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Pulling off Easter Dinner– A few tips to keep it simple.

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Hosting a large family dinner can be a daunting task, especially at a holiday. There are a few things you can do to ensure that the day goes smoothly and guarantee that you enjoy the day too. No one signs up to host a family meal saying, “Sure, I’d love to have you come over to a enjoy a stress-filled, resentful, exhausting nightmare together.” But, this is what these days are for some frazzled hosts.

This post was inspired by a hopeful co-worker who popped into my classroom this week to ask for help. She is hosting Easter dinner for her entire family for the first time ever. She was feeling intimidated, but hopeful that with a few suggestions, she could pull it off. I gave her some tips and a sold menu, and she left work on Friday feeling determined and optimistic. After seeing her relief, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with all of you.

1. The Menu

My co-worker had the challenge of incorporating traditional favorites, but accommodating a family member who is vegetarian and a family member who is vegan. Here is what we came up with:

Honey Glazed Spiral Ham— Don’t be afraid to go with a store-bought ham. They are very tasty and easy to make.

Oven Baked Risotto— This is a crowd favorite, and if made with vegetable stock & a butter alternative, it will please both the vegetarian and vegan. Additionally, it’s a sophisticated alternative to potatoes.

Quiche– A quiche is a nice option for vegetarians, and it works for meals throughout the day. Go plain, or add variety with different vegetables.

Clementine Balsamic Glazed Carrots— Roasted whole carrots are a beautiful symbol of the spring season. Not to mention, the flavor is the perfect complement to the sweet ham.

Garlicky Green Beans— Toss some skinny fresh green beans with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh minced garlic. Saute until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, and transfer to a serving bowl quickly so they don’t over cook.

Spinach and Strawberry Quinoa Salad— Adding cooked & cooled quinoa is a great way to add texture and update this classic salad.

2. Appetizers

My advice is to limit appetizers when hosting a large sit-down dinner. The first reason is practical. Since you are spending so much time, energy, and money on this meal, you don’t want your guests to fill up on snacks before dinner. The second reason is procedural. You will be far less stressed as a cook if you are not trying to prepare appetizers when you really need to be devoting your time and energy to the main course. I would suggest a simple cheese and cracker plate and some fresh fruit. Fruit is a great option because if hungry kids ruin their appetites with fruit, is that really such a bad thing?

3. Working Ahead 

The key to sanity and effective kitchen management is to do as much as you can ahead of time.

A few days before:

  • Set the table
  • Clean the house
  • Shop for groceries
  • Make the quiche and freeze
  • Lay out serving pieces and cookware needed
  • Clean the fridge, creating space for prepped ingredients and leftovers

The day before:

  • Wash the fruits & vegetables
  • Do all dishes and run the dishwasher. Be sure to unload it too!
  • Make quinoa and store in the fridge.
  • Pre-slice the cheese.
  • Defrost the quiche in the fridge.

The day of:

** Keep up with dishes and cleaning in the kitchen as you are cooking. Staying on top of things and keeping the kitchen clean as you cook will reduce your stress later.

  • Before guests arrive–
    • Prepare the salad (do not put the dressing on until you are ready to serve it)
    • Make the ham, slice it off the bone, and arrange on a platter.
    • Warm the quiche.
    • Assemble to fruit plate.
    • Measure and prep all ingredients for the green beans, carrots, and risotto.
    • Arrange the drink table. Add ice and cold beverages just prior to guests’ arrival time.
  • About an hour before dinner–
    • Make risotto & carrots.
    • Let guests know that you will be eating in an hour.
  • Fifteen Minutes before dinner–
    • Warm ham and quiche in the oven.
    • Toast rolls or bread.
    • Dress the salad.
    • Make green beans
  • Five minutes before dinner–
    • Put the food on the table.
    • Encourage guests to get a fresh drink
    • Start the dishwasher with any random dishes left over from the prep.
  • Dinner time–
    • LET IT ALL GO!!
    • This is what you have been planning for. Be sure to sit, enjoy dinner, and take time to have good conversation with those you love!
  • After dinner–
    • Let guests help to clear the table.
    • Put away clean prep dishes from the dishwasher.
    • Load the dishwasher with dinner dishes.
    • Sit and enjoy family and your dinner success!
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My Very Best Pulled Pork

