Beef Summer Sausage Recipe

Summer Sausage has always been a favorite finger food of mine during the holiday season.  I’ve tinkered with recipes before, but haven’t felt like I’ve nailed them – until now.

Folks, we can now eat Summer Sausage – worry freeHigh fives all around!  No MSG, no nitrites, no preservatives.  Actually, salt is a natural preservative, so I guess I can’t say “no preservatives.”  But the least of my worries is sea salt, especially when I use Redmond. That means that “summer sausage” and “good for you” can be used in the same sentence.  Yay!!!

I think you’ll be as excited about this recipe as I am.  It’s homemade beef summer sausage!!  You will not believe how crazy easy this is to make.

Homemade Beef Summer Sausage - Easy and Healthy!

Beef Summer Sausage

2 1/2 pounds hamburger meat
2 1/2 Tablespoons liquid smoke (I prefer Wright’s Brand)
1 Tablespoon sea salt (I prefer Redmond brand)
1 teaspoon sucanat
1 Tablespoon ground pepper
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, squishing with your hands until everything is well combined.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Knead meat mixture, then shape into 2 logs, about 13×2 inches each.  I found that rolling them in parchment paper helped form a nice, round shape.  Place logs in baking dishes such as Pyrex 9×13 inch pans (so fat drippings will not spill over into the oven).  Bake in a 300° oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

To freeze Summer Sausage:  Allow baked summer sausage to cool completely.  Wrap in parchment paper, then with plastic wrap.  Place in a freezer bag, storing in freezer for up to 2 months.

As if it wasn’t already wonderful news that we can enjoy healthy summer sausage – it’s even better news that this will be perfect for your Make-Ahead Lunch Box.  I’ll be packing this for road trips, for sure.

Share with us!  What’s your favorite holiday finger food?


The winner of our Deborah and Co. $50 gift certificate giveaway is:

Serenity Summers: lasummers@

Serenity, email me and I’ll forward your info on for your prize!


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Cream Cheese BLT – The Best Sandwich You’ll Ever Eat

We had decided to go on an unplanned road trip.  I was determined to avoid the grocery store and instead work with the abundance of food we had on hand to put together a meal we could take along with us and eat in the van.  However, I had no bread, no lunch meat, no tortillas, and no cheese.  It was time to get creative.

I quickly made a batch of One Hour Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls.  Seriously, these rolls practically make themselves.  (Although they are terrible about washing their own dishes.)  I almost always have a supply of bacon and cream cheese on hand because those are staple foods at the Coppinger house, along with butter and cocoa, of course.  Therefore, I decided to take my BLT Wrap idea and turn them into sandwiches.

What makes a BLT even better?  Cream cheese, of course.  This “to-go” meal was a hit, though the sandwiches were a tiny bit messy.  Eh, that’s what napkins are for, right?

Cream Cheese BLT

Cream Cheese BLT Sandwiches

8 ounces softened cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
Tomato slices

Mix cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth.  Stir in bacon crumbles.  Spread mixture on bread or buns and top with lettuce and tomatoes.  Delicious!!  This mixture makes enough for 10-12 sandwiches.

The best news of all is that you can add this Cream Cheese BLT Sandwich idea to your Make-Ahead Lunch Box list.  Simply make the bacon/cream cheese/mayo mixture ahead of time, prep your lettuce and tomatoes, and put it all together on bread, buns, or tortillas when packing your lunch box.  It’s a great change of pace from a regular ol’ sandwich.

You’ll definitely want to check out the inspiring idea behind this recipe:  BLT Wraps.  Whether in a tortilla, on a bun, or even simply wrapped in lettuce – these are truly amazing.

BLT Wraps

Need more Make-Ahead Lunch Box ideas?  Look through all these posts of yumminess.

These BLT Wraps and Cream Cheese BLT Sandwiches rich and filling, so the sides you’ll want to go alongside these need to be simple and light.  Our favorites are:

  • Carrot sticks
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Apples
  • Sliced sweet peppers
  • Pears
  • Applesauce

Now go get out your cream cheese and bacon.  Wait.  You do have these staples on hand, right?!  :)

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Lazy Dogs ~ The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

Find all of our Make-Ahead Lunch Box recipes and ideas here.

