Tuesday, June 28, 2011

bbq pulled pork pizza

When we lived in North Dakota, we visited a local, hole-in-the wall pizza chain called Rhombus Guys.  They specialized in lots of unique combinations for pizzas.  One of our favorites was the Pulled Pork Pizza, which has pork, jerk sauce, onions, pepperocinis, tomato, and red peppers.  My recipe below is in homage to Rhombus Guys and their mouth-watering combination.  Both the original and my version are crave-worthy and great for a summer dinner.

First, to get your pulled pork, you need a boneless pork shoulder.  I cooked mine in the crockpot for about 6 hours on low with nothing more than salt and pepper and a bottle of my favorite BBQ sauce.

We had pulled pork sandwiches for dinner (with homemade oven fries) and then I had leftovers to use for my pizza.

2 cups leftover pulled pork
1 red onion, sliced
1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, cut into long strips
2 TBS butter
1 c. extra barbecue sauce
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)

Pizza crust (My favorite recipe is for whole wheat pizza crust, found in Step-By-Step to Natural Food; Cancer Prevention through the Wholistic way of Eating, but you could also buy a prepared pizza crust or use your own favorite recipe.)

Heat the butter in a large skillet at medium-high heat till sizzling, then add onion.  Cook until onion begins to soften, then turn down heat to medium.  Cook for 20-30 minutes until onion gets very soft and begins to caramelize.  Add bell pepper to the pan to soften them and bring out their sweetness.  Cook about 10 minutes.  Keep an eye on your veggies to make sure they do not start to burn.

Meanwhile, bake your pizza crust.  Once your crust is baked and your veggies are cooked, spread your crust with half of your barbecue sauce.  Next, layer your veggies, followed by your pulled pork.  Drizzle the rest of your barbecue sauce over the pizza, and top with your cheese.  Bake for 5-10 minutes at 425 degrees, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Monday, June 27, 2011

multitudes on mondays

Today I am giving thanks for:

1. Friends who remind me that materialism will only lead to bondage--not joy...and that true freedom is found in being unfettered with possessions.

2. The dimply smiles of my daughter.

3. The forecast of sunny skies for the week.

4. Having a husband who continues to grow and to challenge me to grow in faith.

5. The freedom of time to serve others, read, write, and do the things I enjoy.  The freedom to spend more time with Burrito.

What are you thankful for today?  Join up, and give thanks in all things!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

how to avoid the 5 o'clock dinner panic

In talking to other moms lately, I've discovered that many of them suffer from the 5 o'clock dinner panic.  As in, "Yikes!  I've been busy all day and it's 5 o'clock and I have no idea what I'm making for dinner!"  I won't mislead you into thinking that I never suffer from this feeling (life happens, right?), but I've been able to limit it quite a bit by coming up with a system of meal-planning that works for me.  I'd like to share a few tips with you.  Without too much time and effort, you really can have a nice, healthy, affordable meal every night, instead just another plate of scrambled eggs.

Tips to help you avoid the 5 o'clock dinner panic:
1) Plan an entire week of meals in advance.  You can use the pad of paper method to do this, but ever since being inspired by The Mrs. over at her blog, I've found it more helpful to scratch out a rough draft on my note pad and then transfer the plan to my erasable board above the sink.  That way, rather than scrambling around the house to find the ever-elusive notepad, I can easily locate my list.  It is also helpful for Christopher.  With just a quick glance at the board, he can know what is for dinner (and theoretically, whether to rush home or make other plans!).

2) When planning your meals for the week, take into account which nights will be busier than others, which nights will involve eating somewhere else (such as church potlucks or dinners out), and so on.  Since my husband is a pastor, I try to touch base with him the day I'm working on the meal plan and find out if he has any evening meetings.  I often plan leftovers or simpler meals such as spaghetti for evenings he will be out, so that everything will be ready on time (I have a habit of taking far longer than expected to cook meat dishes so it's good to be able to control the time with simple meals).

