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One of my favorite things about cooking is having leftovers.  I used to loathe them, actually, but I think that had more to do with the ingredients I was using (lots of pasta/cans/boxes/etc.) than the fact that there was food leftover.  Nowadays, I find that using fresh vegetables, fresh meats, and good spices makes not only the meal delicious, but the leftovers as well!  There may only be two humans in my house (the 4 dogs and 7 chickens eat a surprising amount of food), but I generally cook meals big enough for at least 4-6 people.  That way I only heat up the house once, but make enough food for at least a couple of meals for each of us.

One recipe that I really stock up on when I make it is meatballs.  And what good are meatballs without marinara sauce?  So, I’ll give you both recipes here:

Meatballs

4 pounds grass-finished ground beef
4 pounds italian sausage (spicy or mild, whichever you prefer)
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons fennel seed
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
**The meatballs will let off liquid, so be sure to use a baking sheet with a rim (also known as a jelly roll pan, but who makes jelly rolls anymore?), or a deeper pan of a similar size (like a 9×13 glass baking dish). I can fit everything on two baking sheets, but two 9×13 pans should also work.

1. Measure out all of your spices, get your baking sheets out, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees first, so that you won’t have to wash your hands multiple times while cooking.
2. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
3. In a very large bowl, put ALL ingredients together and mix with your hands just until the eggs and spices are evenly distributed.
4. Roll meatballs approximately 1.5″ in diameter, and place them fairly close together directly onto your baking sheet (no grease required, the meatballs won’t stick I promise). This should yield between 70 and 80 meatballs.
5. Bake at 350 degrees farenheit for 40 minutes.
6. Let the meatballs cool, and store them in airtight containers in the freezer. I usually keep one third of the batch in the refrigerator, and freeze the other two thirds in separate containers.

Marinara Sauce

2 – 28oz cans of diced tomato
4 – 6oz cans of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 head of garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 tablespoons thyme (dried)
2 tablespoons oregano (dried)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
**If you are lucky and have fresh herbs growing, subbing fresh herbs for dried is a wonderful treat (I included fresh sage last time I made marinara, and it was delicious)

1. Open all the cans
2. Dice the onion, crush and chop the garlic
3. Heat the oil, then sautee the onion and garlic until they just begin to brown and carmelize (about 10 minutes on medium heat)
4. Pour in the diced tomatoes, stir up to incorporate the garlic/onions
5. Put in the tomato paste and dry spices, stir everything up really well
6. Turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer for at least 30 minutes on low, or longer if you have some time. Once you’re ready, put the marinara sauce in jars, leaving about 1/2 an inch at the top for expansion, and put your extra jars in the freezer.

Keep in mind that either recipe can be easily scaled up or down, depending on how many people you’re feeding or how much room you have in your freezer.

When you pull your meatballs and marinara out of the freezer, all you have to do is make a vegetable! I’m particularily fond of bacon roasted brussel sprouts, spaghetti squash, and roasted broccoli (courtesy of Emily over at joyful abode). See, with a little planning ahead, a delicious made from scratch dinner can be had in 20 minutes. Yum!

One thing I would like to be more in tune with for the remainder of this year is the seasonality of foods in my region.  Being in southwest Ohio the climate is fairly mild, but the growing season is still shorter than it is in, say, California or Florida.  After reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (a book I recommend very highly) I realized that, as a whole, Americans have divorced themselves from their food sources.  We see boxes of pasta with herb sauce, cans of condensed soup, packages of only chicken breasts, drinks that “contain 10% fruit juice” and consider these things to be food.  Nevermind that only chemists know what anything on the ingredients lists mean.  High Fructose Corn Syrup?  Hydrolyzed Soy Protein?  Maltodextrin?  Chicken Flavor?  See what I’m getting at? Those things are never in season!

I’ve found over the past year, while I’ve been moving more towards seasonal eating, that foods that are eaten in season are more flavorful, they last longer, and our bodies crave them.  We want soups and stews in winter because they are made with hearty winter vegetables and red meats that are seasonally processed in the fall.  We want fresh, lemony, light meals in spring because that’s when lamb and herbs are coming into season.  The same goes for fresh berries in summer time.  It feels right and tastes right, because it is right.  I’m not saying that I’ll never use a bell pepper in January, or that I’ll only eat beef in the fall and winter, but it makes sense to eat foods that are fresh and in season, and that can be bought close to where they were grown. It helps your local farmers and ranchers, uses less fuel (fall apples grown in your region use a heck of a lot fewer resources to get to your home than ones grown in New Zealand), and forces a little creativity in the kitchen!

