Mad-Lib Meatballs

I hate coming up with names for recipes.

After getting off to a late start this morning (see previous post, did I mention it was past 4 am when we got home?), I ran some errands and spent too much money at Younkers (but everything was on sale and I gave stuff to charity for extra discounts so its all good). And in the back of my head I was working through this idea involving turkey meatballs, potatoes and a gravy/pan sauce.

By the time I got home and settled down to make dinner, I had a general plan. This is how it played out:


1 package ground turkey (Jennie-O brand, its about 19 oz)
1/4 onion, very fine dice
2 tsp. dried basil
one egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Garlic powder
1/4 onion, diced or sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, diced or sliced
mashed garlic
1 tbs butter
1/8 cup flour + 1/4 cup water, combined
1 cup vegetable broth
seasoning of your choice- I used a Mrs. Dash salt-free Onion and Spice mix.
salt & pepper, olive oil
8-10 small potatoes, red or yellow, maybe some fingerlings, halved or quartered depending on size

Directions: NOTE: Since I was winging it completely, most measurements are approximate.

  • Saute the finely diced onion in a little olive oil with some garlic until the onions are translucent and soft. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  • While the onions are cooking, combine ground turkey, basil, egg, garlic powder (several shakes from the jar) and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl. After onions have cooled slightly, add to bowl. Stir in approximately 1/2 cup bread crumbs. The mixture should stick together easily but not be goopy from the egg or overly dry. I used Panko bread crumbs which are a little bigger than regular so keep that in mind.
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a rack on a large rimmed baking sheet and give it a shot with the non-stick spray. Roll the turkey mixture in to meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Space evenly on the rack. The rack is important here because the fat will drain away while the meatballs are cooking. We need some of the fat for a later step. Cook meatballs for 15 minutes then flip them over (this step is optional but they do look prettier this way) and bake for 10 more minutes.
  • While meatballs are in the oven, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook about 10 minutes or until potatoes just break when squeezed with tongs. Drain and keep potatoes warm.
  • While potatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. Add 1 mashed garlic clove and the 1/4 onion that was diced or sliced. Let cook about 3 minutes then add bell pepper pieces. Season with salt and pepper plus seasonings of your choice (Mrs. Dash in my case, about 1 tsp worth). Allow the peppers and onions to cook in the pan without browning or going dry. When the meatballs are done, remove from the oven. Scoop up some of the fat drippings in the bottom of the baking sheet and add to the onions and peppers. Saute about 1 minute then add vegetable broth to the pan and bring to a boil. Use a spatula to scrape up any good bits in the bottom of the pan. Stir-in the flour-water mixture then reduce heat to low. Add 1 tbls butter to further thicken the gravy.
  • To serve, puddle some gravy with peppers and onions on the plate, top with meatballs and potatoes. Drizzle additional gravy over the top and garnish with fresh chives. Steamed snap peas tossed with lemon make an excellent side dish.

From the package of turkey, I got about 14 meatballs. Each serving tonight was 4 meatballs, five or 6 pieces of potato and enough gravy to make us both happy so we have plenty for leftovers.

I think that next time, I’d use chicken broth instead of vegetable for a little more poultry flavor in the sauce.


Sitting around eating some amazingly good cinnamon raisin bread from Great Harvest (the one on W. Saginaw) this morning, Chris starting ranting about how he’s wanted some Hot Dish all week and he’s going to make it right now. Hot dish? What on earth on you talking about?

He was (and probably still is) stunned that I’d never heard of this apparently ubiquitous Midwestern dish. As it turns out, he doesn’t actually know how to make it either so a short phone call to the family yielded not one but two recipes that qualify as Hot Dish.

One uses wild rice and mushrooms which I would have preferred to make but he really wanted the other, a tomato sauce and ground meat one.

