Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole

Who doesn’t love nachos? This Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole layers ground beef, black beans, melty cheddar, sour cream, and more on crispy tortilla chips for a delicious, easy Mexican dinner.


Remember recipe keepers? As in, the OG Pinterest? When I got married, a friend gave me this once-stylish (and once covered) Trapper Keeper-esque recipe binder–complete with pockets for recipes torn from magazines and plenty of space to write down favorite breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and more.

Just like new…😂

Please ignore my awkwardly placed finger in this photo.

Little did I know that the internet would soon virtually eliminate my need for such a thing. With every recipe under the sun online, there’s less and less call for physical recipe keepers.

And yet…I do still actually use this book. (I’m in the generation that straddles the line between liking old school pen and paper and digital everything.) As you can probably tell from its appearance, this binder has seen 16 years of flipping, sorting, and stuffing. And while there are plenty of recipes I made in 2004 that I’d never consider now–lookin’ at you, chili with a spaghetti sauce base (yikes)–there are some I come back to time and again.


This Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole is one of them. Can you see why? Look at that gooey melted cheese, those dollops of sour cream, those lovable pops of cherry tomatoes! Come on, this meal is a nacho lover’s DREAM.

I honestly don’t know where this recipe originally came from, but it’s been in my recipe keeper almost since I acquired it. Some generous soul must have shared it with me, knowing what an inexperienced cook I was back then. Over the years I’ve tweaked it to make it my own. I’ve added fire-roasted corn, extra taco seasoning, and changed it from a single layer to a double layer. It’s not rocket science, certainly, but I can tell you it does make a crave-able Mexican meal that feeds a crowd. ‘Cause who doesn’t love nachos?

Typically, of course, nachos are not without their issues. The problem with making them in the microwave or under the broiler is getting the cheese to melt just right. Go too long and you’ll get a plate of scorched, blackened cheese crust–but too short a duration leaves you with a weird mish-mash that can’t decide if it’s melted or unmelted.

This recipe solves the problem by baking at 350 for about 30 minutes–perfect cheese-melting conditions, if you ask me. And though it may seem strange to bake dollops of sour cream, I promise it turns out as creamy as ever. Meanwhile, black beans add texture and fiber, and slivers of green onion finish things off with a piquant bite.

Hungry yet? Grab your nacho ingredients and get cooking! And tell me…do you have a recipe keeper? What’s yours like, and is it as messy (and well-loved) as mine?

Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole

In this delicious Mexican dinner, layers of ground beef, black beans, cheddar cheese, and more cover tortilla chips. Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes and you're done!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Servings: 8 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
  • 2 c. salsa
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. taco seasoning
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn kernels, preferably fire-roasted
  • 5 c. tortilla chips, roughly crushed
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar
  • 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 c. green onions, sliced

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • In a large skillet, brown ground beef. Drain, then add black beans, salsa, taco seasoning, and frozen corn. Cook until heated through.
  • Spread half the crushed tortilla chips in a layer in the prepared pan. Top with half the beef-bean mixture. Dollop with half the sour cream and sprinkle with half the cheddar. Repeat these layers: chips, beef-bean mixture, sour cream, shredded cheddar. Distribute halved cherry tomatoes, cut side down, over the top of the casserole and sprinkle with slicedgreen onions.
  • Bake 25-30 minutes or until heated through and cheese has melted.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

Easy Canned Tuna Poke Bowl

Want to recreate restaurant-style poke bowls on the cheap? Use canned tuna and canned crab in this easy canned tuna poke bowl!



Not long ago I posed a question on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page:

I love asking open-ended questions on social media because, not only does it get plenty of engagement from readers, but usually gets me thinking. When I asked this particular question, friends and followers had PLENTY of answers. And, seeing as how most of us have been deprived of the restaurant experience for weeks, if not months, I get it. I’m chomping at the bit as much as anyone to actually go OUT to eat.

In fact, for me, the Covid-19 restaurant ban has actually been a proving ground for determining which restaurants actually have good food and which I apparently go to for their ambiance or other factors. If all I can get is takeout, that takeout better be worth it! One type of restaurant whose food I’ve realized I genuinely miss? Poke bowl joints.

A wee bit of backstory: It took me until about age 30 before I ever acquiesced to eating sushi. Like most sushi-averse folks, the thought of eating raw fish seemed SO VERY WRONG. But eventually my husband convinced me to try a local sushi place with famously fresh rolls and my eyes were opened to the amazingness of this culinary wonder. After getting on the sushi bandwagon, you better believe poke bowls were an easy next step. I love their combo of mild and spicy flavors, and they can be surprisingly healthy, too!

