Meal Plan This Week.

Monday – Crockpot Carnitas Rice Bowls. We’ve gotten a carnitas roast from Aldi a few times before and it is SO good and so easy. You just toss it all in the crockpot and cook like a normal roast. I’ll make rice and a side of black beans when I get home from school and we’ll top with fresh salsa, guacamole, cilantro, drizzle sour cream thinned with lime, and a few dashes of sriracha and a dash of tajin on top if we’re feeling snazzy.

Tuesday – Carnitas Tacos. Kind of like yesterday, but on soft tacos that have been warmed in the oven and with pickled onions and a heap of taco slaw on top. Oof, yum.

Wednesday Creamy Chicken Ramen Soup. Like a hug in a bowl.

Thursday – Leftovers always!

Friday – Pizza night! Plus family movie after, obviously

Saturday – Charcuterie Board. My favorite kind of dinner. I’ll pick up whatever looks good, but I do have a pinterest board for inspiration! It only has six pins, so I really need to go add some more. I think I’d like to master the fine art of charcuterie board building.

Sunday – Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup. Grilled Cheese on my sourdough, tomato soup from a can because call me crazy – that’s my favorite tomato soup. I think it just takes me back to my childhood! I’d be happy to hear suggestions for your favorite tomato soup – but don’t be offended if I don’t try it.

Bake –Apple Crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream. Nothing says mid-september best.

Treat – Molasses Cookies. I think I’ve put this on a couple past plans and haven’t gotten to them. I’m committed to them this time!

Cocktail – September Heatwave. I also had this on last week’s, but we switched to our pumpkin beer date night instead. Having this alongside a big fall puzzle on the coffee table for our weekend date & cocktail pairing.

Make anything good lately? Please share, so I can drool!

Do You Have Family Dinner?

I remember when we were expecting our first son, Charlie, we took a class called the Bradley Method to prepare for natural birth. It’s this amazing, kind of intense birth class. You meet for 12 weeks with a local Bradley couple and other couples signed up for the same session. I loved our meetings so much. We met with Rob and Clare, a chef and a banking executive who lived in a historic Spanish style house on a quiet street. Their three kids were in high school and we would barely catch a glimpse of them during our classes, but going to these meetings, while also truly being the only reason I was able to have three natural births, just really helped me visualize and prepare for becoming a parent. Our classes each focused on a different topic from how the body gives birth, coping techniques, the best way to nourish your body during pregnancy, and we had weekly assignments and exercises in a Bradley Method workbook. Well, one week we were supposed to (as a couple) come up with a list of what we were most looking forward to when becoming a family. On our list were things like holidays, family movie night, seeing our baby with our families, and high on both my husband and I’s list was family dinner.

I grew up in a big catholic family in small town Indiana, four brothers, one sister, and our family dinners make up such an important part of my childhood memories. I remember hiding food I didn’t want to eat underneath the table in a small alcove where the extra leaves of the table would have fit if we didn’t need all of them for our big family. I remember going around the table and saying the best and worst thing of our day. I remember our rotating jobs of cleaning up the kitchen while my parents went to the family room to read the paper. I just really remember that feeling of family during dinners. It was a formative part of my childhood. We, of course, had assigned seats, and I had the seat next to my mom (a seat I still prefer when we go home to my parents’ house) and she would give me the “love connection” if my brothers were teasing me too much (a squeeze of the hand, and declaration that Em needed “The Love Connection.”) Just lots of memories. Of course there were rules – no bare feet, you at least had to have socks on, no elbows on the table, you had to finish your milk, etc.

We’ve made good on our list from the Bradley Method and have been making our own new memories as a family at our kitchen table since Charlie could sit up in a high chair. I will always remember nursing Ben and then a year later Luke at the table while eating my dinner, dropping crumbs on their tiny baby heads. We always wait for that moment when my husband walks in through the door from work for hello’s, tight hugs and then we go to the table as a family to eat. I just have this feeling that my kids are going to remember family dinner the same way I do. It’s our daily way to connect and get really good focused time together every single day. Just a good, special family tradition to have.

Thought I would share a few ways to get your kids on board with Family Dinner, even if they’re tiny.

