Simple One-Pan Spaghetti & Meatballs

Every Friday evening I cook dinner for our daughter-in-law and grandkids. M has had a long week and is tired, and and we’re happy to relieve her of any cooking duties at home. I always try to make American or American-style dishes, things she typically would not make but loves to eat.

This easy spaghetti and meatball dinner was a hit with everyone, the grandkids included, who can be quite picky at times. I saw the recipe one day in my Instagram feed, and happened to have everything on hand to make it. It’s as easy as the recipe looks and we enjoyed the results (I served with roasted zucchini and bread).

I didn’t make my own meatballs, but used a package of pre-made ones from Aldi I had on hand. It would have been easy to make my own meatballs though, and the ingredients are included in the recipe.

My only suggestion is to either oil the pan well or use a non-stick spray before adding the spaghetti. I didn’t and some of the pasta stuck to the bottom of the pan and was quite crunchy – lesson learned!

(I apologize for the lack of photos but the lighting in our apartment is just plain awful, especially in the kitchen) and I have given up trying to produce something that would be useful to anyone.)


  • 12 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 24-ounce jar of marinara sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with non-stick spray or coat with oil. Spread the dry spaghetti over the bottom of the pan and drizzle with olive oil.

Blend the marinara sauce and water together and pour over the spaghetti. Gently mix to make sure all the spaghetti is covered with liquid.

If making your own meatballs, mix together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, pesto, and salt and pepper and form 12-16 meatballs.

Arrange the meatballs evenly over the spaghetti. Cover the pan with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the tops of the meatballs are browned. If the sauce is already too thick, hot water can be added to reach the desired consistency.

Serve the spaghetti with meatballs along with grated Parmesan, and torn fresh basil leaves (if desired).

Serves four (either three or four meatballs per serving).


Easy Beef Pot Pie with Puffed Pastry Crust

I am 70 years and until the week before last I had never made beef stew, in my slow cooker or otherwise. I have no idea why not because it was incredibly easy and tasted fantastic. The reason I finally made beef stew now is that I needed it as the base for a beef pot pie.

I chose this beef stew recipe because I had (almost) everything it called for other than balsamic vinegar, which I just left out. I also didn’t have thyme, but substituted oregano and all was well. The recipe also called for one cup of red wine; I cut that back to half of a cup, and upped the beef broth to two cups. This allowed the wine taste to be present without being overwhelming, but the wine can be skipped entirely and 2 1/2 cups broth used instead, if desired. Otherwise I followed everything as called for. The prep was simple, and it turned out beautifully.

To keep the crust part of the pie simple as well, I topped the stew with pre-made puffed pastry. The hard part was finding frozen puffed pastry – to seemed every store was sold out of it, as if everyone was using puffed pastry for Valentine’s Day. I ended up buying the final package remaining at Whole Foods, a bit expensive but the box contained enough for two dishes making the purchase a little less painful.

Anyway, if you’re looking for an easy, hearty, and scrumptious-looking dish, this beef pot pie is a winner!


  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 3 pounds chuck roast cut into 1″ pieces for stew, with excess fat removed
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth or beef bone broth (I used 2 cups)
  • 1 cup dry red wine (I used 1/2 cup)
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (I substituted dried oregano)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • freshly grated black pepper
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into chunks
  • 4 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 pound potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes (I used small Yukon gold potatoes and cut them into fourths)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Add olive oil to large skillet and heat to medium high. Add the stew meat, season with salt and pepper, and sear each piece on both sides, about 4-5 minutes to a side. Place the meat in the bottom of the slow cooker, then blend the broth, wine, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar in the skillet, scraping up the bits of beef drippings stuck to the pan. Pour the hot liquid over the beef in the cooker and add the salt and pepper, then place the garlic carrots, potatoes, and onions over the beef, and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.

Around a half-hour before serving, blend 1 cup of broth from the slow cooker into the flour with a whisk so there are no lumps. Mix this back into the beef and vegetables, and add the frozen peas. Turn the slow cooker temperature to high and cook with the lid off an additional 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the cooker has thickened up.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the hot stew into a baking pan – I used a 7″ x 11″ pan -and top with a piece of cold puff pastry dough (follow directions on the package for how to handle to dough). Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown and crispy throughout. Let the pie sit for 5 minutes, then cut, serve, and swoon! Makes six servings.

Easy Blueberry Galette

Next time I will spread the filling out a little more so the outer crust is not quite as wide.