Besides that, poke bowls are the Chipotle burritos of Asian food–convenient, customizable, and uncomplicated. And, even though we can’t eat them at restaurants at the moment, they’re pretty easy to make at home. This version is super budget-friendly, using canned tuna and canned crab (I know, it could be a lot fancier with sushi-grade tuna, but we’re going for inexpensive here, mmkay?) Topped with a spicy sriracha aioli–my favorite part of any poke bowl–these are a tasty at-home version of the fast-casual favorite.

So add what you like, take out what you like, and enjoy!

Easy Canned Tuna Poke Bowl

Quick to prep and easy on your budget, this canned tuna poke bowl is a great at-home version of a restaurant favorite.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

For the sriracha aioli:

  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt, to taste

For the poke bowls:

  • 1 1/2 c. dry white rice
  • 10 oz. frozen edamame
  • 5.3 oz. can albacore tuna packed in water, drained
  • 6 oz. can white crab meat, drained
  • 1 c. shredded carrot
  • 1 c. cucumber, diced
  • fried onions, for garnish
  • sesame seeds, for garnish
  • sliced green onions, for garnish

Instructions

Make the sriracha aioli:

  • In a measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the bowls:

  • In a large pot, make rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, microwave edamame according to package directions and prep all other ingredients.
  • Assemble 4 individual bowls, dividing rice, edamame, tuna, crab, carrot, and cucumber among all. Garnish with fried onions, sesame seeds, and green onions. Top with sriracha aioli.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food original recipe.

Thanksgiving Grain Bowl

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving food? I’m not sure I could pick just one. If truly pressed, I might say mashed potatoes, but there are SO many other tasty options: green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and more. (And let’s not even START on desserts.)

Fortunately, this healthy Thanksgiving Grain Bowl offers the flavors of several turkey day favorites all in one! This easily modifiable recipe works well for throwing together a bowl full of leftovers–or for when you just want something a little lighter. Roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and feta come together with high-fiber, protein-packed quinoa and a sweet-and-tangy olive oil dressing.

Sounds just about right for the day after Thanksgiving, yes?

And while we’re talking Thanksgiving, let me pull out my nutritionist hat with a little dietary advice. It’s all too easy to overdo it at Thanksgiving dinner, but this year, try to remember that how much you eat is up to YOU. Just because it’s a tradition to down every single item in the family buffet, it’s not actually required. You can enjoy a great meal without getting to the end of it feeling like you’re about to burst. Choose what you really want to eat and let the rest go. And just say no to food pushers! If Grandma or Aunt Carla says you absolutely must eat her marshmallow-sweet potato concoction, indulge her with a bite, not a giant scoop. It’s your body, your meal, your decision.

Here’s to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving! And check out my post on 10 Ways to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Grain Bowl

All your favorite flavors of Thanksgiving in a healthy grain bowl! Great for day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers or any time you want a satisfying vegetarian meal.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Servings: 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

For the grain bowl:

  • 1 c. brussels sprouts, sliced in half
  • 2 1/2 c. butternut squash, diced into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 c. quinoa
  • 3 c. vegetable broth
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/3 c. pepitas

For the dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, spread brussels sprouts and butternut squash in two separate groups. Drizzle both with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle butternut squash with nutmeg and thyme. Roast about 30 minutes, stirring once.
  • While veggies roast, cook the quinoa. In a medium pot, bring quinoa and veggie broth to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
  • Make the dressing: In a small measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients, or blend with an immersion blender.
  • Assemble the whole thing: In a large bowl, combine roasted vegetables, cooked quinoa, cranberries, feta, and pepitas. Stir in dressing and toss to combine.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale

Last weekend, while I was out at the toddler cooking class I teach once a month, my husband got together with a group of guys for a Sausage Festival. I’m not being gross. They literally hung out for several hours making sausage. I kinda wish I could have been there, because this is one aspect of food production I have never personally experienced…and, though it’s not terribly glamorous, it’s pretty interesting! So before I dive into this tasty Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale–which, of course, uses the sausage from the Sausage Festival–here’s a little glimpse into the process.

Apparently it all starts with pork shoulder, cut into chunks.

Then the pork goes through a grinder…


And gets mixed with a blend of spices–in this case, parsley, garlic, fennel, and red pepper flakes.

 

And finally, the part everyone knows and loves: filling the casings with the meat to make links!


