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I have been busy during my maternity leave. I have developed 101 Super Simple Summer Salads.

Wouldn’t you absolutely hate me if that were true?

No, I haven’t created a thing (other than a baby) in the time I have been off.

But I did find this link for 101 Simple Summer Salads.

I am buying the goods to make numbers 2, 5, 24, 29, 60, and the list goes on and on.

The recipes are organized by vegan, vegetarian, seafood, meat, noodle salads, and grain salads. There is truly something for everyone.

Photo by Francesco Tonelli for the NYTimes

So, there ya have it on this Wonderful (and HOT) Wednesday- 101 new and fun salad ideas. Visit your local Farmer’s Market or grocery store to pick up the goods to make one of all of these today.

Let me know if you try one of these that knocks your socks off!

XO,

Leah

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Grill baby, Grill.

I love grilling when it is a billion degrees outside, and the thought of turning on the oven or stove is laughable.

I am a firm believer in the charcoal grill. I think it conjures up way more flavor than gas.

The downside of the charcoal grill is obvious… you must plan ahead a bit since it takes so long for the coals to get ready.

But it is worth it my friends, it is worth it.

I am also a firm believer that just about anything can be grilled.

Meat.

Veggies (some of my faves include asparagus, zucchini, onions, potatoes, etc).

Fruit (any stone fruit- peaches, plums, etc. or pineapple).

Breads.

This week, we grilled a pizza. A barbecue chicken pizza to be exact.

And not to toot my own horn, but it was freaking awesome. Toot! Toot!

This recipe was inspired by a gift from the in-laws. They brought us back a dry rub and a bottle of barbecue sauce from a favorite place in Florida.

We have been patiently waiting through snow and rain to bust out these grilling goodies.

I know it is highly unlikely that you will have these particular ingredients, but any grill seasoning and barbecue sauce will do.

We start this recipe by frying up bacon. Nothing wrong with that.

Bacon is one of those ingredients that is better done in a pan than on the grill.

Yes, I have attempted to grill bacon. However, with live flames and grease dripping from bacon- bacon tends to get scorched.

So, I stick with the frying pan.

And by the way, I love a cast iron skillet. Don’t you?

Do you have one?

You need one.

Here is the thing about a cast iron skillet, you don’t really wash it out aggressively with soap and water because it is a very porous pan. So you wipe it down, and the flavor gets trapped in the pan.

Then, whenever you cook something, it has this extra delicious flavor element in the food. It is pretty magical.

Pull out the bacon. And let it set out on paper towels to drain.

Drop in some chopped onion or shallots.

Yep, just drop them into the bacon grease.

Fried onions in bacon grease.

Hello. Lover.

Bacon grease makes everything heart healthy.

OK, that was a lie.

Bacon grease does make everything more delicious. And that counts for something, right?

Chicken tenders.

Cheaper.

Thaws faster (if you are like me, and you store on-sale chicken in your freezer until you need it).

Cooks faster.

Has less weird tendons and whatnot.

Winner, winner, Chicken Tender Dinner.

Give both sides of your chicken a deep tissue massage with your grill seasoning/rub.

 

Set that chicken aside while you get your pizza dough ready.

Now I had a few servings of dough already frozen in my freezer. So, your options for dough- make a big old batch and freeze some.

Or buy a Boboli crust from your grocery store.

Or buy the uncooked pizza dough (I believe is it $1.29) from Trader Joes. It can be found near the cheese and deli meat. This would be my choice if I didn’t have homemade dough.

Give your dough a drizzle of olive oil once it is rolled out.

I also gave mine a little sprinkle of salt and crushed red pepper flake.

To the Grill!!

 

Give your chicken a head start.

With a hot grill, using chicken tenders, I needed about 3 1/2-4 min. per side.

Then, I gave them a flip.

 

Once flipped, I slathered them with the barbecue sauce.

 

And then I threw the raw rolled out dough right on the grill.

Your grill MUST be pretty hot still for this to work. If it is only providing a low heat, you run the risk of your dough oozing through the grill grates. I, personally, have never had this happen.

But it could.

 

Keep slatherin’ that chicken.

 

Don’t feed the bears.

This is our beer opener positioned on the fence right next to the grill.

I’ll give you one guess as to which member of our household purchased this bad boy.

