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It is a baby boom.

At work.

With friends.

On Facebook.

As a kid, I remember whenever one of my mom’s friends had a baby she would whip up a meal or two to bring over to help make the life of the new mama a little easier.

More than that, however, I remember when my baby sister was born. I was 9, and I was over the moon. I remember sitting with my hand and head on my mom’s belly and feeling her kick and squirm. I fancied her my own responsibility from the moment she came home from the hospital. That little baby is 22 now. Yikes.

When Emily, the youngest of my siblings joined her four siblings our house was flooded with meals every day for at least two weeks. The women at our church had planned out meal after meal so that my mom could care for Miss Emily and the rest of us without having to worry about what to feed us.

I cannot imagine the relief those meals must have brought for my mom. On top of food, she was given a few moments of sanity when the women stopped by. It was a chance to connect with other moms, to talk, to catch up, and to enjoy the company that womenfolk bring.

Beyond babies, food is the perfect gift. Period.

I love going to someone’s house for dinner, or being taken to dinner, or being given a gift card for food. You get the idea, right?

I have to believe that everyone loves a night off from cooking (or having to think about cooking) from time to time.

How great would it be if you returned from a week long vacation, and a dear friend brought you a warm home cooked meal to welcome you home?

Or if, heaven forbid, you or someone you cared for had to spend time in the hospital. Food is a welcome relief when you do get home.

Or do you know someone that is just at the busiest stage of their life right now? Work is crazy or kids are crazy or something is causing stress in their life? Offer to bring that person food. I think the gesture and the gift of time-saved goes a long way.

Now, I want you to know that (contrary to popular belief) I am not perfect.

In fact, I need all of the advice that I just gave above.

So, in an effort to turn over a new leaf, Brad and I took dinner to my friend and her husband yesterday.  They just had the sweetest baby three weeks ago.

After deciding TO make dinner… the hardest part is figuring out WHAT TO make.

So, here is your assignment.

If you dare to accept it.

Find someone who could use a little extra love and care and attention from ya.

And make them food.

Need an idea of what to make?

I’m here to help!

I had a brainstorm on Friday, with my friend and co-worker, and a fellow foodie- Brittany.

We decided the following:

1. Lasagna or Stuffed Shells would be the hands-down favorite choice of the gift meal. However, it is the first thing that most people think of. So, if you are one of a few folks making food for one particular recipient, I would avoid this one.

2. The second most popular choice of meal gift is a weird turkey/chicken with noodles and gravy type of casserole. Bleck! I recommend avoiding this one, because I think it is gross. Ha. However, if you know the person loves a good casserole… have at it.

We must move beyond the most common foods.

Right?

We must move to at least the level of the pretty darn common but not most common foods.

I’m not sure what I’m saying, but stick with me.

Why don’t you whip up a batch of Chili and Cheese Bread.

It is easy to make a meal for yourself and a meal for another family at the same time.

I love a double duty meal like that.

Most people enjoy chili, and it can easily be altered to meet a vegetarian’s dietary requirements.

I make my chili in a crock pot, so I tossed in the ingredients, turned on the crockpot, and I went about my day.

Easy.

The key to being a good food gifter is in making the gift super simple for the recipient.

Bring the food in disposable dishes.

That way, the recipient can dump the dishes when they are done with them. They don’t have to worry about doing dishes, keeping the dishes straight, and remembering to return them to you.

I personally like the foil pans that are available in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.

They come with handy dandy clear plastic lids.

And here is the cheesy bread. The bread gets baked in foil, so I just wrapped it in that.

I wrote the cooking instructions directly on the foil so they would be easy to find.

The second container held a big green salad.

NOTE: I later learned that some nursing babies don’t like it when their mamas eat strawberries. So, perhaps this particular salad is not the best choice for a new mom. But it is pretty darn delicious, and it looks fancy.

Spinach, sliced english cucumber, sliced strawberries, and shreds of romano make up this pretty gal.

I made some white french dressing to go with it:

1/4 c. mayo

1/4 c. light sour cream

2 T. sweet wine or champagne or even fruit juice

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. sugar

1/2 t. white pepper

Mix it together.

Easy peasy White French.

Side note: Have you ever had White French? I hadn’t until I started traveling to Akron, OH for work. Every single restaurant in the city serves that dressing. I think it might be regional, but I’m not really sure. Maybe I just lived a deprived life??

