How To – Cleaning Enameled Cookware

A couple years ago I switched out all of my non-stick coated Teflon cookware for ceramic, enamel cookware.  I made the switch because I was tired of having the non-stick coating flaking off into my food.  I figured ingesting the coating could not be healthy….

I also became increasingly concerned about the news and awareness of the possible carcinogen levels in non-stick Teflon cookware.  After doing a lot of research on what alternative types of cookware would fit my cooking style, I settled on ceramic, enamel cookware.

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Because ceramic, enamel cookware provides a non-stick surface, I have found it to be a great way to cook healthy foods while using little to no oil.  I have also found ceramic, enamel cookware regulates heat amazingly well and provides a consistent way to cook foods of all kinds.

While cooking with ceramic, enamel cookware provides a whole host of benefits, I have found one drawback.   Cleaning hard residue or stains off ceramic, enamel cookware can be a relentless battle.  Thankfully, most of the time the cookware can simply be cleaned with soap and water.  However, there are times when a residue from sauteed onions or a stain from a tomato sauce resides in the cookware after it has been cleaned.  This residue can be extremely annoying to say the least.

Since the surface of ceramic, enamel cookware can be pretty delicate, caution should be exercised when selecting what type of cleaning instruments or methods can be used.  The traditional methods of using a scour pad or even steel wool cannot be used when cleaning ceramic, enamel cookware.  Any aggressive cleaning instrument could scratch the ceramic surface and cause serious damage to the cookware.

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With traditional non-stick cookware, a less aggressive approach of simply soaking the cookware in soapy water can usually be effective in loosing the residue or removing the stain.  However, with ceramic, enamel cookware I have found this does not always happen.  Sometimes for the extra tough residue or unsightly stains,  something more is needed.

The something more that is needed comes in the form of good old fashion baking soda.  I switched to ceramic, enamel cookware because I am not a fan of chemicals and wanted to try and lessen chemical use in my household.  So when I heard about using baking soda to clean ceramic, enamel cookware I was eager to try it out.  And while I was not surprised at the cleaning ability of baking soda, since it cleans just about everything else, I was taken aback at how quickly and nicely it cleaned my ceramic, enamel cookware.

There is no real magic recipe when it comes to cleaning ceramic, enamel cookware with baking soda.  In general, a good rule of thumb is using about a tablespoon of baking soda for a large pot that is filled with water.  The first step is to fill the dirty pot or pan with water.  Next bring the water to a boil over medium/high heat.  Add the baking soda and stir with a spoon.  Turn down the heat and allow the baking soda mixture to simmer for a few minutes.

If needed, use the spoon to gently scrape any residue that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan or pot.  Once the pot or pan is clean, carefully pour the water/baking soda solution down the drain.   Rinse the pot with hot water (soap if needed) and then wipe dry.  Your ceramic, enamel pot or pan should now be squeaky clean!

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How To – The Perfect Pie Crust

Making pie crust can be amazingly fun or amazingly horrible.  While creating a pie crust from scratch can be a fearful thought, knowing the keys to the perfect pie crust can help make the experience pleasurable and rewarding.  Pie crust only requires a couple ingredients and once you get the hang of it, you will be able to create a perfect pie crust every time.

Over the years I have made many pie crusts.  I have tested out various recipes and techniques.  Some things worked, some things did not work.  When it comes to pie crust I have always been amazed at how one little change in ingredients or technique can vastly change the outcome of the pie crust.

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In this post I have outlined some things I have learned about pie crust making.  These key points are tried, true and never seem to let me down.