3) It is very helpful to take a half hour or so and go through the grocery ads for your area for the week before making your meal plan.  Get to know what is a good price for each item and circle great sales in the ads.  Building your dinners around as many on sale or already stocked-up items will help tremendously in budget-consciousness.  Building dinners around what's on sale also helps give you variety to your meals, because obviously the same things will not be on sale every week. 

4) Stay stocked up on key grocery items that won't spoil and that you find yourself using in meal after meal.  We have a Costco membership and always stay stocked up items such as low sodium chicken broth, red and black beans, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta, pre-shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and so on.  It becomes much easier to build your meal plan when you have less items to purchase, and your staples already sit on your shelves.

5) Regularly take time to peruse your favorite cookbooks or cooking magazines.  Take note of key ingredients and file interesting recipes away so that when those ingredients go on sale, you can pick out the appropriate recipe.  For example, I subscribe to Cooking Light Magazine and draw many of my recipes from there.  I pay attention to the seasonal nature of many of the recipes.  Often a produce item will go on sale when it is in season.  I also subscribe to favorite food blogs like the Pioneer Woman Cooks and I find that the more I peruse these along with my favorite cookbooks, the more I begin to understand how food works.  I find myself remembering interesting recipes when grocery items go on sale.  And I find myself able to cook up recipes of my own far more easily because I have seen similar recipes side by side and understand how ingredients work together.

6) Plan for leftover food nights.  I have found that when I don't plan to use my leftovers, all too often they go to waste.  So if I'm going to make a big meal with leftovers like chicken pot pie or pot roast, I try to plan it to be made near a day when we can eat the leftovers.  Leftovers aren't very good if they are more than a couple of days old, and they need to be used promptly.  So if I'm going to be away from home a couple of evenings in a row, then I won't make my big meal the day before I'm to be away.  I'll wait until I plan to be home for several days in a row.

7) Use your meals that require lots of fresh produce items first, if you can.  Fresh produce items tend to spoil quickly so if I'm cooking with zucchini or cilantro or fresh tomatoes, I try to plan meals involving these ingredients for earlier in the week.  Otherwise, I find that my produce may go to waste.

8) Read through the recipe for the evening ahead of time.  Sometimes it will happen that you didn't realize the meat would take 2 hours to cook or that there was an extra prep step that you didn't know about.  If you have a clear idea of how long dinner will take to cook, you will be able to start in time to get it on the table by 6 PM (or whenever dinner is in your house).

9) Once your meal-plan is sketched out for the week, put in on your erasable board, make your grocery list and stock your kitchen.  You'll be patting yourself on the back when you realize it's 5 o'clock and dinner is not only planned; it's in the oven!

Questions?  Shoot them my way and I'll see if I can tackle them for you.

Note added July 24: After writing this post, I found a fantastic website with some great ideas for how to go about meal planning.  Check it out here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

free day at glacier national park!

This is a post where I gloat about the joy of living in close proximity to Glacier National Park.  See?

And this is a post where I brag about my great friends who are always DOING THINGS and inviting me to DO THINGS and including me even though I'm kind of a weakling and come in a two-pack with a toddler who tends to go at a molasses-like pace at times.

We have wonderful, outdoorsy people at our church.  Now, my usual experience of outdoorsy people is that they tend to make you feel bad about yourself (if you're bookish and sedentary like I am).  No, I've never hunted a deer or ridden a snow mobile or climbed a mountain.  When it comes to outdoorsy stuff, I'm limited by both my physical ability (I have a bum knee) and my lack of knowledge.  I have to be told things that are obvious to others.  In my experience, this has led to many folks just not taking me too seriously and going about their way.  It makes me feel excluded sometimes.  Left out.

