The Ultimate BLT

Living out in the country, we have to get a little creative when we’re not in the mood to cook dinner. Nobody delivers takeout where we live and if we’re all home together, usually no one is itching to hop back in the car to drive somewhere for food.

Which is no big deal since I love to cook, but even I burn out on cleaning up a messy kitchen after so many meals in a row. We were thrilled when Cowiche Creek Brewery opened in our ‘neighborhood’ and their tasting room and wonderful outdoor space has become a regular spot for our family. Our kids can throw the frisbee in the grass and run around without being (too much) of a bother while the adults grab a picnic table and enjoy the stunning views as the sun sets over the rolling orchard hills.

We often pack an easy picnic to take with us. Sandwiches, chips, fruit and if we’re feeling really fancy maybe some hummus and carrots.

We get out of the house for a bit, connect with friends and eat an easy meal in the grass while the kids run around. Everyone wins.

I don’t know what it is but when the tomatoes finally start ripening in my garden at the end of the summer, all I want is a good BLT sandwich. This recipe is for the ultimate bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.

A quick bread is mixed together in five minutes flat with sharp cheddar, bacon and chives. The beer adds a slight tang to the bread and keeps it nice and soft. When the bread is ready, all you have to do is throw your sandwich together and you’re ready to head out for a picnic.

Avocado, vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp bacon and an easy lemon dill mayonnaise elevates this sandwich to a whole new level. A few chips and an ice-cold beer are all you need to complete your meal.

And of course, you don’t need the excuse of a picnic to make these yummy sandwiches. Make a batch of beer bread and suddenly you have a week’s worth of sandwiches for lunch. You won’t regret taking the extra step to throw the recipe together.

Sharp Cheddar, Bacon and Chive Beer Bread

• Nonstick cooking spray

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 3 tablespoons sugar

• 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1 ½ cups light or amber beer (Corona works really well)

• ¾ cup shar cheddar, shredded or cubed

• ¾ cup crumbled bacon (use pre-cooked or it’s the equivalent of about 5 pieces of cooked bacon)

• ¼ cup chives, minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in beer until a dough forms. Gently mix in cheddar, bacon and chives.

Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the dough comes out clean. The top should be golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Ultimate Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

• 12 pieces center-cut bacon

• 3 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

• Lettuce

• 2 ripe avocados, flesh removed and sliced thinly

• Lemon dill mayonnaise (recipe below)

• Loaf of cheddar, bacon and chive bread, sliced and toasted

• Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and line bacon evenly on the tray. Cook the bacon in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes until the bacon is cooked through and crispy. Remove from oven and place bacon on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess grease.

To assemble sandwiches, toast slices of bread. Spread lemon dill mayonnaise on one slice of bread. On the other slice of bread layer slices of avocado and tomato. Salt and pepper the tomatoes. Layer on lettuce and two slices of bacon. Top with the lemon dill mayonnaise bread and lightly press the sandwich together. Repeat as necessary. One loaf of bread should make between 6 and 8 sandwiches depending on how thinly the bread is sliced.

Lemon Dill Mayonnaise

• ½ cup mayonnaise

• 1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced

• 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Pinch of salt

In a small bowl gently combine mayonnaise, dill, parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt. Squeeze the lemon over the mayonnaise and stir until well-combined. Store extras in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-5 days.

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.

Grilled Pork Ribs

It’s official, summer is here and with it comes grilling season. Anything I can think of goes on the grill: salmon, vegetables, every cut of steak and chicken, sausages, hot dogs and, of course, hamburgers. I look forward to the long warm early-summer evenings all year long. I think the memory of them is what gets me through each winter.

We love to entertain in the summer, inviting friends and family to barbecue with us, sitting on the back patio watching as our kids play baseball or fly down the slip and slide. I like to keep the meals easy. I choose a cut of meat and prep it early in the day. I look for a vegetable in season that I can throw on the grill as well. Some of my favorite sides are asparagus, zucchini, onions and peppers or romaine for a grilled ceasar salad.

But I do have a tiny little confession to make: historically, I don’t handle the actual grilling of our food. I do the prep; the seasoning, the marinating, the chopping and then I hand the actual cooking off to my husband. He mans the grill and in a perfect world I lounge on the patio with a cold beverage while our meal cooks.

This has never actually happened before, but you never know, it could happen one day. These days my lounging looks more like dodging a stay nerf gun war as my boys run past me, or watching my daughter do a dance or gymnastics routine. ‘Mom, watch this, Mom! Watch this.’

