Sunday, March 29, 2009

MPM--April Already?!

No April Foolin' here. Last week was a huge success, with some super-easy meals that ...well, not everyone liked but all the intended audiences did.

First, I switched up my days a bit and made the Noble Pig's Plum Jelly Chicken, though I made mine with chicken breasts "Italian style" (ie, the butcher sliced them thin for me). Surely, I thought, this can't be as good as the reviews say. Yup, it's that easy and yummy too. If you are looking for an easy sweet-n-sour kind of dish, this is it. Noble Pig's plum jelly chicken rocked. Go, click, find yourself some plum jelly and have a nice easy dinner. Yummy over rice, of course. And the Chinese five-spice powder that has been hanging around my house for some by-now-forgotten recipe? Delicious. I will look for excuses to use it in the future. The name implied to me that it would be spicy (duh) which I interpreted to mean "hot." Nope. Just complex and fabu.

The second huge success was something I'd tried before, which was the Smitten Kitchen black bean tacos. Here's the funny thing: she thought it was so simplistic she was embarrassed to post it. It was really simple. And the last time I tried it? I messed it up. No, really. I did. I thought the heating the tacos--ok, frying--was a bridge too far, and I think I didn't feel like mashing them, or maybe I used the Goya soup instead, which is luscious but too runny for this particular recipe....anyway, it wasn't good. But I still had half a head of cabbage and two limes in the fridge, so I cowboyed up and tried again. HUGE success. This actually did take only 10 minutes. The longest part of the recipe was the chopping, and it was a half a head of cabbage and two bunches of green onions. This time, I followed directions to the letter, substituting the cole slaw she suggests (which next time I will make without the red onion as I felt like that made it just a scootch too sharp with all the scallion flavor in the dressing already). I even siphoned off part of the substitute cole slaw to mix with the lime juice and that was ideal as I adore limes but my husband thought the original cole slaw was great. I expected him to try one of the tacos to be polite and switch back to the meat ones I made for our son who loves tacos. And instead, he sat and waited for the next batch of bean ones to be done. Hurrah! (And, it took care of the feta, cabbage, limes, packet of tortillas, box of taco kit, a bag of lettuce, some cilantro, and all the fixin's from earlier in the week with the original taco recipe. That was a good EDF tradeoff for one can of black beans.) And even the extra cole slaw did not go to waste; my husband asked me to get the local produce place's handmade tortilla chips to dip in to it and scooped it up like salsa. Woohoo! A new vegetarian dinner, and one that will help us in CSA box time to boot.

And a flier that wasn't on last week's menu but squeaked in at the last minute: this recipe from Jennifer at Mothers of Brothers (via The Wednesday Chef via the NYTimes) for roasted broccoli and shrimp. In my strange oven that defies temperature measures, the shrimp took longer than promised, which overdid the broccoli, and they are right: do not forget the last squeeze of lemon. But for an easy one dish meal (two if you make the rice or couscous, which you should), this was awesome.

And to all the local commenters: Yes, Marrakesh (the restaurant, though I would assume the city too) is still there. I see a future bloggy meetup location since it appears no one has been there in a year that starts with the number 2 but we all still have fond memories!

Another thing I tried last week was for me alone: the Vegan Lunchbox morning smoothie, ingredients listed here in her tribute to her VitaMix. I had everything already, including the pomegranate juice...with the exception of vanilla soy milk instead of hemp milk. It was also a great place to use my blueberry flavored ground flaxseed, bought by mistake at Trader Joe's. It was...interesting. Maybe the VitaMix does a better job getting the spinach really really small so it doesn't stick to her teeth. And I think I used too much spinach as it definitely did not "disappear" in to the smoothie. So, I've decided I'll try it again (I still have plenty of all the ingredients) this week, with less spinach (it was hard to measure amounts while it was still frozen, with its shape not working for the measuring cups I have, and I am not good at guessing). And, when I stopped in the health food store for dye-free jellybeans (so the artificial-color-avoiding cousins will have Easter candy too), hemp milk was on sale, which I took as a sign, and got some to try. I'm not really anti-dairy, but I'm always game to try alternatives. I felt almost dirty buying hemp milk, and was tempted to go on line to make sure it was really ok, but in the end, I threw caution to the wind, figured it would be hard to run an advertised sale on an illegal product, and popped it in my fridge for tomorrow morning's smoothie attempt #2.

I even made two desserts last week, one using a bag of frozen cherries that has confounded me since my kids have started eschewing chocolate soy milk (we used to mix chocolate soy milk with the frozen cherries for smoothies). In an old O magazine, there was a cherry clafouti recipe. I wasn't crazy about it, but my husband loved it. The other was one my oldest had seen on a rouge episode of Everyday Food for a baked pear with raspberry sauce, and while he hated the sauce, he enjoyed the pear and my husband and I had a hard time restraining ourselves from licking the plate clean.

Cherry Clafouti
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing
2 cups fresh (or frozen, unthawed) cherries, pitted
1/3 C granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 C whole milk
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Fill with cherried.
2. In a blender, combine sugar, eggs, milk, flour, salt adn butter until smooth Pour batter over cherries in prepared pie plate.
3. Bake until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve hot.
Makes 12 servings
O magazine, July 2006, p. 204.

A friend requested the recipe for Hot Chicken Salad, and I realized I never posted it here. I discovered this casserole at a bridal shower for a friend. It does make a ton--even though it calls for a 9x13 pan, I often also make a small one to freeze at the same time. There's not much way to make it healthier except that I do use lowfat soup, mayo, and cheese so it's slightly less of a cardiology nightmare. But served with a salad and another light veggie, it's really a nice little dish. One other note: don't get lazy like I do about smashing the potato chips. When I had this originally, I didn't even realize they were chips. I am not that patient, and it does not come out as well. Really get in there and crush 'em. You'll be glad you did.

Hot Chicken Salad
serves 12

6 Cups cooked chicken (cubed--broil or poach to cook, or the original hostess used Perdue Short Cuts) (usually this is 3-4 boneless breasts)
4 Cups chopped celery
1 1/2 Cups mayonnaise (low fat works, no-fat doesn't)
4 Tablespoons lemon juice ( juice from one medium lemon)
2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup (light works)
salt & pepper to taste
2 Cups sliced almonds
sliced Swiss cheese (from the deli or usually one pack from the lunchmeat fridge will do)
one medium bag Cape Cod style potato chips, crushed (I think Cape Cod is like "kettle" style)

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl except for Swiss cheese and potato chips.
Put in a 9x13 pyrex dish. Cover with Swiss cheese slices and then crushed chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes if right out of the fridge.

So, on to April. March came in like a lion and is leaving sort of the same way, except I really doubt there will be any more snowstorms, so we're crawling to lambhood here.

Sunday: grilling in the sudden spring (ahhhh), plus leftovers. Using the hot dogs and buffalo burgers from the freezer at least!

Monday: turkey burgers crusted with pistachio (recipe from the paper; I'll post it if it's good); day-ahead mashed potatoes; broccoli, fresh shelled peas (my oldest can't wait to do them--yay! he remembers that job fondly from last summer)

Tuesday: freezer/crockpot meal. No idea what kids will have but husband and I will have veggie shu mai from Trader Joe's and crockpot chicken wraps, thanks to the always inspirational Accidental Hausfrau. If that doesn't go well, we also have in the freezer two boxes of curried chicken stix, also from Trader Joe's. Probably also rice from freezer, also from Trader Joe's. Sensing a theme to my shopping problem here.

