From The Kitchen

I’m always a little behind with my cooking magazines. I get 4 or 5 a month, and it takes a little time to read them, decide which recipes will be a good fit for our family, and if anything needs to be subbed out to accommodate being GF & DF.

As a result I’m just now trying some of the recipes from the June Rachael Ray Magazine. Once again I’m finding tons of good stuff in her magazine. Most of my go to, 30 min, yummy meals are from Rachael Ray!

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I spilled too much Cotija Cheese on mine and was too hungry to make a fresh salad just for a photo.

I’m loving this Chorizo & Chicken Taco Salad from the June issue. It’s also on her site if you want to check it out: Chorizo & Chicken Taco Salad with Chipotle Dressing

I pretty much followed the recipe without any changes. For the dressing there is an option between acacia, honey, or agave syrup and I used honey. In the salad I forgot to add the green olives, so I don’t know how they add or take away from the salad.

I really love this recipe because you get rotisserie chicken, shred it up and cook some chorizo, which cooks really fast, so dinner is ready so fast, super easy, and accommodates individual taste if you let each person build their own salad.

Rather than toss it all together I tossed the lettuce and dressing together, and then left all the other ingredients separate so Mark and Sky could pick and choose what they want. For example I left the jalapeno’s, onion, and chorizo off of Sky’s salad and gave her extra chicken instead.

This is a great summer recipe and pairs well with a crisp, chilled white wine or margaritas.

 

Herb Garden Salad Dressing

I’ve struggled with my herbs this year. They grew like crazy last year, but this year….they just are not growing well at all.

I was surprised to find a small herb harvest the other day. I didn’t need them for cooking, but they were ready to harvest so I decided to make an herb infused salad dressing.

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Herb Garden Salad Dressing

-Cut fresh herbs: I used cilantro, dill, basil, flat leaf parsley and thyme.

-Put them in a mason jar  and add about 1/3 cup of vinegar, 1/3 cup of olive oil, and 1/3 cup of water.

-I added a few tablespoons of salt and pepper.

-Refrigerate overnight and taste test. Mine needed more salt and water.

-Remove herbs, use your infused dressing as is or add in additional oil/water/vinegar to fit your taste.

Super easy and a great way to control what goes on your salads! I would use it on green salads and fresh summer pasta salads as well.

 

Picture of Summer

 

I mean does anything say summer more than grilling ribs in a swimsuit?

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Between helping daddy grill steaks and helping Uncle Paul with ribs she’s going to be a grill master!

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Sadly, in W WA we are waiting for summer to kick in. It’s been cool, rainy, and gray since the 4th. Boo! Oh well, I guess that’s what socks with sandals, hoodies, and outdoor heaters are for.

Happy Summer…wherever you are!

 

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Today I’m so thankful to have amazing friends who are willing to spend hours in the kitchen, on a Saturday afternoon non-the-less, perfecting recipes, and providing valuable feedback as I work on my cooking class ideas. Since Cinco de Mayo was only a few days away I went with a Mexican menu for this class test run.

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Taco’s three ways top left – peasant pork tacos, top right beef brisket tacos, and bottom is my go to ground hamburger taco meat with fresh guacamole. 

 

You know it’s going to be a good time when you combine crazy good margaritas, maybe the best sangria I’ve ever had, hand-made tortillas, fresh guacamole, some pretty out of this world peasant pork and beef brisket tacos, and some seriously fun people!

A few tips from the day:

-Don’t drink too many margarita’s before the cooking is done! Thankfully this wasn’t an issue, but man they were good and I can see how things could get burned or forgotten really quick.

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This cucumber and jalapeno margarita was so good I’m still dreaming about it!

-Be ok with the possibility that something will escape from the blender and end up on the ceiling…that didn’t happen, but it was so close to hitting the ceiling!

-Don’t be afraid to try new things! I broke the rule and we tried two new taco meats, two new margarita’s, new sangria, and we were new to tortilla making. That’s a lot of potential for something to go wrong, but I/we went for it and it was so worth the risk!

-When the kitchen gets crowded set up a cooking station outside!

