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Adventures in early literacy

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Golden Baskets

These are nothing short of amazing.  Sweet and spicy little Thai appetizers, or a main course, from Steven Raichlen.

16 small muffin tins, 1 1/2 to 2 inches across (we used a regular-sized muffin sheet, and while the cups disappeared inside of them, it otherwise worked fine)
Asian sesame oil or spray oil
16 3 to 4-inch Chinese gyoza wrappers

For filling:
12 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots (green onions), minced (about 3 or 4 Tbs worth)
1 Tbs minced fresh ginger (I eyeballed the ground stuff)
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 tsp curry powder
2 Tbs packed light-brown sugar, or to taste
2 Tbs fish sauce or soy sauce, or to taste

For garnish:
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced finely as possible
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, minced
cilantro sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 375.  Brush the muffin tins with sesame oil, or spray, and press wrappers into each.  Trim off excess dough if you have it.  Bake until the shells are browned and crisp, ten to fifteen minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Trim fat from chicken and mince (this was an exciting opportunity to use the huge cleaver we received for Christmas.)  Heat canola oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.  Add garlic, shallots, ginger, chilies, curry powder and cook, stirring continuously, until lightly browned, about three minutes.

Add the chicken and saute until cooked through, another five minutes, crumbling with a wooden spoon.  Add the sugar and fish sauce and cook another minute.  Taste and add either more sugar or sauce – the mixture should be salty, sweet, and spicy.

Place about a tablespoon of filling in each shell, garnish with cucumber, pepper and cilantro – serve hot.


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Cheesy Smoked Iowa Chops w/ Honey-Ginger Marinade

This recipe is from Paul Kirk, the “Baron of BBQ.”  This was our first time ever having pork chops that were smoked, and the result was to-die-for.  Explosive smoke flavor, outrageously moist – you’ll want to have them again and again.

Note:  Recipe for 6 servings.  Adjust accordingly.

For the marinade:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup clover honey
2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, pressed

6 Iowa chops (we used 1 1/2″ thick boneless chops from the meat counter)
2 tsps peeled grated fresh ginger
6 slices Monterey Jack cheese
6 slices sharp cheddar cheese

Meat fresh from the butcher is the way to go.

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Put the chops into a large Pyrex dish or a Zip-Lock, cover with marinade, turn to coat, and let sit 2-3 hours or over night, turning occassionally.

Note:  I didn’t have apple juice, so I just used apple cider vinegar, in a smaller quantity.  Seemed fine.

Chops and marinade, ready to go.

When you’re ready to cook, a few things happen at once.  First, prepare an indirect fire in the grill (I used a smoker box, but a charcoal grill set up for indirect would be fine, or just light one side of a gas grill.)

Preparing charcoal fire for smoker.

Second, remove the chops from the marinade.  Then transfer the marinade to a sauce pan and bring to a boil over med-high heat, simmer five minutes, then set aside.

Note:  the smoke flavor is a personal preference thing.  I used soaked wood chips, a mixture of 70/30 apple and hickory, adding more as necessary throughout.

Place the chops in the barbecue, cover, and smoke at 230-250 degrees for thirty to forty-five minutes, brushing frequently with reserved marinade (I found my temperatures dropped too quickly if I brushed any more than once every ten minutes, but I have kind of a tempermental [cheap] barbecue.)

Have a good heat monitor.

The aroma is sure to make neighbors envious.

After thirty to forty-five minutes, turn and continue to smoke, brushing with marinade (I used a new brush at this point, but that’s me) until no longer pink in the middle, another half hour or so, depending on your temperatures (they’ll be pink on the edge from the smoke, so use an instant-read thermometer if you’re unsure.) 

When the chops are done, sprinkle them with grated ginger, and place a slice of Monterey and cheddar on each, cover and smoke until the cheese has melted, about two minutes.  Serve immediately, and enjoy.

Isn't that one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen?

Perfect smoke ring on the outer edge.


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3 Cheese Ravioli in Mushroom Pancetta Sauce

Since my mom was in town last weekend we decided to make ravioli again. This time I used an extra cheese for the ravioli and a new sauce to top everything off.

Pancetta Mushroom Ravioli

Check out my previous post for ravioli making instructions. It wasn’t as easy to make this time, for some reason. There was a lot of yelling and frustration at that stupid dough, but it tasted great in the end! We added about 1/4 cup fontina to the filling this time to really make it special.

