Bacon Wrapped, Cauliflower Stuffed Meatballs

It seems the cauliflower craze has managed to last longer than just about any other that’s come before it. A total superstar when it comes to all the popular diets currently on everyone’s radar, including keto, paleo & whole 30. All signs point to cauliflower becoming the longest lasting food trend of all time.

Cauliflower ….. a naturally gluten-free food that just requires heavy seasoning, is healthy, versatile and ‘tasteless’. Its an entirely blank canvas for all your cooking needs because you can make it taste like ‘anything’ you want.

Last summer, Brion & I stopped for lunch at a popular take-out restaurant. He decided to try their much advertised ‘plant-based burger’. He was not impressed. Let’s say … it was not as advertised!!

In a previous blog, a while back, I had made cauliflower pizza crust and we had really enjoyed it. So today I am making meatballs stuffed with cauliflower in a cauliflower cheese sauce. I guess, this is my version of a ‘plant-based meatball’. Hopefully that works out better.

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Bacon Wrapped, Cauliflower Stuffed Meatballs
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Instructions
Meatballs
  1. In a large pot, cook head of cauliflower in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove the stem & cut off florets. Set STEM aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, with eggs, onion, garlic, mustard & spices. Mix well. Divide meat mixture into 7 equal amounts & flatten each piece in your hand (one at a time). Place a cauliflower floret in the middle of each, then seal the meat around it forming a meatball.
  3. Wrap a slice of bacon around each cauliflower meatball. In a saucepan, heat a small amount of oil over medium heat & cook the meatballs on all sides.
Cheese Sauce
  1. Chop the reserved cauliflower stem. Shred cheese & place in a food processor with milk, seasonings & chopped cauliflower stem. Puree mixture until smooth.
  2. Pour the cauliflower cheese sauce over the meatballs in the pan & allow to simmer about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted & smooth. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Braided Pork Tenderloin w/ Pineapple Stuffing

EASTER GREETINGS!

Easter is synonymous with spring, it represents a time of renewal. The winter months are now in our rear view mirrors and we can look forward to those wonderful summer days. Fresh new buds are on the trees, just waiting to burst out as the season unfolds. Everything speaks of new life and fresh hope. Spring is so unique (even if we still have snow on the ground in our part of the country).

Though ham is traditional in many homes, there are just as many people who would prefer something different for dinner on Easter Sunday. Holiday cooking is all about making a meal that feels more special than what you would cook on a regular basis.

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite meats due to its tenderness and versatility. This meal started out with an idea to stuff a tenderloin and developed into so much more. I must say, I was even more pleased with the final results when we both enjoyed it.

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Braided Pork Tenderloin w/ Pineapple Stuffing
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Tenderloin Rub
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Tenderloin Rub
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Instructions
Pineapple Stuffing
  1. Drain pineapple; reserving 1/3 cup juice. In a large saucepan, melt margarine. Add walnuts, celery & sage; cook stirring until celery is tender-crisp. Stir in green onions, pineapple & reserved juice. Remove from heat; toss in cornbread stuffing mix & set aside.
Tenderloin
  1. Using a sharp knife starting 3-inches from end, slice tenderloin lengthwise twice; making 3 equal strips. Carefully take the knife & cut pockets lengthwise every 3-inches in the center of each of the tenderloin strips. Spread the combined rub ingredients over meat & allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before continuing with preparation.
  2. When meat is marinated, stuff each pocket with pineapple stuffing. Place a strip of bacon along each tenderloin strip. Braid the stuffed tenderloin/bacon by crossing the right section over the middle section then the left section over the new middle section. Continue until you run out of tenderloin.
  3. Insert a wooden or metal skewer into the end of braided tenderloin to keep it together. Tuck in the remaining stuffing mixture in the folds of the braid.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 160 F. Remove from oven & loosely cover with foil. Allow to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing. Serve with pineapple salsa.
Pineapple Salsa
  1. In a large skillet, combine pineapple, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, red onion, cumin, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil & cook over medium-high heat until thickened, 7-10 minutes. If there is still a lot of liquid left, use a slotted spoon to transfer the pineapple to a bowl & continue to cook the liquid over high heat for 5 minutes more, then pour the liquid over the pineapple. Mix in the onions & cilantro. Season with salt to taste.

