meals in minutes

Spicy turkey burgers with guacomole - low fat summer recipe


Summer time means firing up the grill and slapping the meat over the flames.

Meat is king here at Casa Maria.

But I want to cut the fat a little, make my summer meals on the grill a little lighter and healthier.

I can't do without a burger, but I can make it a bit easier on the system. Amazingly,  I don't have to give up flavor while I'm cutting the fat.

Bye-bye beef and hello ground turkey!  Hasta la vista mayonnaise and hola, guacamole!  These two simple swaps are flavorful - especially when you put a strategic few add-ins in the ground turkey mixture.

Ground turkey is significantly lower in fat, nearly half of the 24 grams of fat and one-third fewer calories than the 300 calories found in four ounces of cooked lean ground beef.

Guacamole is far less evil than mayonnaise when it comes to condiments - and it packs in some terrific nutrients every body can use. One tablesppon of mayonnaise has a whopping 90 calories and adds 10 grams of fat with zero nutritional value while a similar size serving of guacamole contains roughly half the calories and fat while providing a source for Vitamins, B,C, and E.

My stomach feels flatter already!

This meal is quick, easy and bursting with flavor.  Add a side of sweet Silver Queen corn and life is nearly perfect.

Spicy Turkey Burgers with Guacamole


  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons chipoltle salsa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. In a large bowl, mix ground turkey, seasoned bread crumbs, onion, egg whites, parsley, garlic, chipoltle salsa, salt, and pepper. Form into 12 patties.
  2. Cook the patties in a medium skillet over medium heat, turning once, to an internal temperature of 180 degrees F (85 degrees C).
Serve on toasted rolls (I like Challah rolls) with guacamole and grated Asadero cheese or substitute Muenster, Fontina or Monterey Jack.

Sam the Cooking Guy: Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza

  DSC_0680We get so tired of the same old drill for dinner.

Now we have Sam the Cooking Guy's just released cookbook, Awesome Recipes & Kitchen Shortcuts (Wiley, $19.95, 256 pp)  for new flavors and fun inspiration when dinner seems like drudge work.

Today we whipped up Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza in what seemed only seconds - okay, really, minutes.

Just like Sam says in the cook book: You're going to like this a lot.  It was seriously finger-licking good - gooey with fresh mozzarella and tangy, spicy sweet from the hoisin sauce and the Thai chili paste.  The spring onions and fresh cilantro added a herbaceous kick and crunch. 

My 11-year-old son handled a lot of the prep work and while I'm still squeamish about his proximity to heat and flames - let go, Mommy, let go - we worked together to pull the meal off.  I love cooking with my son and he loves eating what we cook. Of course, I do too.

 Sam Zien, eleven-time local Emmy Award winner, hosts Sam the Cooking Guy on Cox Channel 4 in San Diego. A frequent guest on the Today Show, Zien has TV shows in syndication across the country.

Ready to eat!Spicy Chinese Chicken Asian Pizza

adapted from the book

Makes one 10-inch pizza


1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons Asian chili paste

1 package pizza dough (we prefer Trader Joe's, but you can make do with Pillsbury)

2 cups cooked and cubed chicken

1/3 finely chopped spring green onions 

6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. In a small bowl, mix together hoisin sauce and chili paste, then spread over the rolled pizza crust.  Top with chicken, green oinons and cheese slices.

Bake about 12-15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven cooks, or until golden. Our test recipe took exactly 12 minutes. 

Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.  Serves 4.

Meals in minutes: meatballs or polpette

Meatballs with mushroom gravy

Everybody cheats on occasion.  It's easy to grab a bag of frozen meatballs, brown them, then sauce and serve. 

The question for me is why. Meatballs or polpette are the easiest quick meal - and if you plan ahead, you can make extra to freeze.


That way when you get home exhausted and wonder what's for dinner, you'll just have to reach in the freezer for a better meatball - homemade instead of store-bought.

For every meatball recipe you can imagine from Swedish to classic Italian, check out


Celebrating the Chinese New Year

Easy Asian Noodles The Year of the Tiger is not for the timid.  Characterized by bold and sweeping change, the year's namesake is graceful, powerful and impulsive. It would seem logical to celebrate with verve this charming and ebullient big cat.

