Favorite Things

Last night my book club had our annual Christmas “Favorite Things” party.  And it got me thinking about my favorite “things” for the kitchen and home.  Obviously our faith, family and friends are more important than “things”…I think that goes without saying for all of us. But it is the season of giving and sharing so I am going to share some of my favorite things in case some of you need some last minute gift ideas for someone on your list!  And if you are in P-town, some are local!

Olio & Vino:  I love their lemon balsamic vinegar and tuscan herb olive oil.  I do equal parts of both and marinade chicken breasts overnight.  It is amazing and my hubby, who doesn’t *love* chicken the way that I do really really likes it.  Healthy, easy, and since it only takes a little bit it’s fairly inexpensive.  www.olioandvino.com

Mississippi River Distilling Company:  My friend Stephanie is their chef and and I love love love their products.  Based in Le Claire, Iowa it is a local distillery that makes their products with ingredients from local farms.  Each bottle has a bottle number and a batch number and you can look up the numbers on their site and see which farms it came from.  I recommend the River Rose Gin (and I do not like gin but this is good!) and the Strawberry Vodka.  In Peoria you can get it at Friar Tuck.  www.mrdistilling.com

Mullins Whey Protein:  This is the best protein powder we have EVER used.  It is unflavored so you can mix it with anything.  Try it.  It’s whey protein from Wisconsin (!) You will love it. http://www.mullinswhey.com

Amagansett Sea Salt:  Ok, so saw this on an episode of the Barefoot Contessa.  No surprise there.  But it was really cool to see how they “harvest” the salt so i ordered it.  It was amazing. http://www.amagansettseasalt.com

Thirty-one:  I love 31’s products, especially their large utility totes.  Perfect for vacations, laundry, storage, you name it.  I love the little utility bins for the pantry.  Great quality, great company, and my sister-in-law sells it so you can order here.  www.mythirtyone.com/104813/

Josie Maran Argan Oil:  This has saved my skin, which is really really dry.  I love it.  Worth every penny. You can order on her website or find it at qvc or sephora or ulta. A little goes a long way so don’t be scared of the price.  I use it on my hair, under my eyes (hello 40), and on any dry spots before bed.

Lost & Found:  The cutest little gift shop in Peoria Heights, IL.  Lots of vintage and hard to find things.  Love it.

Woodwick Sea Salt Caramel Candle:  Our daughter came in the house one day and said Yum, I can’t wait for those cookies.  Plus it crackles like a fireplace.  Perfect.  🙂

Save Me San Francisco Wine:  The band Train has a winery and all the profits go to charity. It’s around $10 a bottle and really good.  And all the profits go to charity.  Did I mention all the profits go to charity?  Charity people.  In Peoria you can get it at Fresh Market or Hy-Vee. I haven’t tried Friar Tuck yet.  We have had the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir.  Opposite ends of the spectrum and both are good.

Merry Christmas!!  Love to all!

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Even-ing the Score

So here’s the score:  This Week-20  Me-0

That’s right.  This past week Kicked. My. Butt.

So Friday night I was too tired to cook, too tired to go out (even though the hubby offered and with shopping!), and too tired to think.  But I had leftover sauce, a french baguette, and some mozzarella.  We were all set for a quiet night in with a little comfort food in the form of pizza bread!

The Sauce (I had made this for spaghetti on Wednesday so I just reheated it for the pizza bread):

1 tube italian turkey sausage, browned

1- 32 oz can crushed tomatoes with basil

2 Tbs tomato paste

onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, and italian seasoning….all to taste (I know it sounds like I’m cheating but with the turkey sausage you don’t need much.  Just depends on your palate.) Once the sausage is browned add the tomatoes and paste and seasoning and simmer until the flavors have blended.

The Pizza Bread:

2-3 cups sauce

1 sourdough french baquette

sliced mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the baguette into thirds and then slice each third in half.  You will end up with 6 pieces.  (We had four pieces because we ate the other two with the spaghetti!)  Put the bread on a baking sheet and spoon the sauce on top. Then add the cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until the bread is crusty, the sauce is heated, and the cheese is melty.

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It was really quick, really easy, and really good!  There’s nothing like a little comfort food, a hot bath, and a relaxing night by the fire to de-stress!  (and please ignore the yucky pan…it’s clean, I promise…but if anyone knows how to remove those baked on spots let me know!!)~s

Happy Fall Y’All!

