…and, THIS is Exciting! (Yes, meatballs.)

…and, THIS is Exciting! (Yes, meatballs.)

A hot, homemade meal.

Sounds weird, but I missed making dinner and eating home cooked meals while we were away. Sure, sure – we had some home cooked meals at our parents’ houses, but most of it was festive food vs. the comfort of laid-back day-to-day meals. (And, of course, Mom and Mom-in-Law, everything was delicious as always. ūüôā )

To be honest, I am *quite* sure I will tire of the dinner making routine and the chorus of little cherubic faces asking “What’s for dinner?” at least 22 times daily by say…Thursday. (And yes, that’s 22 times daily even though they are in school full time. What can I say? They are inquisitive and super-focused on dinner, but apparently not focused on retaining the answer, hence the 22 asks a day – haha. My answer at 6 a.m. (and 6:41 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 3:22 p.m. and so on…) can set their tone for all the hours to follow until we sit down at the table. It’s awesome. No pressure at all.) To illustrate: Grace asked four times on a four-hour plane ride on Saturday night what was for dinner, as if I was going to hop off the plane, speed home and whip up some tasty (!) morsels the second we pranced through the front door after 11 hours of travel and 18 days away. I told her we’d “grab something on the go today, but we could cook dinner tomorrow (Sunday)”. ¬†Her hesitant-at-the-thought-of-more-restuarant-food smile grew to a grin as she realized she could get in front of this one and sweetly ask me to make what she wanted…”Can we have noodles and meatballs?”

Sure. And that’s what we had.

I am forever on a quest to find the perfect meatball recipe. It took up a lot of meal focus throughout 2013, and we’ve finally found one that is consistently a winner. I have used this recipe – Rao’s Meatballs – as a starting point at least five times now and we’ve loved the results each time. (Side note – Food52.com is an interesting food site if you’re in need of some inspiration!)

I make a few tweaks according to our family preferences – like I throw in more minced garlic (fresh) and typically use dried breadcrumbs and spices (the horror!) because I always have those on hand and rarely have the foresight to grab bread to stale three days before Grace craves meatballs. (In the summer, we grew our own parsley, so I used that. But off season, dried it is!) I also typically use all organic ground beef because until yesterday, I hadn’t been able to find ground pork. (Yes, for real. In two years, I hadn’t stumbled upon ground pork in the meat case despite looking each and every time I entered a food store; Kenny trots into one store yesterday and they were practically throwing packages of ground pork at him – three different kinds! This is akin to my search for square cheese when we first moved here, only I had the satisfaction of finding the local haunt that carries American cheese in the deli case. Not so with the ground pork. You win this time, Kenny! Who knows – maybe it’s me and I am literally the worst food shopper in all of Oregon. Quite possible.) ¬†We really don’t eat veal – ground or otherwise, so I’ve never looked for it, but I assume it’s equally as evasive as ground pork. So, last night’s batch was a 50/50 mix of ground pork and ground beef. Good stuff.

I also bake our meatballs for 20 -25 minutes in a 375 degree oven vs. the recommended pan-frying. Mainly to save some calories. (Ok, ok, fine – it’s also to lessen the risk of me setting off the smoke alarm yet again…with a side benefit of the whole house not smelling like fried meat for days.)

Finally, the recipe calls for you to simmer the meatballs with your favorite sauce for a bit. We’ve tried the one they recommend in the recipe – it’s good. But I typically go with my old very simple standby so I can sneak some extra veggies in. So, last night, I took a container of Trader Joe’s mirepoix (that’s fancy for chopped carrots, celery, onion), added tons of garlic cloves and chopped it all up small in the blender, then sauteed them in a splash of olive oil. (In lieu of pre-chopped mirepoix, I use two carrots, two celery stalks and an onion. I have also – in a pinch (which is a lot of the time!) used two or three handfuls of baby carrots if I don’t have whole carrots on hand. As you are probably gathering, I am a very precise cook. Hahaha.) After about 10 minutes or so, I add four 15oz cans of whole tomatoes, which I have pureed in the blender. I get this going while I bake the meatballs, so the veggies have time to mingle before I add the meat along with salt and pepper to taste. Once the meatballs are done, I let everything simmer together happily on low heat for about an hour and half.

All-in-all, this method seems to work – the kids frequently ask for meatballs and the whole house smells awesome while it’s cooking. I love the way it tastes. And the smoke alarm never goes off with this particular meal – so I imagine it’s also at the top of Kenny’s list.