  1. Get them involved in dinner preparations, so they’re interested in eating it.
  2. If you have picky eaters, pick one thing that they could have as an alternative. For example, if our kids don’t want to eat whatever I’ve made for dinner, they can always either have a sandwich or yogurt. I refuse to make a separate meal for anyone, so they can either eat what I’ve made, or choose to eat a sandwich or yogurt instead.
  3. Always offer sauces – ketchup, italian dressing, and ranch are popular ones in our house. They will put them on everything and will eat it!
  4. They get dessert if they finish their meal. Always. It can be a cookie, cake, a piece of chocolate or ice cream. This always motivates my kids to finish their plates. I’m not one for “all food is the same”. I know that was big a few years ago, not to treat dessert differently, but we do in our house!
  5. Play talking table games. If your kids are small too, we play lots of table games to get them to stay at the table longer. We play math games (2 + 2 is what?), guessing games (I’m thinking of an animal, and you have to figure out what it is), I spy with my little eye, and what words begin with (what words can you think of that start with an A – Apple, Animal, Ark, etc.). Our kids are 4, 3 and almost 2, so Charlie, our oldest, really runs these games, but Benny is old enough to play most of them too.
  6. Ask questions. My husband is SO good at this. He will ask the boys five million questions about their days and just pulls all of this information out of them that I’m usually too busy when we get home to even think to find out about.
  7. Don’t give them a choice. They simply have to come to the table. If they don’t want to come sit at the table, then they have to sit in either time out or in their room.
  8. Light candles. Every night! A family dinner candle in the middle of the table just makes it all feel special and magical and your kids will feel it too.
  9. Let them sit on your lap. This one is very low on my list, but it will often get Ben, my three year old, who does sometimes resist coming to the table, especially if he’s very involved in play, to willingly sit at the table for a long time. He rarely needs to these days, but it got us through some difficult patches where it would have been easier to just let him not sit at the table for dinner.
  10. Start young. As soon as they are old enough to sit in a highchair – you start family dinner.
  11. Give an afternoon snack if they have a hard time waiting to eat until dinner. My husband doesn’t get home, typically, until around 6 at which point some of my family can start to get a little hangry. I usually give an after school snack around 4 to tide them over so they don’t get beyond the point of reason.
  12. This one is for the adults – no phones at the table! Even my oldest will say “no phones!” if one of us gets ours out.

I don’t even know if those are helpful, but I thought I would share! We’re soon going to start having the boys help with kitchen clean up because they’re about that age. Clearing the table, putting things back into the fridge, recycling, and wiping off the counters are easy chores for the 3-4 age to start with!

What about you? Does your family do family dinner every night? Or have you thought about it?

Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Frosting.

Is it brown butter or is it browned butter? My research has brought back answers for both. Whichever way you want to say it – I do believe it may be God’s greatest gift to man, much as I love my children. And around this time of year I can’t get enough of it. The brown butter, not my kids. But I’ll allow that they’re pretty great too. I have plans to put brown butter into a pumpkin sheet cake in October, in a pasta sauce with sage to nestle homemade ravioli into later this month, and perhaps most famously into my chocolate chip cookies on another occasion. Whether you’re using it in sweets or dinner, it adds a delicious nuttiness that is so distinct and dare I say, life changing? Now, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to read this article on achieving brown butter rather than burnt butter. You probably think the cake should be the main topic of conversation here and I love it too! It’s a winner! The people will love the cake! But the frosting, oh yes, the frosting, is the part of this recipe that takes it to the next level.

Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

For the cake:
Baking spray
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1¼ cups packed light brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a combination of cinnnamon, ginger and nutmeg)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

For the frosting:
1 ½ cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, divided. Two sticks should be softened to room temperature. The third stick, you’ll brown.
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp whole milk
½ t vanilla
¼ tsp salt

Prepare the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 9 inch pan with baking spray and dust with flour – alternatively you could make this in a 9 x 13 pan for a thinner cake or even in muffin form, but be sure to adjust your baking time. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, pumpkin pie spice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, eggs, and applesauce in a large bowl until combined. Whisk in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack,
and cool completely in pan, about 1 hour.

Prepare the Frosting:
Melt 1/2 cup (one stick) butter in a medium saucepan over medium until it begins to bubble, forms little brown bits, and smells nutty. Transfer to a freezer safe container and put in freezer for 10-15 minutes or until room temperature. In a mixer, combine brown butter, 1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter, powdered sugar, milk, salt and vanilla. Mix on medium for about three minutes or until fluffy. Spread frosting generously over cooked cake with an offset spatula, cut and enjoy (preferably with a book and iced coffee on the side).

You will most likely have extra frosting, but the frosting is truly the best part of this cake. Just put it in a jar, and store in the fridge for another cake next week! This cake, after all, will not last long on your counter if your house is anything like mine.

Meal Plan This Week.

Monday – Flank Steak, roast brussels & crispy potatoes. My husband makes the best flank steak marinade. I dream about it! Doing Labor Day right and wrapping up summer with all the good stuff.

Tuesday – Chicken Enchiladas. We don’t really follow a recipe for this one. Put the chicken in the crock pot in the morning with taco seasoning, and use canned enchilada sauce for ease. All you have to do is shred the chicken and heat up some black beans on the side. To assemble – shred the chicken, spread a bit of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, into each tortilla shell put chicken and some shredded cheese (we like either Monterey Jack which melts really well, or taco cheese here), roll up and place seam side down into the dish, top with more enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, sliced avocado, tajin seasoning, cilantro, and a side of black beans.

Wednesday Harvest Skillet. But with chicken sausage instead of bacon! But also looking at this recipe that I think I’ve used before, my recipe is actually not all that similar to this one. 😂 I usually do Brussels sprouts, bite size potatoes sliced in half, sweet potatoes diced, chicken sausage all cooked up in the cast iron skillet. Top with fresh parm and serve with a side of sourdough.

Thursday – Leftovers always!

Friday – Pizza night! Plus family movie after.

Saturday – Pulled Pork Tot-Cho’s for husband and I, pulled pork sandwiches for the boys.

Sunday – Whole roast onions, pork chops and mashed potatoes. Excited about this one. I’ve been thinking about those onions since I found them on Pinterest.

Bake – Salted Maple Pie. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Treat – Apple Chips. The boys will love these! They’ll be the perfect after school snack.

Cocktail – September Heatwave. Feels appropriate.

Make anything good lately? Please share with everyone in the comments!