Wiener Schnitzel

Today, March 21st, our family honors the memory of my father on his birth date. Being of German decent, my dad always enjoyed having meals he recalled from his childhood. My mother excelled at cooking, so I can only imagine that she got the ‘taste of his memory’ perfect. A meal that dad enjoyed but was not one that came up very often at our house, was ‘wiener schnitzel’.

‘Wiener schnitzel’ is actually a geographically protected term in Germany and Austria and can only be made with veal. In researching this subject, I came across at least eleven more versions of schnitzel which still followed the preparation techniques of the original wiener schnitzel. In addition to different types of meat used, a schnitzel can be served with a topping or a filling.

As usual, I’m doing an oven-fried version instead of pan frying in oil or butter. It would be so nice if Brion and I could be sharing this meal with my Mom & Dad today.

Time slips by and life goes on,

But from our hearts your never gone,

We think about you always, we talk about you too,

WE HAVE SO MANY MEMORIES BUT WE WISH WE STILL HAD YOU.

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Wiener Schnitzel
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Course Main Dish
Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly oil a wire rack & place over a baking sheet.
  2. Place each cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap & pound with a meat mallet until about 1/4-inch thick.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper & milk. Place the flour in a plastic bag & buttered bread crumbs on a plate.
  4. Place one cutlet at a time in the bag with flour; shake to coat. Then dip in egg mixture; covering each. Finally, dip in buttered bread crumbs, coating each side well. Place breaded cutlets onto the prepared rack.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes; flip & bake for another 5 minutes. Check to be sure they are cooked. Serve with lemon slices & your choice of veggies.
Recipe Notes
  • Boneless pork chops can be substituted for veal & taste excellent.

Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Cheese & Meat Sauce

Pasta is without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients to cook with. It can be prepared in so many unique ways with different sauces. Pesto sauce is one of those … a simple sauce with simple ingredients that packs a huge flavor.

Pesto sauce originated in Genoa, which is located in the northern region of Italy. The Italian word for pesto: pestare, means to pound or to crush. It was originally prepared with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. However, the translation may be a bit misleading because preparation does not consist of pounding, rather it is of grounding.

Traditionally, pesto is made of crushed garlic, fresh basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. There are many variations of pesto and while the most popular is a pasta sauce, it can be used for a spread or dip, salad dressing or as an accompaniment to steak, poultry or fish. Red pesto is either made from sundried tomatoes or red bell peppers.

This pasta meal comes together easily in a short space of time. Sometimes its the simplest dishes that are truly the best!

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Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Mozzarella & Meat Sauce
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, saute onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes. Add ground pork, 2 Tbsp water, pepper, sage, red pepper flakes & ginger. Cook, stirring until no longer pink.
  3. Add salt, dried basil & diced tomatoes; bring to a boil then lower heat & simmer for 20 minutes. Stir periodically. At the end of cooking time, stir in pesto & remove from heat.
  4. While sauce is simmering, cook pasta shells al dente. It is important not to overcook shells as they will be further cooked in the oven. Drain pasta, add cooked sauce & gently toss.
  5. Place half of the pasta in a baking dish & sprinkle with half of mozzarella & Parmesan. Top it up with remaining pasta & sprinkle with other half of the cheeses.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden & pasta is hot & bubbly.
Recipe Notes
  • Don't hesitate to bake your pasta in individual servings.

Savory Layered Puff Pie

That expression, ‘what’s old is new again’, definitely can be applied to so many things in today’s world. Very often, when you think you have come up with a new idea its really just a modernized version of an old one.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Brion & I really enjoy casseroles. I happened to recall a casserole that was published in Good Housekeeping in 1958. My mother made a version of it at that time. Being mostly vegetables, it had such a nice flavor. It was called Seven Layer Casserole consisting of vegetables, rice, tomato soup and sausage or ground meat.

