Sunday, December 27, 2009

MPM--Ringing in the New Year

Hello again! I hope everyone had or is having a great holiday with whatever brings you comfort and joy. With all the baking this week, we had some hits and misses...they will be below the menu plan for the week. There were some total winners so don't miss them! But I've had enough kitchen experiments this week and am sticking with the basics for this vacation time:

Monday: tacos. It's been forever and it's time to get back on track. My kids have been patient with lots of unusual foods and something familiar would be nice.

Tuesday: something with tilapia...either the recipe I bought it for, which was from Frugal Foodies and involves sweet potatoes, of which I still have many, or from my new Glorious One Pot Meals cookbook (hooray!).

Wednesday: freezer meal, since there's wrestling tonight. There's a Dinner A'Fare chicken thing in there that should work.

Thursday: New Year's Eve. My family's tradition was lobster tails...yum. But I'm not sure it's in the budget this year so I will probably go for the lobster bisque that never made it in my shopping bag at the fish store on Christmas Eve (sob) and something else low-key; maybe the vegan chili, or leftovers.

Friday: It's my father-in-law's birthday! So we'll ring in the new year with a bunch of different things in crockpots. (Note to self: spend this week collecting crockpots from sisters-in-law.) Regular meatballs for sandwiches; Swedish meatballs because I was too suggestible at Ikea; pork roast because it's New Year's Day. Mashed potatoes and potato salad and creamed onions because they are my father-in-law's favorites. Pizza dip and macaroni and cheese because they are my nephews' favorites. My sisters-in-law will bring veggies and fruit and other appetizers. And we will flip between the Mummers' Parade and football all day.

Meanwhile, we had some surprising successes and some epic fails over the last few weeks. No, no, just kidding about the epic fails. But the surprising success? I should stop being so surprised when Mark Bittman's salads impress me. The latest I tried, his fennel and celery salad, here, was awesome. I am so addicted to vinegar, lemon dressings can seem too dessert-y to me sometimes but not here for some reason. It gave me a good excuse to break out my new mandolin. Honestly? I didn't need to wait for the mandolin (though I am very excited to use it for some other things now too). Regular old very thin cutting would work fine too. I will say the finer the better, so try to slice thin instead of shred (ooh, look at me, throwing around the kitchen lingo! or would that be slinging the lingo?) if you try it at home. But you should. Try it, that is. I thought it was great and wasn't expecting much, but the fennel was just sitting there, and I was tired of celery the way I know how to make it (cut in smallish pieces; stuff with something interesting). I'm very happy with this one and next time I'm in the place with the cheap fennel, I'll buy enough for a family gathering.

CuisineNie's chocolate banana bread was greeted as "CAKE!" by my kids, who loved it. I forgot the trick about how to keep the chocolate chunks from settling to the bottom (toss in flour, I think?) and I'll tell you now, I'll use the whole bag of chocolate chunks next time. Because this was more cakey than bready, and was a huge hit. The batter fluffed up so well and it was delicious. Bonus: the house smelled SO good while it was baking.

The Gramercy Park gingerbread from Smitten Kitchen: My husband loved this, from the excuse to drink most of a beer to how it just got better day after day. I was proud to see it looked just like the picture!

The cranberry brisket: There is nothing like coming downstairs in the morning to that yummy smell of a good dinner already almost done in the oven. Loved that part. I forgot to cut against the grain. Did not love that part. But easy, the boys loved it, the house smelled great--we will do this again.

Really, my house smelled great all week, as you can tell. Other winners:

Christmas night was our big extended family celebration. Besides the carrot mousse, we brought a cheesesteak stromboli (purchased at Cacia's) which never made it further than the cutting board, so that was popular, and I brought the pear-cranberry crumble, suggested here as breakfast, though I brought it as a lighter dessert. And voila--the Christmas dinner was so amazing (hello, individual beef Wellingtons, where have you been all my life? I believe this was the recipe the hosts used)--we used it for both. A few people used it as a light dessert, and we took it to Boxing Day brunch. Personally, I like a little less flour in my crumble topping (and would add more oats) but the fruit was yummy. I will try more cranberries next time too. Also, I think that almost-ripe pears would be ideal for this (or maybe a non-Bartlett pear--I'll bet Asian pears would be great) since the ripe Bartletts turned tender to the point of mushiness.

Smitten Kitchen's spinach and gruyere strata: really, how bad could this be?! I used Cacia's for this too, making the bread cubes from their rolls. It was great, but not the transcendent experience Smitten Kitchen described. Of course, my oven got bumped up to 375/400 for some significant portion of baking so this too may have been a problem. I would definitely make it again, though, maybe with more cheese? or something? to bump up the taste.

I also tried making these broccoli/gruyere quiches, but had some epic fail moments with them. First, I do not have a tart pan so I used two pie crusts from the freezer. Then I don't know what happened but the custard started dripping out of the bottom of both pans...could they have had holes? It wouldn't make sense to me but there's not much other explanation. It was also hard to tell since I had to fuss with the proportions to get it to two plates instead of one. But, I left them in the hot oven with a cookie sheet below to catch the drips and then baked them off later, which seemed to work well. They tasted yummy, though the crusts stuck to the aluminum foil pan, so while the family would have been forgiving, just as well I didn't take it there. Worth repeating, though. And next time, I'll look for actual chervil, just for kicks. (I used the last of the wilting parsley and tarragon in my crisper drawer.)

Have a great week--enjoy the last days of 2009--me being me, I'll miss the "double Os" in the years (what will the novelty sunglasses people do?!) but I am looking forward to seeing what 2010 has to bring. Maybe because I loved that movie? Maybe I should see it again...wonder how I've changed since then and whether I'd even like it? But--back to the homelife for the week. Happy New Year and do check out the most inspired meal plans on the web at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

MPM--Ho Ho Ho!

And here we are, all four advent candles lit, ready to close out 2009...almost. We had an amazing amount of snow here this weekend, and while my husband shoveled and my boys sledded on our hill and built snowforts with the neighbors, I spent a lot of the time holed up here cooking. We went through a gallon and a half of milk in cocoa, lots of popcorn, and other snuggly meals and treats. Alas, my living room looks like a winter storeroom moved in--we were not really expecting the second-largest-snowstorm-ever-in-our-city this early in the season. So between the Christmas stuff and the huge assortment of sizes of winter gear that apparently blew up in my closet, I have a lot to do to get ready for Santa. And he is coming on Thursday. I got the email. He's all set. (I love that tradition...for 100 years he's made personal visits to any house that asks in our town. It's awesome.)

This is another "keep it easy" week for me. I had stocked up on freezer meals and it's time to bring 'em on out. For lunches, I have Pasta Fagioli and I made the "Zero Point Soup." To be honest, it's scoring zero points in zing, too, but it's healthy, quick, and nutritious (especially since I am apparently the only North American with too-LOW sodium levels). (And I did find that three cups of liquid was not even close to enough--I used three cans of bouillon and three of water.) And despite the fact that Pillow Pets are sold out until 2011, and one boy suddenly wants the Playmobil mummy more than anything else in the world, I am working hard to remember: Christmas will come just the same. And I will get to reflect on the wonders that baby boys can bring the world.

Monday: cranberry brisket (trying to recreate an amazing meal from a friend through the wonders of the internet); Kelly's potatoes; broccoli

Tuesday: Dinner A'Fare pork chops; rice; salad; brussels sprouts (the obsession continues)

Wednesday: Depends a bit. Two cousins might be with us for the night. If not, I'll have the Trader Joe's pulled pork again, because holy cow, we all loved it, I still have the rolls left, and it was exactly enough for all of us. If the cousins are here, I'll be picking up a tomato and more lettuce and we'll have tacos instead.

Thursday: And then it begins. After Mass, it's seven fishes for us. Shrimp cocktail, oysters (because I like 'em and they are so easy from the tin), bacon-wrapped scallops (thank you again Trader Joe's), lobster bisque, crabcakes, salmon, and California rolls. I know--no baccala, no smelts...I'm a heretic. But I'm the only one who likes the anchovies, and at least this way I have company for some of the meal. My husband doesn't even like tuna (unless it's seared or in sushi) so our old tuna-on-cracker standby doesn't even work out here.

Friday: Bacon and waffles for breakfast. Sandwiches for lunch. And a formal dinner for 30 at the cousins' house. We're bringing the carrot mousse and I'm looking at a pear-cranberry crisp.