But these Montana folks.  They really know how to welcome you into their world.  Or, at least my Montana folks do.  Whenever there's an outdoor experience, they put up with all my dumb questions .  They slow down if I need them to.  They explain things and don't assume I already know.  But they never make me feel like an idiot.  They make me feel invited in, included, and more knowledgeable after being with them than before.  I love my Montana people.

Today was "free day" at Glacier National Park.  It was an incredibly gorgeous day (after weeks of rain and grey skies).  We skipped rocks at Lake McDonald, walked down a trail to a waterfall.  We ate on a rocky beach by Lake McDonald Lodge.  All along the trail, I joked about being eaten by bears (an actual fear that had me worried all last night...I was convinced both I and my toddler would in fact be devoured by bears).  They put up with me. They laughed and smiled with me.  And because of that inclusion, Burrito and I were able to enjoy the wonders of God's creation, the breath-taking scenery.  The crash of the rapids and the waterfalls.  The warmth of the sun on our face.  The pleasure of good conversation on the trail.  Burrito was enamored with the picnic on the beach.  Eating sandwiches OUTSIDE?  AT A LAKE?  WITH FRIENDS?  Awesome! 

We love living in Montana, and it's not just because of the scenery.  It's because of the wonderful people we have met here and their welcoming hearts.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

i marvel at their strength

Remember that feeling of hopefulness, as you stand with your friends on graduation day, on the brink of the future?  Remember how you are challenged to change the world and how it seems as if there are no obstacles in your way?  Remember?

I am in my 30s now and it’s hard to believe.  As I think of my friends and the struggles and the battles they have gone through in life…not just friends I graduated from college or seminary with, but the friends I have picked up all along the way.  I think of the innocence of when we first met, and the secrets we shared.  I think of the trials that were to come, and how we probably would have trembled if we had known those things.

I’m in my 30s and already I have seen friends lose babies, go through terrible illnesses, struggle in marriage, face tragedy.  I’ve seen single friends still walking alone, though they long to find a spouse.  I’ve seen friends go through heartbreak and joblessness.  I’ve seen friends go through persecution for their faith, and I’ve gone through that too.  I’ve seen the Church break my friends’ hearts, and mine too.  I’ve known the loneliness of a rural parish, the sadness when people disappoint you, the exhaustion of being a new parent with no support system.  I’ve suffered the loss of my father, a loss so huge I am still struggling to come to terms with it.

We’ve suffered.  In ways we have not expected.  In a time that was sooner than we expected.  We’ve made plans, only to see their total reversal. We’ve wondered where God is, in the midst of our struggles.

Our innocence has been lost.  We no longer believe we live in a perfect world where bad things don’t happen.  We know they do.

But in the midst of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we’ve found a strength we didn’t know we had.  There is nothing like sitting and hearing someone’s story of profound suffering, complete with their honest human reactions in the midst of it…and yet seeing how the fire of this suffering is refining them, making them solid like iron.  We have been changed by our suffering. 

At times, we want to be called Mara, “bitterness.”  But instead, God is working to make us called Naomi, “my delight.”

We went out into the world full and came back empty…and then came back full again.

We found God working in surprising places…through the painful experiences of our lives.

We found the wonder of being alive, in the midst of a world where such suffering takes place.

We found the wonder of an inner strength, given by God.  I look at my friends and I marvel at them…even those who think they are nothing great, who struggle and worry about their sinful hearts.  I still marvel.  I see God’s grace in them as they put one foot in front of another.  As they fight for the good, even though the battle is long and hard and seems to yield few instant rewards.  I marvel at their faithfulness to God.  I marvel that they don’t curse God and die.  I marvel at what God is doing in them.  Slowly.  Imperceptively at first.  Like a seed germinating in the ground.  I wonder if they see God working in me like that too…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

turkey and sun-dried tomato lasagna

Here's a savory, garlicky delight, straight from my kitchen.

