the brussels sprouts that will make you like brussels sprouts

See that one that's missing? I couldn't even wait to take the picture to try one.

If you hate brussels sprouts or think there just "meh" then you clearly haven't had them cooked like this. I stumbled upon Mark Bittman's recipe a while back after making some lackluster sprouts, and it turns out I was cooking them all wrong. This way is not only easy, but they turn out so amazingly good I was eating them like candy before they even hit the plate. Mark said it best himself: "the crisp outside leaves and tender, almost artichoke-like interior cannot be beat."

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint brussels sprouts (about a pound)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to coat bottom of pan
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Trim bottom of brussels sprouts, and slice each in half top to bottom. Heat oil in cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers; put sprouts cut side down in one layer in pan. Put in garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook, undisturbed, until sprouts begin to brown on bottom, and transfer to oven. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until sprouts are quite brown and tender, about 1/2 hour.
  3. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Stir in balsamic vinegar, and serve hot or warm.

Recipe from The New York Times.

{made for dinner} Beef with Peas

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In our continued hunt for new weeknight dinner recipes, we tried out Pioneer Woman's Beef with Snow Peas (subbing regular peas for the snow peas so the meal would be more toddler friendly.) I was a little skeptical, but P-dub won us all over, Emma especially. (I swear, the girl loooves her proteins.) The flavor in the sauce is what really makes this, plus you don't have to marinate the meat ahead of time which is huge because we always forget anyway. Here's our adapted recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pound Flank Steak, Trimmed Of Fat And Sliced Very Thin Against The Grain
  • 1/2 cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons Sherry Or Cooking Sherry
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Ginger
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 5 whole Scallions, Cut Into Haf-inch Pieces On The Diagonal
  • Salt As Needed (use Sparingly)
  • 3 Tablespoons Peanut Or Olive Oil
  • Jasmine Or Long Grain Rice, Cooked According To Package

Directions:

In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger. Add sliced meat to bowl and toss with hands. Set aside.

Cook frozen peas according to the instructions on the bag, and set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet (iron is best) or wok over high heat. With tongs, add half the meat mixture, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out meat as you add it to pan, but do not stir for a good minute. (You want the meat to get as brown as possible in as short amount a time as possible.) Turn meat to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate.

Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first. After turning it, add the first plateful of meat, the rest of the marinade, and the peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Check seasonings and add salt only if it needs it. Mixture will thicken as it sits.

Serve immediately over rice.

Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman.

{made for dinner} broccoli and pesto pasta

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We have a ton of cookbooks, but because of our handy binder system, we rarely ever look at them. But every now and then we get into a dinner rut and end up combing our cookbooks in desperation. One of our favorites is Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver. It's full of simple recipes with fresh ingredients, and we have yet to find a dud. We discovered this one last week, and everyone loved it. The original calls for tagliatelle but we used gemelli to make it more toddler friendly. We also added garlic, because - well - pasta without garlic should be a crime.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • a large bunch of fresh basil
  • sea salt
  • 1 lb of gemelli pasta
  • 1/4 cup green pesto
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese

Directions:

To prepare your pasta:

  1. Wash and peel the potato and cut it into very thin shavings using a speed peeler
  2. Slice the end off the broccoli stalk
  3. Cut little broccoli florets off the head and put them to one side
  4. Halve the thick stalk lengthways, then slice thinly
  5. Pick the basil leaves and discard the stalks
  6. Grate the Parmesan
  7. Mince the garlic

To cook your pasta

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil
  2. Add the pasta and broccoli stalks and cook according to the instructions on the box
  3. Meanwhile, saute the garlic in the olive oil
  4. 2 minutes before the pasta is cooked, add the broccoli florets and potato slices
  5. Drain everything in a colander over a large bowl, reserving some of the cooking water, and return to the pan
  6. Roughly chop half of your basil leaves and add to the pan with the pesto, garlic, and half the Parmesan
  7. Give it all a good stir and if the sauce is too thick for your, add a splash of the cooking water to thin it out a bit

To serve your pasta:

