On Not Doing it All (Again)

On the one hand, it’s a compliment to hear “How do you do it all.” Because having the question directed at you means that the asker believes you do do it all.

I try my hardest to smile sincerely at anyone who asks me that question, but in truth, my gut reaction would be to burst into hysterical laughter. I don’t do it all. I don’t even do half of it. What is it, anyway?

But I do understand where the question comes from, and perhaps I’ve even asked it myself a time or two. I think what we’re really asking when we ask, “How do you do it all?” is How do you do this one thing that I can’t seem to even begin to think about?

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For me, that thing is often entertaining. And while cleaning up from this week’s Sunday dinner, I realized one way I make entertaining easier for our family.

Last week’s dinner was a big one, with ten guests in attendance. And while I always work to keep the menu as simple and low maintenance as possible, the truth is, cooking for 10 people is a bit of undertaking no matter what you’re making. So one way life looks easier after entertaining is in my leftover game. Dear readers, I’m going to brag for a moment when I tell you that my leftover game is strong. After Sunday Dinners, I take whatever salads we have on hand (which in this case were this and this), add some shredded rotisserie chicken, and call it a complete meal. Fancy it is not, but it’s certainly worth it to avoid another big night of cooking right after having guests.

Wings, Three Ways (Part 2!)

Dear readers, we’ve done it before and now we’ve gone and done it again. At a recent Sunday dinner we went wild and grilled wings three ways.

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It’s funny because if you asked, I would tell you I don’t love wings, but I think that’s because if you asked, I’d be picturing restaurant wings, fried, dripping with sauce that’s far too spicy for my liking, and tons of grease. My stomach twisted just thinking about it.

But these wings aren’t those wings, nor are they any wings we’ve made at home. Wings on the grill are a zillion times better. And this time around, everyone had a different favorite, so let me link you to all three.

Wing 1: All Recipes Grill Master Wings

Wing 2: Food Network Garlic Parmesan Wings*

Wing 3: All Recipes Detroit Hot Honey Wings

*It should be noted I snapped a picture of this recipe in an issue of my sister-in-law’s Food Network magazine, but figured I’d never actually make it. When people want wings, they want heat, and there’s none to be found here. But. I’m so glad we went for it because these ended up being faves of mine and some other folks too.

 

In Which We Finally Have Friday Night Meatballs*

Remember Friday Night Meatballs? If you’ve read the blog once or twice, surely you’ve seen me link to it before. Bottom line: a family realized they weren’t connecting with neighbors and friends as much as they wanted, and so they were intentional about making it happen more, and now they can’t imagine life without it.

I read it and we lived in someone else’s house. And then we lived in our own house, but it wasn’t finished. And then, by the time it was finished enough to start something new, we put a new baby in it, and everything I knew about routine, order, and planning was turned on its head.

But now. Now it’s time! Except now there’s this little person who is always here, and who goes to bed so early that I don’t know that Friday Night Meatballs is a real possibility. Except the great thing about Friday Night Meatballs is that it so obviously doesn’t have to be Friday night meatballs. Duh, Jennie. So we have Sunday Dinner. Want to come?

Classic bruschetta becomes a bonding activity when you turn it into a serve-yourself bar. The colorful elements also stand out at the table, functioning as decor. See more at What's Gaby Cooking »   - HouseBeautiful.com

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Here are the rules:

  • We don’t clean our house before you come.
  • We will most likely serve you with disposable plates and flatware so we don’t have to do the dishes after you leave.
  • It will be frighteningly early so we can put our kid to bed at the normal time.
  • We will absolutely take you up on your offer to bring something.

I promise, it’s a blast despite all of those things. Because like this article from my foodie pen pal suggests, eating and talking with people shouldn’t be hard. I’ll share some of our favorite menus soon.

*But really, we have Sunday Dinner.

The Slow Train* [easy meatball stroganoff]

The (Not So) New Girl is great at reminding me that my baby isn’t on the slow train with regards to whatever skill he hasn’t quite yet mastered, he’s just on his own train. He’ll get where he needs to go in due time.