Saturday is Boxing Day: Whatever the real celebration is supposed to be, the is the day my husband's nuclear family gets together for a casual, intimate brunch for all 21 of us with an easy food theme: Anything from a box! Though I think we're cheating a bit this year and having quiches. There's a broccoli and gruyere one I'm looking at to use my leftover gruyere. And to go with the "from a box" theme I think I'll make the spinach quiche with the Seabrook Farms creamed spinach box's recipe. (Usually we do lunch and have pizzas and fried chicken and crackers and citrus from the band sale, but this year we had to switch to a brunch due to work schedules for some of the family. This'll be fun too though!)

Also this week, I'll be getting ready for the party of the year that we host: my father in law's birthday on January 1. I'm very excited that I found my sister-in-law's make-and-freeze mashed potato recipe, so I will be doing that in her honor. I'll post the rest of the menu next week but in case any of you need a good freezable mashed potato recipe, I'll include it here.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes from Mary Jo

for 7 cups:

5 lb. potatoes (SO excited the organic ones were on sale this week--cheaper than regulars! woohoo!)
1 egg
1/2 t. garlic powder
3 T melted buter
1t salt
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 c sliced almonds (optional)

Peel and quarter potatoes. Place in a sauce pan, cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until tender. Drain well. In the same pot over low heat, combine the egg, garlic powder, salt, and cream cheese. Dump the potatoes back in and mash well b hand or with an electric mixer. Do not use a food processor, you will get paste.

Adjust seasoning if desired. Place the potatoes in a spray treated or greased 3 qt casserole or 9x13 pan. Drizzle with melted butter. Top with almonds. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze.

To serve, thaw completely. Bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes until top is lightly browned.

If you want to get fancy, put the potatoes into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the potatoes into rosettes onto a greased or parchment covered baking sheet. Freeze in a single layer. Once frozen, place in a hard sided container. To bake, place FROZEN rosettes on a greased baking sheet, and bursh with melted butter. Bake at 400 F until lightly browned--about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika and minced parsley.

I don't know that I'll get that fancy, but there are certainly advantages to it so I just might. I'll be making two batches so maybe I'll try one of each. I'll also be putting up some mac & cheeses for the new year. But that will have to wait for another post.

Still looking for ideas? Try I'm An Organizing Junkie! for the best list on the web. And have a great holiday, wherever you are!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

MPM--Ingredient of the Month Edition

Ho Ho Ho! Sorry to disappear there for a bit but I had an unusual week and was not cooking much. But, due to an amazing batch of brussels sprouts done by my sister in law at Thanksgiving, I've been on a sprouts kick. Now, anything can be gussied up with cheese and bacon, but if you are in the mood for that, her recipe (from Emeril on Good Morning America, here) was unbelievable.

I wasn't up for the extra work or calories, so at home, I started with Kelly's Barefoot Contessa recipe. Very basic, and very yummy! But I also had seen The Bitten Word's paean to sprouts on their website, so I also tried them their way, roasted with bacon and apples. Verdict? They were nice with the apples and bacon, but I actually liked them best in Kelly's recipe. I may not be totally fair to the Bitten Word here, because my bacon over-roasted things a bit, but apparently, when roasted, I really enjoy the sprouts themselves and don't need them all gussied up. Who knew?

One reason for nothing major last week: my kids have started wrestling. They may not last long there because it exhausts them and throws them off at school for the next day, which is not acceptable. But meanwhile, it means that two days a week, I give them dinner-for-lunch and just grab peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit for a quick boost after practice.

So, this week:

Monday: sandwiches (wrestling)

Tuesday: my husband's holiday party (without families) so I will either go out with the kids (Chik-Fil-A family night, anyone?) or have friends over. We'll see--it's a lot of nights out, but at least the CFA has an indoor playground.

Wednesday: wrestling again.

Thursday: a Thursday Wednesday Spaghetti--woohoo!

Friday: something from the freezer--chili maybe? I think we'll get our outdoor tree this night.

Not much inspiration but for a few of you who wondered if I fell off the face of the earth--I'm fine, just in the holiday swim, and without much inspiration to share meal-planning-wise. I hope your December is going beautifully!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

MPM--Happy Birthday Edition

Cue the Christmas music! My kids are sullenly adjusting to the loss of "their" music on the radio but they need to learn the songs of the season, so they can have HAPPY memories of the season, right?! We had a good Thanksgiving, and I was thankful that my side dishes (green bean casserole and cauliflower gratin) were easy and well received.

In addition to Thanksgiving, it was my husband's birthday last week, so we got to go out for that; this week is mine, so out again (woohoo!). Alas, those kids still need to eat so I'll figure something out. Hope your Turkey Day was great and your holiday prep is in swing!

Monday: turkey (sandwiches or with gravy), stuffing, cranberry salad (which I forgot to take to the big day--oh well), mixed veggies

Tuesday: Paula Deen's chicken pot pie from last week. Last week, I made the chicken but by then it was dinnertime. This week, I have the chicken done so I can move on to the actual recipe. Salad.

Wednesday: Ham (Trader Joe's now sells spiral cut! Woohoo, since our Honeybaked closed!), roasted potatoes, roasted beets, salad (or if I am weak, I will get potato salad from my favorite place)

Thursday: Leftover extravaganza!

Friday: Probably tacos, but we'll see how the rest of the week goes.

The weekend is birthday parties a-go-go, so I'm not sure what we'll figure out there. Have a great week everyone! Don't forget to visit I'm An Organizing Junkie for more recipes, links, and menus!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

MPM--Gobble Gobble

And the sprint to the end of the year!

I am really excited for this week...I love this week, this start to the holidays. It is hard to imagine circumstances that would lead us to actually host Turkey Day so I can really lavish attention on what's important to me--my mom's butter-laden Pepperidge Farm blue bag stuffing, a little turkey breast for leftovers, and some wow-'em side dishes for the big family gathering. And, of course, it's my husband's birthday and I have some fun things planned for him as well.

This week:

Monday: Paula Deen's Chicken Pot Pie, care of the recipe annex of Kelly's Korner blog. (No idea how I found my way over there but every post makes me smile so I stick around as a Yankee lurker!) I am still working on an industrial sized Bisquick box from a waffle breakfast--yum--but really would like to free up the space pronto, so expect more Bisquick-riffic meals in the next few weeks. (Pancakes--the obvious--are out as my kids are so hooked on Trader Joe's mix they turn up their noses at any others!)

Tuesday: Dinner A'Fare meal from the freezer. There is a beefy thing and a chicken salsa thing. I'll probably go for the beef just to break things up a little.

Wednesday: Leftovers and/or freezer meal. I have vegan sweet potato chili in there, and I was weak at Trader Joe's and had to (had to!) try the new mushroom flatbread since I'm such a fan of their other one.

Thursday: Gobble gobble! I'll do my traditional little breast roast (with drumsticks if I can find any since my son now enjoys them), and probably the My Mother's Southern Kitchen cranberry "salad" (aka jello mold), carrot mousse, and I might do some creamed spinach as well. Just for something green.

Friday: "leftovers" that aren't really leftover at all. That's ok. Still yummy.

And, I have to say, we had a bit of a health scare in our family this week that turned out to be just that--only a scare--so I don't want to go in to it at all except to say I am thankful. We already have one cousin with a new cancer diagnosis coming to Thanksgiving dinner and one of the older generation facing unpleasant choices for back problems and even some "happy problems" in the form of new babies wreaking their own precious havoc on their families' lives, so I am so grateful that we can focus on them and not add to the pile. It was also interesting timing given the new mammogram recommendations. It made me furious at the "oh just wait 'til 50" recommendation on mammograms. We are big believers in early detection leading to better outcomes, and I loved the NYTimes' quotation of the week, which says it all. "My patients tell me they can live with a little anxiety and distress but they can't live with a little cancer." (Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut) I heard some bozo MD on a local radio show this week, oozing disdain for the "extra" screenings of the 40-somethings, with some obsequious concern over all the anxiety of the false positives. Well, I'd rather need some smelling salts for the vapors (or valium for the biopsy) than have him worry his little head about my fretting over nothing. And if my insurance coverage for this screening goes away, I am going to be very, very bitter. Enough of my screed. The point of this was: I'm grateful for lots, and hope you are too.

And finally, if you aren't--if you are dealing with a loss, or a change, or anything that brings you agony instead of joy, please know that I am with you in spirit. I have been through enough years where the season only highlighted losses that were hard to bear on "ordinary" days, let alone the special ones, and the disrupted routine was more than I could stand. If you are facing the start of one of those seasons, know that I hold you in my heart and think of you this season as well, and I wish you whatever it is that you need to bring you comfort, even if it's a swift arrival of January 2.

