Quick Prep Fall Meals!

Before I got married, I did not know there was a difference between "winter meals" and "not winter meals." It's a whole thing. Apparently when you cook for someone who works outside, this distinction is crucial. Summer meals include things like big salads, fresh fish, BLT's, and anything off the grill (unless your grill is a giant green egg and you have no clue what THAT means or how to use it). You're supposed to avoid things that boil on the stove, have the word "loaf" in the recipe, or require jars of tomato sauce.

Every once and a while I read through my husband's text messages-- mostly because I am smart and have seen too many episodes of Dateline but also because the ones between him and his coworkers are hilarious. Except I stopped laughing when I recently read this one between Mike and his buddy Graham:

"Wife made pot roast tonight... Probably having chili tomorrow."

First of all, I love that he refers to me as "Wife" like we're eighty-years-old. Secondly, so what if it was the hottest day in August, pot roast was the only thing my baby-fried-mind could think of!

I personally feel that the gift of cooking for someone else negates their ability to complain, as I explained to Mike many a time our first year of marriage as he kept referring to my meals as "goulash" but whatevs, I guess the feedback was constructive.

SO now that it's mid-October, I feel that it is time to share some recipes that are husband approved (because since I barely do his laundry and retired all my lingerie-- it is important to keep him satisfied other ways!)

All these meals can be prepped early in the day. I have a lot of mischief to manage during the 5-7pm time slot and have learned if I wait until then to start dinner, everything gets real tense, real quick.

Archie getting impatient and foraging
If it's not a crock pot meal, I like to get dinner prepped around 2pm while my daughter is at school and the boys fake-nap (because nobody really sleeps but I am committed and still go through the motions), put things in the fridge then finish cooking a little before 5. Our bedtime routine starts at 6:15/6:30 so this keeps things from feeling rushed and allows me to spend my time with my husband relaxing rather than rushing to finish dinner and clean the kitchen!

These little people are fun to cook for!

Butternut Squash Soup 

Buy a few bags of precut, diced butternut squash (I find them at CostCo or TJ's)
Dice an onion
Put it all on a few baking sheets and coat with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and s & p
Roast for 30 minutes at 425 degrees, turning a few times-- or not, whatever it will still be good
Put everything in a high power blender (i.e. Vitamix or you can use an immersion blender) with chicken stock/broth
Blend, and pour into a dutch oven or pot-- the negative with this meal is all the cooking sheets but at my house they all go into the dishwasher!
Add enough broth to get the consistency you want-- I like my soup to be thick!
Heat until boiling then quickly turn down to simmer
Simmer as long as you want! The longer the better but don't let it burn :)
Add heavy cream if that's your thing a few minutes before serving
Definitely add bacon pieces and/or goat cheese crumbles

Roasted Chicken with Apples

I love, love, love this dish. I could make a roasted chicken EVERY day. The only problem is-- I ALWAYS cook it upside down. It is a really issue. I don't know why. I think it's because I never cooked raw meat until I got married so it all still overwhelms/confuses me. And the chicken looks so close to being alive with its little legs and wings that you have to tuck under, I consider becoming a vegetarian everytime, it is just a lot to deal with. So I flip my chicken halfway through in case it was upside down initially!

This is the original recipe. I season the chicken with whatever I have on hand, usually one of my favorite blends from Penzey's. The last 30-45 minutes I drizzle it with honey too, because-- so good! Onions and sweet potatoes are your friends here- cube them and add them to the pan and if you don't have more room, add more pans! The apples will totally surprise you. I often bring this meal to friends who just had babies!

This is my picture last night of my upside down chicken with our favorite side--roasted broccoli, overconfidence led me to skip the flip o imagine my disappointment when I went to slice it and it was breast-side down!

And my husband making sure I understand exactly how the chicken should be for future reference, can't make this stuff up--

Roasted Pork Butt

So to be honest, I used to always make pulled pork in the crockpot and it grossed me out. The easy recipe for this is to buy a pork butt or shoulder, put it in the crockpot, cover it with water, and cook it on low for 8-10 hours. Drain, then shred the pork and add your bbq sauce. This is totally functional but I am not a fan of cooking meat in water and knew there had to be another way!

Now I cook it in the oven in the dutch oven and it is ahhhh-mazing! Again, very little prep involved. 1. You can sear pork beforehand in your skillet, but I only do that if we're having company over because my family could care less. Or maybe I could care less, who knows! 
2. Put pork in dutch oven with a sliced onion, a can of chicken broth, a few tbs of apple cider vinegar, a glug of worcestershire sauce, and season to your liking. Just make sure pork is not submerged rather the liquid covers HALF the pork
3. Cook for 3-4 hours at 300 degrees and check to see if it's fork tender
4. Serve with mac and cheese or little Hawaiian rolls to make pork sliders! Add sauce if that's your jam, but I've often found it's flavorful enough without it! 