You might laugh at this recipe for several reasons.  It is a little different from those I typically share.

First of all…hot dogs?

Yes, hot dogs.  Remember how I’ve told you that I really love me a good, all beef hot dog?  It’s true.  I love sweet peppers, apples, strawberries, and asparagus better.  But a good quality beef hot dog tastes really yummy to me.  What can I say?

Second reason to laugh at this recipe:  This is not exactly the most inexpensive recipe I’ll ever suggest that you make.  I didn’t find my hot dogs on sale, and I got the best quality dogs I could find at the store that don’t contain nitrites.  So…cha-ching.  I used real cheese, not American cheese slices, which is obviously, more expensive because it’s real.

I did save by making my own whole wheat tortillas.  But other than that?  I’m not telling you how much each of these Lazy Dogs cost me.  I’ll do it better next time by waiting for a sale on hot dogs.  (If you have my Oh, For Real cookbook, you’ll find the tortilla recipe there.  It’s also in my Totally Tortillas eBook.)

So if these Lazy Dogs are a little more on the pricey side, why am I sharing this recipe with you?  Because these Lazy Dogs taste good.  Because they are still less expensive than eating out.  Because they are a fun, kid friendly (and apparently Laura friendly) food.  And because you can make them ahead of time and put them in your lunch box.

I can’t take the credit for this great idea.  When I posted my Taco Quesadilla recipe, “Busy Mom in AL” shared this:

Another of our “wraps” are some that we call Lazy Dogs!  We boil some hot dogs to plump them up, roll them up with some cheese in a tortilla and heat them up in the oven until the cheese melts!  Very good, even cold!

I loved the idea and made them for our soccer games and travel that very weekend.  Once I had the tortillas made, the boys got in an assembly line to help put the Lazy Dogs together.  Just like that, our to-go meal was ready.

Lazy Dogs

Tortillas (I use homemade whole wheat tortillas)
Cheese Slices (I use Colby jack slices)
High Qualtity Beef or Turkey Hot Dogs (I found Oscar Meyer Angus Nitrite Free Dogs)

Boil the hot dogs just long enough for them to plump.  ( <— what a weird sentence.)  Lay one slice of cheese on each tortilla, top with a hot dog, and roll it up.  Bake in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes or until cheese has melted.

Make these ahead of time!  Warm them in the oven, then serve.

Lazy Dogs ~ Perfect For Your Lunch Box

We found that we preferred these warm instead of cold.  Still, if you want to pack them to-go, simply bake, wrap, and pack.  Easy and fun!

Are you a hot dog lover?  What is your favorite kind?

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Taco Quesadillas ~ The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

taco quesadillas 2

Have you ever made quesadillas, let them cool, then put them into the fridge or freezer for another day?  You should do this.  They are perfect for your Make-Ahead Lunch Box.

Now you’re thinking, why would I do that?  Quesadillas are already my easy go-to meal to make on the fly.  How would it help to make them ahead of time?

Come closer.  I have something to tell you.  If you make quesadillas ahead of time, then they will already be made when you want to serve or eat them.  <— It has taken years of research, trial, and error to arrive at wise and knowledgeable comments such as these.

Okay fine.  I just figured it out last week.  It should have been obvious to me long ago, but I thought melty cheese should always be warm.  Yes, somehow I forgot cold pizza was a food group for some people.  Who knew cold quesadillas were also good?  And if you don’t want to eat them cold, but instead want them warm again, simply warm them up at serving time.  <—- Again, the brilliance of advice read here must continue to amaze you.

Now, the best part about a quesadilla is that you can fill them with whatever you like.  Cheese, obviously.  But what about varieties of meat and/or veggies?  Taco Quesadillas are my current favorite, dipped in a small bowl of fresh salsa.  I will tell you from experience that these taste great warm or cold.  Warm would be my top choice, but we threw a bunch of cold ones into a bag to take to a soccer game recently and they were delicious.  This means you can make these ahead of time and throw them in your lunch box for work or school.  Perfect!