Meanwhile, if all you really need is inspiration for your non-turkey meals this week, you can't beat the group over at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Let them inspire you. Gobble gobble!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Great Link

Thanksgiving's coming. Are you hosting the black sheep liberals? Or are you wondering what your conservative cousins eat?
Check here for Hunch's survey of food preferences by political leaning!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MPM--The Calm Before the Storm

Happy November! I have to say that to remind myself that the holidays are around the corner as the weather is playing April Fool's--seventy degrees and finally finally hallelujah NOT RAINING so I spent less time planning and more time playing. Here we go:

First, I made basil dip and artichoke dip and a veggie tray for the party. I also sent over all my Trader Joe's appetizers from the freezer and woohoo, only three boxes came back. And now I know which ones I love and will buy again (for a specific occasion only, thankyouverymuch, I have learned my lesson well). It was a lovely evening and enjoyed by all!

Second, the braised ribs? Best thing I made all year. Do not miss out on this.

Third: This week. Oh, yeah, back to reality.

Monday: leftover party food--little quiche appetizers, chicken roll ups, crudite and dips

Tuesday: Dinner a'Fare freezer meal (pork something), rice, last of the CSA beets

Wednesday: Wednesday Spaghetti!

Thursday: Dinner A'Fare freezer meal (notice a theme? beef something), mashed potatoes (D A'F again), salad

Friday: What? No football game? Back to our favorite pizza joint. My little guy will be so pleased. Frankly, so will I, as our boys lost all interest in making their own pizzas last week when they learned I would not be spinning the dough around and throwing it in the air, and the homebaked version just was nowhere near as yummy as at least three local places could do. Cheaper, yes. But meh. I'd rather have an Amy's mushroom and olive after all that, and no flour on my counters with that.

Have a great week, and don't forget to check out OrgJunkie for more menus!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Raising Foodies: And Finally, Some Success

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Oh--you would not believe how good my house smells right now.

I did so much wrong on this recipe and it's still one of the best things I've made in a while.

Today was finally the day for the braised short ribs. After I bought them at Trader Joe's I realized the recipe was really for bone-in, not boneless. The sell-by date came and went before I got my act together. The "fine chopping" was more than I could bear so I all but pureed the mirepoix before it went in. I didn't leave enough time for the ribs to brown properly and I'm scared of that much spattering in any container on my stove. And I was despairing as the time for preparation ticked on through a lovely, surprise 70-degree November day when clearly this is a sub-40 meal.

And it is glorious. I mean, it's not even done and this is SO GOOD I can't help raving about it. I was excited to use some of my herbes de Provence, which are taking space on my shelf and are not a favorite. I was hoping for two nights of meals from this. I am in an eternal search for layered flavors from my own kitchen. And wow, does this ever deliver. This is a serve-over-mashed-potatoes-AND-with-crusty-bread situation.

All that time I spent pulling it together, thinking to myself, accept it: you are not like those moms in the blogs who can just whip this stuff up: I don't know whether it doesn't take them as long or not. But I do know this is worth hunting down the short ribs for. It is a delight. Even with all the mistakes. It lasted us three days; the boys ate the meat and one ate the carrots (FTW!) and my husband, who is unfailingly polite and kind to my efforts, truly, truly raved. We have a new family favorite, all.

DO make the braised short ribs recipe. The mashed potatoes were fine, and I liked the creme fraiche version better this time in this combination. I won't lie: this is not a quick dish, and there is oil-spatter a-go-go to clean up. And it is all 100% worth it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

MPM--Like Septa...Or Not

Happy week, all!

For those of you who don't follow national transportation news, last week shortly after I wrote my post title, Septa (our local transit company) went on strike. Almost a million commuters were out of luck.

And so it went with our meal plan. Oh, I kid, I kid. Kinda.

One experiment: vegan African Peanut-Pineapple Stew with Kale. It gets tremendous points for ease, vegan-ness, for having the ingredients in the house (why I had 20 oz of crushed pineapple, I have no idea), and adventurousness. And in general, I have enjoyed African food. This was not a winner, though; try as I might, I am not a kale convert. Too much work for a taste I'm not crazy about, though I do keep trying. They did not say to serve with or over rice or millet, but I would do that next time. And there might be a next time, when our vegan friends roll in to town. But this is not the kind of thing that will convert anyone to give up meat.

A more successful vegan effort was the 101 Cookbooks Cashew Curry recipe. Not being a fan of tofu, I left that out and added more cashews (yum) and also was a little light on cauliflower as I had thought I'd make this a while ago and, well, I didn't. But it was super-easy, delicious, and again, I love cleaning up afterwards without feeling like I'm dealing with toxic waste. My kids? Of course, would not touch it. But my husband thought it was great and tasted like a side dish that could have come from takeout. Nice! (And, as a double bonus, it used a can of coconut milk and a bag of cashews that have been hanging around.)

Another experiment was a two-part dinner on a rough night at home. One son had a swim lesson, which was a huge session for a six year old. I ran them home and baked an easy chicken for them, with a "recipe" from a friend--also a mom. Mix mustard and mayo; dredge chicken breasts; coat in bread crumbs (I used Italian but any would be good); bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes. The boys gobbled that down with carrot sticks on the side. I then rotated them upstairs for bed and came down to start dinner #2: the cashew chicken recommended by The Bitten Word, originally from Everyday Food. It was the closest I've come to capturing the flavor of (good) takeout and while it felt like a lot of oil, I could tell in the end it was less than I'm used to in cashew chicken. And in a nod to my changing taste buds, I think I would try for less chicken, more ginger, and more cashews next time. I think I would also add celery (sacrilege!) or something else to up the crunch factor a bit. But I did really like the flavor. However, this was not a family friendly meal. Too much chopping, too much raw chicken, too much minding at the stove. (Does anyone's chicken really cook all the way through in just five minutes? Am I too paranoid?)

This week, I caved. I went to one of those pre-made meal places and splurged away. Can't wait to have this many nights of easy dinners! I have not been following my menus--too tired, too harried (the kids gave up naps so my prep time is gone)...I replaced two of last week's nights when one son asked for turkey. So rather than knock myself out on Yet Another Thing My Kids Don't Like, I roasted up a breast and they ate complaint-free for two days. Heaven.

This week:

Monday: finally, really, the braised short ribs and mashed potatoes. I'll probably do the creme fraiche ones again, because I have the creme fraiche leftover in the fridge, but next time, I'll stick with sour cream--just as yummy and way cheaper. The search for amazing mashed potatoes continues...I may have to break down and get a ricer but I'm really trying to move stuff out of my kitchen, not in.

Tuesday: Leftovers. Some hot dogs to finish up, bits here and there of turkey breast, cashew curry, African pineapple peanut stew. Will augment with freezer food (chicken nuggets, etc.).

Wednesday: Leftover ribs and mashed potatoes, or defrost something from Dinner A'Fare. I'm most interested in their pork chops, so that'll probably be it.

Thursday: If I have leftovers Wednesday, it'll be the pork chops and the cheddar broccoli side dish. If not, I will defrost the pizza dough in the freezer and we'll do a homemade pizza.

Friday: well, at least two of our nephews' teams made the playoffs! And even better, they are playing each other tonight, so we are all over that game in the Cousin Bowl B 2009. One cousin in each band, and one on a football team=a family affair at the ball field. Yay!

Saturday should be fun: a girls-only 50th birthday party for my sister-in-law! (Or, as she likes to say, the 12th anniversary of her 38th.) It's all cocktails and finger food. Another of my ultra-clever sisters-in-law is bringing Cocktails of the Ages (1959 (Manhattan) 1969 (whiskey sour) 1979 (vodka martini) 1989 (pina colada) 1999 (cosmopolitan)) I have some ideas (Pioneer Woman's bacon bundles, anyone?) to say nothing of the huge stacks of Trader Joe's irresistible frozen appetizers in my freezer, that seem like they'd be great for any occasion but end up at none. But ideas for easily transported, yummy appetizers would be appreciated!

Have a great week, everyone. For great dinner ideas, go see I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

MPM--Like Septa...We're Getting There

Happy November! Here we are at the start of a new month. It's the end of the CSA boxes (just as well as they are chock full of things my family won't touch) and the start of cold weather foods. Our week of crazy is over...but that just means another begins! So here we are, plans ahoy...

Monday: leftover pork roast, creme fraiche mashed potatoes, zucchini with almonds

Tuesday: those braised ribs (finally found zinfandel, which was harder than I thought it would be), potatoes, string bean salad

Wednesday: cauliflower curry, rice, something else from the CSA

Thursday: if I'm up to it, the Smitten Kitchen chicken meatballs, Dr. Praeger's spinach patties, salad, some other freezer-emptying veggie

Friday: last football game of the season

Here's hoping all's well in your November neck of the woods.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

MPM--Happy Halloween!