I also made individual vegetable pot pies (courtesy of the fabulous Ina Garten).

The mama I was cooking for enjoys vegetarian dishes, as do I so it was a win/win for both of us.

Again, I made enough for their family and mine.

I did not bake them. Rather, I popped the plastic lid on these tins and I wrote the cooking instructions on top.

Seriously.

I made two complete meals for my friends and for us, and it took MAYBE an hour on a Sunday from start to finish.

I threw some break off Toll House cookies into the mix for dessert.

So, look around you. I know that you know someone who would be blown away by the gift of a meal delivered to them after being made with love.

I challenge you to accept.

And I’m challenging myself here too.

The new mom is an easy target for a hot delivered meal, but I’ll be on the lookout for others to love on.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Hope that you all had a great weekend.

If you live in the Midwest, I hope you survived the crazy thunderstorms last night!

Happy Monday, and thanks for stopping by.

XO,

Leah

Did you grow up eating homemade dinners?

Do you make dinners from scratch now?

Do you even think about food or what you are putting into your mouth?

I think about food a lot.

Because I really like food… I enjoy eating it, and I really do enjoy the process of making it.

But I think so much of that must have been shaped by the way I was raised. Right?

My friend Liz sent me this blog yesterday:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/is-eat-real-food-unthinkable/

I know that many of you won’t take the time to read the article so here is the summary. The writer expresses frustration with the government. They state that we need to improve our diets (our collective American fatty diets are a leading cause in the spikes in the cost of our healthcare, the drastic increase in the rate of preventable disease, and the list goes on and on); however, the government is unwilling to specifically call out meat industries or sugar industries. Why? I think you know why, my smarty-pants friends. There is too much risk for government officials to call-out large campaign contributors. And no, this isn’t some crazy Leah conspiracy theory.

My very smart friend, Liz (same Liz as above) also introduced me to Michael Pollan a few years ago. This man is about as smart as they come when it comes to food. Do you know him? Have you read his stuff?

If you are at all interested, I would highly recommend his book  In Defense of Food. It will remind you of what you should be eating and why.  Pollan tells us that if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize what you are putting into your mouth as food, perhaps it isn’t the best choice. His basic rule is “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”

Why?

Because that is what our ancestors have eaten for the ages.

Food cannot and should not be broken down to it’s nutritional components. Whole foods- you know spinach from the ground, a potato, carrots, beets, eggs, etc- are the best, best options for us.

The problem?

People use the “no time” excuse. So, rather than investing in long-term health, consumers will often choose the convenient choice. But what do you really get with convenience?

In my humble opinion, the price of eating healthy is the biggest problem we are facing. It is much cheaper to feed a family crap. And that, my friends, is a real problem. And one that I don’t have the answer to.

I don’t know a whole lot on the topic, and I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert in any way, shape or form. However, I know that when I am committed to making food from REAL whole food sources, I FEEL better after eating them. It does take more time and planning to eat vegetables (that are still tasty) than it does to eat Cheetos. But I think my long-term health, waistline, and well-being is worth it.

I know that is easier said than done when you are a picky-eater or if you have picky-eater kids. Now, I am still weeks away from having a baby that I am responsible for feeding (outside of my own body); however, I once was a kid. So, that makes me somewhat of an expert, right?

Growing up, I ate a diet made up of whole foods. How did my parents do it?

There. Were. No. Options.

If we were hungry, we ate what was set before us.

My mama was not going to even entertain the idea of separate meals for her kids. Truly, I cannot even IMAGINE requesting a separate meal just for me from her.

Yes, I choked down asparagus with great drama and flair as a kid. And I lived to tell about it. And guess what? I love the stuff now.

And yes, I sat at the table until my chicken breast was a cold lump on my plate. But eventually I choked it down to fill the void in my stomach. And guess what? I like that stuff now too.

And Lord have mercy, my mom even made us eat fish as a kid. Oh brother. All five of the kids would make faces, plug noses, chug water or milk, and somehow live to tell about it. It was borderline torture. But guess what? We all survived. And we all (well 4 out of 5) love seafood now too.

And today I’m exceptionally grateful to my mom for being diligent about making us eat what was served.

And I hope I have the same resolve as a mom.

Because she shaped my view of food. And what was acceptable to eat.

