A Cozy Fall Dinner Party

So often food connects us to memories or people. We have a favorite dish our mother made for us as children or remember a special breakfast our grandparents made only when we visited them. We highlight memorable meals with friends and memorialize the trips we’ve taken based on what we ate.

We make a connection to the people we care about through food. It doesn’t matter one bit if you consider yourself a ‘foodie,’ or have no idea how to get around the in the kitchen.  What we find is that the food really didn’t matter all that much, ultimately it’s about the gathering.

My aunt, whose recipe for mashed potatoes is included in this menu,  understood the simple pleasures of a good meal, good friends, the decadence of a sweet-smelling candle and a good piece of chocolate. She never missed an opportunity to gather with her friends and family. She loved to cook and was a natural generous host. I think of her often when I’m in my own kitchen. Her food was thoughtful and inspiring while in the same breath completely approachable.

As the holiday season quickly approaches and so many of us steel ourselves for the onslaught of gatherings and events, here is an opportunity to make a meal for friends and family that feels like a warm hug on a cold blustery evening.

This isn’t a fancy menu; just good, simple food for a cozy evening. Grilled tri-tip steak is marinated in soy sauce, brown sugar, and garlic with a splash of sriracha resulting in tender flavorful meat. Mashed potatoes get a makeover with sour cream and cream cheese, then baked to give the potatoes a twice-baked texture. Your guests will be fighting over the last spoonful, I can guarantee it. And finally, a big spinach salad full of fruit, tangy goat cheese and delicious caramelized onions, not only surprise you but add big delicious flavor.

Dessert is decadent but so easy. Homemade mocha pudding literally comes together in 10 minutes but will wow your guests. It is rich and chocolaty with a hint of espresso. A dollop of whipped cream and a few berries softens the richness of the dessert and makes it so special.

Don’t worry too much about the perfect centerpiece or matching napkins. Just set the table, turn some music on and invite people over. Sit around the table long after the meal ends sharing stories and laughing until your sides hurt. The dishes can wait until morning, just enjoy being at the table, in the moment. 

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak

  • 2-3 pounds tri-tip
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil and sriracha. Whisk to combine. Liberally salt and pepper the tri-tip steaks on both sides of the meat. Submerge the meat in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate at least 3 hours, longer if possible.

Preheat outdoor grill to medium-high. Place tri-tip steak on the grill. Sear each side for 5 – 8 minutes per side.

Lower grill to medium-low heat and continue to grill for 6-10 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 130 degrees in the center of the steak. Tri-tip steaks can range in thickness. I suggest using a meat thermometer to check the temperature to ensure the meat does not overcook. The total cooking time will be about 20-25 minutes. 

Meredith’s Potatoes

  • 5 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups full-fat sour cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon green onions, thinly sliced
  • Dash of smoked paprika

Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Boil potatoes over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain water from potatoes and return them to the pot. Turn the heat back to medium and cook for one to two minutes until moisture evaporates. Turn heat off.

Using a hand mixer or a potato masher, begin to mash the potatoes. Mix in the sour cream and cream cheese and continue stirring and mixing until the potatoes are smooth and the ingredient are well-combined. Salt and pepper to the potatoes liberally. Taste to see if they need more salt.

Generously butter baking dish. Add potatoes to the buttered dish, smoothing the surface. Sprinkle with a dash of smoked paprika. Bake potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Garnish with slivered green onions. Serve immediately.

*Potatoes can be made ahead of time. Instead of baking, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Allow the potatoes to come to room temperature while oven preheats.

Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Dressing

  • 1 8 oz. container organic baby spinach
  • 1 honey crisp apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 6 oz. container fresh blackberries (or raspberries)
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Maple Balsamic Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Start by caramelizing the onion. In a medium saucepan, drizzle two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over thinly sliced onions. Give the onions a quick stir and sprinkle with kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Stir every couple minutes until the onions are richly brown and condensed down by about half, usually about 30 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and continue to stir the onions.

In a large bowl, layer the honey crisp apple, blackberries, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds over baby spinach. Top everything with the caramelized onions. Drizzle with maple balsamic dressing and mix to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately.