And I guess I will too? But oh, lately does it feel like I’m on the slow train back to Sunday dinners. I used to love throwing a hunk of meat in the oven for all of Sunday afternoons until it was falling apart, and we were so hungry we’d eat enough to put ourselves in a food coma.

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(I really want this image to rotate, and I’ve spent too much time not getting it to work.)

Enter Design Mom’s easy meatball stroganoff.  The perfect, hearty Sunday dinner, but without all that roasting time. I prepped the sauce during the day, we took Gooplet for a gorgeous winter walk, saw an open house, visited with neighbors, came home to put him to bed, and reheated dinner for ourselves.  Dream day, dream dinner.

To make meatballs for 4 or 6 friends, you will need:

Ingredients
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms (white button or cremini), sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
One (24 ounce) package frozen meatballs**
1 cup sour cream, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
For serving:
Hot, buttered egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice (we used barley)
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Instructions
1. In a Dutch oven or large 5-6 quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and let cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add the mushrooms and season with a little salt. Saute, stirring often, allowing the mushrooms and onions to brown nicely. Remove the onions and mushrooms from the pan. Set aside and keep warm.
3. To the pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and melt. When foaming subsides, add the flour and stir well. Cook the flour, stirring constantly, for 30-60 seconds. Add beef broth. Whisk well to remove any lumps.
4. Bring gravy to a simmer. Add the thyme sprigs to the pan along with the reserved onions and mushrooms.
5. Add the frozen meatballs to the pan. Stir to coat with the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until meatballs are heated through. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan.
6. Once meatballs have cooked through, stir in 1/2 to 3/4 sour cream, depending on preference. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Spoon the meatballs and sauce over hot noodles, spaetzle, or rice, with remaining sour cream on the side.

*An alternate story to tell with the serving of this dish, was my husband’s commentary that we are a great match because I understand it’s appropriate to serve bacon with meatballs.

**The key to the meatball-finding is to look for beef meatballs that are not Italian season.  The author of the post recommends meatballs from Trader Joes or IKEA.  I can vouch that frozen IKEA meatballs are one of life’s great joys.

Best of 2014

Here were are again dear readers, at the close of another year.  Time to look back and reflect on our successes in the kitchen.  Mine are almost all recipes that add little nutritional value to your life.  So if you’re looking for help with your resolution, that’s another blog.  Sorry!

Click on the pictures to go to the recipes.

chocolate crunch bars.

banana walnut baked oatmeal.

funfetti cookies.

garlic and herb bread twists.

black bean burritos.

best chocolate chip cookies.

pounded cheese.

swedish pancakes.

chubby hubby cupcakes.

brown butter cherry bars.

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toffee tiramisu.

cheddar tailgating bread.

chili.

chocolate peanut butter globs.

candy cane cookies.

And two non-recipe posts:

brownie taste test.

nantucket.

Want to know what else is good here?  Check out the best of 2013, and 2012.

What Keeps You Going {chili}

chili.

*

In life, it’s important to know what keeps you going.  What small parts of your everyday liturgy are the ones that allow you to rest and recharge.  I’m not talking about setting aside two hours to curl up with Netflix.  I’m talking about the little moments that you savor slowly in hopes of making them last a little longer.  I have three:

1.  The first sip of Starbucks in the morning

2.  Folding laundry

3.  Cooking dinner

Cooking, at least on nights when I’ve thought through what I want to make, and when I’m not in any rush, is such a luxury to me.  When I have other mouths to feed, it’s even better.  The other night, there were 5 of us for dinner at the (beach) table, and I was looking for something comforting.  I love soups and stews that spend their day simmering on the stove, while you busy yourself with other important work (in this case, catching up on the just-for-fun reading I’ve been neglecting), but it’s always bothered me that I don’t have a good beef chili recipe in my arsenal.  I swear by Ina’s chicken chili, but that’s non-traditional.  Sometimes you want the classic stuff.  I found a staple recipe from Cupcakes and Cashmere, and I’m so glad to have it in my back pocket now.  It’s the kind of chili recipe that you can take in any number of directions to suit your needs. I already started tweaking her recipe by changing the turkey to beef, and adding a bottle of beer at the end.  It makes the flavor so much more exciting.