But in the last year or so, I got it in my head I wanted to learn the art of grilling. I started with pizza and moved on to hot dogs and sausages before finally trying my hand at a few cuts of meat. Initially, it was a disaster. I torched a few dinners before I got the hang of it. But once I learned the secret of the grill: low and slow, there was no turning back.

Country style pork ribs are perfect for an easy dinner on the grill. The cut of meat is, confusingly, not from the ribs at all. These meaty, boneless strips are from the blade end of the loin, close to the shoulder. They can be slow-roasted until fork-tender or quickly grilled. A dry rub seals in flavor and ensures the meat is tender and flavorful. I am always drawn to a sweet and savory flavor profile and this dry rub is no exception. Brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion, garlic and a hint of cayenne combine to give these ribs big flavor. While the ribs grill on the barbecue, I like to baste them a few times with my favorite barbecue sauce. The result is a tender juicy cut of meat everyone goes crazy for. Some grilled corn slathered in a little butter and lots of salt and pepper and a big juicy watermelon are all you need for the perfect summer dinner with friends.

Grilled Pork Ribs

• 4 pounds country-style pork ribs

• 4 tablespoons brown sugar

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

• 1 tablespoon granulated garlic

• 1 tablespoon onion powder

• 1 tablespoon mustard powder

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 tablespoon dried parsley

• ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

• ½ cup prepared barbecue sauce

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the pork ribs evenly on the baking sheet and set aside. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, salt and pepper and all spices. Use a spoon to combine the ingredients.

Liberally cover the pork ribs in the spice rub making sure to massage the rub into both sides of the meat and on the sides. Let the meat marinate at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or cover with foil and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Discard any remaining dry rub.

When you’re ready to grill, pull the meat from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Set your grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees). Place the ribs on the grill and allow them to cook for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Turn the ribs halfway through the cooking time and baste both sides of the meat with barbecue sauce three to four times while they cook. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees, pull the ribs off the grill and cover with aluminum foil for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ribs serve 6 generous servings.

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

The irony of posting this recipe and these words is I need this reminder the most these days. A new Yakima Magazine is out on newsstands around town. The issue is all about home and this is my ode to life at home and around the table.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite cookbook Bread and Wine is: ‘life at the table is life at its best.’ When I think about my life, my friends and family, the community I’m part of; so much of it revolves around the table. It might be the kitchen table or an outdoor table on the back patio. It might be bar stools pulled up to the kitchen island and for many years it was a smattering of high chairs and booster seats, plastic dishware and what felt like an endless number of spills and cleanups. The table, the décor, the set-up and how clean the house is doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the sitting down together; the pause in busy and chaotic days, to recharge, connect, eat, and hopefully laugh a little.

I think it goes without saying I love to cook. I find immense pleasure in the rhythm of mixing and chopping. I love the creativity of it as well as the physicality of working with my hands. But when I get down to the heart of why I cook, it’s to bring people together. I love the sounds and smells, I love the chatter at the table and the inevitable silence when chewing starts. My tangible gift to the people at my table is the meal but my hope is that it feeds so much more than their bellies.

I’ve been gathering people to the table for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I insisted on baking cookies for friends. In college, I made pots of spaghetti for my roommates and made a Thanksgiving turkey for 20 friends in the very small cramped rental house I lived in. Any excuse to cook and eat with the people I love are my best moments, my favorite memories.

We can all relate to the busyness and chaos of daily life. Entertaining can feel stressful and overwhelming. Maybe cooking isn’t your thing. Maybe due to your family’s work and activity schedule, weeknight dinners seem impossible. And I’m here nodding in agreement to all of it. It is all those things.

But I think we should keep trying. And I think what helps is to have a few ‘go-to’ recipes in your back pocket. Pork Ragu is one of those timeless, eat any time of year, incredibly forgiving recipes you can go back to over and over again. I’ve adapted this recipe from a cookbook called Dinner: A Love Story and I don’t think there could be a more appropriate title or sentiment for what I’m trying to achieve. Pork is cooked in the oven (or crockpot) for hours in wine and herbs until it literally falls apart making a savory flavorful sauce. Ladled over pasta and topped with peppery arugula and a sprinkle of salty parmesan cheese, this dish is delicious enough for a fancy dinner party and easy enough to throw together on a Tuesday morning before work and eat quickly between soccer and piano practices.