What you will need for the sauce:

1 large pot (big enough to hold the sauce and cooked ravioli), 3 Tbsp olive oil, 5 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 cup pancetta, 3 cups mushrooms (your choice-shitake, crimini, oyster, or white), 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth, 4 Tbsp unsalted butter

In 3 Tbsp of olive oil I sauteed 5 cloves of garlic with about 1 cup of pancetta. Once the pancetta was crisp I added about 3 cups of white mushrooms. Saute until the mushrooms have softened (about 5 minutes) and add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth or stock. Cook until sauce is reduced by half. Add 4 Tbsp unsalted butter and cook, shaking the pan, until the sauce thickens and looks velvety.

Transfer your cooked ravioli to the pot and cover with sauce. Serve with parmesan grated on top. We enjoyed our ravioli with some delicious bread with hunks of garlic inside from a local bakery and a fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Our wine for the night was H3 Cabernet Sauvignon. Yum yum.

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Artichokes and Pancetta in Spaghetti

I know, more Italian. But I LOVE it SO much!!! That and this is a Mario Batali recipe. ‘Nuf said.

We halved his recipe since we really should never eat 6 servings of anything. Unless one of you would like to come haul us out of the house in a wheelbarrow in 10 years. Anyway, here is the recipe and I’ll walk you through it, too.

First of all, I took a major shortcut and used artichoke hearts from a jar. It might have been better with fresh artichokes, but you know, I didn’t miss it. Plus, it cuts out a big step. I still soaked them in the bowl with the lemons, but I’d probably skip this next time since it’s only real purpose was probably to tenderize the artichokes. Since mine were already tender it was an unnecessary step.

Anyway, get started by chopping all your veggies. You want to basically mince half of a medium onion and thinly slice 4 cloves of garlic. In case I haven’t already mentioned it, we LOVE garlic so I did 6 cloves. The more, the merrier if you ask me.  Also chop up your artichoke hearts (about half a small jar) into bite sized pieces. If you like pancetta go ahead and use at least 2 oz. of it diced. You can use more if you really like it. Next time I’m thinking I’ll use an entire 4 oz package. You should be able to find pre-diced pancetta in your deli section.

Now that you are all ready to go, put about 1/8 of a cup (remember, this is if you are making a smaller batch) of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a medium to large-sized pan. Heat the oil and add your onions, garlic and pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened (or until the onions are starting to be see-through), about 10 minutes. Add the artichokes to the pan. If you used ones from a jar also add the wine at this point. 1/4 cup of dry white wine. We used a Pinot Gris, which also went very well to drink with dinner. Cover the pan and simmer over moderately low heat, about 5 minutes or until everything is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Artichoke Pancetta Sauce

While all this is cooking get your water boiling for your noodles. Cook the noodles about a minute less than you normally would. Drain the noodles, but set aside about 1/4 cup of the noodle water to add to the sauce. Add the drained noodles and the reserved water to the pan with the artichokes. Toss everything together for about a minute over medium-low. Remove from heat and add about 1/4 cup parmesan.  Sprinkle more parmesan on top. We also LOVE parmesan. 🙂

Artichoke Pancetta Spaghetti

Pinot Gris and Artichoke Pancetta Spaghetti

And now for something completely different… (hope I didn’t just break a thousand copyright laws by stealing a Monty Python title)

Spring is here! Okay, not officially, but we are doing yard work and gardening anyway. So far we have ripped up grass (remember our friend from a previous post?) and planted shrubbery and now lots of pretty perennial bulbs between the shrubs. And in the back we have improved our garden (I say “we” but really should say Kev) and are now convinced our vegetables will grow without us even having to plant them. That’s how awesome the garden is. Pictures of the garden forthcoming…

Spring Flowers

Spring also means spring break, which means my mom is coming to visit!!! YAY! And to really top things off, my bestest friends from Las Vegas will be in Portland for a conference next week. Double YAY! March might be my favorite month so far this year. Tonight Kev made the best corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes I’ve ever had (sorry Mom) and to accompany it I had some Irish Cream on the rocks. Aside from green, these are really the only Irish things I know. And no, I don’t like beer. Sorry, it’s so not yummy.

And now I’m off to finish a super challenging puzzle. Hope you all had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Until next time, Happy Eating!

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Cheddar Jalapeño Stuffed Burger

Burgers are just about the only thing I make without a recipe. That’s because it is really hard to mess up a burger, in my opinion. They are so versatile, you can make them barbecue, plain, stuffed, or you can even use Mexican spices and green chiles for a fiesta! Tonight I decided to spice things up a bit and stuffed our burgers with cheddar and jalapeños.

