Sunday, January 29, 2012

MPM--Happy New (New) Year!

For some reason, the Chinese New Year really caught our attention this year. Maybe it's our older son's interest in stretching his palate. Maybe it's the emphasis on the Year of the Dragon. Maybe it's just winter and fun to have something else happy to focus on. Either way, we enjoyed our own versions of Chinese food last week (Pacific Rim Pork) and hope to keep going with it this week (stir fry).

Monday: chicken and mushrooms, rice, crack broccoli (seriously, it's happening this time. I kept putting it with other things that needed the oven)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday

Wednesday: leftovers from Monday and the weekend (lasagne, slow cooker honey beans and spinach)

Thursday: stir fry (frozen veggies from Trader Joe's, some meat that looks good); or maybe I'll lo mein it like Anjali.

Friday: Moms' Night Out--woohoo! Boys, you are on your own.

I think I can actually stick with this this week. I have realized that with the kids' activities and my schedule, I'm really out of cooking mojo by Wednesday. Well--I could cook on Wed. but we don't get home until 5:30 so it has to be something superfast and with no real kitchen time because I'm also trying to corral homework, etc. So something like the sausage bake works, but anything that needs babysitting at the stove? Forget it. I think I can pull off stir fry though.

Something new I tried last week was beans in my crockpot. I used a few different places for info. I had two bags of cannellini beans, and soaked them for what turned out to be about 30 hours (whoops). I am perhaps not the brightest bulb in the shed but I truly did not realize how much water they would absorb! I was glad I "only" made two bags because more would not have fit in my crockpot (6 quart). Some of the sites' authors were saying how they always make a couple of bags at a time, but either they meant literally a couple, or they have giant crock pots! My other surprise shows just how uneducated I am on beans. I read over and over again how it's probably best to just buy canned kidney beans, because dry ones can harbor a toxin that is killed by boiling but only encouraged to grow by barely-sub-boiling temperatures. I felt very smug with my little white beans in the crock pot, only to read somewhere that cannelini beans are also known as... you guessed it... white kidney beans. So, I dug in my drawer, found a thermometer, and measured carefully until the temp was up to an actual 100 Celsius for 10 minutes and then felt a little better about the whole thing.

When they were done, they were good. I had some out of the pot, and I'm not sure I had ever done that before...they were very creamy and filling and enjoyable in a small portion with salt and pepper. I bagged four bags of the equivalent of a can of beans, made a bean hummus with some and kept playing with them for lunches and other things through the week. So far, so good with the toxin (or lack thereof), so live and learn, I guess.

Still working on better eating mentality, though. I had a dermatologist appointment last week, because I had this thing on my leg for forever (it looked like a mosquito bite, but it didn't itch and never went away), and suddenly it started changing so I did what you are supposed to do and got it checked out. It wasn't anything scary yet, but they wanted to remove it anyway, so two needles, one slice, and two stitches later, I was done. But I was still feeling jittery, and while I want to be one of those people who writes, So I came home and prepared myself a nourishing meal of apples and spinach to promote healing, the actual story is: I was still a little freaked out so I came home and had a Mexican (sugar) coke and some goldfish to make myself feel better. This is not optimal. At least I am aware of it (and did get myself the apple, once I thought of it, and consoled myself that standing and cooking with the stitches was probably not optimal either). Forty-three years of conditioning are hard to overcome.

In better nutritional news, I also made the honey beans and spinach recipe in the crock pot; next time I will skip the cream cheese, which "broke" (is that what they call it when it doesn't go bad but breaks in to clumps?); I didn't see where it affected the taste all that much. Without it, it's vegan, sort of somewhere between curry and Mexican in flavor, and my husband and I both really enjoyed it. We made it over rice, and the boys ate the rice at least.