  

When it comes to pulled pork, I’m a full blown snob! I love it so much, that my bucket list includes a trip through the small towns of the south, sampling pulled pork and ribs from the well kept secret spots and smoky hole-in-the-wall kinds of joints, where the craft of bar-b-que is practiced from ancient family recipes.

Now, while I’d love to slow cook my own pork over a sampling of hardwoods, and allow the natural flavors to develop over hours of heat, the reality is that I’m a mom of three busy kids, who works full time. Carpools, laundry, bickering daughters, and work would not wait for me to monitor a roasting hunk of meat and the demands of an open flame in my small, suburban back yard.

So, I do what any other sensible cook would do, I pull out my slow cooker. I know it is not comparable to an open flame, but, oh well!

Here is my recipe. It is an awesome blend of a Carolina style vinegar pulled pork, and its bar-b-que based counterpart. I think of it as the best of both worlds. Smoky and savory, tangy and sweet all collide in this recipe that will leave you craving more!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large (8-10 lb.) pork shoulder/picnic or Boston Butt roast
  • 1 head of garlic peeled
  • 1 med. Yellow onion
  • 1 of each—Red pepper, yellow pepper, & orange pepper
  • ½ to 1 cup of ketchup
  • 4 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp. of  brown sugar
  • Bar-b-Que seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Sprinkle roast with seasoning.
  2. Chop peppers and onions into large chunks
  3. Place roast, peppers, onions, and garlic into a slow cooker.
  4. Pour in vinegar
  5. Cook 8-10 hours on medium to high until the meat is tender and falls apart easily.
  6. Remove meat and set aside to cool.
  7. Strain juice from the slow cooker into a medium sauce pan on the stove.
  8. Boil liquid until reduced to half
  9. Add ½ cup of ketchup and 3 tbsp of brown sugar and continue to boil until you have a thin sauce. You may need to add small amounts of brown sugar or ketchup to adjust taste.
  10. Use two forks or your stand mixer to shred meat and add it to the sauce.

Serve on a roll of your choice, or open faced on a slab of Texas Toast garlic bread!

Tips:

  • The longer the meat sits in the sauce, the better it tastes
  • This can be frozen in smaller amounts and used as needed.
  • Make it at least one day in advance to allow the meat to soak up the sauce.
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Crawfish Garlic Toast with Cajun Pierogies

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Yesterday, I gifted a friend with lunch from my favorite Cajun restaurant, to help her get labor started on her third, overdue baby. While I know this is an unproven, old wives tale, the voodoo crawfish worked to bring about many local babies!

Well, after ordering and coordinating delivery, I was left sitting at my desk craving Cajun food. I called my husband to whine about wanting to go out to dinner, but got no sympathy, so I took matters into my own hands! I shopped Pinterest for a Cajun pierogi recipe because I wanted to emulate the ones from High Street Caffe, but the recipes I found did not match the dish I desired. This is when the creative juices started to boil in my brain. By the time I left work, I was on a mission to go to Wegman’s  and secure some super tasty crawfish!!!!!

After an inspired trip to the store, I got home and started to cook! No pizza in my house on this given Friday! Once it was ready, I called my husband and urged him to rush home, because I couldn’t wait to dig in. It was HEAVENLY! Paired with a nice bottle of wine, it felt like a date at home! This recipe has now earned a spot in my top 3 greatest of all time!!!