 

After 1-2 minutes, give your dough a flip.

Mmm.

Crusty.

 

Pull all of that off the grill, and head back in to the sanctity of your air conditioned kitchen.

Take stock of everything that you shall pile on your pizza.

From left to right, I have monteray jack and cheddar cheese. I only had a teeny amount of cheddar left, hence the pathetic amount. Pepper jack, colby jack, mozzarella or provolone would all be delicious on this pizza.

Next, I have an avocado to slice up, the grilled onions, chopped bacon, a chopped tomato, some crushed red pepper flake, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion and a little more barbecue sauce.

 

Take the barbecue sauce, and use the sauce as your pizza sauce. Slather it all over.

Chop up your chicken and pile it on your crust with the chopped bacon.

 

Then, pile on all the cheese.

March that pizza back out to your grill for only a minute more to melt the cheese.

 

When it looks like this, pull it off of the grill, bring it inside and finish topping it.

 

Add on the rest of your ingredients.

Wowzer, right?

RIGHT?

 

I recommend using kitchen scissors to cut the pizza. It is slightly easier to manage. Pair the pizza with your pickled cucumber salad and a ripe summer peach.

Grilling makes my life.

It is Friday.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

It is a big weekend in our family… my baby sister graduates from college. We are all so proud of her, and I for one cannot wait to see what is next for her.

Our niece also turns one on Sunday. There will be a party and presents and a cake- and a little girl surrounded by love.

Fun stuff all around.

XO,
Leah

 

I think vegetables reach their full potential when they are stuffed.

Holler if you hear me.

Check out this massive zucchini I got at the grocery store- thanks pesticides!

If you are a gardener, zucchini is one of those fruits that does well. So well, that many folks end up with a plethora of these bad boys throughout the summer.

Here is a zucchini fun fact: zucchini is actually an immature fruit (not vegetable), being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower. Doesn’t that sound appetizing?

In this culinary context, zucchini is a vegetable.

And I don’t care what you say about that.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Anywho, start by chopping off the head and tail of this zucchini.

Then take off a little tiny sliver of the side of the vegetable, so that it will lay flat to be stuffed and to bake.

Slice her open.

And scrape out her guts.

Give the hollowed out inside a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Pop those into the oven- either straight on to the rack or onto a small sheet pan- while you prepare the stuffing.

The zucchini needs to cook for 15-25 minutes. The time varies by the size of the zucchini. The zucchini I had was about 10 inches long and it took a total of 20 minutes to cook (about 10 without the filling and 10 with the filling).

Pull out a non-stick pan.

Put it over a burner on medium-high heat.

And add in some olive oil.

Once the olive oil is heated, toss in some onion. For one large zucchini (serving 2 people), use 1/4 of a white, yellow or red onion.

Or if you are feeling crazy, like I clearly was, you can use 3 small shallots.

To the shallots or onions, add two finely diced or crushed cloves of garlic.

If you are ever invited to a Pampered Chef party, invest in a garlic crusher (seen below). Pampered Chef makes the best version out there (believe me… I have tried a few), and it keeps you and your hands from smelling like a hoagie for the next day.

I consider the garlic to be cooked when the aroma fills the kitchen.

DO NOT overcook the garlic. You know it is overcooked if it starts to turn brown. Overcooked garlic tastes really bitter and is nasty.

To the onion and garlic, add some chopped tomato.

I used two medium sized vine-ripened tomatoes for my zucchini.

Keep the tomato in the pan for about 2 minutes. That is long enough to warm the tomatoes through, and it is long enough that some of those extra tomato juices evaporate away.

After 2-3 minutes, add in 1 T. of vinegar. I prefer balsamic.

Side note: I hope you know this, but when I use a lowercase t. – that means teaspoon. And when I use an uppercase T.- that means tablespoon. I probably should have clarified that about a year ago. Oopsie.

Stir it all around, and let those flavors get to know one another.

Now, grab your preheated zucchinis and place them on a small foil-lined sheet pan.

Hmmmmm….. looks like something is missing.

What could it be?

What could it be?

Oh yes.

Cheese, of course!

Get creative here. I popped on some goat cheese because goat cheese makes my life.

But you could use mozzarella, parmesan, or even pepper jack. Maybe I would shy away from cheddar, but mostly I don’t think you could go wrong here with any cheese choice.