If you don’t care about healthy eating, there is little I can say to convince you. But I will say this… eating whole foods really does make a slim waistline MUCH MUCH easier to obtain and maintain. Simple as that. Your body knows how to process whole foods better than it does foods composed of enriched flour and corn syrup and artificial flavors. Your body knows  how to absorb the nutrients it needs to fuel your system, and then rid yourself of waste.

So, I shall now step off of my pedestal. Look, I’m not perfect. I eat a Cheeto from time to time. I also have been known to grab a not-so-great-for-you-but-pretty-yummy junk food burger on occasion. But this is the exception.

I think the power of good, quality food is stronger than most of us realize.

So, tell me your thoughts. I’m really truly interested.

Lots of love to you,

Leah

P.S. I would like to apologize for all of the fine folks at Cheetos. I do think you made a fine processed salty treat. But let’s be honest, your product really isn’t nutritional albeit finger-lickin’ good.

I’m feeling spicy.

And I’m not feeling super talkative.

So, today I shall share my spicy. In a straightforward fashion.

This recipe is sort of a cioppino (Italian fish stew). It is SO sinfully easy, yet very fancy pants.

This is a recipe designed to impress. This recipe is also for two people… a nice romantic dinner. Or a special treat for a dear friend. Or an indulgence for you and only you, with enough left for a delicious lunch the next day.

Here is what you’ll need (you probably have most of this in your pantry):

1 T. olive oil

4 cloves of garlic

1 bay leaf

crushed red pepper flake- I used about 1 teaspoon, and that made for a medium spicy soup. Add more or less based on your heat threshold

White Wine (1 cup or so)- please don’t judge my cheap-o wine featured here

2  14 oz. cans of tomatoes- I used crushed, but diced would work too

Start by heating your oil in a deep skillet (with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat. Add in your finely chopped garlic, and cook for one minute.

Side note: I had previously cooked some garlic and parsley in the same pan for garlic bread hence the green flecks.

Add in your bay leaf and crushed red pepper flake.

Cook for one more minute.

Now add in your wine.

A cup should suffice. But you can add as much as ya want.

Scrape any bits off of the bottom of the pan.

And then add in your tomatoes.

Give it a good stir.

Then, bring it to a boil.

After it boils, reduce your heat to medium/medium-low to simmer.

While that simmers, we shall prepare our seafood buddies for consumption.

Little neck clams (again I only purchase this stuff from either the Fish Market or Whole Foods)-I got 6 clams for 2 people.

That makes for 3 each.

I wasn’t even a Math major.

Impressive, I know.

Give them a rinse.

Make sure all of the clams are closed.

That means they are alive.

And they are good to eat. I actually ask the man at the fish market to make sure he grabs only fully closed clams when I am shopping.

Now, rinse off your mussels.

Have you ever had mussels?

I think they may just be my favoritist, favorite item from the sea.

They are tender and delicious.

Ideally they come in their shell; however, my Whole Foods only had the pre-shucked mussels.

They still taste great, but they are a little less fun to eat.

If they have the shelled version, I would pick up at least 8 for 2 people.

Same rule goes for mussels in their shell… make sure it is fully closed.

Whether shucked or not, give them a rinse.

Now, rinse off your shrimp.

I purchased 8 16/22 shrimp.

The 16/22 means that there are between 16-22 shrimp included to make up one pound of meat.

These guys came with their shell removed and deveined. Perfection. Deveining shrimp grosses me out.

Do not use pre-cooked shrimp.

Thank ya.

By the time you have finished pulling all of your seafood out of the fridge and rinsing it, your sauce has been simmering for 8-10 minutes, and it is ready to receive the fruiti di mare… you know, the fruit of the sea.

Clams go in first.

Place them in the pan.

Cover and cook for exactly 5 minutes.

I actually use a timer for this recipe because the cooking time is THAT important.

When you pull off the lid, some of the clams may have already started to open up.

Now add in your mussels.

It is the same cooking time whether they are shucked or not.

Lookin’ good.

Cover the pot, and cook for exactly 3 1/2 minutes.

Take the lid off, and add your shrimp in.

Oooh, mama.

Cover and cook for 1 1/2 minutes.

Total cooking time is 10 minutes once you start adding seafood.

At this point take a look at your clams and mussels. If they are in the shell, the shells should be fully opened.