That title may be the scariest thing I type all week--Halloween? And my older guy is still changing his costume decision every ten minutes? I am not a handy-make-up-a-last-minute-costume kind of girl. He really wants to be Anyone Who Is Allowed to Carry a Light Saber. Or Any Superhero With A Weapon. Of course, I can rely on my school district to be the bad guy here and remind him that Weapons Of Any Kind, Even Light Sabers, Are Not Allowed. I wouldn't let him either, but he's so jazzed about the Halloween parade that I figure I might as well use it to back me up. Fortunately my younger son is easy: he decided weeks ago what he wanted to be: a ghost. Then we saw the adorable "ride the dinosaur" costume at T*arget and he changed his mind. Now he is going to be a ghost riding a dinosaur. O-kay then. One to go.

I discovered a fun blog this week: The Bitten Word. I'm late to the party, it seems, but I admire them for doing what I should be doing--going through all their collected food magazines and actually making the things in them! I love that they are honest about how long things took, shortcuts they used, and how good it was (or wasn't). I'm using a couple of their recipes this week to see if we look at cooking the same way.

Finally, I really fell off the Raising Foodies wagon the last two weeks. I'm trying to climb back on this week. We had some great recipes last week but due to one thing and another (including the absolute final death of my car, which is making me so sad and so mad about needing to spend all that money again when the other one was paid off!) I fell back on our usual tacos instead of the stuffed eggplant. I did make the autumn crockpot casserole and it was pretty good. I tried using brown rice as the base (hey, now it's out of our freezer!) and went with maple-apple sausages, thinking about the apples in the recipe, and I think it was a little too sweet. And I don't know who I thought I was kidding with the brown rice--no one else in my family enjoys it, so how were they supposed to like it as the base of a meal?! So I'll give it another shake with white rice, and, at my husband's suggestion, something like kielbasa for the sausage. And--even though it was fully cooked, I would still pan-fry the sausage next time. Just warming it seemed skeevy, even though mentally I knew it would be ok to eat.

On the good side, we were blessed by a visit from The Best Babysitter Ever, who is so much more to us than that! We mostly hung out, and she helped with my two culinary successes of the week: applesauce in the crock pot, and the Smitten Kitchen napa cabbage salad. That was my best save of the week; in a week with failed apple cake and a batch of steel-cut oats that would have taken us a month to finish, I was deflated to discover that by the time I remembered to buy buttermilk, my cabbage was wilted. So I soaked it overnight in a bowl of cold water and--wow--it actually worked and the cabbage was revived.

Monday: JV football game if the weather holds out. Making braised short ribs with green beans and hazelnuts on the side.

Tuesday: I'm working, so easy dinner for boys: spaghetti and Trader Joe's turkey meatballs, salad

Wednesday: chicken nuggets for boys, cashew chicken for grownups; rice for both

Thursday: leftovers, or freezer meals if there aren't enough. (Unlikely, but possible.) Possible, but improbable: Paula Deen's chicken pot pie, care of Kelly's blog. I am working down a massive box of Bisqu*ick and besides waffles, which is what I purchased it for, this is something else I can do with it.

Friday: we are out at a wedding (yes, Mischief Night, and it should be something to behold--how many wedding registries do you know that included a skull shaped cookie jar?)...I'll leave money for the sitter to order pizza for the kids

Saturday: Happy Halloween--we are having the grandparents come distribute candy while we take the boys around, so I'm making my favorite crockpot pork roast, almond-turmeric potatoes from the Splendid Table's How to Cook Supper if I have time, mashed potatoes if I don't; roasted beets; creamed onions (from the freezer--they are my father in law's favorite).

And on to November! Have a good week, and for more inspired meal plans, go visit I'm An Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

MPM--SomeTinga Went Wrong

Happy Sunday, all!

Ah, the best laid plans and menus weren't quite working for me this week. We finally tried the tinga! It smelled amazing, and we could not wait to try it. And when we opened the lid, and spooned out our first bit...the tomatoes (Wh*le F**ds 365 Diced) tasted so metallic, it overwhelmed the rest of it completely. I was so disappointed! The smell of it cooking was amazing. Fortunately i had the backup regular tacos for my son's birthday, so I just stretched those out for all of us instead. But what a bummer! We will try again, though. And I'm not sure it has to be pork shoulder, either, which will make life easier.

This week, I'm trying again with some things I didn't get to the last times and one new recipe. I lucked in to a ton of eggplants from the CSA, so I'm looking for ways to use them--yum. I think baba ghanoush is on the menu too...

Monday: Mediterranean-Style Beef-Stuffed Eggplant from Two Fat Als' new cookbook with the leftovers from birthday party #2 for the boy--spaghetti and meatballs, at his request...and of which he ... ate ... nothing. And I earned mother-of-the-year points by not yelling at him once. His birthday, his choice. I'm sure he found enough crackers or pretzels so he didn't go to bed hungry. But I digress.

Tuesday: Trying again to make the autumn casserole since the crockpot is out anyway. It's already endeared itself to me by not having any ingredients that went bad when my last week when this was planned fell apart unexpectedly.

Wednesday: Leftovers, plus some veggie dishes I'm making for myself for lunches: Smitten Kitchen's napa cabbage salad to use the yummy radishes from the CSA (and have you seen the supercute baby of hers?), and 101 Cookbooks' summer green bean salad (minus the "salad" part).

Thursday: either more leftovers (possible, given my inability to estimate quantities well), or a curry dish. Could be Frugal Foodies' Curried Tilapia and Sweet Potato Stew, since I have lots of delightful little sweet potatoes hanging around...or the curried chick peas...or a cashew curry from 101 Cookbooks...we'll see. I don't want to overplan.

Friday: Football game (I know...predictable!).

And all this around the baseball's hoping our Phils pull it out! Go see I'm an Organizing Junkiefor more inspirational menus!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hosting a Famine

My parents, in their cool 1970s way, were in a gourmet group. They were one of six couples, all of whom had at least one person who worked in the same school district. The men were mostly principals and administrators; the women were teachers or administrators when they weren't home with their kids. They planned elaborate menus, went through the requisite cuisine of all nations in a monthly potluck (I remember my mother fretting over looking for an authentic Romanian hors d'oeuvres before the age of the internet, and the night the Chinese Scorpion Bowls led to a sleepover for some and a very angry mother-in-law driving kids in PJs to pick up the less-blitzed parents and drop them off at their homes...good times.) But I digress.

Eventually, this group grew old, as we lucky ones do. Charlie developed diabetes. Joe had a gastric bypass. Herb had heart trouble. And one by one, ingredients started dropping out. My father was allergic to swimming fish. Four of the twelve were on low- or no-salt diets. One became lactose intolerant. And I remember one of the other wives, commiserating with my mother over the double-cooking required to have something tasty for most and an alternative for those off salt, or on a low-carb regimen, or the no-sugar folks, "It's like hosting a famine, isn't it?"

How very '80s that is, I know. As Gwyneth Paltrow would say, it's a very first world problem. But it was really a passage for them as a group, to have to give up their freewheeling, experimental cuisines for broiled chicken breasts and butter-your-own-broccoli.

Anymore, though, that's what it's like trying to feed groups of small children. My kids have yet to attend a school, class, camp, or program where peanuts are allowed. Their cousins consume no artificial colors at all. Other friends have other food limitations. I remember asking the mom of one of my son's friends, hoping I wasn't too rude, exactly what they served for dinner, since her child was allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, and tomatoes. She laughed and answered, "Poached air." I can't even imagine.

But she was very thoughtful and would send special treats to the classroom for her child to have when the other kids sent in birthday cupcakes or other "event" food. It made sense to me; having lived with my father and his life-threatening allergy, I prayed my sons would not have any, because I knew, no matter how careful other parents tried to be, I would never feel comfortable without vetting all foods myself. My father ended up hospitalized multiple times because of ill-informed or dishonest waiters or cooks, so I know it can happen in the blink of an eye. So I try to be empathetic.

All this to say, my son is very cranky because he is bringing Rice Krispie treats for his birthday and not cupcakes. In his current class, there are allergies to eggs, milk (severe--can't be at a table where milk might have been spilled, even), nuts, peanuts, shellfish ("so much for the shrimp cocktail," the teacher said), and--the wild cards--bananas, coconut, and cinnamon. Some of the parents have not sent in any extra treats for their kids, so we've been advised that if we want to send in birthday treats, to either be cautious about ingredients, or understand that some kids just won't be able to have the treat.

Apparently most parents of September and early October birthday kids have thrown up their hands and sent cupcakes anyway. But I would be frantic if one of those allergic kids were mine, so I tried to figure out things I could do that all the kids could enjoy. The three ideas: fruit plate (met with deep resistance by the birthday boy); soft pretzels (miraculously, no wheat allergies!); or Rice Krispy treats. The Rice Krispy treats were the favorite of the options, so here we are.

