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Versatile meal ideas
By RITA DeMONTIS, National Food Editor
CANOE - Lifewise Updated: addthis

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Florentine beef and cheese-stuffed shells are. (Courtesy of the Beef Information Centre)

    They say a way to the heart is through the stomach.

    It may have to do with the idea of comforting someone through soothing sustenance, or preparing a delicious repast that helps banish the blues.

    With Valentine's Day coming up in a few days, certainly go for the hearts and chocolates, but do dig in to a delightful dinner too! Make every night a date night with memorable meals you can fall in love over again and again.

    The Beef Information Centre (BIC) offers these five fabulous Valentine's Day recipes that not only give your favourite recipes that extra something special - ground sirloin - but are perfect for big-batch cooking so you have the perfect recipe for the kids, too.

    Whether your sweetheart's stomach yearns for a rich ragout sauce or shepherd's pie, this is the perfect time to make their favourite supper special. Simply swapping everyday ground beef for a steak-experience source grind, you can give your favourite recipes that tender touch they have been longing for.


    The following recipes are courtesy of the Beef Information Centre -- there are two versions of the same recipe. One for kids, one for adults. For more recipes and to join the Make it Beef Club, visit Beefinfo.org.

    Florentine beef and cheese-stuffed shells

    Although this recipe may seem a bit fussy, it makes two pans, so you can bake one right away and refrigerate and save the second for another date night.

    1 box (340 g) jumbo pasta shells (approx. 44 shells)
    1 lb. (500 g) lean or extra lean ground beef sirloin
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    2 to 3 large cloves garlic, minced
    1 tsp. (5 ml) dried Italian herb seasoning
    1 pkg. (454 g) light ricotta cheese
    1 pkg (300 g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
    1- 1/2 cups (375 ml) part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
    1/2 tsp. (2 ml) pepper
    4 cups (1L) fat and sodium-reduced pasta sauce
    1/4 cup (50 ml) grated Parmesan cheese

    Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain and rinse; set aside. (Don't worry if some shells tear - you won't need them all.)

    Meanwhile, cook beef, onion, garlic and Italian seasoning in large, deep frying pan over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until beef is thoroughly cooked and any liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Stir in ricotta, spinach, 1 cup (250 ml) of mozzarella and pepper; combine well. Spoon 2 Tbsp. (30ml) into each of about 32 shells.

    Spread 1-1/3 cups (325 ml) pasta sauce into each of 13 x 9-inch (3L) baking dish and 9-inch (23 cm) glass pie plate. Place 20 filled shells in baking dish, and 10 to 12 in pie plate. Top shells in baking dish with remaining pasta sauce (none needed for pie plate). Sprinkle Parmesan and remaining mozzarella over shells in both pans. (Can be covered and refrigerated or frozen). Cover loosely with foil and bake in 350F (180C) oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes.

    Makes 8-10 servings.

    HEART-HEALTHY MAKEOVER: We used lean ground beef and lighter cheeses along with fat and sodium-reduced pasta sauce for this revised version. This dish is a great way to sneak in some spinach for the leafy green adverse.

    My Precious Picadillo

    Liven up your date with love talk as you serve this Latin American sirloin the traditional way, over steamed rice. It's also a tasty treat for teens, especially when tucked into taco shells with an assortment of toppings. It's an easy recipe to scale up or down, too.

    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 onion, minced
    1 sweet red, yellow or green pepper, finely diced
    1 lb (500 g) extra lean ground beef sirloin
    1 cup (250 ml) salsa
    1 tbsp (15 ml) chilli powder
    1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
    3/4 cup (175 ml) sliced green olives
    1/2 cup (125 ml) EACH raisins and slivered almonds (optional)

    Cook garlic, onion, sweet pepper and ground beef in large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is browned and completely cooked. Drain if necessary.

    Add salsa, chilli powder and cumin, olives and raisins; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 2 to 3 Tbsp. (30 to 45 ml) water if necessary. Top servings with almonds if desired.

    Serves 6.

    COOK'S NOTES: You can create several different dishes with this basic recipe:

    EMPANADAS: Let filling cool completely. Roll out pastry for 2 double-crust pies and cut into forty 3-inch (8 cm) rounds; place 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) beef mixture on each. Moisten pastry edges with water; fold over and press edges with fork to seal. Make ahead: freeze unbaked empanadas in sealed container for up to 1 month; bake frozen in 350F (180C) oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

    Place on parchment paper or foil-lined baking sheet; prick and brush tops with 1 beaten egg. Bake in 425F (220C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

    CALZONES: Let filling cool completely. Roll out 1-1/2 lb (750 g) thawed pizza dough; divide into sixths, forming each into disc. On lightly floured surface, roll out each disc into 8-inch (20 cm) circle. Divide filling over half of each circle; fold dough over; press firmly with fork to seal. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheet in 400F (200C) oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

    Rich Romantic Ragout

    Talk about chemistry! The alchemy of anchovy, tomato, black olives and red wine combine to bring ground sirloin's beefy flavour to the forefront - a potent combination to tease taste buds and brighten the senses. Note -- this recipe splits into two: One to keep handy for the kids, the other to be transformed into something sensual and romantic!

