New Year, New Soup

The truth is that I’ve been making this lentil and sausage soup for years.  It is so easy, flavorful, and nutritious…i.e. a perfect way to kick off 2017 by feeling healthy and productive whenever you make it (which is almost weekly in our house).

Like most classic recipes, it starts by chopping an onion.

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Saute over medium heat in a large pot with a little olive oil until onions start to soften.  Then add sausage, squeezing it out of its castings.  (Random side note:  my husband hates this part and won’t participate, but I find it oddly satisfying).

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We use these Jennie-O hot turkey sausages, but I’m sure there are organic ones at Wholefoods that my mom will tell me about as soon as she reads this post.

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Discard castings and begin to break up sausage with a wooden spoon and mix with the onions, browning slowly.  The natural fats will help keep the onions from sticking to the pan.

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Meanwhile, on a separate burner, fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add one full bag of green lentils and cover, reducing heat to medium-high.

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Now back to the sausage.  After about 5 minutes you should have a mixture that looks something like this.  Continue cooking until all meat is brown. Then drain any access fat.  I like to turn off the heat and use a paper towel to soak up any fat, but whatever method works for you.

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Turn back on heat to medium and add 3 celery stalks and a three carrots sticks, cleaned, peeled and chopped.

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Stir and saute until soft.  Then add 2 cloves of minced garlic and season with salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes (optional: if you like it spicy, which I always do).

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Pull out a bag of pre-washed fresh spinach.

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Add the entire bag to the sausage/onion mixture.

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Cook until it begins to wilt.

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Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and one can of beef broth.  Stir in with wilted spinach.

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At this point your lentils should be relatively soft.  They will continue cooking in the soup, but boiling separately beforehand will substantially reduce your cook time.  When you can pierce one easily with a fork, drain in a strainer.

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Add to soup.  Warning:  It will look like way too many lentils.  Every time I make this soup, I have the same thought, but then I stir them in and invariably the consistency is always perfect.

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Cook for another 20-30 minutes to let the flavors blend.  Salt to taste.  When you’re ready to eat, serve in a large bowl sprinkled with parmesan.

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Lentil & Sausage Soup:

1 lb. (package) hot Italian turkey sausage

1 large onion, chopped

About 3 celery stalks, chopped

About 2 carrots peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 (14 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes

1 bag pre-washed baby spinach

1 can beef broth

1 bag of green lentils

Salt & pepper

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Saute chopped onion in a large pot with a bit of olive oil.  When tender, add turkey sausage, removing from castings.  Break up sausage with a wooden spoon and continue cooking.  Meanwhile, fill a separate pot with water, boil, and pour in bag of lentils.  Reduce heat, cover, and let lentils cook for about 20 minutes, or until soft.  Drain fat from turkey sausage and onion mixture.  Add chopped celery, carrot, minced garlic, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Add entire bag of spinach and cook until wilted.  Stir in with beef broth and canned tomatoes. When lentils are soft, drain in a strainer and add to soup. Stir and continue cooking, covered, for another 30 minutes or so on low heat.  Serve with parmesan cheese and ideally a glass of red wine.

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Remix

Do you remember the pumpkin bread recipe I posted last Thanksgiving?
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Well this year I decided to mix it up and instead of using loaf pans, I poured the same easy, delicious batter into muffin tins, baking at 350 for half the time (about 30 minutes).

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I was worried the moisture of this bread might be lost in the smaller size, but I’m delighted to report they are every bit as scrumptious.

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I popped them right out of the tray and let them cool for about an hour before adding my finishing touches, which of course involved me hiking to the one and only deciduous tree in Southern California.  The struggle is real.

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Fortunately my husband gets me completely and didn’t bat an eye when I returned home with a shirt full of dead leaves after working out in the land of palm trees.

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I placed the muffins in an individual sized clear cellophane treat sacks and tied with twine and a few of the leaves I’d collected.

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What a great little treat to leave on someone’s desk at work, bring to your hairdresser, or send the kids to school with.

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NBD.