Crawfish Garlic Toast

Ingredients:

The toast–

  • 1 baguette, sliced diagonally
  • 3 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic

The Crawfish—

  • 2 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • ½ cup of finely chopped mirepoix (carrots, onion, & celery)
  • 12 oz. of crawfish tails
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 1 Tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tsp of fresh thyme
  • A few dashes of cayenne pepper (you can adjust to your liking)
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • 1 palmful of chopped fresh parsley

Preparation:

The toast—

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  1. Slice the baguette diagonally to create large oval slices.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the minced garlic. Sautee for 1-2 minutes to infuse the garlic flavor.
  3. Place each slice on a baking sheet, the brush with the garlic butter.
  4. Bake at 450° for about 3 minutes, then flip to toast the other side.
  5. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

The Crawfish—

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  1. In the same skillet used above, saute the garlic, mirepoix, and butter until softened.
  2. Add the crawfish tails and cook on high heat until firm.
  3. Mix in the spices, and saute for another minute.
  4. Add cream, mix well, and simmer uncovered for about 5 -10 minutes until thickened.
  5. Stir in the fresh parsley.

Final Preparation—

Place a slice of toast on a plate & spoon a generous serving of the crawfish onto the toast. Serve immediately.  If you would like to serve this as a small appetizer, use smaller, coin sized slices of baguette and smaller portions of crawfish.

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This pairs to well with Cajun pierogies! This is a total cheater recipe, so anyone can easily whip these suckers up. They also make a great stand-alone appetizer!

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Get the recipe here!

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Buffalo Chicken Chili

Buffalo Chicken Chili

This is one of those great meals that you don’t have to feel guilty about. It is so packed with veggies that your kids and husband will have no clue that you are secretly serving something nutritious! My daughter has asked for it in a thermos to take in her school lunch, and my husband will settle in to watch football with a big bowl of this tasty chili and some chips. It is also a quick and easy, one pot meal that feeds many on a budget. So whether you are entertaining the masses, or just looking for a reprieve from all that is unhealthy, look no further!

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 Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 medium onion,
  • 3 ribs celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of buffalo wing sauce, depending on your taste
  • 2 15 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or blue cheese for garnish

Preparation:

1. Poach chicken breasts in about an inch of water in a large stock pot for about 8 minutes. (or you can use 2 lbs, of ground chicken, cooked & crumbled)

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2.Meanwhile, chop carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in a food processor.

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3. Once chicken is cooked, remove from the pot, reserving the liquid in a separate bowl.

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4. Add 2 Tbsp. of butter to the stock pot (no need to wash it between steps), and allow to melt.

5. Add chopped vegetables, sautéing until soft.

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6. Chop cooked chicken in food processor, then add to the vegetables in the stock pot mixing well.

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7. Add wing sauce and crushed tomatoes. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

8. Add broth, bay leaves, paprika,

9. Allow to simmer on low heat for about 10-20 minutes

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Presentation:

Top with a pinch of cheese, then serve hot with tortilla chips for scooping.

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My Super Renegade, Rebellious Ciabatta Stuffing

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Look out people, I’m on a rant. Yup, it’s only been five minutes since my last post, but I’m on a roll. I have been nursing my wounds all week from the news that I was not allowed to “go all food fairy” with Thanksgiving this year. Apparently, change is not appreciated in my family with regards to the Thanksgiving meal, but I have other plans. On this, the most peaceful of holidays, I am waging war on tired recipes. Today, I am thankful for my creative mind, and my cooking skills. Today, I plan to go rogue, be the lone wolf, and make a maverick stuffing! (Ok, I still plan to also serve the preferred Simple Sausage Stuffing, but whatever!)

My rebellion was a departure from all of the traditional ingredients. I swapped dried bread cubes for a loaf of fresh ciabatta bread. I’ve ditched the onions for shallots & garlic, and I tossed the celery in favor of fennel! The sausage stayed, because it’s tasty. I pureed, sauteed, tossed, and baked. Then we tasted, smiled, and let the satisfaction seep in. I have done it. I have created a stuffing that my kids adore! In fact, they cried when I swatted their hands away and stashed the new deliciousness for its formal unveiling tomorrow. Mission complete, rebellion successful, personal satisfaction.