Taco Quesadillas

Your favorite tortillas (we like my homemade whole wheat tortillas)
Shredded cheese (my fav is Colby jack or white cheddar)
Leftover cooked taco meat

Place a tortilla in a skillet and top with shredded cheese and cooked meat.  Top with an additional tortilla.  (I do feel a little bit silly telling you how to make a quesadilla, as if you don’t know how to make a quesadilla.  But hey, if you didn’t know before, now you do.)  Cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side until cheese has melted.

Watch to be sure tortillas don’t burn.  <—- Breaking out one more time with more never-heard-before, ground breaking advice.  You’re welcome.

Taco Quesadillas

I would love to hear how you like to fill your quesadillas and if you have ever tried eating them cold.  What are your favorite meats and veggies used to fill tortillas? 

Have any earth-shattering advice for us?  Here’s one more nugget of wisdom from me, completely unrelated to quesadillas:  When it is cold outside, you should wear a coat.  Now, your turn.

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

Find all of our Make-Ahead Lunch Box recipes and ideas here.

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Barbecue Beef and Cheese Hot Pockets ~ The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

When I asked you what you needed in a packed lunch, this is what you told me:

  • Quick and easy
  • Can be eaten cold
  • Hearty and filling

These Barbecue Beef and Cheese Hot Pockets are all that plus they are delicious.  You can make them big or small, accommodating big or small appetites.  They taste great hot or cold.  You can make them ahead of time and pull them out as needed.  They freeze well. What more do you need?  Just the recipe I guess…

Barbecue Beef and Cheese Hot Pockets

2 pounds beef stew meat
1 batch homemade barbecue sauce (more if you like)
2 cups shredded cheese
1 batch whole wheat pizza dough

Place stew meat and barbecue sauce in a skillet.  Cook on low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked and tender.  In the meantime, mix the whole wheat pizza dough and set it aside to rise.  Once both meat and dough are ready, remove meat from the heat.  Stir in cheese until it is melted.

Divide dough into about 16 pieces.  Roll each piece of dough into a thin circle.  Spoon meat mixture into the center of the circle, then gather up the edges of the dough and pinch to seal.  Place pinched side down on a baking sheet.  Once all dough is filled with meat, allow the pockets to rise about 15 minutes more.  Bake in a 375° oven for 15-25 minutes or until pockets are golden brown.  Makes about 16 pockets.

Barbecue Beef and Cheese Hot Pockets

This would be a great way to use up leftover roast beef.  In addition, you can fill hot pockets with any variety of meats and cheeses.  They are a great, versatile meal idea!


If you’re hitting the restart button with us this fall, I challenge you to find one recipe (maybe this Barbecue Beef and Cheese Hot Pocket recipe?) that you can make ahead of time and freeze.  Having food prepared like this in the freezer is a life saver on busy days when you need a healthy meal quickly.  You’ll find all of our Make-Ahead Meal recipes here.

Once you’ve completed the challenge, come back to this post and leave a comment letting us know what you made.  Can’t wait to hear!


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Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Salad ~ Make-Ahead Lunch Box

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

Rarely is my family of men pleased to see a lovely bowl of salad as the main dish at lunchtime.  You can almost see the “am I gonna get full?!” look of panic in their eyes.  After all, typically a tossed salad lunch just doesn’t stick with a person very long into the afternoon.  But if there’s bacon in it?  And boiled eggs?  And avocado?  And cheese?  Well, now we’re on to something.

My family devoured this last week when I made it – even the boys who don’t typically love eating avocados.  With all the other flavors mixed in, this salad with all its goodness works for even my pickiest eaters.  Along with the salad, I served fresh pineapple, fresh cantaloupe, and a new recipe I was experimenting with: Coconut Fudge Bars.  (That recipe will be shared soon.)  We were all very full after our meal – and stayed full until after we got back from swimming that evening at 5:15.  At that point we were all ready to eat our own beach towels – but that’s typical no matter what we’ve eaten for lunch.