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Tortilla station outside since the kitchen counters & stove were already full.

-When all the burners on the stove are in use move it to the grill! Cast Iron is so versatile and can be used on almost any surface/heat source.

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This turned into the best peasant pork tacos…just amazing!

-Put on your official apron and make sure everyone knows what their task is. This was my first time “managing” people, several main dishes, sides, and different finish times. You know what…turns out I’m pretty good at it and everything was done (and done well) when it needed to be. It helps that my two helpers are foodies that know their way around the kitchen!

-Improvise as needed. I didn’t have a shaker for the margarita making, so I snagged one of our wide mouth Hydro Flask and it worked perfectly! P.S. if you don’t have a Hydro Flask…get one! We each have one and we use them daily…this is not a sponsored plug for them, just me sharing my two cents worth. We also ran out of counter space so I opened up my laundry area and we used the top of the washer & dryer since they are right there by the kitchen (behind Jake and Elya in the picture below).

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Jake and Elya prepping away! We had so much fun messing up my kitchen!

-The best part of a dinner party is the kitchen part. Invite your friends over early, serve some drinks or good wine, and put them to work. (It’s ok to let them see the mess behind the magic)! By the time the meal is ready you will have laughed, shared stories, learned something you didn’t know before, and when you sit down to eat together it’s going to taste that much better!

We had so much fun, and I can’t wait to test run another class idea!

But, first I have more tacos and margarita to enjoy today! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

From The Kitchen

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of dinner as pasta & salad or meat and potatoes. Pretty traditional I guess, especially given how much I love to cook and how adventurous we are in our food choices.  I think I just want to provide hearty food that will people up.

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I tend to skip right over salad and sandwich options for dinner. But, the more we settle into Paleo/Whole30 way of eating the more comfortable I am exploring other options. It’s easy to get stuck in the grilled meat, roasted vegetable rut, but there are so many other options. Especially now that we’ve done Whole30 twice and know what the (almost) perfect balance is of adding a few things back in now and then (things like honey or coconut/almond flour to create paleo wraps etc).

In an attempt to switch things up a bit I decided to give the California Chicken Wraps from Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain, Meals Made Simple a try for dinner the other night, and I’m so glad I did!

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First let me say you should follow Against All Grain online! Even if you don’t have food allergy issues, and don’t really care about eating paleo, her recipes are good! Everything, from sauces & condiments, to starters and main meals have been a hit in our house!

She has two Cook Books I have the Meals Made Easy one (I’ll get the other one at some point…because having 30+ cookbooks it totally normal right?!) and I love it. It’s the one I grab the most when sitting down to make my two week menu.

Anyway, back to the chicken wraps…while I can’t share the recipe here, since it’s not my creation (you will have to get the cook book if you want the recipe) I can say it has honey-mustard grilled chicken, bacon, avacado, amazing paleo/Whole30 ranch herb dressing (that is way better than the Whole30 approved options I’ve been purchasing at the store!) and her famous (at least in this house) wraps that work in a multitude of recipes. They are really great to make at the beginning of the week and then have on hand, as needed throughout the week for lunches etc.

We found that using the lettuce as a cup to hold everything keeps the dressing from making the wrap soggy and falling apart. And, if you need a Whole30 version of this meal then just use the lettuce and skip the wrap, it’s still going to be yummy that way, and get Whole30 approved bacon (which I find at Whole Foods).

I foresee us eating this a lot, especially during the summer when something a little lighter and cooler will be refreshing. Especially when served with a nice, crisp white wine!

 

Thankful Thursday

Today I’m thankful that the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center took a chance on letting an  untrained, unknown, first timer teach a class in their kitchen.

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I totally went out on a limb on this. It was a passing comment about wanting to cook on their Viking range that led to be putting together a proposal, using friends as testers, and finding myself teaching a class on how to create a two week menu, create grocery lists, quick/easy sourcing of recipes that are really good, and tips & tricks on shortcuts, tools, and ways to make 30 minute recipes even quicker to get on the table.

