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I witnessed a murder on Monday.

It was done in cold blood. And I’m serious when I say it was right in front of my eyes.

This story is not for the faint of heart, but I feel it my duty to share with you the nitty gritty details.

I had Lola on a leash, and we were taking a leisurely stroll when we were both distracted by something on the ground.

Her hound nose was instantly drawn to it, and I feared it was a dead animal. Dogs LOVE dead animals for some reason. Specifically, my dogs love to roll in them. I have heard that this is because of their carnivore instincts- rolling in a dead animal masks their own dog smell making it easier for dogs to hunt their prey.

If you have ever been around a dog that has rolled in death, you know the scent… it is a scent to be avoided.

So, as Lola pulls herself toward the mysterious scent on the ground, I am trying desperately to pull her away from it.

Then, it happened.

In a split second, Lola dove nose first into what turned out not to be a dead animal, but rather, a mouse nest.

And she pulled out a live mouse.

She chomped on it in front of my eyes and the mouse let out a sound like a dog squeaky toy.

And I let out a noise like I was being mauled by a bear.

And boy, did that get Lola excited.

I freaked out. And that is the understatement of the century. I screamed for Brad even though he was not anywhere within earshot. Lola was so proud of her new squeaky toy that she was running after me trying desperately to show me her treasure up close. I, in turn, was trying to run away from her. However, I couldn’t risk dropping the leash and having her run off into the street.

So, somehow I get all tangled up in the leash and end up on my rear end on the very wet pavement scooting backwards still trying to avoid the now dead mouse being dropped in my lap.

In the midst of my flailing around on the ground, I skinned my elbow.

Eventually, I found my way to my feet.

Lola dropped the mouse. Apparently, she was over it.

And I spent a good five minutes looking around to insure that no one saw the hot mess called Leah. Seriously, my reaction was totally ridiculous. You would have thought that Lola had a live rattlesnake in her mouth.

Wowzer.

So, after she dropped the mouse, we simply walked on.

But, the experience was highly traumatic. That poor little mouse. I keep thinking it was probably just having a lovely nap in it’s nest fully protected from the rain, when it’s murderer came upon it and snuffed out it’s life. I just keep hoping the poor mouse wasn’t a mama mouse that was in the middle of feeding her babies. Those poor mouse babies will need serious therapy some day if so.

I don’t especially care for mice. However, that little guy seemed to be minding his (or her) own business in a grassy area in his own little nest. And now he is chewed up and spit up on the sidewalk. And somehow I have a skinned elbow because of it.

So, today…

In honor of all of the fallen mice everywhere…

Mice that went looking for warmth in a person’s home and met the dreaded mouse trap, mice that tried to cross a street and met with a cars tires, or mice that were minding their own business and met a nosy hound that turned them into a squeaky plaything…

I shall share with you a dish that is my favorite… and I’m certain it would be a mouse’s favorite.

I give you cheese.

Specifically, brie.

This recipe will make you the star of any party from here on out. It is the easiest thing in the world to make, and it goes like hotcakes (actually, do hotcakes really go all that fast?) at any gathering.

And honestly, it isn’t really even a recipe. It is 3 ingredients piled together. So, this one is an easy one my friends.

First, get out a really tacky disposable tin baking dish like the one pictured below.

Don’t judge me.

I was going for easy clean up here.

Seriously, buy a wheel of brie.

Choose the size you need based on the number of people that will be partaking. I bought only a small wheel because I was making this for four people.

Unwrap your brie, and drink in it’s glorious goodness.

I chose a double cream brie.

Sweet sassy molassey.

Now, I carefully turn my wheel o’ brie on it’s side to carefully slice off the waxy top. This is not a necessary step, but it makes the cheese retrieval much easier. Plus, I don’t really groove on the waxy flavor.

Just be careful to not remove the ooey gooey good stuff on the inside.

Here the brie is sitting in my fine china awaiting the next step.

Don’t worry if there are bits of waxiness left on top. It doesn’t matter in the least.

This is the step where we move from not-so-bad for ya to downright naughty.

Take some butter and spread it across the top of your brie.

I use the same amount of butter I would use to butter a piece of toast.

Get out a bag of light brown sugar.

And go from naughty to downright sinful.

Pile some of that brown sugar on top of your buttered brie.

