Sunday, February 28, 2010

MPM--In Like a Lion Edition

Apologies to anyone whose feed showed a blank post here earlier. My four year old decided to delete what I'd written and publish a blank! Hopefully not an editorial comment on his part.

So last week went well. We had our first snow fizzle (fo'shizzle) for which I was very grateful. It was fun to watch all day and didn't stick until the sun went down. We had a bonus snow day on Friday and three day weekends are never a bad thing. But, that did trigger the "must buy meat" instinct, which is a little during Lent. First, I bought a brisket because I could not resist this recipe on The Bitten Word. I used too much bacon because I misunderstood the recipe, and honestly, it didn't smell great while it cooked. It smelled ok, but not the nose-tickling aroma I was hoping for. Maybe it's because I couldn't bring myself to pay for fancy bacon (pancetta) when I had defrosted bacon in my fridge from the freezer incident and it was too chemically treated for this. Then suddenly, a little after hour #3 started, the aroma was fabulous. But I appreciated the chopstick suggestion; while it didn't work for them, I still had plenty left over from the sushi fest the night before, and I found that with deep-enough cuts in the brisket, the chopsticks really helped nudge the bacony goodness on in there. And oh, mercy, they are not kidding about the onion-bacon jam at the bottom. It was truly addictive and the rest of the family is lucky there was any left for them.

Of course, in my snow addled state, I forgot completely about the brisket (hard to do with the price of meat at our store, but apparently I just blocked that right on out) and bought pork shoulder to make this slow cooker carnitas recipe, straight from the crockpot365 site. Knowing my kids probably wouldn't eat it, I also had a little taco kit, but wow, that was a lot of meat. So we teamed up with another family to eat it all, which was a lovely way to spend a winter Saturday. I know I just raved about pork a week ago, and that one was maybe just a smidge better, but this was SO easy and SO good. We will have this again and soon.

This week:

Sunday: brisket, baked potatoes, broccoli

Monday: leftover tacos

Tuesday: pesto-sundried tomato chicken roll-ups, noodles, salad

Wednesday: brisket leftovers plus freezer additions; there are some veggies and other side dishes in there

Thursday: spaghetti and meatball bread

Friday: shrimp with feta recipe from Glorious One-Pot Meals

Have a great week everyone--and check out what's for dinner at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MPM--In the Deep Midwinter

I'm not sure why I never finished or posted this but was surprised to find it in the draft file. Sorry if I'm throwing off your readers with an extra-old dated post!

Aren't we supposed to be halfway to spring? Around here, we should be, but, um, not so much. After so much snow, it sounded strange to have rain. But it was the cold, nasty rain, and while it was nice to see the grass on the lawn again (such as it is), all the old snow wasn't even melted yet when the next storm was announced!

At least it gives me a chance to keep going with the wintery recipes.

crockpot carnitas

crockpot granola

pesto chicken roll-ups

spaghetti &/or meatballs

Last week: I was still dealing with the freezer defrost situation. The only "new" thing we had was a the vegan crockpot sweet potato chili that I made at the end of summer but never got around to defrosting. As open-minded as my husband is, I do tend to think that he likes meat with his dinners. Though maybe I'm just channeling my mother there. But this? This was a huge hit. My husband de-veganized it instantly with sour cream and cheddar cheese. I did with some butter on the rice I served it over. But we both really enjoyed it and I will definitely make it again. (I made it without the chipotle chili, as I didn't have any and am trying hard not to buy one-recipe spices.)

The Reverse W@l-M@rt

Near us, in a tired, industrial town that has seen better days, the Darth Vader of box stores moved in. My aunt and uncle, who have a motor home, were enthusiastic, but I was suspicious, having heard about employee lock-ins and other atrocious labor practices, and also how these stores kill local economies.