Pumpkin Muffins

Mix together well with a fork in a large bowl:

3 1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp all spice

3 cups sugar

In a separate bowl, mix together:

1 can pure pumpkin (NOT pie mix)

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

Mix wet ingredients into dry, ideally using a hand mixer to work out all the lumps.  Pour into a cup cake pan with paper baking cups (I used classic white ones- my favorite).   Bake at 350 for about a half hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. This should make about 24-36 muffins.

 

A Fall Staple: Roasted Root Vegetables

Even just purchasing the ingredients for this dish evokes inner fall feelings.  Think dark evenings, warm fires, red wine, and candlelight.   My husband and I made these roasted root vegetables the other evening and they were so easy and satisfying, I had to share.

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I wish I could say we had strolled hand-in-hand to our local farmer’s market to buy our veggies, but let’s be honest, I found myself at Ralph’s an hour before dinner.  We opted for parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, but use whatever root vegetables are fresh, seasonal, and most importantly, sound good to you (Barefoot Contessa also uses butternut squash and sweet potato, for example).

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Wash and peel the parsnips, carrots, and turnips.

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Cut into roughly the same size pieces, about an inch long.

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Wash and halve the Brussels sprouts, cutting off and discarding the stem, but keeping all the loose leaves, which get crispy and delicious when baking.

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Place all cleaned, chopped veggies in a baking dish and drizzle generously with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.  Toss with your hands, making sure all pieces are coated well.  Bake in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes, turning frequently with a spatula throughout the entire bake time.

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We served ours with filets and parmesan polenta, but it’s a perfect side for any fall dish.  If you want to make it a little more flavorful, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley or rosemary before roasting veggies.

NBD.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Wash, peel, and cut your veggies of choice (Brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and butternut squash are all wonderful). Place all cleaned, chopped veggies in a baking dish and drizzle generously with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.  Toss with your hands, making sure all pieces are coated well.  Bake in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes, turning frequently with a spatula throughout the entire bake time.

 

 

 

 

 

Suns Out Buns Out

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As we fast approach the end of summer, what better way to revel in its final days than with some southern-style pulled pork sliders?  And the best part is that this dinner literally takes 5 minutes of prep (plus 8 hours of slow cooking while your house fills with the most delicious aromas).

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You’ll need a pork tenderloin or two, a couple of onions, and beef broth.

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Quarter the onion and pull in to pieces.

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Spread half the onions loosely at the bottom of the slow cooker to create a bed for the pork.

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Remove tenderloins from packaging and rinse under water. This is inherently a very lean meat so there shouldn’t be much fat and what little there is should be left for flavor (i.e. don’t trim it).  Season pork with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic powder.

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Place remaining onions on top of the pork and pour in the beef broth.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

When the pork is finished cooking it will literally fall apart with a fork.  Drain the broth and onions from the slow cooker, shred the pork with a fork, and add your favorite barbecue sauce.  Cover again on high for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce is warm.  There are many barbecue sauces to choose from at the market and of course, you can even make your own, but this blog is “No Big Deal,” so to that effect we’ll keep it simple.

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This Kraft original is quite good and kid friendly.  If you want a kick, add some cayenne pepper.

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King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls are the only way to go. Cut them in half and warm them.

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Assemble sandwiches and serve with your favorite summer sides.  NBD.

Pulled Pork Sliders:

1-2 packages pork tenderloin (for a family of 4, one package is plenty)

2 cans beef broth

1-2 onions

Salt and pepper

Onion salt

Garlic Powder

Sweet rolls

BBQ sauce

Pickles (optional)

Quarter onions and pull apart in pieces.  Cover bottom of the slow cooker with half of the onions.  Rinse pork and place on top of the onions.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic powder.  Cover with remaining onions and pour in beef broth.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  When finished, drain onions and beef broth.  Shred pork with a fork.  Pour in a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and cook on high until the sauce is warm (about 10 minutes).  Assemble into sliders.  Serve with a pickle and your favorite sides.