So here it is, Aunt Harriet’s HotDish with some changes:


The recipe as given: My changes:
1 1/2 lbs ground beef/chuck 1.25 ground turkey, 92% lean
1/2 tub cream cheese, softened 1/2 tub cream cheese, softened
4-5 bunches scallions 2 bunches scallions
2 cans Campbell’s Tomato Soup 1 18oz package Campbell’s select tomato soup with basil & garlic
1 package wide egg noodles about 1/3 package extra wide egg noodles (Yoders)
Corn Flakes Corn Flakes
Splash of Worcestershire A little more than a splash
1/2 yellow onion finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
smoked parpika, oregano
parmesan cheese


The directions from Aunt Harriet were pretty easy: brown the meat, drain then season with salt and pepper plus a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Mix meat with the tomato soup, green onions (which should be microwaved 3 minutes first), noodles and cream cheese in a casserole dish. Microwave 6 minutes then top with corn flakes and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. There was something about mixing sliced almonds in too but I missed that part of the conversation and Chris didn’t want them anyway.

Okay, My Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook as directed. The Yoder noodles take 20 minutes so I did the rest of the work while they cooked.

Saute yellow onion and garlic over medium heat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. After 5 minutes, add ground meat to the pan, cook until fully browned. Near the end of the cooking, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika. Next time I’ll double that. If necessary, drain the fat (not needed for 92% lean turkey).

While meat is cooking, slice green onions then microwave on high 2-3 minutes. Mix meat, green onions, tomato soup and softened cream cheese together with 1 teaspoon oregano and an 1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Pour in to casserole pan, stir in drained noodles and sprinkle Worcestershire sauce over pan, maybe a tablespoon worth.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, covered in foil. Remove foil and cover top with corn flakes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for 10 more minutes. If you’d like to brown the corn flakes, you can turn the broil on briefly but watch carefully, they burn quick!

Notes & History:

Now that I’ve made this dish and Chris has been lapping it up (3 servings already), I figured I’d try to find out what a Hot Dish is or rather Hotdish.  Lo and behold, it has its own entry on Wikipedia!

Hotdish is any of a variety of casserole dishes popular in the Midwest of the United States and especially in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and northern regions of Iowa.

It consists of a starch and a protein (meat and/or a vegetable) mixed together with a binding ingredient (most often canned soup or a sauce) and a topping.

Notice that Michigan is not on that list. And that Minnesota is, which is where Chris’s parents grew up. Interestingly, northern Iowa is also listed. My dad is from North Iowa so maybe he’s heard of Hotdish. We certainly had our share of casseroles while visiting grandma and all my aunts out in Iowa but I can’t recall ever hearing this term before.

Basically, its Hamburger Helper from scratch. Besides boosting the paprika a bit next time, I think I might try topping it with potato chips or sliced almonds next time. I’m not a big fan of corn flakes and their high fructose corn syrup.

Later this week, I’ll do the wild rice and mushroom one. We’ve already decided to modernize that one a bit by using fresh mushrooms instead of a can of ‘shrooms. It used to drive me crazy that my Iowa relatives relied so heavily on canned vegetables especially corn. No wonder people think the Midwest is boring: canned food, crazy jello/whipped cream “salads” and underseasoned foods cooked to death.

A couple of examples of Midwest cuisine I don’t really ‘get’:

  • Stuffing, at grandma’s house was usually called dressing. I guess because it didn’t actually get stuffed in the bird. This stuffing/dressing, made with bread cubes, had become a formless mush of soggy bread that reminded me of paste with about the same flavor profile. Where is the sage and rosemary? Or the pieces of walnut and celery? Maybe some cranberries or mushrooms thrown in?
  • Any dessert made from a jello mixed with a can of fruit and whipped cream. Or some combination of those three. Which is not to say that some of them aren’t tasty (a certain oreo cookie one comes to mind) but a funeral dinner I attended offered not one, not two but three versions of this salad dessert. Plus potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad- gotta love mayo!
  • Corn casserole, eaten at the height of sweet corn season. In Iowa! Land of corn and pigs! I do like corn casserole when its not overly sweet. But I still recall a July visit with the family that involved a barbecue. I suggested we get some fresh corn and boil it up to go with our burgers and chicken. And my aunts were at a loss as to why one would want fresh corn when there are 4 cans of creamed corn in the pantry. (I remember this trip so well because I made a Honey Mustard-Soy marinade for the chicken that everyone was greatly impressed by. I made it with packets of Honey Mustard from McDonald’s and Soy Sauce from a Chinese take-out. I was in 9th grade.)
  • Clam Soup made with milk, pepper and canned clams. I still give props to an ex-boyfriend of mine after he willingly and with beautifully acted gusto, shared a pot of this delicacy with my 80 year old grandmother. My mean dad sat there and watched the whole thing while graciously declining, after having been subjected to the stuff once too often I guess.

