What to Serve with Pot Pie and Other All Inclusive Casseroles

What to serve

Last week we talked about side dish pairings and how to choose sides that will compliment your main dish.

This week I want to focus on sides that go with pot pies and casseroles. When I asked about recipes that are hard to choose side dishes for, pot pies were at the top of the list.

After all, pot pie already has a meat, vegetable and bread element. It makes it hard to know what to place with it. And yet, it does feel like the meal needs something to round it out.

Here are a few ideas. You may opt for just one side if it’s a simple, weeknight meal. If you’re feeding more people or serving a Sunday dinner, you’ll want to add more than one of these options.

Fruit or Fruit Salad

Sweet Potatoes

Green Veggies

Pot pie and casseroles usually do have vegetables included, but not as many as we should be eating in a meal.

Whole Grain Bread or Rolls

We love breads, but they don’t bring a lot of nutrition.  Make it whole grain to redeem them a bit.

What do you like to serve with pot pie and other casseroles?


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5 Reasons My Homemade Pizza disappointed Me and What I’m Doing to Fix It

5 Ways to make great homemade pizza

I’ve made homemade pizza many times over the years.

And I’ve been disappointed in my results quite a few times too.

From soggy crusts, to pizzas that don’t bake evenly to those that just don’t taste great. (To be fair, there have been many homemade pizzas we really enjoyed too.)

A while back I found a free Craftsy pizza making class.  It’s an online video course that comes with some recipes and shows how to really up your homemade pizza making game.

I watched the course recently and gave a few of the tips a try.  And I learned a lot about pizza making, even though my first attempt didn’t go quite as planned.

But I’m determined to master the homemade pizza.  I’ll be sharing tips and recipes with you here.  I’ve got a great sauce recipe to share.  And I’ve got a dough in the fridge right now that I have high hopes for.  It feels lovely already, unlike the last recipe I tried, which never gained the soft, elastic quality you want in pizza dough.

For today I want to share 5 reasons why I’ve been disappointed in my previous pizza making attempts and what I’m doing to fix that.

Baking in an oven that’s not hot enough

Pizza needs a seriously hot oven.  Way hotter than I ever would have guessed.  Previously, I would bake my pizzas at around 400 degrees.

But I’ve learned through the Craftsy class and other reading I’ve done that you really need to crank up the oven.

Turn it to 500 degrees or hotter.  Mine goes up to 550.  Then turn on the convection bake if you have it.  This will add 50 extra degrees to the temp.

With the oven heated as high as it will go, pizza will bake in just 5-6 minutes.

In case you’re wondering, baking stones such as you buy from Pampered Chef cannot take this kind of heat.


pizza stone cracked

Takeaway – Turn up the oven the next time you bake.  But be sure to use a metal baking sheet or iron skillet if you don’t own a baking steel or pizza stone.

Pizza takes patience

Homemade pizza is not a 15 minute meal.  I love, love, love a quick dinner, but pizza is not in this category.

And I think that may be why I’m drawn to it now.  Learning to bake great pizza at home feels like a hobby and creative pursuit and less like the “get dinner on the table” routine that I do every day.

Good homemade pizza crust needs to be made at least 24 hours before it’s ready to be worked with.  The dough needs time to become strong and elastic.  Without that time, it won’t be possible to get it to stretch and form the crust.

Homemade pizza

Takeaway – Try making your crust at least a day ahead of when you’re planning to bake it.

If you want round crust, start with a round dough ball

Last week I made homemade dough, but didn’t separate it into individual pieces until I was ready to work with it.  I ended up with triangle shaped pizza crusts.  (My dough had a few other problems that didn’t help either.)

I’ve since learned that dividing the dough before storing in the fridge and storing the balls in a round container will help with keeping things round.

pizza dough in round ball

Takeaway – Store your dough already separated into pieces in a round bowl or dish.

Great flour really helps

I usually use bread flour for my pizza crust, but still wasn’t getting the results I wanted.  This time I bought King Arthur bread flour and it’s made a huge difference.  I could tell as I was running the mixer that this dough was a higher quality.  And as I worked with it, I knew for sure.

High quality flour that is high in gluten will produce the best pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza slice

Takeaway – Pick up a bag of high quality bread flour the next time you’re in the grocery.

Pizza tools are important

Pizza stones or baking steels that can take the heat are preferable to baking on a regular pizza pan.

I’ve recently ordered a pizza steel from Dough Joe.  These have the best price that I could find.  It’s still an investment, but it won’t ever break.  The steel is HEAVY!  15 pounds of metal.

dough joe pizza steel


We used this for the first time last Friday and I love it!  It’s a pizza-baking game changer!

Dough Joe also sells pizza stones.  I almost went with these.  They come as a 4 or 5 piece set, so they aren’t as prone to breaking as one solid stone would be.  They also aren’t as heavy as the pizza steel.

A pizza peel is essential for slipping the pizza into and out of the oven.  I have this one that I bought from Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I think it was in the Beyond section 😉

Takeaway – Consider purchasing a steel or stone and peel.  Or use your iron skillet to bake your pizza if you’re not ready to invest.