Wishing you a great week! For lots more menus, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

MPM--Winding through Winter

I am not complaining, because we did get one little nuisance snow. This is the kind of winter I can deal with. Some cold, but not much freezing precipitation. I can live with cold and dry or cold and snowy, but the ice scares me. But wow, there's been plenty of wind--a huge branch fell on our porch in one windstorm, and we realized it came from one yard over. With the size of that branch--that was quite a windstorm. But, it beats an ice storm any day, so I'm hoping this mild pattern sticks around and we got all our snow out of the way at Halloween.

Monday: Pacific Rim pork (see sidebar), rice (my nod to Chinese New Year)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday. I am riding this pony as far as I can.

Wednesday: salmon, broccoli, rice

Thursday: chicken and mushrooms in garlic wine sauce, salad

Friday: oh, I hope we go out. But if not, we'll try the Bittman semi-vegan chickpeas and spinach recipe. (The boys will have quinoa pesto.)

I made the chicken with leeks and sundried tomatoes last Monday. (My husband walked in and said, Are you seriously frying chicken on MLK Day? Hadn't thought of it that way, but I suppose I did.) It was terrific and my better-eater actually enjoyed the leeks on the side as well. (No surprise, he likes onions in any form, including chopped and raw, but still--heartening.) It was my first foray into the SkinnyTaste website and it was a hit. I will add salt & pepper to the flour next time but I like to follow the recipe as written the first time. I used Italian-style cutlets and it was great. I also liked using my cast-iron skillet for this and am getting better with it. It was a big enough hit that I will add the ur-recipe (according to the blog author), chicken in white wine and mushrooms, to the lineup this week. (I will not make it on Monday, though--too much time with the kiddo activities this day.)

Side note: please know, I do not call my children "Mr. Picky" or "Better Eater" in real life. It is blog nomenclature only. We do compliment the adventuresome eater and encourage both to try things, and Mr. Picky is getting better about taking tastes. It's a huge step and I'm very glad. But he would still prefer the all-beige diet, given his druthers.

We also made more pretzel hugs this week for a party at school. We just used regular M&Ms this time, and only one per hug, and they were adorable and very festive. I love that the boys love to do the unwrapping, which seriously makes me think about doing just about anything else in the world. And they are much better now about actual accuracy (you do have to get the hug on the pretzel, not just kind of on the pretzel) than speed, so they are almost to the point of doing it themselves, which is pretty thrilling.

And in a fun little twist, there is so much bacon obsession online (and elsewhere) these days, I gave a try to the baking-bacon-in-the-oven-on-a-wire-rack technique. It was good, though a little overdone (and I love crispy bacon); next time, I will put it in a not-warm-yet-but-heating oven at 350, 15 minutes, flip the bacon, and cook another 8 minutes. I'm always happy to experiment with bacon. Yum.

For other awesomely planned menus, check out I'm An Organizing Junkie! and have a great week!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


So, any longtime readers know that I am not a fan of self-flagellating new year's resolutions. I remember reading someone years ago, saying, Why be so mean to yourself in the darkest days of the year? Make resolutions that are nice to yourself, and not fake nice, like "I'm going to lose 50 lbs if it kills me for my own health and well-being." So the best resolution-keeping I've ever done is the year my husband and I resolved to try one new restaurant a month. (This was pre-kids, clearly. Not that others can't pull it off with kids on the scene, but it's only really become remotely possible in the last year for us.) This year, the resolution is kind of in between: my husband has been reading Mark Bittman and is intrigued by the semi-vegan life. This is a little tricky for a man who wants turkey sandwiches and yogurt with his lunch, but it's easy to get around it by making more dinners vegan. (Bittman suggests "vegan until dinner," we do "vegan at dinner once a week, maybe." Close enough.) Clearly, we are still committed carnivores (see: last week) but I'm trying to introduce more vegan recipes to our lives. I wish the kids would eat soups; that would help! But alas--still no luck on that front.

This week:

Monday: Holiday! I will try again to make the leek and sundried tomato chicken.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday's triumphant return! With spinach and mushroom quesadillas for parents.