If there are any shells that don’t open, toss them out.

They won’t be good to eat.

Your shrimp will be pink and cooked through.

Turn off the heat, and scoop your spicy goodness into bowls to serve immediately.

The ONLY way to ruin this dish is to overcook the seafood.

If you follow the directions above, the seafood should be perfect. Clams, mussels, and shrimp should never taste too chewy or at all rubbery. If they do, you have ignored me and overcooked something.

They should be perfectly tender and delicious.

Serve it up with some roasted vegetables and garlic bread.

Take it over the top with a light sprinkling of parmigiano reggiano.

Now that is an easy weekday meal that is a snap to make, and it is pretty impressive.

Right?

You can do it.

You should try it.

Even if you think seafood (especially shelled seafood) isn’t for you, won’t you please at least give it a try?

It would make my life.

Thanks pals.

Have a great day!!

XO,

Leah

Yesterday was the long-awaited day.

Adele’s new album came out, and let me tell you… it does not disappoint. I’m listening to it as I write this, and I go from bopping in my seat to almost shedding a tear.

Her voice. Man.

It actually sounds eerily similar to my voice when I’m in the car by myself.

Or not.

In all seriousness, her voice is powerful and beautiful and emotion evoking. The girl has pipes, and she knows how to use them.

I heart her.

I highly, highly recommend that you spend a hard earned $10 and buy this album immediately.

You are welcome.

Next up on this Happy Hump Day… the Easter treat aisle in the grocery store:

Now, I know that the candy is not the point of Easter.

However, I would like to thank the fine folks at Kroger for putting out these pastel wonders earlier and earlier in the year.

I picked myself up a bag of the Dark m&ms. Help me now.

And I picked up my Mr. a bag of the Sweet Tart Jelly Beans. These are also good; however, I will warn you that the yellow jelly bean has a bit of a rosemary taste.

And it is not good.

Can we take a sidebar here to talk about Hershey’s Kisses? When on earth did they come up with the 75 varieties that are now available?

I’m not complaining.

At all.

Just wondering.

One year it was Kisses and Hugs.

The next year it was caramel and coconut and peppermint and every other flavor under the sun.

Finally on this wonderful Wednesday, I bring you some more roasty toasty vegetables.

I had some green beans (stem end trimmed), about 1/2 bunch of asparagus, some baby red potatoes, and a shallot thinly sliced.

Sweet Mother Mary.

Preheat your oven to 400.

Want to know something random? When I look at 400, I pronounce it in my head as four-hundy.

Not four hundred.

Four-hundy is just more fun.

Glad we can agree on that.

Can we also agree that roasting vegetables is the hands-down best way to prepare them? Especially in the winter?

We can.

Perfect.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pop it into the oven for 15-20 min.

You know, you are looking for browned, caramelized goodness.

I served up my roasty vegetables (topped with a bit of shredded parm reg, of course) with a chunk of crusty garlic bread and some SIMPLE spicy cioppino (seafood stew).

Stop back tomorrow for the cioppino recipe.

It is delish to the max times 5000.

And that, my friends, wraps up my Hump Day treasures for ya.

Make it a good one.

XO,

Leah

We’re friends, right?

I can tell you things.

Like my deepest darkest secrets.

I can?

Perfect.

Here’s one: I generally don’t like salmon.

And I feel like I should.

Salmon is one of those foods on every list of stuff that is good for your body. It is low in calories yet high in protein. They also have lots of those good omega-3 fatty acids that we need from food (because our body doesn’t make it on it’s own).

So, here I am. A food lover.

A healthy gal.

Yet, I have had trouble jumping on the salmon train. Because salmon tastes like fish.

Bleck.

I don’t like fish to taste fishy.

Can I get a hallelujah?

A few months ago we had dinner at our friends, Jim and Abby’s house. We do dinner fairly frequently with these two, and it is fuu-uuun. Want to know why?

Because 1. Jim and Abby are fun.

And 2. Jim and Abby love food.

Then 3. Jim and Abby are adventurous eaters.

And 4. Artemis and Paolo- the two cutest ding-a-ling pups you have ever seen.

So, anywho… one dinner, Abby made the most delicious salmon I have ever had. And I don’t mean it was delicious for salmon.

It was so incredibly flavorful and wonderful that it changed my perspective on salmon. Forever.