Now, here comes the magic.

Pop that brie into the oven. Whenever I make this, there is usually something else cooking in the oven. So I throw the cheese in at whatever temp. The goal is to melt the cheese. So, at 400 it takes about 10 minutes. At 300, it takes about 20 minutes.

And here is the magic… when you are pregnant, you are told to avoid soft cheeses. Why? Well, the bacteria listeria of course. What you actually have to avoid is unpasteurized cheese- and those are actually pretty difficult to find in America. However, if you do happen upon an unpasteurized brie… it doesn’t even matter for this recipe. Because you are going to get the cheese so hot that if there were any listeria living in there- it will be killed by the heat.

Yay for that.

This is what the brie looks like in all of it’s glory after baking away.

Because the cheese is so rich and sweet, I like to serve it with a good sturdy and grainy cracker.

Here I have Whole Grain Wheat Thins, and they may just be the perfect accompaniment.

I had to taste test one (or 50) of these.

Truly, melt in your mouth delicious.

This is the perfect appetizer for a date night with your special someone- simply buy a smaller wedge of brie- or it is perfect for the biggest party of the year. Or, you could serve it up to your favorite mouse.

I promise that you will not go home with leftovers. Ever.

Yes, it is that good.

So, I leave you with that.

Happy Tuesday to people and mice everywhere.

XO,

Leah

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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

Boring.

Bland.

Yawn.

Bleck.

This is how I feel about chicken from time to time.

I know you all must feel the same way.

You open up your fridge or freezer, and have a package of uncooked chicken and a tear forms in your eye because chicken is so dang boring.

I’m always looking for new and better ways to prepare chicken to break out of my loathing disdain for the bland meat.

I usually only purchase chicken breasts or chicken tenders because 1) it is a healthier, leaner cut of meat and 2) there are not weird veins and tendons and skin and grossness that cause me to throw up in my mouth as I’m preparing dinner.

And today, I shall share with you an old standby favorite chicken recipe.

This chicken.

Is good.

And I promise that even your KIDS will like it.

And your spouse.

And your mom and dad.

And everyone everywhere.

I’m not even exaggerating… not even a little.

Today, we make some panko crusted chicken tenders with a dipping sauce.

I hear kids like anything dip-able. True?

So, here is what you’ll need:

One small plate with 2 cups of white flour on it.

2 eggs all whisked up on a separate plate.

Then a third plate piled high with a cup and a half of panko breadcrumbs.

Panko breadcrumbs are Japanese breadcrumbs, and they can be found in the Asian foods section of your grocery store. They are much crunchier than regular old boring breadcrumbs. I highly recommend you invest in the Panko.

Add 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan to the panko.

Then add 1/2 t. of crushed red pepper flake, 1/2 t. of garlic powder (or a chopped up clove of garlic), 1/4 t. of thyme, 1/4 t. rosemary.

And mix it all up.

Now, let’s set up our chicken station.

Chicken.

Then, flour, egg, and panko mixture all lined all up in a row.

Give your chicken a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Now, take your first chicken tender and give it a dip in the flour pool.

Coat the entire tender.

The flour sticks nicely to the raw chicken tender.

Now, dip that floured chicken into your whisked eggs.

The eggs stick to the flour.

Now take the flour and egg dipped chicken, and coat it in the panko mixture.

The panko mixture sticks to the egg.

Repeat until all of your chicken is coated to perfection.

Now, get yourself a non-stick pan.

Put it on a burner over medium-high heat.

Give the bottom of the pan a good coating of olive oil.

Put your chicken tenders in the pan in a single layer.

Let them cook for 4 minutes.

Give those bad boys a flip, and let them cook on the other side for 4 minutes.

Pull the chicken off the skillet, and place it on a pan that is going to be stuffed in the oven.

350 for 5 minutes.

This will result in crispy, crunchy, perfectly cooked chicken.

They key to chicken tasting good is cooking it thoroughly without cooking the moisture out of it.

Now, prepare your dipping sauce. I took some honey mustard and combined it with some hot sauce. Classy.

Honey would be delish.

Or BBQ sauce.

Or Plain honey mustard.

Or buffalo sauce.

Or whatever else floats your boat!