Festivities to ring in the Lunar New Year tend to be bold and dramatic, conveying the importance of new beginnings. Beginning February 14 and lasting 15 days, the celebration is food focused, with many of the foods served symbolic of prosperity, good health and long life.

Even if you're unsure of a food's symbolism, you can certainly appreciate its grace and flavor.  Over at my friend Kian's site, Red Cook, he shares a recipe for Braised Abalaone, which is simply gorgeous.

Most of us don't have the time, or perhaps the culinary skills, to create banquet food. For us, there are noodles. 

And while noodles, symbolizing longevity in Chinese culture, may take a backseat to banquet food, they are the great Asian comfort food, served daily in homes for fast and nutritious meals.

There is familiarity as well as tradition steeped in the various noodle dishes prepared by the home cook, whether they are warm and nurturing soups, hearty and healthy vegetable-filled stir frys or light and delicate cold noodle salads. 

Chef-author Helen Chen delights us with her second book in of a two-part series, Easy Asian Noodles Helen Chen with a wok from her cookware line (128pp, Wiley, $17.95), a kitchen-sized workhorse of a cookbook devoted to noodle dishes from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cultures.

Small enough to stuff into your bag for quick reference at the market, yet sleekly elegant with beautifully styled photography by Jason Wyche, the guide to all things noodle is made accessible even to home cooks who can barely boil water.

"We're all either working, raising a family or caring for elderly parents. We just don't have the time," said Chen. "I really try to write these recipes the way I cook."

A master of the Asian kitchen in her own right and daughter of Joyce Chen, who pioneered Chinese cuisine in Cambridge, MA, during the 50s, Helen Chen carries on the tradition of accessible authenticity in her recipes and with her cookware, Helen's Asian Kitchen.

Joyce Chen coined the name Peking Ravioli for potstickers, a name still synonymous on the East Coast with the plump filling dumplings. She introduced the American palate to Chinese food that wasn't bathed in cloying sweet sauces or some typical dish like Eggs Foo Yung or Chop Suey.

A restaurateur, a cookbook author, and TV show host, Joyce Chen developed her own specialty foods and cookware line. Needless to say, she was a fantastic cook.

Her daughter became a baker first to distinguish herself from her famous mother. She had bread rising to bake while we chatted.  "No one wanted to eat my stir frys," she said, then laughed. "My mom's cooking was so utterly fabulous."

Why noodles, why now

The last two decades have seen a resurgence and appreciation for comfort food from cuisines around the world.  Chen said the timing was right.

"Noodles, in particular, are very popular," she said.  "Not only are Westerners interested in noodles, but for Asians, noodles are comfort food."

In Asian culture, noodles serve many purposes - breakfast, lunch, dinner or quick snack - because they are easy to prepare and a flavorful mouthful of different tastes and textures.  "With vegetables, they're a really healthy meal... Everything is in that  one bowl," said Chen.

Noodles are filling and satisfying without being greasy or heavy. For many Asians, noodles evoke wonderful memories of childhood. Chen remembered being served homemade longevity noodles on her Chinese birthday (according to the Lunar Calendar).Her mother used to tease that she'd made them so long that Chen would need a step ladder to eat them.

But you don't need to make homemade noodles to enjoy these recipes. Most markets have good quality fresh and dried noodles - wheat, bean and rice - available.  In a pinch, one can use spaghetti for some recipes calling for wheat noodles. Chen also uses prepared chicken stock in her recipes and admits to buying it by the case.

Favorite noodle dish

Choosing a favorite meal is like choosing a favorite child. Each one has different qualities to love. For Chen, she chooses noodle recipes according to what she craves and what she feels like cooking.

"I usually start with, what do I feel like cooking," she said. "I find it easier to think of what form of noodle I want to prepare."  Her cookbook is organized according to preparation - stir-fried, pan-fried, and sauced - so that you can decide how you want to cook, then what you want to cook. 

One of her many favorites is a dish her mother often prepared, Peking Meat-sauced Noodles.  This dish is famous in Beijing, where her mother grew up.