Since my zucchini had already cooked 10 of the 20 minutes, I threw these guys back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

I should mention that these guys also taste awesome on a grill. Especially a charcoal, smoky grill.

I love grillin’ season.

After the last 10 minutes of baking time, the zucchini came out looking like this.

And yes, they taste as good as they look.

And they taste like summer!

I hope everyone is having the most wonderful week.

XO,
Leah

Ever had a week that makes you feel like this?

Yeah, that has been my week. It has felt long and busy, but productive and good. So, by today I’m feeling just a little loopy.

And I’m extremely grateful for the weekend arriving just in time.

So, on this Friday, I declare that we need to carb up for the weekend.

And we need to carb up to celebrate the royal wedding.

So, without further ado I give you Spicy Vodka Cream Gnocchi Cheesy Bake. I think I need to work on my recipe names.

This stuff is good.

Eating gnocchi is like consuming little magical pasta pillows. Er… something.

Let’s get started. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Start with a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Put a good amount (2 T) of olive oil in the pan.

While that heats up, chop up an onion. I used  medium white onion, but you can use whatever kind of onion you happen to have on hand.

Drop that onion into your skillet.

And let it soften for 3-4 minutes. We don’t want it to get too browned, so it if it is starting to brown that means your heat is too high. Just turn it down a bit and let that onion go.

Add in 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic. And mix it all up to make sure everything is coated in the olive oil.

There is nothing that smells as delicious to me as a little onion and garlic in a hot pan. MMMMMM.

Now, we shall crank up the heat.

I love spicy food.

So, I used a generous teaspoon of crushed red pepper flake. If you don’t like the heat, you can use as little as 1/4 t. of crushed red pepper. Just enough to add a bit of background flavor without adding any of the burn that I crave.

Now add in 1 t. of oregano.

And stir that all together.

And now we get to the good stuff.

Vodka.

Hello lover.

Pour 1 cup of vodka into a measuring cup.

Then add that vodka carefully to your skillet. If you cook over an open flame like I do on my gas range, please be extra careful. I don’t want to be the cause of singed eyebrows from the vodka flaring up.

I’m sure you know this, but heating alcohol to 173 degrees or hotter (basically when it starts boiling) will cook all of the alcohol out of the recipe, so you don’t have to worry about eating this and getting all boozed up eating this food.

Allow the vodka to reduce, until the sauce starts to look more translucent and thicker.

Get out a 28 oz. can of tomatoes. I prefer the whole tomatoes, but you can used diced if you like. I wouldn’t used crushed tomatoes for this recipe, because the texture of the tomato adds to the overall dish.

I personally love San Marzano tomatoes- these can usually be found in the Italian Foods section of the grocery store. They are not next to the hundreds of canned tomato options in the canned goods aisle at my store.

They are about double the price of regular tomatoes, but they are sweeter and less acidic and decidedly more delicious.

If you choose to use canned whole tomatoes like me, you get to participate in a fun step in this recipe.

The ceremonial crushing of the tomatoes. This allows you the perfect opportunity to work out some stresses from the week. Grab a tomato and crush it to smithereens in your hand. Continue until all of your tomatoes are crushed up and in the pan.

Give that a stir.

And then a generous sprinkling of salt (1/2 t.) and pepper (1/4 t.).

Stir that up.

Now, for the cream.

1/2 c. of the full fat goodness. Please don’t skimp here. 1/2 cup of cream will be spread out between 8 servings, so don’t worry about the fat or calories.

Think only of the glorious flavor.

Your sauce is done, so after giving it a stir turn the heat to low. And lets cook our gnocchi.

My grocery store carries fresh gnocchi from time-to-time. If they have it, I usually find it in the Italian Foods section with other fresh pasta and tortellinis.

If they don’t have a fresh option, do not fear!

March on over to the frozen aisles.

Head down the aisle that has garlic bread and frozen lasagnas. There you should find a bag of frozen gnocchi.

Pick it up. Give thanks. Plop it in your cart.

You’ll never look back.

At home, drop your gnocchi into boiling water for approximately 3 minutes. This is enough time to cook the gnocchi through without having it turn to mush.

Drain the water off, and add your gnocchi to your sauce.

Stir that up and transfer all of it to a baking dish.