But something strange happened at the one near us. It set up shop in a vast parking lot that had belonged to some industry (manufacturer? refiner? who knows?) and was now a mere vacant space. And now, about five years later, there are 76 stores where once were none. And the few things that were still there--a church, a locally owned restaurant, a hamburger stand--are doing gangbusters business and seeing far more folks coming through than before.

So we joke and call this the Reverse W@l-M@rt, since most of them seem to crush local economies, and this store actually built one.

Now comes this article from Atlantic, about the efforts of the national chain to buy local. (By way of my food guru, Mark Bittman, here, whom I am now thinking was on the ship in the Antarctic where my cousin was married but that is an entirely different story.) And I am thinking it's time to check my preconceptions once again, and make the short-ish drive down there to see what they have in my neck of the woods. Where you are, have you ever shopped for organics at W@l-M@rt? I'm thinking it's not really a bastion of organics around here. But maybe I'm selling the area short. This is a case where I would love to be wrong.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

MPM--Olympic Fever

Well. Anyone here tired of hearing about my freezer? This was your lucky week--though not so much mine. In a desperate effort to help the Vancouver Olympic skating venue, which did not have enough ice last week, my freezer heroically made so much permafrost that it pushed its own door open. And sometime, a long long long time later, I discovered every single thing in my freezer...defrosted. So it was not the week I thought it would be. And some lucky friends were the recipients of beef tenderloins that we couldn't eat due to Ash Wednesday and a dinner obligation and a Lenten Friday. It was a good week of eating for lots of people we know! Sigh.

We did eat some winners--a scallop-and-mushroom dinner from Trader Joe's, the TJ's chicken cilantro wontons (great with the dipping sauce and also in chicken soup), and the vegan chili which I liked as well as the beef chili (which unfortunately we just had last week, or it would have been a much bigger hit overall). The Super Suppers tilapia with lemon dijon was a bit ... dull. But it was fine for Ash Wednesday, which is not supposed to be a big winner of a dinner night anyway. And the dal was good though it really had more heat than I expected. All the ginger maybe? or the mustard seeds? It was good, though, and filling and low-calorie, so it stays in the rotation.

And the good news was that lots of the stuff in my freezer were things like butter or juice concentrates that could be re-frozen without too much worry. The popsicles were a lost cause, though, as were some soups. But hey--finally, finally, the freezer is officially unplugged and dripping away.

So defrosting was a key theme here this week in general, as the snow slowly dripped away, and school started again, and winter is carrying on its merry way. So this week, with no pressure to empty a freezer, I have a whole new week to plan! It will include lots of quick stuff so I can get right back to the Olympics, which I love. (That female commentator on skating makes me laugh every single night, and I love watching all the sports they used to show on tv that now only come on every four years.) So...

Monday: pork roast, mashed potatoes, asparagus

Tuesday: vegan chili, rice

Wednesday: leftovers (probably pork sandwiches) for the rest of the house; I'm hosting book group for Memoirs of a Geisha and will splurge on a sushi tray and make edamame and cucumber salad (and of course tea) .

Thursday: chicken roll ups (pesto and sun-dried tomato version), baked potatoes, salad

Friday: despite my Lenten misgivings, probably out for pizza with the kids. They are too young to observe Lent and they really love the tradition of the pizza place. It's a ritual we all enjoy and it marks the start of the weekend and I hate to mess that up. (Especially since it isn't like, say, a barbeque or burger joint where there's only meat on the menu.) Otherwise, spaghetti night.

So the big fun last week was Valentine's Day--when we went to a surprise wedding! It was billed as an engagement celebration, but when everyone showed up, the officiant was there and vows were said! So fun...then we all went to a very crowded and fabulous dinner.

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

MPM--Digging Out

Hi everyone! Happy Valentine's Day!

Please tell me it is balmy and breezy where you are. Tell me of kids giggling outside and coming in shaking sand off their sandals. Speak to me of perfumed air.