Half a pound of no-boil lasagna noodles

For the sauce:
20 ounces of lean ground turkey
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
4 TBS sundried tomatoes in olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

For the cheese layer:
1 15 oz. container of Ricotta cheese (preferably low fat)
2 cups of Italian blend shredded cheese (such as mozzarella and Parmesan)
2 eggs

For the topping:
1-2 cups of Italian blend shredded cheese
Begin by preparing sauce.  Cook ground turkey with the onion, garlic, and red pepper until meat is broken up and fully cooked, and the veggies are tender.  Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and spices.  Stir until simmering.  Meanwhile, stir ingredients for cheese layer together in a bowl.  Layer in a long lasagna pan, starting with sauce.  Then add noodles, cheese, sauce, noodles, cheese, sauce and finally cheese topping.  Bake covered at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes.  Remove aluminum foil and bake for 5-10 more minutes till cheese is well melted.  Allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.  Serve with steamed broccoli or a nice green salad with fresh vinaigrette.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

perfect for a hot summer day: shredded pork tacos

This meal will feed a crowd, so if you're having a neighborhood get-together, pull out the crock pot and this recipe and prepare to impress them with delicious tropical flavors.

I have made these shredded pork tacos several ways.  When I lived in North Dakota, I couldn't find the specialty ingredients that I needed, so I found a jarred chipotle simmering sauce to use instead and added extras like the honey, oregano and garlic to spice things up some more.  Here in Montana, I had trouble finding the ancho chiles, so I made the recipe without them once.  It was still really good.  The pasilla chiles and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce provide enough flavor even without the ancho chiles.  Later I found ancho chiles on the bulk spice rack at my local natural foods store, so I bought three, put them in the microwave with a little water at the bottom and cooked them till they were tender.  I was then able to open them up and remove the seeds.  They were delicious that way too.

The recipe on Food Network's website doesn't say what toppings to add to your tacos, but the original magazine that I found the recipe in did.  They suggest using: chunks of mango, chunks of avocado, lime wedges, cilantro, jicama, red cabbage, and queso fresco.  I suggest using the cheaper and still delicious feta cheese instead of queso fresco. 

Here's one more tip: Chipotles in adobo sauce come in a small can, but you'll have lots of leftovers since you only need a couple peppers for the recipe.  Try using sandwich bags to freeze the remaining peppers in small batches of two or three.  You'll save money next time you make the recipe and you can always throw them into other recipes too.  Less waste!

Monday, June 6, 2011

toddlers and introverts

My friend, Liz, just posted this about how being an introvert and having a toddler don't necessarily mix.  It's oh so true and reading her post was a light bulb moment for me.  So that's why I get so exhausted!

I absolutely adore my daughter.  She is the best thing to ever happen to me, other than Jesus and my husband.  There's not a day that goes by without her making me smile.  But sometimes it is so darn draining trying to figure out how to keep a toddler entertained.  And my toddler is decidedly not an introvert.  She loves people.  She adores people.  She can't wait to get together with other kids and play.  She loves grown-ups.  Even grown-ups who aren't kid people.  And that's great.  I admire that about her.  I see her in public with people and so ready to go up to other kids and say, "You wanna play with me?"  As a little girl, I don't think I ever would have done that.  I was too busy hiding behind Mom.  I admire how socially proficient she is.

But when it's just her and me and I'm having a low-energy day, it can be so draining to be asked the same question again and again. Sometimes I give up and plop her in front of the TV.  But I don't feel great about that.  It takes focus and concentration to keep up with a toddler who only stops talking to drink her milk and sleep.  So often, (if I had my druthers)  I'd enjoy just putting my feet up and reading a book while she plays on the floor.  I love to be near her.  I love the sparkle she brings to my life. I love the new things she says and does each day.  But sometimes I'd like to be together quietly.

How do I keep my toddler entertained on her level without losing my own mind?

Time to remind myself again that I will long for these days later.  And even if sometimes she drives me a little crazy, I love her so darn much.
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