Herb Butter

  • ½ cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs such as Italian parsley, basil and rosemary
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Coarse sea salt

In a small bowl use a fork to mix softened butter with fresh herbs and lemon zest. Sprinkle with coarse salt. On a piece of parchment paper, place the butter in the center of the paper. Wrap the parchment around the butter forming a cylinder. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, unwrap butter from parchment and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Chocolate Mocha Pudding

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sweetened heavy whipping cream
  • Raspberries

In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, instant espresso and cornstarch. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and egg yolks. Turn the heat to medium and pour the milk mixture over the sugar mixture, stirring to combine. Whisk constantly until the mixture begins to boil and thicken, about five minutes. Allow the pudding to boil an additional minute before removing from the heat. Stir in vanilla.

To make whipped cream, whip one cup heavy whipping cream with a hand mixer. For additional flavor add one tablespoon powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. Store extras in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

*As soon as the pudding is finished thickening and the vanilla extract is stirred in, place a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap over the pudding. This prevents a skin from forming and keeps the pudding decadently smooth.

To serve, divide pudding into individual cups. Top with sweetened whipped cream and a few fresh raspberries.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Summertime in Yakima is easily my favorite time of year; between weekly trips to the Farmers Market to outdoor concerts at Gilbert Cellar’s Hackett Ranch, hiking in White Pass under crystal blue skies and the many impromptu dinners with friends; summer is all of my favorite things: food, friends, sunshine, and fun.

My husband built a huge farm table for our back-patio years ago. These days it’s getting little rickety but nothing makes me happier than to see family and friends gathered around it. Summer just makes it all a bit sweeter, the days stretching out long, making it possible to linger around the table.

Flank steak marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and fresh herbs grilled on the barbecue to medium rare and sliced over a bed of crunchy greens is probably my favorite go-to summer dinner party meal. It’s easy and fast and doesn’t break the budget. Marinate the steak for a few hours or up to a full day before grilling it for the most flavor.

Inspired by my favorite salad at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen restaurant, I played around with a chimichurri dressing. Full of fresh parsley and oregano with a hint of heat from a splash of hot sauce, it makes the perfect steak sauce or salad dressing.

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri

• 2-pound flank steak

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

• Juice of a lemon

• 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce

• 1 tablespoon kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

In a large baking dish combine all the ingredients except the flank steak, salt and pepper. Mix until combined and then place steak into mixture, turning several times to coat the entire piece of meat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper making sure both sides are covered. Cover dish in foil and set aside for several hours or even overnight. The longer the meat marinates, the better it will taste.

Heat the barbecue to medium heat and grill each side for about 8 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly to serve.

Chimichurri Dressing

• 1 large bunch flat leaf Italian parsley

• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

• 3 garlic cloves, peeled

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ¼ cup red wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon hot sauce

• Juice of one lemon

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the ingredients together until smooth. Taste and salt and pepper if necessary. To thin the sauce to make salad dressing, add additional olive oil.

To make the steak salad combine organic greens, cucumber, red bell pepper, mango slices, crumbled goat cheese and pickled onions.

For pickled onions slice a red onion thinly. In a bowl combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt with 1 cup water. Pour mixture over onions and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Top the salad with slices of flank steak and drizzle the entire dish in chimichurri sauce.

Hearty Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

I originally thought I would share a treat in honor of Valentine’s Day, but I figure between the candy bowl at work, the treats kids brought home from parties at school and the well-meaning boxes of chocolates that loved ones gifted us, we’re all a little sugared out.

And as much as it hasn’t really felt much like winter the last couple of weeks, it IS still winter. We came home from a gorgeous blue-bird (although a little icy) day on White Pass over the weekend with cold toes, soaking wet ski gear and absolutely ravenous appetites.

We needed one of those winter-staple meals to warm up, comfort our tired bones and take the edge off our hunger-fueled grumpiness. What hit the spot was a big pot of chili with all the fixings. And this chili evolves a little every time I make it.

That’s the beauty of chili — it’s incredibly forgiving. You can change it, swap in and out ingredients, and it remains delicious.

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. It’s mostly cans of beans and tomatoes, some spices you likely have in your cupboard (and if you don’t have one or two, no problem), and a little chopping. It all goes in the pot to simmer for an hour or so, making your house smell amazing.