So, I had the day off for Presidents’ Day (thanks so much Franklin Pierce), and I decided to make the main man and myself a delightful salmon lunch.

Courtesy of Ms. Abby.

Let me just say this. Besides being delectably delicious, this is sinfully easy.

You really have no reason not to try it.

Here is what you’ll need:

1 lb of salmon- feeds 2-3 people

1 T. oil

1 T. soy sauce

1 T. dijon mustard

1 T. honey

1 T. brown sugar

1 T. butter, melted

1 clove of garlic, diced

Get out a shallow pan to make the marinade. I used the same dish to marinade the fish as I did to make the marinade in.

Hooray for one less dish to do!

Add in your olive oil.

Then your soy sauce.

And then some dijon.

How about some honey, honey?

Gimme some sugar.

Plop your butter in a bowl.

Microwave until melted, and add it to the party.

Add in your garlic.

Give it a whisk.

Until it is all combined and looks like this.

Now, unwrap your fish.

Let’s chat a bit about fish, shall we? I buy my fish from one of two places exclusively.

1. Whole Foods (where this came from)

2. A local Fish Market- in Hyde Park for any of you Cincinnatians

Why?

Because both places have their fished shipped in twice a day. That means that it is about as fresh as Ohio fish can be. Also, both places are committed to getting only high quality fish in. There are very few farmed fish options, and if the fish is from a farm (and not from the ocean) it is cultivated using the highest standards and quality feeds.

So, there you have it.

Place the fish, flesh side down into the marinade for at least 15 minutes.

Do not marinate the fish any longer than an hour.

Why?

Because Abby says so.

Pop a lid or some plastic wrap on it, and put the pan in the fridge.

While that marinates, turn your broiler on to high.

Get out a broiler pan.

A broiler pan has a top pan with holes or slats for juices to drip through to a bottom pan.

I happen to have a small broiler pan that was the perfect size for this fish.

You should give it a quick once over with non-stick spray.

I did not do this step.

And I paid for it in manual pan cleaning labor later.

After your fish has marinated (I let mine go for about 30 min), take it out and lay it skin side down on your broiler pan.

Keep that marinade!!

Take a brush,

and slather more marinade on your fish.

Pop it into your oven for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, pull it out.

\

Brush on more of that salty delicious marinade.

Put it back into the oven for another 5 minutes.

Then, pull it out again.

Brush it again.

Don’t be shy. Really slather it on there.

Finish it off for another 5 minutes.

It comes out looking like this.

(Although not so florescent. I was cooking on a very cloudy day so the lighting was weird).

That was a total of 15 minutes cooking time. 15 minutes will cook your fish to about medium doneness (for a filet about an inch thick) which I think is perfect. Medium doneness means a flaky yet moist fish.

Nothing makes a fish nastier than being dry.

If you don’t like medium, you can give your fish another 2 minutes or so. But you REALLY don’t want to overcook it.

Actually, that rule holds true to just about any protein.

Overcooking=dry, tough, nastiness.

Let the fish rest for 5 minutes. It will continue to cook just sitting there, and the resting will keep some moisture in.

I sliced off a chunk of the salmon, and I popped it on to a lovely green salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette.

Um, yeah.

It was good.

And good for me.

Can’t get much better than that.

Except, of course, if the picture would have turned out better. The fish was not radioactive and florescent.

Even though it looks that way.

Try something new this week.

You’ll be glad you did.

XO,
Leah

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Of the root vegetable.

Root vegetables are those sad and dirty looking things you probably don’t even give a second glance towards in the grocery store.

You walk right on by.

Not acknowledging and certainly not considering.

So, there they sit.

Lonely. Sad. Unwanted.

A little pathetic.

Here is my truth about root vegetables. They scare me.

These weird looking things grow under ground and show up in children’s books when animals are looking to feed themselves.

But, I’m never one to write something off for having an off-putting look or name.

Pork Belly, anyone? Had I continued living in my fright of that nasty sounding cut of meat, I would have never experienced bacon Nirvana. Can you imagine?

So, today, on this gray and slightly rainy (BUT NO SNOW!!) Wednesday, I shall introduce you to what may be for you a new cast of kitchen characters.

Don’t be scarrrrrrred.

Just give this a try.

If you hate it (which I don’t think you will), you never have to eat them again.

I was willing to give this a try because Ina Garten said to. And I never say no to Ina. This is her recipe.