We used organic beef tonight because that is what we could find in the store, but we usually use turkey. Turkey burgers are our faves! But, all they had was Foster Farms and we don’t do that.  Anyway, on to the “recipe”:

Start by putting your meat in a bowl and adding ground pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and some garlic salt. I’d say about a tsp of each. Mix it all up really good with your hands. Divide your meat mixture in to two or four sections, depending on how many burgers you are making with a pound of burger (should any burger ever be smaller than 1/4 lb? I don’t think so.). Take one chunk of the meat and patty it like a normal burger. Then jab your thumb in the center of the patty, but don’t stick it all the way through.You should have a nice, deep bowl in the center of the patty. Fill this bowl with two slices of cheddar cheese and diced pieces of fresh jalapeño (if you can’t handle a ton of eat put less jalapeño, or just add extra cheese and leave out the peppers-yes, Mom, I’m talking to you). It works best if you put one slice of cheese, then the jalapeños, then the other slice of cheese. Now work the beef from the edges of the patty to cover up the stuffing.  Now you’re ready to cook!

Heat a skillet to medium heat. I use a grill skillet so the burgers still get those grill lines on them, but any skillet will do. Cook the burgers about 8 minutes on each side for beef, about 6 minutes for turkey. We cheat and use a thermometer. When the centers and edges are at 160 degrees its done for us. If you like your beef ones rarer you can cook them to 150.  About a minute before the burgers are done stick your buns in the oven with a slice of colby jack so the cheese gets melted and buns warm. Then serve up! Kev likes his with some grilled onions on top and I like mine with just ketchup and a pickle on the side.

On the menu for tomorrow night: S’mores in a pan for dessert. Yum.


Crepes, Crepes, and More Crepes!

Yep, that’s right. We ate crepes three times (actually I ate them four times!) the last two days. On Sunday morning we went to breakfast with some friends from Seattle and I had super delicious apple crepes. As soon as we got home I knew crepes would be the challenge for this weekend. Since we ate them at a cafe in Santa Monica I have been dreaming of crepes filled with ham and cheese followed by one filled with chocolate and strawberries. First, though, I had to learn how to make the actual crepes. Luckily crepes don’t require any strange ingredients so we didn’t have to go to the store first.

Here’s how to do it:

In a large bowl whisk together: 4 eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 Tbsp melted butter, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt.  Whisk until smooth. If you are having a hard time getting rid of lumps you can transfer the batter to a blender and mix it that way. Or, just mix the whole thing in the blender to start with!

Heat a medium sized skillet (one with low edges) or a crepe pan, lightly greased with a little butter, over medium heat.  Spoon a small amount (about 4 Tbsp) of batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter spreads out across the bottom of the pan. You have to do this fairly quickly because the batter starts to cook pretty fast. Cook the crepes until they are light golden brown on each side, about 1 minute on each side.

Cooking Crepe

Monday morning we ended up spreading raspberry jam on them with a little sprinkling of powdered sugar. It was really tasty! After dinner (delicious flank steak from Trader Joe’s) I made a chocolate ganache (1/2 cup milk brought to a boil in the microwave and them poured over half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and whisked until smooth) and chopped up some strawberries.  Then I cooked up some more crepes and filled them with chocolate and strawberries. When I say they tasted like heaven, I’m not exaggerating. So yummy I dreamt of them last night.

Ganache and Strawberries


Inside of the Crepe

Finished Dessert Crepes

Before I made the chocolate and strawberry crepes I made miniature Key Lime Pies. Isn’t this one cute!?

Mini Key Lime Pie

I still had some crepe batter left over so I covered it with saran wrap and stuck it in the fridge (you can keep it like this for about 2 days). This morning I heated some smoked ham from the deli and grated some monterey cheese to fill the remaining crepes. Oh so good!

Ham and Cheese Crepe

If you are ever in need of a quick, easy meal I can highly recommend whipping up some crepes and filling them with whatever kind of yummy stuff you have around. You won’t be disappointed!

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Chicken Marsala…for weeknight cooking? Yes!

Tonight Kev is sick so I decided to force him to rest and make dinner myself. I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Marsala for a while and didn’t realize how simple it actually was. It always looks so fancy! I started cooking about 6:20 and we ate about 7:15. Not too bad for the first time I’ve every made something, if you ask me! It would probably look a lot nicer on the plate if you added some asparagus or a sprig of parsley, but we didn’t have either. Oh well, how it looks isn’t the most important thing for Thursday night dinner.