This one is a 6″ x 9″- I know that is an odd size, but a larger dish would work. Or a smaller square dish should work too.

Now, we need cheese.

Because let’s be honest. What pasta dish isn’t better with cheese?

I used a mixture of sliced fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese.

Fresh mozzarella melts infinitely better than that weird shredded stuff that comes in a bag. Go for the fresh! It is found either with your cheeses in the dairy section or in the specialty cheese section found near the deli.

I love the addition of goat cheese to for a little extra bite.

If you don’t groove on the goat, try a sprinkle of parmesan instead. It has a more intense, fruity, and salty flavor than the mozz and it will be a perfect compliment.

Pop that bad boy in your 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

The goal is to get the cheese to be ooey and gooey and melty.

I used a little fresh basil from my garden on top.

Perfection.

Both Brad and The Pioneer Woman know the guy who writes the This is Reverb blog, and I found the recipe for his  Dutch Oven Bread. It was super simple to make, and it was a perfectly delicious compliment to this carb-o-rific meal.

Serve it up with a big green salad.

Your life shall never be the same.

Have the best weekend.

XO,
Leah

I’m married to a sandwich lovin’ man.

I think Brad would take a sandwich over a filet any day. He makes for a cheap date.

And he is pretty easy to please at dinner time. Thanks be for that.

About a year ago, I stumbled on to a recipe for homemade wraps that were featured in some magazine- I’m guessing Real Simple, but I don’t really know.

And since then, these wraps have made it in to our regular dinnertime repertoire. The original sandwich was a Greek steak number that made me want to dance the Watusi.

But I’m pretty sure anything would knock my socks off when wrapped up in these warm, soft, comforting delights…

This week I made some grilled chicken, but a veggie wrap, cold cuts, a breakfast sandwich, etc would all be knock-you-off-your-feet good.

The downside of this recipe?

You have to use yeast.

Guh.

Yeast intimidates me.

But I am bigger and stronger and sometimes a wee bit smarter than yeast, so I took the challenge on head-on.

Get out your mixin’ bowl with a dough hook.

Into your mixing bowl, combine 1 t. of sugar and 1 package of yeast.

Then, add in 1 1/2 cups of warm water.

This part always makes me nervous. The water should be warm enough that it activates the yeast, but not so hot that it kills they yeast.

Yeast- you are my arch nemesis!

I figure a little warmer than how warm you would make a baby’s bottle works for me.

You’ll know you got the water temperature right after you stir it all together and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or so.

After 5 minutes, you should have a little frothiness.

This means the yeast is “activated” i.e. it is ready to do work for ya.

Turn on your mixer, and slowly incorporate 3 1/2 cups of flour.

And 1 t. of salt.

Mixin’, mixin’, mixin’.

Until the dough hook causes the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl in a ball.

Once you get to this point, turn off your mixer.

If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you can use a spoon and a bowl to mix it all together.

Once it is all combined, turn out your dough onto a floured surface and start kneading.

Even if you used a mixer, dump your dough out onto a floured surface and start kneading.

This should be a very soft dough.

Knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes. If it is sticky and you are having an issue with dough sticking to your hands, simply add a little more flour.

Place a teaspoon of olive oil into a bowl, and plop your dough in there.

Cover it with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in a warm spot.

Leave it alone for an hour.

After an hour, divide your dough (using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors) into 8 pieces.

Roll those suckers to about 1/4 in. thick.

I make mine a bit oblong so that two fit nicely on my round pizza stone.

If you are using a rectangle sheet pan, you can make your wraps more circular.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If you happen to have a pizza stone, pop it into the oven to preheat as well. If you don’t have a pizza stone, go buy one immediately.

Or just get out a large sheet pan.

Once the stone is preheated and your wraps are all rolled out, throw two of them onto your stone or pan, and close them into the oven for 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes, the tops will look like this- it shouldn’t look like much has happened.

Use tongs or an oven-mitted hand to flip these guys over.

This is what the bottom side should look like- not too different from the top side.

Perhaps there will be a slight browning, but that is ok.

The key is to keep these guys very pliable.

Because, well, a crunchy wrap is hard to actually wrap.

Put them back into the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the wraps and set them on a plate to cool a bit.

Repeat until you have all of your wraps cooked up, then top them with whatever goodness you have planned.