Wednesday: Noodle night, for those who partake. I had a Wegman's visit this week so I'll be doing the sheep's-milk yogurt and caramelized onion version again, with regular versions for the less adventuresome.

Thursday: slow cooker honey beans and spinach, and probably Trader Joe's buffalo chicken meatballs for the boys.

Friday: Leftovers, augmented by the freezer.

Last week, the brisket was a hit with everyone but me, and took the other three through three dinners. I can live with that. And I cannot figure out how to keep a meat together in the slow cooker. They all fall apart and can't be sliced, only shredded. Not a big deal, but an annoyance nonetheless.

The big hit of the week: after an exasperating white-flour-only based day for Mr. Picky, his brilliant father announce we'd be making smoothies for dessert in my spiffy new blender. The boys were thrilled and poured in an entire bag of frozen blueberries, and some raspberries and mango from the freezer too. (My older son kept "stealing" pieces of frozen mango and slurping them down. Yay.) We added a banana, the last of the strawberries, and some pineapple from the fridge, and a little OJ to keep it all together, and wow. They ate it over vanilla ice cream and begged for more smoothie, then had more for breakfast the next day (minus the ice cream of course). (It's a big blender.) It was a huge hit and a great redeemer of a nutritionally bankrupt day.

My kids may not eat soups, but they will eat dips. I tried this one, light on the hot sauce, this week:

Edamame Ginger Dip (from Eating Well 2009)  

6 servings, about 1/4 cup each | Active Time: 15 minutes | Total Time: 1 1/4 hours

8 ounces frozen shelled edamame
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon tahini
1 clove garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
Hot pepper sauce to taste

Cook edamame according to package directions. Puree the cooked edamame, water, soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, tahini, garlic, salt and hot sauce in a food processor until smooth. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

Per serving : 70 Calories; 3 g Fat; 0 g Sat; 1 g Mono; 0 mg Cholesterol; 6 g Carbohydrates; 5 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 196 mg Sodium; 31 mg Potassium

Tips & Notes:
Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. 

Another thing the kids liked last week was a stir-fry their dad made. He sliced some chicken breasts, a big clove of garlic, and sauteed them in some olive oil and chianti. The boys were thrilled, and even the picky one said, "Dad! Can you make chicken like this every time???" I vote yes.

In the wake of that stir-fry success, I tried this one from Dinner: A Love Story. I went with ground pork instead (I have that touching-raw-meat aversion) and it was good. (And cheaper. And I only used 3/4 lb and it was plenty.) Alas--I was out of soy sauce but happily I found ponzu (what in the world did I buy that for?) and it was a good substitute. The final product was good, but I wanted to add something to it, like spinach (like my ground pork recipe on the sidebar) or cabbage or broccoli or even cashews, something to add some crunch. But it is a solid base for a fried rice dish, and next time I feel like having Chinese, I will try this first. Plus, the "use frozen Trader Joe's rice" trick is a great one; we almost never have "leftover" rice, which is what is usually needed for good fried rice.

And back to Bittman: we did try one of his "semi-vegan life" recipes, for sweet potato stew. I served it with vegan rice (made with olive oil instead of butter). I used too much coconut milk (thank goodness it was light); next time I'll use half a can and more water or broth. I'll also use yams instead of actual sweet potatoes; it came out very yellow, and the picture of the orange one was much more appealing. Neither boy tried it but my husband and I enjoyed it very much. It's a keeper. I will be trying a similar variation next week in the slow cooker; we'll see how that one goes.

My husband and I have some different palates these days; he loved the ponzu since it wasn't as salty; I actually wanted to salt the stir fry in its absence. After the Wegman's shop, I bought Goya sodas for a fun "side" on taco night; I liked the pineapple but was kind of grossed out by the coconut soda--and I love coconut. But maybe that was the problem--my husband loves pineapple but was disappointed in the carbonated version and preferred the coconut. Happily, we are grownups and can work around this most of the time.