And I will tell you about this winter. It has been magic, but it has been a problem. Kids come in drippy and red cheeked and exhausted from the effort of just moving their bundled bodies through space. If you are in Minnesota, or Canada (or the part of Canada that, you know, gets snow, unlike, say, poor Vancouver), or Utah, do you build room in your streets for the plowed snow to go? Because we don't. This has been breathtakingly beautiful, and something I hope is once in a lifetime. And it has been a ball, and useful, as we not only used up stores in our freezer but also our craft boxes. A four day weekend turned in to a six day weekend, with, heaven help us, the chance of a seven day weekend depending how much snow flies tomorrow. It's been fun, and each day a real blessing, but when our outside time is so curtailed, it has thrown me off and drained my indoor fun resources. But in the better moments, I'm downloading "Blessed" by Martina McBride and singing along at the top of my lungs, happy to have electricity, heat, good things to eat and my boys to spend the days with. I have been blessed.

And when it is this cold, there is nothing better than yummy foods bubbling away in the kitchen and good smells of sweets or savories drifting through the house. And with my trusty sous-chefs at my side, we've had some fun and learned some new skills in the kitchen. Did you know there was such a thing as whole-milk mayonnaise? The Tipsy Baker did, and we totally stole from her. Read on for this week's menus, and below that, last week's triumphs and trials. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday--out to dinner--more on this next week!

Monday--to the beach--I'm setting a slow-cooker pork roast before we go, and serving with mashed potatoes and broccoli when we get home.

Tuesday--Shrove Tuesday--wish I liked Cajun food more but we'll have pancakes and bacon for dinner instead. And donuts! (Should be Fastnachts, but I do not fry in my house--too scary--so I'll let Dunkin' Donuts do the honors.)

Wednesday--Ash Wednesday--freezer meal or cabinet meal for sure. Probably soup for the grownups, and chicken nuggets for the kids.

Thursday--leftover pork, or the Frugal Foodies' recipe for chicken rolled with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, with either potatoes again (mashed or baked) or a millet recipe if I can come up with one, and a green vegetable tbd.

Friday--it's Lent, which makes me less eager to go out for dinner, though if we do, it's pizza, which is (for me, anyway) at least already meatless. But I might try to eat at home with a fish recipe; it will be penance on earth if I do!

Now, as to last week...

Sunday, of course, was The Big Game, and that was the last time I was regretful that I do not enjoy Cajun food, because I was really with the Saints in spirit. Really, both cities could use a pick-up but Katrina was just SO monumental it was hard to not be excited for them. So, without a true New Orleans thing to eat, we made my favorite easy crockpot chili, but I did not use an envelope of seasoning and instead tried chili mix from It was excellent, used a bunch of spices that were just hanging around, taking up space, and tasted great. We enjoyed it all week.

Monday was the only decent weather day, so we rescheduled my in-laws for that night. I made the Frugal Foodies' bacon wrapped roast chicken, which was divine and so easy it felt like cheating. It didn't even really taste that bacon-y, but the meat was succulent and I was sorry I didn't leave myself time to make gravy. Next time. (And there will be a next time.) I did try to make the gravy later but it didn't work; I think the cooling and reheating did not help the gravymaking. But otherwise, this was a very easy meal. Essentially, you take a whole bird, cover it with salt, pepper, and 1/4 lb. of bacon, cut up three onions in quarters, with 3 quarters in the bird and the rest around, and roast at 400 for 30 minutes and 350 for 30 minutes. Poof--done. I also stuck some little potatoes I had around it and they were yummy too.

Since my father in law loves onions, and it is winter, I ended up with two different onion (or at least allium) dishes on the side, too. One has been on my list forever, and that was the Smitten Kitchen caramelized shallots. They were delicious, and easy. I did not so much as dip my tines in the astoundingly great looking liquid but the shallots themselves were really yummy.