There is one foodstuff in my Iowa memory bank that may be Midwestern and may not be too healthy but really was delicious: Grandma’s biscuits. More like a roll than a biscuit, they were made for jam and honey or butter or Thanksgiving turkey leftovers or Sloppy Joes (more accurately referred to as Maid-Rites, while in Iowa). Or, probably best, fresh from the oven.

Tacos Supremo

Another one of Chris’s favorites, I like this dish because its pretty quick to put together and provides at least a day’s worth of leftovers.

 Taco Filling Ingredients:

1 lb (ish) ground turkey
1 8oz can tomato sauce
Chili Powder & Cumin
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion chopped + more to garnish as desired
olive oil


diced tomato and/or onion
shredded cheese
sour cream


Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to coat pan.  When heated, add garlic, 1 tbsp. chili powder and 1/2 tsp. cumin (I used seeds or ground, depends on what’s handy) and saute until it starts to smell really good.  Then add onion and cook until onions are starting to soften.  Add ground turkey, breaking up the meat into smaller chunks as it cooks.  When most of the turkey is browned, add another 1 tbls. chili powder and  1 tsp. cumin and the cayenne pepper along with the tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to low-medium until turkey is cooked through and sauce thickens slightly.

While the filling is cooking, chop up onion and tomato plus what ever other fillings you like. Last time, we had avocado (just diced), tomato/onion, cheese and sour  cream. 

You can either heat up the tortillas between two damp paper towels in the microwave (45-60 seconds on high, flip over half-way through) or heat them individually in a dry frying pan.

Served with Lazy-girl Salsa and chips.

TIps and Options

You can use a taco seasoning mix if you want.  Just try to find something that is mostly spices and not a lot of fillers.  I’ve done a combination of the two before- a packet mix and 1/2 the cumin and chili powder.

I generally use burrito size flour tortillas because that is what Chris prefers. Buy them from the refrigerated section or look for ones from a local shop. 

Feeling really ambitious?  Try making your own corn tortillas. I have the tortilla press which is really useful but just use a nice heavy skillet to cook them instead of the comal.  Don’t buy the expensive electric tortilla maker.  Its heavy, overpriced and the machine makes this horrible screaming sound when you press the tortillas.  (You can make your own flour tortillas but its a little less fun than corn ones, I think).

Adjust the seasonings to your liking- Of course!. Consider buying pureed tomatoes with jalapenos mixed in although I like the thicker sauce that comes from the tomato sauce.

Psgetti and Meatballs

More fun with ground turkey tonight. Orginally, I was going to make 1 batch of turkey meatballs and 1 batch with ground beef but Chris thought the ground beef was getting too old.


19 oz of ground turkey (the pre-package size from the store)
1/2 bell pepper, red or orange, diced extra small
1/2 onion, diced very small
1 tablespoon roasted garlic mash
1 egg
garlic powder
oregano, dried
smoked paprika
salt & pepper
fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a shallow baking pan with non-stick spray

No real measurements here on the spices. I just mixed it all in till it smelled good. It was about 6-8 leaves of basil. Mix all together and form in to balls about 1 inch big. Place the meatballs on the baking pan. I was able to get 18 meatballs from the mix.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Now, at this point, I realized it would have been better to place the meatballs on a metal rack in the pan so the fat would drain away. But I don’t have one of those- need to pick one up this week! Instead, I took the pan out after 20 minutes and removed the meatballs to a platter, leaving most of the fat behind.

And that’s meatballs!

While they cooked, I sauteed some onion slices and chopped peppers in a bit of olive oil. Add the pasta sauce of your choice and heat through. Add the meatballs to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve over angel hair or other pasta of your choice.

Tonight, we used a creamy cheese tomato sauce. This recipe would work with any sauce though.