Wednesday: quiche lorraine (I know--using all those eggs before Easter!--but I'm thinking we're just a bit too far out to hard boil them and save them for Easter, which is still almost two weeks away), salad, sugar snap peas.

Thursday: leftovers, augmented by freezer meal/s

Friday: after the success of the black bean tacos, we're trying black bean burgers from Gourmet, recommended by Domestic Reflections, one of my new blog crushes, sweet potato fries for grownups, tater tots for kids, carrots and celery sticks.

It's been fun having a more-empty fridge. It's been cheaper to actually use all our food! And it's been fascinating trying all these recipes. Thanks to all who have contributed ideas! Have a good week, and check in at I'm an Organizing Junkie! for more inspired weekly menus.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Fun, Crafts and Recipes
Happy Friday! Here's this week's FFOF meme questions and answers!

#1. What’s your favorite cereal?

Good question. It used to be Frosted Mini Wheats, and probably still is, but in general, I just like cereal, period. Even things like 100% Bran work for me. For my husband, though, it's Life and only Life. Not cinnamon, not with raisins, maybe with some bananas, but just Life. Period.

#2. What do you use to flip food on the stove?

My silicone spatula. Love it. It's an OXO Good Grips one, like this one in blue.

#3. What’s your favorite type of donut?

Dunkin' Donuts jelly with sugar, though sour cream or original dunkin' or plain old glazed or chocolate glazed are all good too. And we do miss Krispy Kremes, but I have to be honest: I have a little personal thing with them. On 9/11/01, I was on a business trip in southern VA, winding our way to Tennessee. The trip was not cancelled despite the attacks. The only saving grace was that I was with three colleagues and we kept each other close. The trip ended that Friday, and we had to drive back to our homes (mostly) in the northeast since planes were still not flying. We made a pact to stop as little as possible as we were all desperate to go home to our families. And all we had in the car for almost 14 hours was a big old box of Krispy Kremes. And alas, I have never felt the same about them since that scary, surreal drive, with American flags on all the overpasses and all the other strangeness that comes from that many miles of driving on secondary highways. (We thought getting stuck next to the pig truck was bad, with all those little snouts sticking out of those teeny spaces. Then we got stuck behind a chicken truck, with sticky feathers flying. We really expected the locusts to descend at any moment.)

I'm sorry, were we talking about donuts? Really, almost any donut is a good donut.

#4. Share a rice recipe.

Oh, this is one of my favorites, and one that again we thank Kelly for every time we make it! Even with the leftover rice, it takes a while with the double roasting and all, so prepare mentally for that, but oh, yum, is it worth it.

From the indispensable Epicurious.

Zucchini Rice Gratin
Gourmet magazine, March 2008, Andrea Albin.

yield: Makes 4 to 6 (side dish) servings
active time: 25 min
total time: 1 1/4 hr
With golden cheese that yields to an abundance of roasted vegetables, this gratin is an ideal side dish, but it really doesn't need anything more than a green salad to make it a satisfying dinner.

1/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

Preheat oven to 450°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Cook rice according to package instructions.

While rice cooks, toss zucchini with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a shallow baking pan. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another baking pan.

Roast zucchini in upper third of oven and tomatoes in lower third, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender and light golden, about 10 minutes for tomatoes; 20 minutes for zucchini. Leave oven on.

Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir together onion mixture, cooked rice, eggs, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread half of rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with half of zucchini. Spread remaining rice mixture over zucchini, then top with remaining zucchini. Top with tomatoes and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

Bake in upper third of oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

(And I'll add, try not to hide from family and eat all by yourself. And another great way to use the CSA veggies in late summer. This recipe, like the shepherd's pie, gets better with more veggies rather than fewer.)

Have a good week--and if you want to play--or read people's donuts without a heapin' helping of PTSD, click on the button above!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MPM--Eating Down the Fridge In Review

It was another cooking frenzy here, trying to use what we had in thoughtful and thorough ways. We had a few old standbys, and a few new recipes. Hits and misses with recipes are at the bottom of the post.

We are here at the end of week 2 of Eating Down the Fridge, and things look no different. Part of this was my Sensible Shop FAIL; part of this was the sheer amount of stuff I was starting with. I did end up using a bunch of stuff; and I was happy to make a bunch of Aid for Friends meals out of some of the less successful or bigger recipes (such as the stuffed cabbage and the hot chicken salad).

So, for this week:

Monday: leftover Hot Chicken Salad, rice, regular old lettuce salad, roasted beets

Tuesday: tacos

Wednesday: Freezer Food and salad. We have a variety of choices, primarily from Trader Joe's, ranging from an appetizer buffet to flatbreads to gnocchi alfredo. We'll figure something out.

Thursday: leftover tacos, possibly augmented by the black bean ones for the grownups

Friday: back to the favorite pizza place, I'd imagine, or another spaghetti night.

Am I glad we did the EDF challenge? Yes, if only because it wasn't that much of a challenge and it reminded me to work harder on shopping for what I need, not what I feel like. New strategy: take in ONE canvas bag. Shop without a cart. When the bag is full, I'm done. And, I was able to donate quite a bit, and that made me feel good too.

Need new inspiration? Try the list at I'm an Organizing Junkie! There are so many clever ideas there, I'm in awe every week. Below, recipes from last week's menus.

Hit: the carrot salad from Marrakesh, a restaurant in Philadelphia whose recipe was included in this month's Gourmet. Having eaten there, oh, almost 20 years ago, I really did remember the amazing flavors of this salad. The at-home recipe came close; but wasn't quite the dance-in-the-mouth of the original. I'm going to keep fussing with it; I remember the dressing being more liquid, and this was almost a paste, but here's the basic idea:

Oasis Carrot Salad
Adapted from Marrakesh
serves 4 (first course or side dish)
Active time: 15 minutes; Start to Finish: 3 1/4 hours (includes chilling)
(note from me: It is that quick if you are better at chopping and prepping than I am)

Lightly garlicky and herbed, Moroccan-inspired carrots are versatile enough to accompany almost any meal.

1 lb carrots, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
2 Tbs chopped onion, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cook carrots in a medium saucespan of boiling water until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well.
Meanwhile, pulse onion and garlic with oil, vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a food processor until very finely chopped. Toss with carrots and chill at least 3 hours,
Just before serving, toss salad with cilantro, parsley, and salt to tasted.
Cooks' note: Carrot salad can be chilled up to 24 hours. Add herbs just before serving.
From Gourmet magazine, March 2009, p. 17.

Neither hit nor miss: Greek-Style Turkey Burgers. I got the recipe from the Summer 2008 Diabetic Living magazine, which I picked up because I have a diabetic brother in law and thought it would probably be a source of healthier recipes than I've been finding on my own. They were fine, and the kids even both ate some. But the genius of Rachael Ray's poultry burgers is her sauces, and this was lacking one. But, someone with better kitchen instincts than I have could probably come up with something awesome. I tried to fake the an olive spread from the 5 ingredient appetizer book, but I couldn't remember three of the ingredients which really made it not work.

Greek-Style Turkey Burgers
servings: 4 (1 burger, about 1/3 c salsa and 1 pita half each) (note: I got 8 burgers, not 4, from the pound)
carbs per serving: 23 g

1/3 c fine dry whole wheat bread crumbs
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 Tbs plain lowfat yogurt (I used Greek style; too thick maybe?)
1 tsp snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp snipped fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 Tbs crumbled feta cheese
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 lb uncooked ground turkey breast or chicken breast
mixed torn greens (optional)
2 whole-wheat pita bread rounds, halved and lightly toasted
1 recipe olive-tomato salsa (below)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (1 ounce)

1. In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, egg white, yogurt, rosemary, oregano, the 1 tablespoon feta cheese, and pepper. Add turkey, mix well. Shape turkey mixture into 4 3/4 inch thick patties.