Serve the chicken up on a plate with a big green salad and some sauteed carrots (I’ll be sharing that recipe with ya next week).

Chicken that is easy and delicious.

Oh, and did I mention… that after you have cooked up the chicken, you could easily pop it into air-tight containers and store them in the freezer for an easy and healthy weeknight dinner ? Or make extra to top a big salad for lunch during the week? The possibilities are endless, of course.

Have a great weekend!

XO,

Leah

I have a problem.

I love me some banana bread.

A lot.

Well, maybe it really isn’t a problem.

I guess I just wanted to get your attention.

Anywho, I keep trying to reinvent Banana bread so that it can be the best version of itself.

I am like a banana bread life coach.

Er. Something.

A while back,  I posted the recipe for Strawberry, Blueberry, Banana Bread. I make this recipe often, and I still love it.

But I was feeling creative this weekend.

So without further ado, I give you the Pineapple, Mango, Coconut, Raspberry, Banana Bread.

You could also call this the “Use whatever fruit ya got in the fridge Banana Bread”.

I think I need to work on my recipe names.

My blogger friend, Geni, made these Pineapple Coconut Muffins that served as a bit of an inspiration for my baking attempt.

Please remember.

I am not a baker.

I do not excel at all things baking. At all.

But I can make a mean banana bread.

So, here is what you’ll need.

Flour, brown sugar, 2 eggs, butter, baking soda, salt, vanilla, 2-3 overripe bananas, 1/2 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut, 1/4 c. of chopped mango, 1/4 c. of chopped pineapple, and 1/4 c. of frozen or fresh strawberries.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Start by mixing one stick of butter with 3/4 c. of brown sugar.

Cream it together.

Don’t add your eggs in at this point, like I did.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

It made for a very strange consistency of batter; however, the bread turned out fine.

You should cream your butter and sugar, and THEN add two eggs.

In a bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, 1 t. baking soda, 1/4 t. salt, 1 t. cinnamon.

Set that aside and peel a very ripe banana.

I don’t know about you.

But this banana looks especially phallic to me.

Its not just me, right?

Plop 2-3 bananas into your mixture.

Add in 1 t. of vanilla.

Please continue to note the strange consistency of my batter due to the adding of the eggs prematurely.

Whoopsie Daisy.

Pull your mixing bowl away from the mixer, and hand mix in your dry ingredients.

Ah, the consistency is looking a bit more palatable now.

Add in your coconut.

And some chopped up pineapple.

And some ripe mango.

Raise your hand if you die for mango.

Yep, me too.

At this point, I was just rooting through my fridge and freezer to determine if any other fruit needed to be a part of this bread.

And I found a pathetic little handful of frozen raspberries.

And I knew they would be the perfect fit.

So, I threw them in.

Gently mix all of those glorious fruits into your batter.

Pop that batter into a buttered and floured cake pan.

Throw it into your oven for 55-65 minutes at 350.

I started checking for doneness with a toothpick at around 55 minutes. Then, I checked in 5 minute increments after that. At exactly 65 minutes, my bread was done to perfection.

I allowed this to cool a bit on the counter.

Then, I sliced off a big ole hunk, and I slathered it with butter. Mmmmm.

Then, I sliced the rest of the bread up and I popped it into baggies for easy grab n’ go breakfasts this week.

I have been enjoying a slice of this tropical goodness everyday this week.

It’s hump day people.

Woop! Woop!

XO,

Leah

 

Sunday brought sun and warmth to Cincinnati.

I actually wasn’t sure it was ever going to show up.

If you are an Ohioan, please make me feel less crazy and confirm that this was officially the longest winter ever.

I’m pretty sure it was.

So, Sunday dawned gloriously warm- over 80 degrees.

80 degrees+sun=blissfully happy Leah.

Our poor yard needed some serious tending to so that was the deal for the day.

We went to the nursery, and we loaded up on a tree, a bush, and all of my herbs for the summer season.

And by the time we got home we needed some lunch for fuel before toiling in the fields.

Want to know what I made?

The most summery dish I could think of.

Was it nutritious?

Nope.

Was it locally grown?

Nope.

Was it at least organic?

Um. Absolutely. Nope.

Was it definitively summer and delicious?

Yep.

So, who cares about the rest?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hot dog.

On a grill.

