Do you know about sriracha sauce?

It's my new favorite.  There's some interpersonal debate on pronunciation (sree-rah-cha or suh-rah-chee?) but it doesn't matter.

I have been adding it to things that I typically add mayonnaise to - potato salad, cole slaw, and chicken salad - with remarkable effects.

It's just the tiniest bit spicy, but the zing doesn't present itself at the beginning of the bite.  It's more of a post-taste.  I've been experimenting with about 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff to 1/2-3/4 cup of mayonnaise.
Sriracha slaw

Do you use the stuff?  What do you use it on or in?


t-shirt toddler dress redo

My friend The Rambling Strawberry and I have been doing a lot of sewing together recently.  This past week she brought me a stack of toddler tshirts that her daughter had outgrown, with this one on the top of the pile:

Maybe there was a stain or something.  Anyways, a number of inches had been cut off the bottom of the shirt, but it was still in really awesome condition.  She suggested that I try to make the shirt into a dress.  She is so clever.

So we looked around in the fabric cabinet and came up with a few coordinating fabrics:

I cut them about 4 1/2" wide.  The top (floral) fabric is 35" long; the middle (green) is 40" long, and the bottom (two-tone pattern) is 45" wide.

I basted a 1/4" seam across the top of each of the fabrics then gently gathered the fabric.

Then I sewed one gathered edge to the un-gathered edge of the fabric above it.  In this case, I sewed the gathered top of the two-tone fabric to the flat edge at the bottom of the green solid fabric.


I repeated the step with the top gathered edge of the green fabric and the un-gathered bottom edge of the floral fabric.

I bet you can see where I'm going with this.  Or, maybe you can't see where I'm going with this, because the picture quality is so poor.  I apologize.  It was nighttime, and I only have one lamp in my sewing space.  And this is not a blog about photography.


Fact: I did not get a picture of the final step.  But what I did is I brought the two ends of the ruffled skirt together and sewed them to form a skirt tube.  Then I pinned them to the shirt and sewed that together.  Finally, I zig-zagged the bottom edge to keep it from fraying, then sewed it around again with a folded up edge.

I couldn't wait to see what myfavorite two-year-old model thought of it:

So, there it is - a toddler tshirt to toddler dress updo/redo!  Thanks Rambling Strawberry for the inspiration!


The Go-To Grill Marinade And Method

A third installment in the "Menus for When People Come to Visit" series - we typically grill out when visitors come to stay, and this is our current favorite!

1 2-pound boneless pork loin, cut into 8 1-inch steaks
olive oil
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Lay pork steaks in a large glass dish in a single layer.  Drizzle olive oil lightly on each pork steak and turn to coat, drizzling more oil if necessary to coat all sides.  Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over steaks and press in.  Turn steaks and repeat.  Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 medium or 2 small tomatoes, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard (dijon or yellow also works)
4-6 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Puree garlic, tomatoes, mustard, and olive oil with a stick blender (immersion blender) or in a small blender or food processor until thoroughly combined.  Add a little more oil to reach the consistency of mustard if needed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I am no grill expert, but thankfully you probably already know how to grill (the Mister takes care of all things grill-related here.  I'm not sure I even know how to turn it on).  Grill the meat over medium-high heat until done (use a meat thermometer to test doneness).  Then, use a brush to coat marinade on both sides of the pork steaks.  Serve immediately.

Here's something we've learned about grilling and marinades: if your marinade has any kind of sugar in it - including the fruit sugar in tomatoes - it will burn and turn into crispy chunks if you put it on the meat too early.  So we - I mean, the Mister - has started rubbing the meat with just oil, salt, and pepper for grilling.  THEN he applies the marinade just before taking the meat off the grill.  It's our current favorite meat dressing.  We also like to do chicken thighs and legs this way.

The bonus is that the marinade can also double as a salad dressing (since no raw meat juices touched the marinade).  One recipe, two uses ... perfect to maximize time with houseguests!


Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches

This is the second installment of the "Menus for When People Come To Visit" series. 
Serves 10-12

For the Pork:
6 Tbsp. paprika
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 10- to 12-lb boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt, rinsed and dried
8 to 12 soft hamburger buns

Mix the paprika, sugar, and onion powder in a bowl.  Transfer 3 tablespoons seasoning to another bowl, add 2 tablespoons salt and 3 tablespoons pepper, and sprinkle onto the pork.  Place the pork in the crock pot and cook on high for 8 hours.  When pork is ready it should pull apart easily.  Shred and then cover with remaining dry rub.

For the Barbecue Sauce:
2 c. ketchup
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

Combine sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

To serve, pour sauce over shredded pork and stir to coat.  Serve pork on hamburger buns with cole slaw if desired.

I'm pretty sure I've shared this recipe before, but since it's another go-to for company I am posting it again.  Barbecue is one of those things that is so intensely delicious, that I wonder why I don't eat it every day.

I somewhat stated my criteria for great company food in my last post, but let me re-hash it here ... this recipe makes the cut for three reasons:

(1) It's easy.  Rub stuff on pork, put in crock pot, make sauce (or buy bbq sauce), and serve on buns.  Done.  Make slaw if you're feeling fancy; serve chips if you're not.
(2) It's do-ahead.  Literally ... everything can be done before anyone walks through your door.
and (3) it makes a ton.  You might be thinking, "We don't need 12 pounds of barbecue sitting around our house.  I'll get an 8-pound shoulder."  STOP.  DO NOT THINK THAT.  Get the biggest piece of meat you can find, and cook all of it.  You can eat leftovers on sandwiches (if there are buns), in tortillas as barbecue tacos, or on pizza (it pairs nicely with carmelized onions and bleu cheese).  Or, fry it up with eggs and hash browns for breakfast.  Your guests will appreciate it.

If you haven't had the chance yet, check out the first set of recipes in the "Menus for When People Come To Visit" series: Pollo con Chile RojoPoblano Pinto Beans, and Mexican Red Rice.


Mexican Red Rice

Yield: 3 cups (6-8 side dish servings)
I serve this dish with Poblano Pinto Beans and Pollo Con Chile Rojo, and offer all sorts of taco toppings ranging from guacamole and salsa to pickled jalapenos and spicy slaw.

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground ancho chile pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. long grain rice, uncooked
1 (14 ounce) can reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
3/4 c. salsa
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. finely snipped fresh cilantro

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, ground ancho chile pepper, and salt; cook for 2 minutes.  Stir in uncooked rice; cook and stir for 1 minute.  Add broth, salsa, and the water.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until rice is tender.

Remove pan from heat.  Remove lid.  Cover pan with a clean kitchen towel; replace lid.  Let stand for 5 minutes to let the towel absorb any excess moisture.  Remove lid and towel.  Add cilantro; fluff rice with a fork.


Poblano Pinto Beans

Yield: 4 cups (8 side-dish servings)

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
2 fresh poblano chile peppers OR 1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 c. reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 c. cooked pinto beans)
3 Tbsp. lime juice

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and chile peppers; cook and stir for 1 minute.  Add broth, salt, and oregano.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Stir in beans; cover and cook 15 minutes more.  Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

These beans, along with Pollo Con Chile Rojo and Mexican Red Rice, are the current Go-To Trifecta Of Rhymes With Smile's Homemade Mexican Food.  I literally can't get enough of them.  Sometimes I make more than I know we'll need, just so I can eat leftovers for days.

I've substituted black beans for pintos - I like the taste (remember, we eat a lot of beans around here), but I think I still prefer the pinto beans.


Pollo con Chile Rojo (Chicken with Red Chile Sauce)

This is the first installment of my "Menus for when People Come to Visit" series.  Stay tuned for more in the series!

Yield: 3 1/2 cups (about 6 servings)

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 c. reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts or thighs, trimmed of fat, patted dry, and cut in half

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large ovenproof skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic; cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in ancho chili powder, paprika, and cumin; cook and stir for 1 minute more (if necessary, reduce heat to prevent spices from burning).

Add tomato sauce, broth, and oregano to skillet; bring mixture to boiling.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of chicken; nestle chicken in the tomato mixture.  Cover skillet with lid; place skillet in the oven.

