Monday, January 31, 2011

Breakfast for Dinner

We love breakfast for dinner around here.  Who has time for cooking breakfast in the morning, anyway? I sure don't.  And the best part about breakfast for dinner in our house?  John cooks it! 

No explanation needed here, I'm sure.  Bacon, eggs, toast with jelly, fruit.  Great for Sunday supper.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I'll preface this post by saying I'm not a big fan of pork roast.  Ham, yes.  Bacon, heck yes.  Pork tenderloin, sometimes. Ribs, occasionally.  But even so, I decided to try to make carnitas, based on a delicious meal I had at a NWA restaurant called Table Mesa.   I combined 5-6 different recipes to come up with this one.

And my recipe was just ok.  Everyone really liked it except me, however, like I said, I don't really care for pork roast.   But I will say that everything is better with cilantro, lime, and avocados, especially pork roast!

Slow Cooker Carnitas

2-3 lb pork shoulder roast
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
a pinch of red pepper flakes
a splash of orange juice
1 cup beef or chicken broth

Combine the vinegar and spices in a small bowl a rub over the pork roast.  Add a splash of orange juice, and about a cup of beef broth.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Shred the pork and return it to the crock pot to keep warm until ready to serve.   Serve with warm tortillas, avocado, cheese, limes, and cilantro.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Big Salad with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Pears

Do you make your own salad dressing?  You should.  Vinaigrettes are so easy and quick; you won't believe it, and once you try it you'll never buy bottled dressing again.  I'll tell you how I make homemade Ranch later this week.

Learn this technique and you can make it with any vinegar (or with lemon), oil, and, spices.  

Basic Vinaigrette Recipe (I learned how to do this from watching Barefoot Contessa.  And this is her recipe.  That Jeffrey is one lucky man.)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons champagne* vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
Salad greens for 6 to 8 people

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified. (You can also put all the ingredients in a small jar with a lid and shake it up.)

Place the salad greens in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.
The basic ratio for vinaigrette is one part vinegar to three or four parts oil.  I typically use much less oil, maybe one part vinegar to 2 parts oil, and sometimes equal amounts depending on the flavor of the vinegar and other spices I'm using.  And I like a little sweetness in my dressing, so I add a touch of honey or just regular sugar.  Just use whatever ratio tastes right to you and you'll have a perfect vinaigrette. 

We ate the Big Salad with basic vinaigrette, goat cheese, pears, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds.  I added cold leftover roast chicken as well.  The key to keeping the Big Salad healthy is to go easy on the dressing and cheese (and no croutons).

*Btw, you can't buy champagne vinegar at Wal Mart around here. I do have to go to the health food/gourmet store (Ozark Natural Foods) for it.  My friend has even brought it from Dallas for me while she was there visiting family.  It's my favorite vinegar and it's really that good.  I could always get in on the interwebz, too, I suppose.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lemon and Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

We had roast chicken again with potatoes, but I roasted 2 chickens at the same time for leftovers later in the week, thanks to a suggestion by my brilliant friend.  Why have I never thought of that??  Anyway, since my 3 children always fight over the legs, having 2 chickens worked out much better!

This Lemon and Garlic Roasted Cauliflower is one of my all time favorite foods. I used to look at cauliflower as something cheap to round out a veggie tray, but then I roasted it....

After washing and drying the cauliflower, cut it into small pieces.  You can spend time separating each floret to make it beautiful, or you can just chop it up into similar sized pieces (like I did).

Add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, squeeze half a lemon on top, drizzle with olive oil to coat, and toss it all together.

Cook at 450 for 20-25 minutes.  When it comes out of the oven, squeeze the other half of the lemon over the cauliflower.  See how it gets really brown and crispy on the edges?  So good.  If it were summer, I would have tossed in some chives at the end for a little color and flavor.  But it's the middle of winter; nothing outside is green and nothing on my plate is green, either.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Simple Salmon

Do you like salmon? You don't? Well, you should totally try this preparation. It's so simple that it's not even a recipe.  Don't be scared.

First, where do you buy salmon?  I've tried the only place in our town for fresh seafood (Richards, if you live in NWA), but I don't think the fresh (I use that term loosely) fish is as good as frozen from Sams Club (again, my favorite store).   I've also tried the frozen from Wal Mart and it's really not good at all.  Better than the "fresh", but not good.

Second, how do you thaw it?  The salmon fillets come in individual plastic packages.  Just put the salmon in the fridge overnight for perfectly thawed fish.  Or if you're like me and forget (every single time), put it in a bowl of running hot water for about a minute and then let it sit for 5 minutes and it will thaw.  Repeat the process if it's still frozen.  The package says you should thaw it in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes, but I seriously do not have time for that, but you probably do.  Just don't thaw it in the microwave.