With that ‘taste of a memory’ in mind, my recipe development turned into a savory layered casserole. I used vegetables, rice, cheese and ground pork with a layer of puff pastry. When you prepare it, the sheet of puff pastry is on top so it gets crispy, but when it is baked, you flip it over and it becomes a bottom crust.

Of course, we are talking about frozen puff pastry here. It seems it has become a supermarket staple, delivering all the glories of puff pastry without all the hard hours of work. This is a convenience food that’s perfectly useful for cooks of all skill and commitment levels.

All this talk of frozen puff pastry probably seems odd coming from someone who has made a living in the food industry. But lets face, to make it from scratch is either a labor of love or a sign of madness depending on who you are. So here’s my remake of that vintage 7-layer casserole.

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Savory Layered Puff Pie
Instructions
  1. Cook rice. In a skillet, saute onion in 1 Tbsp butter for a few minutes. Add ground pork, water & seasonings; scramble-fry until cooked. Drain well & remove from skillet. Add another Tbsp of butter to skillet & saute drained mushrooms then blot on paper towel.
  2. Grate cheese combo of choice. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line casserole baking dish with foil & butter.
  3. Start layering with mushrooms, cheeses, rice, meat/onion combo & frozen green beans. Top with puff pastry. Cut a few slits in the pastry for vents. Brush with egg wash.
  4. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove from oven & allow to stand for about 15-20 minutes then invert on a serving plate. Remove foil paper & cut into serving pieces. If you wish, serve the casserole with a brown gravy.

Swedish Meatball & Potato Casserole

No doubt, since we have just finished the 2019 Christmas season, you enjoyed some Swedish meatball hors de ouvers. Personally, I love the little morsels so I thought it would be interesting to turn them into a main course casserole.

I have heard the question asked as to what the difference between Italian and Swedish meatballs is. First of all, the meat blend of ground beef, veal and pork are the main players in both styles. The difference comes in the ratio of each meat being used. While both varieties include ingredients such as minced onion and milk soaked bread or crumbs, the seasoning in these two iconic meatballs differs greatly. Swedish meatballs traditionally use spices such as allspice, nutmeg, white pepper and ginger while Italian calls for grated Parmesan, garlic, parsley, fennel seed and oregano.

Another ingredient that is most always used in Swedish meatballs is mashed potatoes. Size is important … Italian meatballs (other than in soup) are quite large whereas Swedish are generally like a hearty teaspoon full.

When it comes to sauce, this is a big part of the flavoring component that sets them apart. Swedish meatballs are cooked in a cream gravy made with beef broth whereas Italian meatballs are served in a tangy, bright red tomato sauce.

All that being said, it brings me back to my casserole. It combines all the ingredients of the Swedish meatballs put uniquely together in a casserole and topped with a mozzarella cheese. Perfect January meal!

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Swedish Meatball & Potato Casserole
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
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Ingredients
White Sauce
Potatoes
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Servings
Ingredients
White Sauce
Potatoes
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Instructions
White Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, cook margarine & flour until bubbly then slowly add broth & cream. Gently boil for a few minutes; add soya sauce, salt & pepper. Remove from heat & set aside.
Potatoes
  1. Boil potatoes in salted water until tender but not overcooked; cut into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange them on the bottom & sides of a 8-inch round baking dish.
Meatballs
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine all meatball ingredients & form into balls. Arrange them over the slices of the potatoes on the bottom of baking dish. Use the remaining potato slices to create 'walls' between each meatball.
  2. Pour white sauce into each meatball 'pocket'. Sprinkle entire dish with grated mozzarella cheese. Bake 45 minutes or until meatballs are cooked & cheese is golden.
Recipe Notes
  • You can definitely use whatever ratio of meat combo you prefer or just use one one type, your choice.