I have no idea why I waited this long in life to make a galette because they are so easy to make, so delicious, and so simple. However, a month or so ago I needed to come up with a quick, easy dessert that didn’t require buying any additional ingredients, and I realized this was my chance to finally try making a galette. I had a package of Aldi piecrusts in the refrigerator, blueberries in the freezer, a lemon, an egg, and cornstarch – everything needed to create a delicious dessert.

A galette, the French open-faced pie, is the lazy girl’s way to make a pie. A galette doesn’t require loads of ingredients, It’s supposed to look rustic. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to shape it just so in a pie pan. It can be served with ice cream or whipped cream but plain is just as good.

I am looking forward to making more galettes, especially a peach one this summer, or peach and plum (cherry too). Aldi’s refrigerated pie crusts make the perfect size galette for Brett and me; for a larger one I would combine the two crusts that come in the package and roll them out into a larger circle. Don’t skip the sugar on the crust either!



  • 4 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice or grated lemon zest
  • 2 TBSP cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • homemade or refrigerated pie crust for a 9″ pie
  • 1 egg
  • sugar for sprinkling
  • vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of room temperature pie crust on a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Make a light indentation with a 9″ pan in the center of the dough – this lets you know how far out to place your filling.

In a medium bowl, mix the berries with the sugar, lemon juice or zest, cornstarch and the salt. Stir to make sure the berries are evenly coated with the cornstarch and sugar. Place the berry mixture in the center of the crust in an even layer.

Lift and fold the pie crust every 3 or 4 inches over the berry filling, leaving an open space in the middle. Mix the egg with 1 TBSP of water and brush the crust. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the blueberry filling is bubbling.

Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Cheesy Pasta with Ham, Spinach, & Peppers

I was confronted during the first week of the year with having to use up the last of our Christmas ham (as well as a whole lot of other leftovers from the holidays). There wasn’t much ham left on the bone and I didn’t have enough of anything else on hand to make soup, but what I eventually realized is that I did have almost everything on hand to make one of our favorite leftover ham dishes, pasta tossed with spinach, red pepper, and diced ham and coated in creamy cheese. It’s one of the simplest and easiest recipes in my repertoire, and always a crowd pleaser.

The only thing I was lacking this time was the spinach, but Brett and I included a bag of baby spinach one my first of the month Trader Joe’s list. That evening, I diced the remaining ham (and put the bone in the freezer for a later pot of soup), julienned a red pepper that had been hanging out in the produce drawer, cooked a remaining half bag of pasta I had in the pantry, and finally tossed the finished product with some leftover spreadable sharp cheddar cheese. With the addition of some freshly cracked pepper, the result was a fabulous meal that got only a couple of dishes dirty and provided leftovers for the next two days’ lunches.

The beauty of this dish is that it can be made from whatever someone desires or already has on hand. I rarely, if ever, see it any more, but my favorite spreadable cheese for this dish has always been sun-dried tomato, but any soft cheese spread – garlic with herbs, for example – works fine. Any type of pasta is fine as well, although the original recipe called for farfalle (bow ties). The pepper doesn’t have to be red, and spinach can be replaced with kale, arugula, or other greens. Ham provides a smoky flavor, but there’s no reason bacon, chicken, beef, or even salmon couldn’t be used.

Below is the basic recipe – variations are up to the cook and what’s on hand!


  • 5-ounce bag baby spinach
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced ham
  • 12 ounces dried pasta. Ones created to catch the sauce are preferred over long noodles, but they can work too
  • 8-12 ounces soft cheese spread

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Don’t skimp on the water – the pasta water is what will “cook” the spinach and pepper.

Wash the spinach and leave in a colander. Julienne the red pepper into very thin strips and lay on top of the spinach.

When the pasta is ready, slowly pour the pasta water over the spinach and peppers, ending with the pasta sitting on the top. Let it sit for a minute or so, then transfer the pasta, spinach, and pepper back into the stockpot. Using tongs, pull apart the clumps of spinach and mix throughout the pasta along with the pepper strips, which should be tender crisp and not soggy.

When the spinach is mixed through the pasta, add the diced ham to the stockpot and mix it through the pasta.

Finally, add the spreadable cheese to the pasta. The heat from the pasta will soften it to coat the pasta as it is mixed. Gently stir until all the pasta and vegetables are coated.

Serve immediately with cracked pepper.