This recipe is hardly a recipe.  Simply throw together whatever amounts of each ingredient you feel is best for each family member.  We all ate great big bowls full, because that’s what we do around here.  Need to this be Gluten Free?  Check – it’s gf without having to try.  Need it to be Dairy Free?  Leave out the cheese.  You might have been able to figure that one out by yourself.  ;)

Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Salad

Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Salad

Bacon, cut into bites, cooked, and drained
Boiled eggs
Avocado, cut into bites (as well as you can cut an avocado into bites)
Cheddar or Colby jack cheese, cut into small chunks
Mixed greens, lettuce, and spinach of choice
Tomatoes, chopped
Salad dressing of choice

Toss ingredients together and have a feast.

To prepare for the lunch box:

Prepare all ingredients in advance, from cooking the bacon to boiling the eggs to chunking the cheese.  Toss the fixin’s into a jar or bowl with a lid before heading out for the day.  Put the dressing into a separate container to add just before eating.

These ingredients, prepared in advance, will last a week or two in the fridge for quick salad prep.  If you chop your avocado ahead of time, simply place the avocado pit into the container to help maintain the nice green color.

Side dish ideas:

You really have to try this salad.  Really – even people who don’t normally love salad should love this one.  It has bacon in it, for crying out loud.  It’s happiness in a bowl.

Hey, have any of you tried the “Salad in a Jar” idea?  I am excited to try that sometime, both because it’s a great packaging idea…and of course, because it involves a jar.  It’s happiness in a jar.  With bacon (for crying out loud).

Find more Make-Ahead Lunch Box recipes and be sure to follow along in this series for more fun ideas!

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Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls ~ The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

I’m excited to kick off our new Make-Ahead Lunch Box series with a fun new recipe I recently tried for my family.  We all love these Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls.  Here are my favorite perks to this recipe, and why I think this is perfect for your Make-Ahead Lunch Box:

  • You can make Pizza Swirls ahead of time, wrap them individually, and store them in the freezer until you need them.
  • You can fill the Pizza Swirls with any of your favorite toppings, making this recipe versatile and ideal for accommodating food preferences.
  • These taste great both hot and cold.
  • Pizza Swirls are simple to make.
  • Pizza Swirls are filling and easy to eat.

Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls

1 recipe of Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
1 cup pizza sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
variety of pizza fillings – your choice – like meat, olives, and veggies
2 Tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Mix Whole Wheat Pizza Dough as directed.  On a clean, well floured surface, roll dough into a long oval until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread pizza sauce over the dough.  Sprinkle with cheeses and your favorite pizza toppings.  Roll the dough up, beginning on the long side.  Tuck the ends under.  Place on a cookie sheet.  Spread olive oil over the top if you like.  Bake in a 375° oven for about 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Slice and serve.  Makes about 8-10 Pizza Swirls.

Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls

Bonus Tips:

  • Want to pack these Pizza Swirls to go?  Once the swirls have cooled completely, wrap them individually and place them in an air tight container in the freezer.  Set frozen wrapped Pizza Swirl in the fridge overnight to thaw to pack in a lunch box the next day.
  • Need to eat Gluten Free?  Copy the idea and use your favorite gluten free dough recipe.
  • Tired of pizza?  Skip the sauce and use turkey or chicken with cheese to make Meat and Cheese Swirls.

Great to Serve with Pizza Swirls:

  • Fresh fruit like apple slices, orange slices, peaches, cantaloupe, pineapple, or pears
  • Carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, celery, or sweet peppers
  • Olives or pickles

I double, triple, or quadruple this recipe so that I can make lots at once to make my getting-ahead efforts worthwhile.  This also means I can make a variety of different Pizza Swirls to have on hand.  Our favorites are:

  • Pepperoni and Cheese
  • Combination (meat, cheese, green peppers, mushrooms, olives)
  • Hamburger and Green Pepper
  • Pepperoni and Olive

What kind of pizza swirls do you think your family will like?  Have any other ideas you feel would be good to serve with Pizza Swirls (especially ideas that will pack well in a lunch box)?

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Lasagna Casserole…On the Stovetop

I mentioned here that I’m trying to avoid the oven during these hot summer days.  Later this week, I’ll be making Lasagna Casserole, which is one of our family’s favorite recipes (and one of mine because it’s so easy).