It’s officially November!  How did that happen??  And it’s officially *chilly*…..and about to get a whole lot worse.  (Sorry, we just got back from a fun weekend in Tucson with friends and it was so sunshine-y and warm and *sigh*).  So in honor of chilly fall weather and also because my handsome hubby asked, we are having beef stew for dinner.

Here’s the thing.  I HATED beef stew.  Tried a ton of recipes and still hated it. But it’s his favorite and I was determined to find a recipe that we both liked.  I mean really, the man is smart, funny, loves me, and puts up with all my crazy. The least I can do is make one of his favorite meals now and then.

I honestly don’t know where this recipe came from but it is a winner!!  So if it is your recipe, or even remotely looks like your recipe, please let me know and I will link to it and give you all the credit.   It’s easy, it’s fresh, it’s healthy, and I can drink the wine instead of putting it in the stew!!

Beef Stew

1.5 pounds lean steak or stew meat

1 32oz box salt free beef stock

3-4 small potatoes, large dice

1 onion (or 1 Tbs dried minced), diced

3 cloves garlic (or 1/2 Tbs dried powder), minced

4 carrots, diced

1 can green beans, drained (I used about a cup of fresh beans in the summer)

1 32oz can crushed tomatoes

1 palm-full of italian seasoning (not the dressing mix)

3 Tbs tapioca beads

1 tsp dried parsley

1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 375.  Brown the meat in 2 Tbs olive oil in a dutch oven pot (or something that can go directly in the oven) on medium low heat, adding a little salt and pepper.

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When brown, add carrots, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and all seasoning.  (If you are using fresh garlic and onion, drain beef and add this to the pot and cook until translucent, then add beef back in and add veggies).  Add 2/3 of the box of beef stock.  I save the rest for reheating leftovers the next day. Add the tapioca and the bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

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Stir, put a lid on it (hey mom, I’ve heard that a few times!!), and then bake for one hour or until thickened and veggies are tender.  Remove from the oven, keep the lid on it, put it on the stove without heat and let it rest while you bake the biscuits.  (See the 2nd post on the blog for “granny’s biscuits”.)

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It is so good that the dog literally camps out in front of the stove while it bakes! It will look exactly like the above picture only a little thicker.  I check it halfway through baking and if it is too thick I thin it out with a little more stock.

Now for the wine that I didn’t have to put in the stew….Happy Fall Y’All ~s

Sweet Potato Heaven

This year dad and I planted a huge row of sweet potatoes in his (our) garden.  We planted 80 yukon and red potato plants also, but that is a great story for another day. When I was a kid I hated that garden.  It was always on my list of chores and it was always hot and buggy and full of veggies that I hated.  (Except for peas and tomatoes. I would sit in the dirt and eat raw peas that were warm from the sun and fresh tomatoes until my stomach hurt!)

Flash forward 25 years.  Now I LOVE that garden.  Spending hours with my dad planting and harvesting  and talking and growing REAL food that tastes amazing.  What can be better than that??

Well, how about a sweet potato that’s as big as a football??

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Or my foot…

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We got 2 bushels out of half a row.  Which means lots of roasted sweet potatoes for dinner!!  And we still have another half of a row to harvest!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes (I promise your kids won’t know what they are)

2-3 sweet potatoes (or one if it’s as big as your foot)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Peel the sweet potatoes and then dice into medium chunks. The smaller the dice the shorter the cooking time, so I usually do about 1/2 inch pieces.  Because I love them and I am impatient!! Throw in a bowl and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Put on a baking sheet (sometimes I use my pizza stone) and bake until tender, usually about 25-30 minutes.  I check them after about 15 and turn them.  Just depends on whether you want them soft or crisp like a crunchy home fry.  And that’s it! It’s like a sweet potato fry only easier! ~s

Bringing the Smoothies Back…

Here at the M house we LOVE our smoothies.   During our summer of fun we got away from our routine of washing our fruits and veggies on Sunday for the following week and then after work I was just too tired to deal with it.   (It’s definitely easier to pre-prep everything and then you can just throw it all in the blender when you want it.)  But I am happy to say that the smoothies are back.  And now they are green!

If you don’t like the color just close your eyes and drink it.  I promise.  You will love it too.   They are surprisingly sweet and refreshing.  It took us a while to find the right combination of sweet and green, but after a little trial and error this is what works for us.