With that in mind, I give you Coconut Roasted Tilapia with Mango Salsa.  This recipe is slightly premature to be considered an “in-season” recipe post, but as these wonderful vegetables and herbs and fruits will very soon be in season, I thought I’d let you plan ahead a bit!  Plus, in some warmer climates mangoes, peppers, and onion actually are in season right now.  So if you happen to find peppers at your farmers market tomorrow, I will be jealous of you for a few more months.

Ingredients:

1 ripe medium mango, pitted and finely diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed if you’d like less heat and left in if you like a little spiciness
1/2 cup coarsly chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1/8 teaspoon salt
Red chili flakes if you really want your lips to tingle

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, cover, and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight if you’ve got time). The longer the flavors sit together the better the salsa will be.

For the tilapia:

6 Tilapia filets, or another white fish of your choosing
Coconut Oil
1 lime, cut into round slices
Cumin
Freshly ground salt & pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay the fish filets on a baking sheet covered in foil.
2. Sprinkle with your desired amount of cumin, salt, and pepper.
3. Spoon approximately 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil onto each filet, then top with a slice of lime.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

We plated this with some coconut shrimp, maybe I’ll share that one with you sometime. I hope this wonderful spring to summer recipe hits the spot for you and your family!

I just came back from a short but wonderful visit to Arizona, where I was helping my dad recover from major heart surgery.  Seeing as my primary domestic talent is to cook, I figured that he would appreciate some help in the meal planning category of his extended recovery.  Not only was I able to feed him (and a few others!) for the few days I was there, I was even able to leave enough food for a few weeks worth of meals.  See for yourself!  This freezer started out 100% empty, and is only holding about 75% of everything that I made:

Nearly 100 meatballs, marinara sauce, spaghetti squash, salsa chicken, chicken broth, shrimp stir fry ingredients, cubed sweet potatoes, trail mix, and pulled pork fill these shelves, while a few other things fill the fridge and inside freezer.  I promise I’ll share a few of these recipes, but for now, I really want to share the pulled pork recipe as well as the accompanying salad that I love to serve it on.

Ingredients:

4-6 pound Boston Butt (a cut of pork shoulder, bone in) depending on the size of your crock pot
2 bay leaves
6-9 full cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons paprika (Spanish, Hungarian, Smoked, not smoked…whichever your favorite is)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Chili flakes to taste

1. Set Boston Butt in the crock pot
2. Cut slits in the meat big enough to insert the garlic cloves all over
3. Combine all spices and sprinkle over the top of the meat
4. Cook on low heat for 12 hours
5. Drain off most of the broth (and save it for later in a jar of course), and shred the meat with two forks. Try not to eat most of it while shredding.

This will make A LOT of pulled pork, which can be eaten as is, with scrambled or fried eggs or as an omlette, or with a “southwestern salad” using guacamole as dressing. The latter is one of our current favorite meals!

For the guacamole, start with the following ingredients:

2 ripe avocados (they should feel soft to the touch, but not mushy)
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (in place of sour cream)
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons spicy salsa (or more or less depending on your taste for spiciness)
juice of half a lime
sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Cut the avocado with a knife lengthwise around the entire fruit, not cutting through the pit. Pull the pit out, and spoon the flesh into a bowl (this will be very easy if the avocado is ripe).
2. Smash the avocado with a fork, then add all of the other ingredients. Mix thoroughly, and you’re done!

Use your favorite salad toppings, add the warm pulled pork on top, then as much guacamole as you like.

I added grape tomatoes, bell pepper, and sliced red onion to this salad. If you’re worried about the amount of fat in the guacamole, and therefore think the salad will be just fine without it, please think again! The veggies in the salad are fat soluble: they NEED the fat in the guacamole and pork in order to be digested by your intestines. Eating your veggies without fat means they go in and out, and your body is not able to unlock the important fat-souble vitamins including Potassium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A housed in them. So eat your guacamole, and like it, because it’s probably the most nutritious part of your meal!