 

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder OR pork butt (about 2 ½ to 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine, plus more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (this is completely optional, adds a smokiness to the dish)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound pasta
  • 6 ounces arugula
  • Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Add oil and butter to a large oven-safe pot and heat over medium heat until the butter melts. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper both sides. Add the roast to the pot, browning it on all sides, turning occasionally so the meat is seared evenly, 5-8 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot, stirring for a minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, hot sauce, thyme, oregano, fennel seeds and bay leaf and stir until the mixture begins to boil. Cover and put the pot in the oven. Every hour or so, remove the lid and turn the pork over in the liquids. No matter what size pork you use, make sure the liquid covers at least a third of the meat. Add more wine if needed.

The meat is done when it starts falling apart probably around 4 hours. If you pierce the meat with a fork and it starts to fall apart, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the pork to a cutting board and shred it with two forks. Stir the shredded meat back into the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when the noodles are still a little bit firm. The sauce will finish softening the pasta without the noodles becoming overcooked and too soft.

To serve, ladle pasta onto a plate. Top with pork ragu sauce. Place a small handful of arugula on each plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. The arugula will slightly wilt from the heat of the sauce adds a wonderful fresh flavor to the dish. Serves 8.

*To make this dish in a crockpot, sear the pork in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Once the meat is seared, add all ingredients and the pork to the crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred the meat and return to the crockpot. Turn the heat off. Serve immediately.

Roast Chicken with Mustardy Vegetables

As much as I love to cook, life sometimes gets in the way, and making time to cook a meal falls down the priority list. Maybe you can relate. But regardless of how busy life feels sometimes, I still want to sit down at the end of the day with the people I love and share a meal. Some nights it looks like frozen ravioli or fish tacos made from frozen fish sticks. Actually, a lot of nights look like that.

This week’s recipe is along those same lines; simple ingredients with just a few minutes of prep work. The whole meal cooks on one sheet pan. A whole roast chicken cooked on a bed of sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, onions and cauliflower comes together for a flavorful dinner you will want to make again and again. A perfectly browned bird with crispy skin on a big pile of potatoes, onions and cauliflower hits the spot.

Don’t be intimidated by a whole chicken. (Really truly, if I can do it, ANYBODY can do it). Learning to make a whole roast chicken is one of those ‘teach a man to fish skills.’ It can seem difficult or too complicated but once you know how to do it, you’ll be so glad to have a recipe like this up your sleeve.

Look for a four to five-pound roaster. The skin should be firm and unbroken with a white or light-yellow color. For best results, I recommend cooking this recipe in the oven. The skin on the chicken turns a beautiful brown color and the vegetables get crispy and toasty. However, if you’re short on time and happen to have an InstaantPot (pressure cooker), you can follow this recipe but throw the ingredients into it and set the timer for about 40 minutes. You’ll have tender juicy chicken and vegetables, they just won’t be as pretty if they cooked in the oven.

Roast Chicken with Mustardy Vegetables

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 large russet potatoes, diced into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, diced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 heaping tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the center position.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a large bowl. Set the lemon aside. Add the mustard, the leaves off 2 rosemary sprigs, olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk with a fork and then stir in chopped onion, potatoes and cauliflower. Set aside.

Unwrap chicken and make sure you pull the giblets out from inside the chicken cavity. Use a sharp knife to trim any excess fat around the cavity and pat dry with paper towels. Liberally salt and pepper the chicken both inside and out. Stuff the cavity with the squeezed lemon halves, a rosemary sprig, garlic cloves and bay leaf.

On a sheet pan, spread the vegetables evenly on the tray. Position the chicken in the middle of the tray, breast side up with the vegetables nestled all around the chicken. If you have kitchen twine, tie the legs together but if you don’t have any, skip this step. Melt butter in a small dish in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. Carefully pour the butter over the chicken, making sure the entire bird is well-coated.

Roast the chicken and vegetables until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 145 degrees and the juices run clear when you pierce the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove the tray from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before slicing into pieces and serving with the vegetables.

Easy Breakfast

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We inherited nine chickens a few weeks ago. The new ladies settled in quickly making peace with the five chickens already living on the McCoy ranch. I think the new girls inspired the old chickens to lay a few more eggs because we went from getting one maybe two eggs a day to 11 or 12 sometimes 13 eggs in a day.

