Monday, May 31, 2010

MPM--June Buggin'

Holy Moses! I cannot believe this. I thought May was busy. Then I looked at June.

In the "didn't think that would happen" category: I took my son to swim team tryouts because his friend was going. I know my son gets skittish about any form of sports competition so I didn't expect much other than a no-stakes first tryout experience. When he jumped in the pool, the water was so cold, "it pulled all the air out of my body!" he said later, and he promptly forgot how to swim and dog-paddled instead to keep his head out of the water to gasp in some air. But after the initial shock, he settled in and made the preteam. I didn't know there was such a thing, so meal planning becomes extra-crucial now, with three 6pm practices, hosting a Silpada party, and all the other end-of-year craziness.

But we had a great Memorial Day weekend in the mountains, with lots of pizza dip and mac and cheese for the hardworking teenaged nieces and nephews, and lake time and pool time when we got home and all kinds of fun coming up. So let's see the plans, shall we?

Monday: "gourmet" hot dogs (part of the Omaha Steaks haul), corn and black bean salsa, potato croquettes (also Omaha Steaks)

Tuesday: DAF potstickers and stir-fry

Wednesday: CSA box comes today, so lots of veggies, plus steaks on the grill

Thursday: Korean beef, rice, veggies (on an Asian kick this week!)

Friday: Too much going on. Soccer--prom--swim team--at least I know someone else will be making something. Could be pizza after soccer, might be barbeque after prom pictures. We'll get something. Phew.

In the craziness that was last week, I didn't try too many new recipes, but one was the Indian green beans. I thought they were great.

I revisited an old friend, the Giada Orzo recipe I love. I forgot to keep stirring the orzo so it was almost a molded salad by default! But the vinaigrette helped break things up. I loved it again, but wow, does it taste salty to me now. I cut the salt in the dressing by half and still was puckering up. I've retrained my taste buds better than I thought.

In a stroke of luck, I decided to try these Nutella cupcakes from Food52. It seemed like a great idea. I had every ingredient in my house already (including, by some miracle, almost the exact amount of Nutella called for, and thank goodness for something else to work down all the self-rising flour in my house. (Where is it all coming from? Have I lost all ability to read labels correctly in the store?) Plus I loved that it was like a microbatch, with only 12 cupcakes resulting. Next time, I won't wait until after midnight to start. And I'll use cream instead of corn syrup in the ganache (though with the heat here, the corn syrup was probably a good plan). All those things aside: OH my freakin' HECK, these were amazing. All twelve were demolished promptly. They were very dense but as my husband said, without the overwhelm that can come from Nutella from the jar. (Not that we aren't all quite familiar with that.) These are a definite go-to cupcake for me forever more, amen. They come out of the oven with a nice crackly top, and the tip about "if one collapses, just fill it with ganache"? Genius. Nom nom nom.

I hope all the US readers had a wonderful and reflective, even for a few minutes, Memorial Day. For more menus, try anyone over at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

MPM--The Merry Merry Month of May Redux

Oh, I'm so predictable. Here I think I've come up with a clever post title only to discover I've already used it. Ah well! Life's too short to worry about repeating blog titles.

This week:

Monday: Our CSA starts--woohoo! Can't wait to see what comes. So I know I'll have some kind of veggie fest, and a simple meat to go with it--probably chicken breasts or tenders from the freezer.

Tuesday: DAF Bombay burgers, rice, these Indian-inspired green beans, kale salad

Wednesday: book group for me, so probably hot dogs for the boys and mac and cheese and leftovers for my husband

Thursday: My favorite meal: party leftovers! My little one's last day of preschool is today, and they "graduate" everyone. Which is a little silly as many will return next year but it's a big fun deal for them, so we invited the relatives and will have a bunch of people for lunch. I'm ordering a sandwich tray and potato salad, and making orzo salad, quinoa salad (see below), and cookies. If there aren't enough sandwich leftovers, we'll defrost something from Dinner A'Fare.

Friday: soccer game (for the grownups! or one, at least), with pizza party. I'll bring the strawberry-rhubarb crumble because Oh My Gracious, the strawberries. They are amazing these days.

And then it's the holiday weekend! We have a niece and a nephew with a birthday so I'm looking forward to a family gathering. I'll fill you in Monday or Tuesday but if you have "cooking for a crowd" favorites, please, by all means, let me know in the comments.

