Sunday, May 31, 2009

MPM--June Bugs

And the whirl begins! Last week didn't quite go according to plan because I forgot about some events that were happening. Happily, the baseball fell through for Wednesday, so we loved WedSpag, with many thanks to Emily. Her sauce was fantastic and her boys exceedingly kind to my much younger ones. I can only hope mine grow up that well. Friday was my nephew's prom, so we stuck with tradition and had a cookout with burgers and dogs and chips after an embarrassingly large photo corps took pictures of the cute couples. And then Saturday was graduation parties and another prom photo shoot for my niece who is dating someone from a different high school and Sunday was brunch and my head is spinning. And we're not even halfway done. So here are the few things I'm pulling together this week.

Monday: John McCain's rib recipe. (How cool is that?) Baked potatoes (regular way since the crock is busy) and salad from the CSA box with manchego cheese (how did I lose a hunk of that in my fridge? sacrilege!), almonds, and dried cherries. (Yes, the cabinet cleanout theme continues.)

Tuesday: One of the graduations. Food on the run while we're out. I'll pack some Z-Bars and other yummies for the kids.

Wednesday: Wednesday Spaghetti but it might just be for us; my husband will be getting ready for his reunion out of state so not a good night to have people over.

Thursday: Leftovers or freezer meal.

Friday: Another graduation.

Saturday: Graduation party. You begin to see the overwhelm.

(for more actually planned menus, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!)

The big news from my kitchen (and oh, how sad my life has gotten that there could even be "big news from my kitchen," or that the following would be it) is that I am jettisoning the crockpot. I want to love it, I really do. But either I have a different set of tastebuds (possible) or a weird crockpot (almost definitely) or something else goes wrong. There are a few recipes I love (the pork roast, my uber-easy chili) but overall, there aren't too many things I'd make again. I tried the shredded Asian beef that got rave reviews at A Year of Crockpotting but mine turned out dry (in less than five hours, nowhere near the recommended eight), didn't shred, and while it smelled heavenly, maybe it was the dryness but it didn't taste all that good either. Sigh. I should amend: it tasted better after a day in the fridge; it was in large part my fault for getting too excited with the five-spice powder; and my oldest actually did eat a full helping, so it's not like it was a failure. But it wasn't a home run either, and my crockpot just takes up so much space. So I am keeping it, but it's getting rotated to the lower level storage area. Right after I try the McCain ribs.

And, of course, the other key here is: my kids don't eat anything too doctored up anyway. Forget casseroles. Forget fancy much-of-anything. They were far happier with plain old turkey breast. (I wasn't as thrilled; I tried Mark Bittman's recipe with it cooked over shredded fennel--using an impulse purchase--and orange juice, and it was fine but not one of his best efforts. The recipe was a derivative of the turkey breast with cabbage two ways, which I've made and thought was fine, but I couldn't tell with this one whether I was supposed to keep the ginger in or not. I'm going to guess "yes" because I left it out and it was pretty bland. But it was very moist, and very tasty. So that was a semi-success.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Want to play? Go click the top button!

#1. Anele’s question. Do you have a natural ability to cook or do you feel you just “get by?”

Oh, I so just get by. I wish I could develop something resembling natural ability but nothing yet and it's been years.

#2. Why do you buy the size eggs that you buy?

Since I've been baking more, I stick with large since XL can really throw off a recipe, as it turns out. But more than size, I try to look for cage-free eggs or buy them from a farmer whose farm I've visited.

#3. Do you have any cooking “rules”?

My instinct is "not really" but I'm sure my husband would laugh at that. One, I suppose, is that I don't fry in my kitchen. I'm just petrified of the oil exploding in flames.

#4. Fresh corn. Yellow, white or bicolored?

New Jersey Silver Queen but I'll eat 'em all! And I can't wait. I keep driving by the (few, small) cornfields around here and getting sad that they are plowed and not actually growing anything yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

MPM--The Merry Merry Month of May

First, thanks to all who made brunch suggestions! I am sad to say I ran out of energy with the prepping and enjoying of the preschool graduation party, but I am ready to go for the next brunch round, which is not far off.