Because truth be told, even someone like me… who prides herself on home-cookin’, heathy eatin’, and responsible food choices… needs a dirty dog every now and then.

I sauteed up some onion and banana peppers to top off the dogs.

Served up with potato salad and fruit salad.

It is the perfect lunch to kick off the spring/summer.

Oh, and did I mention that I drank some Fresca with this fabulous meal?

There is not a drink much better than Fresca.

That is a fact.

Look it up in the encyclopedia… under the letter “F”.

Those dirty dogs fueled a full afternoon of digging and planting and soaking up the rays. We got all of the planting finished, then had dinner over at Brad’s aunt and uncles house. Glorious.

Today, the skies opened up and watered our plants in their brand new home.

Fantabulous.

XO,

Leah

Hi peeps!

It is Friday.

And tomorrow is Bradley’s birthday.

And those two facts make me quite happy.

I’ve been on the road a bit this week. Thus, I have been a very bad blogger.

But, I’m baaaaaaaaack!

And today, I’m talking barbecue. And calzones.

Yep.

You heard me right.

Lets get started, shall we?

Preheat your oven to 375.

Get some chicken.

Two large chicken breasts make two large calzones.

Get out a non-stick pan, and put some oil into the pan over medium-high heat.

Do you have chipotle chile powder?

It is chile powder made from smoked chiles.

If you don’t have the chipotle chile powder, don’t fret!

You can use plain ole chili powder.

I won’t judge you.

Much.

Give your chicken breasts a healthy coating of chili powder, a sprinkle of salt, and a dusting of pepper.

Now drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil onto the chicken breasts, and give your oil and spices a good rub.

Pop those bad boys face-down into your heated pan.

Warning: You may experience some coughing or a runny nose from the heat hitting the chili powder.

Sorry bout that.

If the weather is nice, I would recommend doing the cooking portion on the grill. However, I made these on a rainy day.

While the first side is cooking (for about 5 min), give the other side the chili, salt, and pepper treatment.

After the first side has cooked for about 5 minutes, give the breasts a flip.

Now, cover them with foil. This helps the chicken cook through a little faster.

Leave it alone to cook for 5 minutes.

Meat cooks best when you don’t mess with it.

Don’t press on it.

Don’t move it around.

Don’t poke it.

Just leave it be.

Take an onion and remove the peel.

Cut the onion in half, and then slice it into half moons.

Take your chicken breasts out of the pan.

Give it a quick wipe down, then add some fresh oil (still over med-high heat).

Throw your onions into the pan.

I did not take a pic.

I’m a failure.

Push the onions around a bit, and allow them to brown up.

Now to our chicken. When you pull it out of the pan, let it sit on your cutting board for a few minutes before messing with it.

Cutting into the chicken too early will let all of the juices drip out.

And we want the juice IN the chicken.

Slice it.

Grab your favorite BBQ sauce.

I chose Montgomery Inn BBQ Sauce- a Cincinnati favorite.

Give your chicken a drizzle while it is still pretty darn hot.

Then, massage the sauce into the meat.

Chop it up even more finely.

Little bite-sized morsels.

Yum.

Onions should be about done now.

I put a little sprinkle of salt and pepper on the onions.

Because I’m naughty.

Pile up all of your desired calzone fillings.

I have sauteed onions, my bbq chicken, some cooked up bacon, shredded pepper jack cheese, and some chopped cilantro.

Now take out some pizza dough.

I had some homemade dough, but there are lots of great options in the grocery store,

Trader Joes makes a great fresh pizza dough for $.99. That is my store brand favorite.

I cut my dough in half.

Then rolled out the first calzone.

I try to get the dough into a an oval shape.

Pile up some chicken on one half of the calzone.

Top the chicken with some onions.

How about some bacon?

Yes, please!

Oooh-eee.. chopped cilantro is next.

Now, some crazy people don’t like cilantro. If that is you, I’m sorry.

I guess if you don’t like cilantro, you could use some green onion or chives instead.

Lots of cheese, please!

Now, use a little olive oil as your glue to secure the two sides of the calzone together.

Use a fork to seal it up.

And then trim any extra dough off of the edge.

Give the top of the calzone several pokes with a fork to allow steam to escape while they are baking.

Put your calzones on the a non-stick pan.