I used spice-rubbed grilled chicken, some colby jack cheese, banana peppers, spinach, tomato, and mayo.

Um. Yum.

Wrap it up, and serve it with some roasted or grilled veggies. I just threw my asparagus in the 500 degree oven coated in oil, salt, and pepper for about 7 minutes while I was finishing up with the wraps.

I also made a super simple fruit salad made of mango and kiwi.

Can I just tell you how much I love the fact that we can get delicious ripe mango in our Ohio grocery stores right now?

They taste like vacation.

I store the left over wraps in plastic wrap in the fridge.

Perfection.

Yesterday, I woke up to a basement with water leaking in due to a massive thunderstorm. Then, I drove to a meeting downtown and my check engine light came on. Then, I drove back to the office from the downtown meeting and was stuck in completely stopped traffic for 2+ hours (having just drank a large water bottle and being pregnant- this was a very uncomfortable 2 hours).

Last night, the tornado sirens went off at 1:45 am, and I woke up the pups and my husband to hunker down in the basement for safety. Before we made it to the basement, the sirens turned off and the worst of the storm was over.

So. I say all that to say this. Today has got to be a better day!

Hope you all are doing well, staying dry, and loving on those around you.

Happy Hump Day.

XO,

Leah

The Forgotten One.

The one that is never chosen.

The one that sits all by itself while every other is lovingly picked out, scrubbed clean, and then carefully prepared.

What is this unfortunate of unfortunates?

Carrots, of course.

If you are like me… and for your sake, I hope you aren’t… carrots are the perfect vegetable to pack in a lunch on a day that you are desperate to sneak in something healthy at the last minute.

Then, by lunch time you begrudgingly pull out your carrots and choke them down.

All the while, you are wishing you would have stuffed that bag with Dortitos.

I have been. there.

A while back, the old carrot was forever redeemed.

You see, we had dinner at our friend Chef Michael’s house, and he sauteed up some carrots. And they were life-changingly good.

Prior to that meal, cooked carrots were not an option at this house.

They conjured up images of school cafeteria lunches. Soft vegetables. With an overabundance of mushy carrots and lima beans.

Um. No thanks.

But Chef Michael’s carrots. Ooh, these were different. And I knew my life, at least where carrots were concerned had been forever altered.

So, without further ado, I give you my interpretation (which is no doubt less delicious, but still pretty darn good) of Chef Michael’s sauteed carrots.

Start with a non stick pan over high heat.

The pan should have about 1/4 inch of water in it.
Bring the water to a boil.

And drop in your peeled and chopped carrots. The carrots should be a relatively uniform size so that they cook in the same amount of time. I used four carrots for two people which really didn’t end up looking like a whole lot.

Let those carrots cook in the water until they start to soften. I like mine still pretty crunchy so I let them cook for about 3 minutes. If you want them softer, cook them longer. Test them for your desired softness by poking them gently with a fork.

When they are as soft as you want them to be, drain off all of the water.

And drop a glob of butter in the pan.

I used less than one T. of butter for the four carrots I was cooking up.

Then, oh boy oh boy, drop in some brown sugar.

This adds a little sweetness and caramelization to the carrots.

I used about 1/2 T. of brown sugar.

Stir that all around.

Add a sprinkle of salt- about 1/4 t.

And a shot of pepper.

About 1/8 t.

And stir it all together.

See how the butter and brown sugar start to turn into a deliciously caramel consistency? Well, that coats your carrots and turns them into magical bites of delight.

I do declare, carrots shall never be forgotten again!

I will choose YOU carrots.

The perfect accompaniment for any meal.

Enjoy!

Hope you all had a weekend as lovely as mine.

XO,

Leah

Before the weather turns warm- yes, it is STILL cold in Ohio- I wanted to turn on the oven slow and low to use my beautiful LeCreuset.

I just can’t imagine having my stove on for 6 hours in the summer. So, I’m trying to use this bad boy as much as possible now.

Pork was the dinner choice of the day.

Pork shoulder to be exact.

Pork Story #1:

Pork and I have a bit of a love hate relationship.

When I was growing up, people thought that you had to cook every ounce of holy moisture out of any cut of pork to insure that you and yours did not end up with trichinosis. I don’t even know the origin of the trichinosis scare, but it sure seemed that for the first 20 years of my life people were nervous that pigs had a high likelihood of contracting this parasitic disease and then passing it on to us.