This week is a bit of the eye of the storm; back from the weekend, we have one relaxed week before the family races all over the Eastern seaboard for graduations (high schools this time) and reunions. I'm still trying to take it easy on myself for the week; it was lovely eating so many things last week that were so easy, it gave me time to prep nice salads and fruit-based desserts.

Monday: asparagus and goat cheese pasta from Smitten Kitchen. (You will soon note a theme here.)

Tuesday: freezer meal (I have a meeting); bulgar chickpea salad

Wednesday: I think my husband got tickets to the baseball game. But I'm kinda hoping he didn't so we can do a Wednesday Spaghetti.

chicken lettuce wraps
; rice; broccoli

Friday: trying again for teriyaki sirloin steak, sweet potatoes, and whatever veggie is in the CSA box (probably salad, maybe more asparagus, in which case I'd love to make this asparagus tart

As for last week...

The CSA started! The first box had spring lettuces, mushrooms, and radishes, which were a great salad with buttermilk dressing based on this Smitten Kitchen recipe. I doubled the dressing but next time, I'll only use half the sugar (if any); I really like my dressings more tart but this is a great base and used my chives beautifully.

And the box had rhubarb! So it was back to the Smitten Kitchen for her rhubarb recipes. Woohoo!

Have a great week, and don't forget to visit I'm an Organizing Junkie for more menus!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Hey! VALMG is back! Click on the button in my sidebar to join in.

#1. Do you celebrate Memorial Day with a picnic, cookout, road trip or some other way?

Usually? We "celebrate" by driving home from the mountains, where we help open my in-laws' house. We tend to spend the weekend there shaking the mothballs free. Otherwise, it's a cookout.

#2. What are staples at your summer time cookouts?

Hot dogs, so my children will eat. I love cheeseburgers but we usually do chicken breasts or sometimes chicken burgers.

#3. What drink do you find most refreshing on a hot summer day?

Lemonade, or tea cooler (half tea, half lemonade). Or, of course, a frozen margarita!

#4. Share a recipe for a picnic side dish.

One of my favorite salads, because all that's involved (for the most part) is opening containers and dumping contents in a bowl.

Slaw Salad
1 bag Dole dry cole slaw mix (I am sure others would work too but there weren't too many options when I got this recipe)
1 3 oz can La Choy skinny rice noodles
1 C toasted slivered almonds (350 degrees for 15 minutes)
1 C craisins
1 small can mandarin oranges

1 C olive oil (though I've used a lot less and been fine)
6 Tbs balsamic vinegar
6 Tbs dark brown sugar
Mix well until sugar dissolves.

Pour salad ingredients in large bowl. Toss with dressing right before ready to serve.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

MPM--Graduation a-Go-Go

Greetings, menu-planners! Last week started slowly with being wiped out from Mother's Day. One fun thing was my older child saying, "Mommy? Can we have waffles for dinner? I just loved them." Really, why would I say no to that? So we made waffles while the irons were out. With bacon, it made a lovely little spring meal. But I did get some other cooking in, so check below the menu for reviews and links for a few recipes.

This week starts the end-of-school-year craziness around here. I'm the class representative at my college's graduation on Monday (I'm *always* up for a good excuse to wear a cap and gown, and to congratulate kids on a well-earned rite of passage!). Both kids end school on Friday (yes, that wailing and lamentation sound you hear would be me--and, them, happily, because they both love school so much). In between, we have concerts and parties and all kinds of fun. So the theme of the week's dinners is "easy and familiar." Working for me.

Monday: chili from the freezer downstairs, baked potatoes (think I'll try this slow-cooker recipe, as long as it's a no-pressure situation, with maybe one or two of these sweet potatoes for luck), rice, toppings (cheese, scallions, sour cream...chip in with any I'm missing! ooh--chips--tortilla--good one! Anything else?)

Tuesday: sandwiches for small fry, freezer meal (probably pizza) for me; broccoli salad from Smitten Kitchen (realistically also probably for me); we're hoping to get to a play so it has to be a superquick night.

Wednesday: band concert night, so lasagne (regular this time) and maybe spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, salad-from-a-bag (WedSpag! Kind of. Lots of family invited and time pressure to get to the concert, so not really the fun free-for-all that WedSpag is really all about, but it's such a great idea I figure it's worth linking to at any opportunity.)