Bake chicken for 30-40 minutes or until tender, turning chicken pieces once halfway through baking time (alternatively, if you don't have an ovenproof skillet, you can reduce the heat on the stovetop until the mixture is just simmering, cover your pot, and cook for about 30 minutes).  Remove chicken from tomato mixture; set aside to cool slightly.

Place skillet with tomato mixture on range top over medium heat.  Simmer tomato mixture, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally (mixture may splatter as it thickens; reduce heat as necessary).  Remove pan from heat.

Cut chicken into bite-sized strips or shred it.  Return chicken to tomato mixture, stirring to coat.

Do you have a standby dinner plan for when folks come to visit?  Something that you pretty much know by heart, always have the ingredients for, and can easily double for LOTS of people at your house?  This is it for me.  We love Mexican-inspired cuisine, and with all the recent opportunities we've enjoyed to have family and friends in town, I've made up a batch of this chicken in sauce a number of times.

So yes, I am admitting that I pretty much always fix the same thing when preparing dinner for friends and family.  Now you know my secret.  But please don't tell everyone.

I serve it with Mexican Red Rice and Poblano Pinto Beans (recipes coming).  Then I also have corn or flour tortillas (these homemade tortillas if I have time, though more likely storebought), sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, chopped onion, cilantro, and sometimes chips for a build-your-own soft taco dinner.  If I'm feeling really adventurous (or if I know my guests will be up for it), I also prepare these Spicy Sweet Potatoes.

Let me tell you why this is a go-to for company:
1. there is a lot of convenient ingredient overlap in the recipes - chicken broth, onions, garlic, spices - and the other condiments require no preparation.  Sometimes, I even serve the sour cream right out of the plastic tub - another secret that I'd prefer you not broadcast.
2. all three dishes can be made ahead of time and kept warm in a crock pot or oven (so that I don't have to keep my eye on the stove while helping my visitors settle in.  In other words, I won't be quite as likely to burn dinner)
3. they are just really delicious, and leftovers are great
4. who doesn't like Mexican food?
5. it is an extremely versatile menu when I find myself cooking for those with food sensitivities.  Dinner can be dairy-free, gluten-free, low-carb, or vegetarian, depending on what combinations of foods my guests put on their plate.  And I only had to cook once to achieve all of that!

With family in town last week, we soaked up special time together and spent our mealtimes discussing what we'd be eating at the next meal, and if we should do anything productive in between!  Ha - just kidding.  We did squeeze in some great sightseeing, a drive-by of a beautiful rose garden after a rain, lunch downtown, a picnic in the park followed by swinging, walks around the neighborhood, grilled burgers and homemade ice cream, and a round of putt-putt.  Not bad for two days of visits!


Found at a yard sale

A million thanks goes out to my thoughtful mother who found this beauty for $12 secondhand...

My very own enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven!!!!!!!!!


Favorites, FAVORIT

Every once in a while, I just need to talk about my girls.  I mean, look at these sweet things!  I can't get over how fast they are both changing before our eyes.  

2 1/2 years old & 7 months old
My favorite things these days are watching Little Girl reach for toys and put them in her mouth (she is so visibly proud of herself), and having real conversations with Big Girl.  She's like a real kid!  This is pretty cool.

She's doing a great job of ...
sitting up
reaching for toys
putting everything in her mouth
And Little Lady over here is eating some solid foods, jumping in her Jenny Jump-up, and pre-crawling.

This is pre-crawling: she goes BACKWARD instead of forward
... ending up under the arm chair
We've had a busy week or so: Fourth of July, a visit to the Mystic Aquarium with some friends, and a few other engagements.  The girls have really been troopers, but I think it's catching up with us: this one asked for a nap!  What a strange scenario: my 2 1/2 year old comes up to me and begs for rest time.  How odd.

In other news, I finally took the plunge and retired the old nonstick cookware in favor of some stainless steel pots!  I've been wanting to do this for years.  The nonstick had served us well, but was pretty beat up.  So it was time!  Plus, I'd been saving up (by having yard sales and craigslisting and ebaying) so I needed to put that money to its proper use.

