BLTs-finalTonight I made the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  It’s also the least healthy thing I’ve ever eaten.  Maybe a fried Mars bar is worse.  Maybe.  But when you eat a pretty healthy diet on a regular basis, it’s OK to go nuts on occasion.

I was feeling a little crazed at the end of the day and had no idea what dinner would be tonight, but eyed some nice looking cut-to-order slab bacon at the grocery store and started obsessing about BLTs.

BLTs are, in my opinion, on of the best meals on earth.  Come spring I start obsessing about feeding the addiction with perfectly ripe tomatoes and good smoked bacon.  

BLTs-mayo-bowlBut tonight things got weird and wonderful when I chose my tomatoes at the store.  I was worried that they wouldn’t taste great since we’re still early in the season, so I started to overcompensate with the other parts of the sandwich, kicking up the flavor a notch.

First, I made an intense smoked paprika mayo.  Spicy with a hint of garlic and lemon, it was the perfect base for the rest of the goods.

Next, I cooked my bacon until perfectly crispy on a grill pan so as not to lose that flavorful grease.  No paper towel in the micro routine.  And here’s the kicker, the step that probably cost me a year of my life.  I grilled the bread in the leftover bacon grease.  Slathered the mayo on top of the grilled bread, layered on the bacon, topped with arugula and the cherry tomatoes, and showered the whole thing with smoked Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper.

BLTs-mayo

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Steak-saladWhen it comes to farmers’ market visits, I’m ashamed to say that I hibernate like a bear.  I stay indoors, hunkered down in front of my laptop, ordering butternut squash and broccoli crowns from Fresh Direct and pretending I’m OK with it.  I do love the farmers’ market, but for most of the winter, it’s just too cold and dreary to head outside for the predictable assortment of apples and root vegetables.

But this weekend, the skies parted, and we were gifted with one of those glorious near-spring days.  The kind of day that puts a bounce in your step and jumpstarts you out of your bad habits.  It’s such a treat to live near the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. Not only do I love to walk around the many stalls, but the kids also have a blast checking out all the crazy produce.  Purple carrots, candy cane-colored potatoes, and of course the massive containers of their favorite Honeycrisp apples.

Steak-salad-kids-3

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Mediterranean-lambI love lamb.  It’s not an everyday food for us, so maybe that’s why I like it so much – it always feels like a celebration.  Especially lamb shanks.  Although lamb does grace our presence every so often, it’s usually in the form of stew or sausage.  The tiny little chops, while delicious, aren’t usually my thing.  Too much work, too little time.

My kids like lamb too, although I’ve always been cautious around the subject of what they’re actually eating.  “What’s this?” is usually answered with a look in the other direction and the short but factual “lamb-it’s-like-beef”.

God forbid they actually mull the concept over in their minds.  I’m nervous that I’ll turn around one day and my daughter is going to shriek “AS IN MARY’S LITTLE LAMB?!!!”.  But for some reason the connection hasn’t been made….that is, until some kid in her class, probably the same one who’s discovered the truth about Santa Claus, is going to blurt out that yes, it’s actually Mary’s little lamb that your mother has been feeding you all these years.  Thank you in advance little one.

Mediterranean-lamb-leeks

But back to that special occasion lamb.  This weekend, I’m cooking for my brothers who are both in town for some well-needed time with their nieces and nephew.  I want a crowd-pleaser, one that will make the house smell like heaven, and is low maintenance to prepare.  I want to hang out when they’re here, not be trapped behind my stove.  Searing the shanks and letting them roast for hours on end tends to be my favorite preparation.  It’s flavorful, foolproof, and gives me tons of flex time in case anyone is running late.  I can just turn the oven down low and let the lamb hang out until their presence is needed.

Instead of my usual polenta, I fell in love with some beautiful springy green leeks that I spotted at the grocery store.  Next to stuffing on Thanksgiving, there is almost no better cooking smell than leeks and butter getting to know each other.   Sautéing them low and slow made them extra creamy, which combined with soft white beans, made the ultimate bed for the lamb.

Mediterranean-lamb-oranges

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Easy-pizzaI’m trying to get my kids more involved with dinner prep, primarily to peak their interest in food, but also to train them.  I figure if I can get them to work a chopping board, I’ll free up some time to kick back on the couch, glass of wine in hand, and catch up on some much needed Downton Abbey.  Seeing that my ambition is still a long way off, I figure an interest in food is still a solid goal, and no better place to start than a quick and easy pizza.

The last thing the blog world needs is a basic pizza recipe, but I actually struggled with this one – making a homemade pizza that my kids could help prepare and that I wouldn’t mind digging into either.  A few months ago we tried make-your-own pizzas with pita bread but it was a huge disappointment.  Somewhere in an exhausted corner of my brain I thought, “hey, they like pizza, I’m feeling lazy tonight, why not this?

After Lauren squinted and picked up a corner of the pita pizza with the edge of her fingernail, I knew the effort was doomed.  I should have known better.  Back in college, pita pizzas were the dirty step-child of the pizza world.  We were always hard-pressed to find alternative lunch options in our dining hall, aptly called “the Ratty”.  Someone would inevitably grab a little of this, a little of that, microwave and voila! “Pita pizza guys!  Yum!” And it was never yum, or anything close to yum.

So despite my desire to lovingly mix together some combination of olive oil, water, flour and yeast and let it gently proof in a warm nook on my counter, it wasn’t happening.  I’d spent the day sprinting from one appointment to the next, in heels, cursing why I hadn’t worn sensible shoes or, preferably, combat boots. No dough for our evening pizza-building activity? No problem, I grabbed the next available thing, which so happened to be a decent all-natural premade crust from the market.  Sometimes I have to let go of my food-from-scratch obsessions just to get the gist across, even if it’s not all out pillowy perfection.  And that’s often what a weeknight dinner is all about.

Quick-and-easy-pizza-making

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Black bean soup with fennel sausage side

If I were to free associate for a minute on the topic of black beans, soup probably wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind.  For some reason, my husband’s stories of growing up in California pop up first,  where lunch was usually a burrito chock full of chicken and black beans.  He or some other unfortunate soul would inadvertently cap a tooth with one and spend the rest of the day ambling around with a tooth that appeared to be decaying, or worse, missing.

Food wedged in teeth aside, black beans have tremendous health benefits, with a magical protein/fiber combination unrivaled by most food groups.  I’m into eating magic, but I’m also a big fan of eating things that taste good and are healthy to boot.  So we eat a lot of black beans around here, especially black bean soup.

I’d grown a bit tired of the usual suspects as heavenly as they are- black bean soup with bacon, sherry and a touch of cream, a Mexican-style soup chock full of cumin and topped with a heavy spray of cilantro.  But with a big bag of fennel pork sausage in the fridge, limited time, and a sense of adventure, I decided to throw my usual repertoire a curveball.  In particular, I needed something comforting and hearty to welcome home R from a 2-day business trip where presumably he sustained himself on Starbucks and airplane peanuts.

Black bean soup with fennel sausage top

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