  1. Divide the pasta between your serving bowls
  2. Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan and the remaining basil leaves
  3. Serve with a lovely big bowl of salad, and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver's cookbook, Jamie's Food Revolution

{made for dinner} Beef and Guinness Stew

photo-9

Given that it was St. Patrick's Day this weekend, we thought it fitting to make some Irish stew. Jared started making this several years ago after a trip to Ireland (one of many places one of us has been without the other that we want to go back to together). And this stew is stick to your bones wintery goodness. Perfect for the sun/rain/snow/hail all in the same day that is March in Portland... It's hearty, the meat is so tender, and the Guinness adds just the right amount of flavor. It's probably more of a weekend recipe, considering the time (but I promise it's worth it).

Slow Cooker Beef and Guinness Stew

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large (14 ounces) yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can (14.0 ounces) Guinness Draught beer or 1 3/4 cups Guinness Extra Stout
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) beef broth
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 small sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1 lb small red boiling potatoes, halved
  • 3 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
Directions:

Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the beef, toss to coat well with the flour. Reserve the remaining seasoned flour for later.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the beef in batches in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a slow-cooker. Add the onion to the skillet; cook until golden, about five minutes. Add the Guinness and garlic; boil one minute, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the mixture to the slow-cooker.

Add the broth, parsley, bay and thyme to the slow-cooker. Cover; cook on low until meat is almost tender, two-and-a-half to three hours. Sprinkle in the reserved seasoned flour; stir. Add potatoes and carrots. Cover, cook on high until tender, about one hour. Taste pan juices, adjust seasonings.

Enjoy!

(PS. One of the great joys as a parent is being able to dress your kid up in holiday appropriate attire. Yeah. Take that all my friends who posted on Facebook about their drunken, fancy-free St. Paddy's Day! Cute baby trumps your hangover any day. At least that's what I tell myself. Anyway, this might be my favorite so far...)

Hope you all had a great St. Patrick's Day!! :-)

{made for dinner} black bean + butternut soup

bean and butternut soup 2

I'd been excited to try this soup ever since I saw it on Sprouted Kitchen, and it definitely didn't disappoint. I loooove butternut squash (Jared less so, but he still liked the soup) and anything with homemade tortilla strips. Plus I've been trying to incorporate more veggies into our dinners and this is chock full of healthy stuff - but not so much that it tastes like tree bark. It's sort of a healthy version of winter comfort food, and a perfect rainy weeknight dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. coconut or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 a small head of cabbage, chopped (heaping 2 cups)
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash (sweet potato would be good too)
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder
  • pinch of chipotle powder or cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups cooked, black beans (about one can, rinsed and drained)
  • salt to taste
  • avocado, for garnish (optional)
  • cilantro, for garnish (optional)

// tortilla crispies //

  • 3 corn tortillas
  • scant 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

In a heavy bottomed pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until just beginning to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, cabbage, squash and broth. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and cook for about 15-20 minutes for the vegetables to cook. Add the spices and the beans and stir. Let everything continue to cook another ten minutes for the flavors to blend. Salt to taste. At this point, I did a few pulses with my immersion blender through the soup, because I wanted to thicken up the broth a bit. This is optional, but makes it seem a bit thicker. You could alternatively, run just a bit of the soup through a blender or food processor, and add it back in to the pot. OR a sprinkle of cornmeal will help thicken it as well.

For the tortilla crispies, preheat the oven to 375'. Stack them and slice into thin matchsticks. Spread on a baking sheet, dirzzle with the oil, sprinkle the salt and toss gently to coat. Spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes until they are light brown and crispy, giving the pan a shake halfway through.

Garnish each both with some diced avocado, a handful of chopped cilantro and some of the tortilla crispies! (We only added the tortilla crispies, mostly out of laziness. I'm sure it's even more delicious with the extra garnishes.)