This past week was much calmer than the one before, which was soothing. Between rain and a tired mommy with a head cold, we missed some of the things we meant to do but we also enjoyed a much less busy schedule, reconnecting with each other. (And--who am I kidding? Our friends at PBS Kids too.) Thanks to the internet, we watched someone I went to college with go on a spacewalk! That was thrilling. I kept humming Paul Simon--"these are the days of miracle and wonder"--as we watched live coverage of a guy I remember at parties (because we were certainly never in the same classes--I will be tactful to myself and just say I am not an engineer) as he walked in outer space. Really. We may not have Jetsons cars yet but this comes really close.

With the missed connections this week, and the idea of staying a little closer to home (and the idea of starving these ants out of my kitchen), I tried using some of my baking supplies. First up: chocolate chip muffins. We used chocolate chunks (what I had), and a top rated recipezaar recipe (because I like that they provide nutritional information). They were easy and the boys adored them (of course). Next time I will definitely use chips, though, because the chunks were too big in this particular muffin. But they certainly didn't go to waste!

I also found a recipe for a roasted carrot and avocado salad at Smitten Kitchen that I somehow missed before. Having both avocados and carrots ready to go made it a no-brainer and in the oven it went. It was a rare day when I had the sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts ready to go to so I could heat the oven once and cook four different things with it (boo-yah!). But here was the funny thing: my older son was starrrrrving before dinner and while at first disdained the carrots with "black stuff on them" (that would be char) and then before I could explain caramelization I heard him say through his chewing, "Oh. Never mind. These are really good!" and proceeded to eat half the bowl. That would be a half pound of carrots, just roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin, in one quick sitting. Beige Boy of course wouldn't even look at them, but still, a success. The next night, I used regular carrots instead of babies, and actually got the avocado to them with the lemon before they were snarfed again. (But I needn't have worried; "HOT carrots again?" asked the boy in dismay, and went for the raw baby carrots instead.) I loved how the texture was almost exactly the same between the veggies and will definitely make this again and again.

Clearly I'm on a roasting binge right now because I also made a mess of sweet potatoes, some of which became the miso mash, and others, finally, were made with Nikki's Sweet Potato Recipe from 101 Cookbooks from a zillion years ago. I'm fighting a cold so I've been unable to taste much so will have to try these again. I thought I'd love these because coconut is one of my favorite things but then I got a head cold and could taste nothing. My husband, however, thought it was awesome and gave it an enthusiastic "add to the rotation" vote. We also made the Nikki's Healthy Cookies recipe again--I'm trying to use the ingredients as much as I can, because honestly, I just don't use almond meal all that often--and they were again very nice as a bar, and I love making a cookie that I don't care if my kids taste the batter.

I'm also on a binge of avocados and grapefruit. I can't believe how I'm still obsessing over this combo but I am. I tried this cup and table recipe for one with an Asian-style dressing for which all the ingredients happened to be hanging around my house (except, alas, the cilantro, which I did miss). Oh, and to be fair, I had to buy the pistachios. Once again, I couldn't taste it as I would have hoped, but the flavors were strong enough to penetrate a bit and I loved the interplay of textures. My family wasn't as reverent as hers (not unexpectedly) but my husband was complimentary. It's been interesting; I know *my* father was very, very set in his ways that a dinner had a meat, a starch, and a vegetable, but I've always ascribed that to my husband as well. But as I've been on a veggie-to-vegan kick, he's been very willing to stretch his palate and try it all. I do think he'd miss meat without it but he's also been happy with the more prominent role of the veggies. He even tried my portobello "burger" after I couldn't resist the local 'bellos at our farmers' market this weekend. "I can see why you like this," he said, "but I'll leave the rest for you. (munch munch) Or.." and I made it easy for him by cutting it in two and leaving the bit he'd bitten on his plate with a generous margin. "Oh, yes," he said happily, "that makes sense." I faked it with what I had in the house with the recipe I linked above, but the one at the farmers' market was even better, and he just was using Kr@ft Zesty Italian with the caps in a zip-lock bag and a little tabletop grill. I'm tossing that in there since normal people have Italian dressing on hand; I'm so obsessed with oil and vinegar, I do not. But in case you do--it's totally worth a try.