 

10-Minute Fig & Goat Cheese Crostini

Fig.  Figment.  Figure.  My sister and I had a lot of fun trying to come up with a title for this blog post.  Some of our finer creations included “A ‘Fig’ment of Your Imagination” or “Even an Idiot Can ‘Fig’ure This Out” and of course my personal favorite, “Gettin’ Figgy With It.”  But in the end, the truth prevailed, and nothing sounded quite as catchy as the name of recipe itself.

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There are two seasons for domestic fresh figs; the first or “breba” season is the first few weeks in June. The second or “new wood” season typically runs from August through October (thank you, Google).

Whenever I start to see figs appearing in the grocery store, I think of warm summer nights and impromptu gatherings. Friends or neighbors popping over for a drink while we effortlessly throw a piece of meat on the grill.  And while we don’t want to make it a big deal, we also know we want the evening to be perfect.  Trust me, this appetizer will set the tone for the entire night, and perhaps even the entire summer.

Stop at the store and pick up figs, goat cheese, a baguette, and a balsamic glaze (Trader Joe’s makes a great one that is excellent for $2.99).

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Preheat your oven to a broil.  We have 3 settings for our broiler and I usually do 2, or medium.  Wash and quarter the figs.

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Thinly slice the baguette.

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Cover each slice with a generous smear of goat cheese.

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Place on a baking sheet lined with foil.

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Cover with fig pieces.

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Drizzle with balsamic glaze and broil for about 3-4 minutes.  WATCH THEM VERY CLOSELY!!!  You do not want to get distracted and leave the kitchen or they will burn.

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Voila!  NBD.

 

The Energizer Bunny

This is the first Easter I can recall in my entire life where I have literally had nothing (huge emphasis here) to do.  The boys are traveling for spring break, our family is far away, and our friends are with their own young children.  I am typically Martha Stewart on crack…cleaning, cooking, assembling Easter baskets, ironing napkins, plucking flowers from the garden, and psychotically photographing every second (at the risk of absolutely missing the moment itself).  But this year…well, this year is different. And as one of my dear friends said, it’s 3/4 amazing and 1/4 terrifying.

Now, I don’t know if we’ve met, but let me state for the record, I am not good at doing nothing.  I twitch at the thought of stillness.  My husband has taken to calling me the Energizer Bunny, which I’m pretty sure is not a compliment.

And yet still the idea of doing nothing sounded good to me…problem being, I could not execute.  So instead I became executive director of a seemingly small home improvement project, thinking it would serve as my NBD blog post, but let’s be honest, it’s turned out to be a BFD-  big fucking deal.  More to come on that.  **STAY TUNED

So while my husband painted (that’s your hint), I whipped us up a quick little brunch.  And it was so beautiful and colorful and healthy and cheerful, I had to share.

Let’s start with our cocktail.  A Greyhound seriously might be the most refreshing drink ever, but you cannot use anything but fresh grapefruit juice.

Start by washing and halving your grapefruits.

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Then juice them (If you don’t have this Aroma juicer, you need to really step up your game).

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You’ll end up with something like this.

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Fill glasses with ice and cover with vodka and a splash or two of St. Germain.

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Fill with grapefruit juice and treat each sip as a blessing.

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Next up:  berries, cottage cheese, and nuts. In my opinion this is the only cottage cheese worth purchasing.

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Wash fresh berries.
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Place in a bowl with cottage cheese and sprinkle with whatever nuts you have on hand (almonds, pistachios, or pecans).

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Now we’re ready for avocado toast.

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Slice the bread and toast.

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Cook the eggs.

 

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Get out your flake salt, pepper flakes, and avocado.

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Spread avocado on the toast and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Cover with egg and voila….

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Happy Easter!

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NBD.

You Can’t Hurry Love…or Can You?

 

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What are you supposed to do when it’s the Thursday before the Friday of Valentine’s Day weekend and you realize you should really bring in something festive for your team at work (being that they are the loves of your life when you’re away from your family, not to mention that you spend 40+ hours a week with them and all).  Only hiccup is that you still have to get the kids off the bus, then there’s karate and beach volleyball practice, and lunches to be packed, and homework to oversee, and dinner to be made, and hair that hasn’t been washed since Monday, and nails that are chipping, and ideally you’d sneak a run in at the track (but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen).