2. Place patties on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals. Grill for 12-14 minutes or until no longer pink (165 degrees) turning once halfway through grilling. (NB: I cooked in a pan on the stove.

3. Divide greens, if using and pita halves among four serving plates; top with burgers. Top burgers with Olive-Tomato Salsa and the 1/4 c feta cheese.

Per serving: 275 cal, 6 g total fat (2g sat fat), 53 mg chol, 507 mg sodium, 23 g carb, 4 g fiber, 35 g pro. Exchanges: .5 vegetable, 1.5 starch, 4 very lean meat. Carb choices: 1.5

Olive-Tomato Salsa
In a small bowl, stir together:
1 cup chopped seeded tomatoes
1/4 C chopped, seeded cucumber
1/4 C chopped pitted kalamata or other ripe olives
1/4 tsp snipped fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp snipped fresh oregano or 1/4 tsp dried oregano, crushed
Makes 1.5 cups.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ultimate Blog Party 2009

Ultimate Blog Party 2009
Hi and welcome to anyone visiting from UBP 2009! I'm MemeGRL and this is my site.

Why MemeGRL? Because when I started this blog, I wanted in on the fun, but inspiration was short. I have kiddos, but was antsy about putting them at the center of the blog, because, you know, they have lives, and besides, this was for me. So I started doing memes to get the hang of it. It's evolved in to more of a food blog than I ever meant it to be but who knows where it will go next?

My most common memes are the fabulous Works for Me Wednesday, late of Shannon's blog, now hosted by Erin; Four Foods on Friday by the inexhaustable VALMG, and Menu Planning Monday by I'm an Organizing Junkie. They've all been tremendously helpful (or fun) in one way or another but the MPM has been a real game-changer around here.

If you were to come to my house for a party, I would start by introducing you to my friends, and so I'll do the same here. I started blogging because of my IRL friends at She Started It, Dream Kitchen, My Life as a SAHM and But Wait, There's More! using bits and pieces of inspiration from all of them. Since then, more moms from my Mothers & More chapter have started blogs at The Accidental Hausfrau, The Life You Choose, Motherhood 101 A+, trying to figure it out, and Uncommon Threads.

And I've gotten to know or re-know people from blogging too. Bossy and her mother staged our house for us after our first baby was born. (True!) Well Read Hostess and I worked at the same swim club during summers in high school. Lemonade and Kidneys and I went to high school together and now live a few blocks apart. My kids are some of the ones driving The Domestic Goddess crazy. Philly Expatriate was the blog of someone I knew in high school whom I rediscovered on Facebook. And after realizing that Emily at Mothers of Brothers was leading my parallel life, we met at Starbucks to discover that we'd actually known each other as freshmen in the same dorm when we went to college.

I hate to leave anyone out--the wonderwoman referred to as The Best Babysitter in the World around here blogs; if you are interested in the inner workings of the Catholic church, you can't miss Rocco's blog; and if you enjoy Brain Child magazine as much as I do, you must check out Jennifer's blog. My newest blogfriends are the Tipsy Baker, whom I've met in person because our husbands are friends; and Mom24, who's just a like-minded mama, giving me hints as to what's coming down the pike for me. And there's Write-Sizing, who is one of my husband's best friends, who has lost over 1/3 of her weight in the past 18 months. Or just keep clicking over on the side; if you have questions about anyone, I'll answer as best as I can.

So, welcome! Look around. There are some good party-ready recipes here (check out the pizza dip, for example). Click on the banner to join the party at your blog! There are prizes too...eventually I'll get around to looking at them all and picking some, just in case! Meanwhile, welcome to my blog...and don't miss my friends. They rock!

Friday, March 20, 2009

FFOF 70--The Eating of the Green

Fun, Crafts and Recipes#1. What’s your favorite green food?

Mint chocolate chip ice cream! Or, if you mean food that is green originally...really, any kind of lettuce, believe it or not.

#2. Do you eat anything special on St Patrick’s Day?

Yup! Green foods (think lime jello and pistachio pudding) and Irish foods (salmon, shepherd's pie, potatoes a-plenty, and my mom's Irish Soda Bread recipe). Lucky Charms for breakfast, of course. Irish potatoes for dessert (think a coconut cream Easter egg--little--but covered in cinnamon instead of chocolate). And this year, we found shamrock soft pretzels for snacks.

#3. Do you drink any Irish beverages - tea, coffee, ale, beer, etc?

Irish breakfast tea (especially decaf) is always in my house. And my husband will drink an Irish beer or whiskey anytime.

#4. Share a recipe for corned beef.

Hmmm. I don't think I actually have one. My mother used to essentially boil it in water with cabbage and potatoes but while it is a passable meal, it's nowhere close to enough of a favorite to make it worth stinking up the house for. But oh, my father used to love corned beef hash, and corned beef sandwiches. My, how tastes change! Click on the button above to join the fun!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top o' the Morning To You

I went to the other grocery store near me this morning after I dropped off the kids. I had seven items on my list. I left the store with 12. One extra was windshield washer fluid, which ran out in my car on the way to the store. And my son's favorite cereal was on sale for $2/box, and apple juice for $2.50 (usually $3.69). Today's total: $36.13, with a total savings of $15.74. Much better.

Meanwhile, I wish a blessed St. Patrick's Day to all. Stay safe, kids. Have an Irish potato or some soda bread. If you don't like meat, have salmon tonight. Wear green. Eschew orange. My father was the elementary schools assistant superintendent for decades in a district whose colors were green and white. Every St. Patrick's Day, being the fine Irishman that he was, he would don a shamrock tie, green shirt, and shamrock socks and go to visit the classrooms in all seven of the elementary schools in the district. Woe one year to the teacher who forgot it was St. Patrick's Day and wore an orange dress! My father sent her home to change and taught the class himself while she did. He took them to the library and read them Irish folktales and taught them things like "Erin Go Bragh" and that the proper reply to "Top of the morning to you!" is "and the rest of the day to you!" I know times have changed and there would be protests and class action suits if a teacher were sent home for wearing orange on St. Patrick's Day. But at the time, it was funny, even for the teacher, who never forgot her green again.

And say a prayer or think a good thought for Ireland, where the Celtic Tiger has slunk away, and the ghosts of the Troubles are stirring again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sensible Shopping FAIL

Remember when I said I needed seven items at the store?

Yeah. Three bags later, I am trying to figure out where I went wrong.

Ok, some of it I'm not getting on my own case about. I didn't know we were out of dog food when I made the list. And we finished the orange juice with breakfast. While I have other juices, the OJ is the closest thing to a fruit in its natural state that my youngest will consume, so that gets high replacement priority. And I needed lunchmeat for this week's lunch bunch meal since peanut butter is not allowed at school.

Here's where I made my first mistake: I took the kids.

When my child who eats nothing new ever wants to try goat cheese, what am I supposed to say? I love goat cheese and will certainly encourage this. It will not go bad in our fridge. And the snack food aisle did not go well. One wanted to get Chex Mix "for Daddy." It really is one of his favorites, and I have been avoiding the snack aisle so it's been a while. The baked Cheetos I would have passed by, but I didn't. At least I can compare them to the Trader Joe's ones we usually get and have a real idea of price and (while I balk at the word in this context) nutritional information.

