It was one of those nights where we had a half pound of ground beef and spaghetti squash that needed to be used. And I was in a mood. I didn’t want to follow a recipe too closely or make anything complicated. But I also wanted our meal to taste good. And I don’t typically cook spaghetti squash so I didn’t have an index of past meals to work off of. So I made this. By pretending I was going to make lasagna. Only with spaghetti squash instead of noodles. And soft goat cheese instead of ricotta. And not really layered. So very loosely based on lasagna. But it was so so good.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Spoon out the seeds. Cover the entire squash (both sides) with olive oil. Sprinkle inside with salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven, inside down, for 30-35 minutes. It should be done when you stab the skin and the knife goes in easily. But don’t get too stab happy because we need the shell intact to use as a bowl later.
While squash is cooking, make the sauce. Brown ground beef until it is almost done but not completely done. Drain the excess fat. Then cut the uncooked bacon into the pan with the ground beef. I use a kitchen knife and cut the bacon into the pan.
While bacon is cooking, add in diced red pepper, onions, and garlic. Add in tomato sauce, a glug of olive oil, a glug of wine, rosemary, and parsley. Toss in salt and pepper to taste. Simmer.
Remove spaghetti squash from oven once cooked. Take a fork and pull the squash from the shell without destroying the shell, as you will be putting everything back into it.
Place squash into a medium size bowl. Mix in goat cheese and shredded cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon squash back into each shell. Top with sauce and sprinkle cheese.
Place back into the oven and cook for 10 additional minutes.
Every morning, I let Pancake out our back patio door so she can go to the bathroom, chase the turkeys, and otherwise run around the pastures before she decides to make her way back to the house. The last couple of mornings I have followed Pancake out the door, stood on the patio, and soaked up the morning sun. Guys, it is starting to smell like summer.
Summer in Minnesota is a thing. After months and months of snows (sometimes even creeping into May), once the weather starts to hit the mid 60’s, it is as if all Minnesotans collectively sigh a deep breath of relief. Winter is behind us. We open our windows. We plan meet ups around happy hours for patio bars/restaurants. Lake parks are filled with people running, biking, laying, playing. It is hard to imagine not seeing the sidewalks, parks, and downtowns not packed with people enjoying our Minnesota summer to the fullest. All plans seem to revolve around being outside as much as possible. If the sun is up, we are outside.
And with summer comes summer cookouts. I have never been one for consistent meal planning. Whatever is in the fridge, I will toss together. But in the summer, my lack of meal planning becomes even more narrow, and I happily delegate a portion my cooking duties. Now, the extent of my meal planning is, “what should Matt grill out for us tonight?” I am just in charge of the side dishes.
This is a fabulous side dish. Hand to God, every time I make this side dish for guests, someone asks me for the recipe. And every time I say, yeah, I should really write it up and put it on my blog so it is easier to share. Well guests, I finally have!
Box of Orzo
Can of Corn, drained (feel free to sub out-I only add it about half the time)
1-2 cups black olives, sliced
1 red/orange/yello bell pepper, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2/3 cup red onion, diced
1 package of pearl fresh mozzarella (or get a big ball and cut into cubes)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 handfuls of cilantro, shredded
1 Tablespoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cumin
6 Tablespoon lime juice
5 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Cook orzo per box instructions. Yah know, boil water. Add salt so it’s as salty as the dead sea. Toss in the orzo. Take out when soft to taste. Let the orzo cool (or run cold water over it-that may be a not chef like. but I don’t always have the time or patience to wait)
Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk til well mixed.
Combine all ingredients for main dish in a large bowl. Only add the orzo once it is cooled (or you’ll get gooey cheese). Mix well so that the olive oil is mixed throughout.
Simple ingredients always seem to make the best meal. Just let the natural flavors of the real food stand out on its own. That is why I love this soup. The list of ingredients is minimal. There is not much to do it. But the soup has so much flavor and texture. And you are not stuck to the same taste palate. You can top the soup with so many different options to mix it up, all while staying true to the base flavor. This is my new favorite soup.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
32 oz chicken broth
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Pesto, a spoonful per bowl (very much recommend!)
French’s fried onions
Heat olive oil to medium size pot. Add in onions and garlic and cook until soft.
Add in beans and broth. Take an immersion blender to blend until beans are chopped up. Add in red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover and let cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring periodically.
Ladle into bowl. Top with optional toppings and add salt and pepper to taste.
This is my favorite way to use up all those veggies in the fridge that need to be eaten before its too late. Because stir fry gets old. And just like stir fry, this recipe is so flexible. Add whatever veggies you have. Use whatever beans you have. Use whatever kind of pasta you have.
I have been trying to increase our family’s rotation of meat-free meals, as JR is still a vegetarian (on most days–he cannot say no to bacon). So I have been making more an effort to buy more variety of vegetables. And I really want the kids to have more than just one veggie a week. So I find myself leaving the store with about 5 different kinds of veggies, if not more. But, the boys and Eloise only eat so much. When you have a head of broccoli and cauliflower, it can be tough to eat everything before it starts to turn.
This is a great recipe to get all those vegetables into the mix. The pesto balsamic mix really elevates the dish and is a unique way to change up spaghetti and sauce.
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup broccoli, cut
1 cup cauliflower, cut
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cubed
1 zucchini, cut into coins
1yellow squash, cut into coins
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, large slices
1 package pasta, rotini is my fave for this
1/2-1/3 cup pesto
1 can cannelloni beans, drained (15 oz can)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat over to 425 degrees
Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano, salt, and olive oil into a small bowl.
Place all veggies into a large bowl and mix sauce over veggies until it is well-mixed. Spread veggies over baking pan and roast for 30 minutes (or until soft).
While veggies roast, cook pasta.
Once veggies are cooled, combine pasta, veggies, beans, and cheese. Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar on top.
This soup is the absolute best. It is so easy to make. Most people have the ingredients they need on hand in the fridge or pantry already (or you can sub out fairly easily). And it is a fresh take on soups because that Frank’s Red Hot brings the soup to an entirely different level. I love it.
I modified this recipe from an Instagramer that Matt and I met in Italy. We were eating at the same restaurant and had some small talk about posting on Instagram. She was very kind and expressed how she was on her way to being an influencer. And I was a jerk. There is no way to reframe this encounter to make me look good. I was dismissive about her being an influencer for literally no good reason. Which is additionally shitty given my husband is a freaking influencer. And ever since, I look back on that encounter and feel so shameful about how I acted. I was a jerk.
But jokes on me. The next day I realized I was so insensitive and followed her and saw that her posts were legit. I felt so stupid, and I sincerely think about it at least once a month. I am sure my terrible self rolled off her back and she probably has no memory of it. And she has blown up as an influencer. She has some seriously awesome content. Her photos are creative. Her podcast is genuinely helpful for people wanting to get into content creating. She is killing it. What a good, freaking example of not letting the haters get to you!
So yeah, me being a shitty person is how I found this recipe. Be better than me and support someone’s dream from the outset. Not after you feel terrible the next day when you realize you were an absolute ass. But if you are like me, and you realize you were a jerk to someone, support the hell out of them. They deserve it.
1 pound ground chicken
4 stalks celery, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
16 oz chicken broth
1/4-1/2 cup French’s Red Hot
1 can Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn, drained and rinsed
1 packet Ranch dressing package
8 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon celery salt
salt and pepper to taste
Toss ground chicken into large pot and cook until browned. Add dashes salt and pepper and garlic.
Add in remaining ingredients, except for cream cheese. Bring to boil.
Once boiling, add cream cheese. Cut cream cheese into 1 inch cubes, as they melt easier.
Ok, how is the summer already coming to an end? With the pandemic still roaring through the states, it just doesn’t feel like summer has started yet. There has been no movies in the park. No summer concerts. Didn’t go see fireworks because the city didn’t have them. No block parties. None of the typical summer activities.
That is not to say we didn’t make a great summer out of what we did have. We were able to sneak away to a cabin in Wisconsin. We have had weekends exploring the woods and parks (just staying away from the playground equipment). Movie nights with popcorn were had. It was a good summer, considering.
We didn’t get to have many cookouts with friends and family, which was a bummer. But we had a couple socially distanced dinners outside on the patio–eating home cooked food, drinking good wine, and pretending just for the evening that our world isn’t completely upside down.
What hasn’t changed is what I serve when we have a cookout at our place. This summer, and all the others, whenever we have people over for a cookout, this is my go-to grilling recipe. So much so, that this is the recipe I made the day JR was born since we had a cookout to celebrate JR on his birthday (birth center births mean you go home same day you give birth).
And I have been meaning to put this recipe up on the blog, but every time I make it, before I can remember to take a photo of the finished product, it’s already in our bellies. It’s that good.
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 Tablespoon sesame seed oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon honey
1-2 pounds of chicken, cut into cubes
1 yellow pepper, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
1 orange pepper, cut into chunks
1 red onion, cut into chunks
1/2 pineapple (fresh), cut into chunks
To make the sauce, just toss all the ingredients in a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so it is simmering. Stir until the sauce is thickened. Feel free to add a bit more cornstarch. Once to a thickened texture (not as thick as honey but not as thin as water), remove from heat. I recommend dividing out into two bowls–one for dipping later and one for basting.
Make your skewers. If you have metal skewers, great. If not, use wood and soak the wood skewers for a bit before using (although if you don’t, I have never found it to be a deal breaker).
For the skewers, we put all meat on some and then divide the rest throughout (because we have some vegetarians in our house). Baste with the sauce and then grill. Baste periodically as it cooks.
“Ok, what should we have for dinner?” Possibly one of the most frustrating questions. After spending a long day working, sometimes figuring out what we are going to eat for dinner is one decision too many. It can be exhausting.
Sometimes I wish I just could snag someone else’s weekly dinner plan. I mean, our family isn’t the only family eating dinner. Why not take a page out of someone else’s book?
Here is what we had for a week of dinners:
Sunday– Steaks on the grill, baked potatoes with sour cream, blistered shishito peppers.
Ok guys, it has been exactly 9 years since we bought our house. 9 years ago today Matt went to a title company and signed a bazillion documents to become a homeowner at the age of 23. I still remember this night 9 years ago so vividly. We got takeout from Culver’s and sat in the living room floor since we had no furniture (where I am sitting as I write this except on a couch) and we talked about how wonderful life would be now that we owned a house.
And life has been wonderful since we became homeowners. Buying this house has been the best financial decision we have ever made. We bought this house after the real estate market had crashed so we have been lucky to have an incredibly low mortgage payment. This place holds so many memories. This is the house I moved into after Matt and I got married. Where we brought home Pancake. Where we found out that we would be parents. Where we brought home our three children. Where JR, Maxie, and Eloise said their first words, took their first steps, had their first laughs. Where Matt started his YouTube channel. Built a sawmill. Where we dug ditches in the rain for our patio. Where we ripped down walls and walls of wood paneling. Where Matt and I have had our biggest fights and our biggest laughs.
But this house is now too small for us. And it has been for almost 3 years. Three years ago we started to look for our forever house. A house on 10 plus acres. Acres that aren’t just a flat field or tillable land. Two stories. Three bedrooms on the top level. That is it. That is our “must have” list. After three LONG years, we had not put an offer on anything (minus one house in the first month).
Until this weekend. This weekend we found 20 wooded acres in Lino Lakes which would be perfect to build our forever house. It has woods. It has cleared areas. It is only 20 minutes to downtown St. Paul. It is located in the town with the most lenient ordinances for accessory structures we have ever seen. The mayor called me back in under a half hour when I called to get some information about the town (and he was quite nice). We put an offer on it. For the first time in three years, we finally had found a place worth moving to.
Today, on the anniversary of buying our current house, our first offer in three years was rejected. The buyers of the lot decided to accept another offer.
It hurt. The denial made me sad, of course. But honestly, it really just made me feel exhausted. Because there is no doubt that our house is too small for us. The boys literally share a bed. Eloise sleeps in a crib tucked away in a corner of our bedroom. Every corner of our basement is filled with stacked wood. The driveway has a freaking sawmill on it. We are trying so desperately to move. Yet, it feels like we are forever trapped in this tiny house that needs so many updates that we put off doing for three years because we were going to move.
So today, I let myself wallow a bit over the reality that we are going to live in our current house for the foreseeable future. But I also made myself play over the memory in my head this day 9 years ago. Right after we closed on this property. When Matt and I sat in this living room and dreamed of our future in this house as we ate Culver’s french fries. It’s been much longer than we both anticipated. But it’s been way richer and way happier than we could have ever imagined.