And I’m sorry, but I can’t half ass things, so going to the grocery store and buying pre-made cupcakes or sugar cookies is not an option.  That to me is about as depressing to me as an unmade bed.

My solution was actually surprisingly simple and involved just a quick stop at Ralph’s on the way to dropping the boys off at their activities.

I grabbed regular and red velvet Oreos, festive sprinkles, white and milk chocolate morsels and I was on my way.

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I fashioned a double broiler out of a bowl and a pot of boiling water and poured in the white chocolate morsels.  Side note: you cannot melt chocolate on a direct flame or it will burn…been there and done that.

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I learned 2 bags of morsels later that white chocolate does not melt easily because it’s not really chocolate.  However, Google advised that pouring in a tablespoon or two of canola oil or vegetable oil when it’s starting to melt will keep the consistency creamy and smooth.  What did we do before Google?

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The milk chocolate melted much easier and didn’t require as much work as the white chocolate.

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Then I dipped the Oreos half way in the melted chocolates and laid them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, sprinkling them immediately.

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The color combos feel so festive, don’t they?

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Then I popped the trays in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes until the chocolate hardened and they were ready to be dispersed into treat sacks.

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I tied some red and white twine around them and called it a wrap.

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Only problem is we are still finding sprinkles stuck to our bare feet even after several runs of the vacuum, kind of like glitter from gift wrap that won’t go away.  But whatevs, I’m so laid back I hardly notice it.  🙂

NBD.

 

 

 

Gratitude: Baked at 350 & Wrapped in a Brown Paper Bag

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 “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.”

– William Arthur Ward 

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Like ever.  And since I’m seriously dead over this pumpkin bread and Thanksgiving is around the corner, I figured we all might as well bake a few loaves and use them as a means to give thanks.  We all know someone that we could do a better job of appreciating, whether it’s a co-worker, a gardner, a neighbor, or a teacher.  This bread is as simple as it is delicious. It’s an old southern recipe from a dear Savannah debutante, tried and true for generations.   Wrapped in a recycled brown paper bag and tied with twine, it’s a perfect no-fuss way to express gratitude.

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In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together 3 1/2 cups of flour, 3 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon allspice.

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In a large bowl, mix together 1 can pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix) 2/3 cup water, 4 eggs, and 1 cup of vegetable oil.

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Mix with a hand mixer until smooth.

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Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet (in batches).

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You will end up with a smooth batter that looks something like this:

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Pour evenly into 2 loaf pans and bake at 350 for an hour and 15 minutes.

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Pull from oven and let cool.  If possible, save for the next day so the spices can settle.

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Wrap bread in aluminum foil and get a brown paper bag from the recycling bin.  You’ll need tape and scissors too.

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Cut the bag and flatten it (writing facing up).

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Place the aluminum wrapped loaf in the center of the paper and wrap it as you would a gift.FullSizeRender (20)

Tie with twine and a few fallen leaves (I had to hike a few miles to find some, but even in sunny So Cal I pulled it off).

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If you’re feeling really grateful, include a bottle of wine or Prosecco.

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NBD.

Willing Fall During Indian Summer

I am SO. OVER. IT.

Seriously California, if I wanted humidity and heat I would have moved to Florida (and at least wouldn’t pay income tax, not to mention I’d be closer to my beloved family).  The fact that we are in the second half of October and I can’t even look at a pair of jeans without sweating actually makes me angry.  Don’t even get me started on the new sweaters and boots sitting in my closet, tags on, snuggled in their boxes, unworn and unnecessary.  I really can’t.  Instead I reach for one of the same three maxi dresses I’ve been wearing all summer; the only ones that don’t actually touch my skin.  No matter how many times I’ve cleaned them, they still have the faint lingering scent of sunscreen, which is really the anthesis of true fall fragrance.