Recipe from the Sprouted Kitchen

{made for dinner} Pesto Linguine with Green Beans & Artichoke Hearts

This caught my eye on Pinterest because it uses an ingredient we hardly ever cook with - green beans. And I'm happy to report it was deeeelicious. The artichokes added a nice saltiness, and the green beans gave it a great crunch. It's an easy weeknight dinner, and definitely makes the binder.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package fresh linguini
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh green beans, cut in half
  • 1 container of basil pesto (or make your own)
  • 3/4 cup artichoke hearts, quartered
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp freshly shredded parmesan
  • Fresh basil sprigs (optional)

Directions:

Prepare pasta according to package directions, cooking green beans with pasta; drain. Transfer pasta and beans to large serving bowl; toss with pesto, artichoke hearts and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese. Garnish with basil.

Recipe courtesy of NestleUSA

{made for dinner} homemade french fries

photo-4

Well, homemade fries AND burgers, but who cares about burgers when there are FRENCH FRIES?!? Not me, and hopefully not you. I was inspired to make these after the Pioneer Woman posted her version a couple of weeks ago. We try not to bust out the deep fryer very often, but I just couldn't help myself when I saw that crispy golden goodness (I may have drooled a little). We cross referenced PW's approach with our main man Alton Brown's recipe and here's what we came up with...

Ingredients:

  • 1 Russet potato (plenty of fries for 2 people)
  • Lots of vegetable oil (any cooking oil will do, but safflower oil is supposedly the best)

Directions:

Cut the potato into fries (we aimed for 1/2 in. thickness). Soak the fries in cold water for at least an hour - the longer the better. (Do not skip the soaking part!) Drain potatoes thoroughly, removing any excess water.

When oil reaches 320 degrees, submerge the potatoes in the oil. Working in small batches, fry for 3 to 5 minutes until they are pale and floppy. Remove from oil, drain, and cool to room temperature.

Increase the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees. Re-immerse fries and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on roasting rack. Season with kosher salt while hot and hold in a 200 degree oven until ready to eat.

Enjoy!

{made for dinner} Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin

balsamic glazed pork

We made this for dinner last week and it was so good I thought I'd share. We've been trying to add more pork into our dinner rotation as a way to mix things up, and when I saw this on Pinterest I knew we had to try it. It's definitely sweet, so if you don't like sweet meat it'd probably not for you, but otherwise I recommend giving it a go. Time is really the only factor here (it's a slow cooker recipe), but it couldn't be easier (just throw everything into the crock pot). Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 (2 pound) boneless pork tenderloin (or regular pork loin)
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup water

Glaze
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions:
Combine sage, salt, pepper and garlic. Rub over roast. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About 1 hour before roast is done, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Heat and stir until mixture thickens. Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.

Recipe courtesy of Let's Dish.

{made for dinner} recipe round-up

I've been too busy this week to keep up with my Google Reader (and even Pinterest - gasp!), so instead of Link Love I thought I'd recap a few of the recipes we've made lately. I found all of these on Pinterest, and am happy to report that they all turned out very well.

  • Avocado Pesto Pasta on Chef Chloe - Good dairy-free pasta recipes have been surprisingly hard to come by, so my taste buds perked up when I saw this unique take on a traditional pesto pasta. It's super easy to make, and the avocado makes it very smooth and creamy. I was worried the dish would end up tasting too much like avocado, but it's surprisingly subtle and is balanced very nicely by the basil. It does make the pasta pretty rich, though, so small servings are more than enough.
  • Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta, and Pine Nuts on Cooking Light - This pasta is also very tasty, even without the parm (Jared added it to his... lucky guy). The pine nuts and pancetta cook while the water and pasta are boiling, making this a fairly quick weeknight dish. And you could easily substitute bacon for the pancetta.
  • Baked Turkey Teriyaki Meatballs on Tasty Kitchen - These are supposed to be little appetizers for a party, but we made them regular sized and served them over rice and steamed broccoli for dinner. I especially loved the teriyaki sauce, which could be used in a lot of different applications. I'd be interested to try these with ground pork, for a slightly less healthy but tastier alternative.
I hope you all have a great weekend! We're heading up to Seattle for the going away party of two very dear friends who are leaving the rainy Pacific Northwest for sunny California. I'll be very jealous of them until approximately next July. Oh, and I had a wonderful 30th birthday. Pics and a party recap coming soon! (While I'm still 30, I promise.) :-)

grill, baby, grill

The weather in Portland lately has been absolute perfection, so we've been grilling a ton.  Or should I say Jared has been grilling a ton. Did I mention he cooks dinner for us pretty much every night? Did I also mention he's the best husband ever? I did?  Well, it bears repeating after the deliciousness he cooked up this week. We have a nice arrangement really... I pin new recipes to try, and he makes them for us. Here's what he made...