  • Butter: Use butter in the pie crust recipe.  Pie crust requires a fat of some sort to bind the other pie crust ingredients together.  Some recipes call for shortening, lard or even yogurt.  And while all of these fats technically work, butter provides a taste and richness to the pie crust that simply cannot be replicated.
  • Cold butter: To pig back off the first key point, when using butter, it must be cold butter.  Room temperature or warm butter will not create a flaky crust.  In the oven, cold butter melts slowly which creates layers and pockets providing for a perfectly flaky crust.
  • Don’t over mix:  Once the pie crust ingredients are combined, do not over mix the dough.  Having a dough that resembles coarse crumbs is the texture that is desired to create a flaky pie crust.  If the ingredients get over mixed, the butter can melt and the flour can become too glutenous.
  • Chill the dough:  Prior to rolling, the dough needs to be chilled in the refrigerator.  The key here, again, is that the butter needs to stay cold.  The butter will warm up slightly during the mixing stage, so chilling the dough prior to rolling it, will ensure the butter has stayed in its cold state.  Likewise, chilling the dough after it has been shaped in the pie pan also helps ensure the butter has not warmed too much prior to baking.
  • Blind baking: Blind baking is simply baking the pie crust prior to filling it with pie filling.  Blind backing helps to prevent the bottom crust from becoming too soggy.  During blind baking, the pie crust should be weighted down so that it does not bubble up too much.  Pie weights can be used or the crust can be lined with parchment paper and dried beans to provide sufficient weight.
  • Water:  Adding the right amount of water is crucial in creating the perfect pie crust.  Adding too much water can release too much gluten in the flour which can create a tough pie crust.  On the flip side, adding not enough water can mean that the ingredients don’t hold together, thus creating a cracked dough and crust.  The temperature of the water can also make a difference in how the pie crust turns out.  To ensure a flaky crust, using ice cold water is best.  Ice cold water falls in line with the other cold basics laid out in these key points.  The cold temperature ensures the butter stays in a cold state.

I hope the above hints are helpful in creating a perfect pie crust.  While the store bought pie crusts are amazingly convenient, there is nothing quite like homemade pie crust.   Happy pie making!

Mason Jar Apple Crisp

Apple season is just around the corner so that means more yummy apple recipes!  To start the season off properly my first recipe post will be for a mason jar apple crisp.  This mason jar apple crisp recipe is super easy, amazingly quick and is the perfect dessert for a party.

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The mason jar allows the apple crisp to be perfectly portioned and transportable.  Since there is no need for crisp cutting and serving, they can easily be served at parties.  This crisp recipe gives you great apple pie flavor but without all of the pie crust work.

A crisp is usually grouped with other fruit based crumble and cobbler desserts.  All of the desserts are similar in that they include a fruit and a pastry.  The difference between the three is defined by the type of pastry that is used in the dessert.  A crumble uses crumbled up pie crust ingredients as the pastry element.  A cobbler uses biscuit ingredients.  And a crisp uses a crust similar to a crumble pie crust ingredients but also includes the addition of oats.

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This recipe requires the use of mason jars.  Mason jars can typically be found in most grocery stores or they can be ordered online.  Mason jars come in a variety of sizes.  For this recipe I used the 340ml mason jar size.  I have used other mason jar sizes and found there to be no real difference in the way the recipe turns out.  The only real general guideline would be to decrease the baking time for smaller jars and increase the baking time for larger jars.

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Most apple pie, crumble, crisp or cobbler recipes call for the apples to be peeled and diced prior to baking.  I have found for a consistent apple filling using a mandolin slicer works the best.  The apple pieces are uniform which helps them bake up evenly.  This even baking makes for a more harmonious apple texture and flavor.

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The recipe can be adapted to fit certain tastes and dietary needs.  At the bottom of this recipe page you will find a paleo/gluten free/grain free recipe that is adapted from the standard recipe.

Mason Jar Apple Crisp

6 granny smith apples (peeled and sliced using a mandolin slicer)
1.5 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon
1/2 cup sugar (I prefer raw cane sugar but any sugar will do)
2 tablespoons flour (see above for substitutions)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

Topping:
1.25 cups flour (see above for substitutions)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (I prefer raw brown cane sugar but any sugar will do)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 TBS or 1 1/2 sticks refrigerated butter, Cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, add sliced apples and pour over fresh lemon juice.  Add the sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour to the apples, mix to coat evenly. Carefully spoon the apple mixture into mason jars, filling each to the top.

In a large bowl, add all of the dry crisp ingredients.  Kneed the butter throughout the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbles. Top each Mason jar with the crumple crisp mixture and pack it down nicely to ensure proper baking.

Bake the apple crisp for 30-35 minutes or until the crisp on the top is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow the apple crisp to sit for 10 minutes or so to cool.  The apple crisp can be served warm, room temperature or cold.  Ice cream or whipped cream can be added to the top prior to serving.

Mason Jar Apple Crisp – Paleo/Gluten Free/Grain Free 

6 granny smith apples (peeled and sliced using a mandolin slicer)
1.5 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon
2 tbls maple syrup or 1/4 cup coconut sugar or 2 tbls honey or 1/2 tsp stevia
2 tablespoons coconut flour or almond flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

Topping:
1.25 cups coconut flour or almond flour
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar (I prefer raw brown cane sugar but any sugar will do)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tbls or 1 1/2 sticks refrigerated butter, cut into small cubes or 8 tbls coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, add sliced apples and pour over fresh lemon juice.  Add the sugar or sugar substitute, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and “flour” to the apples, mix to coat evenly. Carefully spoon the apple mixture into mason jars, filling each to the top.