Third, how do you cook it?  First, after you cut open the packets, dry the fillets with paper towels.  The salmon must be dry or you won't get a good crust.  Sprinkle both side generously with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat nonstick skillet on high until it's HOT.  Once it's hot, put about a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan.  Put the salmon in the pan and cook on high until about an inch is cooked (look at the side of the fillet, probably about 5 minutes depending on the heat of your stove).  Flip the salmon, turn the heat down to medium high and cook for 3-5 minutes.  You're going to have to experiment to decide how well done you like your salmon.  Take the salmon out of the pan and let it rest.  It will continue to cook at bit.

Turn the heat off, and add a tablespoon of butter (real butter, not margarine; I like to use salted butter even though Martha Stewart would gasp) to the pan.  Also, squeeze in half a lemon (not lemon out of the bottle, but from a real lemon).  Pour lemon butter over fillets.  It's not much butter, but it really is so good. 

John was not home for dinner this night, so I just squeezed the other half of that lemon over some salad greens with salt and pepper and called it dinner, because I was in a huge hurry to get my girls to their nightly activities.  I might have served quinoa or a vegetable along with the salad had he been home.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Week's Menu

It's already a crazy busy week and it's only Tuesday!

Monday- out to dinner with small group
Tuesday- Salmon with a side salad
Wednesday- Roast chicken with potatoes and broccoli
Thursday- Big Salad with leftover chicken (know that Seinfeld with the big salad? That's what I call a salad with any kind of meat on top).
Friday-crock pot pork tacos
Saturday-out to dinner or takeout
Sunday- leftovers

Monday, January 24, 2011

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Cold rainy day.  Hot grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Delicious.  Quick.  Everybody liked it.  Perfect for Sunday night.

I usually make grilled cheese sandwiches with cheddar, but I had some Monterey Jack leftover from earlier in the week, so I used that, too, and it was wonderful.   By the way, if you are making grilled cheese or pancakes for more than 2 people, you should invest in a double burner stove top griddle.  I can put 5 sandwiches on mine; it's such a time saver!
The Tomato Basil soup is from the refrigerated section at Sams Club (my favorite store).  And we had Fuji apples to round out the plate.

I planned for fajitas for Sunday, but I didn't have any leftover chicken or beef, so I had to improvise with what I had in the fridge.  There wasn't much in there but cheese, so it was a grilled cheese night!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Last night for dinner, we ate Chicken Enchiladas from Dinner Divas.  If you live in Northwest Arkansas, Elli is a great cook who uses real ingredients, has a commercial kitchen, AND she delivers.  It's a great alternative to take out. 

For a snack yesterday afternoon, my husband made his family's famous Roasted Almonds.  I have no idea why these were only a Christmas treat for him growing up, because they are just too good (and addictive) to have just once a year.  And the best part was that this snack was that he did it all!  Here's how he made them:
Boil raw (must be raw almonds; not blanched, salted, or smoked) almonds for about 30 seconds to blanch.  Drain and then wrap the almonds in a kitchen towel and rub them in the towel to loosen the skins. Pinch the almonds from the skins; the almonds should slip out easily.  The kids can do this part.  And if you can find blanched almonds in the grocery store you can skip that whole step. 

Transfer the almonds to a sheet pan and toss with oil or melted butter to coat and plenty of kosher salt.

Toast the almonds in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until browned. Don't walk out and overcook them, and stir them a few times while they are toasting.  Cool on paper towels and wait to eat them until they are crunchy (if you can). If you eat them while they are hot you will burn your tongue.  Not that I know anything about that...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shopping List

It's been a long 2 days off of school for the snow around here, so we decided to go out to dinner last night at a local restaurant called Burger Life.  Besides our fave Mexican place in town, Burger Life is where the kiddos always want to go.  There are two reasons:  sweet potato fries and bar height tables and chairs. 

Shopping List
As a rule, I go to the grocery store alone.  My shopping list is vague; I have to think about what I want to buy, look at labels, and compare prices and that's pretty difficult with children in tow (but you knew that already!).

I typically don't bother to write these weekly staples on my list.  Since I always shop at the same store, I kind of have a routine, and I just know that as a family of 5, we need these things every week.  So I only have to put the extra things we need for the week on my list.  That's just how I do it.  And I'm fast.  Going to Wal Mart is my least favorite chore, so I try to get it over with as fast as possible, and I try really hard to be organized so I don't forget anything and have to go back.  