To make chili for 5 or 6, you will need:

2 lb ground beef
2 white onions (medium dice)
4-5 garlic cloves (minced)
2 (28oz) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
3 tbs chili powder
2-3 tbs canola oil
2 tbs Sriracha (optional)
1 1/2 tbs of kosher salt (less if you’re using Siracha)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 cans black beans
1 can corn
1 bottle beer
Chili condiments (cheese, sour cream, avocado, broken-up tortilla chips)

Brown the beef in the bottom of a large pot.  When it’s cooked through, set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate, and drain fat.  Heat oil in bottom of same skillet and add onions, cooking 7-10 minutes.  Add garlic and spices and cook 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as you do.  Return beef to pot and give everything a good stir.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let sit on the stove at least 45 minutes, and up to a couple hours, checking to make sure there’s enough liquid at all times (adding water if need be).  About 10 minutes before serving, rinse and drain the beans and corn.  Add to pot with beer, and cook another 10 minutes.  Serve hot with plenty of toppings.

*Yes, the picture has kidney beans, and my recipe does not.  Kidney beans were the reason I hated beans for years.  But, you know what?  Beans are great.  Except kidney beans.  They’re just gross.  I made a couple tweaks to Emily’s recipe when I made it, and one I’ll make in the future is ditching the kidneys in the name of more black beans.

 

On Cooking [slow cooker buffalo chicken sandwiches]

It’s not for everyone.  I get that.

But you sort of have to do it, at least a little, even if you’re just boiling pasta water, if you want to survive.

So you have to find a way to get through it.  Make it as bearable as possible.

May I recommend YouTube-ing your favorite 80s ballads and singing them at the top of your lungs?

Because sometimes that’s what gets Sunday dinner* in the slow cooker.

buffalo chicken

Some suggestions,

And one of my all-time faves:

To make buffalo chicken for 4, you will need:

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 12 oz. bottle buffalo wing sauce (we use Frank’s)
  • 1/2 (1 oz.) package ranch dressing mix
  • 2 T butter (optional)
  • 2 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • sliced bread, toasted

In the morning, put chicken, hot sauce, and ranch dressing mix in slow cooker.  Turn on low for 7 hours.

When chicken is done, shred with two forks.  Stir in butter if you’re looking to add extra calories and/or temper that spicy flavor.

Pile chicken on top of toast, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

*This week’s dinner brought to us by Cari Faye.  Thanks Cari Faye!

On Repeating Meals

Dear readers, what does your meal rotation look like?

I had a couple of friends over recently, and we got to talking about how we get dinner on the table night after night after (week) night.  One of my friends was surprised to learn that I rarely make the same meal twice.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some staples, but if I’m making roast chicken, I’m going to change up the spices, or the dressing, or the sauce pretty much every time.  So yes, we have roast chicken a bunch, but we eat it differently each time.

chicken in milk

Except maybe not anymore.  Because when The Kitchn told me Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk is probably the best chicken recipe of all time, I knew what to do.

chicken in milk

And man, they were right.

The combination of flavors is something serious.  It’s not your typical lemon, olive oil, basil and thyme concoction.  Keep the lemon and the oil, but add sage, milk, and a hint of cinnamon, all of which come through in each and every single bite of dinner.

Oh and of course there’s garlic.  Ten (unpeeled) cloves of it, roasting in the pan juices, all lending their sweet, intense flavor as well.

I feel like this chicken is a gateway chicken.  Like if you can get this one under your belt, you’re on your way to a beautiful, home-cooked future.

To make Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk, you will need:

  • 1 roasting chicken (this is the time to splurge on rich people meat)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon (I didn’t have any, so I used 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves
  • zest of 2 lemons (rather than grate them with my microplane, I peeled the zest in large strips)
  • 10 cloves garlic, skin still on
  • 1 2/3 C milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, rubbing it all over the skin.  Coat the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot (one that will fit the chicken snugly) with olive oil.  Once oil is hot on the burner, place chicken in pot.  Brown for a few minutes on all sides.  It’s important to leave the chicken where it is for a solid 2-3 minutes until the skin is brown.  The more you move it around, the less the flavor is going to get all caramelized on the bottom of the pan, and caramelized on the bottom of the pan is key here.  Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.  Pour off the oil from the pot, but don’t scrape the bottom.  Remember: caramelized brown bits = mega flavor later.