  • Chicken Parm Burgers from Annie's Eats - Jared looooooves Chicken Parm, so when I saw these I knew we had to try them. They were soooooo good and easy enough for a weeknight meal. (A note about using ground meat - if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I HIGHLY recommend getting the meat grinder attachment. We started grinding our own meat a couple years ago and it makes a huge difference. In our experience, freshly ground meat stays much juicier when cooked than store-bought ground meat.)

  • Garlic Lemon Chicken Kabobs from Annie's Eats - Clearly I've been a little obsessed with Annie's Eats lately, but for good reason - she makes some darn good food! And these kabobs were no exception. So juicy and flavorful. The garlic isn't too heavy if you're someone who doesn't like a ton of garlic. We had them with rice pilaf, but skipped the tzakiki sauce because Jared's not a fan (I, on the other hand, am a BIG fan). Anyway, just make 'em... you won't be disappointed.
photo courtesy of Annie's Eats
  • Ginger Soy Lime Marinated Shrimp from Bobby Flay - We usually do an herb marinade when we grill shrimp, but we were getting pretty bored with that so we set out to find another recipe that would be just as easy and just as tasty. This recipe definitely fit the bill. It may even replace the herb marinade as our go-to for shrimp. The combination of flavors was really pleasing - not too sweet, not too salty.  Just perfect, really. We'll be making these again very soon.
image courtesy of Food Network
PS... sorry for the lack of a Link Love post last Friday. Emma decided she didn't want to nap last week so I didn't get much done. She's napping in the Moby as I type this so hopefully this week will go a bit more smoothly! :)

link love - 8.5.11

I got way behind on my Google Reader this week so instead of my usual recent links I'm going to share with you a few recipes we made this week from Annie's Eats - one of my absolute favorite food blogs. She has a whole category for quick weeknight meals aptly labeled, "Quick Weeknight Meals," which I pinned a bunch of stuff from last weekend because we were getting pretty bored with our standard weeknight fare. Here's what we ended up making...

  • Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones - These were really really good, but they weren't exactly quick. I think the thing that made this a tricky weeknight recipe was having to go back and forth between the outdoor grill and the kitchen. It would have been a lot easier if we'd grilled the chicken the night before. (The recipe doesn't say how much chicken you need.  We grilled 2 pieces but only needed 1.)  Also, we didn't have a pizza stone (we try not to have anything in the kitchen that only has one use) so we used the back of a baking sheet. Be sure to put something underneath the sheet while you're cooking in case any of the cheese drips out. We learned that one the hard way and nearly set off the smoke alarm.
  • Pasta alla Vodka - The next thing we made was this yummy and simple pasta. You can use any type of noodle you want, so we used fettucini. The sauce was delicious, and while the dish didn't blow me away or anything, it does make for an excellent go-to weeknight pasta.
  • Teriyaki Grilled Pork Chops - These were definitely my favorite of the 3 new meals. They were super easy and super tasty.  We both agreed they were the juiciest pork chops we've ever had. Such a nice break from chicken and an absolutely perfect summer weeknight dish.

{made for dinner} penne with two tomatoes and mozzarella

Finally, another post in this series!  I'm so excited to share this recipe with you because it's one of my all time favorite weeknight pasta dishes.  Penne with two tomatoes and mozzarella has all the ingredients for a perfect weeknight meal - simple, quick, and delicious.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 6 oz fresh mozzarella cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 12 oz penne rigate
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (I prefer cherry, but either will work)
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (usually found in the produce aisle by the tomatoes)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives

Place cheese pieces in the freezer (this will help the mozz keep its shape once you add it to the pasta later.)  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water; drain pasta and set aside.