Normally by this time of year my house is covered with gourds and pumpkins and accents of orange and brown.  This year it just feels wrong to put a pumpkin on a table, much less an outdoor stoop, where it will likely rot in the sun long before Halloween.

Last week, out of desperation (and perhaps hope), I bought a scented candle at Bath & Body Works, called Leaves. We’ve taken to lighting it every night when the sun goes down and my husband I both agree that it provides a comforting, albeit pathetic, mental shift that perhaps the seasons are changing after all.

But nothing really says fall like the smell of a pot roast slow-cooking all day. As my husband commented, “It’s like fall air freshener!”  It takes all of 5 minutes of work (and then 8 hours of cooking) and your house will smell amazing, whether it’s 90 degrees or 30 degrees. And arguably the best part is that you don’t have to make your house hotter by turning on an oven.

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You’ll need a 2 to 2.5 pound roast, some red potatoes,  carrots, an onion, thyme, bay leaves, beef broth, salt, pepper, and a little red wine (but only if you have a bottle opened, which we always do).

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Slice an onion into long pieces and divide in two parts.

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Peel the knotty parts off the potatoes and scrub them.

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Put half of onions, potatoes, and pre-peeled and cut baby carrots at the bottom of the slow cooker.   Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves.  This will create a “bed” for the meat to rest on.

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Rinse the roast and then lay the cut of meat on top of “bed” of veggies. Cover with the remaining onion, potato, and carrots.  Garnish with a few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and maybe some onion and/or garlic powder.

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Add 1-2 cans of beef broth (roast should be about 3/4 covered) and a 1/4 of red wine.

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Cover and simmer on high for about 8 hours, or until tender.

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The roast should easily fall apart with a fork.

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I served with roasted brussel sprouts, but a side isn’t even necessary.  And there you have it:  fall.  No big deal.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Kind of a true story:  My sister and her husband had my parents over for dinner the other night.  The next day I talked to my mom and she was literally raving about the chicken dish they served.  I know my mom would argue otherwise, but trust me, it’s kind of not that often (like, ever) that my mom compliments her children’s cooking, much less raves about it.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s glad we cook, she’s especially grateful when we cook for her, but at the end of the day she could always have done it better.  And we don’t disagree.

Obviously I needed this recipe immediately if not sooner.  I was actually kind of annoyed that this was the first I was hearing of it. Our family sibling code mandates that you share good recipes, especially ones that impress our Swedish, gourmet mother.  So I called my sister and asked what the eff was up with this chicken.

“Oh…that,” she said, “I can’t tell you.”  [Followed by maniacal laughter.]

Now that I’ve finally gotten it out of her (nothing wrong with blackmailing an older sister), I know why she was so reluctant to share.  She could have spent many more years blissfully serving this dish, purporting to have slaved away in the kitchen after working all day while my mom thinks to herself, “I don’t know how she does it????”   Well guess what, I do.

So, that’s not exactly how it went down, but it definitely makes for a better story and what do you care?  I’m sharing the damn recipe with you, aren’t I?

You’ll only need a few ingredients.  To be specific, four:  2 lbs chicken breasts, 1 packet taco seasoning, 1 packet ranch dressing, 1 can diced tomatoes.

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Who knew ranch dressing was still legal?

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Rinse chicken breasts and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.

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Cover with a packet of taco seasoning.

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Dump a can of diced tomatoes on top.

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Sprinkle the ranch. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours (if you want to expedite, cook on high for 5-6 hours).

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The chicken will be so tender and flavorful it will literally fall apart with a fork.

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Serve it with whatever you like.   We decided on tacos, but it would be excellent with rice and beans or on a salad.  I could literally eat it in a bowl by itself, like cereal.  It’s insanely flavorful and delicious.

NBD.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 packet taco seasoning

1 packet ranch dressing

1 can diced tomates

Put all in a slow cooker and simmer for 8-10 hours on low (5-6 on high).  Serve in tacos or with rice and beans or over a salad.

#loveyousister