Home Cooking: Amazing Apple Pie

The first apple pie I made was when I was 18 years old. I went out in the middle of the night and picked apples off the tree just outside my college dorm (which we had been warned not to do) and stayed up to bake my pie in the kitchen on our floor. My roommate, friends, and I quickly devoured the pie the following day, and I’ve stuck to the recipe ever since, a crust filled to almost overflowing with sliced apples, topped with a simple mixture of flour, sugar, and cinnamon and a few butter slices over everything.

This year, however, I wanted to try something different for our Thanksgiving dessert, so I read what seemed like a hundred recipes trying to find a new recipe for apple pie. Most of the one I read were similar to my old standard, but I also kept coming across one called Apple Pie by Grandma Ople, enough times that I finally decided this was the one I had to try.

The big difference in this recipe is that apple slices are topped with a boiled mixture of butter, flour, and white and brown sugars versus the traditional mix of sugar, flour, and cinnamon topped with a few slices of butter under the top crust. I used tart Jonathan apples on my first try at Thanksgiving, but any tart apple variety will do, and I went with Granny Smith for my second go-round at Christmas and thought they made for a much tastier pie. The Jonathan apples were also a bit small – I used eight but another four would have made it better. My crust was a premade one from Aldi; however, the top crust is too small for my pie plate so K cut out shapes and we layered them over the top. Also, I like cinnamon in my apple pie so I added about a 1/2 teaspoon to the butter-sugar mixture and that was just enough for me and not enough to bother people who don’t care for cinnamon.

Overall, this pie was easy to make, and the result? Ooh la la! I can’t imagine ever making an apple pie any other way.


  • 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices – I cut my apples into 12 slices, not too thin, not too thick.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 TBSP unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 9″ double pie crust

Preheat over to 425 degrees.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and blend in, stirring to form a paste, Cook for around 1-2 minutes until it smells buttery, then add both sugars and the water, and stir until everything is blended together. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Fill the pie crust to heaping with the sliced apples. Use the top crust to form a tight lattice, or use cut out shapes from the top crust to cover the apples.

Slowly and gently pour the butter and sugar mixture over the top crust, making sure it seeps into the pie. A bit of the syrup can also be brushed on top, making sure it doesn’t go down the side.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the apples are soft, around 35-45 minutes. If the crust edges are getting too brown, cover them with strips of foil until the pie is done.

Let the pie cool, and enjoy warm or cool with ice cream if desired. Makes 8 slices.

Home Cooking: Incredibly Easy Dulce de Leche

One of Brett and my fondest food memories from our travels was sharing a delicious, generous bowl of dulce de leche in Buenos Aires following a meal of empanadas. Dulce de leche is carmelized milk, created by heating sugar and milk over low heat for a long period of time. It can be used like caramel, or eaten on its own, like we did in Argentina.

Making this treat never seemed like something I’d have the time (or inclination) for, but in late November a reel showed up in my Instagram feed showing an incredibly easy way to prepare dulce de leche. And, when I say easy, I mean EASY! I gave it a try and the results were fantastic.

Only two items are needed to prepare dulce de leche this way: a slow cooker and a can of sweetened condensed milk. That’s it! The process takes all day, but the results will last for up to a month in the refrigerator, and are creamy, sweet, and full of delicious caramel flavor.

Here’s how to make it:

  • Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. DO NOT use evaporated milk – it doesn’t work.
  • Set the can on its side in a slow cooker and cover with at least two inches of hot water. You can cook more than one can if they can fit in the slow cooker without touching.
  • Cook the can(s) on low heat for eight hours.
  • When cooking is done, remove from the crockpot and LET THE CAN(S) COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE OPENING. Trying to open while the can is still hot can cause it to explode.
  • Store the dulce de leche in the refrigerator for up to a month. It should be removed from the can for storage.

That’s it! We enjoyed it with apple slices a few evenings for dessert, and a small spoonful on top of apple pie one night. It’s yummy stuff.

Home Cooking: Oatmeal Shortbread

K gives these cookies two thumbs up – easy to make and delicious!

I used to bake a LOT of cookies. A LOT. I baked them for the holidays, for our kids’ lunchboxes, to send to Brett when he was deployed at sea, to have at home. However, with just Brett and I around to eat them these days, I rarely bake any more – we just don’t need the calories, and both of us can easily go through a batch of cookies in record time. However, I’ve recently started baking with our granddaughter and last week I thought these shortbread cookies would be easy and fun to make with her. I had everything we needed on hand, including a small amount of leftover chocolate chips.