Thursday: turkey shepherd's pie from the freezer downstairs, augmented with new mashed potatoes and a side of raw beet salad from Mark Bittman (c/o The Tipsy Baker, without whom I never, ever, in a million years would have noticed this recipe despite its presence in THREE of his cookbooks in my home).

Friday: Memorial Day weekend starts--woohoo! Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill if the weather is good, just hot dogs on the stove if not. Potato salad. Regular salad. Leftover anythings.

After Mother's Day, in a pique of cleaning out the refrigerator and cabinets, I (finally) made the sweet & sour pork from Martha Stewart via the always interesting Accidental Hausfrau. Like all stir fries, the annoying part was the prep...washing, chopping, separating according to cook time...but it went ok. I should have re-read the comments and added garlic, ginger, and my newly-beloved five-spice powder to the pork while it was cooking. And while I was about to type, "but I don't like to stray too far from a recipe the first time I make it so I can evaluate it without wondering if my tweaking messed it up," that did not hold true here. I used fresh instead of frozen broccoli, and since I don't eat peppers, I tried shredded carrots instead. And then I remembered the snap peas I had and threw them in. And while looking for the water chestnuts I thought I remembered someone suggesting in the comments, I saw baby corns and tossed them in as well. So the blandness was not for lack of ingredients! Given that, the party, and our usual milk and OJ consumption, we filled three whole recycling containers--a new record for us. And that didn't even include the 2-liter soda bottles since my mother in law wanted some to protect her plants.

I also tried the black bean lasagne. I was too curious not to, and I had all those cans of tomatoes. First, I should have done something different with the diced tomatoes I used to augment the sauce I had. The casserole way overflowed the container (too watery, I'm guessing) and several of the dice wound up on the oven floor. Yecch. Stinky and hard to clean--not my favorite combo. I also made it "her" way, with the cheddar cheese and no cilantro (partly because I didn't have any, and partly in vain hope that without suspicious green things my kids might try it. Ha!). As a lasagna variant, it was fine. Not great, not too strange, just fine. Totally served it purpose here except, alas, to find one more thing my kids would eat!

We also visited our old friend The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper this week. Taking stock of what was in the fridge and freezer, I replaced one of the Italian freezer meals with Crisp Cucumber Shrimp in Retro Goddess Dressing. I really liked it, my husband ate it, and again, my kids went to bed hungry. I thought it was great, though I did add some lemon (not on the recipe! gasp) at the end to brighten up the flavors a little bit. I think I missed the cue to add "more vinegar to taste," but since I would soak virtually everything in vinegar given the chance, I don't really trust myself on that scale. But I am pleased to report that the "Giving Flavor to Frozen Shrimp" secret (boil briefly in water that has simmered with the juice and rind of one lime; dump the water and let sit covered for 15 minutes) worked beautifully. Frozen shrimp will never be as good as fresh, obviously, but this is a great trick for the times when frozen makes more sense.

Strange journey of the week: I saved the whey from my yogurt (now THERE'S a sentence I never, never, never thought I would type in my life) to make the 24-hour bread from the NYTimes, which I had made before with plain old water and enjoyed. This time, I think my yeast was dead, despite a 2010 expiration date. The thing just plain never rose. I was very sad. But then I saw that the awaited bubbles did eventually come, almost another 12 hours later when I was ready to chuck the whole thing and call it a day. So I went ahead with it. It did eventually rise, a little, and then baked up in to this huge gorgeous loaf that was hard to believe came from my oven. And since it was gone in about 24 hours also, in the end it was a success, though it certainly seemed snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Finally, anyone who's read this far: any suggestions for brunch food that travel well? We are providing a family brunch at Sunday morning, though not at our house, so it has to pack. Some prep can be done there. Coffee cakes are obvious. I just did granola, so that's out...any other suggestions for things which travel well or can be mostly assembled at home and finished off somewhere? Quiches/frittatas? Thanks for any thoughts!

Have a great week and check out Org Junkie for more menu plans!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

MPM--Taming the Pantry Again

Happy Mother's Day to any moms checking in today! I hope you enjoyed the day. I'm wiped out from getting the house together to host the intimate brunch for 16 today (more on that later) and am geared up for our last regular school week of the year! (sniffle)

Sunday--takeout. No cooking after brunch for so many!

