Deliciously Simple

These delicious one-dish wonders are truly satisfying and will bring you some serious comfort and joy during this hectic holiday season.

December is very dear to my heart. The glitter, memories old and new, Hallmark movies and just that warm, cozy feeling. So what could be better than some delicious comfort foods on the table!

I love to entertain during the holidays, but sometimes feel the pressure of perfection when it comes to a holiday dinner. Does that happen to you? If so, these three one-dish solutions can serve you well, whether you’re entertaining friends, family members or fellow foodies over a bottle of good wine.

While these may not exactly be traditional choices for a holiday meal, they have served me well in the days leading up to and following those momentous December meals. The Ground Beef Vegetable Soup with Gnocchi and Tex-Mex Casserole can be made ahead and ready to go when company drops in or when your guests’ visit extends into the dinner hour. You can also easily double or even triple the recipes for all three dishes, depending on the number of people you plan to entertain.

I came up with the Tex-Mex Casserole when my children were young because I needed a dish that was fairly simple, relatively healthy and would appeal to five little ones. I was never the mom to run a short order kitchen; what I prepared is what the family ate. I did give them a few choices and the winning dish was what I would prepare. Throughout the years, this one is still requested. It’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious. You can make this in advance, then add the cheese and cover and freeze, or refrigerate for two days before you cook it.

You also can make the soup in advance, but I wouldn’t add the fresh spinach, gnocchi and extra veggies until just before you are ready to serve it to ensure they don’t get mushy. You can do step one of this soup ahead of time and freeze it. Then, once you thaw it out, add your final ingredients.

There are so many great ways to prepare lobster (remember my Lobster Po’boys a few issues ago). Personally, I have never found a lobster dish that I haven’t loved! If you are looking for a super decadent, splurge-all-your-calories kind of happiness, then try Lobster Mac and Cheese. The cheeses are so rich in flavor, and you can make the batch big or small. Your friends will love you when you bring this dish to a potluck dinner. And this can be dinner all on its own or served with a side Caesar salad. I think the perfect complement is a nice bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.

For all of these dishes, you can add some heat to individual servings. And by heat, I mean crushed red pepper flakes. After all, what good Italian doesn’t have a bowl of crushed red pepper on the table?

These simple and delicious dishes are great for any cook who is worried about the perfect presentation—because they all are perfectly imperfect! All that is needed are bowls big enough for every appetite.

I’m sure your plans for the holidays might be a bit different this year—but whatever they are, I hope you find lots of comfort and joy in your gatherings with friends and family. And I sincerely hope these dishes can make your December a little less stressful and let you shine.

I am so grateful for your wonderful feedback and look forward to “seeing” you again in the new year!

Ground Beef Vegetable Soup with Gnocchi

1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground veal
1 28-ounce can whole, peeled plum tomatoes
1 12-ounce package refrigerated gnocchi
1 bag frozen peas
8 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces fresh spinach
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 4 teaspoons) 
5 celery stalks, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 large yellow onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Step 1: Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat. › Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally until browned, about 8 minutes. › Add onion, celery and garlic, then stir often until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. › Stir in tomatoes and oregano, breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. › Stir in broth and bring to a boil. › Reduce heat to medium-low, and gently boil for about 8 minutes.

Step 2: Add the gnocchi and peas and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. › Remove from heat. › Stir in spinach (and other veggies as desired). › Add salt and pepper to taste. › Sprinkle each serving with grated Parmesan cheese.

Notes: Store-bought gnocchi helps make this soup hearty and filling. I prefer the refrigerated kind, such as Giovanni Rana, which cooks up light and puffy. Feel free to add more vegetables as you wish, such as green beans or zucchini. You can prepare Step 1 ahead of time and freeze it, then do Step 2 when you are ready to serve the soup. You also can do both steps back to back and serve immediately.

Spiny Lobster Mac and Cheese

1 pound Florida spiny lobster, cooked and cut into medium sized chunks
1 pound pasta (your favorite shape), cooked
3 cups milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or your favorite)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese, grated (or your favorite)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 large Florida tomatoes, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste

Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. › Drain and set aside. › Place 4 tablespoons melted butter in a saucepot over medium-low heat, add garlic and onion and cook until onion is translucent. › Whisk in flour and cook for several minutes. › Carefully pour in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. › Continue to cook and whisk until sauce is smooth and thick enough to coat a spoon. › Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in cheese, a handful at a time. › Season cheese sauce with mustard, chives, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, to taste. › In a large mixing bowl, combine cheese sauce and cooked pasta, then fold in chopped lobster. › Lightly spray a baking dish with pan release spray. › Pour pasta mixture into baking dish. › Arrange sliced tomatoes on top. › In a small bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs, olive oil and parsley and sprinkle over the tomatoes. › Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 10 to 20 minutes, or until topping is crisp and cheese sauce is bubbly. › Let cool slightly before serving.

Tex-Mex Casserole

1 pound ground beef
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 10-ounce can RO*TEL mild diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup rice
1 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup corn kernels; frozen, canned or roasted
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 onion, diced
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 1.25-ounce package taco seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. › Add ground beef, onion and garlic. › Cook until beef has browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the beef as it cooks. › Stir in taco seasoning. › Drain excess fat. › Boil macaroni until it is al dente, then drain and set aside. › Stir in rice, vegetable broth, beans, RO*TEL, corn, chili powder and cumin. › Season with salt and pepper to taste. › Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat and simmer until rice is cooked through, about 16-18 minutes. › Stir in macaroni, lime juice and cilantro. › Remove from heat and top with cheeses. › Cover until cheese has melted, about 2 minutes. › Serve immediately, garnished with tomato if desired.

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