Meal planning has been really difficult for me lately. It’s just been…annoying. I get into these funks from time to time and they can be really hard to snap out of.  I’m the one who plans all the meals and makes the grocery list, and you’d think it should be easy because I (typically) enjoy cooking and my family is not picky, but it isn’t. It can take me ages to decide on a meal, and then I end up at the grocery store three times that week because I’ve managed to mess up the list or realize I’m out of a “staple” too late. I actually cleaned and organized my pantry recently and made a spreadsheet of everything in it (DORK ALERT) to help out (and also so that when I’m sitting on the couch making these lists I don’t need to, you know, get up and check our stock).

A couple weeks ago, I took a few cookbooks and went into the kids’ playroom and asked Zachary if he wanted to help. The first book he chose to flip through was The New Southwest. When he came to these sandwiches, he said, “I want to have these next week.” A quick scan of the ingredient list confirmed we would love these, and then seeing they were made in a slow cooker sealed the deal. One meal down!

These sandwiches are made with shredded pork that has a double-spice effect: a little heat (from the New Mexico chiles, which are not overtly spicy) and Mexican canela or cinnamon. They’re topped with cheese (any kind you want to use will work, really) and creamy avocado. Served on a bun, they’re a welcome change from your standard pulled pork recipe, and one our entire family enjoyed.  I actually made a similarly-spiced pork dish a few months back that was cooked with hominy instead of made into a sandwich, and although we liked it, I really think this version blew it out of the water. So even if I decide to go the non-sandwich route next time, I plan on using this recipe for the meat.

I will say that although the prep for the slow-cooking part of this is basically non-existent there is some work to be done after. You need to make a sauce, and then simmer the shredded pork in the sauce for about 20 minutes. I decided to make the sauce the day before and just refrigerated it right in the medium stockpot I used to make it, where the shredded pork went the following day. As it simmered to thicken, I of course did very important things like changing out of my work clothes, because if I cannot be in yoga pants at home, then what’s the point of even being at home?

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A few weeks ago we picked up the kids from school and turned on the radio as we were pulling out of the lot. Within 3 seconds, I hear Zachary—yes, that’s right, the 4 year old—start whining/crying/moaning for no apparent reason. At first, I thought maybe he had pinched himself in his buckle or something similar, but no. When I asked him what was wrong, he cried, “I WANTED TO LISTEN TO ‘DANCE YRSELF CLEAN.’” That’s right. Not only am I supposed to understand his unspoken desires, but a life without LCD Soundsystem is not worth living.

Four year olds, guys. They are nuts, I’m telling you. We sailed by the “terrible twos” without any issues and thought perhaps we’d won the lottery but then the threes and fours hit and, whoa. These random fits come out of nowhere.

Case in point: recently, Z has decided that he doesn’t want his food to be mixed together. Fine, I will appease him for some stuff, like putting the rice on the side of stir fry instead of underneath it, or whatever. But I’m not going to deconstruct everything, especially when it’s all stuff he likes. So, when he asked what was on the stove and I told him corn mixed with bacon and balsamic, he started stomping his foot on the ground and shouting that he WANTED THE BACON ON THE SIDE. It was bad enough I was committing treason by cutting corn off the cob, but to mix it with other things? Clearly I was trying to ruin his life.

Usually he comes around within about 2 minutes because it’s not like he can NOT eat, since it’s his favorite thing to do. And then he asks for seconds and thirds, says he’s sorry for the fit because he should have tried it first, and typically proceeds to do the very same thing the following week.

So, like I said, he asked for multiple helpings of this, as did Ian. We already know that bacon, red onions, and balsamic go exceedingly well together, so it was no surprise that this dish was great. We had this alongside some roasted chicken (always another hit, pretty sure I am going to have to start buying 2 chickens the way these kids eat) and green beans and it was a great meal all around.

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I am fortunate to live with some of the least picky eaters on the planet. The few things the boys don’t like to eat are very strange (mashed potatoes for Zachary, yogurt for Ian?!?), but between the two of them and Tom, I never have to really wonder if a meal will be well-received when planning or cooking it. (And it’s a good thing, too, because I’ve gotten to really dislike the planning and grocery-list-making process, so if I had to deal with pickiness, too, I would be so done.)

All that said, Tom is (historically) not a big fan of okra. On his short list of exactly three things he doesn’t really care for, okra falls second. Number one is Grape Nuts cereal, which he almost seems offended by. Number three is eggplant, where he has similar feelings to my own, which is basically that it’s not bad and we have both been coming around to it in recent years, but we don’t get excited about it, either.

I’m sure when okra appeared on the grocery list the first time I made this, Tom was less than excited. But after he had this version? He came around. He told me if I wanted to make okra like this all the time, he would be fine with it. Zachary also fell in love with it and, so, that is the way we continued to make it 99% of the time. Aaaaand I recently discovered that Ian, too, is a fan of this. So, it looks like this will be the way we continue to make okra 99% of the time for the foreseeable future (the other 1% being devoted to roasting and salads, and the occasional stewed pot I will make for myself, thankyouverymuch).