I am now one happy lady that did “go all food fairy” this year, and I’m pretty damn proud of myself!

HA!

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Ciabatta Stuffing with Fennel & Sage Pesto

Ingredients:

3 loaves of fresh ciabatta bread

4 cups of chicken stock

1 roll of sage sausage

1 bulb of Fennel

4 shallots

4-5 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup of fresh parsley

10-15 fresh sage leaves

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 Tbsp. of olive oil

Preparation:

Cut the bread into large cubes and place them in a large roasting pan.

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Next, brown the sausage in a large skillet, until fully cooked. Drain and set aside, but do not wash the pan.

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Now, combine the parsley, sage, thyme, garlic, shallots, and olive oil in a food processor and chop until fine.

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Dump the pesto into the same pan that you used to cook the sausage.

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Coarsely chop the white bulb of the fennel into pieces (save the pretty tops), and add to the pan.

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Sautee for 5-7 minutes over a medium heat until the fennel starts to soften and the garlic and shallots have also browned a bit. Next, add the stock and stir, de-glazing the pan and scraping up all of the yummy leftover sausage bits.

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Toss the drained sausage with the bread cubes, then add the liquid mixture, pouring it evenly over the bread and sausage.Use a large spoon to toss the stuffing, ensuring that everything is well mixed, but being careful not to smoosh the bread into a paste.

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Once it is well mixed, chop the feather fronds of fennel and sprinkle them evenly over the top of the stuffing to make it look really pretty. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until it is hot and the cubes on top are brown and crispy.

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Super Savory Sun Pickles & The Time I Accidentally Almost Killed My Husband

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I love pickles! I admit that I could eat a whole jar, by myself. And while I have no complaint about the store bought variety, I was intrigued with the proposition that I could make my very own, after all, I am the Fabulous Food Fairy!

Well, unfortunately, this first attempt at making pickles has now become my most infamous kitchen DISASTER!

It all started two summers ago, when I decided that I would make my very own pickles. I was inspired by my neighbor, Brenda, who was making her own. How hard could this be, right? WRONG! My first mistake was not following the golden rule of canning–use a tried and true recipe from a reliable source. As a cook, I am not terribly precise. I use a little of this, and a little of that, and many recipes don’t ever taste the same way twice. Well, tragically I attempted to apply this same logic to pickles.

I bought a powdered mix, but that looked sooo BORING…I wanted flavor, so I also bought a jar of pickling spices to add some real color and flavor. When it came time to actually make the pickles, I added a little of this, a little of that, tweaked the amount of one ingredient, and improvised with another. The brine smelled strong, but many pickle juices do. I thought nothing of it. I then processed my jars, and packed them away neatly. I have to say, they looked beautiful! The pickles were bright green, and the spices looked so pretty dancing around in the jars. I was impressed with my first foray into pickle making.

Then it all came crashing down. The pickles were ready for tasting. My husband went first. He opened the jar, and pulled one slice out.  He hesitated and smelled it. Backing away, he started to balk because of the strong smell. I called him a wuss and urged him to try it. The horror was apparent on his face instantly. He gagged, lurched to spit it in the sink, and then proceeded to try to wash his tongue. WHAT A DRAMA LLAMA, I thought. He has a flair for exaggeration, so I figured the only way to truly assess the finished product was to try it myself.

I hesitated and smelled it. I too started to balk because of the strong smell. He called me a wuss and waited eagerly for me to experience the “flavor”. OH! It was beyond horrible! I gagged, lurched to spit it in the sink, and then tried to wash my tongue. The flavor conjured up bad memories of wisdom teeth, dry sockets, and clove packing, mixed with vinegar, and overly strong garlic, with a mystery sweetness, and dill that made you shiver. It was the most horrifically offensive taste that I am sure has left scarring on my taste buds.