Cook Your Casserole on the Stovetop

But, I don’t want to bake it in the oven right now.  It’s just too hot.

For recipes like this, I “bake” them on the stove top.  Just follow the recipe as normal, but then leave it in the pot on the stove.  Sprinkle cheese over the top and put the lid on.  Let it sit and simmer for a few minutes until the cheese is all melty all over the place, then serve.

This method also works for Cheesy Beef and Rice and Pizza Casserole - and probably a bunch of other casserole recipes you have that are all pre-cooked and then baked for a few minutes.

This summer, skip the oven.  Use the stovetop.  Unless of course you like sweating profusely and passing out.  I’ll use my oven when I absolutely have to.  In the meantime, when I can, I’ll stick to my stove-top.

This post was originally published on June 29, 2009.

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Pasta Salad Bar – Easy, Inexpensive, Nutritious, and Cool

pasta salad bar 3

Here you will find one of the coolest (literally) meal ideas for summer.  Here you will see a great way to feed your whole family - even the picky ones.  Here you will experience deliciousness that isn’t expensive, offers lots of nourishment, and is super easy to put together.  Yes, here is a great idea given to me by several readers last summer that I finally tried last week.  Again, I must ask:  Why did I wait so long to try this?

Welcome to our lives, oh lovely Pasta Salad Bar.  We’re sorry we never met before now.  You’ll be a regular visitor at our house this summer.  We will load our bowls full of your goodness, based on what sounds good to each of us at that moment.   You are deliciously fun.

Pasta Salad Bar

How do you put together a Pasta Salad Bar?  Simple.  Just set out everything you have on hand that might taste good in a pasta salad.  This is a great way to eat up leftovers or odds and ends from your fridge.  Here are some Pasta Salad Bar food suggestions:

  • Cooked and cooled whole wheat or brown rice pasta – any shape
  • Chopped sweet peppers
  • Chopped carrots
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Cooked chicken, tuna, steak, roast beef, or other meat that sounds good
  • Chickpeas or other cooked beans
  • Corn
  • Olives
  • Shredded cheese
  • Favorite salad dressings – we prefer homemade Italian Salad Dressing and Ranch Salad Dressing

Once your food items are set out, simply let everyone fill their bowls with whatever they like.  Stir in favorite salad dressings to make a creamy pasta salad, a tangy pasta salad – or a mixture of both!  (Yep, I like both Italian and Ranch in my pasta salad.)

This meal is extremely filling and hearty.  Oh, and a side of fresh pineapple or chilled watermelon goes great with this.

Ever done something like this before?  What other ingredients do you think you would add to this Pasta Salad Bar?

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BLT Wraps – The Perfect Summertime Meal

Nothing says “I’m a humble cook” like shouting really loudly that this is the best recipe you’ll ever eat!  My bad.  What can I say?  There’s bacon in it.  And cream cheese.  The goodness of this recipes has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the amazing mixture of ingredients all rolled up in a tortilla.

This recipe is so easy that my kids made it on their own for our family to eat on Mother’s Day.  These can be made ahead of time – or at the very least, you can cook the bacon and prepare the tomatoes and lettuce so that you can put them together right before serving time.

The best part?  Well…the bacon, duh.  Yeah, but the other best part?  These wraps really hit the spot on a hot day.  There’s minimal cooking involved, so the house won’t heat up.  Serve these with a variety of fresh fruit like pineapple, watermelon, or strawberries.  Set out some sweet peppers, sliced cucumbers, and carrot sticks.  What a wonderful, nourishing meal.

BLT Wraps

4 ounces softened cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup shredded spinach, romaine, or green leaf lettuce
3 eight-inch whole wheat tortillas

Mix cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth.  Stir in bacon crumbles and chopped tomatoes.  Spread mixture onto tortillas.  Sprinkle shredded lettuce on top evenly.  Roll tortillas up tightly.  Cut each into 5 diagonal slices.  Chill until ready to serve.

BLT Wraps

Which do you like better: bacon or cream cheese?  How sweet it is that you can have both in this recipe, at the same time.  :)

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