Things I might do different next time:

  1. Saute the diced onion and peppers for the meatballs first. I think they’d mix with the meat better.
  2. Use the rack to allow the fat to drain.
  3. Use a more Marinara style sauce and finish cooking the meatballs in the sauce.

Chris liked this dish and I made plenty for leftovers. I liked this dish because you can get 3 servings of vegetables in one dish and yet still eat “comfort food” like spaghetti and meatballs.

Not fresh or homemade but we also had some garlic bread, that frozen loaf stuff. It was ‘eh.’ But it worked out well as Chris preferred the cheesier side and I liked the more garlic butter side so we didn’t have to argue over it!

Turkey-Mushroom Noodle Leftovers

Seems only fitting that this be the first recipe I post- something I made up based on a quick phone call, to fit the fridge contents.
It needs a name beyond Turkey Mushroom Noodle Leftovers but that will do for now.


16 oz ground turkey (I use lean- 7% fat)
8 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (2 palmfuls for me)
2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
Egg Noodles, 4 oz dried
Salt & Pepper
Fresh parsley to garnish


Bring water to a boil in a large pot for egg noodles.

In large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute 1-2 minutes. Add minced garlic, continue to cook, seasoning with 1 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste. When onions are fully softened but not browned, add 1 tablespoon butter and the mushrooms.

Add egg noodles to their pot, cook as directed on package. I used Yoder’s Egg Noodles which require 20 minutes of cooking time.

Continue to cook mushrooms and onions until mushrooms release their liquid and the pan starts to dry. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and scrap the bottom of the pan. Saute one minute more then add ground turkey to pan, breaking it in to chunks as it cooks. Add second teaspoon of thyme, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Keep on medium heat until turkey is mostly browned then reduce to medium-low. If the pan seems dry, add up to 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth or water. Keep at medium-low until noodles are ready. There should be a small amount of liquid in the pan.

When noodles are done, drain well then add to pan with turkey-mushroom mixture. Stir to combine then remove from heat. Add 1/4 cup grated cheese and 1/2 cup whipping cream. Stir to melt cheese and allow sauce to thicken.

Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley. Excellent with steamed green beans or asparagus on the side.

Serves 4

The first night I made this, Chris called from the grocery store and asked “What can you make with ground turkey?” I’m guessing it was on sale. I looked in the pantry and saw the egg noodles at the front. We had mushrooms, large pre-sliced portabellas, and half an onion in the fridge. Truthfully, I started thinking about some old Hamburger Helper memories. And I know that Chris loves this Wild Mushroom Pastadish I make (from Cooking Light magazine).

I really didn’t know what Beef Stroganoff was but thought it was noodles and meat and onions in some kind of creamy sauce. So, I said I’d make that but with turkey. I told him to grab a container of cream then hung up to dash over to the computer and find out what I just promised to make.

Turns out Stroganoff isn’t usually made with ground meat. And its a sour cream based sauce that usually includes some red wine. But I had mushrooms and onions right! Thyme was listed in several recipes, so I used that as my main seasoning. I thought about red wine vinegar but we didn’t have any- just balsamic. We do have red wine- a lot of it- but I didn’t want to open a bottle for just this and it was a “school” night.

I plated the food served with green beans the first time; let Chris start eating and I waited for a reaction. He didn’t say much at first but I heard a few ‘mmms’, then he got up and put more on his plate. Guess that means its good!

Tonight, I made it for the second time and tried to track my ingredient amounts. That being said, its still a best guess on those seasonings. And the post-dinner verdict: Chris actually licked his plate! Until I gave him a piece of french bread and reminded him that he’s 30, not 3.

And he mentioned that if I wanted to make a double batch of this once a week, he could eat it for leftovers and lunch all week. This, from the guy that hates leftovers and won’t eat anything more than 3 days old in the fridge including deli lunchmeats. Speaking from my personal experience, it reheats wonderfully.


Good Food? 

  • Likes the taste
  • Uses fresh whole ingredients
  • Price per serving is low, less than $3
  • Whipping Cream and onions were locally sourced

Yep, good food!

BTW, Hamburger Helper was one of the first things I learned how to “cook”, as a junior high student. That and Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes