My new favorite assembly line style dinner is shawarma. I found a great quick marinade from Wild Garden at our local Asian market that makes it super easy to prepare, and it even comes in both chicken and beef varieties (we’ve tried them both). Sometimes we have pitas and sometimes flatbread, and I always provide a variety of toppings from vegetables and homemade tzatziki sauce to feta cheese and tahini, so everyone can choose what they’re in the mood for and make their own.
Here’s a look at creations from two different shawarma nights:
I’m really enjoying adding some new international dishes to our menu, and this one is definitely a favorite!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my grocery shopping habits, how they’ve changed over the years, and how they’ve influenced how I cook.
When Ryan and I were first married, our number one priority in buying groceries was sticking to a (small) budget. And really, that continued to be the driving force behind how I planned meals and wrote my shopping list for at least a decade. I shopped sale ads and clipped coupons. I was shopping at our local grocery store chain for the most part during that time, because Walmart Supercenters weren’t a thing in St. Louis back then, but if I could have shopped there, I would have. I did whatever I could to spend as little money as possible.
In recent years, while I still have a grocery budget (who doesn’t?!?), it is bigger, and I have more flexibility in what I can buy and where I shop. I do the bulk of our grocery buying at Walmart (now that we have Walmarts with groceries), because it’s both convenient and helps me save money. But I’ve added in some stores that I visit at least semi-regularly, which has really changed how I cook.
One store that you would have thought I would have shopped at during my more budget-conscious days was Aldi. Apparently, that would have made too much sense. I have to confess, I used to be a snob about Aldi. I thought that they sold items of lower quality. But a few years ago, when a new store opened in our area, I decided to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised! Now, it’s my go-to store for cuts of meat that I either can’t easily find other places (lamb, I’m looking at you!), or can’t afford at other stores (like the standing rib roast we had at Christmas and the tenderloin I prepared for Ryan’s birthday).
The other store that we’ve been visiting regularly for the last few years is the Asian market. Actually, “Asian” really doesn’t begin to cover it, because they carry other ethnic food items, as well. But we’ve encountered so many new items, some we’d never even heard of before, and that has really broadened our culinary experiences. Now one of our favorite things to do is just wander through the store for a while, looking for new things to try!
Here’s an example of some of the meals we’ve enjoyed in the last week, all influenced by my current grocery shopping habits. There’s gyros (which I’ve made before, but only after Easter with the lamb leftovers we sometimes have, because that was the one time of year I knew I’d be able to find lamb pre-Aldi!) made with lamb from Aldi and served on pita bread from a local bakery that Pan-Asia stocks. A new recipe of Moroccan lamb tagine (again made with Aldi lamb) appears in the center, prepared with some spices with which I don’t usually cook. And finally, beef shawarma, again served on pita bread from Pan-Asia, and also prepared with a marinade and topped with tahini I found the last time we wandered through the store.
I’m so glad I was both able to branch out and try new stores, and that I was finally able to let go of some (wildly incorrect) preconceived notions about where I shop…we’ve definitely benefited from both!
Today is Ryan’s 40th birthday (and Epiphany), so of course I had to make a special dinner!
He hadn’t yet decided what he wanted for his birthday dinner when I ran across whole beef tenderloins on the cheap at Aldi, so I made an executive (chef’s) decision, and bought one, telling him he could choose what I would turn it into.
He picked Beef Wellington, which I’ve only made once before. I think I did an excellent job this time, from the trimming to the preparation, and the sides of mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, asparagus, and sautéed mushrooms were the perfect accompaniment!
It really was a lovely dinner (if I do say so myself):
Ryan requested birthday pie for dessert, so I made the peanut butter pie that has been a new favorite this holiday season, and our family’s favorite s’mores pie. It’s hard to see, but the candles even “spell” out 40!
Thus endeth another season of festive meals. I’m both relieved and sad that I won’t have another fancy dinner to make for a while…as of now, the kitchen is closed!
I thought Advent went by quickly, but our three-day-long Christmas extravaganza flew by even more rapidly!
As always, our celebration began Christmas Eve morning, with a breakfast of Christmas Crunch:
New on Christmas Even this year was putting the final touches on Lego Hogwarts Castle, a project the Fab Five worked on throughout Advent:
We had our “pick out dinner” for lunch as we have for the last few years, and it may have been the best one yet! In addition to our Christmas Eve favorites, which included a few favorites from tea parties, too, we added a Volpi Salame plus a large basil roltini.
After lunch, we headed to church, where Ladybug had the solo for the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
I especially enjoyed the Quempas Celebration.
It was nice to get a picture of the Fab Five in the newly renovated church sanctuary after the service:
We drove through the Way of Lights on the way home:
And then I took all of the pictures!
It’s always exciting to light all of the candles in the Advent Wreath!
Jesus’ birthday cake turned out a little better than last year’s, but not by much, because it fell apart a bit on one side. At least I could get a semi-decent picture, and the chocolate peppermint flavor certainly tasted good!
The entire family, including Ryan and me, received matching Christmas jammies this year, and these may have been the cutest ones yet!
Turkey joined Ryan and me for our annual game of Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, and he won by a lot.
Chickadee set up the nativity scene before I filled the stockings and we headed to bed:
We were up very early on Christmas Day, and I finally got pictures of all of the children while they were opening their stockings!
We enjoyed our traditional Christmas Day cherry coffee cake for breakfast:
But that paled in comparison to the beautiful Christmas sunrise…”A holy day has dawned upon us!”
Back at church, the adult choir had the opportunity to sing again, including these two beautiful descants:
Of course I had to get another picture after the service:
After lunch, we opened presents:
The rest of Christmas Day was fairly quiet…we watched Christmas movies, as well as a few episodes of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which the Fab Five received for Christmas.
Yesterday, on Boxing Day, we had our big, fancy Christmas dinner. As always, I had fun setting the table:
This year’s dinner included roast beast (a standing rib roast that I found for a steal at Aldi), mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, Jell-O, and croissants, plus a festive Comet and Cupid Cabernet Sauvignon for the adults. I think I cooked the beef extraordinarily well (or maybe good would be better, if not grammatically correct, because it was definitely not well-done!).
We had a trio of Christmas desserts, and I hit pretty much every Christmas flavor except peppermint. There was cranberry-apple bread pudding with a vanilla cream sauce, gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a chocolate Yule log:
And that’s the end of another Christmas celebration. I’m already thinking about how we can celebrate next year!
I tried a new soup recipe last week, but being me, I had to tinker with it the first time I made it. The end result was delicious, and it was a pretty popular dinner, so I know I’ll be making it again!
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or a combination of the two)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish
4 jalapeños, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup lime juice
1 tsp. salt
8 cups chicken broth
4 avocados, cut in cubes
Queso fresco, crumbled
Place chicken in stock pot and cover with water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, about 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Cool enough to chop.
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add cumin and stir well, heating for about a minute. Add onion, 1 cup cilantro, jalapeños, garlic, and lime juice; sprinkle with salt. Sauté until tender, about five minutes.
Stir in chicken broth and chicken; heat through.
Serve with remaining cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco.
This is one of our family’s favorite recipes, and Turkey’s go-to when he picks his birthday dinner.
3 loaves Rhodes bread dough, thawed
20 slices deli ham
24 slices deli Genoa salami
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375.
Split bread dough in two equal portions. Roll each out in a rectangle, about 15×10 inches. Sprinkle each with basil, then top each with half of the ham, salami, and mozzarella. Roll each from the long side; pinch closed. Place each seam side down on a baking sheet; rub with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until bread is golden-brown. Let stand five minutes before slicing.
One of my favorite things about the cool weather that arrives with fall is the addition of soups to our dinner menus. Sure, you can make soup during the summer, but it’s just not the same when it’s hot outside, right? There’s something really comforting about a warm bowl of soup on a chilly day! Here’s a look at some of our favorite soup recipes:
Would you believe I’ve never tried to make fajitas before last weekend? I wanted to try something new, though, so I made chicken and steak varieties, and messed around with the recipe a bit until I got the spices right. Everyone loved them, so I think it was a success!
6-8 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
4 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
3 tsp. kosher salt, plus additional to taste
3 tsp. dried oregano
4 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or flank steak, cut into thin strips
3 bell peppers, thinly sliced (I like to use a variety of colors)
1 white onion, thinly sliced
Make marinade: In large bowl, combine 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, lemon or lime juice, 3 tsp. kosher salt, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Toss with chicken or steak and refrigerate for 3-5 hours.
In large skillet, saute peppers and onions with remaining oil and salt to taste on medium heat until tender. Remove from skillet and keep warm.
In same skillet, saute chicken or steak for five to six minutes until cooked through (do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan). Discard remaining marinade. Add peppers and onions to pan with meat and heat through.
Serve on tortillas with favorite toppings such as rice, lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream, and avocado.
Oktoberfest is one of my favorite times of year! My children have come to expect me to tell the story of why Oktoberfest starts in September and to make all their favorite Oktoberfest treats. Here are the recipes I’ve shared over the years…pretty much just sides and desserts for some reason, but those are the most delicious kinds of recipes, right?
Homemade Pretzels–This is one of favorite recipes, not just for Oktoberfest, but in general, because everyone gets involved in helping shape the pretzels…we’ve had a lot of fun coming up with unique shapes over the years!
Cheddar and Beer Fondue–If you’re looking for a dip for pretzels (or brats, crusty bread, and baby gherkins), this is the recipe you want.
Spaetzle–I can make over a dozen batches of this recipe in a single week, because it’s one that everybody loves, and it goes with pretty much anything.
Apple Strudel–Technically, this is an Austrian recipe, but it’s still an Oktoberfest favorite around here!
Black Forest Cherry Torte–This is one of our all-time favorite cakes…I’ve made it not just for Oktoberfest, but for birthday, too!
It’s already been two weeks since Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) birthday! To celebrate that occasion, we tried out some more recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. I can’t recommend it enough…we’ve loved the recipes we’ve tried so far, and it’s so much fun to have themed dinners!
This time around, we tried Gillywater (a drink made from honeydew melon and mint), hot rolls, Brussel sprouts with béchamel sauce, Chiddingly hotpot (a fantastic stew with many sour notes from two kinds of vinegar and green olives!), and Sirius Black’s coconut cake for dessert (yes, I got Hogwarts paper plates from Walmart!):
No, not all of these recipes appear in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling never explains what Gillywater is, so the author of the cookbook just went with something green and refreshing (which it was!). The coconut cake is also a creation from the author’s imagination, based on the fact that Sirius Black was hiding out in a tropical location, so she decided that when he sent Harry a birthday cake, it would have a tropical flavor. I really appreciate not only the known recipes from the books, but also the author’s interpretation of some of the more vague culinary mentions!