There are some little things about raising our babies that I never want to forget. Like our bedtime routine. When we put the boys to bed, I will tell them a bedtime story that I make up. Every story starts the same: There once were two little boys. And they were so beautiful. And so kind. And so smart. And they were brave. And they were strong. And they went on an adventure…”
The boys typically ask that the story revolve around looking for pirates, that they find a pirate ship and eat ice cream, and that they go back home and tell me all about their adventure. I have told some version of this story hundreds of times. Some nights it is too late to tell the little boy story, and sometimes I am so tired from a day of crazy, wild boys refusing to listen for the majority of the day that I want to skip it. But I know someday that JR and Maxie will go to bed, and they won’t beg for me to tell the little boy story. And then someday I won’t even remember what the little boy story was even about. And I’m not sure which make me more sad. So most nights, I tell the little boy story.
JR and Maxie’s obsession with pirates has extended to most areas of our life, including mealtime. Forks and spoons are now swords. Then one day they asked to eat the same food that pirates eat. I had already planned to make something with ground beef. I just didn’t know what. So I decided to find something new that I had never made. That way, the boys would get their pirate food and I could branch out with ground beef recipes. And that is how I ended up making Greek meatballs. Yes, I am aware that Greek food is not pirate food. But Greece is on the water so close enough for my toddlers.
These meatballs are an excellent twist to my typical Italian ones. I paired them with Greek-style rice (ie: white rice cooked with white onions doused with lemon juice and sprinkled with oregano and garlic) and the Mediterranean bean salad. And dipped everything with hummus and tzatziki sauce. It may not be an authentic pirate meal. But my two pirates cleaned their plates.
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 yellow onion grated (yep, grated)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grab your cheese grater and grate the onion over a plate so you can collect the juices. Then mix the grated onion with its juices with the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl.
Combine with egg, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss beef into the bowl and then form into golfball sized meatballs.
Place each meatball into a baking sheet.
Drizzle the melted butter over the meatballs (if you have any fresh herbs, toss with the butter. I didn’t so no herb butter for us).
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Serve with the butter from the pan.
This weekend we walked 40 acres that is for sale. Matt had been eyeing this property for quite a while and finally convinced me to see it. Within the first couple of minutes, I got why Matt wanted us to see this. The land reminded me so much of the walking trails and bluffs in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Matt and I met. The property is a great mix of forest, ravines, and open spaces. Matt, the boys, Ellie, and I walked the land, and Matt showed me where the house would be built, where the shop and sawmill would go, where we would build a treehouse. It felt like the land was destined to be ours.
But then we started reading the township ordinances. And holy hell, there were so many. Ordinances mandating that you can’t build an accessory building before a primary residence. Ordinances about not allowing you to run a business from your property. We would need so many variances. Honestly, it makes me crabby. People should not be jerks and be considerate of their neighbors. People should also be able to do what they want with their land.
Based on what we heard from the township, it doesn’t look good that they would give us any variances. It feels like we may be back to the drawing board. After 3 long years of looking for a new house, it’s exhausting. So many people have accused us of having too high of expectations but honestly, our “must have” list consists of very little: 2 stories, at least 3 bedrooms on top level, on more than 5 acres, acres are not just an open field. That’s it. I don’t feel like we are asking for too much. It just feels like it isn’t out there. Which seems unreasonable. Sigh.
So sometimes you just need an easy win. Everyone likes chicken. And an excuse to open a bottle of wine on a Wednesday. This recipe checks both those boxes, tastes incredible, and can be made in under 30 minutes.
1 pound chicken, tenders or breast, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1-2 leeks, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/6 cup white wine
If you are using chicken breasts, slice them down the middle so they are thinner. If you are using tenders, those should be thin enough. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.
Grab a large skillet and toss 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. Melt over medium heat. Once melted, add in chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Do not clutter the skillet so you’ll want to probably divide the chicken, cook it, remove from skillet and place into a covered plate to stay warm. Then cook the second half. Remove second round of chicken from skillet and keep warm in the covered plate.
In same skillet, add in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to melt. Add in leeks and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are soft and leeks are limp–around 5 minutes.
Add in wine and cook for about 2 minutes. Mix in heavy cream and cook until sauce gets thicker. If you want extra thick, add in another tablespoon of butter. Place chicken back into the skillet and toss until chicken is warm and well-mixed with sauce and veggies.
Serve chicken covered with the sauce, leeks, and mushroom. Enjoy!