The other allium dish was a caramelized fennel & onion recipe from the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Note: the link makes it look like it's the middle of the ingredient list but the only part cut off was the title and "serves 4-6.") So easy, and truly delicious, with a vidalia once and a smallish regular onion the other time. I almost liked it with the smaller one better. But both were good, and it was an awesome "make ahead and reheat" thing. And, had I but realized, I would have reheated it in the pyrex I stored it in and just flipped it over for an awesome presentation. Next time.

I also felt like throwing down a little bit (and--sing it with me now!--continuing to clear the freezer) so I tried the Smitten Kitchen walnut jam cake. But not only did I not try and test it first, I actually made it while the guests were here. And it was as easy as she said. It was fabulous, in a grown-up, not-too-sweet cake kind of way, and even the kids liked it, enough, with the jam. I used a seedless raspberry I had with some lemon juice and oh, mercy, that's a flavor I could eat every day and not get tired of it.

As you might guess, chili and a roast chicken stood us in good stead for a snowy week, especially when you consider I added a take-out pizza (since I knew we wouldn't be able to actually get to the kids' favorite pizza place in the weather AND a pack of hot dogs for the first time since we put away the grill. But I did make one more thing for variety: on the worst of the snow days, I made Eating Well's Flemish Beef Stew. I broke two of my rules for this one: first, I loathe spending lots of time precooking things that are going in my slow cooker (totally defeats the purpose in my world) and I bought a new spice (caraway seeds) for it. But for a snow day? Totally worth it. The pre-crockpot effort was time rather than challenge (since I bought the meat pre-cubed), and over noodles or mashed potatoes, it was perfection as far as hearty winter meals go. It didn't have quite the complexity I'm always looking for but the caraway was a nice change and the beer added a good note.

And in one last "gotta try it" moment, with the last of the whole milk I'd bought for real hot chocolate (mmmm), I saved 1/3 of a cup and my youngest and I made milk mayonnaise. Next time, I will definitely add way less oil and a little more lemon. And I have no idea what to serve it on. But it was super fun to watch the emulsification happen--one minute, we had oily milk, and the next--pudding. Or really, mayonnaise. And it was yummy and magic to watch it happen and watch my son watch it happen.

And, just for kicks, I made the Bittman Spiced Red Lentil Dal, mostly for myself. Alas, the lovely red lentils turned a rather uninspired yellow, whether due to the mustard seeds or it just happens to red lentils, I don't know. But because I used jarred ginger and jarred garlic, the hardest thing about this was chopping the onion. It was lovely. I found it hard to get it to a "saucy, not soupy" consistency but maybe since lentil soup is pretty saucy itself it was hard to quite get there. It will be a great lunch for me this week and should help clear out those sinuses. (And, bonus, without the butter at the end, it's vegan too.)

So...don't forget to visit the loooong list at I'm an Organizing Junkie! of meal planners to see what they are up to. And have a great week!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

MPM--Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It STOP!

Happy Sunday everyone! We are almost dug out here, thanks to my husband and sons, but we had quite a doozy of a storm here this weekend. Happily, we were well and together and could just relax and enjoy. I ran to the store with everyone else, scored everything I needed but a pineapple (oh well), and we hunkered down for library DVDs and books, Le@pster games, and three warm meals. I counted our blessings every single time. Here's hoping you had lots of blessings to count as well!

This week:

Sunday: Extra-Easy Crockpot Chili from Fix It and Forget It for Entertaining, plus noodles, rice, or potatoes to put it over, and sour cream, shredded cheddar, and chopped green onions for on top

Monday: Trying again for the bacon wrapped roasted chicken, with carrots and potatoes in with it. (Last week the 2-for-1 chickens were all out! but I got a raincheck--booyah--so I can try again.) Also trying the Smitten Kitchen Caramelized Shallots and having a salad. I will probably also try the Smitten Kitchen Best Cocoa Brownies or Walnut Jam Cake. (My inlaws are coming for dinner. Pray for me. I figure there's always chili if the chicken doesn't work!)