However, I cannot pass all the blame to the children. Apparently I'm not the only one reading Write-Sizing and getting curious about Mary's Gone Crackers. I had asked about them a few weeks ago and got blank looks. I found some (caraway) in the least adventuresome market in my area and bought them to support the expansion of palate. Then this week, our town's teeny grocery store had three different flavors (original, herb, and black pepper). If things don't sell, they don't get replaced. So I'm taste testing them this week too. And I did buy pre-made mashed potatoes, as the ones I had had started to turn. (Nothing says St. Patrick's Day like a slimy, diseased potato! Welcome to America, my ancestors!)

All things considered, it wasn't too much over what was on the list. But. As I unpacked, I found pizza goldfish, which my children do not like but apparently threw in there. ("Too spicy." They love other flavors, but the pizza ones get thumbs down. I TOLD them that. And told them to put them back. Sigh.) And the two steak rolls that their grimy little hands were on in the bin while my back was turned. And the lemonade that holy crow costs way less than the 50 cents each lemons it would take to make it myself. And three Z-bars? We have those at home already! Dang. No wonder my son wanted his own cart. He had his own list!

Total I spent at the store? $136.04. That's a lot for a list of 7 things (ok, 9).

Total for the items on my list? $40.77. Total including items not on the list but should have been (dog food, orange juice)? $74.81. (Dog food and orange juice alone were $20 more.)

Total for kids' splurges? $22.04. Ouch.

Total for my splurges? $37.66. So I suppose this comes squarely back to me.

In my defense: some of my splurges were things like berries, which we will all eat and enjoy and, by all rights, could have been on the list. But for the price of an extra stop, I could have gotten a berry salad for $5 which would have had blackberries and strawberries too; and instead, for the convenience of only shopping at once store, I spent $8.48.

That drive is worth $3.50 to me. So, now I know.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

MPM--Eating Down the Fridge, Take 2 Edition

Hello, menu planners! I hope you all had a nice week. We did a pretty good job Eating Down the Fridge over here, but it was chock full of invisible progress. Anyone who came in to my house unaware would still see a wildly overstuffed pantry and too-small fridge. I made most of the main meals I meant to (look back over the week for reviews and recipes) but didn't get to some of the little things (bar nuts, for example, or carrot cake, or the Oasis Carrot Salad in Gourmet this month from Marrakesh, one of my favorite restaurants when I was in college--and with a carrot salad that I remember, even from that long ago). One hit from the freezer: Morningstar Farms Spinach-Artichoke nuggets. What is it about a nugget that makes them so attractive to kids? It didn't even fake out my older one, he took a bite, said, "Oh! Spinach!" and kept on going. Even with that knowledge, my little one watched him eat and tried some himself. Wonders may never cease.

So, we're continuing this week, with some modifications. I am limiting myself to ingredients on the list Right Now. I'm terrible about buying good deals, or things that aren't always in, or things for that thing I think I'm going to make soon, even though it's not this week.

The exception: if I need more Irish Soda Bread ingredients, I will get them. I'm embarrassed my five year old didn't know or remember what St. Patrick's Day was and in my house growing up, it was as big a minor holiday as any--like Valentine's Day, or half-birthdays, or New Year's. However, I draw the line at ham and cabbage. We've done cabbage this week already, and it does make the house stink. Irish Soda Bread recipe is at the bottom.

Sunday: Greek burgers, spinach, carrot salad

Monday: Hot Chicken Salad, iceberg lettuce salad, applesauce

Tuesday: Happy St. Patrick's Day! Soda bread, of course, and turkey shepherd's pie from Rachael Ray (with half the turkey and double the veggies)

Wednesday: Leftovers.

Thursday: Leftovers or turkey tacos. If I make the turkey tacos, I will also make the Smitten Kitchen black bean tacos with this cole slaw.

Friday: I know, any regular readers will laugh, but honestly, this is the week for the Real Simple ravioli with peas and shallots. I have all I need and more to make it, and this is the year. Week. I mean week.

Here's the embarrassing part: for all of that, I need to buy exactly...7 items. The rest is here already. And I haven't even cracked open a frozen meal yet. Oy.

How about you? Post your menu or get inspired at a new spot this week: $5 Dinners by Erin. (I'm an Organizing Junkie is taking a week off.)

Irish Soda Bread, from my mother, from her friend, Joan Hood Beck

4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 C sugar
1 generous C raisins
2 C buttermilk ([note from my mother] I always measure whole milk, ad a hefty TBS of white vinegar and allow it to curdle while I measure other ingredients.) Have never tried buttermilk. (My note: I have; not a big difference & of course I prefer what I grew up with.)

Mix dry ingredients. Add milk one cup at a time and stir. Add raisins last. Batter is thick.

"Pour" into pan--heavy iron is great. I use one 9" iron round fry pan or two smaller pans. Butter pan(s) lightly on the bottom.

Bake in pre-heated oven 50-60 minutes at 325F until golden brown, separates from pan on the sides I always test in middle with cake tester or big toothpick. Remove and put on cake racks. IR 8-24-99

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge: Days 5 & 6

So, with that little detour out of the way, we continued Eating Down the Fridge in one way or another this week.

On Friday, I worked, and the kids went with a sitter. She fabulously met us at our house and packed a lunch for the boys out of what was in our fridge so even while eating out, they ate from home. I am better at doing that for snacks than for meals but have to remember it's not as hard as I build it up to be.

At the end of the day, I made one of the last first things I wanted to try from How to Eat Supper: the cinnamon scented tomato sauce, with the suggested Muir Glen whole tomatoes. For a switch from our usual classic sauce, it was excellent. It was Greek inspired, so there was more oregano suggested than I will put in next time, but the amount of cinnamon was perfect and I loved the flavor it added. We ate it, as suggested, over perciatelli, which did sop up the flavor nicely, but the best part, as I expected it might be, was the goat cheese on top. It was a perfect way to cut through the stronger flavors of the sauce and add a creamyness to the smoky flavors.

Tonight, I made Thursday's cabbage rolls in my new 12 inch skillet. I used V8 and they tasted just as I remembered from my childhood when Polish friends of my parents would bring them over. They were, alas, not a hit with the family, though I will try to unwrap the insides of one of them tomorrow and see if the kids like it that way. I also made kasha for the first time. It was not a success. I bought it over the summer when we were inundated with cabbage and I asked my macrobiotic friend whether and how she ate it. She replied they just sauteed it and ate it over kasha, so I got the kasha to try it. A stir fry and two cole slaws later, we didn't need to go that route, and this seemed like the week to try the kasha. The box suggested making it with water, broth, or consomme. I loathe consomme, but when picking up Campbell's Beef Broth when sick, I grabbed a consomme by mistake. Thinking this would be a chance for consomme redemption, I used it for the kasha. BLEAH. Never again. I'm going to try the kasha again, but never consomme. It just ruined anything attractive about the kasha. Fortunately (?) I still have half the box left.

And, another confession: I have shopped. We needed milk and bananas for the kids, and while I was there I caved and got more leeks, all of which I have already used. I am obsessed with the potato-leek soup but I really do think I'm over it. I also used one to try the Pan-Fried Chick Pea Salad from 101 Cookbooks. The only thing I needed for it was the leek, and while I clearly could have made it without, I couldn't resist. I was mildly disappointed in it. Her things always look so gorgeous, but except for the healthy cookies, I haven't been able to make anything of hers taste as amazing as it looks and sounds on her site. This is a little tragic to me as I am obsessed with her thoughtful and lovely blog. My latest crush on her is the "iPhone recipes" option, which cuts out all the clutter so if you are shopping or cooking with your iPhone, it goes right to the information without any of the backstory. Genius. Really thoughtful and so West Coast. I love it.