I remember pork chops as a VERY tough and VERY chewy and VERY not delicious cut of meat.

Hated it.

However, there was bacon. If you know me at all, you know that I would leave Brad for bacon if that were legally possible.

I’m kidding, Brad!

Who would marry bacon?

That would be absurd.

Only a weirdo would marry bacon.

But it would be a delicious union.

Love bacon.

Ham for sandwiches landed somewhere in the middle of my pork chop disdain and bacon love.

The end.

Pork Story #2:

In 9th grade, every day at lunch, my friend Todd wrote and then read his very own David Letterman style “Top Ten List”.

I remember being doubled over in laughter with the random things that made their way onto that list.

One particular list that has stuck with me is “Top Ten Words that Sound Funny when Anne says Them”.

This is Anne:

All of the boys loved Anne in middle and high school, and you can see why. She is beautiful.

And she was and is fun.

And Anne has a signature dance move. You should ask her to show it to you if you know her.

However, according to Todd, there are 10 words apparently that sound funny when Anne says them.

And topping the list was the word “Pork”.

To this day, I cannot buy or make pork without momentarily being transported to my 9th grade lunch table.

The end.

Pork Story #3:

That brings us to today and to a recipe for pork shoulder.

Pork shoulder really only tastes good if you cook it slowly, over a long period of time.

Then it is delicious.

I bought a 4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder.

I am in meal-freezing mode to prepare for our little guy or gal’s arrival, so I’m making double recipes of almost everything to freeze and eat later.

So, for 2 people I would not recommend a 4 lb. pork shoulder. However, if you can only find a large cut of this meat then you must throw a dinner party.

It is surely a sign!

Start by preheating your oven to 300 degrees.

Then, on your stove top, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in your dutch oven over medium-high heat.

If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can most certainly use a normal pot or even a large skillet on your stove. Then, when our pot goes into the oven, your meat is simply transferred to a slow cooker/crock pot.

Unwrap your meat.

Pretty, non?

Take a knife and make 8 slits into the top of the meat.

Deep and wide enough for a clove of garlic to be slipped in.

Then, slip in the garlic.

See if you can find all 8 garlic cloves.

This is like a really weird and lame version of “Where’s Waldo?”.

Give the meat a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Then rub the meat with 1 1/2 T. of chili powder, and 2 t. of cumin.

Now take that garlic stuffed, and spice rubbed pork and place it face down in your hot oil.

This should sizzle and pop, and smell pretty darn good!

While the first side is searing, give the exposed bottom side the salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin treatment.

Now, we shall make a sauce.

Perhaps the easiest sauce in all of the land.

The sauce will be added to the pork shortly.

Take one small can of chipotle in adobo peppers, and pop them into a bowl or small mixing container.

Chipotle in Adobo peppers are simply smoked jalapenos. You can find them in the Hispanic foods section or aisle at your grocery store.

Then grab a can of diced tomatoes. Any style will do, but I thought that the fire-roasted version that I found in my pantry would compliment the smokiness of both the cumin and the chipotles.

Add that can to your chipotles.

Blend them up.

Back to the pork.

Give it a flip to allow the underside to brown up.

Looks good already, doesn’t it?

Chop up 1/2 of a red onion.

Or a white one.

Or a yellow one.

Or a couple shallots.

You get the idea.

Toss those in around your pork.

Take your chipotle in adobo and fire roasted tomato sauce and pour that into the pork party.

Now add about 1 1/2 cups of water.

And for the heck of it, I threw in a chopped up jalapeno.

I actually was just rooting around in the fridge trying to decide if anything would be right for this recipe, and this lonely jalapeno called out to me.

I could not deny the call.

And 2 of the tiniest bay leaves ever.

If they were larger, I would have only used one.

Pop a lid on it.

And into the oven it goes.

Or into the crock pot it goes (on low).

For 6 hours.

I peeked in at the pork after about 4 hours of cooking, and I poked at it with some kitchen tongs.

This is a highly technically advanced culinary move.

It was still not falling apart which meant it wasn’t done cooking.

The meat will FALL APART when done. Without trying.

No knife needed. Not even a butter knife.