Another hit that I couldn't taste was Mom24's quinoa salad. My husband loved it, and the two families I shared it with were very complimentary. And there's the only knock on it: I should have figured it out from using the whole bag of quinoa, but it made a lot. Still, I am a sucker for a "box of this-bag of that-bag of the other" recipe technique, and it was popular with my husband, who took it for lunch, so I will make it again. This has earned a spot on next week's preschool "graduation" party menu. Yum! Also thanks to her for teaching me the toasted quinoa technique--I liked it before but loved how fluffy it was after toasting. That was tricky with no sense of smell, because in general, I find it hard to gauge how much dressing the quinoa will absorb and neutralize, but worth it.

Finally, I did make the brined pork chops one night. They were good, but whether (say it with me) it was my tastebuds or the technique, they weren't quite up to the raves on Epicurious. I will say, like the one poster, I thought I could have easily brined 12 pork chops in the same amount of liquid. Mine were a little thin and did start to take on some ham-like qualities, and count me in on those without juniper berries or gin so I used some whole allspice. Still, they were really good and nicely flavored so we'll keep this in the rotation. (I also halved the kosher salt.)

Go check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! for some very inspired menus!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

MPM--Invisible Progress

Did you ever have one of those weeks where you worked your tail off for absolutely no discernable result? That's invisible progress. I tore out half the ivy in the back yard. Operative word: half. Gained lots more lawn, but it's hard to tell that anything was done, ergo: invisible progress. Cleaned out a cabinet so it looks the way it should have looked all along: invisible progress. That was my week--all running to stand still. But I did get to try some new recipes...look beyond the week for the reviews.

We're in a bit of recovery mode here; last week was school orientation, a confirmation two states away, and my college reunion, so this week, we're still taking it easy. We had a major score with a coupon at Omaha Steaks so here's hoping there's lots of good grilling nights! Otherwise, I'm still working down the Dinner A'Fare dinners, so I will at least have the main dishes taken care of. (The reunion, btw, has spoiled me on cooking for the week. They had some amazing caterers this weekend.)

Monday: Vegas Chicken, salad, rice

Tuesday: trying brined pork chops on the grill if the weather is nice, something else if it isn't; miso sweet potatoes (see below), spinach

Wednesday: Mojito skewers with cherry barbeque sauce (DAF), broccoli, quinoa salad

Thursday: leftovers, or Bombay burgers (didn't get to them last week), quinoa salad, something green

Friday: baseball game--phew.

When I was recovering from flu, thanks to Raising Foodies, I found a new-to-me website called Dinner: A Love Story, written by the former food writer for Cookie magazine. I loved reading Cookie, though I am so many income brackets below their target, I shouldn't even have cracked the spine. But it was fun to see how the other half lives, and they had awesome culture suggestions (ie, kids' music that was enjoyable for grownups too, awesome new books, etc.). I also enjoyed the food section, so it's nice to see the next iteration of the editor's career. The first thing I tried from her site was the lemony smashed potatoes, with some Yukon golds I had from before the flu. I wasn't sure how I'd like lemon and potatoes, and I'm still not entirely convinced. Maybe I might feel differently with red potatoes. But my older son tucked these away like he'd waited his whole life for them, so they are new in the rotation.

The other thing I tried from there was the miso-butter sweet potato. I'm on a little miso kick and this was awesome. Easy, yummy, a total winner.

I also rediscovered an old email address that was still subscribed to Food52, a foodie website with weekly email blasts. I didn't have time to catch up with 50 of the 52 but I did look at the most recent and was sucked in by the asparagus recipes. I had to try the Absurdly Addictive Asparagus--how could you not with that awesome name?! That, and I had leeks and everything else but the pancetta in the fridge already. So one short trip to Trader Joe's later and we were in business. My husband loved this. He considered it complex without being overwhelming, and I just liked how it used up so much stuff in my veggie drawer. And while it supposedly serves four, we polished it off in one night easily. I can see me making this and taking it for lunch if I ever go back to work.

Another recipe that had been hanging around was the Leek Soup with Peas and Sauerkraut from the Wednesday Chef. It was another so-strange-I-just-might-like-it kind of thing, and I did. I'd never even heard of fresh sauerkraut when I read the recipe, just that stuff in the bulging plastic bag. But then the next week our Co-op had local fresh sauerkraut for sale and it seemed like a sign. We had some very chilly spring days this week and it was a great way to remind myself it was spring (with the flavors) while warming myself up with a bowl of soup. I went with the chicken stock, and I did find it surprisingly easy to eat for such a simple little soup. The pop of the peas and the tang of the sauerkraut were surprisingly appealing But this is yet another thing that the rest of my family won't eat, so it's mine, all mine, and that might be a lot for me. We'll see. Still, it was a great way to use what I had in the fridge and the cabinets, and kept me warm on chilly chilly days.