Last night, however, it was even better than usual because it was our first home cooked meal in a very long time. Woo hoo!

I Rocked Dinner: Roasted Chicken

Long time readers of this blog will remember a handful (ok, maybe two handfuls) of cookery-related shenanigans. You may also remember that I like to cook, but really lack the time and focus to do so with any amazing results lately. So much so that I gave myself a personal challenge this year to rock some dinners. (Yes, yes. I know – I slacked on posting successful recipes – I promise to try harder over the next two months.)

One particularly fun cooking tale involved me cooking a turkey so long, we had to order pizza and eat the turkey the next day because it wasn’t ready in time for dinner.

Which makes my three-peat success with this roasted chicken recipe that much sweeter. That’s right – three-peat. As in I made this three times and it was awesome each and every time.

I made this very simple recipe from How Sweet It Is for the first time Sunday two weeks ago. I used an organic, brined chicken from Trader Joe’s. It was amazing. I followed the recipe as written (using a meat thermometer to ensure doneness), but stuffed a bunch of celery stalks in the cavity. (Why? Because I had some that were fading fast and figured this would make good use of them. And it did!)

Kenny and Gavin were out when I pulled it from the oven. Grace was starving, but since it was so close to dinner I didn’t want her to snack, so I gave her some pre-dinner chicken. She loved it and begged for more. When the boys came home, ¬†Gavin came into the house before Kenny and, of course, he was starving. Grace offered him some chicken and he yelled, “MMMMMM. This is delicious!”, then triumphantly announced, “Daddy, Mommy made some delicious chicken tonight – you gotta try it.” as Kenny walked through the door. (See – not a good reputation for roasted poultry. Haha.) Both kids even took some leftovers for lunch the next day.

We all liked it so much, that I made TWO roasted chickens last Sunday. And they both came out as perfectly as the first one. We ate one for dinner with all the Thanksgiving trimmings and I used the leftovers for homemade chicken soup which we ate later that week.  Both amazing.

Thanks to How Sweet It Is for an awesome and easy recipe. There are a few more on the site that I look forward to trying soon!

 

Rocked Dinner: Steak and Potatoes

Oh, but it was so much fancier than just steak and potatoes.

It was a marinated London Broil broiled to perfection.

Twice baked potatoes topped with a broccoli spear.

Carmelized onions.

Garlicky roasted mushrooms.

Yum.

I love London Broil. I know I may be causing steak / beef lovers across America to grimace with this statement, but when it’s done right, it’s really quite good. I don’t get too fancy. I use the marinade recipe on the side of the Montreal Steak seasoning bottle. However, I was apparently looking to be both gluttonous and thrifty when in a wholesale club recently: I got a bottle of Montreal Steak seasoning so large that I am quite sure will last us until Gavin’s graduation from high school. Guess what. The giant bottle does NOT have the recipe on the side. Kind of ironic, really, because there’s about a thousand times more space to include it than on the normal grocery store sized bottle. Thankfully, Google found it. Here’s the link in case you are ever in the same predicament as I.

Kenny likes his London Broil with sides – so I usually make onions and mushrooms. (He likes the onions; I like both. Gavin also likes both. Grace likes none. She’s missing out.)

I had some time, so I made these caramelized onions. They are well worth the effort. Well worth it.

I made these garlic butter roasted mushrooms. They are simply awesome.

And, because I used up my butter and oil allotment in the two steak sides (read: I didn’t want to give Kenny – or myself! – an actual heart attack at the dinner table), I got creative with the potatoes. Sometimes we make mashed, sometimes we make roasted. This time, I made these Broccoli and Cheese Twice Baked Potatoes. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – they just used buttermilk…none of the usual potato sins like butter and milk and sour cream.¬†They were amazing.

I will say that trying to get Gavin to taste the potatoes was hilarious. He saw the cheese. We took the cheese off the top of his potato / broccoli. He claimed he knew there was still cheese in there. We cajoled him – “Come on, buddy – you did such a good job with everything else, just take a few bites of potato. It can be the one new thing you try today.” …and such. He finally gave in. And before he stuck his little forkful of potato into his mouth, he exclaimed: “Today is the worst day ever! And when I wake up tomorrow, I am going to remind you that yesterday was the worst day ever because you made me try cheese.” Hahaha. Such a passionate child… who chooses to ignore the fact that his beloved Friday night pizza is covered in a layer of … cheese! Hahaha. Even he couldn’t keep a straight face after that ridiculous outburst.