Tuesday: Leftovers. I'm out this night.

Wednesday: Freezer meal. Could be anything. Chicken Shu Mai? Trader Joe's Flatbread? Who knows. I'm sure my husband will have a mac and cheese though.

Thursday: Flemish beef stew. I'll make egg noodles for under it (and as probably the only thing the boys will eat).

Friday: Olympic Fever! We might eat out but it is opening ceremonies so I might do takeout or freezer meal instead.

Extra Easy Chili from Fix-It and Forget-It for Entertaining
contributed by Jennifer Gehman of Harrisburg PA
makes 4-6 servings

1 lb ground beef or turkey, uncooked
1 package dry chili seasoning mix
16 oz can chili beans in sauce
2 28-oz cans crushed or diced tomatoes (she uses seasoned with garlic and onion, I use whatever I have and add garlic and onion as necessary)

1. Crumble meat in bottom of slow cooker.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Stir.
3. Cover. Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 6-8 hours. Sitr halfway through cooking time. (Which I often forget to do but I'm sure it's better to follow this direction!)
4. Serve over white rice, topped with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped raw onions.

She writes: I decided to make this chili recipe one year from Christmas. our family was hosting other family members--and we had guests for about a week prior to Christmas. Needless to say, I was tired of cooking so this seemed easy enough. It was so nice to put the ingredients in the slow cooker and let it cook all day long. Not only did the chili warm us up on a cold day, but itwas a wolcomed change from the traditional Christmas meal. It has been my tradition ever since!

Last Sunday, I just cooked up a storm. When the high temperature is 19 degrees, I'm happy to be chained to the stove, thankyouverymuch. And it was so well worth it.

First up: the bolognese sauce, care of the Well Read Hostess and epicurious. I did as WRH suggested and added a second can of tomato paste for color, and used the "meatloaf mix" from my butcher. Result: perfect winter meat sauce. I would personally prefer all beef but this is a nice basic (if totally unkosher) meat sauce. I will throw in more garlic and probably other Italian seasonings (oregano, etc.) next time for some more kick but overall, this was a great winter's sauce. And--FTW!--my child who does not eat meat sauce cheerily downed a sloppy joe. Which was the bolognese with some Worcestershire, brown sugar, and Montreal steak seasoning added. Shhh--don't tell him! But it sure worked for me.

Second: I made the Catherine Newman Pork-So-Good-You-Could-Cry. Who can resist a title like that? And it was terrific, and terrifically easy. Of course, me being me, even terrifically easy is just a little too hard for me so I missed the part where it said "turn down to simmer for 90 minutes" and just merrily boiled away. So that really cut down on the open-pot simmering time; there just wasn't enough liquid for that luxury. And then it did fall neatly in to barbeque or carnitas style pork, with a ginger-scallion-soy background taste I find swoonworthy. So did my husband. I made less than her suggested 4lbs and there were no leftovers. I won't make that mistake again.

I also made my favorite beef tenderloin for a classic Sunday dinner and tried these roasted potatoes from The Bitten Word for a twist. Their description was perfect, and somewhat unusually for me, mine came out just like the photo. I'm crazy about shallots and will put more in next time, and also found these a little bland, but nothing that salt & pepper at the table couldn't perk up. It's a great presentation, though, and I'll bet if you made ahead to the point where you put on the thyme, you could just restart from there. (Which is essentially what I did, finishing them off with the roast.)

There was something amazing about entering the week with at least four meals made. I didn't feel pressure to get to the market, and knew I could take my time with side dishes for the week, which was great. And since this Sunday is supposed to be almost as cold, plus about 2 feet of snow, I think we'll go for two Sundays in a row. Have a great week wherever you are! And for more recipes, don't miss the great list at I'm an Organizing Junkie! (And one week in to her Organizing Challenge, the snow has at least helped us with that a little bit!)