The result is a big pot of hearty soup that feeds a crowd. It’s slightly smoky from the cumin seeds and full of big, savory flavors. The green chilis and cayenne add a hint of heat to the soup without it being too spicy.

We load our bowls up and go crazy with the toppings. I usually chop cilantro, slice some avocado and put out a bowl of tortilla chips and shredded cheese. I always top mine with a few pickled jalapeños, but I never shy away from a little heat.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red OR orange bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large sweet potato, cubed into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 4.5-ounce can green chilis
  • 2 14-ounce can organic black beans
  • 2 14-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 cups jarred salsa
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 pound grass-fed ground beef (cooked shredded roast beef or cubed stew meat work well, too)
  • 1 32-ounce box chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Start by browning your hamburger in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan.

Break the meat up with a wooden spoon, stirring occasionally until it’s cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes. If you prefer ground turkey, or happen to have some leftover roast beef from earlier in the week, use that instead.

You can always skip the meat completely and make this a vegetarian chili.

When the meat is finished cooking, drain on a paper towel-lined dinner plate and set to the side.

In a large pot, cook the onion, bell pepper and sweet potato in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Salt and pepper the vegetables liberally. Add the green chilis, black beans, tomatoes, salsa, brown rice and chicken stock to the pot. Stir to combine. Carefully add the meat to the pot and stir in all seasonings.

Turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Allow to cook at a slow boil for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the rice is fully cooked and the sweet potatoes break apart easily, the chili is ready.

Use a wooden spoon or a potato masher to break the larger pieces of sweet potato apart as well as shred the meat. If the soup starts to get too thick, add more chicken stock (or water) a cup at a time until you get to your desired consistency.

Taste the soup and make sure it tastes right for you. Salt and pepper again if needed. Before serving, remove bay leaf.

Ladle chili into bowls. Top with chopped cilantro, avocado, corn chips and a big dollop of sour cream.

Enjoy!

Becoming a Farm Girl

img_6717A year ago this month, we moved into our house. We built on three acres nestled into a rolling hill bordering an apple and pear orchard. I can be at the grocery store, Starbucks or the library in less than 10 minutes but we definitely feel like we live out in the country.

Aaron’s family has property where they raise cows for beef and my husband has been enamored with farm and ranch life for as long as he can remember. When it became clear a few years ago that we would not be moving back to the hometown where we grew up, we started looking in earnest for a piece of property.

Fast forward to today and we have 6 chickens, 4 sheep and 3 cows (who will have babies in the spring). Marriage is a funny thing isn’t it? Two people with separate dreams and aspirations spending a lifetime figuring out a shared vision. My immersion into farm life has been in fits and starts…two steps forward one step back.

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But every day that shared vision becomes a little clearer, has a sharper edge; the reality doesn’t seem so overwhelming. As I write this I can see all those animals out my window, and I realize more and more how glad I am to have them. The kids are learning so much and as much as I’m not much of an animal person, I care very much about where our food comes from, it’s probably what I love most about my town, I can literally see my food growing everywhere I go.

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And because we’re talking about beef, how about a recipe for pot roast?  A recipe for braised short ribs in my favorite cookbook, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes, became the inspiration for this delicious and easy dinner. It takes 15 minutes to prep and a couple hours to cook and the leftovers are maybe even better the next day.

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Pot Roast with Tomatoes, Wine and Herbs de Provence

  • 4-5 pound bone-in chuck roast
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 14ounce can organic tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1-2 cups beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons herbs de Provence (Italian seasoning works just fine)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large dutch oven or oven-safe pot heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Liberally salt and pepper chuck roast on all sides. Sear the chuck roast on both sides, cooking for about 2-3 minutes each side. Remove meat from the pot and set aside. Saute the onion, carrots and celery in the pot, scraping up the little brown bits. Salt and pepper the veggies, cooking for 5-8 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and bay leaf. Add chuck roast back into the pot. Turn heat off. Add wine, beef stock and herbs de provence to the meat. The liquid should cover the veggies and about half the meat. Cover the pot with the lid and put in the oven. Cook for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and pulling away from the bone. Pull the meat off the bone, serve with the veggies it cooked with and if you’re feeling really generous make some mashed potatoes. Watch your family devour their plates and ask for more.