Place the chicken back in the pot and add remaining ingredients.*  Put in the oven and promptly forget about it for 1 1/2 hours.  Okay, if you think of it, or if your house smells so good, you have no choice but to dream about it, then run back in the kitchen now and again to baste the chicken (spoon the juices over the top) to ensure crispy skin.  But it’s really fine no matter what.  This is a low-maintenance meal.

To serve, carve up the chicken, and spoon the sauce over top.

*A note:  While in the early stages of smoothie making, Wooden Nickels told me that dairy and citrus don’t mix.  Dairy causes citrus to curdle.  I never forgot it, because, well, if you drank that smoothie, the lesson would stay with you too.  So when I read that Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk requires milk and the zest of two lemons, I was skeptical.  But if you read Jamie’s recipe closely, you’ll see that he comes right out and tells you that the milk will curdle, and these little curds will be a magical part of the dish.  See?  No worries, dear readers.

In the Slow Cooker

AGOMYR asked me whether I knew of any slow cooker recipes that don’t involve cream of something soup.

Nope.

Not yet.

As of last weekend, I’ve used my slow cooker twice.  And both times, I used cream of mushroom soup.

pot roast

This time around I made pot roast, which tasted infinitely better than the time I made pot roast the old fashioned way.  And this was crazy easy.

I still get nervous leaving my slow cooker on all day, so I always use it when at least one of us will be at home the majority of the time it will be on.  I know no one else does that.  Dear readers, reassure me that my house won’t burn down if I leave it on when I’m not home!

If you need me, I’ll be chained to these four walls while it’s on.

To make pot roast for days, you will need:

  • 3 pound roast (buy something good; spend a little extra dough)
  • 2 cans reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup (if you go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes you can find a version that’s low sodium, but doesn’t have any other fakey ingredients)
  • 1 package onion soup mix (I have yet to find an onion soup mix without fakey ingredients, but you can make your own)
  • 1 package (8-10 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced (but button are fine too)

Place all ingredients in slow cooker, and cook on low for 9-10 hours.  I turned the pot roast every couple hours.  Basically whenever I waltzed into the kitchen.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

4 Things

On our 4th anniversary…

1.  I introduced myself to my husband by saying, “Oh, your last name’s Lopez?  If we got married, my name would be Jennifer Lopez.”  Dear readers, if you were ever planning to stop a 17 year old boy in his tracks and (6 years later) get him to propose, I suggest approaching him in a similar manner in his earliest days at college.

2.  It didn’t take long before I knew.  You know.  The way you know about a good melon.

3.  That whole thing where people tell you marriage takes work?  I don’t think it’s true.  It’s not always easy.  But it’s never felt like work.

4.  Shortly before we got married my husband and I were hanging on the couch.  He looked lovingly into my eyes, and told me, “we’re going to be married for a long time.”  “No, husband,” I snapped instantly.  “ForEVER.  We’re going to be married forEVER.”  And I’m happy to report, we’re right on track.

angel chicken

I’m also finally on track in terms of using our slow cooker.  It was a long time coming, but I realized it’s perfect for Sunday Dinners.  After gathering a few Pins from a friend, I decided to make Angel Chicken first.  I have no idea why it’s called Angel Chicken, but I do know that if something is made with a white wine, mushroom sauce, I’m in.  This one’s a winner.

To make Angel Chicken for 4, you will need:

  • 16 oz. mushrooms, sliced (any kind you like, or a combination, I used cremini)
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 package dry Italian dressing seasoning (or make your own)
  • 1/2 C dry white wine

Place mushrooms in bottom of slow cooker, and place chicken on top.  In small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in soup, cream cheese, and seasoning and white wine, and mix till fully melted and combined.  Pour sauce over chicken and mushrooms.  Set slow cooker for 5 hours on low.

The one of us who never has to watch his carb intake enjoyed this with white rice, while the other of us was perfectly content with broccoli.