Cauliflower Monte Cristo Lasagna

Do you recall the Monte Cristo sandwiches of ‘yesteryear’? There was a time when you could find this sandwich on most restaurant lunch menus across North America. Basically, its ham and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of french toast, smothered in egg batter, deep fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped in a side of jelly. It’s where salty meets sweet and savory.

It’s believed that the Monte Cristo evolved from the French sandwich called ‘Croque Monsieur‘. The original grilled cheese sandwich consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter.

This sandwich, although delicious, is neither health or diet food but sometimes its fun to just enjoy these kind of things in moderation, of course.

This ‘lasagna‘ turned out to be real tasty. It kind of puts a new spin on an old classic. Instead of french toast, the ham and cheese are layered in between a baked cauliflower mixture that resembles slices of bread or lasagna noodles. Serve with cauliflower sauce or a sauce of your own choice.

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Cauliflower Monte Cristo Lasagna
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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
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Ingredients
Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
Cauliflower 'Pasta'
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tablespoon of salt & lemon juice. Cut cauliflower into florets, add to boiling mixture & cook until they are soft. Drain cooked cauliflower & roughly crush them into 'mush'. Add breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg, garlic, Italian herbs, salt & pepper; mix well.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Press cauliflower mixture on baking sheet into a 9 x 9-inch square. Bake for about 15 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven, cut cauliflower into 3 strips. In a buttered baking dish place the first strip. Cover with half of each of the ham & cheese slices. Put another strip of cauliflower on it & top with the rest of the ham & cheese slices. Place the third strip of cauliflower on top & sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven temperature to 350 F. & bake 'lasagna' for about 30 minutes.
Cauliflower Sauce
  1. Add butter to a blender or food processor. Cook cauliflower according to package instructions. Using a slotted spoon, drain off any excess water, transfer to blender. Add the vegetable broth, Parmesan, garlic, milk, salt & pepper. Process until a very smooth consistency is reached. Serve warm over Monte Cristo lasagna.

Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices

Bread Pudding ….. its just bread plus eggs plus a sweetened, spiced milk mixture. What makes it special is the blend of spices mixed into it and the sauce.

When done right, bread pudding should have the perfect balance of gooey goodness and chewy texture. That’s why stale bread is important. The bread needs a degree of crunch otherwise you will have ‘mush pudding‘.

For today’s recipe, I started by making a loaf of Challah bread. This is an ‘eggy’ bread that can soak up custard without collapsing. It will toast nicely on the outside and leave you with a creamy pudding inside.

Challah is a very straight forward bread to make. The dough is enriched with eggs and oil, while a few tablespoons of sugar add some sweetness and it doesn’t require any fussy techniques. Because challah is traditionally braided, proofing is key…. if the dough is not properly proofed, it will tear in the oven while baking.

Here’s where it becomes ‘comfort food‘ made with glorious challah, tropical mangos and spices inspired by the world’s love affair with Indian chai.

Chai, which is sometimes overlooked, adds a distinct warm flavor and depth. It can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.

For the finishing touch, I made a rum sauce. Who says bread pudding has to be boring!

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Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices
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Instructions
Challah Bread
  1. In a small bowl, place lukewarm water & sprinkle with yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Let stand about 5-10 minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, place 4 cups flour, sugar & salt; whisk to combine.
  2. Make a well in the center of flour mixture & add eggs, egg yolk & oil; whisk to form a slurry. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Combine with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.
  3. On a floured work surface, turn out dough & knead for about 10 minutes. If dough is sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough should be soft, smooth & hold a ball shape. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise, in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you wish to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope about 16-inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest 5 minutes to relax the gluten & then try again. For the 6 stranded braid as I made, the name of the game is 'over two, under one, over two'. Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together & tuck them under the loaf.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the braided loaf on top & sprinkle with a little flour. Cover with a tea towel & allow to rise about 1 hour. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 Tbsp. of water & brush carefully over challah. Bake 30-35 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Remove from oven & cool before cutting up for bread pudding.
Bread Pudding
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish; toss bread & mango cubes together in it. In a medium bowl, whisk the rest of the ingredients together & pour over the bread & mangoes; allow the mixture to soak for about 5 minutes. Bake about 1 1/4 hours, or until set.
Rum Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Mix together sugar & cornstarch; stir into the melted butter. Slowly pour in milk, stirring frequently until mixture begins to lightly boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in rum. Serve warm over bread pudding.