Pizza making parties are fun

I gather all the ingredients on the kitchen island.  Everyone gathers around to help work the dough, add toppings, talk and laugh.  We eat each pizza as it comes out of the oven.

It’s messy, noisy, delicious fun!

Takeaway – Invite your friends and family into the kitchen with you to experiment and have fun!


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The Art of the Side Dish – What Goes With…

Art of the Side Dish

Side dishes are my dinner downfall. Only because I have a habit of forgetting about them when I’m prepping dinner.

I’ve written about easy side dish ideas a couple of times.

But how do you know what sides pair well with different main dishes? Some things are easy – Spaghetti and salad. Meat, vegetable, roll.

There are other recipes that present more of a challenge. Sides to go with stir-fry. Moving beyond chips and salsa with a Mexican meal. What to serve with potpie and other all-inclusive casseroles.

We’ll be tackling some of these in future posts, but today I want to share a few things I keep in mind when planning the meals for Weekly Meal Plans.

A good side/main dish pairing will do a few things for your meal:   [Read more…]

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Why and How to Freeze Cooked Meats

One of my secrets to quick meals is having cooked meat in the freezer.  This is by far the biggest time saver you can do for your meal prep.


Ground Beef

You can cook ground beef (or ground chicken, pork, sausage etc) on the stove-top.  Or use this trick to do it in the slow cooker.

Grilled Chicken

If it’s nice out, fire up the grill and cook the chicken outside.  Slice and freeze. The smokey flavor will bring summer to your winter meals.

Rotisserie Chicken

3 Costco Rotisserie Chickens yield 5-6 meals. 13 possible recipes


If you’re not in the mood to cook it yourself, grab several rotisserie chickens.  Pull the meat off the bones and freeze it.  You can find meal possibilities here and 10 more meal ideas here.

Whole Chicken 

Or bake a chicken yourself.  Use the slow cooker or do several at once in the oven.

Freezer Friendly Meatballs

how to stretch ground beef


Meatballs are so versatile for quick meals.  I have this recipe that includes rice to stretch the ground beef and make it go further.  Or try this more classic meatball recipe that still makes a bunch.

Turkey Breast

turkey breast in slow cooker


You can get a lot of meat off a turkey breast.  It’s a great deal if you find a sale.

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork is always good to have stashed away in the freezer for quick meals.  Serve it as sandwiches.  Add pineapple and cheese for a Hawaiian version.  Serve it over rice, like haystacks.  Lots of possibilities.



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How to Keep Homemade Tomato Soup from Curdling

How to keep Homemade Tomato Soup from curdling

I make homemade tomato soup pretty frequently.  It’s quick, easy and so good!

Plus all the ingredients are things that are easily kept on hand.  I do have buy the tomato juice special, but it keeps in the pantry until I’m ready to use it.

But the last time I made this soup, it curdled.  I made sure not to boil it, but it still curdled.  Curdled tomato soup is still edible.  There’s nothing about it that will hurt you.  It’s just not as good, because the texture is off.

So last night I was determined to avoid curdling.  I went on an internet search and found a few tricks that might help.

There were several tips for stirring milk into the base or vice versa.  A couple of sites mentioned that the heat is part of what causes curdling.  One site mentioned using baking soda to help neutralize the acid.

I decided to tweak my recipe with some of these ideas.

I added 1/4 tsp. baking soda to the flour when making the roux.

I used cold milk instead of warmed, which my original recipe called for.

I whisked in the milk very, very slowly.  I’m pretty sure I’ve curdled the soup before, just by being impatient and pouring in the milk too fast.

And I heated the finished soup over low heat.  It took a few minutes longer, but it worked!

I’ve updated my recipe for Homemade Tomato Soup so it shows all of these steps now.

homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons


Don’t miss the grilled cheese croutons to top it off!

I do admit that last night we just had regular grilled cheese with our soup.  Either way, this is an easy winter supper.


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How to make 6 slow cooker freezer meals in 1 hour – February (and a video)

February slow cooker freezer meals

Every month, as part of the Slow Cooker plan for Weekly Meal Plans, we do a freezer meals week.  The goal is to be able to assemble all 6 meals in just about 1 hour.

I stock these away to use on our really busy days.  I love having them in the freezer!  In fact, as I write this I can smell the Chicken Cacciatore cooking for our dinner tonight.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a video showing how I assemble the meals.  I’m not great at video.  I haven’t taken time to learn to edit.  And the storage on my phone is almost out (yes, I’m super high tech and record with my iPhone), so the video cuts out near the end.  But you don’t miss out on too much.

I hope you find the video helpful.  And if not, just skip it :)

All of the slow cooker freezer meal plans have downloadable, color-coded grocery lists.  I love shopping with these.  It makes it so easy to pick up what you need.

The February plans are all available in the member area now.  Members have access to all three plans – Traditional, Whole Food and Slow Cooker.

The recipes I make in this video are all available on the site.  But to get the printable grocery list, recipes and assembly instructions, you’ll need to be a member of Weekly Meal Plans.

