Friday, September 30, 2016

Mexican pot roast tacos and fresh guacamole

Welcome, Fall!

It finally feels like Fall is here in Northern Virginia. I thought I would've settled into a blogging routine by now, but I'm having a hard time staying home. There is so much to see and explore. It is my first Fall in the country, after all! 

The Farmers Markets have transformed into stunning Fall fares. They remind me of the farms that my mom, sister, and I visit during our annual Fall trips to Solvang . . . loads of pumpkins, towering corns stalks, pots of mounding mums, bunches of colorful Indian corn, crates full of apples, squash and gourds . . . and some even sell home-made cider donuts, cookies, and pies! 

I have an insane amount of photos and recipes to share with you . . . and I'm way behind on posts.  I have so much that I actually feel a little overwhelmed. I think I need to just pick a few of my favorites, like this one, and then move on to new Fall-inspired posts and recipes, like these . . . 

the best ever orange cardamom crumb cake

simple Fall centerpieces

I hope you've been following along on Instagram! Because although I haven't posted much - I share photos of our Virginia happenings, almost daily.  It's a great way to see what I'm up to between posts. 

I shared on Instagram several weeks ago that we were going to host our first dinner since moving to Virginia. 

If you follow along, then you probably remember this photo. I couldn't wait to get home to take a quick shot of all my Farmers Market finds.  All of these beautiful vegetables were the ingredients for our dinner, and that pretty "pumpkin" was part of a table centerpiece.

I was able to pick up everything we needed for our dinner (except the meat) at the Farmers Market. 

Since we were approaching the end of Summer, I thought I would prepare a fun and delicious dinner. So I made Tyler Florence's Mexican pot roast tacos, along with his amazing recipe for guacamole. 

Seriously, the best spicy pot roast recipe ever. Ever!

And . . . the best guacamole ever. Tyler's recipe calls for olive oil. Yes, olive oil! A finishing drizzle of this tender, sweet oil gives it the most luxurious texture.  It's so good!

I made the Mexican pot roast and sauce the afternoon before our dinner party to help me save time the day of our gathering. I transferred everything to a crock pot and refrigerated it over night.  

I set the crock pot on low a few hours before our friends arrived, so that it would be the perfect temperature for dinner. 

I knew that I had a lot of chopping and prep work for the fresh guacamole and salsa the day of, so I was purposeful to do as much as I could the day before. 

Ok, so back to this amazing dish . . .

It's one of those "chop, chop, in the pot" kind of meals. It's easy to prepare and FULL of flavor, especially if you like warm, spicy dishes. 

My husband, who is incredibly particular about meat, LOVED it! After several hours in the oven, the beef was so tender that I was able to shred it with a fork. It melds into the sauce and just becomes pure deliciousness! *You know it's good when your guests ask you to email them the recipe!

I set up a 'taco bar' indoors with all of Tyler's recommendations . . .

Mexican Pot Roast Taco garnishes
.     .     .     .     .     .
finely shredded white cabbage 
 fresh cilantro leaves 
feta cheese, crumbled  
radish, sliced paper thin  
fresh guacamole
fresh salsa
warm corn tortillas
.     .     .     .     .     .

It's a great meal to serve to a small or big crowd, as everyone can pick and choose their favorites. 

I also served a huge bowl of sugar baby and orange watermelon. I wish I had remembered to take a photo, because it was quite impressive with its bright red and orange hues. After all, watermelon is a must-have with Summer meals, right!?

The weather was perfect, so we hosted dinner, dessert, and games - outdoors. 

We enjoyed a wonderful evening, and look forward to hosting many more dinners as we head into Fall.

Mexican pot roast tacos
.     .     .     .     .     . 
2 pounds beef shoulder 
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
Extra-virgin olive oil 
2 cloves garlic, smashed 
1 large onion, sliced 
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, (recommended: San Marzano)  
1 Tablespoon ancho chile powder 
1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper 
1 Tablespoon ground cumin 
3 bay leaves 
fresh medium corn tortillas 
Kosher salt 
.     .     .     .     .     .  
3 cups finely shredded white cabbage 
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro leaves 
feta cheese, crumbled  
radish, sliced paper thin  
.     .     .     .     .     .


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Sprinkle the chuck roast on all sides with a fair amount of salt. 

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the roast and brown it on all sides, taking the time to get a nice crust on the outside. Remove the roast and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic cloves to the pot and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the ancho powder, cumin and cayenne. 

Add the crushed tomatoes and the bay leaves, and stir. Return the roast to the pot and add the cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover with lid, place in the oven, and cook until the meat is fork tender, about 3 hours.

Carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board and shred with a fork. Pour the liquid into a blender and puree. *I use an immersion blender, as it's much quicker and cleaner.

Return the shredded meat to the pot, add the pureed liquid, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.


assembling your Mexican pot roast taco
.     .     .     .     .     .
Lay some shredded beef on a warm corn tortilla, and top with guacamole and salsa. 
Garnish with cilantro leaves, sliced radishes and cotija (or feta) cheese.
.     .     .     .     .     .

.     .     .     .     .     .
6 ripe avocados
3 limes, juiced   
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed then minced
2 serrano chiles, cut into rounds
1 big handful fresh cilantro with stems, about 1/2 cup, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
.     .     .     .     .     .
Halve and pit the avocados. 
With a tablespoon, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. 
Mash the avocados using either a fork or potato masher, leaving them still a bit chunky.  
Add the remaining ingredients, and fold everything together. 
Drizzle with a little olive oil, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and give it 1 final mix with a fork. 
Lay a piece of plastic wrap tight on the surface of the guacamole so it doesn't brown and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.  
Yields about 4 cups  
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Thank you so much for stopping by!
I love reading your comments and appreciate them so much!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

cinnamon sugar cookies . . . and apples, apples, apples for Teacher!