For more inspiration, don't miss I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

MPM--Back to Reality

Hello, blogworld, we are finally all recovered from the flu and trying to recapture life as we know it around here. Eventually it got me in a big way too, and so we really had two rough weeks around here foodwise. The house is showing it too. Laundry got cleaned, and then made itself at home on the sofa. My kids discovered parts of the house they never go in usually because I was too woozy to get up to redirect them, so all kinds of things are Not Where They Belong (even more than normal, that is). And with the Phillies in full swing....well, we're not really firing on all cylinders here.

I hope you had a happy Mother's Day. This was the first one I didn't hate in a long time. That was progress. I did the breast cancer Race for the Cure this morning, alone, which was a little lonely but great. It was very nice to be among many others thinking about the same thing but without having to interact, or watch my kids, or worry about my pace. It was a great walk through the city I love, and it was a good way to start the day. Then we had brunch with my husband's parents and sisters, and then came home and did yardwork, which wasn't fun but was long overdue and it felt great to have it done.

This is another crazy week; May is very complex anymore. We have a confirmation, some meetings, all kinds of things going on. So my meals are a little on the dull side, but it's just nice to be having them at all.

Monday: chicken, asparagus (based on the Ad Hoc recipe, we'll see how that goes), lemony smashed potatoes

Tuesday: Dinner A'Fare Bombay Burgers, curried rice, broccoli

Wednesday: Dinner A'Fare chicken saltimboca, mashed potatoes, spinach

Thursday: spaghetti night!

Friday: leftovers for the kids; my (gulp) 20th college reunion for the grownups. That should be fascinating....!

In the "experimental" file over the last weeks was "Poolside Soup," from a new-to-me food blog that was mentioned in the Cool Mom Picks newsletter. I am crazy about cold summer soups and even though the ingredients sounded bizarre, it also sounded like something I'd love. I was right. It was crazy and I adored it. No one else in the house would touch the green slurry but that just meant more for me and I tucked it away.

Clearly I'm "transitioning" to my "summer foods" list because the other thing I had to try right away was the Smitten Kitchen avocado salad with carrot-ginger dressing (besides, it justified buying the bag of avocados at Trader Joe's). Where I used to work, there was a moderately ok Korean/sushi place that I don't miss much at all--except for their amazing salad, and this was my effort to recreate that for myself so I don't have to buy a whole bento to get it. It totally worked. I loved using the miso and being able to control how much sesame oil I used (not as much as the recipe called for). I also cut back to 1/8 cup of oil but even that could have been a little less, I think.

In the same summer-prep mode: The Bitten Word's guacamole chicken salad. This was a little bland for me, but it still didn't work for the kids. Next time, I'll skip the oil, and add more cumin, some scallions instead of the chives, and maybe a sprinkle of chili powder. It would be fabulous to take on a picnic to stuff in soft taco wraps. And me being me, I would like some black beans in there but then that might make me the only person to eat it, alas.

I also rediscovered an old email address, and with it, my Food52 subscription. With all the leftover veggies in the drawer from The Week When No One Ate, I decided to try the Asparagus Soup with Yogurt and Tarragon first. I had to fudge the quantities a little but it was still good. (I had only a pound of asparagus and so only used 2 cups of chicken broth, which seemed to work, and I probably overdid the yogurt but wanted to finish the container.) It was terrific, and I have to say, after I strained it--I ate what was in the strainer with my lunch. It was that good. And it really did make the soup like something I'd get in a restaurant, instead of something I'd make at home--it's one of those fussy little steps I rarely bother with but here--totally worth it.

Right now, I'm listening to my husband read "Trashytown" to my boys and hearing them yell "NO!" back to him every time he asks "Is the trash truck full yet?" and it is about the nicest sound I've heard this week. I'm so glad we're all feeling better and are all together. Wishing you a week full of whatever soothes your soul. And if menu planning works for you, check out I'm An Organizing Junkie for the best menus on the web!