Stuffed Plantain Cups

When it comes to cooking, plantains are really more of a vegetable than a fruit. Grown extensively in Ecuador, plantains are usually cooked before eating, both when green and at various stages of ripening. When they are ripe they turn yellow than black. Plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative and not sweet. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.

In October of 2018, I had posted a blog on Baked Patacones w/ Guacamole. Patacones or fried plantains had been my initial introduction to this vegetable in Ecuador. After enjoying them there, I have since made them a few different ways. I understand you can add them to stews, boil and puree them like mashed potatoes or bake with sugar and cinnamon for dessert.

Today, I wanted to make stuffed plantains but decided to do it in individual servings as opposed to leaving them in their skins. Of course, you can’t eat plantains without some avocado mayo, right!

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Stuffed Plantain Cups
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
Servings
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Instructions
Plantains
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly butter. IF YOU PREFER, PREPARE AVOCADO MAYO AT THIS TIME.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut both ends off the plantain. Slit a shallow line down the long seam of the plantain, peel only as deep as the peel. Remove plantain peel by pulling back. Place plantains on baking sheet & lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for about 15 minutes, turn & bake for another 15 minutes or until golden & tender.
  3. While the plantains are baking, add 2 Tbsp of oil to saucepan, followed by onions, garlic & tomato sauce. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, add about 1/2 cup water if necessary. Add ground meat & seasonings. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes more then add the small pepper.
Assembly
  1. Adjust oven to 375 F. Butter 4 custard baking cups. Lightly mash plantains. Scoop 4 equal parts into custard cups. Press against sides to form 'cups'. Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese in bottom of each cup then divide meat filling between them. Bake for 10 minutes; remove from oven & top with remaining cheese. If you like, place back in oven for another 5 minutes. Serve warm with Avocado Mayo.
Avocado Mayo
  1. Remove peel & pits from avocados. In a food processor, combine all ingredients & puree. Remove from processor, cover & set aside.

Chili Mostaccioli

Mostaccioli, known in Italy as ‘penne lisce’, are a specialty of the Campania Region in Southern Italy, which includes the cities of Naples, Capri and Sorrento. This pasta is smooth in texture, tube-shaped with angled ends cut to resemble a quill or pen point.

Without realizing it, the pasta shape we choose plays an important role in the outcome of the dish. Long or short, smooth or ridged, thick or thin, with or without curves and crevices, different shapes of pasta capture sauce differently.

Shaped pastas pair well with sauces that have some texture. The crevices and twists will give pieces of meat and veggies a place to nestle into.

Short tubular pastas are great for sauces that are thick and chunky.

Long, thin, dried pasta need lots of lubrication. Olive-oil based sauces will coat, but not drown the pasta. The thicker pasta, like fettuccine can stand up to cream sauces and ragus. If your adding vegetables or herbs, cut them string-like rather than in cubes for ease in blending them.

This is a quick, low-cost meal but has good flavor.

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Chili Mostaccioli
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Course Main Dish
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Course Main Dish
Servings
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, combine meat, milk, crumbs, garlic, onion & seasonings; shape into 4-5 oblong patties. In a skillet, brown patties in hot oil. Remove to drain on paper towel.
  2. Drain any liquid from skillet & wipe with paper towel. In the skillet, combine soup with water & bring to a simmer. Add meat patties; gently simmer, covered for about 10 minutes then add drained & rinsed kidney beans. Simmer 5 more minutes until beans are hot.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Place on a large warm serving platter. Arrange patties over mostaccioli pasta. Pour sauce over meat & pasta; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese & serve.