I'm re-sharing this post from last year's back-to-school week.

Our 6 and 7-year-old will be attending a new school this year, and it starts a few weeks after the rest of the school district, so we're enjoying these last few days of Summer break . . . and prepping for back-to-school!

I hope you enjoy this first tribute to apple season!

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

WARNING . . . There are a lot of photos of apples!

I like to send a "Welcome back!" gift with my kids on their first day of school to give to their teachers.

Last year, I sent a big bag of home-made chewy chocolate chip and toffee cookies.

And this year, we baked cinnamon sugar cookies in the shape of apples!

I bought several varieties of apples at the Farmer's Market earlier in the week . . . Gala, Pink Lady, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious.

The kids had no idea that there are so many varieties. We even had an apple taste-testing!

Pink Lady and Granny Smith were our favorite!

We decorated our cookies based on the apples we brought home from the Market.

And these were the home-made APPLES our 5- and-6-year old brought their teachers on the first day of school . . .

I packaged them in clear cellophane bags and then tied them with rustic rope. We carefully placed them in a simple brown gift bag cushioned with brown shredded paper.  They were darling!

Here are the kids' interpretations of the apples. They did a great job!


Golden Delicious & Granny Smith 


Pink Lady
Did you notice the pink sanding sugar?
This was the girls' favorite apple!

I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and added cinnamon and a little nutmeg to give the dough warm hints of Fall. These spices were a great addition!

cinnamon sugar cookies
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .   
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1 ½  sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 egg, room temperature
 powder sugar (instead of flour) for rolling out dough
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .    

To make the cookies, in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt . . . set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix until just combined.

Form the dough into a flattened ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as overnight.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

On a lightly floured powder sugar surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart, and bake until just golden around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies from the pans and let cool completely.

Makes 10 to 20 cookies, depending on cutter size.

Sugar Cookie GLAZE
2 ¼  cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Combine ingredients and mix until smooth
Using a small paint brush (or the tip of your finger), spread on top of cookies
Sprinkle sanding sugar on top of GLAZE when it's wet

The secret to a 'clean' sugar edge is not letting the glaze drip down the sides of the cookie.
A thick glaze is also key.
After the glaze has been mixed, add 1 Tablespoon of confectioners' sugar at a time, 
until you get the desired consistency.
Have fun!

LET'S STAY in touch!

LET'S STAY in touch!
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Thank you so much for stopping by!
I love reading your comments and appreciate them so much!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

slow cooker bbq chicken and roasted potatoes & beets . . . another simple Summer dinner

This simple and delicious dinner was on the heels of our potato harvest adventure last weekend.

I plan our Saturdays so that they're full of new adventures. We explore the country, visit pick-your-own farms where we harvest fruits and vegetables, visit local farms and Farmers Markets, hike trails, and visit as many Smithsonians as we can. 

We spent last Saturday harvesting potatoes and peaches. 

By the time we wrapped up at the farm, the Littles knew that potatoes grow in dirt. It was just a few days before our adventure that they told me that they were pretty sure that potatoes grew "in bushes" and "on trees." 

We were so blessed to have another cool and rainy Sunday, so I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than with another cozy slow cooker meal. 

I'm a big fan of  Jack Daniel's barbecue sauces, and found a complete collection of them at our local market. I bought Honey Smokehouse with thoughts of using it to make another scrumptious slow cooker meal to enjoy with our potato harvest.

I paired our sweet and smokey shredded bbq chicken with fresh, creamy mozzarella and warm, tender, and slightly sweet rolls . . . a scrumptious combination! 

I love serving Sunday suppers like this atop a breadboard so that everyone can make their own sliders and dinner plate. I enjoy watching our Little ones pick and choose . . . and customize their own dinner. Everyone is most happy that way!

our simple, family-style Summer dinner
.     .     .     .     .     .
slow cooker shredded bbq chicken
with  fresh creamy mozarella
warm, tender sweet rolls
roasted potatoes, gold beets, and sweet onions
with fresh parsley and cilantro
juicy, sweet watermelon
.     .     .     .     .     .

Look at the gorgeous,rich color of that bbq sauce! And let me tell you . . . it did not disappoint! The sauce was sweet and smokey . . . and the chicken, tender.  We paired the chicken with fresh mozzarella and tender sweet rolls. So good!

slow cooker shredded bbq chicken 
.     .     .     .     .     .
Season 2-3 chicken breasts with salt and pepper, both sides.
Pour a bottle of your favorite bbq sauce into a crock pot.
Add chicken breasts, and cook on High for 3 hours. 
Using two forks, shred the chicken in the sauce.
Turn crock pot onto 'keep warm.'
.     .     .     .     .     .

I was so excited to roast the potatoes that we had picked just the day before!

We were told that fresh picked potatoes taste better than the ones found in the market; and it's true!

Because roasting enhances the natural flavors found in food - I was quick to chop our potatoes, gold beets, and sweet onions for quick roast to enjoy with our meal. Again, so good!

 potatoes, gold beets, and sweet onions
.     .     .     .     .     .
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the potatoes, beets, and onions in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper;
 toss until well coated.
 Transfer to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer.
 Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning. 
Remove from the oven, toss with parsley and cilantro, 
season to taste, and serve hot.
.     .     .     .     .     .

Dinner just can't get more simple than this . . . crock pot chicken and roasted vegetables.

With extra time on your hands, you'll have more to spend relaxing and enjoying your family!

I hope I inspired you to find your favorite bbq sauce, dust off your crock pot . . . and slow cook your way to a simple and delicious dinner!

For more great Slow Cooker recipes, visit me on Pinterest!

LET'S STAY in touch!
.      .      .      .      .

Thank you for stopping by!
I love reading your comments and appreciate them so much!

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