Monday--black bean lasagna , salad

Tuesday: freezer meal--eggplant parmigiana and gnocchi

Wednesday: freezer meal: chicken breast entrees from Trader Joe's, mac & cheese, spinach

Thursday: teriaki sirloin steak, broccoli, rice

Friday: freezer meal--stromboli from band fundraiser for our cousin, salad

We hosted a Mothers' Day brunch this morning, mostly because it's a holiday I can take or leave, but my sisters-in-law and mother-in-law really take it seriously. I'd rather do the stressful hosting thing on a holiday that I am not trying to enjoy myself! We did a brunch, both to accommodate church and baseball schedules, and for something less fancy-shmancy than a dinner. We used my mother's waffle recipe, below, in an homage to her.

Huge success of the week: the Alton Brown granola, recommended by the Tipsy Baker in her Slate article (that was most emailed for almost two days, btw!). It was easy to make at the end of dinner prep one night; the oven was already warming the main course, and the littlest one was happy to do the easy stirring in the big bowl before we added the syrup. Then, as it was slowly baking, the older one was sniffing around happily, saying, "Mmmm! That smell is tasting the air to my nose!" Alas, neither of them enjoyed the final product as much as the production, but it was worth a try, and the little one has added sweetened coconut to the very, very, very short list of Items Considered Edible. Also, this recipe from the new-to-me Aldi Queen (what a great idea--recipes for things that can be made from groceries at Aldi's, Trader Joe's little known, much cheaper sibling!) for Vanilla Scented Granola was also good, but not quite as amazing. Part of that was probably my fault--I didn't have quite the 4 cups of oats called for so while I added more nuts, the granola still came out sticky. And after the sublime sweetness of the maple syrup on Alton Brown's, the honey just seemed too sweet, even for me, and I never turn down anything for being too sweet. Finally, we also tried Katie Lee Joel's "healthy" granola recipe from the late lamented Domino magazine. While I loved that one for its pantry-clearing qualities, I found her cheery selling of this as "healthy" to be baffling, as it has half a stick of butter and a cup and a half of nuts...not at all low-fat, clearly. While it was an enjoyable granola, the Alton Brown version was the clear winner.

Not so much, alas, for the grand yogurt experiment. I wanted to feel like a sorcerer and create this fabulous product but apparently Trader Joe's 0% Fat-Free Greek Yogurt is not an adequate starter as my milk stayed milk and never set. I have no idea other than the starter what I did wrong; I'll try one more time before I give up on it. --->Edited to say: that was only the smaller container that didn't set! The larger one did and we had actual homemade yogurt. My draining technique leaves much to be desired, but it was good, and perfect with all that granola.

Club Soda Waffles

Makes 4 large waffles
2 cups biscuit baking mix (such as Bisquick)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups club soda

1. Place the baking mix in a bowl or wide pitcher.
2. With a fork, beat the egg with the oil and stir the liquid into the baking mix. Gradually add the club soda, mixing until all the baking mix is moistened and a slightly thick batter (like buttermilk) forms.
3. Let batter rest for 5 minutes. Heat a waffle iron.
4. Pour about one-fourth of the batter into the iron. Close the lid and bake until any steam subsides and the waffle browns, about 2 minutes. When done, the waffle and iron should separate easily. Repeat with remaining batter.
Note: Use all the batter immediately. Leftover waffles may be frozen. To use, defrost and then reheat in a toaster.
Per serving: 368 calories, 6 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 21 grams fat, 54 milligrams cholesterol, 806 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Friday, May 8, 2009


This week, we're playing with questions submitted by other participants!

#1. blueyes’ question. What’s your favorite seafood recipe?

My favorite seafood without a doubt is broiled lobster tail. But since that isn't much of a recipe, I'll go with the sentimental favorite of Rachael Ray's Cioppino. We made it for Christmas Eve dinner the year our first child was Baby Jesus in the Christmas Eve Mass and we had all the relatives over for seven fishes to celebrate. My aunt, who trained at the Cordon Bleu, poached a salmon! It was amazing. But the cioppino, easy as it was, held its own with that stunner and got us to seven fishes (a tradition) in a jiffy. Recipe below.