And then I realized: Rice Krispy treats call for butter. BUT--as ever--The Best Babysitter Ever to the rescue! When she was helping me prepare food for a vegan friend, she introduced me to Earth Balance spread, and miracle of miracles, not only did I still have some in the fridge, it was not expired, and it's the only non-butter spread I could find that had no dairy ingredients whatsoever. And despite Kellogg's testy little "tub margarine is not recommended" it worked out fine. They are maybe just a little stickier than usual, but they still taste great. And the six year old and I can both feel good about that. Original recipe is here, if you need it; I have the feeling I'm the last grownup around who hadn't made these. But yes, if you are googling "rice krispie treats no butter," Earth Balance spread works just fine. Just be sure to use plenty of Pam and waxed paper.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

MPM--Birthday Edition!

Greetings, menu planners! We have a whirlwind week this week, with events almost every night, so we're going for as easy as possible...

Monday--the 6 year old's birthday! So--surprise!--Tacos. Trying really really hard to have the tinga this night for the grownups.

Tuesday--shrimp/corn/tomato dish from Glamour magazine back in the 90s. Love it and it's a great way to use the last of the local produce.

Wednesday--filets mignon, baked potatoes, beets


Friday--football game

Saturday is a wedding, and Sunday is the family party for the 6 year old, with the ever-elegant spaghetti and meatballs.

Hey to my local friends--Tuesday night is Panthers Go Pink, sponsored by the high school soccer team. The college soccer team is involved as well, with family events and breast cancer fundraisers around the varsity soccer double header (women's and men's games). The fun starts at 3:30...I highly encourage you to support this if you are local and not busy! Most of you have heard over and over about my best friend, diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer when 17 weeks pregnant. (If you have not heard of IBC I beg you to click over right now.) Due to a team of doctors as aggressive as her cancer, they started chemo (that fabu placenta kept it away from the baby), and delivered her son early so on her due date she could have her mastectomy instead. I am eternally grateful to all her medical team that I can report that she and I were fretting over her son's fifth birthday party invitation list together, which many thought would be impossible. Think pink. Thank you.

Have a good week, and head over to I'm An Organizing Junkie for some great menu ideas!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Raising Foodies: A Mitigated Success

This week, I'm trying the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge again, so my kids are thrilled as we finish boxes of "treat" snacks once opened, then put away, and eating things purchased "for a rainy day." It's not the rain but the holidays that are coming, so I'm doing my best to finish out what we have stockpiled here.

Last week, I went old-school foodie and made Chicken Marbella. This summer I read Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, and it was referenced there; then Sheila Lukens, one of the authors of the Silver Palate cookbook who made the dish famous, passed away, so it was on my "make soon" list. It occurred to me that with the sweet tang, it might be pretty child-friendly, and so I made this classic foodie-of-the-1980s dish. The recipe I used is here with three small changes. The first was to use one quartered chicken and add two boneless skinless breasts instead of using two chickens. Next time, I will buy the packet of four legs and a packet of four boneless breasts, because those are the meats this family likes. It worked just fine with the boneless breasts, and even the picky little one ate it, even though he of course avoided the prune and the olive on his plate completely. And alas, I have a few cans of the pricey Spanish olives because for a long time my older son was obsessed with them so I would get them for a treat, and now he has decided that infatuation is over. But this recipe is a great way to use them; instead of the called-for quarter cup, I filled my quarter cup measure with olives and a little brine, then drained the can and used the rest of the olives in the recipe as well. Finally, I used all the juice in the capers jar as well, and I didn't baste nearly as often as I was probably supposed to.

But I'll take a partial success; any time my whole family eats the same meal (even if the little one skipped the beets) is a happy night for me. And, there were leftovers: double win! I need more of these baked-chicken-not-in-a-casserole dishes. They seem to be working well for us. Can't wait to see what everyone else did this week!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

MPM--Eating Down the Fridge, Third Time's the Charm

Hello, all! Welcome to the third version of Really? You Still Haven't Defrosted that Freezer? Otherwise known as the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge, Version 3. Click over to join in.

This time, I'm really serious about emptying my freezer. I need to defrost and fill it before Christmas. (Long story which I will tell after Christmas but I need it for storage of items for my sister in law. More details after the holiday itself.) So...easy-peasy cooking week for me. And really, truly, finally time to chuck the last bags of breastmilk. The "baby" is four now. It's time.

Monday: veggie chickpea curry; rice; something from the CSA box; no-fat Greek yogurt or raita, if I'm inspired

Tuesday: turkey sloppy joes; asparagus risotto from Trader Joe's, french fries for the kids

Wednesday: flatbreads from--wait for it--Trader Joe's, salad, ice cream sandwiches

Thursday: vegan sweet potato chili; rice; salad; either a CSA veggie or bag of mixed veggies from (yup) Trader Joe's

Friday: football game. I will be sad when the season is over!

And, as a bonus, I found a bag of frozen rhubarb in there so we'll use some of the last of the strawberries to make one more strawberry-rhubarb crumble. Yum.

And the backup meal to all these: a quiche with one of the pie shells, since these are almost all new recipes (yup, I made vegan chili and didn't even try any--don't ask!). Although this too will be a new recipe, and eggs have been met with suspicion in the past, I am hopeful about this souffle recipe that I'm quiche-ing as it includes basil, which is the magic "pesto" to my kids. (Her blog is lovely, worth the click over to appreciate!) The other backup: Just found out my favorite grocery store sells Bell & Evans chicken nuggets. If it looks like a nugget, my kids will go for it. And there's always waffles.

And I'm really sad to say that this doesn't even, in fact, empty the freezer, let alone dent the pantry, so I may have to continue. You can read about it here next week. Meanwhile, try I'm an Organizing Junkie for the best meal plans on the web!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Raising Foodies: A Good Effort FAIL

I have been comforted by the moms (all moms so far) in the Raising Foodies Cooking Challenge who have admitted that their children are eating bologna and PBJs for dinner while the grownups eat organic veggies and free-range hormone free meats. We sometimes end up with kids having cereal or sandwiches for dinner (hence my pleasure at creating a healthier bread they liked last week) but they usually just eat a minimized version of our dinner. Our younger one continues his beige stage with a very few exceptions. Our older one is getting better about trying things but still swears dramatic aversions to some rather unusual items (hello, cheese, I'm talking to you. You too, soup).

So I thought that in our usual taco rotation I'd add the corn-zucchini quesadilla recipe I found here. So simple, so inoffensive...what could go wrong? Well, plenty as it turns out. The older one decided he not only does not enjoy cheese (though he cheerily eats it on a taco) but now he doesn't like corn. The younger one, despite the beigeness of it, was not interested at all, even to try the bite that dessert depended upon.

My husband and I enjoyed them, but that wasn't the point. We like tacos too, and there are more low-cal veggies in them. It was a worthy experiment, but not a win for us. I include this for a) honesty and b) those of you with kids who will eat cheese and corn! Easy and lovely and easy to augment (black beans would be great in these, and I added avocado and a smidge of sour cream to some of mine as well)...but not a hit with my picky eaters. We also tried Mission Life Balance Plus! tortillas (I had a coupon)--apparently they have Omega 3s and ...let's see...DHAs and calcium and other add-ins. They were fine, better for quesadillas than tacos (though only marginally) but without the coupon, would have been too expensive. Still, I fret over the complete nutritional wasteland that a regular flour tortilla represents so this was a worthy experiment too. The Tipsy Baker makes her own tortillas but if I bring another specialty flour in to this house my husband will seriously consider leaving me. And of course there's Jora's (and Jora's mom's) taco mix that saves us from the MSG in the packets!

Taco Seasoning Mix

6 tsp. Chili Powder
2 1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
5 tsp. Paprika
3 tsp. Onion Powder
4 1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 t. salt

Use 1/4 c. (or so) of mix and add one cup of water, to one pound of cooked ground beef/turkey/chicken. Simmer for a few minutes until it thickens a bit.

Click over to the Raising Foodies site though--there are some great ideas there and I am excited to try the souffle to see how that goes! The boys do love their basil...I might also try this pesto hummus from my favorite young frugal foodies, TwoFatAls, to take advantage before every last one of my basil plants dies. In fact, let me go make one of those things Right Now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

MPM--Welcome Fall

Summer must be over, not just because school started, but I know the season ended because...
...all my short sleeved shirts have butter stains from corn on the cob.
...despite the best efforts of SPF 50 sunscreen, my boys have farmer tans and awesome streaked hair.
...that "sentinel tree" at the school is blindingly yellow.
...the amount of sand in the trunk could qualify it as a mobile playyard.