Give them a brush of olive oil, and give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the calzones come out browned and beautiful.

And smelling good.

A half of a calzone was the perfect serving size.

The perfect pairing? A big green salad.

Not too shabby, right?

Have a great weekend pals.

XO,

Leah

You know what I love?

Like, a lot?

Planning.

Nothing in life makes me happier than knowing exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it.

Know what my husband hates?

Like more than anything?

Planning.

Yep.

I think it is one of about a million reasons that we make a perfect pair. He pushes me to be more adaptable, and to try to find comfort in doing something spontaneous from time to time.

I push him to organize and plan, and at least commit to certain big events prior to them occurring.

So, when I heard about nesting- you know, the uncontrollable urge that hits pregnant women to make their home ready for baby- both Brad and I had a good laugh.

I have been nesting my whole life.

Every Saturday, I spend most of the day doing the traditional “nesting” rituals.

Then this past Sunday, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

When this baby comes, I may not have time to spend hours in my beloved kitchen cooking up good for us delicious food. At least not for a while.

Momentary panic.

I desperately needed a plan.

Only a plan would bring me joy, peace, happiness and harmony once again.

So, I landed on make-ahead meals. And I plan to have as many  made as possible before the baby arrives.

That way, we can continue to eat home cooked meals without the stress of having to find the time to prepare them.

Just having the plan made me feel instantly better.

I believe a good make ahead meal can work for anyone.

Busy work schedule?

Busy with kiddos at home?

Travel often?

Kids activities after school?

No time or energy to cook at the end of the day?

If any of the above are you, then the make ahead meal can make your life.

Easier. Better. More nutritious. More delicious.

Here are the meals that I made last Sunday. They are all stored in air-tight containers in the freezer waiting for me to crack them open this summer.

First, meatballs and sauce.

This recipe requires your stove to be on for a few hours; however, it doesn’t require a careful eye. Once you pop the meatballs in the sauce, you can just let it all simmer away while you move on to other activities.

I made enough meatballs and sauce for at least 2 frozen meals, and we had some of those delicious balls this past week for dinner.

Anything I stick in my freezer, I like to label.

Ah, organization.

Happiness.

I put the name of what I made, how many servings are included, and the date that I popped the food in the freezer.

Everything should be eaten within 6 months of freezing.

Then, of course, I just shared with you that delectable spicy pulled pork.

Again, an extra 2 meals worth of food were put into the freezer.

Pulled pork tacos or a pulled pork sandwich will be in my future!

Then, I made one of my favorite summer treats.

The bacon, onion, and blue cheese stuffed burger.

Four patties for two people equals two meals!

Double bagged for air-tight assurance!

Finally, I made a quick and easy chicken dish.

This one comes from my gal Ina.

Put a 1/4 cup of olive oil into a bowl.

Then grab a beautiful yellow lemon.

Zest that lemon.

By the way, if you don’t own a microplane (what I’m using in the pic below to zest the lemon), go to Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend and get one!

Now, cut that lemon in half and squeeze all of the juice into the oil.

Remove any pesky seeds.

Take a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Or oregano.

Or dill.

Or whatever you have.

And chop it up finely (about 1 t).

And toss that into the bowl.

Now grate two cloves of garlic over your microplane and into your bowl.

A sprinkle of salt…

And  a touch of pepper, and your marinate is complete.

Now take out two beautiful boneless skinless chicken breasts.

And place each one in their own Ziploc bag (their own bag will allow for a faster defrost time when you pull these out of the freezer).

Whisk up your marinade.

And divide it equally between the two bags of chicken.

Toss those into a larger Ziploc bag, give it a label and throw it in your freezer.

Yes folks. It is that easy.

1 day.

About 2 hours of hands-on cooking (the pork sat in the oven for much longer and the sauce sat on the stove much longer, but I was free to go about my day while those cooked).

2 meals for eating this past week.

And 7 meals for freezing.

Not too shabby.

And for a planner like me…

Oh, for a planner. This brought about great peace of mind. I can’t wait to do it all over again this weekend.

I would love to hear of any of your favorite make ahead/freezer friendly meals.

Thanks all!

I hope your weekend is shaping up to be lovely.

We are seeing a whole bunch of old friends tomorrow, and that makes me infinitely happy.

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

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