So here we are at the end of the week. You would never know there was progress from my refrigerator or cabinets. My fruit bowl is way down, which can't be bad, and my veggie drawers have more space than usual. So, I'm going one more week, but with a modified shop to get a few things to use up the other things. And I am sticking to my list. Oh yes I am.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Ok, I have a confession, which won't be news to anyone who knows me IRL and sees me on Facebook. I totally whiffed when thinking about the Thursday meal. This is Beer Week. I do not drink beer, ever. My husband loves beer and would pick it in a heartbeat if told he could only have one drink for the rest of his life. So Beer Week always has me sending him off in to the beery world on his own.

But this year, they really ramped it up and got dozens of places involved. And with the sad demise of Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson, this Michael Jackson), there came not just one signature event but a multitude of smaller ones around the city. We got a sitter for Thursday and hit the town.

In a small trash pile in gmail, I discovered that Morimoto, home of the Iron Chef himself, was having an event. It seemed like a perfect night to try it. I've been desperate to go since it opened in 2002 since I was a huge devotee of the original Iron Chef tv show. I took a guess that Chef himself would be there for the event. They were, of course, booked, but I begged and wheedled and got a space at the sushi bar for two.

Bingo. It was dinner and a show, as far as I was concerned. We got to watch the sushi chefs (more like sous-chefs, really) make all kinds of things that were fabulous. My husband got the special beer week menu, where each dish was paired with a beer from Rogue Brewery. I got the omakase, which is where you put yourself in the chef's hands, and he picks what's best that night and what best represents the cuisine of the place.

Start to finish: WOW. After being annoyed for both pregnancies with lousy, lazy mocktails, I'm always excited when a place highlights them with their other drinks. I tried a Japanese pineapple, with calpico, pineapple juice, and cilantro. I ended up with two when one was in a glass with a crack in it. The first was fizzier; the second was more pineapply. Both were excellent.

For dinner, my husband's menu was a toro tortilla paired with mom hefeweizen; steamed pei mussels in lemongrass, curry, and Morimoto pilsner broth, paired with Morimoto imperial pilsner; kurobuta pork with apple mizuna salad, paired with Morimoto hazelnut ale; chef's choice nigiri sushi; and for dessert, the super creative rogue chocolate stout ice cream float with tahitian vanilla ice cream. They were all fantastic. Fan-tas-tic. The toro tilla was sushi-toro with fresh mozzarella, spicy aioli, and basil, wrapped in a folded torilla. (It was flat, not round like a roll.) Unreal. Fish and cheese is an odd combo but it worked. Now all those little starlets who used to giggle, "I'm not sure it's Japanese, but I like it!" on Iron Chef make a lot more sense to me. Neither my husband nor I like mussels usually, but we made a big exception for these, and it was all we could do to not run to the corner store to buy bread to sop it up. The least they could have done was pass us some rice! The pork was in a crispy panko-hazelnut crust with a mizuna lettuce salad with apple slices and toasted hazelnuts in a sharp but light vinaigrette. The sushi was excellent, but I'm not an expert enough to remember what all they were. And the ice cream float was delightful, even if you are not a stout fan. It was a fantastic use of a dessert beer, and the amazing quality of the ice cream didn't hurt a bit either.

For my omakase, I started with the signature dish of the toro tartare, which I wish I had thought to photograph. It comes in a teeny column with caviar on top and wasabi on the side, sitting in a soy-sake sauce, with a teeny spoon. You are instructed to use the spoon to take a little wasabi and go straight down through all the ingredients to get the full effect. The full effect was pretty great. The toro (sushi tuna) was chopped up in to almost a paste, but there were pan-crisped shallots smashed in to smithereens and mixed in for a little hint of a crunch and additional flavor. Very creative and fun.

The next dish was by far my favorite, and that says a lot! It was the whitefish carpaccio, with yuzu soy, hot oil, and mitsuba leaf. It was as close to a perfect blend of flavors and textures that I have ever experienced. It was complex without being overwhelming, and very pleasing overall. After that came a plum blossom soda to cleanse my palate, followed by a halibut, wrapped in sushi roll seaweed and a paper-thin tofu in a white miso buerre blanc over the best seaweed I have ever tasted. It was resistant without being rubbery--a really neat trick of texture. But I loved it most for soaking up every last bit of that sauce!

Next came a dish wasted on me so I gave most of it to my husband: two New Zealand lamb chops with a ratatouille and a Japanese pesto. I liked it but wasn't thrilled; my husband on the other hand was ecstatic. Sadly, this was the first time we remembered that the new cellphone had a camera so we didn't get photos of anything before this one.

Finally came my sushi; I had needlefish, chu-toro, kanpachi, a squid (ika?), and a Spanish mackerel. The squid and the needlefish were wasted on me, but now I know. The chu-toro was excellent. And it was great to eat sushi without fear. Excuse the blur, but it's from a new cameraphone, and my husband was four beers in by this point.

My dessert was also lovely, if a bit French (fine, but a bit of a switch after the Japanese textured meal): a white chocolate ume (mousse) over a flourless chocolate cake, all drizzled with a lovely pink champagne jelly. Beautiful. Also shown is all the Rogue swag we got after my husband took a picture of everyone there so that even the designated photographer could get in the photo. They were very pleased. We loved the magnets, and my husband is happily sporting the temporary tattoos on his arms. Also, the beer menu was signed by both the brewmaster and Morimoto himself, which I was really excited about, since one of the things I always liked about him on the show was that he would write the menu before he started to cook and put his name on it, and that signaled the start. It's a big deal to him, so it was one for me too.

So. We didn't really eat down the fridge that night. But the kids ate at home, so they did...right? More on EDF later, but this was a meal for the ages. And meeting Chef Morimoto himself was the icing on the cake. After the first few months, we had heard he wasn't around much anymore; his brand is expanding and he has other places to go now. But of course he was there for the beer night (he has a contract with Rogue and they make his own label brew). Our seat at the sushi bar was right between the table with all the Rouge execs and salesguys and the sushi bar, and interestingly, while Chef was scrupulous about making rounds of the restaurant to meet with every customer (!), he spent more time chatting with his chefs than his guests. I liked that a lot. And our server was excellent also. Not only did Jeff tip us off to the good places to get the microbrews in the city, but he let us know other good places he has been lately as well, which we really appreciated. Next time we have a babysitter, we know where to try next.


Fun, Crafts and Recipes

#1. Olive oil. What kind do you prefer to use?

Well, first off, I use olive oil almost exclusively; I only have other oils (ie, vegetable oils like Wess0n) for a few recipes I don't want to mess with. So, I usually buy the biggest cheap container of EVOO. I prefer the "light" ones--but in this case light is referring to flavor, not calories, so don't be fooled. I like Colavita best but it is often too pricey and we use a ton so I go for cheap instead.

#2. Meatballs. Do you make them from scratch, buy premade cooked or buy premade frozen?

We are lucky to have a great butcher near us who has an awesome deal on frozen meatballs that are as good as anything I've ever made. They sell the bag, a humongous vat of red sauce and a bag of rolls for parties, or just the meatballs in a bag. I almost always have a bag in the freezer so I can throw a few in the oven if we're having spaghetti.

#3. Do you use napkins at home? Paper or cloth?

On a "green" kick, I try to use cloth. But realistically, we end up using paper a lot. We need them anyway for the preschooler's lunchboxes and then when too many spills in too few meals wipes us out of all our cloth napkins, it's on to paper.

#4. Share a recipe for a white sauce.

VALMG was looking for a good Alfredo sauce. This one is (supposedly) the original, and original or not, it is a total winner. This will not score you any points in bikini season, but it comes from--you guessed it!--my cookbook of the winter, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. I made a slightly modified version of it for some leftover noodles and ... oh my. The story behind it is excellent, so I continue to refer you to the book, but I will skip to the white sauce and take it you know how to boil your own pasta to al dente.