Skillet Pork Chops and Apples

This recipe is from my sweet friend Ashley Warrior. It's quick to prep and we usually have the ingredients on hand. It is a great one to serve to guests, the cooking time definitely varies depending on the size of your pork chops! Here in Iowa we have some BIG ones so when I am cooking this during the week, I use the small, boneless chops to move things along quickly.
1. S & P the pork chops, dredge in flour
2. Heat oil in skillet, cook chops 1-2 min on each side so they're barely golden. Remove from skillet and set aside
3. Add more olive oil to skillet and a few tbs of butter
4. Sauté 3-4 sliced granny smith apples and 1-2 onions, also sliced
5. Add to skillet 1/3 cup worcestershire sauce and 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, black peppercorns if you have them, and a teaspoon of ground mustard
6. When apples and onions begin to cook down, add chops back in, and cook all together until pork chops are done

"The" Salad

I wish I could remember where I got this recipe so I could credit the source, it is the only salad I know how to make and often serve it to company. I am very picky about salad, as I was allergic to lettuce for 10 years and still have some PTSD when it comes to eating it. This is worth making, I promise!
Mix chopped romaine and fresh spinach
Add in feta cheese, sliced apple or pear, bacon crumbles, chopped pecans, and thinly sliced red onion
For the dressing mix 1 part poppyseed dressing to 1 part balsamic vinaigrette (for both we use Newman's Own) 

Easy Crock Pot Meals

I am so hooked on these. They are not super healthy but I usually balance it out by having my breakfast and lunch be only protein/fruit/veggies --unless I drive thru Chick-fil-a then it's nuggests/fries/sauce.

I like to let dinner be anything that is easy and tell my family that I love them through ways other than nutritious food. JUST to redeem myself some-- I will tell you we buy the meat organic from CostCo and all of these can be made gluten free, thank you household wheat allergy!

My favorite part is the clean up. I haven't bought the crockpot liners YET but it is only a matter of time before I go all in as a Domestic Diva. Last night I made chicken fajitas and was planning on cooking them in the skillet per usual but had some extra time while the boys were napping/playing with trains so I just threw all the ingredients in the crockpot on high-- Bam! Love it!

Beef with Pepperacini Peppers

This is from my friend Erica Holland, it is a favorite in our family!
1. Chuck roast
2. Jar of Merzetti thinly sliced Pepperacini Peppers (must be this type and brand otherwise I don't know what will happen to your meal)
3. Package of Good Seasons Italian Dressing (if you accidentally get spicy you are screwed! So hot!)
Add ingredients to crock pot in order listed above and cook on low 6-8 hours. We love it with this rice or in tacos. It is a little spicy and the jar of peppers has a vinegar base so keep that in mind if you have picky eaters. My kids love it though!

Spicy Chicken Alfredo

This recipe is from another gal pal Ashley Butler
1. 4-6 raw chicken breasts
2. 1 can Rotel
3. 1 jar Sundried Tomato Alfredo Sauce
4. Your favorite pasta (I use TJ's GF penne but bowtie would be my preference if I wasn't GF!)
Season chicken however you like (I use some s & p, thyme, garlic salt and oregano), put in crock pot, and pour on Rotel. Cook on low 3-4 hours until chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and then add the alfredo sauce to the crockpot. Boil your bowtie pasta, drain, and stir it into the chicken/sauce mixture. Now it's ready to eat with some fresh green beans to make you feel better about carb loading + garlic bread to remind you that carbs are amazing.

Stuffed Peppers in the Crock Pot

This was great to have waiting for us when we got home from gymnastics this week. Just prep the stuffed pepper mixture like you normally would (we use sautéed onion, ground beef, half a jar of marinara sauce, a pkg of microwaved rice, seasonings) Then clean out the center of the pepper, fill with the meat and rice mixture, arrange in the crock pot, and in the remaining marinara sauce- I added a cup of water as well. Cook on low-- when we got home 4 hours later, the peppers were soft and perfect. Of course added shredded cheese for the kiddos-- and thank you Miss Emmy for dumping your entire plate on the white carpet. Bless.

Sweet Corn Chili 

We've been using this recipe from Mix and Match Mama and it's awesome. We served it to our neighbors last week with cornbread and baked potatoes!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I modify this recipe by eliminating the cream of chicken soup and adding in some seasonings. Any crock pot meal where you can just put the chicken in raw is a life saver to me!

Barbacoa Chuck Roast

Have you tried these sauce and seasoning packets by Rick Bayless? We are hooked on this one and the guacamole mix! I have seen them at Whole Foods, our local grocery store (HyVee), and ordered them on Amazon. You simply buy a chuck roast, add the sauce and an onion-- cook on low and it's wonderful! If you feel healthy you can always eat it with cauliflower rice or be like us and pile on the cheese, sour cream, and guac and serve in tacos! I can't say enough good things about the guacamole mix though, please try it asap with a margarita in my honor!