Chicken Marsala and Pasta

Basically, roll your chicken (I had 6 tenders) in this flour mixture: 1/8 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano (or more if you like it a lot). In a large skillet melt 4 Tbsp butter in 4 Tbsp olive oil. Lightly brown one side of the chicken in the oil. Flip the chicken and add about 1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh makes all the difference), 1/2 cup marsala wine and 1/4 cup cooking sherry. Put a lid on your skillet and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken half way through. That’s it! You have chicken marsala. How easy is that? Because chicken seems pretty sad by itself I cooked up some angel hair pasta and dressed with my made up pasta sauce: a few Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 1 tsp parsley. Toss the pasta in the sauce and then add some freshly grated parmesan to the top. Yum.

This is the recipe I followed, although not exactly. Instead of pounding chicken breasts thin I just used chicken tenders. Either way apparently works because this dish was really tasty! I really love the gravy-like smooth and creamy consistency.


Linguine in Vodka Sauce

This is a super easy dish even though saying it out loud “Linguine in Vodka Sauce” in a very Italian-like accent makes it sound really fancy. You could easily add some chicken and a side of asparagus to really jazz it up and add color.

The vodka sauce was really tasty, but way too runny. I cooked it and cooked it trying to thicken and it never did so we just ate it as is. Next time I’ll leave out the water the recipe calls for. Still, it was super easy to make and really tasty! I added a little extra red pepper flake because we like things spicy, but you could certainly do everything exactly the way the recipe asks and it would be very good.

For those of you with an aversion to clicking on links, here’s the basic recipe:

You first have to make a marinara sauce. I used a recipe for Perfect Marinara Sauce, which in my humble opinion is nowhere near perfect. So I suggest making your favorite marinara sauce. Mine involves browning some garlic and onions very finely chopped in olive oil then adding a can of tomato sauce (a small one because you only want about 2 cups of sauce), basil, oregano, black pepper and a pinch of brown sugar. If you like chunkier sauce use the Perfect Marinara sauce link above. They call for a can of whole peeled tomatoes. They make it taste really good, but also make it too thin for my liking. My Mom would most likely enjoy the chunkier version. 🙂 Whatever you decide, leave out all the extra goodies like olives, zuchinni, etc. in this sauce. Save those things for spaghetti.

After you have made your basic marinara sauce however you like to make it, saute a couple of shallots (or finely dice some sweet onion) in 2 Tbsps of butter. Add the marinara sauce to your shallots or your shallots to your sauce depending on what kinds of pans you use. Then add 3/4 heavy cream to the mixture and heat through. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and stir in 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Add 1-2 Tbsps of vodka and stir well. That’s it. Told you it was easy.

While you have the vodka out… try my drink of the night: Slutty Shirley. I find having a drink or two while cooking makes the experience twice as nice. To make this drink do a shot of vodka (if you have raspberry vodka use that, but regular works fine) in a glass with a few cubes of ice. Fill the glass almost full with Sprite and add a little grenadine for color. Plop in a maraschino cherry and drink.

Now for dessert: Decadent Raspberry Brownies. They are so amazing they need their own post so check back later for the word on the brownies.


Homemade Cheese Ravioli in Marinara



Does this look like something you’d like for dinner? If so, you have three choices: follow the directions below and make it, go to your local Italian restaurant and pay for it, or head over to my place and I’ll share! 🙂      

 Anne Burrell scares me. But she also makes really delicious looking pastas on Food Network. As luck would have it we received our monthly Food Network Magazine the other day and she had a recipe for homemade ravioli inside. So I decided to conquer my fear of Anne and pasta and beat those eggs like I mean it. Be aggressive!  Even though Anne scares me, I actually really admire her.  After making this ravioli my admiration is greater than ever. While not too terribly hard, this dish is very time consuming and physically demanding. Seriously, kneading pasta dough for 10 minutes really takes it out of you!     



That said, the taste of fresh, homemade pasta is SO worth the work. However, if you have never made this before I’d allow at least 2 hours for the whole meal. The pasta dough has to rest for an hour, and if you are like me you constantly check the recipe to make sure you are doing it right. That eats up a lot of time. Anyway, on to the recipe.       

Pasta: 3 eggs, 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 Tbsp olive oil, dash of salt       

Pile the flour on a large cutting board or the counter and make a well in the middle. Put your eggs, oil and salt in the well. Beat the eggs in the well with a fork. Then use the fork to break the flour wall and gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture. Here is a youtube video to give you a visual       

After the flour and eggs are mixed, gather the dough into a ball and knead. Continue to knead until dough is “smooth and supple”, about 10 minutes. If the dough is too dry (mine was a little dry) get your hands wet and knead the moisture from your hands into the dough. After the dough is kneaded wrap it in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least an hour.  

While the dough is resting prepare your filling: 1 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, 1/8 tsp salt. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer the filling from the bowl into a pastry bag (or a ziploc you don’t mind ruining) and refrigerate.    You can also put in some tallegio cheese, but we didn’t have any.  