Garnished with fresh bean sprouts and shredded radishes and thinly sliced cucumbers, it is crisp-soft delicious and Chen's comfort food of choice. The dish may be made with ground turkey, although traditionally it is made with pork, and packaged vernicelli or spaghetti may substitute for Chinese wheat or egg noodles.

Peking Meat-sauced Noodles

serves 6 to 8


1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 pound ground pork (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup bean paste, preferably Japanese red miso

2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 pound Chinese wheat or egg noodles or thin or regular spaghetti

10  radishes, shredded for garnish

1 medium cucumber, partially peeled (leaving a few long strips of peel on the sides) seeded and shredded for garnish

2 cups bean sprouts, par boiled for 15 to 20 seconds, rinsed in cold water and drained well, for garnish

10 ounces fresh spinach, washed, par boiled for 15 to 20 seconds,rinsed in cold water, squeezed dry and minced for garnish

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced, for garnish (optional, see Note)

Note: Northern Chinese have a propensity toward garlic - cooked or raw - and lots of it! The caveat to adding raw garlic garnish to these noodles is: if you're going out on a date or social occasion, leave them out.


1. In a small bowl, mix the wine and cornstarch together. Add the pork and mix well. In a separate small bowl, stir the bean paste, hoisin sauc, soy sauce and sugar together.

2. In a wok or stir fry pan, heat the oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the pork mixture and cook, stirring constantly.until the meat changes color and breaks up, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions and cook, stirring constantly, until the scallions are soft but not browned, another minute.

3. Stir in the bean paste mixture and 1 cup water and mix thoroughly. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will have a thin sauce.

4. Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the spaghetti and boil until a little more tender than al dente. Drain and rinse in hot water; immediately divide the noodles among 6 or 8 individual noodle bowls. Place the meat sauce in a serving bowl on the table. Set the vegetable garnishes out in individual bowls and let people sauce and garnish their own noodles.

Meals in minutes: Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce recipe

Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce - meals in minutes

Thank you, Rachel Ray for saving the culinary day.

At a loss for a quick dinner this week, I was thinking about scrambling through the drawer full of takeout menus.  Then I remembered watching RR on TV  and watching her prepare a Make Your Own Take Out meal - Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce.

Ah, shades of the Seventies!  There were very few Asian restaurants where we lived and I remember trying to find authentic ingredients - okay, water chestnuts and baby corn - to experiment with my new wok. 

Didn't everyone get a wok for Christmas in 1977?

So, I loved RR's MYTO for the day and I made it that very night.  I loved it; the boy scraped out the offending water chestnuts, pronounced it edible, but didn't beg for seconds.

Make Your Own Take Out: Spicy Peanut Chicken

Serves 4
  • 1 cup brown or white rice made to package directions
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or other high temperature cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, diced into small bite-sized pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 inch ginger root, grated or minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter or reduced sugar peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup Tamari sauce or reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts (8 ounces), drained
  • 1 bunch scallions, whites and greens chopped on angle into 1-inch pieces
  • cup unsalted, dry roasted peanuts

Start brown or white rice and 10 minutes before it is done begin your stir fry.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add chicken and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, add bell peppers and stir fry 2 minutes more. Remove chicken and peppers to a plate and add 2 tablespoons more oil to the pan. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry 15 seconds then add in peanut butter, soy, stock, chili paste and sesame oil and stir to combine into sauce. Add chestnuts and scallions and toss 1 minute, add chicken and peppers back to pan with peanuts and turn to coat in sauce. Serve over rice.

Angel hair pasta with shrimp and capers


I adore quick and easy meals.

Pasta is my go-to ingredient when I want something tasty and fast for dinner. I love pasta so much I think I must be an honorary Italian!

Angel hair pasta with shrimp and capers is a favorite in our house. It's delicious, nutritious and made in minutes.

The following recipe is so simple and so good.


1/2 of a box uncooked angel hair pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons capers, drained

4 cloves garlic, chopped

d 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 can (28 ounces) Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pan. 

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked through - a translucent pink. Remove shrimp from skillet to avoid overcooking and set aside.

Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes; cook until garlic is tender, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. (Do not let garlic burn.)

Stir tomatoes, wine, capers and basil into skillet. Continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add shrimp and sauce to pasta and toss to coat well. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano and additional chopped basil, if desired.

Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.