I’m going to be out of town for the better part of a week starting tomorrow, and realized that if I didn’t do a blitzkrieg of shopping and cooking today the husband would most likely be eating fast food for the next 8 days. Now, I know he is not helpless, on the contrary he can make any dish that I can provided he has good instructions to follow. I just don’t usually cook with a recipe start to finish, measure my spices exactly, or make things the exact same way twice, so hubby really only cooks when necessary.

Anywho, in trying to be a good wifey I made a meal plan for the week as usual, with things that could be made in advance and that would heat up well so that good, real food without unpronounceable ingredients would be within easy reach. One specific request from hubby was chicken wings. My go-to recipe for chicken wings is simple, easy to make more or less spicy, and most of all Delicious. Now before you start anything else, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees farenheit.

The sauce is ridiculously easy:

1 cup butter (the better the butter the better the sauce)
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons paprika (I used spanish paprika)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Lots of garlic, at least 3 tablespoons
Chili flakes to taste (I used 1 tablespoon for 5 pounds of wings)

1. Melt the butter
2. Press the garlic into the butter, then dump the rest of the spices in the butter and mix together

Now, one important step before you put the sauce on the wings is to pat them dry with  paper towels, as it will help the wings crisp up a bit more. Spread the wings onto a baking sheet (I like to put parchment paper down to keep the skin from sticking too much to the metal…I’ve tried it both ways, and I highly recommend the parchment!), then pour/spread the sauce over the wings.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then flip the wings over, and bake 25 minutes more. Once you take them out of the oven transfer to a serving dish, and make sure to pour all of the lovely spicy butter left in the pan over the wings! They won’t be like your typical Buffalo Wild Wings (B-dubs if you please), or any other really saucy wing, but let’s face it…those are usually gross. Puny, dry wings with really messy sauce, that just leave you wanting a real meal. These are meaty, buttery, spicy wings that will definitely make it onto your must make list for football games, barbecues, baby showers, first dates…you know the usual times you’d need wings.

You can always make your own blue cheese or ranch dressing as well, but I think the sauce stands up on its own for these wings.

P.S. they heat up really well, so you’ll definitely want to make a big batch! Well, they’ll heat up really well if there are any leftovers that is. Enjoy!

We have chickens. Seven of them in fact, all hens, all Golden Comets.

Chickens in their coop

We got them at one day old. Adam brought them home in a cardboard box, where they lived under a heat lamp for the next 14 weeks (they lived in a large dog kennel when they outgrew their box). Now, they live in the backyard in their fantastically appointed, husband made chicken coop!

Inside the coop

They do get regular “chicken feed” for now, but as the spring turns into summer, they will be out in the yard much more often, hopefully getting more of their food eating grass and bugs (and the occasional garter snake I suppose). They love being out in the yard, though the dogs aren’t crazy about being stuck inside while the chickens wander around finding worms. The light in the picture above is gone now as well, since it’s no longer 10-15 degrees a night.

Free ranging chicken

In these pictures they are nearly eight months old, and are laying every day. One hen, who lays very light brown eggs (the lightest of the bunch), sometimes skips a day here and there, but for the most part we have seven eggs per day. The eggs are very similar to what we were paying $4 per carton for previously, nice dark orange yolks with tons of flavor, and whites that whip up to beautiful peaks!

We have a good-sized backyard which makes it easy enough to keep chickens, and from everything we could read/find/talk to other people about there are no ordinances against having chickens (or goats or sheep or geese…) within city limits here. As long as your animals are not a nuisance to your neighbors, you’re fine. And if they don’t like it at first, just buy them off by giving them a dozen delicious eggs every so often…

Obviously it’s not that way everywhere, but you’ll never know if you can keep chickens until you research it! They are low maintenance animals that provide a complete food with egg-celent nutritional value (so sorry, I couldn’t help it), for very little cost once you’ve got your coop built. That, and it’s pretty funny to watch them chase each other around the yard fighting over worms.

Bound to Earth
I sleep inside you
not yet awakened
Bound to Earth

Warmth calls to me
breaking through now
reach to heaven
Bound to Earth

The oak tree in our backyard, just starting to bud again

Life around me
springing from me
reach to heaven
Bound to Earth

Fire crowns me
wind reveals me
reach to heaven
Bound to Earth

Stillness haunts me
darkness falls now
heaven help me
Bound to Earth

Warmth calls to me
sunlight fuels me
this is heaven
Bound to Earth

~ Hannah Chapman, 2010