Ricotta Filling


Now you have to think about your sauce. I chose to make a marinara because I didn’t have any of the ingredients for Anne’s pancetta mushroom sauce. However, I will be making these again with the pancetta sauce because it looks awesome. The marinara was pretty good. It would have been better with fresh tomatoes, or at least whole canned ones. All I had was tomato puree so that had to work. Here’s how it went: In a large saucepan (big enough to hold your ravioli and sauce) combine 3 Tbsp olive oil, 6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook on medium-low heat until garlic is golden, about 5 minutes.      

Cooking Garlic and Oil


After the garlic is browner than in this picture, add 1 can of tomato puree, 1 can of water, 1 Tbsp basil (or a handful of fresh basil leaves if you have it), 1 tsp salt. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes (it can simmer longer if you need it to, though). Once your raviolis have boiled you will add them to the sauce before serving.      

Your dough should be ready by now. Unwrap it and separate it into 3 pieces. If you have a kitchenaid mixer with a pasta roller attachment you can use it for this. If not you will need a crank pasta roller like mine (you can get one for about $30 at Bed Bath and Beyond and they are super cool!). With your hands, slightly flatten a piece of dough and crank it through the roller on the widest setting. Do this a couple of times. Fold the dough over itself in thirds and feed it through the roller again on the highest setting. Continue to crank the dough through the roller, taking the width setting down one place each time you feed the dough through. When you feed it through on setting 4 on a hand crank roller the dough is done (stop on the second to last setting on a kitchenaid mixer). If your dough gets sticky you can lightly flour it before sending it through again. Your dough should be about 1/16 of an inch thick when finished. Lay the sheets of dough on a lightly floured surface. Very lightly brush the bottom half of the sheet (the half closest to you) with water. See pictures below for visuals for all of this.

Rolling the PastaPasta Sheets



Pasta Sheets


Cut a hole in the corner of your bag of filling and pipe a one inch ball of filling onto your pasta sheets. Pipe the filling on to the damp part of the pasta. Space the filling balls about 2-3 inches from each other.   

Piped Filling on Sheets


After you have piped all along the sheets of dough, fold the dough over the filling and use your fingers to press the two sides of dough together around the filling. Try not to have any air bubbles in the filling section. This isn’t super easy. I messed up a couple of times and filling came oozing out of unsealed holes. DON’T PANIC! Just squeeze the edges a little more tightly and everything will be fine, I promise. Use a cookie cutter to cut the ravioli into their round shape . When all the ravioli are cut place them into a pot of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and into the sauce when they finish boiling.   

Fold Dough Over Filling


Press Dough around Filling


Cut Ravioli


Finished Product


Now put the food on your plate and top with some grated parmesan. Voila! You made a delicious dinner!    

I made lemon bars out of the Food Network Mag as well but they are terrible in comparison to my tried and true recipe so I’m not even going to post them. Maybe I’ll post my fav lemon bars soon. We had kind of a strange and busy weekend so the chocolate covered cherries never happened. I will make them soon.   

Until then, Happy Eating!

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Sweet and Sour Chicken Stir Fry

Today we had company for dinner so I made stir fry with a homemade sweet and sour sauce. It was very tasty, although next time I will try to add or change some things to spice up the flavors a bit. Kev loved it, though, and that’s what really counts.

I also used our rice cooker for the first time. How did we ever live without it?! Fresh rice is so much better than instant and so easy with the rice cooker! For three I used 1 1/2 cups of rice and 2 cups of water. It worked out really well with only a tad bit left over.

For the stir fry I use 2 small carrots, one green bell pepper, one red bell pepper, half of one white sweet onion, and one pound of chicken breast tenders, sliced into bite sized pieces. Somehow my brain locked up and I cooked the chicken first, which I wouldn’t recommend. Stick the chicken in a medium hot pan with some oil and the sliced onions and carrots. After the onions are cooked to the desired consistency add the peppers and sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and sour sauce: 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 ketchup,  1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsps cornstarch, 2 tsps soy sauce, 3 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp salt

Cook all ingredients until sauce begins to thicken. That’s it. Stir fry is super easy! It is a really healthy, simple dinner for those nights when there isn’t a lot of time to put a really big dinner together. My favorite part about stir fry is that you can put any kind of vegetable or meat in it. If you don’t have time to go to the store use whichever veggies you have around. You can use teriyaki sauce, or some other kind of bottled sauce instead of making your own. Get creative!

Lemon bars just came out of the oven. I’ll try to get a picture of them-unfortunately we ate too fast to get a picture of the stir fry.

Happy eating!