I make the menu for the week, but I choose which meats and vegetables we'll have while I'm at the store based on what's in season and what is on sale.   Having these weekly staples allow me more flexibility to change what we're having when it comes to dinner.

Here's what I have to get every week
lemons and limes
potatoes or sweet potatoes
2 veggies
bag of salad greens
bag of spinach
plain Greek yogurt
yogurt for kids

Oh, and Diet Coke.  Can't forget the Diet Coke!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chicken and Corn Chowder (subtitled Not My Best Effort)

Chicken and Corn Chowder
Adapted from Southern Living

1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, undrained
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 (14 3/4-ounce) cans cream-style corn

Leftover roasted chicken
3 dashes hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Saute onion, garlic, and green chiles 10 minutes. Stir in everything else except cilantro and cook over low heat, stirring often, 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro. I use a lot because we like cilantro.

I decided to go for a run at 4:30 pm (and by "decided" I mean my husband got home early from work and I immediately darted out of the house for a little quiet after a snow day at home with the kids), which meant by the time I took way too long a shower and it was after 6:00 and the kids were starving.  So....they ate those frozen Kids Cuisine meals.  I only have them in the house as a dinner treat when we have a babysitter.   But I was desperate!   And they were happy.  Oh, and while the "dinners" were in the microwave, they ate 2 cookies each.  Yep, that's what happened.  Confession over.

So then I started in on our dinner.  Chicken and Corn Chowder: the creamy, delicious soup I know is so bad for me that I save for really cold days.   As I was opening the fat free half and half (the 1996 version of myself who loved those SnackWells cookies can't resist a fat free label), I noticed the second ingredient was corn syrup.   Huh?!  And then I looked at the label on the cream corn: sugar.  I totally thought cream corn was just corn.  I don't ever ever ever buy canned vegetables except for this recipe, but I thought canned vegetables were just vegetables.  Wrong again.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches

Leftover roast beef, sourdough bread, monterey jack cheese, melted in oven.  Dinner is served in about 5 minutes.

I served this with hummus and red peppers.

This picture is of my plate.  I typically eat more veggies than the rest of my family and I only eat half a sandwich.  The husband ate a whole one and the kids ate theirs disassembled.

Roasted Chicken, Brussels Sprouts, Quinoa Pilaf

Roasted Chicken Breasts
Buy the whole chicken breasts with skin and bones.  They are so much better when roasted.  But take off the skin before you eat it.  Unless you like clogged arteries and running 3 extra miles to burn it off....

Roast the chicken for about 45 minutes until the skin in browned and the chicken is firm to the touch.  Take it out of the oven, cover with foil, and let it rest while you finish the quinoa.

Brussels Sprouts
Cut brussels sprouts in half, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast with the chicken for about 30 minutes.  My kids love these.  If you think you don't like brussels sprouts, roast them.

Quinoa.  Sounds fancy or difficult.  It's not.  But it's super healthy and we like it.  Follow the directions on the box to cook it.  It takes about 12 minutes.  The kids were being so good this night that I had time to saute green onions (leftover from last week), a red pepper, garlic, and a few slivered almonds to add to the quinoa to make the pilaf recipe on the box.

Slow Cooker Roast Beef

With Roasted Potatoes and Spinach Salad

I like to use a chuck roast.  It's beef, it's not healthy anyway, so I just go for the fat because it tastes better (I also like to call slow cookers Crock Pots because it reminds me of the 70s). Pat roast dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and steak seasoning (if you want it, but just watch the salt).  Place in crock pot and add one box of beef broth and water as needed to cover.  Split one onion in half and throw in in there, too.  Don't chop it because you'll want to take it out later.  Cook on low for 7-10 hours.  When it's finished, use a sieve to strain the liquid well and shred the beef.  Sometimes I season the roast the night before and just add the liquid and start the crock pot in the morning.

To roast the potatoes, chop, toss with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees until they are brown.  About 20 minutes, depending on the size and type of potatoes.  Stir once.

The spinach "salad" is just baby spinach tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.  Salt and pepper.

The Rules

Could you even imagine that these children could make it difficult to cook dinner?  Not these cuties! Right....

Here are my Dinner Preparation Guidelines (aka The Rules):

1) Make nothing too complicated. I like to cook but I cannot read a recipe while helping with homework, moderating tattle-fests, wiping bottoms, answering a million questions, and playing dinosaurs (and um, facebooking).
2) Cook something everyone will eat or at least eat part of (no short order cooking for me!)
3) It must be something that can wait for the husband in the warming drawer if necessary
4) Dinner must be quick to the table (Again, it's hard to chop and saute with 5 kids running circles around you. The neighbors are here a lot.)