And, despite his best efforts not to like them, Gavin took a few bites and admitted OUT LOUD that he liked them even though they had cheese in them. Woo hoo!¬†I loved them. Kenny ate them (haha – I don’t know if he loved them, but he ate more than one, so that means they were decent!). Grace liked them, too. I look forward to making it all again…soon.

I Rocked Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Cheesesteaks

I Rocked Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Cheesesteaks

Ok, ok, so this dinner really isn’t the epitome of health, but it was Super Bowl Sunday and Kenny suggested we do it up Philadelphia take-out-style. But, since we obviously aren’t in Philadelphia, this meant making it from scratch.

When we first married, Kenny and I made homemade pizza a lot. It was fun and we felt fancy. But it took forever. ¬†These days, I prefer as close to effortless as possible,¬†so I feel fun and fancy ordering some slices on Fridays. That’s good enough. No need to overachieve. Haha.

That was a long way of saying that homemade slices were a special treat. So special, in fact, that it took me four hours to pull together.

I started the process of making the pies at about 2 p.m. I needed a few hours for the dough to rise, etc. I didn’t finish up until about 6:15 p.m. ¬†And I am pretty sure I didn’t spend more than a collective 20 minutes outside of the kitchen during that period – haha. We decided on two pies – one deep dish meatball, one plain. We’d also make one cheesesteak to share (I normally only eat a bite or two…so that leaves most for Kenny.)

I made the meatballs and sauce for the deep dish.

mini meatballs and sauce for the pizza

I made the plain sauce for the regular pizza.

I hand shredded the sharp provolone. And tore the fresh mozzarella.

I punched down the dough. And let it rise back again.

I hand sliced already thin cuts of beef for the cheese steak for more authenticity. And hand sliced the rolls.

Kenny helped roll out the dough for the plain pies. And shape the deep dish dough for the meatball pie.

And I spent over an hour carmelizing two onions in between it all. (I know this is way more West Coast-y than the traditional East Coast fried, but I had the time to let them sit.)

We put the two pizza stones into the oven to heat them as the oven heated to 500 degrees. Which set off the smoke alarm. Three times.

Gavin had a friend over, and the two of them ran down the steps screaming. Only the first time, though. The second time they laughed and yelled…a lot. By the third time, I think they were more annoyed than Kenny who was rally-toweling it up in the staircase after he opened all the windows and doors. (For those of you who might forget, he perfected his rally-toweling last year.)¬†I thought it’d be nice to invite Gavin’s friend for dinner after terrifying / deafening him. So he stayed,¬†and¬†he¬†ate¬†the pizza.

Phew.

Hahaha. Listen, I am not perfect. But I try hard. If you’re a regular reader, you know this by now. You have to expect a story with my food. And then you have to hope it’s cooked. Or not charred.

On a side note, the regular dough made enough for two pies. But, since my cheffing m.o. is normally cooking enough to feed an army, the realization that I was making three pies for four people didn’t really sink in until AFTER we were done and I still had two whole pizzas left. Haha.

And then I danced.

Because I had enough for dinner the next day, too – woo hoo!

I Rocked Dinner: Crispy Buffalo Chicken Tenders

These crispy (lighter) buffalo chicken tenders from canyoustayfordinner.com were a hit with the fam, pretty easy for me to put together after work and have on the table within 15 minutes of Kenny and Grace getting home.

I followed the recipe as written, except instead of serving them as tenders, I sliced them on an angle and enveloped them in lettuce and flour tortillas for wraps.

Don’t worry, we don’t burn the tastebuds out of the kids’ mouth – we left some plain for them. (If your kids will eat buffalo sauce – go for it. Mine will not. Yet.) Kenny liked these wraps so much he requested it two nights in a row. And, since that saved me the trouble of thinking of a new, different dinner the following night, I obliged.¬†Plus, until recently, I hadn’t been able to find regular-sized bottles of Frank’s Red Hot so I have two water-cooler-sized bottles of it from Costco that I need to use up. Bonus! (Ok, no, they are not really the size of water coolers. But they are large and the Frank’s Red Hot to actual Clark family consumption ratio is WAY off, so I am glad these tenders worked out – haha. We might even have them tonight!)

Chalk one up for rocking dinner. (I should also give myself another for not breaking any appliances in the process as I covered here and here.)