#2. Italian Ice. Like it, love it or leave it?

Love it. For years when I was working, there was a sidewalk vendor who had soft pretzels and water ice and for $2, I had an awesome summer lunch. Lemon's my favorite, but I am oddly fond of root beer too.

#3. What’s your favorite crunchy food? (anything - pickles, chips, fruit, etc.)

Utz extra dark pretzels. Yum.

#4. Have you ever eaten so much of something that you felt or got sick?

Strangely, I think the answer is no. I can consume huge quantities of things with no adverse effects. Once when I was little (3?) I ate two huge jars of pickled herring before a party and never was the worse for wear. But my father never ate chocolate after one unfortunate childhood Easter when he ate his whole basket before church. Happily, the aversion was not genetic.

Wanna play? Click on the button on my sidebar for "Fun Crafts and Recipes." And enjoy the cioppino recipe. Do NOT skip the bread!

Cioppino: A Fine Kettle of Fish
Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
Show: 30 Minute Meals Episode: Holiday Maneuvers
Cook Time: 25 min
Level: Intermediate
Yield: 4 healthy servings

1/4 cup (3 turns around the pan in a slow stream) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 3 flat fillets of anchovies, drained
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup good quality dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) container chicken stock
1 (32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed (about 1 tablespoon)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 pounds cod, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
8 large shrimp, ask for deveined easy-peel or peel and devein
8 sea scallops
16 to 20 raw mussels, scrubbed
A loaf of fresh, crusty bread, for mopping
In a large pot over moderate heat combine oil, crushed pepper, anchovies, garlic, and bay. Let anchovies melt into oil. The anchovies act as a natural salt, the pepper flakes will infuse the oil, providing heat.

Chop celery and onion near stove and add to the pot as you work. Saute vegetables for a few minutes to begin to soften and add wine to the pot. Reduce wine a minute, then add chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to medium low.

Season fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add fish and simmer 5 minutes, giving the pot a shake now and then. Do not stir your soup with a spoon after the addition of fish or you will break it up. Add shrimp, scallops, and mussels and cover pot. Cook 10 minutes, giving the pot a good shake now and again.

Remove the lid and discard any mussels that do not open. Carefully ladle stew into shallow bowls and pass bread at the table.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

MPM--May Day! May Day!

In other words, help. Spring has sprung and I have other things to do besides cook this week. We're hosting an intimate gathering of 20 for Mothers' Day and my house is Just Plain Not Ready. So we have all quick and easy meals this week, I hope, so I can spend the rest of my time getting the house under control.

Sunday: crockpot pork roast, mashed potatoes (day ahead recipe but eaten same day, here's hoping they are equally out-of-this-world), asparagus

Monday: Leftover pork in sandwiches, either bbq or not, roasted sweet potatoes, salad

Tuesday: "Fiesta de Mayo!" as my son's school calls it. Either tacos or burritos, naturally. I might go crazy and get a margarita mix for fun. Woo-hoo! And if there's any pork leftover...carnitas!

Wednesday: Freezer Meal. Chili I made in the crockpot in January, plus rice and things for on top.

Thursday: Freezer Meal. Trader Joe's flatbreads and pastas.

Friday: Rachael Ray Spinach-Hazelnut Pesto. See if that gets some new green in to the little guy.

Last week, there weren't many new things...I tried this chicken casserole on Wednesday for dinner with my father-in-law before the Arts Awards Assembly at the high school for our nephew. It was good but ... lacking something. I can't tell you what but there was no edge to it ... AND there should only have been one can of soup, for sure. I should have totally listened to my instincts on that one. Two was just too gloppy. But it did a great job using up the extra rice in the fridge and is a decent little base. And oh my--chicken cooked in butter? That's not shabby. I'll have to remember that. I kept the heat on the low side so the butter didn't overbrown, and it didn't take too long either. The chicken didn't brown, but it was definitely white and cooked through--almost looked poached, so would be good in a recipe where you can see the chicken meat too.

For more ideas and more inspired meal plans, check out Menu Planning Monday at I Am an Organizing Junkie!