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas

Whatever chicken breasts we have, I put in the crockpot and season, then cover with BBQ sauce-- a recent favorite is the Carolina Gold flavor at Trader Joes. Cook on low for 4-6 hours until you can shred chicken.

Add chicken and any other ingredients (sliced bell peppers, black beans, roasted corn, etc) to corn tortillas with shredded queso cheese and cook on the skillet. Use butter of course to get the tortillas nice and crispy.
Carmelize some onions too if you really want to make this delicious and wow your peeps with your culinary genius!
If I am feeling super crazy, I put a dollop of sour cream on the plate with chopped green onions on top. This is partly because it looks nice but mostly because I love sour cream and green onions!

Pot Roast in Crockpot

To be honest sometimes this is amazing and sometimes it is so... pot roast.
But it still works when we're in a pinch and I usually have these ingredients on hand!
1. Chuck roast
2. Package of Liptons French Onion dry soup mix
3. Can of Cream of Mushroom soup (Progresso is GF)
4. Assortment of potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, etc
5. Can of beef broth
S & P then sear roast on both sides in a few tbs of oil in cast iron skillet, put in crockpot. While I'm getting everything else ready I turn off the skillet and add a few tbs of butter then soften the onion and garlic before adding it to the crockpot. Layer all the ingredients and cook on low 6-8 hours.
Poor husband-- hot day, hot roast

The Next 3 are Trader Joes Required Recipes:

Shrimp with Butternut Squash Rissoto

1. Buy a 1 lb bag of frozen cooked (seems like an oxymoron but it's an actual thing), large or extra large shrimp or if you're rich-- buy it fresh
2. Frozen Butternut Squash Risotto-- to feed my family, we need 2 bags because the kids love it!
3. Fresh asparagus
First start the asparagus-- toss with olive oil, lemon juice, your favorite seasoning, garlic if you have it. If you have time, roast it at 425 for 10-15 minutes but I just found that in a pinch, you can broil it on low for 5 minutes and it has a similar effect!
Follow directions on risotto package-- is best when cooked in a non stick pan! Takes 5 minutes, no joke!
Defrost the shrimp, dry with paper towel
Add a little olive oil and butter to a skillet, sauté shrimp just a few minutes and add your favorite seasonings and a little lemon juice
It all looks so fancy! Your family will think they're in a five-star restaurant! If I wasn't so lame and allergic to gluten, I would totally service this with some delicious bread too! It all took you 5-10 minutes, not a joke!
Photo Source

Pork Tenderloin with Polenta

1. Buy this Peppercorn/Garlic pork tenderloin
2. Buy the creamy spinach, and carrot polenta (again we need the 2 bags)
Roast the pork according to directions, I like to put little red potatoes and onions in the pan with some olive oil and seasonings
Take the pork out of the oven when finished and while it rests, heat up your polenta!
We eat this with our other favorite side dish-- green beans with bacon because we live in Iowa and are obsessed with pork!
Photo Source: Trader Joe's
Photo Source: Trader Joe's

Here are two other ways I love to cook pork tenderloin, it is such an affordable piece of meat and helps break up the monotony of beef-chicken-fish and helps us forget our commitment to have one vegetarian meal per week
Hoisin Pork Tenderloin
Maple Balsamic Pork Tenderloin originally found in the wonderful book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequest

Carne Asada

1. Cook Carne Asada in cast iron skillet
2.  Remove, slice, add olive oil, an onion and sliced bell peppers to skillet (I buy the frozen, pre-sliced ones from TR's!)
3. Serve with avocado slices in tacos, or use this favorite Jasmine-Pineapple rice recipe to make it into a burrito bowl
Photo Source: Trader Joe's
These next few meals aren't quick, they will take you 20-30 minutes to prep but they are worth it! I'm sharing links but can attest these are tried and true recipes! All of these can be prepped in the morning or the night before.

Spicy Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup: prep ahead of time by getting all your chopping done early in the day then throwing it together and serve with some fresh bread

Chicken Enchilada Casserole: we make this all the time and mix it up by adding in a can of black beans or switching the chicken out with ground beef

Beef Stroganoff Meatballs: I never grew up eating anything "Stroganoff" but comfort food is always one of my go-to's while pregnant. This was delicious and lower in fat than expected! Just subbed out the flour with a GF blend I had on hand

Stuffed Pasta Shells: we use low-fat cheese and double the batch making one pan of spinach shells and one sausage-- a wonderful meal to bring a new mama as well!

White Chicken Chili with Collard Greens: this might be the only healthy Paula Deen recipe I've used but we love it and the greens add a great taste 

I hope you find some of these meals helpful and give them a try. I am no expert in the kitchen at all, just an average, rushed mama trying to make things quick and healthy-ish. I really do love to eat though and since we eat most of our meals at home, this list keeps me sane!
If you liked this post-- read this one on saving/spending at the grocery store 

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