After 6 hours, this is what it looked like:

The meat had completely separated itself from the bone which is a great sign that the pork is ready for you!

I went to grab a large hunk of the pork with my tongs, and it fell apart.

Perfect!

It was the perfect consistency for shredding.

Remove the bone from the mix, and toss it.

Then pull out all of the pork.

Use a couple of forks to shred this pork to pieces.

I have a massive aversion to fatty gristle, so I take a little longer than most to make sure that I won’t be biting into any fatty chewy nastiness.

I put about half of our pork into an air-tight freezer container to be thawed and reheated some day after baby arrives.

For freezer meals, I always include a label with the contents, the date that I made the food (don’t really want to eat anything older than months), and then the number of servings.

For dinner, we decided that spicy pulled pork tacos were the only way to go.

One of our favorite restaurants in the city, Nada, does a killer carnitas taco.

And they crisp up their shredded pork before you get it on your plate, so I did the same.

You can totally skip this step if you don’t care about crispy pork.

Put a t. of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Throw in some pork.

Toss a flour tortilla over your flame to warm it and char it ever so slightly.

Then add your special sauce.

I made this sauce by taking all of the juice that was left in my Le Creuset after removing the pork bone and meat. I used my immersion blender to blend the saucy mixture of red onion, jalapeno, chipotles and tomatoes.

Then I threw a healthy tablespoon of the sauce on the pork while it cooked.

Transfer the pork to your tortillas with some cheese, sour cream and guacamole.

Give it a squeeze of fresh lime (another Nada trick) to brighten up all of the flavors.

And there you have it.

It is not the tidiest plate, so don’t judge me.

However, I was drooling at this point. It was all I could do to just snap a picture before diving in!

Or if you are like me, and you prefer the smaller (and decidedly more delicious) corn tortillas, you can make your tacos in those.

Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Pork Shoulder. Try it.

You’ll love it.

Promise.

Hump day is here. Woop!

XO,

Leah

Well, it has taken me much longer to get this recipe posted than I anticipated.

You see, I was in the land of Packers, cheese curd, and beer. Yes, fabulous Wisconsin.

Neenah, to be exact.

And, as you can imagine, it was as magical as one might imagine.

While Neenah leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of dining and entertainment, it was great to see and spend time with all of my co-workers. I really work with some pretty fun and amazing people.

So, I find myself feeling rather grateful this blessedly warm Friday morning.

I thought we should discuss meat today.

Meatloaf, to be exact.

Mom, if you are reading this, please don’t be offended. But, growing up I hated meatloaf. My mom’s version included cooked green peppers. Bleck! I would try to drown the loaf in ketchup to choke it down.

It wasn’t until much, much later in life that I felt brave enough to try the loaf o’ meat again.

And there is one recipe that I find myself going back to again and again. This is based on a Rachael Ray recipe from a show year’s ago.

On a side note: Rachael Ray is pretty darn annoying. However, I owe her a lot of credit in sparking my adult interest to get excited by cooking. So, thanks Rach! EVOO! YUM-O!

So, this meatloaf is actually a recipe for individual meatloaves that are cooked in a skillet instead of baked in the oven.

Here is what you’ll need for the meatloaf:

1 lb. of ground beef (I use 85/15 or fattier- that ratio means, 85% lean meat/15% fat and you don’t want to go much more lean than that

1 egg

1 handful of bread crumbs (Italian or plain) or a piece of white bread cut up into small cubes

About 2 T. of Grill Seasoning

1/2 t. allspice

1/4 c. milk

1-2 T. of tomato paste

1/2 of a large onion, all chopped up

Start by putting your meat in a bowl. Easy enough, right?

Crack yo egg.

Into the bowl.

You should probably whisk it first.

Unless you are a rebel like me.

Toss in your bread or breadcrumbs.

And then add your grill seasoning.

I am sincerely sorry that I’m not great at providing exact measurements.

Pop in your allspice.

Contrary to popular belief, allspice is not some combo of spices all ground up and combined for you.

Nope, it is an Indian spice from a tree that produces allspice berries.

Fun fact of the day!

Now, your milk.

I use about 1/4 cup.

However, more milk may be needed. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Add in your dollop of tomato paste.

Then, throw in your chopped onion.

Now, take off your rings.

Roll up your sleeves.