I made this recipe as-is the first couple of times, but recently I started cutting down the oil a bit and it works just as well. I left a range in the recipe I’m posting, but I use the low end of the range.  This isn’t going to replace fried okra or anything, but it does give you a crispy, non-slimy version of okra that even self-proclaimed okra haters can’t hate on.

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We’ve established that I can sometimes be pretty hesitant when it comes to barbecue sauce. But barbecue dry rubs? I’m always down.

We don’t eat a lot of ribs and rarely make an entire pork shoulder or similarly large cut of meat, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love a good dry rub. Pork tenderloin is always a winner in our house because it’s lean, cooks quickly, and is a good size.

I was debating what to pair with a bbq-rubbed tenderloin so I thought of the usual sides. Macaroni and cheese sounded great, but what I really wanted was some sweet summer corn. After all, you can eat mac and cheese year-round but corn this good only lasts so long! Eating corn straight off the cob is great, of course, but I decided to turn this into a risotto since I had a small amount of arborio rice to use up and my pantry is in a state of chaos, so I really need to, um, clear out.

The rub for the tenderloin is fantastic. And the corn risotto? Oh so good. Sweet, creamy, basically everything that is great about risotto and corn in one dish. Ian in particular went absolutely apeshit over this. Once again, I’m starting to think they’re going to have to get jobs by age 8 if we are expected to afford their food.

I took a pretty traditional approach to this risotto, but as everyone knows barbecued-rub stuff goes really well with cheese and beer, so I think a beer-cheese risotto would be a different but equally great spin on this dish. The nice thing about this dish is that the pork is roasted, so you can concentrate on the risotto. I also roasted green beans, so I didn’t even have to think about a vegetable side later. To get the timing right, you will want to sear the pork tenderloin, and then as soon as you stick it in the oven, start making the risotto. The cook and rest time will be right around the time the risotto is done, but you may want to do some prep before searing, like cutting the corn off the cob. I trimmed my green beans and threw them on a sheet pan so they would be ready to stick in the oven when I was about  halfway done with the risotto.

 

 

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Yesterday I threw a handful of pineapple into our dinner and today I bring you a marinade with strawberries. Guys, I will kick my aversion to fruit-meat combos yet!

To be fair, it’s pretty hard not to like strawberries and balsamic vinegar together, though (or, not to like anything with balsamic vinegar).

This is yet another marinade recipe (we are on a marinade kick, I still have another coming!) that is easy and a total winner. Because the marinade is so good, I reserved nearly half of it so I could brush the chicken with it as it was cooking/after it cooked. You could also reduce the sauce and just spoon it over the chicken, like Jey did.

I especially like rosemary with balsamic and strawberries, so I went ahead and added that to this marinade, too. We had these with roasted fingerling potatoes (my obsession) and zucchini, both of which I roasted since I was cooking this indoors. Of course, if you grill the chicken, your grilled veggie possibilities are endless—and might I suggest that you make foil packet potatoes with bacon? :)

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We just got back from a long weekend in New York and we ate everythingALL THE THINGS. And then we ate some more (and more and more and more). We came back full, achy, and with a rather large credit card bill. Worth it.

But now, well, we have to do a lot of eating at home. And it has to be healthy, too (because even before NYC, being over 30 and having two kids is apparently the worst thing ever for weight loss).  We’ve had this pork dish every summer for the past 3 years but apparently I’ve never managed to post it. It’s incredibly simple, tasty, and healthy. What  more could you ask for?

I’ve made this with tenderloin, as the recipe calls for, and have also made it with thin pork chops/cutlets. Both work just fine (as would regular pork chops), but the tenderloin is the more expensive option of course. I’ve also added chopped rosemary when I’ve had extra, and it works nicely here.

You start by crisping up some salty prosciutto (which we already know I love). The pork is then seasoned simply with salt and pepper and, after cooking it, you quickly wilt some arugula in the same pan alongside balsamic vinegar and tomatoes. A perfect summertime dinner, thanks to delicious tomatoes and a quick meal that won’t heat up the whole  house.

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Pizza is one of those meals that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit into our dinner plans very often or very easily. Besides the fact that it clings to my gut more fiercely than my 16 month old clings  to my legs when I’m trying to cook, the timing never works. It can be tough to make on a weeknight, because it takes a long time to heat the stone. On the weekends, I’m more apt to make dinners that have longer cook or prep times that I absolutely can’t make during the week.  So, pizza gets forgotten, not really fitting well into either category.

But I had the perfect storm of ingredients to make this pizza recently, so onto the menu it went. I had leftover goat & mozzarella cheese in my fridge, pesto in my freezer, and another meal with prosciutto already planned for later in the week, so I just bought a little extra prosciutto.