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I so strongly believe that you do not have to be a trained chef (I’m so thankful for trained chef’s because they are the ones that create the recipes I love, and provide us with fab dinning experiences!) to cook good meals. You don’t even need a ton of experience in the kitchen. As my Grandpa said to me once, “If you can read you can learn anything. You can do anything”.

Cooking really is that simple, and it makes me sad when I hear people say I don’t cook or I can’t cook. If you can read a recipe, and as needed use google to find out about ingredients or cooking technique you don’t know about, then you can cook. And, quick 30 min recipes with simple ingredients can be really good….something you will be proud to put on the table!

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I’m so thankful to those that encouraged me to submit a proposal (and kept asking me about it over and over so I couldn’t be lazy and let the opportunity slip away), that sat through my test class…helping to shape the final class, to my family who purchased tickets to a class they probably didn’t really need to take…but they wanted to be there and be supportive, to the students who participated in the class, and to the Clore Center for letting me teach a class in their kitchen.

“You must be the Chef for tonight’s class”…for a few hours I felt like one.

P.S. Next time you’re in the Prosser area stop by the Walter Clore Tasting Room, and enjoy the wines they have to offer! 

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Making Dinner Easy!

Meal Planning (or lack of) seems to be a dreaded “thing”. I see comments all the time on social media along the lines of “what’s for dinner”, “I have no idea what we are going to eat tonight”, “Really don’t feel like cooking” etc.
It’s a topic that comes up again and again, and seems to be one of the things people need help with. While I’m no expert by any means, I have found a system that works for us. It worked, when I was working FT outside the home, and it works now as a SAHM. Let’s face it, dinner needs to happen every. single. night. Isn’t it worth finding a system that makes it as easy as possible?

I’m a bit addicted to food magazines!
I already know what some are thinking…you’re home all day…you have more time to cook dinner. Let me just say that I have the same 24 hours a day as everyone else.  I still have “to do” lists every day, a munchkin with a busy schedule, volunteer work that I enjoy, a personal business that keeps me busy, a desire for a little personal time, workouts/running, and life basically. Life is just busy!
Bottom line, my work may be different, but I still have a schedule, and scheduling issues just like everyone else. And, just like everyone else I have evenings that I just don’t feel it, and evenings that are busy and take some juggling to pull off.
The only thing I’ll concede to have an advantage on is: 1. I can grocery shop during the week/work day, which makes it easier. 2. I love cooking and want to be good at it. 3. I’m good at picking out recipes that will be quick and tasty. 4. I’ve been meal planning for so long that it maybe takes an hour to map out 2 weeks of meals and make the grocery list. 
With a little planning and list making evening dinners can be much less daunting to pull off, and make for awesome family time, and healthier meals! So, how to do it?
1.       Make a schedule. Maybe it’s easier to take it week by week, that’s fine. We get paid every two weeks, so I grocery shop and meal plan in two week chunks. (I’ll only list a week though for this post). I write this schedule out on a piece of paper listing the activity for the evening (if there is one), and a meal that will be easy to do given the schedule.
Here’s what a typical week looks like:
SundaySmoky Buffalo Chili (or some other stand by, or new, recipe that will give Mark left overs for lunch)
Monday– Taco’s (Mark works from home Tuesday so doesn’t need left overs to take for lunch. Tacos are a hard left over to pack.)
Tuesday –Run Group –  Spaghetti (run group night I need something I can make quick and easy before I skip out to lead the group, and it gives Mark left overs for lunch the next day or two)
Wednesday –New Recipe (I usually go for something new since we are usually home Wednesday evening and I have a little time to spend in the kitchen)
Thursday –Jamberry Party – Caribbean Chicken (usually by Thursday I’m ready for something easy! If there are a lot of left overs we will eat those before I cook anything new, or it’s something super quick like Caribbean Chicken, or Mark will grill. I tend to have Jamberry parties on Thursday’s, so if that’s part of the schedule for the week I’ll make sure that Wednesday’s dinner will give leftovers so Mark and Sky can reheat, or that it’s something I can easily make before leaving for the party)
Friday-New Recipe/leave open (if we don’t have plans this is a night I’ll try something new, or we may grab something like street tacos for a quick easy dinner before heading out to the local park to enjoy the sun. If there are a lot of left overs we eat those to clean out the refrigerator)
Saturday – Grill/leave open (I like at least one, usually more during the summer, grill night. Mark is the grill master so I get a break that way)
2.       Make a shopping list. Look through each recipe and list out all the meat, veggies, spices you need to purchase. I tend to buy staples (stalks, broths, spices, dried herbs, garlic, onions, meat (food save it/freeze it) in bulk, so almost always have the basics on hand at all times).
3.       Go To Meals. Build in at least two meals that never change. For us it’s Tacos and Spaghetti. We have those every week. Because they are easy, and I always have the fixings on hand. Knowing there are two nights a week you don’t have to think about is really nice.