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22 Slow Cooker Recipes That Can Handle Cooking All Day

22 Slow Cooker Recipes that can cook all day

A lot of times when we think of using the slow cooker, it’s because we’re leaving the house early and won’t be back until dinner. Slow cookers are great for those days, but not all recipes will work.

You need to use a recipe that can take the heat for that long and still hold up. Soups, stews, large pieces of meat (especially if it has a bone) all do well.

Another tip is to make sure you’re using a slow cooker size that’s right for the amount of food.  It should be about 3/4 full or more if you want to cook it all day.  Less than that, and the slow cooker will cook too hot, leading to overcooked food.

Here’s a list of recipes that you’ll have success with.

african pulled beef sandwich done

African Pulled Beef Sandwiches

beef stew done

All Day Beef Stew

bbq chicken sandwiches in slow cooker done

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

beef and bean topped potatoes done

Beef and Bean Topped Baked Potatoes

beef shwarma in the slow cooker

Beef Shwarma

Calico Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage (aka Mixed Bean Soup)

chicken enchilada soup in slow cooker done

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Chicken Fiesta with Black Beans

Honey Mustard Chicken

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Curry Soup

Thai Chicken Curry Soup

Easy Shredded Taco Beef

Garlic Chicken with More Garlic

pumpkin black bean chicken chili

Pumpkin Black Bean Chili

Pulled Pork

BBQ Peach Pulled Pork

slow cooker beans for the freezer done

Beans for the Freezer

Chicken Cock-a-leekie Soup

Chicken Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Chicken Minestrone in the Slow Cooker

Chicken Minestrone Soup

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Ham and Bean Soup in the Slow Cooker

Ham and Bean Soup

Slow Cooker Smoked Sausage and Sauerkraut Soup

Sauerkraut and Smoked Sausage Soup

Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili


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How to Convert a Slow Cooker Recipe for Oven or Stove Top

how to convert slow cooker recipes to oven or stove top

One trick I use in the kitchen is to match my cooking appliance to the kind of day I’m having schedule-wise.

I’m talking about fitting the dinner cooking schedule with all the other daily activities.  If I have more time to prep a meal in the morning, I’ll choose the slow cooker.

If I find myself at 5 o’clock having done no dinner prep, then it’s too late for crock-potting.  But some of my favorite recipes are slow cooker recipes.

No worries.  Almost all slow cooker recipes can be converted for making in the oven or on the stove.  Most of them started out with these traditional cooking methods anyway.

I’ve already talked about how to convert recipes into slow cooker recipes.  Here are a few tips for going the other way and using the oven and stove top.

1.  Soups

If it’s a soup, it can be made on top of the stove.  It will take a fraction of the time that the slow cooker calls for.  You’ll still want to follow the order given in a slow cooker recipe.  Meats go in first.  Creams, milks and cheeses are often added at the end of cooking time because you don’t want those to boil.

2.  Try using a Dutch oven.

A Dutch oven is a cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.  Many pots and pans sets come with a dutch oven.  Cast iron Dutch ovens are popular, especially those with enamel interiors.

Assemble the slow cooker recipe just as it calls for, but put the ingredients in a Dutch oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for for an hour or 1 1/2 hours.  Add time if it’s a large piece of meat.

3.  Casserole type recipes

Most crockpot casserole recipes started out as oven recipes.  Generally, baking in a casserole dish at 350 degrees for about 1 hour will work.

4.  Determine what the cooking time is accomplishing.

Is the time in the crockpot meant to cook meat from raw?  Or is it just for bringing something to a near boil, such as a sauce?  Answers to these questions will help you determine how much time the recipe will need on the stove or in the oven.


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10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken (or Leftover Turkey)

One of the best things I do to keep weeknight meal prep easy, is to have chicken cooked and frozen. Having the meat ready to go is such a time saver!

If you’ve got leftover turkey, count your blessings! Then package it in plastic freezer bags and stash it away. You can use cooked turkey just like you would chicken.

10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken

Lately, I’ve been buying Costco rotisserie chicken to keep in the freezer. But sometimes I cook it myself.

The main thing is to get some cooked chicken or turkey ready for use in recipes. Many of the recipes below are 15 minute meals. Some take a little bit longer, but they’re all easily doable on a busy weeknight.

Here are 10 recipes to get you started.   [Read more…]

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Freezing Single Servings for Teenage Boys and Other Hungry People

Freezing Single servings


A reader asked the other day about what types of foods are good for freezing in single servings.  She’s got a hungry teenage boy to fill up. (I can relate to that!)

Short of keeping the kitchen open all the time, with a cook waiting on hand, filling the freezer with single serving foods is the best way to keep those boys filled up.  And it works for others in the family too, who need to eat at off hours.

If you’re trying to feed boys, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  Include protein.  They like foods that will stick with them.

2.  Make it easy.  Hand-held is good.

3.  Keep a list on the freezer so they know what’s in there and where to find it. Or is it just my boys who forget what I’ve told them?

Here’s a list of recipes that will keep all kinds of  hungry people happy:   [Read more…]

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