In pasta pot, heat oil over medium-high.  Add the cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and pasta water.  Cook until cherry tomatoes soften, 2 to 4 minutes.

Add pasta, chilled cheese, and chives to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

That's it!  So easy.  The recipe usually makes enough for both of us to have a healthy portion, and for me to take some to work the next day for lunch.  It pairs great with a small side salad with balsamic dressing and bread (though it's filling enough we usually just have it on its own.)

Original recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.

thanksgiving redux

If I had to score our Thanksgiving dinner this year I'd give it a solid B+.  There were a few things that could have been better, but I feel like we're getting much closer to a solid t-day lineup.  Here's the menu:

Bonnie's Cheese Ball...

I don't know if this is the real name of the recipe but we got it from my mom's friend Bonnie and that's what we've always called it.  It's so simple, yet so delicious.  I love any and all cheese, but this cheese in particular works really well as a Thanksgiving dinner warm-up act.

Basically all you do is mix together green pepper, onion, pineapple, and cream cheese then roll it in chopped pecans.  Easy peasy!

Here's the recipe:

  • Ingredients:
    • 2  8 oz packages of cream cheese
    • 8 ¼ oz can of crushed pineapple (drained really well, using paper towels or a potato ricer - this step is very important or the cheese will be watery)
    • ¼  cup chopped green pepper (chopped small)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
    • ½  teaspoon salt
    • Chopped pecans
  1. Bring cream cheese to room temperature.
  2. Add all ingredients.
  3. Roll in chopped pecans.

Makes one big or two small balls.  Can be made up to 2 days in advance of serving.  Also freezes well.

Creamed spinach...

The mashed potatoes were kinda m'eh, so I won't bother writing about them.  We'll try again next year with those.  Onto the creamed spinach...

I've never been a big green bean casserole or brussel sprout fan, so I set out this year to find a good alternate green.  I hadn't really thought of spinach as an option, but we had creamed spinach during our amazing dinner at Lahaina Grill in Maui, and when I saw it listed under the Thanksgiving sides on Food Network I was sold.  The only thing I'd change about this recipe for next year is to use half of the red pepper flakes.  I like heat, but it overpowered the dish and left a pretty strong after burn.  Other than that, though, the dish was super tasty and I definitely plan to make it again next year.

Luby's Cornbread Dressing...

My friend Sarah is going to be disappointed to read this, but I wasn't crazy about this stuffing.  I prefer my stuffing to be more bread-like, with visible chunks of moist bread, and this was more like a casserole or egg bake (you add eggs to mixture before you pop it in the oven.)

Maybe I just didn't make it right, I don't know.  The flavor was really good, I just wasn't crazy about the texture.  I think for next year I'll go back to the last year's stuffing, Tyler Florence's Carmelized Onion and Cornbread Stuffing.

Cranberry Sauce...

I grew up eating canned cranberry sauce, so I wasn't quite sure what would be involved in making the real stuff from scratch.  Thankfully it was super easy.  The orange zest overpowered the cranberry flavor a bit more than I would have liked, so next year I'll probably reduce it to half an orange.

Parker House Rolls...

I loooove me some Flaky Grands, but when I saw this recipe in Food Network magazine for pull-apart dinner rolls from scratch I had to try them.

Oh man were these good.  They were so tasty and filling... like a little meal all by themselves.  The recipe made at least double the rolls we actually needed, so if you're not cooking for a lot of people I recommend halving the recipe.

Turkey...

Jared added a twist to his Simon & Garfunkel butter this year... bacon.  That's right - parsely, sage, rosemary, thyme, and bacon.  Yum!

After the butter was shoved under the skin, Jared popped it in the Big Easy for about an hour and a half... and voila!

Deeeeeelish.

Random Order Coffeehouse pies...