And now I'm rambling. Thanks for reading this far. Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! for a great collection of menu plans!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

MPM--I have no clever title this week

So, how's your new year going? I felt like I had to ask, because after this week, people look at you funny if you talk about the new year. Our week didn't quite go as planned but it was still good overall.

This week, there were some good meat sales, so I have some fun stuff planned:

Monday: cranberry brisket (new-to-me recipe), crack broccoli (going for a cb theme here...creamed beef? nah, gilding a lily...creme brulee? now we're talking...)

Tuesday: tacos...we'll see if we can do soft ones.

Wednesday: Armagnac chicken, salad

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: Sweet Potato Stew, rice or quinoa

I'll also be making some Smitten Kitchen brisket this week since brisket is on an awesome sale. And I'm very tempted by this borscht or this cauliflower soup.  I'm especially psyched to try these because one of the unexpected gifts from Christmas was from my niece: the Food52 Cookbook, and it reminded me how much I like that website. (My niece interned at an NPR station and inherited their copy and passed it along. I'm so lucky to have such a kind and thoughtful niece! She said she felt guilty even wrapping it since it was a freebie. Ah, the charm of the young.)

One of our kids had pink eye last week, so I didn't get the chance to do much of what I wanted. But I did take advantage of the time to use one of our butternut squashes and make this soup, though I only had chicken stock and a Gala apple, it still worked). It was not amazing-amazing, but it was so easy and I will make it again.

Vegetarian Butternut Squash

1  2-3 lbs butternut squash, cut into 1" chunks
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 green apple, roughly chopped, skin on
2 carrots, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbs non-salted butter
pinch of nutmeg
2 Tbs heavy cream
S&P to taste

 - Bake squash, onion, carrot and apple in EVOO at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top prior to baking
 - Add above ingredients to soup pot with butter and vegetable stock
 - Simmer 20 minutes, add heavy cream
 - Puree to desired thickness
 - Add additional cream, if desired

Note - careful while pureeing. The steam can make the blender lid pop off. If you have the time, allow the soup to cool a little before you puree.


And that's about it for the week. Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! for lots of amazing meal plans. See you next week!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

MPM--Happy 2012!

Happy New Year! I know so, so many people who couldn't wait to see 2011 go. For me, the return to the world of paid work colored the year to the point where I can barely remember anything else. And I can't wait to see what this year brings. I would love a year of ordinary days. Here's hoping.

This week:

Monday: Leftover party food. We hosted my father in law's 80th! on January 1 and I could cry with joy at the leftovers. Pork roast, chick pea salad, regular salad, and tons of snacks. Yum.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, just for kicks.

Wednesday:  In the getting back to normal eating category, I'm trying this chicken with leeks and sundried tomatoes. It looks festive but light, and I have half a pack of sundried tomatoes to use anyway.

Thursday: Slow Cooker Chicken Curry; see below for recipe.

Friday: Pork chop recipe from I don't know where. Roasted Brussels sprouts and baked potatoes for the side. (Heat oven once, cook twice, I'm in.)

Season 6 oz boneless chops (~3/4 inch thick, though I am a weenie and go for thinner) with salt & pepper, then cook in oil over medium heat until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes per side. Remove & set aside.
Add 3/4 C white wine to the skillet and simmer, stirring, 1 minute. Add 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard; spoon over pork. And done. I hope I like this, it sounds crazy easy and fast and I need more of those.

Chicken Curry
In slow cooker, whisk:
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 Tbs curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbs water

1.5 lbs chicken (usually 8 thighs, though I do two thighs & the rest boneless breasts)
2 small onions cut in wedges

Toss to coat. Cook 6-8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
Make rice.
When finished, fold in:
chopped tomatoes (about 2 plum). Serve over rice with
Greek yogurt

Can also try this with beef or lamb, but I have not yet done so.

For more ideas, try I'm an Organizing Junkie! And have a good year.