10-12