The True Fettuccine Alfredo (abridged)

1 lb imported fettuccine
6 Tbs butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 - 2 cups fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I used the Trader Joe's in the bag)
salt & pepper

When your pasta is boiling, put the butter in a straight-sided 12-inch saute pan and place it over medium heat. Melt the butter, taking care not to let it color. Set the pan aside until the pasta is done.
Once the pasta is draining, reheat the butter over medium high heat. Turn the pasta and the cream in to the saute pan and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles. Continue to toss the pasta for 2 to 3 minutes so the cream can permeate the pasta. Ther should be very little cream in the bottom of the pan.
Finally toss in the cheese, starting with 1 1/2 cups and adding more to taste. Toss for 20 seconds. Season the pasta to taste with salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Immediately turn it into a serving bowl and serve it hot.
(Serves 3-4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a first course; eat right away.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge: Day 4

I won't be able to make it at the time, but Kim O'Donnel of the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge is hosting a webchat today (Thursday) at 1pm. Go here for details.

Last night went as planned, with lasagne for grownups and ... something from home for kids though I fear my one son might have had a can of imported olives for dinner. I wasn't home to watch and I'm not asking. And for the meeting, I brought hummus (using a can of chickpeas, and moving the tahini from the pantry to the fridge...still progress, right?), tortilla chips, and the rest of the Nikki's Healthy Cookies bars, which everyone ate and seemed to enjoy.

Tonight, I'm hoping to get back to the stuffed cabbage, which is really in keeping with the spirit of the thing; I have all the veggies on hand (even a parsnip), and some el-cheapo rice I think will be perfect for using up in this context, and some beef is defrosting in the fridge as I write. Having finished all my salad, I'm a little fatigued thinking about side dishes but I do still have leftover spinach, so I might think about either a spinach salad (which I do not like in general) or sauteed with garlic (which I do, very much, especially with a little nutmeg). I also uncovered beets, both roasted and raw. The roasted were supposed to be pureed and frozen for a Deceptively Delicious recipe to be named later, but I never got to the puree stage. But I was inspired by the Tipsy Baker's take on the Mark Bittman raw beet salad so that's also a possibility. Of course, all of this depends quite heavily on my ability to get the kids to take a nap.

I'm still deciding what to do about whether to continue the challenge to next week as well. I know I need some basics (bananas, apples, berries) but I would like to keep the shopping to a minimum. And therein, apparently, lies the challenge for me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge: Day 3

As Tipsy Baker is also discovering, this challenge isn't very challenging. Which is probably part of the point. There are at least six things I keep thinking I "should have" had and would have lugged my kids to the market for without the challenge. And while my local store probably isn't happy with this challenge, I am. Even though it feels like there is No Change Whatsoever in my freezer.
Other participants seem to be going about this a little differently; they didn't plan and are winging it every night. Romantic and breezy and fun, if you don't have squawking preschoolers, I'd imagine. But even as I write a longing list for my market, I am thinking to actually allow the word "challenge" to be meaningful here, I should do this another week.
But, first, time to get through this one. Tonight, leftover lasagne, and garlic bread with a store-loaf, which is not my favorite but fits the challenge. (I'm a garlic bread snob and firmly believe it should be on rolls, preferably Italian.)
Meanwhile, the bananas were going yucky, so I froze them (with peel--mistake--won't do that again) to make the banana-nutmeg smoothie from Everyday Food that I caught on PBS a few weeks ago. Of course, the website neglects to list the 1 cup vanilla yogurt in the ingredients but fortunately I'd seen the show so I did have that on hand. It was good. The kids weren't thrilled with it, but I liked it as a nice, calm smoothie.
If I do decide to do this another week, I might send my husband to the store to replenish the things we really can't substitute for (bananas, for example). He loathes grocery shopping, and I don't mind it, but I get in trouble with splurging on ingredients I don't necessarily need and get seduced by that awesome looking Garrotxa cheese (I'm not sorry). If he splurges, it's on stuff I would never eat but he will, and that would be fine too.
I did buy milk, lemonade, and tea cooler today. I suppose I could have done without any of these but that doesn't quite seem to be the point of this.
Off to figure out what to bring to the meeting tonight. I am going. I need the break from my kids (and honestly, I am quite certain they need the break from me too).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WFMW--Writing on the Wall

A few years ago, we went to visit good friends of ours, who had children older than ours, plus a new baby on the way. We were dropping off baby gear for them and made a lunch date of it. These are some of the smartest, funniest, kindest people I know, and I loved everything about their "Brady Bunch" house. I learned a ton from watching them with their sons, who are just ahead enough of my own to give me a good sense of what's coming down the pike. And one of my favorite things was on the wall at the end of the hallway between their two bedrooms. Where I have a linen closet with a mirror on the door, they had blank wall, and they used it as a picture gallery for their boys' most recent favorite creations on top. But right at boy height, there were lists. What to do in the morning. What it meant to pick up the rooms. How to get ready for bed at night.
Now a few years later, we're at the same point they were. Our kids are old enough that some days my head explodes at the idea that they don't know how to get themselves ready for bed, because, hello, haven't we been over this EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for over FIVE YEARS NOW? But of course they can't. Enter my husband, who, among other skills, is more patient than I am, is way better (according to my expert children) at bedtime than I am...and definitely better at drawing than I am. Hence, the six stages of bedime in our home:
(Excuse the Clor0x wipes to attempt to rid us of the plague, and hey, I never realized just how not-matched that replacement tile was. But I don't have a panorama lens so please pay no attention to the bottom two-thirds of the picture.)
And lo and behold, the kids look at this every night, follow it, every night, and even remind us which steps they missed, every night. It's not always with joy or without annoyance, but wow, it makes life easier over here. Bonus: it's so ingrained now that when I was sick and exhausted last month, the boys put me to bed, following their own checklist. I could have expired from the sweetness, even in my flu-ish fog.
And that works for me! What's working for you? Go share over at the new home of WFMW, We are THAT Family!

Eating Down the Fridge: Day 2

This is embarrassing at this point. Why do I always think it's such a big deal to defrost meat ahead of time? What's my problem? Maybe ground meats take less time or something.

We ate all meals at home today. Dinner was (finally) the pacific rim pork recipe, which, although my oldest asked for thirds last time, tonight, it might as well have been worms. I also added the mystery fruit from Trader Joe's on the side for my husband and myself. I am trying hard to get my 5 fruits and vegetables a day and a new fruit seemed like a fun thing to try. It was a melogold, a pommelo derivative, described as tasting "like a grapefruit with the sugar already on." I wouldn't go that far but it was good. I peeled and ate mine; next time I will cut in half and eat with a spoon because the pulp separates from the pith super-easily. Definitely sweeter than a grapefruit, and a little less flavorful, too. At least this one was.

The recipe below was something I cut out of the Inquirer's Rush Hour Gourmet column last year. It's been a hit before and I keep meaning to check out the source cookbook. Maybe next work hiatus. Tonight, I used two of the sweet potatoes that were still (!) hanging around from the last CSA delivery and steamed them. Miracle: my younger one ate two of the dice and didn't gag on them. That was a bonus. We also served over white rice, since both boys suddenly regard brown rice as poison.