I bought the Ikea FAVORIT 5 quart, 2 quart, and 1 quart pots.  So far I love them!  They are very sturdy but did not have the price tag that most other stainless steel pots have.  I only got these three (and not the frying and saute pans) because when I need pans like that I use cast iron.

It's taking a bit of adjustment to cook without nonstick, especially for rice, but I'm working on tweaking my methods.  Feel free to pass along your suggestions for making the switch from nonstick!


Mediterranean Farro Salad

Serves 6; recipe is adapted from the back of the package of Bob's Red Mill Farro

2 c. cooked and cooled farro (can substitute other grains such as barley, orzo pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc)
Farro salad
1 c. cubed eggplant, fresh or fried*
1/2 c. diced red onion
1 c. halved grape tomatoes
1 c. diced red bell pepper
1 1/2 c. diced cucumber
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh mint
1/4 c. chopped fresh dill

In a large bowl, toss farro with vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*to make fried eggplant cubes: cut eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes.  Spread on paper towels and lightly salt.  Let sit for 15 minutes to extract excess water.  Blot cubes dry.  Heat 1/2 inch of oil over medium high heat in a heavy skillet.  Fry eggplant in batches, stirring often to brown all sides.  When dark brown, remove from oil and drain on paper towels.  Season with salt.

It's yummy, hearty, cold, summery, and fresh!  Just what I'd been hoping for.  I've been on the lookout for something along the lines of a marinated grain salad, and this dish fit the bill.

And since I took it to a 4th of July potluck, I split the ingredients and mixed half of them (pictured above) while the other half I arranged in a casserole dish, like so:

Cheesy, I know.  You all probably could guess that I'm not the overwhelmingly patriotic type, but I do like a good salad.  And I'm working on my food presentation.  And something about having kids makes me feel like I should really "do" holidays.

And for my next trick, I will show you how you can take a normal breakfast and make it patriotic:



Plant Fail

I decided to skip all the hype about fresh herbs and go straight for the dried stuff.
So here it is: my very own dried rosemary plant!

Plant fail.  Le sigh.


Not Cookies

Not Cookies
Makes 18-24 cookies

2-3 mashed bananas
1/3 c. applesauce
2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. raisins
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tsp. cinnamon, to taste

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed (I used a stand mixer, but mixing by hand would be fine too).  Shape into ping-pong ball sized balls and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.  Store in the refrigerator once cooled.

A dear friend passed this recipe along to me, and I gave it a shot - after all, most of these ingredients are usually hanging out in my kitchen anyway.  Best case scenario happened - they turned out great, we ate them for as a special treat after dinner, and the leftovers have been shared with neighbors and consumed for snacks.  You know what else is great?  I get to see this friend soon!  It's been over a year, so I'm pretty pumped.

Have you ever tried baked oatmeal?  These are like baked oatmeal, only in hold-in-your-hand form.  I believe that they could easily be turned into gluten-free cookies if you were to use oats from a gluten-free mill.  I think they could also be dairy-free (and vegan) cookies by substituting something (avocado?  coconut oil?  peanut butter? plus some water) for the milk.  I say all this, but what do I really know about altering recipes for specific diets.  You tell me how to make them dairy-free if you try it, and I'll post an update giving you kudos!

Viva la not cookie!


Aunt E's Quilt

I know what you're thinking: a post about a quilt, in the middle of the summer?  It's too hot for that.

I agree.  But it's about time.  So, yes.

I worked on this project for over a year.  (When I say it really small like that, it's not so embarrassing that it took me that long.  Pretend that I whispered it under my breath while sheepishly glancing sideways.)

My aunt in Texas commissioned it, asking that I make something that she could have in her workspace for her clients (she is a massage therapist and supportive coach).  It is a wonky log cabin quilt in earth tones. Most of the fabric is from the Deer Valley by Joel Dewberry line which I supplemented with coordinating solids.

Here it is, finally finished!

front of quilt: Wonky Log Cabin
back of quilt: pieced backing
I love seeing quilts in their new home once I send them off, so I asked my aunt if she'd send me a picture once she had received it.

This is the quilt that I mentioned in my pre-baby to-do list last October.

Wow ... projects take waaaaay longer with babies around!