Needless to say, we give eggs away, we eat a lot of scrambled eggs for breakfast and I am constantly looking for ways to use eggs. Can you put an egg on it? Doesn’t matter, we’re going to try!

After two weeks straight of scrambled or fried eggs on toast, I couldn’t eat them one more day. I needed a change. Like right that very moment. I’m always looking for ways to add vegetables into my diet and breakfast is one place I really struggle. I throw handfuls of spinach into smoothies but that’s about it. I wanted something quick and easy, healthyish and to use up some of the eggs collecting on my kitchen counter. For this recipe, I used a little breakfast sausage and a bunch of vegetables dug out from my refrigerator. I skipped the cheese but that would be a delicious addition to this recipe. I sprinkled mine with a little hot sauce and a slice of avocado. Crisis averted. Still eating those eggs but funny how a small change can make such a big difference.

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Egg Casserole Muffins

  • 12 eggs
  • 1/2 pound breakfast sausage (you could also do ham or bacon instead), crumbled and browned, drained well of grease
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin well with cooking spray or line with muffin papers. In a large sauté pan, cook breakfast sausage until cooked through. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Using the same pan, sauté the zucchini, onion and pepper over medium-low heat until the vegetables are golden brown. Stir in the spinach and cook for 2 more minutes or until the spinach wilts. Salt and pepper. Turn the heat off and stir the sausage back into the vegetables.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together until well-combined. Salt and pepper eggs. To prepare the ‘muffins’ scoop the vegetable mixture into each muffin tin so that it’s about 1/3 to 1/2 way filled. Pour the eggs over the vegetables until each muffin tin is filled to the top. If you want to, sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until the eggs are firm and slightly brown around the edges. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a sharp  knife around the edges of the muffins before flipping them out of the tin. Allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. To eat later, simply microwave the eggs for 30 seconds until they are warmed all the way through.

 

Grilled Honey Sriracha Drumsticks

IMG_7949I pulled a patio chair into the grass yesterday and sat with my face tipped to the sun. The wind was blowing and the animals were all complaining (loudly) because they saw me sitting there and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t feeding them. The kids ran around me playing, intermittently asking me questions and tattling on each other. But I just kept my eyes closed, feeling the heat on my shoulders, enjoying the breeze, happy to be outside.

It was ten minutes of bliss before real life took over again and I got up to water the chickens and break up an argument and find a snack for a hungry kid. Not that life isn’t blissful, it is sometimes, but it’s busy and demanding and the days go by so fast. I’m feeling that a lot lately. I look at Jackson in particular, in all his 8-year-old boy-ness, and time feels like it slips past faster and faster each day. I crammed Scarlet into the stroller on Monday to go for a walk. Her head touches the shade and her legs dangle past the foot rest but she was happy for a ride and I was happy to push the stroller again, something I used to do daily for so many years when my kids were little. As I huffed and puffed up the country roads I couldn’t deny my kids aren’t that little anymore. A weird, happy, bittersweet acknowledgement. Motherhood, it really is ALL the feelings.

These drumsticks were a bit of a happy accident and another step in my quest to learn to cook meat better. I’m finding that marinades are key as well as being open to trying different cuts of meat. I had never bought drumsticks before, but they were easy and quick to grill and so juicy and flavorful. I made sweet potato ‘fries’ to go with them (I skipped the thyme this time) and cut up a bunch of veggies and fruit for the kids. Such an easy tasty spring dinner and one I think we’ll make again and again.

Grilled Honey Sriracha Drumsticks

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 heaping tablespoons sriracha sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine OR apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 3ish pounds chicken drumsticks (12-15 drumsticks)

In a large bowl whisk together honey, sriracha, olive oil, garlic and vinegar. Add drumsticks to marinade, turning and mixing well until the chicken is well-coated. Salt and pepper drumsticks liberally. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours. 30 minutes before you plan to barbecue, pull chicken out and let sit on the counter.

Turn your barbecue on and allow to heat to about 400 degrees. Using a fork or tongs, place the drumsticks on the grill. The chicken should cook in about 5-10 minutes and you’ll need to turn the drumsticks several times to insure even cooking and to get grill marks on all sides of the meat.

*We made the mistake of putting the cover down on our grill and the chicken started to cook much too fast, burning the skin a bit. Aaron happened to notice right away and flipped the drumsticks. They still tasted really good but if you aren’t into a bit of char, don’t cover the chicken and walk away. They just cook too fast.