Rush Hour Gourmet by Bonnie S. Benwick of the Washington Post (of course)
Think of this lightly sauced pork-and-spinach mixture as the basis for several different meals The original recipe calls for it to be rolled inside thin "crepes" made from an egg substitute (1/2 cup to make 4 crepes). Provided the weeknight cook is up for it, however, the mixture could be served over steamed, diced sweet potato or brown rice; alongside stir-fried baby bok choy or snow peas and garlic; or wrapped inside warm flour tortillas or cool lettuce leaves.

Pacific Rim Pork
4 servings
3 large cloves garlic
1 1/4 lbs ground pork, preferably from the tenderloin (I used 1 lb and it was fine)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (thinking the kids would be eating it, I used less)
4 - 5 handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed (3 to 4 cups, packed)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon light brown sugar (optional) (I don't taste too much difference either way)

1. Finely chop the garlic; lightly grease a large skillet with nonstick cooking oil spray and place over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, ground pork and red pepper flakes. Cook for 5 minutes, until no pink remains, stirring to break up clumps and distribute the seasoning. Transfer the pork to a plate while you wipe out the skillet.

2. Return the cooked pork to the skillet over meduim heat and add the spinach; cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the greens have just wilted.

3. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch, water, and soy sauce in a small cup. Add to the pork-spinach mixture and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Taste and add the brown sugar, if usign, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat; add to whichever plate preparation you've chosen and serve hot or warm.

-Adapted from The New Family Cookbook for People with Diabetes (Simon and Schuster, 2007)
Per serving: 410 calories, 35 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams fat, 123 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, no dietary fiber.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge: Day 1

This was not a particularly difficult day, thanks to The Best Babysitter Ever...I could throw the lasagne she made in the oven, feed the kids some leftover noodles from the dinner last night that we were kindly invited to by Girlfriend, and get to the playground (or at least the house down the street with the puppy). I also finished the rolls I bought last week before they were irretrievable by making garlic bread. Breakfast was our usual cereal (and due to some amazing sales in December and January, we are stocked up on Life cereal through spring, even with the alarming rate at which the boys race through it).

But the EDF challenge did get me thinking about the rest of our food choices that day. We are in the habit of going to the snack bar at the gym after swim classes, where the boys get cereals that I usually don't let in the house. Today, one son wanted a cereal bar instead. And then he was jealous about the cereal and switched off, giving me a chance to read the ingredients on the cereal bar. That was not pretty. I didn't think I'd be glad to see him switch to Cocoa Puffs but (yikes) I was alarmed to realize there are less scary things in the puffs.

For lunch, the boys had popcorn, since they had had the late snack. I went through the fridge and found leeks on their last legs and my tarragon, which was fine yesterday and not so fine today, and used it to make the recipe for braised leeks from (you guessed it) How to Eat Supper. I used my new 12 inch not-non-stick pan, which was fun, and which I both scratched and created a brown spot on instantly. But the leeks were totally awesomely worth it and there were none left for my husband. I'm sure he wouldn't have liked them anyway. But oh, the cream sauce. It's been a real revelation to me: it really doesn't take more than two tablespoons of cream, sometimes, to have an awesome cream sauce if you have a good base to begin with.

As in most things, I was going for balance with this challenge--I hope not to go grocery shopping but that doesn't mean I'm not going to buy food, especially when it would throw off a routine (and a happy one at that).

Off to defrost the meat for tomorrow.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

MPM--Eating Down the Fridge Edition

Happy Monday, everyone!

This week, Kim O'Donnel, the food blogger at the Washington Post, is hosting an "Eating Down the Fridge" challenge, with the idea being that we eat what's in the house, and, if something's missing, improvise. This is a real challenge for me; I am definitely a follow-the-recipe kind of girl. But since I need to improve in this area and work down my embarrassingly overstocked pantry and freezer, this is the kind of challenge built for me!

It started with the happy arrival of The Best Babysitter in the World, to rescue me while my husband was away. She took no time at all to hop in the kitchen and make another batch of Nikki's Healthy Cookies, using the esoteric (for me) ingredients we had on hand. She also made a lasagne (which always makes my husband weep with joy), for which we only needed the noodles. So we feel like we've started already a little bit.

From here on out, we're doing the challenge. I stocked up on a few perishable staples: orange juice, milk (which I will replenish as need be of course), ham for the sandwich for my son at Lunch Bunch, since it's a peanut-free school and so ham and cheese it is. I'm hoping to only buy milk and berries this week, which should be interesting. Otherwise, I'm working down what I have.

And embarrassingly, due to busy weeks, or unexpected nights out or other strange developments, this week's menu will look remarkably similar to other weeks. Last week, we ended up with takeout or going out on two nights, so I still have most of what we were planning for then. In an unusual-for-me move, I realized we might not get to it and froze it...but that was a good reminder of just how full my freezer is. Hence, my excitement at the challenge, which may not be much of a challenge this week at all.

As a note, from last week, the Splendid Table recipe for leek and potato soup rocked. I ate it in 24 hours. I had help from my husband, but yum.

So, for this week:

Monday: Lasagne, of course, with salad from a bag.

Tuesday: Ground pork and spinach recipe with sweet potatoes (as suggested) and maybe rice to be traditional.

Wednesday: Leftover lasagne and/or pork, depending on who in my family you are.

Thursday: Stuffed cabbage, kasha, beets.

Friday: Back to How to Eat Supper for the Hollow Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce.

Other efforts I'll be making this week: I have stuff in my freezer to try the Vegan Lunchbox Smoothie. I couldn't mentally justify the hemp milk, but I have everything else and that would help empty the fridge. I'm thinking I'll make (at least) one box of my Trader Joe's impulse buys (usually hors d'oeuvres) for snacks for my moms' group meeting. (Though that will depend on timing.) For my own lunches, since I'm working at home this week, I will try to branch out in to some of the freezer things (Dr. Praeger's, TJ's pizzas/flatbreads) instead of my default lunches. And I could make hummus for the multitudes with the number of chick peas I have. What is with that?! And I love chick peas and eat them frequently! And I still have a ton of them on the shelf. To really feel this at all, I might have to go two weeks. Tune in and I'll let you know.

If you want to join in, go here to read about it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

FFOF 68--On Drinks I Don't Drink!

Yay VALMG! So glad you are back on the FFOF case.

#1. Coffee. Do you use ground, bean or pods?

Pods? That's hard-core! I don't actually drink coffee more than maybe 5 times per year. My husband, however, considers it part of his lifesblood so we have a fabu Cuisinart that grinds the beans immediately before brewing. He mixes his own half-caf based on all the darkest beans (regular and decaf) that Trader Joe's sells.

#2. Coffee filters. Do you use paper, gold or other? There is a permanent one in our coffemaker so I guess it's gold.

#3. Tea. Do you prefer tea bags, loose tea or something else?

Tea bags when I make it. I'm getting in to the chais, and Irish breakfast (preferably decaf) is a classic.

#4. Share a recipe for something you like to eat with coffee or tea.

Get in car. Drive to Dunkin' Donuts. Go to counter. Say, "I would like one old-fashioned donut please!" Give the nice person a dollar. Put change in tip cup. Enjoy!

Go have fun (and get better recipes) at VALMG's blog Fun, Crafts, and Recipes!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge

With a hat tip to Tipsy Baker, whose posts I always enjoy, I'm joining the Eating Down the Fridge challenge next week. Really, I need this twice a month, but now is as good a time as any. Click on the link to join in!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

WFMW--Best Of Edition

This week's WFMW is themed--we are to share our best tip ever. I'm not sure that this is my best tip, but it did get the most comments ever, though granted, most are from my blogging real life friends. Either way, enjoy--or enjoy again!