I know what you're thinking... store bought pies?  I have a blog about all things DIY and I went and bought pies instead of making them myself.  But I firmly believe that every good DIYer needs to know when to admit that something is over their head.  I don't know what it is about pie... I've made pies in the past and never been wowed.  Maybe it's the crust, maybe I'm just not patient enough.  I don't know.  But I do know that Random Order here in Portland makes a heck of a good pie.   In addition to ordering these bad boys for Thanksgiving day, we also stopped by earlier in the week to pick up a few pieces of their Oregon Cherry pie and man oh man... these people know their way around a pie.  If you're ever in Portland I highly recommend stopping by and getting a piece.  Of anything.  I don't think they make a bad pie.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh right, thanksgiving pies.  Here you go...

I had never actually had Pecan Pie before this Thanksgiving... crazy, huh?  Well I am a convert.  Holy moly was this pie good.

So there you have it.  Thanksgiving 2010.  I'm full all over again.

{made for dinner} tortellini soup with spinach & tomatoes

This first recipe in my {made for dinner} series is as easy as it is tasty, and perfect for a time-crunched weeknight. It's one of the first recipes we made from The Scramble and has been one of our go-to dinners for the past 3 years. Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (not pictured)
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 32 oz. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 9 oz. regular or whole wheat cheese tortellini
  • 15 oz. diced tomatoes with their liquid
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or to taste

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for one minute, then stir in the broth. Bring it to a boil, then add the tortellini, tomatoes, pepper, basil, and oregano.

Reduce the heat to keep it at a low boil for 7 minutes, then add the spinach. Simmer it for 2 more minutes, then remove it from the heat and serve it immediately, topped with Parmesan cheese.

Prep + cook time = 20 minutes

Servings = 4 (approximately 254 calories per serving)

the binder

This is the binder. It's not pretty, it's not fancy, but it's where we store all our recipes... and over the years it's become a sort of litmus test for whether or not a recipe gets our nod of approval. If we know we won't make it again, it doesn't go in the binder. Simple, efficient, the binder represents one of the more blissfully organized aspects of my life. (Trust me, there aren't many.) It's organized into 10 different tabs: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Fish, Vegetarian, Pasta, Soup / Chili, Side Dishes, Breakfast, and Dessert, and clear sheet protectors help to keep the recipes splatter free while we're cooking.

Jared and I started collecting recipes early on in our relationship when we found ourselves cooking dinner together most nights. To help us get started we signed up for The Six O'Clock Scramble, an online seasonal weekly menu planner. Every week they sent us 5 new meals and a grocery list, and we could swap out any meals we didn't like. It was really helpful and I highly recommend it if you want to cook dinner at home more often but aren't sure how to get organized. We started supplementing The Scramble recipes with ones we got from Food Network and Martha Stewart, and it didn't take long before we had amassed enough recipes that we needed a way to keep them all straight... hence, the binder was born.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, it seems to me like the tradition of home-cooked weeknight family dinners has become a bit of a lost art. In the age of processed and prepared foods, I think a lot of people choose not having to think about it over flavor and nutrition. But what those people don't realize is how easy and quick dinner can be if you just take a little time to plan our your meals. So that's why I'm sharing our process with you. It works really well for us and maybe it'll work well for you, too.

Here's how we tackle meal planning... every Sunday morning we sit down with the binder, a notepad, and pen. We take a quick inventory of what we have in our fridge and pantry from last week's meals that we didn't use up (usually things like tortillas, heavy cream, chicken stock, and veggies) and use that as our starting point for meal selection. Meals that feature ingredients we need to use up or already have get chosen first. Then we look for stuff that we haven't made in a while or that will be quick if we have something going on a particular night that week. We also try to pick meals that feature seasonal ingredients (Epicurious has a great tool for finding out what's in season where you live.) The final list of meals for that week goes on a magnetic pad that we keep on our fridge. As for which meals get cooked on which nights, we usually decide that day based on how we're feeling.

So there you have it... the binder, our system, and my two cents about the benefits of cooking weeknight dinners. I'll be posting recipes and tips for some of our favorite dinners in a new regular feature called {made for dinner} (I know, real original) so stay tuned.