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!