When I first saw this pizza, I noticed it was really similar to my favorite pizza ever, which is pretty much exactly like this but with grilled chicken in place of the prosciutto. There is something about fresh, garlicky pesto alongside sweet tomatoes and gooey, salty cheese that  just makes the combination fantastic. Adding the goat cheese was a great idea because it just added one more layer of flavor and also made the pesto easier to spread on the pizza, since that is essentially the “sauce” here.

I decided to add the prosciutto prior to baking because I like crispy prosciutto, but you could add it at the end like Bridget did if you’d like. Also, I kiiiiiiiinda forgot about the whole roasting-the-tomatoes thing until it was pretty close to making this, so rather than roasting them for longer at a lower temperature, I just decided to do a shorter, high-temp roast. I’m putting the original instructions below, but if you are forgetful or short on time, know that a high-temp roast works just fine. (Bonus: you don’t need to increase the temperature of the oven as much for putting in the pizza.)

Do I even need to tell  you we all loved this pizza? I mean, it’s pizza after all. But yes, we were all big fans and took down the whole thing (please see earlier comment about my gut…). There’s a couple balls of pizza dough in my freezer, and it’s hard to think of doing anything with them other than making this pizza again. And again.

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Roasted vegetables are pretty much the bee’s knees, right? Even my 4 year old knows this. I remember a while back, my sister was saying she doesn’t like broccoli (and I will admit it is high on my least-favorite vegetables list, too) and Zachary, appalled, said, “WELL HAVE YOU HAD IT ROASTED?! It’s soooo yummy roasted, with a little lemon on it.” My little chef.

When I saw this recipe on both Jessica and Josie’s blogs, it reminded me a lot of this zucchini rice gratin that I have made a few times (once, where I added chicken and turned it into a main course, like this dish), which made me want to roast the vegetables in this, too. It’s true that roasting the vegetables requires a little more work, but since I just did it at the same time the brown rice was cooking, it didn’t add any additional time-to-table. In fact, I baked the casserole for less time overall, so it actually shortened the total time.  Now, this still does take a bit of time to make, since brown rice takes a good 40 minutes to cook and then you also need to bake the casserole, but it’s really easy, worth it, and I see no reason you couldn’t make this in advance and then pop it in the oven before serving.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that even though it’s a casserole, it uses summer vegetables and really doesn’t have that “heavy” feeling casseroles often have. I bulked up the vegetables even more and, like Josie, added chicken to it (which I also roasted at the same time as the vegetables because I am all about efficiency). You could certainly leave the chicken out and make this a great vegetarian main dish, though.

(For the record, I hate cottage cheese, but it is totally fine in something like this, trust me. If you are worried about the curds, you could probably process it to get rid of most of them, but honestly, you won’t really notice them.)

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I  guess after two years of pink birthday cakes, Tom decided to go for a blue one.

Well, a blue one with purple frosting, anyway.

Like I do every year, I asked Tom what kind of birthday cake he wanted. Like every year, this resulted in no response. So (like every year) I sent him a list of cakes I thought he’d like and asked him to choose. He picked this blackberry cake, which was no surprise. Growing up, blackberries grew like crazy around his house, so his family ate them frequently. We still love eating blackberry pie when my mother-in-law makes it.

I didn’t realize it until I started making it, but this is really just the fresh strawberry cake with blackberries instead, which was fine by us since we love that cake so much. It was no surprise, then, that this cake turned out moist and delicious. The blackberry flavor is  not as strong in this cake as the strawberry is, but it still lends a delicate, fruity flavor that is enhanced by the frosting.

I’m not sure why my cake color turned out so  much more….erm…intense? than Shawnda’s. The batter looked a little sickly and after they baked up, my cakes looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. I did add a little extra puree but I just have to assume I had darker blackberries or something. I don’t know. But I guess if you ever need an au natural gender reveal cake, well, here you go. And I would indeed eat this cake in a box, with a fox, in a house, or with a mouse.

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I don’t know about you, but for as much as we eat Mexican fare, I often have a hard time thinking of sides. While beans and rice are the standards, I find that paired with tortillas (as Mexican food often has) we’re talking a lot of carbs and starch. And while we make (and love) the “famous” black beans quite frequently, sometimes you just want something different, or simply in addition to, the beans. Something a little lighter.

Calabacitas are a great vegetable side for Mexican food (or really, any food). The dish is particularly good this this time of year, when zucchini and summer squash are plentiful and tomatoes and corn are perfect. You roast the squash until golden and then toss it with some onions, tomatoes and corn. I added a jalape‏ño because how could you not? Although I didn’t try it, I don’t see why you couldn’t just roast everything to avoid cleaning an extra pan.

My kids were huge fans of this, which is good because Zachary decided recently that his years-running-second-favorite vegetable of all time, asparagus (behind brussels sprouts), is now garbage. I am working through my grief.

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