Use your clean hands to gently mix this all together.

You want to mix until everything is just combined. If you go nuts mixing, you can do something called over-mixing. The result of over-mixing is some seriously tough meat.

This is the point where you want to check the consistency. You want the meat to be able to form a patty, but you want the meat to be somewhat loose.

So, if the mixture seems too dry and difficult to mix add in a little milk.

If the mixture is too wet- like you can’t get it to form a patty and stay that way- add more bread or breadcrumbs.

Now, set your mixture aside for a minute.

We’re going to make a couple of quick and easy side dishes that are super simple to time correctly so that you have a plateful of food hot and steaming and ready to eat at the same time.

So, take the other half of your onion. Chop part of it into a small dice.

Chop the other 1/4 of the onion into slices.

Set aside.

The diced onion will be for our sauce for the meatloaf.

I used the sliced onion for some easy-peasy sauteed spinach.

I decided that along with spinach and meatloaf, we definitely needed a starch.

So, roasted potatoes it shall be.

Since both the meatloaf and spinach have a softer texture, I wanted something with a little crunch.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Then, chop up red potatoes to bite-sized pieces.

Give them a generous sprinkle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and 2 finely diced cloves of garlic.

Mix em up, and pop them into the oven.

Now, back to that meatloaf.

Get out a non-stick skillet, and put it on a burner over medium-high heat.

Add in 1-2 T. of olive oil.

Form individual patties (similar size to hamburgers) of meatloaf and set them into your heated pan.

Once in the pan, give them a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Cover the pan loosely with foil.

This cooking process will give you a crusty outside to the meatloaf, and the foil will help to cook the meatloaf all the way through.

After about 4 minutes, pull the foil off, and give the loaves a flip.

Cover them back up.

Cook for another 4 minutes.

Put the meatloaf on a plate.

And use your foil to tightly cover the meat to keep it warm while we make a little special sauce for the meatloaf.

Look at this girl.

She got a big old chunk of raw beef because of my sloppy patty making skills.

And she promptly laid down and kept her eye on me, the meat, and the floor.

Sadly, she did not get a second helping.

Now would be a good time to take a peek at your potatoes.

You may want to give them a turn in the pan to make sure they get beautifully browned on all sides.

Lets make our meatloaf sauce.

Here is what you’ll need:

Flour

Butter

Your reserved chopped 1/4 onion

Chicken or Beef Stock

Ketchup

Mustard

Steak or Barbecue Sauce

And if you are feeling crazy, some buffalo or hot sauce

Use your meatloaf skillet to make your sauce.

Plop in 2 T. of butter, and let it melt.

Then, toss in 1/4 of your chopped onions and start to let them brown up.

Mmmmmmmm….

Now, add in 2 T. of flour.

Whisk that together.

If you are using a non-stick pan, I highly recommend using a silicone whisk so that you don’t damage your pan.

Now add in a cup of stock.

Beef stock is recommended, but chicken stock is what I had.

Start whisking.

After no time at all, this little sauce will start to thicken up.

That picture above was starting to get a little too thick for me, so I added another 1/2 cup of stock of so.

I like my gravy a little runnier.

Now, put in 1 T of Ketchup, 1 T of Mustard (I used a dijon), and 1 T. of BBQ or steak sauce.

And whisk it together.

Give it a taste. It may need a little salt or pepper. Or perhaps you’ll fancy a stronger mustard or BBQ flavor so you can add a bit more of either of those. I decided I wanted a little heat, so I added about 2 T. of Buffalo Sauce.

Once, you have the taste perfected grab your meatloaves and let them soak up some of that delicious sauce.

Turn the heat to low, and those babies are ready for you when you are ready for them.

Now, if you wanted to make some spinach… I would start and finish that at this point in the meal. The potatoes are cozy in the oven, the meat and sauce is cozy on the stove, so you will have 5 focused minutes to give to the spinach prep.

Here is the recipe.

When you are done with the spinach, pull your taters out of the oven.

Now heap some of those onto your plate with some spinach and meatloaf.

Comfort food in 30 minutes or less… that is Rachael’s promise after all.

This meatloaf is the opposite of my childhood cooked green pepper yuck memories.

It is flavorful and delicious.

Enjoy my friends!!

Have the happiest of weekends.

XO,

Leah

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

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

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