But it's time to move on. Last week didn't turn out at all as we thought it would but that's life sometimes. We'll try again this week. We did try Kelly's chicken, and it was a qualified hit. The qualification, of course, was for something I did. I baked it one night before we ate it and noticed the potatoes looked soft instead of crispy, the way I like them, so in reheating, I left off the foil. Mistake. The potatoes did get a little more crispy, yes, but so did the beans. Oops. Plus, if you try it at home, I used the fresh beans I had but that was not the best use for fresh beans--canned or frozen would probably work better here. The fresh beans were fine; it's just that it didn't really suit them best.

I didn't get to the tinga. I did find my butcher not only had the pork shoulder but when I asked nicely, he cut one in half, cut it in to the 1-inch pieces for me, and did not make me buy the whole thing. He's my hero. My internet connection is not working well so I can't link but they are in last week's post.

This week is much less busy. Only one night out, my aunt and uncle go home (which is sad, but I am just so grateful they came at all!), and not much else. Hope your week shapes up the way you like it!

Monday--the tinga and the backups (regular old tacos for the boy and corn-zucchini quesedillas)

Tuesday--Autumn Sausage Casserole from A Year of Crockpotting

Wednesday--Chicken Marbella, mashed potatoes, CSA veggie


Friday--football game!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

90 Days and Counting...

I am still blinking in disbelief at the start of the school year, so when I realized I missed my own traditional noting of 100 days to Christmas, I was floored.

Fortunately, someone else was paying attention--the folks over at ListPlanIt and the 100 Days to Christmas countdown blog.

I'm a survivor of the Holiday Grand Plans that start in August and involve redecorating the entire home while canning 100 jars of jelly as stocking stuffers. I still check in on those (because let's face it, my house could use an intense 16 week cleanout/upgrade) but found the 100-days blog last year to be much more realistic for the way I live/clean/decorate/work.

Already we're down to 90 days to go. Thanks to HG (hi HG!), I had already started trolling the web (and ahem, the basement, with stuff I never wrapped last year--I way overshopped in '08) for the kids' gifts. Thanks to my husband's family's goofy tradition (theme gifts, $50, identical or close-to-the-same for each family, all of which are different sizes and ages) I've been fretting over the theme this year since, oh, Dec. 25 last year. Our theme last year was "Have a Green Christmas"--water bottles, canvas bags, etc.; others included local food, or, my favorites, "As Seen on TV" (upside-down tomato grower, aqua globes, ShamWows, etc.--so clever) and "Words to Live By"--family mottoes (as perceived by the giver) on some lovely art. I'm 99% sure I know what we're doing this year...not creative but would be welcomed by all. So I should probably just get going on making it actually happen at this point.

Have you started thinking about holiday plans yet? What's your tipoff that it's time to start? The Sally Foster wrapping paper sales? Halloween? Thanksgiving? December 20?

And just to keep things honest, and admit that perhaps I am not the best advertisement for the effectiveness of this site: the last week's posts were all about planning the Christmas card list. My 2008 Christmas cards were meticulously planned. Ordered. Arrived on time. And still sit in a basket, complete with stamps, ready to be mailed. Maybe I'll be first out of the blocks this year instead. Hey, if you didn't see our photo from last year, it's new to you, right?!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raising Foodies: The Very Shallow End

Wow, I had all kinds of great ideas for foodie attempts with the kids this week and most of them flew out the window. Out of town visitors, an unexpected death (of a friend's father in law--no one I'm close to but a kind and generous and loving man), and a series of back-to-school meetings meant the best laid plans went awry.

I tried to get the boys to eat the eggplant parmesan from the best Italian kitchen I know... no dice. I ran out of time on the chickpea curry. So when I say shallow end--I mean shallow.


What kid doesn't eat bread, right?

Here's the thing: we live in the world capital of, as my son calls it, squishy white bread. At the local children's museum, he routinely goes on his dream shopping trip in their little grocery store and fills his cart over and over with every kind of bread product they have and nothing else. His request for birthday dinner was a roll. He will eat other breads, but they are distant seconds to his true love...the squishy white.

So, in honor of my sister-in-law, whose bread machine I have inherited, and whose birthday it is this week, and because after months of trying, my bread expert friend and I were able to get together this week, I made a whole-wheat honey oat bread--well, she did, really, but I watched and I swear I can do it too. I'd never used a bread machine before and it was fascinating (particularly as a failed bread baker) to watch how it all came together and poof...three hours later, a whole-grain bread.

We pulled it out, and it was brown, and was immediately dismissed by the little one. But it smelled great, and it was almost lunchtime, so he took a bite. And by dinner, he had two huge slices and was devastated we didn't let him have more. It was delicious; the oats all but disappeared; and I am really excited to see what else we can sneak in to bread that he will find delicious! Many thanks to my friend Lauren for making this possible. Below, her recipe, lifted from this post (which I love) from her blog, Dream Kitchen.

Lauren's Humble Everyday Oat Bread

Combine in bread machine:

3/4 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached regular flour
1/4 cup powdered buttermilk
1 tablespoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
slightly less than 1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups water

Start machine. When it beeps to add extras, you can add 1/2 cup of flax seed meal, walnut meal, oat bran, millet, or some other grain. You can use molasses or maple syrup instead of honey. Or use all unbleached regular flour. Don't forget the yeast, for Pete's sake. I've done that twice. Share this bread and remember to be delicious!

We didn't do any of the add-ins, but I'm looking forward to trying them.

So. When I said shallow end, I meant it. Here's hoping for more adventuresome eating next time. And we'll have to see if I can get the boys to eat sandwiches on the bread.

Meanwhile, so I don't lose all foodie cred completely, I wanted to add some notes on broccoli, as we were inundated with it in the CSA box this week. I always liked the florets, more cooked than crispy but not quite limp. My husband showed me a great way to cook it in the microwave: cut in florets; place in bowl; drizzle with olive oil and grind some pepper on top. Place a dessert plate off-kilter over the bowl. Microwave 2-3.5 minutes to your desired texture. And: as a floret person, I was shocked to discover my nephew loathes the "little green things on top" of the broccoli but will cheerfully eat the stems. This makes no sense to me, but I pass it along: for some kids, it's not the flavor but the texture. So my nephew and I are Jack Sprat and his wife on broccoli and we are both happy. I've started to play around with this a bit with our kids with both the kinds of broccoli pieces I use and how long I cook them. Maybe I'm overthinking this (or it's already clear to more kitchen-savvy moms) but I thought I'd pass it along!

Can't wait to see what others tried this week! Join in the discussion at Raising Foodies...

A Series of Small Kitchen Disasters

Usually, when I'm talking about kitchen disasters, it's things I tried to make.

This time, it really is the kitchen. And it's really a series of very first-world problems, to borrow Gwyneth Paltrow's phrase.

But, problems they are.

Over the summer, we had ants invade our house. They are teeny, gross, and, as I mentioned on Facebook, the only "natural" solution that was working on them was squishing them. Vinegar wasn't destroying their tracks, they seemed attracted to salt as much as sugar, and cinnamon was merely a delightful scent, no barrier at all. We used the opportunity to clean out our cabinets, put everything in plastic bags or containers, cleaned up as scrupulously as I know how...and still. The ants.

Before that, my drainboard was knocked off so it wasn't draining in the sink, but behind the sink, and I didn't notice and it warped the particleboard under my laminate countertop/backsplash. It bothered the heck out of me at first but now I barely notice it. (More on that later.)

Before that, some of you may remember that we needed a new refrigerator and ended up losing almost 2 cubic feet (which is a TON of space) because the cabinets were built around the old, unfixable-for-less-than-$600 fridge.

Now today, the door to my despised (though oh-so-useful) corner cabinet fell off. Not at the hardware, but at the architectural-interest indentation. So the wood split.

And if you've been with me for any amount of time, you know that my dishwasher is on a long march to death as well.

So. My question to you is: when do you pull the trigger on a redo? On one hand, I hate to do it. The kitchen was one of the first things we fell in love with at this house. The new-for-our-town kitchen was a huge selling point and it has been functional and homey. Neither of us adored the laminate countertops but in some ways, that was fine, because the spot where the superglue exploded or the heat discolored or the kids banged with a rock--who cares? But if I get a new kitchen. I will care, deeply. AND...I don't at all trust my own instincts on house projects. There isn't a single major or even minor re-do here that I wouldn't change somewhat dramatically if given the chance. (Except the sewer line. That was awesome start to finish. But anything with a design element--I just am not happy when all is said and done.) Part of it is I don't know the right questions to ask. Part of it is that I lack the ability to envision things in a way they are not. I would agonize about things like, should we build in a breakfast bar to the peninsula again even though we don't use the one we have because surely this time it would be different?

Did I mention that the "vent" (which is really just part of the microwave) does not in fact vent?