Well-blended but still somewhat crumbly dough
Pressed into a jelly roll pan, ready for the oven

This easy recipe comes from Sunset Magazine’s Favorite Recipes cookbook. I like this recipe it because it makes a very tasty, buttery cookie, and because it uses only four ingredients, ones that are almost always on hand in the pantry and refrigerator. The finished cookie is thin, and slightly almost like a cracker, but it melts in the mouth. Many years ago, this shortbread was my go-to recipe when the cupboards would be almost bare at the end of the month, but we enjoyed them so much that they became something I made fairly regularly. They always disappear quickly.

Chocolate mini chips growing soft and glossy on the hot cookies, ready to be spread

While the shortbread is delicious all on its own, it can be kicked up a notch with the addition a few chocolate chips, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Right after the pan of cookies comes out of the oven, immediately sprinkle the chips over the not, uncut cookies and let them set for around a minute or even less. The chips will become glossy and soft and can then be spread over the cookie as a thin frosting. Cut the shortbread as soon as they’re frosted; the chocolate will harden as the pan cools.

Still warm shortbread topped with chocolate, cut into pieces and cooling in the pan.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup quick-cooking oats

1 cup softened butter or margarine (2 sticks)

2/3 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the four ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well-blended, but still somewhat crumbly. Press firmly and evenly into a lightly greased jelly roll (10″ x 15″) pan. The batter will be thin. Bake for 45 minutes, and then cut into squares or bars while still warm; let shortbread cool in the pan (I cannot stress this enough – trying to cut them when they’re cool creates a BIG, crumbly mess!).

Eating & Exercise: Getting the Ship Turned Back Around

A tasty, healthy dinner, courtesy of Trader Joe’s: air-fried vegetable spring rolls, steamed chicken shu mai, and organic coleslaw.

As we both feared and somewhat expected, the eating and exercise regime Brett and I created in Hawaii fell apart when we started traveling again, and we were never any place long enough to set a consistent routine and stick with it. Restaurant meals, airport food, and delicious and affordable local cuisine in Mexico changed how we we ate the past four months. Hot and/or humid weather, dealing with San Miguel de Allende’s higher altitude, and sometimes uncomfortable walking venues kept exercise opportunities inconsistent or impossible at times. We did our best, but always knew we could do better.

Surprisingly, we gained very little to no weight. We had learned to keep our portion sizes small, so large lunches or brunches in Mexico meant we would skip dinner. I thought all the delicious bakery items we enjoyed in San Miguel de Allende would do us in, but they came with less sugar and fat than they would have in the U.S,, and that seemed to help keep things on an even keel. We’re both out of shape though when it comes to walking and moving around. My hips are stiff again, and the heat and humidity knock me out in short time. There are no refreshing ocean breezes here to keep us going like they did in Hawaii but I can and will acclimate.

It’s time for both Brett and I to get serious again with our health. We’re settled now, we have an abundance of sources to supply us with fresh, healthy food, and a dog that needs to be walked a few times a day. Our apartment complex has an air-conditioned gym with treadmills we can use on super hot, humid or bad weather days, so we have no excuses for not exercising every day.

I am once again keeping a daily food diary. We’ve added meat back into our diet, but only occasionally and in small portions. For the most part our diet is still mostly vegetarian/vegan. We’re eating more fresh fruits and vegetables again, drinking several big glasses of water each day, and we’ve stopped buying sweets other than something small to enjoy after dinner each evening. Both of us have new walking shoes on our shopping list. Brett walks Kaipo several times a day, and I go with them for a long walk every evening. As time goes on, the distance we walk will increase.

Beginning next week I’m going to start the weekly eating and exercise posts back up again – they were a big help to me before and will be again. Brett’s and my efforts in Hawaii made a genuine difference in our health before and it’s important we get this ship turned around and heading in the right direction again. We can do this!

Brunch Every Friday: Panio

We had every intention of enjoying a Middle Eastern brunch last Friday. There’s a highly recommended restaurant right down the road from us and on the way to the supermarket, and after reading their menu and checking out the prices we were looking forward to it.

And then on Friday morning the housekeeper showed up an hour and a half earlier than expected. We were both still in our pajamas, but we welcomed her in, quickly got dressed, grabbed our shopping bags, and headed out the door. About half way down the hill I turned to Brett and said, “You know, I really don’t feel like eating Middle Eastern food this time of the morning.” He agreed, and after a short discussion we decided to head to Panio instead, the nearby French bakery, figuring at the least we could get a delicious pastry and a good cup of coffee before heading to the market.