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Green Smoothies

1 to 1 1/2 cups organic red leaf lettuce

1 cup organic spinach

1 cup organic grapes (I’ve used green and red)

1 organic honey crisp or granny smith apple, in big chunks

1/4 cucumber, peeled (optional)

3/4 to 1 cup water

1 cup ice (or a little more)

Layer everything in blender in order as listed above.

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In a Vitamix, blend on low while slowly turning up to variable speed 10 then switch to high.  Total blend time is 45 seconds.  You may need to add a little more water if it’s too thick.  This recipe is more like a juice than a thick smoothie.  Note: It may take a little longer if you have a blender with a smaller motor.  Basically you just want to blend until smooth and there are no little bits.  Cheers! ~s

Army Pasta (aka Orecchiette)

According to Wikipedia, the pasta Orecchiette (singular, orecchietta… but really, who eats ONE piece of pasta???), “is a kind of home-made pasta typical of Puglia or Apulia, a region of southern Italy. Its name comes from its shape, which resembles a small ear.”

At our house we think they look like little WWII Army helmets.   Little Army helmets of whole wheat pasta yumminess.

One day I will post the real recipe for my bolognese sauce, but tonight I was tired.  So I cheated.  A lot.   No chopping, no dicing, no fresh, no mess, and it was really good nonetheless.

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Homemade Sauce with Little Army Helmets of Love

1 lb ground sirloin

1 pkg Orecchiette pasta (I used the whole wheat Dellalo organic. Grabbed it at Whole Foods this weekend in Chicago, but I think in p-town you can get it at Fresh Market)

1 can (32 oz) san marzano crushed tomatoes

1/2 small can (or 2-3 Tbs in a tube) tomato paste

2 Tbs dried italian herb seasoning

1 Tbs dried onion powder

1 Tbs dried garlic powder

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried oregano

Brown the meat until cooked and start the water for the pasta.  When meat is cooked add the tomatoes and the paste and the herbs.   Stir until the paste is cooked then simmer on low and add the pasta to the boiling water.  Once the pasta is cooked and the seasoning is right on the sauce, you are ready to go!

Quick. Easy.  And you can freeze the leftover sauce.

Oh, in case you were wondering, only 33 days until the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook is released.  LOVE HER!  And not just because she sent my 89 year old grandma a birthday card.  Really, it happened.  More on that later…

Baked Meatballs and BFFs

This week is my first annual 39th birthday!  Thanking God for our many blessings this past year and praying that the next would bring health, wisdom, and provision for our family.

I am determined to rock 39. And hopefully my skinny jeans once this meal gets worked off!  (But tonight I’m in yoga pants.  Because I can.)

My personal chef, aka Mom, made meatballs and mashed potatoes for my birthday dinner on Sunday. Yum-O. This was comfort food at its best growing up and she made 90 of them for family dinner. That’s right… 90 meatballs. And I didn’t take a picture because I was too busy eating them. So. Darn. Good. Thanks Mom!!

Mom’s Meatballs (makes 20 meatballs)

1 1/2 lbs ground chuck

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

1 egg

1/2 c milk

1/4 chopped onion

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp sage

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 T worchestshire

2 small cans Campbells tomato soup

1 soup can of water

Mix together everything but the soup and the water and form into 1-inch meatballs.  Place in a 9×13 pan and pour tomato soup and water on top.  Bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours (cover for first 30 min) until no longer pink.   If you want it a little thicker just uncover a little faster.  At our house we eat them with mashed potatoes.  Weird I know, but it totally works.  You can also bake them without the tomato sauce on a baking pan and then freeze them for a quick meal during the week. Sometimes mom throws them (pre-cooked) in the crockpot with a bottle of BBQ sauce.

While I recover from my food coma, I’m crazy excited about this weekend: WIUGW14. For those of you not named Kathy, Laura, or Andi, that’s Western Illinois University Girls Weekend 14. Frankly it has nothing to do with WIU other than that’s where I met 3 of my favorite people. We get together for a weekend every fall and this year we are meeting in Chicago.

I. Cannot. Wait.

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Special thanks to my BFF Beth for the super cute birthday card and for not giving up on me all those years I cried through church camp when we were kids.  You deserve a medal.  (And I will use BFF no matter how old I am.  Because we all stay 12 years old in some ways!)