In a large bowl, add all of the dry crisp ingredients.  Kneed the butter or coconut oil throughout the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbles. Top each Mason jar with the crumple crisp mixture and pack it down nicely to ensure proper baking.

Bake the apple crisp for 30-35 minutes or until the crisp on the top is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow the apple crisp to sit for 10 minutes or so to cool.  The apple crisp can be served warm, room temperature or cold.  Ice cream or whipped cream can be added to the top prior to serving.

 

Stroganoff – 4 Ways

Stroganoff is a traditional Russian dish comprised of beef, beef bouillon and sour cream.  The traditional recipe does not include onion or mushroom.  It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that stroganoff recipes started to include tomato, mushroom and onion.  Stroganoff has generally always been served over pasta (egg noodle pasta), however, some places serve the creamy mixture over rice.

I have made stroganoff more times then I can count over the last couple of years.  It is an easy recipe that can be adjusted to fit ones taste, dietary needs or budget.  I have included the multiple ways I have found to make stroganoff in this recipe page.  I have kept a lot of the general stroganoff concepts the same in each recipe, just making some minor substitutions.  I have included recipes for beef stroganoff, turkey stroganoff, vegetarian stroganoff and allergy free stroganoff.

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Traditional stroganoff is made using beef broth or beef bouillon.  I have altered that part of the recipe and use beef stock instead.  Beef stock, in my opinion, has more flavor then beef broth.  I also use beef stock because I am also not a fan of beef bouillon cubes.  If you have ever read the ingredients on beef bouillon you will understand why I do not use the stuff.

Speaking of ingredients I am a stickler for reading labels.  Most of the ingredients in a stroganoff recipe are unprocessed foods so, thankfully, there is not a lot of label reading.  However, the recipe, as mentioned above, does include beef stock.  There are many boxed and canned beef stocks on the market.  They vary in ingredients, quality, taste and price.  I have found the best two beef stock brands are  “Kitchen Basics Stock Original Beef*”, which can be found here and “Kettle & Fire Beef Bone Broth*“, which can be found here.

Beef Stroganoff  (the traditional way)

1 pound beef sirloin steak (cut into strips) or for a cheaper option use ground beef

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups beef stock (see above for recommendations)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 cup sour cream

3 cups cooked egg noodles (about half of a big bag)

Optional – 2 cups sliced mushrooms (my family dislikes mushrooms so I have them as optional)

In a medium sized pan, heat butter over medium heat.  Add cut beef into the skillet, cook until brown and no longer red inside. Stir in the beef stock, salt, onion powder, ketchup, optional mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce.  Heat to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  In a small cup mix corn starch and water.  Add starch mixture to the stock mix.  Stir in sour cream.  Heat until hot and then serve over noodles.

Ground Turkey Stroganoff  (the healthier way)

1 pound ground turkey

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups beef stock (see above for recommendations)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon ketchup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup plain greek yogurt

3 cups cooked egg noodles (about half of a big bag)

Optional – 2 cups sliced mushrooms (my family dislikes mushrooms so I have them as optional)

In a medium sized pan, heat butter over medium heat.  Add cut beef into the skillet and cook until brown. Stir in the beef stock, salt, onion powder, optional mushrooms, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.   Heat to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  In a small cup mix corn starch and water.  Add starch mixture to the stock mix.  Stir in sour cream (or greek yogurt).  Heat until hot and then serve over noodles.

Vegetarian Stroganoff (the meatless way)

3/4 pound portbello mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups vegetable stock

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ketchup

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup sour cream or 1 cup plain greek yogurt

3 cups cooked egg noodles (about half of a big bag)

In a medium sized pan, heat butter over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have softened and browned.  Place mushrooms in a bowel and set aside. Stir in the vegetable stock, salt, onion powder, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Heat to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  In a small cup mix corn starch and water.  Add starch mixture to the stock mix.  Stir in sour cream (or greek yogurt) and cooked mushrooms.  Heat until hot and then serve over noodles.