My usual (cheap) MO is to just eke things along and be frugal for as long as possible. But when does frugal cross the line in to shabby (and not shabby-chic, just plain old shabby)?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

MPM--Oh, My Internets, Where to Begin?

Hello! It's been so long but I MUST get back in the swing. MUST. The school year hit like a whirlwind with night after night after afternoon after afternoon of activity and I need to get my act together for dinners. There are so many stories to share from the summer, and the recipes tried, to the start of the school year...

Where to begin? With the Hot Wheels in the water filter? The wedding shower today that included the phrases, "No one told me my teeth weren't in" and "I love the way the flash makes our tattoos look like they are blazing"? The FIVE projects due for kindergarten tomorrow? Never mind. We'll get on with the week.

Oh--one last thing I should mention first--Joslyn of Simple Lovely is hosting a cooking group on her second blog, Raising Foodies. The original idea was to concentrate on a new recipe focused on one ingredient or style of cooking per week that we would try to see if our kiddos would enjoy. That morphed in to the perhaps more realistic "try one new recipe this week and let us know how the kids reacted" structure. And that's where we are now. I, however, always need a little more structure than that so I am sort of combining the two. Results go up on Tuesday; click here for more info if you are interested.

With that in mind, since I've done nothing even remotely foodie in a long time:

Monday: foodie vegetarian attempt: chickpea currry, with thanks to The Accidental Hausfrau for the idea. Brown or basmati rice, salad.

Tuesday: Kelly's dinner post from the Kelly's Korner "show us your life/what's for dinner" carnival. While cooking that, I'll roast the beets coming in our CSA box.

Wednesday: We'll see. We might have company for dinner, in which case I won't be trying something new like this on them. Otherwise, inspired by the Tipsy Baker's cook(book)-off between Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, I'll be trying the Bayless tinga with modifications (such as, I cannot eat peppers, which will dramatically alter the dish, but there it is). With this I will make tacos for backup.

Thursday: Leftovers. If no leftovers (doubtful but possible), I've been yearning for Rachael Ray's Tagine-Style chicken.

Friday: Football game--we'll eat there. Woohoo!

And the weekend will take care of itself, I hope.

Next week: summer experiment reviews. There were some real winners but I'm not up to posting them tonight. If you want more menu ideas, go see OrgJunkie and her amazing followers' lists!

Friday, September 18, 2009


They're back! I missed a few I think but hey, it was summer. Getting back in the swing here...

What color is your refrigerator?

White. Fine with me. Even if I didn't have kids, I could never keep stainless clean.

What kind of toaster do you have?

Classic Sunbeam but to my enormous surprise, I've been converted to toasting in the toaster oven. We have the fancy-schmancy Cuisinart one that does everything from toast bread and bagels to roasting beets and baking cookie bars.

Do you use a tablecloth? When - always, when eating, etc. Not since the older boy was about 18 months old and started pulling them off the table for fun and excitement. He's almost 6 and not over it, I'm sorry to say. I can't wait to start using them again but they are off my table for the foreseeable future.

One tablecloth we do try to use: I read somewhere about a family that had everyone sign the tablecloth at their place (kind of instead of placecards, or like reverse placecards) on holiday dinners. We started doing that with a rainbow of Sharpies and a new, cheapish cream colored tablecloth bought for the occasion. Now we love looking back at how the cousins signed when they were little, or seeing the names of loved ones who aren't with us anymore. I'm thrilled we have it and love using it, even if it's for a buffet.

Do you use paper or cloth napkins?

Oh, one of my big green failures. We try to use cloth. Really I do. But I always write a note on my son's napkin for school, so I need paper for that. And once they are in the house they seem to migrate to the table.

Wanna play? Go see Val! Her button is on top of the right column of my blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's Official

I've hit middle age. I had to ask my four year old to read the numbers of the product code off the telephone for me because I couldn't find a magnifying glass. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Without Further Ado

IF you are lucky enough to have an insane sale in your neighborhood (like mine this week, for $2.99/lb tenderloins!) you must make this recipe. SO easy. SO good. A total winner in every way. With thanks to C0lin C0wie and 0prah for running this originally!

Filet Mignon with Cracked Pink Peppercorns

Ingredients:Serves 8

1/4 cup pink peppercorns , cracked
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 center-cut beef tenderloins (about 2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Tarragon or coarse-ground mustard
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine peppercorns and salt in a small bowl; rub over all sides of tenderloins.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tenderloin; cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer tenderloin to a roasting pan. Repeat with remaining oil and tenderloin.

Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of 1 tenderloin. Roast until temperature registers 145°, 35 to 40 minutes for medium rare. Transfer beef to cutting board; let stand 10 minutes. Carve into 1-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with mustard.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

WFMW--Send It Ahead

Alas, it's a little late for many vacationers but if you are still planning for a late summer getaway, this might work for you.

A few years ago, we went to D*sneyWorld with our family, which then included an infant and a two year old. We didn't want to deal with carseats so we decided to just stay on the Disney property the whole time. But what would our fussy kids (and not-yet-exposed-to-many-foods kid) eat? So I grabbed a box and popped in some sweet potatoes, feeding spoons, G*ldfish crackers, some other essentials, and then for good measure, one or two books and some extra wipes. I also tossed in some milk and juice boxes (double wrapped in zipl0ck bags), figuring the things with liquid were heaviest and hardest to carry.

The unexpected bonus? When we had extra souvenirs and some non-stinky laundry, we shipped it all right back home in the same box.

If you want to try it, give yourself plenty of time (I think I sent ours about 10 days before we left). Create a mailing label:

Fun Hotel
Street Address
City, State ZIP

PLEASE HOLD for Guest: Name Lastname
Arrival Date August 26, 2009 (or whatever your arrival is, obviously)

Get a record from the mailing service you use of when it arrives and who signs for it, but especially if you are staying at any kind of hotel that has business travelers, they have a special room to store this stuff. (I did it all the time when I was working and had boxes of information shipped ahead of me.) If you are at a B&B or another smaller or family run hotel, check first to see if this is ok with them, but any major chain will hold it for you automatically and probably tell you at checkin that they have a package waiting for you. (And how fun is that?)

Shipping ahead works for me. Hope it works for you, too! For other ideas, check the WFMW carnival at We Are THAT Family!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer 2009 Recap

First, a note about all the recipes below: it's been a month of cooking. And while some of my lack of posting was summer malaise, some was definitely sheer laziness on my part. After months of creating menus of limited interest to anyone else in my family (not totally fair, but my husband, while he really appreciates great food, mostly is looking to "fuel the machine") I just gave up and we had weeks in a row of either Trader Joe's stuff from the freezer (STILL not restocked but hopefully I will be able to actually defrost it before, you know, the first frost--we did make lots of progress in that department). The pantry is also better. I have a world-class collection of baking supplies and can't wait for the weather to break a little so I can start baking cookies.

I'm late to the party but I have a total girlcrush on Taylor Swift. But only because she writes songs that remind me of my youth and how my own life turned out.

Best food discovery of the summer: sharlyn melon. Like honeydew but paler, and supersweet. Yum.

Also in the fruit department: from either Nie or C Jane, I found The Dish on Delish and this amazing summer fruit salad with honey-lime dressing. As she wrote, Thank me later. So easy and so yummy. Reprinted below but the blog is so worth looking at, I hope you click over.

Summer Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Syrup

1 cup cubed watermelon
2 nectarines, pitted and cut into chunks
1 cup hulled and quartered strawberries
Zest of 1/2 lime
1 lime, juiced
3 Tablespoons honey
Pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine zest, lime juice, honey and salt. Whisk until combined.

In a medium bowl, combine the watermelon, nectarines and strawberries. Drizzle syrup over the fruit. Stir well.

Serve chilled for best taste.

In conclusion -
Make this.
Enjoy the praise.
Thank me later.

We used this recipe for the rainbow chard from the CSA, with only one batch chard and regular amounts of everything else. I liked it, but it was a little bland. I need to figure out a sauce that will punch this up a little but it was a good reintroduction to chard. Oh, and as a slave to Rachael Ray, I did sprinkle some nutmeg on there as well, like her grandpa taught her. I'm hopeless.

We made another batch of the most amazing granola ever, thanks to Alton Brown and the Tipsy Baker.

We tried a new chicken recipe from the rediscovered How to Eat Supper by the Splendid Table.