First, meet Mr. Turnip.

The turnip root, pictured here, is high in Vitamin C.

And today, it is wearing the loveliest shade of pink.

Mr. Ugg-a-bug, the celery root.

Yikes. He isn’t pretty.

Guess what this guy tastes like?

You got it! Celery.

When I was looking into old Celery Root here, I discovered that some people will treat this root like a potato and cook him and mash him up or turn him into a gratin.

We’ll be slicing off that tough exterior (peeling is kinda hard) to get to the good stuff underneath his unfortunate skin.

Next up, the parsnip.

I seriously love parsnips.

They are kind of spicy in flavor, and as you can see he is related to the carrot.

Want to know something interesting? Parsnips aren’t grown in warm climates because frost is needed to develop their flavor.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Mr. Parsnip is actually richer in nutrients than his cuz, the carrot. Potassium is the main nutrient that the parsnip brings to the table.

Mr. Parsnip also helps keep ya regular by giving you some much needed fiber.

Wow.

Isn’t he impressive, folks?

You should know the next guy.

The carrot.

Well, actually two of them for this recipe.

Finally, we’ll need brussel sprouts.

Man, another really scary and potentially scarring ingredient. Too many people have bad brussel sprout memories.

But, trust in Leah.

I will not let you down.

Brussel sprouts are from the cabbage family, and they look like little baby cabbages. They are pretty darn cute.

These guys practically hold magical powers. The brussel sprout (just like broccoli) contains a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.

Sheesh, that fact alone seems to be enough to at least get you to TRY these buddies.

OK, lets get cooking.

Everything is going to get chopped into uniform 1- inch pieces.

No need to peel the turnip, just chop it.

You do need to peel your celery root. Chop that.

Peel and chop 2 parsnips and 2 carrots.

Take 8 brussel sprouts. Chop off the tiny root at the bottom, and peel off one or two of the outer leaves (these are often a little dirty and/or wilty). Cut extra large ones into quarters, large ones in half, and small sprouts can stay in tact.

Get out a deep, large skillet that has a tight fitting lid.

Over medium heat, melt 3 T. of butter.

Throw all of your vegetables into the butter party.

Give them a toss to coat in the butter.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Throw in some thyme.

Now cover, and leave them alone for 5 minutes or so.

After 5 minutes, open the lid and give it a stir. The goal is to let all of the vegetables have their turn on the bottom of the pan getting good and browned up.

Put the lid back on, give it another 5 minutes.

Then, open stir and pop the lid back on.

The total cooking time is 15-20 min. The vegetables should all be slightly caramelized, and they should be tender enough to eat.

Pile them on a plate.

I served them up with canned pears. Ha. I’m on a pear kick lately.

And clearly, I didn’t have any fresh left in my fridge.

I rounded out the meal with one more root vegetable.

The Grand Daddy of all root vegetables… the onion!!

French Onion Soup

Oooey-gooey, melty, delicious French Onion Soup.

Mmmmm.

Roots galore!

Loving it.

Hump Day today- yippee!

XO,
Leah

I love entertaining.

I especially love it when it includes dear friends, and the time spent together is easy and effortless.

I love to cook for these events, but I am big on being a guest at my own party. I DO NOT want to be in the kitchen cooking or cleaning while all of my friends are enjoying drinks, company, and food. No thank ya.

I follow the most fabulous Ina Garten’s advice for throwing a party. Make everything ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to purchase things to serve. Not every item served has to be a fancy to-do.

One of my favorite party treats is a cheese tray. It is super simple to throw together, and it goes like hotcakes. Rather, it goes like really good cheese.

So, a while back we had friends over for a casual meal and time spent together.

Here is what was served. Everything was made ahead of time.

A simple salad with goat cheese phyllo pockets:

To make the pockets, simply cut phyllo dough into 4″x4″ squares (approx. 3 squares for each pocket). Place the first square on a hard, flat surface. Slather it with butter. Then top it with a second sheet of phyllo. Slather that with butter. Then top it with a third sheet of phyllo dough. In the center of the layered squares, place a 1 oz round of goat cheese (plain or flavored).

Gather up the edges of the phyllo and give them a twist at the top to create a pocket.

Pop them into the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them. You want them to be golden and brown.

I just threw a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper over the salad. Top the greens with the phyllo goat cheese pockets.