I typically don't plan our meals exactly because I don't like to be tied down to a meal if it doesn't sound good at 4:30. I have a weekly shopping list that is also pretty vague. My plan usually looks like this, but in any order:

Day 1: Meat, potato, vegetable
Day 2: sandwiches, salad, soup, or a variation thereof
Day 3: Vegetarian (beans, baked potatoes, eggs, grilled cheese)
Day 4: Fish, vegetable, grain, salad (This is a night the kids usually eat mac and cheese or chicken nuggets. Not even I would make a little kid eat fish.)
Day 5: Leftovers (but in a different form. I don't like leftovers for dinner)
Day 6: Quick pasta dish, crock pot meal, or freezer meal
Day 7: Eat out/order in

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

week 2 Menu

It's supposed to snow this week, so this entire menu will probably change to include a lot more junk food and cookies!

Sunday- out to dinner
Monday-crock pot roast beef, roasted potatoes, salad
Tuesday- baked chicken
Wednesday-Chicken and Corn Chowder (leftover chicken)
Thursday-open faced roast beef sandwiches (leftover roast)
Friday- freezer meal from Dinner Divas
Saturday-out to dinner
Sunday-beef and chicken fajitas (leftover roast and chicken)

What it's not

I read a lot of food blogs, and this is not like most those. What we eat isn't exotic, ultra healthy, vegan, gluten free, or themed. I'm not a chef and I've never cooked in a restaurant.  My only cooking experience before I was married was a batch of microwave chocolate chip cookies in the 8th grade.  

What I cook is just real family food, hence the title of Our Everyday Dinners. We live in Northwest Arkansas, the home of Wal Mart, and we don't have many grocery store options. Driving across town to the natural foods market just to spend more money on organic ingredients is not something I really have time to do (having 3 kids and all). So I make healthy choices from what I can find at Wal Mart, based on our likes and what our kids might eat. Oh, and by the way, on any given night, one child will hate the dinner. Just being real, here. 

Unless the food is dessert, and then my children clean their plates! Mommy's little piggy.  Name that movie.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baked Potatoes

with spinach salad with pomegranates and goat cheese
Bake potatoes directly on oven rack at 400 for an hour. Serve with a little butter, salt, low fat sour cream, and green onions.

For salad dressing combine equal parts champagne vinegar, olive oil and honey to taste. Add salt and pepper and shake in glass jar to combine. Toss with salad greens, and top with pomegranate seeds (I get them at Sams) and a little goat cheese.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Whole Roast Chicken

with potatoes and salad

Rub chicken with olive oil, salt, and dried herbs of choice (I used herbes de provence). Stuff with onion, garlic, and lemons. Don't forget to take out the gross parts they stuff in the, um, hole, before you start. Unless you like the necks and gizzards, of course. Bake on sheet pan at 400 for about an hour. Very important: let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before you cut into it.

Roast cut up yukon gold potatoes to roast on same the pan. Toss with a tiny bit olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spicy Sesame Noodles

with pork (leftover pork tenderloin)

Adapted From The Gourmet Cookbook
For peanut dressing

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

Combine dressing ingredients in blender or food processor. Toss dressing with cooked whole wheat pasta and serve with red or orange peppers, green onions, and limes. Top with leftover pork or chicken for added protein.

Monday, January 10, 2011

This is Us

About a year ago, out of desperation, I came up with some dinner strategies to help make my life less crazy from 4-6pm (some moms I know call that time "happy hour", but not me, of course). Then, I started blogging our menus for myself, and I noticed how much healthier we were eating because I was planning our dinners. And then, I realized my grocery bill was shrinking, too. That made us all happy!

I mentioned my menus and "rules" to a few friends, and several girls wanted me to write it down for them. So I'm going to post our weekly menus over the weekend, and then update our dinner each day of the week including brief recipes, and my not-very-good pictures. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to cook real food for your family (no frozen dinners or cream of anything soup!) and I'll be more creative in my meal planning.

Hope you enjoy the blog!

This is my family. Me, John, Alpha age 7, Beta age 5, and the baby age 3. And our attempts at a family picture always go like this...someone is making a silly face. This time it was Beta.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

week 1 Menu

Sunday- Slow cooker pinto bean soup
Monday- roasted pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, salad
Tuesday-Spicy Sesame Noodles with pork (leftover pork tenderloin
Wednesday-church small group dinner at restaurant
Thursday- roast chicken, potatoes, salad
Friday- Baked Potatoes with spinach salad with pomegranates and goat cheese
Saturday- pizza with friends