Inspired by Maggie at Say Yes to Salad, I had purchased a kabocha when I saw them in my favorite veggie store. (I want to call it a "stand," but it is clearly an actual store--you might remember it as the one that actually needs police guiding traffic the entire week before Easter, among other holidays.) They have an enormous variety of foods there--when I needed okra in a pinch, they had it; when I only need a cup of buttermilk, they have teeny little bottles of a local farm's for sale--and here they had kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, though mine is apparently Mexican, which Maggie raves about All The Time. So I was inspired to try it. I made the not-fried fries with cinnamon only. They were a little soggy for my taste, and while it is more pumpkin-y than, say, butternut squash, there's still the squashy bitterness I'm not very fond of. But, you know, if you put enough butter and maple syrup on anything orange, it won't be too bad... And, I took the extras to the mountains and my one year old niece ate the rest of them in one fell swoop. She loved them! That was fun.

Fortunately for me, everyone at my CSA apparently does not enjoy fennel, so I made one of my favorite side dishes from the Silver Palate New Basics cookbook, for roasted potatoes, haricots verts, and fennel. (It really does need to be haricots verts--really skinny green beans--or it doesn't work. Though I don't know why I don't do this with just the fennel and the potatoes.)

And I tried the vegan sweet potato chili from the Year of Crockpotting site. I've had mixed success from her site and this was no different. I love sweet potato in Mexican food in general (I still grab any chance I can to get a sweet potato burrito from my favorite food truck, MexiCali, in Philly) and I liked them here, but I wasn't thrilled overall. I think it was the spices? Not sure. But it was easy and used stuff I already had, for the most part (ok, a 99 cent can of red kidney beans needed to be found), and I hope to figure out what my issue with it was.

In my eternal efforts to not heat the kitchen with the stove in the summer, I also tried the chicken and tomatoes recipe. It was ok. The meat was falling apart, which I don't love, because it ends up looking funny and I'm never sure if I'm going to bite in to a bone. Also? I'm not that crazy about herbes de Provence, as it turns out, but at least I got to use some more of the ones I had. And, my husband loved it. And I wished I were a better cook, or had one handy (like in my kitchen when I got out the leftovers) because my chicken was in almost a jelly. Since I had followed her directions (more on that in one moment) it was almost fat-free but it was a deep pinky-purple (from the tomatoes) and I'm sure would have had some great use if only I knew what it was. (Stephanie, the blog author, used hers when it was still liquid to make rice. If I make it again I will try that.) I do want to make it again but I also shudder at the thought. Part of the directions included removing as much of the skin and fat as possible, which was pretty easy for me as I had a fresh chicken to work with. But I had just read Farm City, and followed Novella Carpenter's adventures through raising, then killing and eating, her own chickens. And that was the same week as the Tipsy Baker discovered a rooster in her henhouse (no kidding) and dispatched of him as well. And I couldn't help but wonder what kind of life this chicken led that made it worth only $5.60 at its death. And its innards weren't entirely out so I needed to do that myself. And so, all these things combined and I had a really hard time eating this dish. Even the tomatoes, though they had done nothing but slowly roast and turn savory-delish. husband loved this and ate every last bit, and kept saying, admiringly, "Really? You just put a whole chicken in there with some tomatoes and wine and it comes out like this? Because this is just great. So tasty." So I will definitely have this in the rotation, grossed-out-ness or not...and also because the CSA plies us with tomatoes on a regular basis.

I do want to get more use from my crockpot, so I'm going back to try her pho recipe and her borscht and, closer to winter, the Moroccan Lentil Soup. And with the sausage I found in the freezer, and the brown rice I found in the freezer, the Autumn Sausage Casserole.

I was going to say, You can't really mess up a lobster roll, but that's not really true: they can be totally mucked up if you put too much in them. But this recipe (from the indispensable Smitten Kitchen) was a delight. The only flaw is what you have to pay for a lobster. But mmmmmmm. And so much cheaper than a trip to Maine. And at least at my grocery store, they steam them for free.

Hey, where are my jicama fans out there? I always have enjoyed jicama but never saw it in the store. My veggie place had it though, and I bought it on a whim. Then Self magazine had a jicama salad with lime juice and fresh mint recipe, and I tried it. A little bland but I just love the texture of jicama so I snacked on it for a good while.

I keep getting pulled in to 101 Cookbooks! I made a few things to use CSA veggies: the cherry tomato couscous, the summer green bean salad...none were favorites but I did like the stringbean salad. Note: I had no greens, so it was a frisee-free salad, but I did love the dressing. Next time, I think I'd skip the olive oil in it though! And I tried the honey trick but I don't mind the bite of the lemon, so I won't do that next time either. And there will be a next time; I had hazelnuts to use and the cherry tomatoes are coming at a frantic pace right now. I also made many to "save" with the Smitten Kitchen slow-roasted cherry tomato recipe.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


VALMG is going on hiatus, so this'll be the last for a along if you want!

1. What’s your favorite flavor of Italian Ice?

Lemon, hands down, though I do enjoy mango, cherry, and root beer.

2. Watermelon. So you prefer seeded or seedless?

Seedless, though I can see the appeal of the old school black seeds.

3. Ice cream. Do you prefer soft serve or hard?

I prefer the regular scoopable kind, though I have never said no to a "custard." (Which is what we call soft-serve down the shore where it tastes best!)

4. Ice pops. What kind is your favorite?

I can't taste the difference! But my favorite popsicle-type thing is the Haagen-Daaz raspberry sorbet around the vanilla 100-calorie amazing treat things. Alas, they have disappeared from my markets around here except for the single servings at $2.90 a pop! Can't quite bring myself there.

Last chance to play for a while! Click on the button on my sidebar to join.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Wanna play? Click on the button on my sidebar!

#1. TheSaladCaper’s question. Give me one weird food combination which has always been your comfort food.

Now I want to see what TheSaladCaper comes up with! I don't know how weird it is but pretzels and milk take me back to after-school snacks.

#2. Name a food that begins with B.

Beets. Yum!

#3. Name a drink that begins with B.

Does a sea breeze count? I don't even know what's in that anymore. So sad.

#4. Share a recipe for something that calls for broccoli.

Our favorite way to make broccoli is also the easiest: chop in to florets; place in microwave safe bowl. Drizzle olive oil on and sprinkle some pepper (or grill seasoning). Cover bowl. Microwave to desired consistency. Though I have to admit: this broccoli slaw recipe from Smitten Kitchen has been calling my name since she posted it!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

MPM--Lazy Hazy Crazy Days

Ah, summer! Welcome, meal planners. This has been a great week here--camp is in session, the weather finally cleared and got gorgeous, and The Best Babysitter Ever came for a visit. We even got to the beach to visit with friends, and life is good.

And even if none of that were true, the Jersey corn, tomatoes, and blueberries are in! So I'm officially off the EDF train and back on the summer food bonanza. We went peach picking and raspberry picking and I already froze two bags of peaches (thanks to TBBE giving me the time to peel them--phew!). We also tried the Smitten Kitchen watermelon lemonade, which I would recommend. There are some other reviews below, but first, the menu for the week!

Monday: sweet potato chili and cherry tomato frittata (sad to be inspired by a catalog, but there it is). I also have some raw beet salad in the fridge ready to go as I was making an effort to clear the fridge before the next CSA batch of food arrived.

Tuesday: Have I mentioned TBBE makes the best lasagne in our world? And that she kindly makes some every time she comes? And I am slowly learning her tricks. But she left us another as a goodbye present and even if the weather turns hot and humid--well, it's always a good night for lasagne if you are my husband.

Wednesday: If I'm feeling adventuresome, I'll be trying another W-S recipe: braised chicken with tomatoes. If not, rotisserie chicken, and my favorite corn-tomato-zucchini side dish. Or we might just go to Peace-of-Pizza.

Thursday: out with my book group. Leftovers for my crew at home. (Hence the chicken on Wednesday so there will be something they might eat that is not a hot dog in the house.)

Friday Ball game!

If the amount of food seems somewhat massive, we're also making dinners for some families (my inlaws among them) that need some extra help these days.

And last week, we tried a few winner recipes from Smitten Kitchen. I had bought a baby watermelon and then got distracted by all the unbelievably great precut melons running around, so we used the baby for the watermelon lemonade. It wasn't amazing, but I would definitely make it again when lemons are cheap again. I also found my way to my new favorite way to make zucchini (and just in time, as they are coming quickly in the CSA). I made a small version for myself for lunch one day and a larger one for dinner. My kids won't touch it, alas, but we're working on it. And I'm certainly not coordinated enough to actually make the matchstick cuts but it's a very forgiving recipe, as she notes.

Meanwhile, we have new neighbors, who are new to our street but not to our town, so they come with built in friends already too, and (mostly because my littlest one is, well, the littlest one) suddenly we have passels of kids coming through our house. It's been fun but there it's a real change in the dynamics of our street and our days. So any recommendations for easy, cheap, healthy snacks the kids will eat, do share!

Have a great week! And for more inspired menus, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!