I always have onions on hand, and almost always have some chopped, ready to go.
4.      Food prep! Seriously if you have a food processor (even if you don’t) you can do all the chopping, shredding, dicing etc for the week in 30-60 minutes. While you’re doing that cook all the ground beef for the week and store it in the fridge.  Sunday afternoon/evening is a good time to do this.
5.       Post a calendar. Have a calendar, chalk board, piece of paper, something visible in the kitchen that list the meals for the week(s). Then, each night before bed take anything out of the freezer that you will need for the next day’s meal. And/or make note of anything fresh you need to pick up on the way home the next day for that meal.

This is on the wall next to the refrigerator. In Note’s I list the days that would flip/flop well and sometimes which cookbook to turn too for a meal I have planned.
I have found I really only need to plan 4 (ish) dinners a week. I always make more than we can eat in one meal, and life happens/things come up and it’s not unusual to end up unexpectedly missing dinner at home 1 night a week. If we do end up home on an open night with no dinner planned we usually always have left overs, and I keep pork chops, chicken, dogs, salmon burgers frozen/on hand for grilling.

Even Sky can Grill! 
Some think a slow cooker is a life saver, I say it’s the grill! I hardly ever schedule steak into the meal plan, yet we eat it at least 1 time during the two week schedule. Super easy to pop in the store grab steaks and slap em on the grill. To keep it quick and easy open some canned green beans, or grab a bagged salad, for a meal. Or, opt for veggies you can stick on the grill with the steak. My fave – lettuce wedges charred on the grill and dressed with oil & vinegar, or Caesar dressing…so yummy! 
Find a magazine, website, blog, cookbook etc that offers recipes that work for you and the family. I subscribe to more than I need, but the one I use the most is Rachael Ray. Her magazine has a ton of 30 min meals and I’ve yet to make one we don’t like. I would venture to say that you only really need 10 (maybe 15 for variety) go-to meals to rotate through on a regular basis. More than that and meal planning gets sort of crazy. Some Faves: Zenbelly CookbookWell Fed & Well Fed 2Bon AppetitCook’s Illustrated Magazine to list a few.
If a dedicated hour of food prep isn’t going to happen try this instead. Every time a recipe calls for an onion, chop two, and save one for later. If it only calls for half an onion, chop up the whole onion and save it for later. Need garlic…chop up twice as much and save it for later. When I make tacos I always chop up extra onion, that way it’s ready to go later in the week. Cook twice at much taco meat and freeze half for next week!
Know where you can buy stuff pre-chopped. Trader Joes has bagged, chopped onion ready to go, some stores have bagged, julienned or shredded, carrots already done for you. Little things like that are time savers!
Consider buying ground meat in bulk. I go to cash n carry every other month or so and get ground beef and sausage in bulk. I cook 5 lbs of sausage at once, with onion added in, then freeze in 1(ish) pound portions, and that way I have our spaghetti meat ready to go for weeks. Just thaw, add sauce (and whatever else you like to add) and enjoy.

When all else fails, and it needs to come out of a box (it happens to everyone!) go organic! Or, order pizza! 🙂
It doesn’t have to be fancy, or gourmet, save that for the weekends, if at all…if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. But everyone’s thing is food, we need it to live. Winging it doesn’t do the food, or ourselves any justice really.
Any favorite recipes to share?

A go-to fave of ours is Thai Beef with Basil