Cooking & Eating

Happy National Pizza Day!

national pizza dayGuys! You may or may not be aware, but today is a major holiday. Sound the alarms, stop everything you’re doing, and put on your party hats. IT’S NATIONAL PIZZA DAY!

I’ve made it pretty clear in my tagline, footer, about page, and across social media that I’m a pizza enthusiast. I live for that divine combo of bread, sauce, and cheese. But yet, you haven’t seen a single slice appear in an actual post here. The truth is, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to incorporate it. Pizza is important, after all. I want to get it right.

But there’s something holding me back. The ‘ol pizza prejudice. Everyone has a preference—thin-crust, deep dish, brick oven, you name it. Most of us have a little hometown bias, too, gravitating toward the sweet sauce or slightly-charred crust we devoured through our childhoods. I certainly have it. Growing up in Ohio, we didn’t have a lot of gourmet pie options. My favorite hometown pizza, square with a fairly thick dough and perfectly tomato-y sauce, would be ripped to shreds by a real pizza critic. And yet, I’m hopelessly devoted.

So, on this day of celebration, tell me: what’s your favorite pizza/where’s it from? Why do you like it so much? And, what kind of pizza shenanigans would you like to read about here?

But seriously, who else is ordering pizza for dinner tonight? And maaaaybe having a slice for lunch too? 🙋I’ll be headed to one of my close-to-home faves, Pesci’s or Picasso’s. Go ahead, get crazy. National Pizza Day only happens once a year, after all!

{Photo by picjumbo.com}

Grandma’s Crock-Pot Sloppy Joes

Sloppy JoesThere’s something nostalgic about sloppy joes. And if you know me at all, or have been following along here, you know that I’m a sap. Something about this sandwich brings me right back to sitting on the living room floor for a “picnic” with my sister.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Tomato Soup

tomato soupThat winter chill’s been hitting hard the past couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to channel scorching days from this summer when I never thought I could get any hotter. And even though temps are supposed to reach the 40s this week here in Buffalo (what?!), the otherwise constant presence of frigid temperatures only makes me want to stay in, curled up on the couch under a blanket with some hot soup. One of my favorites is a simple staple, tomato soup.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Korean Beef Bowls

Korean beef bowl
Last year, while in California for work, my boyfriend went to a Korean restaurant with some co-workers. He came home from the trip raving about some beef bowl he tried and how fresh it tasted.

Not familiar with Korean cuisine, I suggested that maybe we could find something similar at a restaurant here in Buffalo. He assured me there was no need for that; they’d be simple to make at home. My skepticism almost got the best of me, but as usual, he was right. Korean beef bowls have been in our dinner menu rotation since.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Crock-Pot Cacciatore

Crock-Pot Chicken CacciatoreTHIS ONE IS SO EASY, YOU GUYS. I know I say that every time I post a weeknight dinner recipe, but this time, I’m talking about Crock-Pot easy. Everyone will be so impressed by your chicken cacciatore, thinking you spent hours slaving away. In reality, prep takes about ten minutes, tops. Now, I’m the type of person who is baffled by the concept of spare time in the morning, so I get what you’re probably thinking. (I mean, those people who get up at 4am to exercise and do whatever else people do at 4am—are they even real? What are their lives?) But! Come on, you. I know you can squeeze in an extra ten minutes just this once to free up those precious evening hours.

And can we talk about chicken cacciatore for a sec? Yummmmm. So rustic and hearty. I tried the cacciatore at one of my favorite Italian restaurants not long ago, and that dish was comparable. Dare I say, this Crock-Pot one might even be better? 😁

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom. We ate it growing up for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure where she originally found it; I did a quick Google search and came up with a few similar recipes, but nothing exact. So, we’ll say this one came from my mom. And probably Taste of Home, or something.

I cook this amount for the two, and then we have lunch leftovers for days. This would feed four people easily.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 chicken breasts or thighs
  • 3-4 Italian sausage links, cut into half-inch pieces (I use hot, and it doesn’t come out spicy at all.)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 onion, also chopped into large chunks
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 24-ounce jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 pound spaghetti


DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients in Crock-Pot. Cook on low 8 hours, or high 4 hours*. Serve over spaghetti.
Told you it was easy!

*Adjust time for your Crock-Pot. Be wary of the ones that cook at really high temperatures. I can set mine on high for 2-3 hours, and this is cooked. Pretty much, you just don’t want to set it on high and leave the house for the day! Low is fine. If it’s too hot, the chicken will dry out and this dish will get runny. If it does get a bit watery, take the lid off for a while and let some of the liquid evaporate.

Even the dreaded cleanup is a breeze. You can do this one, people!

Weeknight Dinner Staple: Beer Chili

chiliAs the crisp Fall weather approaches, I’ve found myself starting to crave warm comfort foods once again. A favorite of mine is chili. Which pairs well with another favorite of mine, beer. Beer chili!

There are about a million chili recipes out there, all slightly different. The one I follow is adapted from a Food Network recipe that a friend shared with me a few years ago. I used to make a Crock Pot chili that was simple and pretty tasty too, but once I tried this version, there was no turning back. And don’t worry, even if you’re not a beer fan, you’ll still love this chili.