Pretty floral apron optional.


As far as I’m concerned, the best part about the Sausage Festival is that we now have homemade sausage to last until Kingdom Come. The guys made both links and bulk sausage, so I was only too happy to use some of the bulk kind up in this hearty, Mediterranean-style Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash.

It all starts with yourr basic giant yellow squash, baked and scraped to get those signature squiggly strings so reminiscent of pasta. In the meantime, you’ll brown some sausage and wilt some kale in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil on the stovetop. Toss these yummy goodies–plus some sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and cannellini beans–with the squash strings. Refill the shells, top with a sprinkle of mozzarella, and bake one more time for the finished product!


As a one-dish meal, this Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash is full of nutrients from the kale, beans, tomatoes, and squash, makes a ton, and reheats well. I think you’ll enjoy it, even if you don’t have the luxury of homemade sausage.

Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale

A hearty, mostly veggie dinner with flavors of the Mediterranean. Leave off the sausage for a vegetarian version!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Servings: 6 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 2 large spaghetti squash
  • 3/4 lb. mild sausage
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick both spaghetti squash all over with a fork and microwave each one for about a minute, to soften.
  • Slice squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place squash halves cut side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes.
  • While squash bakes, prepare the rest of the filling. In a large pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and crumbled. Remove from the pan and place on paper-towel lined plate.
  • Using the grease left behind by the sausage (or supplementing with olive oil), saute garlic and kale until kale begins to wild and garlic begins to brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add cannellini beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan and cook an additional minute or two. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl, along with cooked sausage.
  • When squash has finished baking, remove from oven and scrape most of their contents into the mixing bowl, leaving a small border of flesh. (Be careful, squash will be hot!) Mix squash strings, sausage, and kale mixture thoroughly.
  • Divide the mixture among the four squash halves and sprinkle with mozzarella. Place back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and filling is warmed through. One serving equals half of a squash boat.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

Thai Peanut Chicken Pasta

I’ll level with you. Although this recipe calls itself “Thai” Peanut Chicken Pasta, I’m really no expert on determining what defines Thai food. I’ve never been to Thailand, and my experience with Thai cuisine has been limited to a few very tame menu choices at a local chain of Thai restaurants. For all I know, people in Thailand don’t even eat chicken. Or pasta. Or peanuts. (In fact, according to the Internet, peanuts are more of an Indonesian ingredient.)

You’ve probably heard how, when Asian people come to the U.S., our “Asian” food is unrecognizable to them. I can attest that the two times I’ve eaten truly authentic Chinese food, it was NOT your run-of-the-mill sweet and sour pork. We’re talking beef tendon, tilapia peppercorn soup, and basically a real-life version of this scene from A Christmas Story. Truth be told, probably the only reason I finished was to not be rude to my gracious hosts.

So, again, an Asian food expert I am not.

What I do know, though, is that this recipe is a winner of a chicken dinner. With whole grains for fiber, chicken for protein, carrots and cabbage for veggies, and a sweet peanut sauce, it’s the whole package. It came to the rescue this past Monday night when our family was running around like crazy with various busy-busy December activities. A one-dish meal that gets on the table in 30 minutes? Exactly what I need this time of year–don’t you?

So whether it’s truly Thai or just truly tasty (and easy and quick), I’m a fan. I think you will be, too.

Thai Peanut Chicken Pasta

An Asian-inspired one-dish meal perfect for busy weeknights, this recipe boasts whole grains, veggies, and chicken in a tasty peanut sauce.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. thin spaghetti
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 c. carrots, cut into 1/8-inch by 2-inch matchsticks
  • 2 c. cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 8 green onions, sliced
  • 2 c. cooked diced chicken (I used rotisserie chicken)
  • 1/2 c. peanut pieces (optional garnish)
  • 1/4 c. sesame seeds (optional garnish)
  • 1/4 c. green onions, sliced (optional garnish)

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions.
  • While pasta cooks, make the peanut sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, honey, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger.
  • Drain pasta and toss with 1 Tbsp. sesame oil to keep from sticking. Set aside.
  • Wipe out pasta pan and heat the other 1 Tbsp. sesame oil on medium heat. Add carrots and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and green onions and saute another minute or two until the cabbage begins to soften.
  • Add the pasta back to the pan, along with the chicken and peanut sauce. Stir well to combine and continue cooking on low until heated through.
  • Garnish with additional green onion slices, peanut pieces, and/or sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from Dinner, Then Dessert.