Caprese salad:

Slice tomatoes, slice fresh mozzarella, and layer it up. Give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle the whole thing with basil, salt and pepper.

Yep, that was easy.

For the main dish, I made The Pioneer Woman’s Spicy Pulled Pork.

Photo courtesy of thepioneerwoman.com

The Pulled Pork cooks slow and low for hours, so I timed it to pull it out of the oven about 20 minutes before guests arrived. I shredded it with 2 forks, then kept it warm on the stove.

To top the Pulled Pork, I made a super simple cabbage slaw.

It is just thinly sliced cabbage, a little oil, lime juice, a good amount of salt, and a healthy sprinkle of pepper. Mix it up!

Then, I decided that the only thing better than Spicy Pulled Pork sandwiches would be Spicy Pulled Pork tacos.

So, I busted out the tortillas, and I loaded up bowls with a plethora of delicious toppings.

Truth be told, I was not too hungry by dinner time because I had snacked on taco toppings all dang day.

No. Self. Control.

Let’s see: chopped tomatoes, cilantro, crumbled Mexican cheese, shredded cheddar, sour cream, salsa, and lime juice.

Mmmmmmm.

For a sweet treat, I threw together a simple fruit salad.

Here is what I think make a solid fruit salad- citrus and berries flanked by other fruit favorites.

Here is what I think makes a nasty fruit salad- bananas. They get mushy and brown and their flavor penetrates every other fruit. Bleck. Leave them out.

There ya have it. Easy entertaining. We had a couple of bottles of wine, and friends brought dessert and cocktails to share.

Love it.

Don’t be afraid to have people over for dinner. Serve easy comfortable food. Everyone appreciates a night off from cooking, and I’m sure that they would love an invite to a dinner at your house.

I think I need to throw a party soon. Yep, I think so.

Love ya.

XO,

Leah

Whew!

It is Sunday night, and I’m exhausted.

I have my feet up, and I’m watching The Grammys.

Who am I most looking forward to seeing perform?

Mumford and Sons, of course.

Our friend, Jim, introduced Brad and me to them about a year ago and my life has not been the same since.

I have listened to their album Little Lion Man approximately 158,639 times since I first got my hands on it.

Last May, we saw them live at an intimate venue in Cleveland, Ohio. It was easily the best live show I have ever seen.

So yeah. I’m a fan.

And you should be too.

Promise. You’ll love them. Forever and ever.

So, I’m tired because I spent the last few hours making meals for the rest of the week. We have a busy week ahead of us, and I didn’t want to get caught up in the Fast Food Machine, so I thought I’d work ahead.

Sheesh. It is exhausting to make 5 meals in a few hours.

My feet hurt.

And my house smells. Like a schizophrenic combination of 5 dinners.

But it feels good to have a fridge fully stocked.

Here is what on tap for the week:

I made some chicken salad

And some of Rachael Ray’s Roasted Vegetable Soup.

I also made this BLT (Bacon, Leek, Tomato) Chicken Soup.

And then, I made an Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper Marinara Sauce.

Finally, I made my most delicious Wedding Soup- if I do say so myself. I was looking for a link to this recipe on my blog, and to my horror I realized that I have never shared it with you.

I actually just typed this up to send to a friend, so you are in luck. Without further ado, Leah’s Wedding Soup. The recipe is a hybrid of the family recipe and my brother’s iteration of the recipe.