Sadly, we dumped every pretty jar of terrible pickles, and my pickle making days ended in a burning defeat, and a whole lot of teasing from my family 😦

So, you can imagine Brandon’s enthusiasm last summer, when I announced that I was getting back on the horse, so to speak, and making pickles, again. I got a look… and a declaration that he would not try them. Whatever.

This time I was armed with a successful recipe from my friend, Brenda, and it only had 6 ingredients. I promised to follow the rules, color in the lines, and not improvise.

What resulted was AWESOME! It was so awesome that I had to share it, to spare you all the same traumatizing defeat that I incurred at the hands of my own creative pickling ideas.

Try it, involve the kids, but don’t get creative with this one. Please follow the rules 🙂

Ingredients:

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6 1/2 cups water
3 1/4 cups white vinegar
2/3 (or less) cups of pickling salt — yes it matters, it has to be canning or pickling salt!
1 sprig of dill per jar
1 clove garlic per jar
12-15 Kirby pickles
5-6 quart jars sanitized with new lids

Preparation:

1. Place 1 clove of garlic and 1 sprig of dill in the bottom of the clean jars.

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2. Slice pickles and place in jars, or pack them whole.

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3. Boil water, vinegar, and salt until the salt is dissolved.

2-IMG_29974. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, leaving about 1/2-1/4 inch head space.

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5. Wipe off the rim of the jars, and put lid and band on tight.

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6. Set jars in the sun, undisturbed, for 48 hours. At this point, they should be sealed. The pop-top on the lids should be sucked down, indicating a strong seal.

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7. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

This is a really fun activity to do with the kids, in fact, it has become a summer tradition with my kids as well as my nieces and nephews 🙂

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Yoga Pants

1-IMG_2668I don’t really love tomatoes raw, but once roasted, I could eat them until I burst. Seriously, I need to wear my yoga pants (aka “buffet pants”) when indulging in any roasted tomatoey goodness. I even went as far as to plant a bazillion cherry tomato plants in various parts of my backyard to satisfy my need for these yummy little savory treasures.

My passion err..obsession for roasted tomatoes started with a recipe that I saw for French bread pizzas. The recipe called for roasted cherry tomato puree as the pizza sauce. Once I made these, it opened all new doors. I now use roasted cherry tomatoes on a weekly basis for a multitude of recipes. They’re simple, easy, and packed with flavor.

Try them, but I take no responsibility for creating a new addiction, or causing you to need stretch pants to accommodate your overstuffed belly.

Ingredients:

2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes

2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil

1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Salt & pepper (to taste)

Preparation:

1.       Wash & dry the tomatoes.

2.       Slice them in half.

3.       Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

4.       Place the tomatoes in a casserole dish or roasting pan so they cover the bottom in a single layer.

5.       Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper.

6.       Add thyme, and toss, coating all of the tomatoes.

7.       Roast in the oven on 425 for about 35 minutes, or until they are withered and caramelized at the edges.

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Serving Suggestions:

1.       Allow them to cool and toss with fresh basil, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar.

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2.       Roast 3 cloves of garlic with the tomatoes. Puree with a hand blender, add a sprinkle of sugar if you like the sauce a bit sweet, and top raviolis, or use it as a pizza sauce for French bread pizza.

3.       Toss with mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar, and large croutons for a tasty panzanella.

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Savory Pot Roast

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Pot roast, your perfect post pool day dish!

I know, you’re thinking “What kind of crazy loon makes pot roast in the middle of a heat wave in June??

Me!

While this does not seem like summer fare, I find myself juggling early mornings at swim team practice, then long activity filled summer days. I need slow cooker meals that will fill the starving bellies of my hungry monsters who are often “dying” and “starving” as they stagger around the kitchen whining for food at 4:30 on a Wednesday. And who wants to fire up the stove after a day of kid crazy??