WFMW--writing in my cookbooks

Until I was in middle school, I had never seen a highlighter. Even after my friends had them, they seemed...suspicious, somehow. Who would mark up a book besides a delinquent who hated education? Especially with something that looked like it was really a magic marker in disguise, waiting to actually black out what it was supposed to highlight?

In our kitchen, there was a fantastic lucite cookbook stand, used to protect the cookbooks. Not that they were totally unmarked; my father used to put lipstick on me so I could put kisses in them, and every once in a while, he traced my hands or feet in the covers of the books to personalize them when they were presents for my mother. But the recipes themselves stayed safe behind clear plastic covers, just like the sofas at my great-aunts'.

Once my mother died unexpectedly, I came in to a mountain of cookbooks, all of them used, and every bookmark was a mystery. Was this one of those dishes I liked and just never knew what it was called? Or something my dad wanted my mom to try but since she knew better than he did that he hated candied apples she wisely just kept marked but knew she'd never make? I felt truly lost--I knew the tastes of my childhood were locked in those books, but where?

Well, somewhere after I moved out of the house, my mother either lost her disdain for writing in books, or privately saw it as a secret thrill, or found it more reliable than hoping that bookmarks stayed where they belonged. In some of the books she used more often at the end of her life, there were notes in the margins, ingredients crossed out, directions tweaked, proportions corrected. One recipe noted my boss really liked it when she sent it in with me once for the office--only later to have "WHO CARES?!?!?!" written in big letters with lots of punctuation (after, I suspect, I was passed over for a promotion she--and I--thought I deserved). A recipe for ricotta cake called for some citrus zest. Mom had question marks and the word "never!" written next to that. And so forth and so on.

That was such an unexpected gift and an epiphany for me. Since we assumed we had lots more time together, I never got serious about sitting down with her to ask for specifics of favorite recipes, like "what tomato sauce do you use for the crock pot pork chops?" or "besides the garlic spears, what do you do to your eye roast to make it so good?"

Since then, I have written in ALL of my cookbooks or cooking magazines that I have used more than once. I note when I made a dish ("good, but too rich for summer; make again when weather cools and will be perfect!"), whether it was for an occasion ("served after Christmas Eve Mass when our son was Baby Jesus and we had 15 relatives for dinner"), and any suggestions for next time ("loved the flavor but WAY too hot; skip most of red pepper flakes next time" or "great even without the sausage!"). More important since the sons were born: who liked it, and how. ("wouldn't eat the chicken but the sauce on rice went to thirds before we cut him off.") This way, the record is always there, and someday, if anyone else in this house ever cooks with cookbooks (my husband is amazing at cooking on the fly) and is looking for an old favorite, they'll be able to figure it out. And that works for me! What's working for you? Find out what's working over at We Are That Family!

Happy Square Root Day!

And thanks to Shelley for tipping me off.

March 3, 2009 --> 3.3=09. Get it?

So the next easy one won't be until April 4, 2016. Have to get that on the calendar. Thinking about ways to celebrate. Root vegetables on our square plates come to mind but I'm not sure that will work in the "celebration" category for my kids. Maybe we'll plant an avocado seed and the amaryllis that's still hanging out from post-holiday sales. Or carrot cake in a square pan?

But if anyone has another idea of how to teach preschoolers about square roots, I'm all ears!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

My tribute isn't as spiffy but I loved this.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

MPM--In Like a Lion Edition

Greetings! After the lovely revelation that it's still light until 6, and some great 60-degree days, we woke up this morning to a lovely little dusting of snow and are now hunkering down for what could be a major storm. My mother was a teacher and always reminded me some of our best snowstorms happen in March. This could be one of them. Happily, we are well stocked with everything we need and all that flies off the shelves when storms come (milk, bread, toilet paper) so all I need to do today is round up the snowsuits again to prepare for what's probably one last round of snowy fun.

A few thoughts on last week.

I finally buckled down to the crockpot recipes I've been meaning to try for forever. The rutabega was starting to sprout and get ready to have baby rutebegas, it had been hanging around my kitchen so long!

First on the agenda: roasted winter root veggies. I was curious how this would go since I tend to think of roasting as dry and crockpots as wet, in general. One morning when I was too awake to go back to sleep, I started peeling and popped everything in the crockpot by 7am on low. By 10, I had to turn it off because they were so done, thanks to my impossibly hot slow cooker. As I had guessed, they were more braised than roasted, but were nice and tender. The other change I would make next time: even less salt (and I cut down from what she listed) and I would put the parsley on after. The parsley cooked in to a dark green goo, and I prefer it closer to its raw state.

The creamy crockpot risotto, on the other hand, was fantastic. I made it for Ash Wednesday dinner, which was a bit of a mistake; no meat is allowed for Catholics on Ash Wednesday, and that includes chicken broth. Oops. Fortunately, I had vegetable broth and other than being a bit on the pink side, it worked just fine. But in just 2 hours exactly (thanks to the superhot crockpot) I had some no-work risotto as good as any I've made on the stove. Note for anyone thinking of trying this: the hardest part of this is timing. Cook it too long, and it disintigrates. If it cools, it forms a semisolid that is hard to resurrect. Right out of the crockpot, as soon as it is finished, it is burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot, but when cooled enough to eat is the time to go for it. I paired it with the warm bean salad from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, and while I liked that fine, it wasn't the transformative bean experience they suggested it would be. Still, one of the best bean recipes I've tried. And I do keep trying them for all the reasons we already know: so much better for you than meat, high fiber, cheap cheap cheap...and they are still beans. I'd still rather eat them as dip. (Put some minced rosemary and minced garlic over medium heat in some olive oil on the stove. Heat until fragrant. Pour in food processor with a can of cannelini beans and puree. Eat like hummus.)

While I was on a roll with the crockpot, I also tried the broccoli with toasted garlic and lemon. My husband loved it, which was nice. I thought it was a great way to make a ton of broccoli at once, so if I'm on veggie duty for a family dinner, this is likely to reappear. But for us, it was a lot, and I like it just as well when we put it in the microwave with a little olive oil and some pepper.

Also, as I was not one of the first in line at the Co-Op for the sale, I had to adjust last week's menu a bit. There was no ground turkey left, but there was ground beef, and ground pork, and, a big splurge, veal cutlets. I decided to go old school and fry them up like my mother used to, but I am desperately afraid of frying (probably a good thing in the end) so they absorbed too much oil because I am too worried my oil will explode to heat it to the proper frying temperature. Still, my kids each ate an entire cutlet themselves and were sorry that they could only have one each, so they clearly weren't too terrible.

And one last "found" recipe that I finally tried, lest the gruyere tragically mold in my fridge: the Baked Spinach with Gruyere from November's Real Simple . Oh. My. Goodness. Ok, really, with a cup each of whole milk and heavy cream, how bad can this be? Add six eggs and it is as much a quichey dinner as a side dish. I am auditioning recipes for Easter and this is a total winner.

On to this week:

Monday: Stuffed cabbage, kasha, salad

Tuesday: Pacific rim pork, rice, broccoli

Wednesday: Greek Turkey Burgers, Greek "salsa," salad, gruyere spinach

Thursday: Leftovers or freezer meal

Friday: Freezer meal or take-home pizza.

My husband is jetting off to a wedding this weekend (I'm staying home, thanks to the dog and her Very Expensive Emergency Surgery in January) so wish me luck next weekend. The kids will pine for him (yes, "the kids" will be pining) which tends to amplify my own missing him. I am so so spoiled that he rarely goes away, and that I have been able to pack the weekend with other people we love, but still, keep us in your thoughts.

Need more menu-planning inspiration? Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie for one of the biggest selections of menus on the web!