Paleo/Grain/Gluten/Dairy Free Stroganoff  (the allergy friendly way)

1 pound ground turkey or 1 pound beef sirloin steak (cut into strips)

1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter (if dairy is okay)

2 cups beef stock (see above for recommendations)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon tapioca starch

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup cauliflower puree (see instructions below) or dairy free greek yogurt

3 cups cooked spaghetti squash or any grain free pasta

Optional – 2 cups sliced mushrooms (my family dislikes mushrooms so I have them as optional)

In a medium sized pan, heat butter over medium heat.  Add cut beef into the skillet and cook until brown. Stir in the beef stock, salt, onion powder, optional mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce. Heat to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  In a small cup mix tapioca starch and water.  Add starch mixture to the stock mix.  Stir in cauliflower puree or dairy free greek yogurt.  Heat until hot and then serve over grain free noodles or spaghetti squash.

Cauliflower puree – Dice 1/2 head of cauliflower.  Place in a microwave safe bowl, add a 1/2 cup of water and cover.  Microwave for about 6 minutes.  Carefully remove the hot bowl and puree in a blender.

*I am not a compensated endorser of these products. I do, however, list the product name and link to the product(s) I use since some readers have asked for recommendations. I provide this information in my recipes to help readers select types and brands of certain products. I am an avid product label reader and critic. I only purchase and list products in my blog that have quality ingredients listed on their label. I hope my researched selections can assist my readers in the grocery stores and can hopefully cut down on the time they spend in the grocery store pining over labels.

 

No Bake, 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Snowballs

This recipe started with a recent impulse buy at the grocery store.  Vanilla cream filled cookies were on sale and I figured my son might really enjoy them.  After it was determined that he so so about them, the cookies were then passed over by my husband, who doesn’t really go for sweets and then by me since I have gluten intolerance issues.  I have a really hard time pitching food, so I was determined to do something with the cookies.

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I have made cake balls in the past and this recipe is sort of a play off the cake ball concept.  However, unlike a cake ball recipe, this recipe does not require baking, has far less ingredients and the start to finish time is considerably shorter.  These peanut butter snowballs can literally be completed and plated in less then 10 minutes.  They are great as a last minute dessert or pot luck dish.

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There are similar recipes out there that use graham crackers or butter cookies in addition to butter to create a dough ball.  This recipe does not contain butter which makes it a great dairy free or vegan recipe.  Gluten free vanilla sandwich cookies can be used to create a gluten free peanut butter snowball.  And for peanut free snowballs, sunflower or almond butter can be used in place of the peanut butter.

I would recommend using a high quality vanilla cookie sandwich in this recipe, but really any brand will do.  The one I used is “Country Choice Organic Vanilla Sandwich Cookies*” and can be found here.  I would also recommend a natural, less processed peanut butter, which can typically be found at most grocery stores.  I prefer “Trader Joe’s Natural Peanut Butter*“, which can be found here.  Good, high quality natural peanut butters can be hard to locate since most of them have added sugars or oils.  I prefer natural peanut butters that contain just peanuts and salt.

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And lastly using an unrefined powdered sugar for this recipe is best, but can be hard to find.  The powdered sugar I prefer to use is “Wholesome Sweeteners
Organic Powdered Sugar*” and can be found here.  If you cannot locate unrefined powered sugar you can always make your own powered sugar.  To create your own powdered sugar simply add Sucanat or any natural sugar to a powerful blender or food processor. Pulse the sugar until it becomes a fine powder.  Traditional powdered sugar has the addition of corn starch or tapioca starch but that addition is not necessary in this recipe application.

No Bake, 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Snowballs

16 vanilla sandwich cookies

1/2 cup peanut butter (prefer natural peanut butter)

1/4 cup powdered sugar (plus a couple extra tablespoons for final dusting)

Add sandwich cookies to a food processor.  Pulse the cookies until they become a coarse crumble.  Add powdered sugar and peanut butter to the crumble mix.  Pulse the mixture until it comes together into a dough type ball. Remove the mixture and using a tablespoon measuring spoon (I like to use a silicone one so that they pop out easily), scoop out dough and roll to create a bite sized dough ball.  Roll the balls in a light dusting of powdered sugar and set aside.  The balls can be immediately served or stored in a container.  This recipe makes about 20 snowballs.

*I am not a compensated endorser of these products.  I do, however, list the product name and link to the product(s) I use since some readers have asked for recommendations.  I provide this information in my recipes to help readers select types and brands of certain products.  I am an avid product label reader and critic.  I only purchase and list products in my blog that have quality ingredients listed on their label.  I hope my researched selections can assist my readers in the grocery stores and can hopefully cut down on the time they spend in the grocery store pining over labels.   