Panio has a small dining room at the side of the bakery

To say we were surprised by Panio’s breakfast menu would be an understatement. We were presented with a full page of breakfast dishes, from omelettes to Eggs Benedict to Mexican specialities to pancakes and French toast, all at reasonable prices. After going through everything and with a little back and forth, Brett decided on the French toast (his favorite breakfast) and I chose the banana-walnut pancakes with bacon.

My pancakes came with banana and pecans instead of walnuts – I almost felt like I was back in Hawaii – and with four big, smoky, crisp slices of bacon! Brett’s French toast came with whipped cream and berries (so I gave him two slices of my bacon). We each had an Americano, perfectly made, hot, and absolutely delicious.

The cost for this glorious, filling breakfast was $20.50 USD, including the tip. My pancakes and bacon breakfast was only $6.54 USD, less than what I’d probably have paid in the U.S. for just the four slices of bacon!

Walking into Panio is like entering a bakery in Paris.

It was a good thing we’d eater before we shopped the bakery or we would have left with a lot more than these four items! We were tempted though.

Following breakfast, our tummies full, we perused Panio’s bakery selections and left with a bag of meringues, a bag of the best butter cookies we’ve ever had, some wine crackers, and two blueberry tarts to enjoy Saturday morning.

We’ll do Middle Eastern this week.

PANIO ATELIER DU PAIN: Salida a Celaya 67-69, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende

Dining Out Is In Again In San Miguel de Allende

The food was delicious and affordable at this restaurant but we disliked the ambiance. The “drenched burrito” above was $7 USD and so big Brett and I had to share it.

One of the things we love most about traveling is enjoying the cuisines of different places we visit. Although we cook most of our meals “at home” when we’re on the road, no matter where we go we make a point of having enough in our monthly budget to eat out at least once a week.

Our typical monthly allowance for dining out is $150 – $175/month for the two of us. In some places we’ve visited that’s been more than enough to enjoy incredible meals in upscale restaurants, like steak in Argentina or charcroute in France. However, we typically enjoy the adventure of finding lower cost restaurants, and we love dining on street food or specialties from small stands, which help us balance spending more one week with less in other weeks without damaging our budget. For example, in Japan we may go to a restaurant for big bowls of noodles or a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) set one week, then balance that expense the following week or two with stops for karaage (fried chicken) or takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from neighborhood stands that we can bring home and eat. It’s a system that has worked well for us.

Treats are affordable as well: Two cups of hot Mexican cocoa and six freshly made churros for the two of us or four huge scoops of gelato that tasted like we were back in Italy were only $6 USD each.

Our time so far in San Miguel de Allende has turned all that on its head though, and the low cost of eating out here frankly shocked us at first. We quickly discovered we had a choice to make: stay with our once a week eating out and save, or eat out more often and enjoy the variety of dining choices and low prices. The latter choice has won out, and has meant that we’ve sometimes eaten out three times in a week, all without going over our monthly budget. Meals for the two of us, tip included, are rarely over $20, and all the meals we’ve eaten out so far when averaged out come to less than $15. And, for that amount we’ve eaten some pretty terrific food.

Our Father’s Day outing was our most expensive meal yet: $30 USD including tip. However, the food was absolutely delicious and the servings were HUGE. My order came with seven jumbo coconut shrimp (each took four bites to eat) and Brett got enough freshly cooked and shelled crab to feed a family.

We’re constantly surprised by the amount of food we get for our money here and have yet to leave a restaurant not feeling completely full, sometimes to the point where we have no desire to eat the rest of the day. Portions have consistently been large or even huge (for us) and a great value for what we’re spending (unlike back in the U.S. where I usually leave a restaurant feeling like I could have made it myself for less). For the most part we’ve enjoyed the ambience of the restaurants we’ve eaten at and there are a few we hope to visit again before we leave. We’ve had a lot of fun reading reviews and choosing new restaurants we want to try, especially for brunch every Friday. We’ve stayed away from dining out at night not just because of the cost but because I don’t want to be walking on cobblestones in the dark. However, there doesn’t seem to be a price differential between lunch and dinner. We also have yet to try a taco stand or buy tamales from a street vendor, but that’s coming up soon.

We could spend more here if we wanted because there are restaurants that charge a LOT more than what we’re willing to pay. We know though that we don’t have to do that in order to enjoy some very delicious and beautifully presented food. We also know all this culinary goodness will end when we’re back in the U.S. where we’ll once again rarely eat out or even pick up take out. But as long as we’re here in San Miguel de Allende we plan to enjoy ourselves and continue to let others do the cooking a couple of times each week.