I cheat by buying chicken stock and a deli roasted chicken (rather than cooking my own chicken stock and cooking my own chicken). Let’s be honest. Chicken Stock is way too much work to make is yourself.
Italian Wedding Soup- Serves 12
For the meatballs (this makes approximately a million meatballs. If you are making this soup for 2, I would recommend a 1/2 recipe and you’ll still have plenty left to freeze for a day you don’t feel like cooking):
Combine the following:
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
4 pieces of white bread- like ghetto, no-nutrient, will-not-decompose white bread
1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs
4 eggs (beaten before you add them to the mix)
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 small onion, grated (I use my cheese grater)
4 cloves of garlic chopped
Dash of worcestershire
1/4 c. milk or half and half or cream
1/2 c. grated parmesan
Once you get it all loosely combined, you want to be able to make meatballs that will hold together. If it feels to bready/tight, add a little more milk or water. If it is too loose or liquidy, add more bread crumbs.
Now, roll your meatballs. Your hands will smell like a hoagie for the next 2 days at least. I actually often use rubber gloves for this step in the process. The meatballs should be less than an inch in diameter because they are supposed to be bite-sized. If you have a huge mouth, go ahead and go bigger.
Once you have them all rolled up, brown them in a non-stick skillet. You don’t have to cook them all the way through because they will finish cooking in the soup. You do have to cook them enough to make sure that the balls stay in tact once you toss them into the soup.
Next, prepare your chicken. Get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Just pull the meat off of the bones and shred it up to bite-sized pieces.
Now for the actual soup:
Meatballs
Shredded Chicken
3-4 quarts of chicken stock (get stock, NOT broth)
4 large carrots, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, copped
Greens (either swiss chard or escarole- 2 bunches), chop it up… it looks like a lot, but it wilts like spinach
In a large stock pot, put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Then add the celery and carrots. Cook 5-7 minutes until they soften just a bit.
Now add in the stock and chicken.
Then add in the meatballs.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 min.
*If you are planning on freezing any soup, I would do it at this point. Then, on the day you cook it up, add fresh greens.*
Right before serving, add in the greens and allow them to wilt and cook down.
I like to serve it with Acini di Pepe pasta (they are the smallest little noodles ever available in the grocery- they normally come is a small bag). I don’t mix it into the soup… I keep the noodles with a dash of olive oil in a separate pot for each person to add if they like. And then I like to top the soup bowls with shredded parm.
There ya have it.
Time intensive, but totally worth it.
Ok, back to the music for me.
One more thing. Did Lady Gaga completely rip off Madonna or what?? Disappointing.
And is Usher a singer or a dancer? Because I think he sang approximately 2 words during his performance.
And Cee Lo with the Muppets- loved it. Fuh-get-about-it.
Peace out homies,
Leah

I’m in love.

With this foot.

Our sweet little guy or girl is growing perfectly.

I’m feeling exceptionally grateful this sunny and cold Friday morning.

Only 19 weeks until we meet the little Mr. or Ms. face-to-face.

God is good.

Happy weekend my dear friends.

XO,

Leah

Oh brother.

I fear I have developed a new obsession.

This happens with me (all too frequently) with food.

I taste something.

I die because it is so good.

And then I keep thinking about it until I fold and make it again.

Thus is the case with roasted pears.

You may recall that last week I roasted some up with carrots and parsnips.

And since then, I have been longing for the sweet roasty pear again.

I have issues.

I picked up these two beauties in the store.

And I cut them down the middle.

And I scooped out the center.

And then I peeled them.

And I cut a tiny bit off of the bottom so the pairs wouldn’t be all wobbly in the pan.

I preheated the oven to 350.

By the way, this recipe is 100% Ina Gartens. I do not want to take credit for something so delicious that I did not create!

Now, we have to mix up the stuffing.

I used equal parts cranberries, blue cheese, and chopped walnuts.

For the four pear halves, I used 1/4 c. of each of the above. And that was the perfect amount.

Stuff your pears.

Seriously, how good does that look?

Ooh, did I mention to buy firm pears? Because if they are fully ripe they will fall apart in the oven.

And we definitely don’t want that.

Squeeze some lemon over the whole kit and caboodle.

Caboodle.

Yeah, I had a personalized one of those bad boys when I was growing up.

Jealous?

In a bowl, mix 3 T. of red wine or port and 1/3 c. of brown sugar and 1/2 c. of apple cider.

Now, I didn’t have any apple cider.

But I did have some white grape juice.

Yep, that’s what I used.

And it was lovely.

Pour that over the pears and in to the baking dish.

Pop that into the oven for 30 minutes.

The pears should soften up and the cheese should melt, and it should smell delicious!

Pop some arugula on your plate.

I love the pre-washed stuff from the grocery store. It makes my life easier.

And I love ease.

Give a little squeeze of lemon.

And a little drizzle of olive oil.

Pull your pears out of the oven.

Take some of that syrupy winey, juicy, sugary cooking liquid and drizzle it over your salad.

Pop a pear on top.

Give the whole sha-bang a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Serve it up with some pot roast (recipe coming peeps!) and mashed taters.

Roasted pear craving.

Attacked.

And conquered.

So, so good.

Lots of love to ya,

Leah

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