    1 Tbsp. (15 ml) olive oil
    1 onion, minced
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 cup (250 ml) diced vegetables (e.g. zucchini and sweet pepper)
    1 lb (500 kg) lean ground beef sirloin
    1 can (28 oz / 796 ml) tomatoes
    1 can (5- 1/2 oz / 796 ml) tomato paste
    1 Tbsp. (15 mL) brown sugar
    1/2 tsp (2 ml) dried oregano
    Salt and pepper

    Heat oil in large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, vegetables and ground sirloin; cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up meat, for 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is browned. Drain.

    Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and oregano; bring to boil, stirring often.

    SPLIT THE BATCH: Transfer half of sauce into a second large saucepan. Keep one half for the kids - transform the other into Rich Romantic Ragout

    Kid's So-Simple Meat Sauce: To one half batch, reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over spaghetti.

    Rich Romantic Ragout: To one half batch, stir in 1/4 cup (50 ml) EACH dry red wine and pitted black olives (chopped) and 1/4 tsp (1 ml) dried chili pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pappardelle pasta or polenta with freshly ground pepper and Parmesan.

    Makes 5 cups (1.25 L) sauce in total.

    Spicy Sultan's Sirloin

    Savour this Moroccan-style meal rich in North African spices. Note - again, this recipe split in two: one for the kids (Kid-friendly Spaghetti Sauce) and one for adults - called Date Night Dining.

    1 lb (500 g) lean ground beef sirloin
    1 onion, chopped
    2 carrots, grated or cut into matchstick pieces
    Half sweet red pepper, diced or cut into matchstick pieces
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1- 1/2 tsp (7 ml) paprika
    1/2 tsp (2 ml) EACH ground ginger, cumin and cinnamon
    1/8 tsp (0.5 ml) EACH salt, pepper and hot chilli pepper flakes
    Half a can (28 oz / 796 ml) diced tomatoes
    1/3 cup (75 mL) sliced green olives
    Toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh coriander

    Cook ground beef, onion, carrots and red pepper in large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up beef with back of spoon, for 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is completely cooked and no longer pink and vegetables are tender-crisp.

    SPLIT THE BATCH: Transfer half into a second saucepan. One half becomes Date Night's Spicy Sultan's Sirloin, while the other becomes Kid-friendly Spaghetti Sauce.

    Date Night's Spicy Sultan's Sirloin: To one half batch, stir in garlic, paprika, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in olives; heat through. Garnish with pine nuts and coriander to serve.

    Kid-friendly Spaghetti Sauce: To one half batch, stir in 1 jar (700 ml) pasta sauce; simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve over hot spaghetti noodles.

    Serves 4.

    Sultry sirloin gratin (Kids: Shepherd's Pie)

    Savour the flavour of lean beef sirloin in this easy bistro classic. Date Night Dining Plan: Make ahead and portion out into 4 to 5 individual baking dishes - use custard cups for the kids so it's Shepherd's Pie for Them and ramekins for you so it's a Sultry Sirloin for just You Two. Bake separately so kids eat first and you eat later enjoying adult-only dining.

    1 onion, chopped
    1 lb (500 g) lean ground beef sirloin
    1/4 tsp (1mL) dried thyme
    Pepper
    1/4 cup (50 ml) Worcestershire Sauce
    2 Tbsp. (30 ml) tomato paste
    1 Tbsp. (15 ml) all-purpose flour
    2 cups (500 ml) frozen mixed vegetables
    1 cup (250 ml) low-sodium beef stock
    Buttermilk mashed potatoes (recipe follows)
    1/2 cup (125 ml) EACH shredded aged and mild Cheddar cheese

    Cook onion, beef, thyme and pepper (to taste) in 12-inch (30 cm) skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until beef is browned and onion is softened, about 10 minutes.

    Reduce heat to medium; stir in Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste and flour. Stir in vegetables and stock; simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Divide into portions, spooning into 2 custard cups for kids and 2 ramekins or small gratin dish for adults.

    Savoury Sirloin Gratin: Gradually stir half of aged Cheddar into half buttermilk mashed potatoes; spread evenly over beef mixture. Top each with remaining aged cheddar; bake in 350F (180C) oven until lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Broil until topping is rich golden-brown, about 3 minutes if desired. Serve with mesclun mix salad greens dressed with your favourite vinaigrette dressing.

    Shepherd's Pie for Kids: Gradually stir half of mild cheddar into half of buttermilk mashed potatoes; spread evenly over beef mixture. Top each with remaining mild cheddar; bake in 350F (180C) oven until lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Broil until topping is rich golden-brown, about 3 minutes, if desired. Serve with their favourite veggies and dip.

    Makes 4 to 5 servings.

    BUTTERMILK MASHED POTATOES: Cover 1-1/2 lb (750 g) potatoes, peeled and cubed, with cold salted water in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and return to pot over medium heat; heat until dry, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk and 1/4 cup (50 ml) butter; mash until smooth.

    This story was posted on Wed, February 9, 2011

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