Fair warning, this is not a meal to be made on a rushed weeknight. The cooking part doesn’t take long, but you’ll need to allow time for it to simmer. I recommend making this one on the weekend, or whenever you have time to let it simmer for a couple hours, and then reheating it during the week. Pro tip: it’s even better left over.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound meatloaf mix*
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, optional (about half of a small container)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika**
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 cup beer (I recommend a lager for this recipe; I usually use Yuengling)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • Sour cream and cheddar, for topping
  • Side note: The original recipe calls for black and kidney beans. We’re not a fan of beans in our chili at this house, so I omit those. If you’d like to use them, the recipe calls for one 15-ounce can of each, drained and rinsed.

*Meatloaf mix is made up of ⅓ ground beef, ⅓ ground pork, and ⅓ ground veal. If your grocery store doesn’t sell this (check with the butcher), you can use any combo of the three or a higher grade meat. I used ground sirloin once (so good), and another time I used just ground veal.

**The smoked paprika is key! Delicious. If you can’t find it at the grocery store, try Trader Joe’s or TJMaxx!

DIRECTIONS

Heat canola oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot and slightly simmering, add garlic, onion, peppers, and spices (chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano). Season with salt and pepper. Cook vegetables, stirring often, until tender. Add the meat and break it up; cook until browned. Stir in the beer and mushrooms, then add all the tomatoes. Stir everything together, then turn the heat to low. Simmer on low for at least an hour and a half. When ready to eat, serve with freshly-grated cheddar cheese and sour cream on top, if you please. I always please.

Curl up on the couch and enjoy with a brew!

{Recipe adapted from Pat’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili}

Meal Planning Tips to Change Your Weeknights

meal planningMeal planning, zzzz. It sounds like such a boring and daunting task, right? I always thought so too. But there’s nothing I hate more than trying to figure out what to eat for dinner at 7pm when I’m already starving. Once I started planning meals, my weeknights and hangry attitude were changed forever. Ok, maaaaybe that’s a bit of a stretch. Realistically, my hangriness improved slightly.

I’ve posted a handful of easy weeknight meals, but really, the best way to make them truly a breeze is to plan ahead. It doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. I know a lot of people suggest chopping vegetables over the weekend and portioning foods for the week, but to me, that seems terribly time-consuming when I’d rather be enjoying my weekend time doing other, more fun activities. I’m sure those methods work well for some and maybe one day, when I’m even more pressed for time, I’ll change my tune. For now, all I do is spend 15 or 20 minutes max on the weekend to lay out a basic plan for meals throughout the week. What a lifesaver it’s been!

Here are some tips to make meal planning into a habit for effortless weeknight cooking.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Shrimp Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce

shrimp tacosThis is the quickest recipe ever as far as cook time goes, I promise. Concocted by my boyfriend one night when we didn’t have a dinner idea, but wanted to use up stuff in the house, it’s been a weeknight staple for a while now.

Steve is a much better natural chef than I am. I’m not inventive with my cooking. I can knock a recipe out of the park (with plenty of exceptions, ha), but when it comes to pulling things together out of thin air, I’m no magician.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound raw, peeled, and deveined shrimp (fresh or frozen will do)
  • Salt
  • Soft taco tortillas (I’m sure hard shells would be great with this recipe too!)
  • Lettuce, shredded, for topping
  • Salsa, for topping
  • White rice, optional
  • Lime juice, optional
  • Dash of cilantro, optional

For marinade:

For chipotle cream sauce:

  • 5-oz. container Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Adobo sauce*
  • Fresh lime juice from half a lime
  • Dash of cumin
  • Dash of Old Bay

*Adjust for heat. Start with less and add more to taste. This stuff can get spicy REAL quick!

DIRECTIONS

Pat shrimp dry and sprinkle lightly with salt. Mix together marinade and toss shrimp into it. Refrigerate shrimp and let marinade for about an hour.

This is the point when I usually open a Corona. While the shrimp is marinating, mix up your sauce and set it aside. If you want rice in your tacos, cook white rice; top with a little lime juice and cilantro when done. Get your toppings ready; chop lettuce if need be. Once the shrimp starts cooking, dinner is ready in no time!

Once shrimp is done marinating, either cook it right in the marinade on the stove or grill it. We usually cook it on the stove. Cook shrimp on medium heat until pink and opaque. This only takes about 4 minutes or so.

When the shrimp is done cooking, remove from heat. Top tortillas with rice, shrimp, lettuce, salsa, and then add the chipotle cream sauce on top.

This recipe typically makes about 4-6 tacos, depending whether or not you add rice and other fillers. The last time we made it, we added more rice, and I think we were able to even stretch it to 8 tacos.

If you’re looking for a light, refreshing dinner that goes particularly well with a Corona and lime, this is it. Summertime, and the livin’s easy, friends.

Fresh Cherry Crisp for a Hot Summer Night

cherries3

The first thing that caught my eye at the farmer’s market this weekend was the table covered in plump, bright cherries. Boy do I love summer in all its fresh fruit glory. Mmmm, perfectly sweet and juicy; I ate so many. I’m surprised I had enough left to use for baking.

Aside from cookies, I’m pretty much a newbie baker. I’m a relatively novice cherry lover too, so I’d never baked with cherries on my own before. Cherry pie is my favorite, but I wasn’t feeling that ambitious on a hot summer night with no AC, so I asked my boyfriend’s mom for my second favorite (and much simpler) cherry recipe instead, cherry crisp. YUM. Writing those words makes my mouth water.

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