How To – Cook Spaghetti Squash

Recently, in the grocery store, I over heard a lady asking a produce clerk how to cook a particular vegetable.  I was curious as to what she was inquiring about so I peered over and noticed she was holding a spaghetti squash.  She was asking the clerk if it was a spaghetti squash, how to cook it, for how long and using what cooking method.  The produce clerk looked puzzled, confused and embarrassed that he had no answers to any of her questions.

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After seeing this grocery store exchange I decided to write a blog on how to cook spaghetti squash.  Cooking spaghetti squash is such an easy process that, in my opinion, can be easier then cooking its grain based pasta cousin.  All you need to cook spaghetti squash is a squash, a knife, a baking sheet and an oven.  It doesn’t get any more basic then that and the oven does all the work!

Spaghetti squashes come in various shapes and sizes.  They range from very small to very large.  When selecting a spaghetti squash choose one that is not shiny and firm to the touch.  The squash should be free of dark soft spots and deep cracks.  The squash should be somewhat heavy in comparison to its size.  The squash can range in color from very pale yellow to a very deep, almost orange, yellow.  The color has no effect on the quality of the squash so it should not be a determining factor.

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Spaghetti squash can be prepared in a variety of ways including boiling, microwaving, steaming and baking.  I have tried all of these methods and prefer to bake or roast spaghetti squash.  Baking the squash locks in the flavor and provides for the best squash consistency.  Roasting spaghetti squash can be done oil free, like how I have listed below, or you can add olive oil to the squash prior to baking.

How To – Cook Spaghetti Squash

1 medium sized spaghetti squash

Baking sheet

Extra sharp, strong knife

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Wash the outside of the spaghetti squash.  Using a sharp, strong knife, carefully cut the squash into two equal halves, lengthwise.  Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the seeds out from each squash half.   Place the halves, face down, on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Each squash will roast differently, especially due to the difference in squash sizes.  Because of this difference, it is crucial to check the squash after this 30 minute mark.  Most of the time the squash will be done and can be taken out of the oven.  However, there are times when the squash is not finished roasting and will need more time in the oven.  Like pasta, spaghetti squash can be cooked to the fit your texture preference.  I prefer my pasta and my spaghetti squash to be on the al dente side, so I never roast a squash longer then 30 minutes.  The longer you roast the squash the softer the strands will become.

The texture of the strands can be tested using a fork.  After removing the squash from the over, carefully turn over one of the halves and, using a fork, scrap the inside of the squash.  If there is a lot of resistance then the squash needs to go back in the oven to roast for more time.  If the strands come away nicely and are somewhat soft, then the squash is finished roasting and can be set aside to cool slightly before serving.  You can also sample the squash strands to see if the texture fits your preference.  Also note that while the squash cools outside of the over, the strands will continue to cook.  Because of this, I have always found it is better to under cook the squash slightly and then let it finish cooking while it is cooling.

Turkey Vegetable Bake

I am a huge fan of simple, healthy and delicious weeknight dinner recipes.  This turkey vegetable bake recipe fits those requirements perfectly.  It only requires a handful of ingredients and involves easy prep work.

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The recipe is very versatile and can be adjusted to fits ones tastes.  The ground turkey can be removed to make it a vegetarian/vegan dish.  For those who like a little extra kick, a dash of cayenne pepper can be added to the spice roundup.

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The finished bake can be served as is or poured over pasta.  For my gluten free and/or grain free followers, the bake can be poured over spaghetti squash.  And for the cheese lovers, grated mozzarella and/or Parmesan cheese can be added prior to placing the casserole in the oven.

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Turkey Vegetable Bake

1 pound ground turkey (omit for vegetarian/vegan recipe)

1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes

2 zucchini’s (diced)

1 medium sized onion (diced)

2 medium sized carrots (peeled and diced)

2 cloves of garlic (minced)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons fresh basil (chopped)

1 tablespoon fresh parsley (finely chopped)

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon of salt (more depending on taste and type of canned tomatoes used)

1 teaspoon of pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Grated mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large pot over medium heat, brown the ground turkey.  Add the onions and garlic, cooking until soft.  Add tablespoon of water, olive oil and diced carrots.  Cover the skillet and cook until carrots get slightly soft (a couple of minutes).   Add diced zucchini, basil, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper.  Turn off heat and stir to combine all of the ingredients.

Pour into a 2 quart baking/casserole dish (add optional cheese). Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  If cheese has been added, remove aluminum foil and bake for additional 10 minutes or until the cheese has slightly browned.  Serve as is or poured over pasta.  For my gluten free and/or grain free followers, the bake can be poured over spaghetti squash

The leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and the flavor only gets better with time.