This week was “Clean the Freezer Week” at my house, and I happened to have a big ol’ chuck roast in the freezer threatening to slip out and crush the tiny toes of a Popsicle seeking rummager. I figured I might as well pop it in the slow cooker and feed them a hearty meal. The result was well fed, happy kids who marched their satisfied tummies upstairs and slept well all night! SCORE!!

As for the recipe, This is an old family favorite, courtesy of my mother. Over the years, I have tweaked it a bit, but it still remains very much like the recipe of my childhood.

Savory Pot Roast

1 3lb beef roast

Oil for frying

Salt

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes OR ¼ cup catsup

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire

1 sprig of fresh rosemary OR 1 tsp. dried crushed rosemary

4 fresh garlic cloves OR ½ tsp. garlic powder

½ tsp. dry mustard

In a Dutch oven or large oven safe pot, brown meat on the stovetop in small amount of oil. Sprinkle meat with a little salt. Combine remaining ingredients; pour over meat. Cover tightly, roast at 350 for 2 hours or until tender. Remove meat to heated platter. Skim excess fat from sauce. Spoon sauce over meat.

*** You can also cook it on low in a slow cooker for about 8 hours. I also add carrots and potatoes to cook in the sauce with the meat 🙂

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Rockin’ Rose Romano’s [SPONSORED]

1-IMG_2229Recently, the kind people at Rose Romano’s Italian Peppers sent me a few jars of their tasty sauce. Wow, am I a lucky girl. I was amazed by the beautiful presentation of the box I received, and I was intrigued by the recipes suggested in the insert. What I learned is that Rose Romano’s is actually more like a condiment, rather than a pasta sauce. As a coveted family recipe, owner, Dr. Marshall Angotti, created this gluten-free, low calorie, goodness as the perfect complement to your simple homemade dishes. Rose Romano’s Italian Peppers comes in two flavors, red pepper and green pepper, and the recipe possibilities are endless.

My biggest challenge was to figure out how I was going to use the red pepper sauce that I received, because the cookbook and menu created by Dr. Angotti is substantial! I decided on making a simple bow tie pasta tossed with garlic, olive oil, fresh basil, and salt & pepper. Once the pasta was seasoned, I spooned it onto a plate, topped it with the red pepper sauce, and served it with a side of crusty garlic bread. What a great, easy weeknight meal, even my girls loved it! We all went to bed with well nourished, happy bellies.

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The next challenge came with how to serve the green pepper sauce. I immediately thought of my nephew’s upcoming graduation party. I knew that my sister was making 100 pounds of Freakin’ Fabulous Roasted Pork for sandwiches, and a sandwich bar was the perfect stage for Rose Romano’s green pepper sauce. Along with traditional bar-b-que sauce, we offered a bowl of warm Rose Romano’s. The green pepper sauce was a sweet compliment to the savory garlic roasted pork.

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After my initial successes, I am excited to try some of the recipes suggested by Dr. Angotti. His recipes suggest topping almost anything with this unique food accessory, from hamburgers, to grilled chicken, to eggs. The ideas are creative as well as simple and healthy.

If you are looking for a new way to dress up a boring dish, or need a quick and easy gift idea, consider Rose Romano’s Peppers. You can order online or locate them at a store near you by visiting http://www.roseromanos.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Oven Baked Risotto

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I love risotto and all its creamy goodness, but I hate that you have to just stand by, stirring and adding broth. Its like babysitting. I have 3 kids. I do not need the added responsibility of babysitting food. So, here is a recipe for an easy weeknight risotto. No stirring, adding, stirring, and adding, jsut mix and bake. It’s simple, tasty, and a hit with my kids.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons of melted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Pour the butter in a 9×13 baking dish
  3. Add the Arborio rice, garlic, salt and pepper.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Pour the chicken broth over and cover with tin foil.
  6. Bake for about 35 minutes.

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