Sunday, April 24, 2011

MPM--Apres Easter

Happy after-Easter season to those who celebrate! And happy almost-end of Passover to others. And happy spring to all. We had a lovely Easter (see below for my contributions) and now it's back to reality. But oh, I am still glowing over the fun day. My boys are at a great age for the fun. We had a mongo egg hunt, because three of the small cousins didn't show, so there were eggs for 9 kids but only 6 collecting (and one was 10 months old, so the kids who could walk made out like bandits!). The Easter Bunny came, which the littlest girls loved, and it was just a really nice day with almost all the cousins present and accounted for. My humongous mac and cheese barely made it out for seconds, and the whole brunch was excellent. So: back to reality.

Monday: Taco Monday--leftovers from Taco Thursday last week. (And yes, I finally made the sweet potato filling.)

Tuesday: It's going to be in the 80s here! Back to summer dinners. Leftover fruit salad from Easter, chicken breasts on iceberg for grownups, and with A1 sauce for kids; raw beet salad. Time to get the grill going again!

Wednesday: Pacific Rim Pork, rice, broccoli.

Thursday: Crazy activities day. Freezer/on the run food.

Friday: School event--no cooking. Phew!

I have to be honest, I'm having a little bit of a "Matrix" moment with food right now. My son's sensitivity to red dye is suddenly completely over the top, so we're pulling back on that. (This, by the way, is entertaining in Easter season.) And as to food in general, I feel a little like I swallowed whatever pill Neo did (I think; I never saw the movie). We stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way to the beach last week and I couldn't bring myself to order anything and hated ordering anything there for my kids. Which isn't to say I can't eat out; part of my spring break "staycation" was that I only cooked dinner once this week. But it's hard to enjoy some things the way I used to.

But, not a problem when cooking at home, and while I didn't do a lot of that, there were a few things I tried this week that were new. They weren't the things I thought I would make last week, but that's part of the charm of a vacation, right?

If you read here often, you know there are some sure signs of a recipe I can't resist. Easy? Check. Ingredients on hand? Check. A little wacky? Check. I was all over Catherine Newman's Savory Lemon Jam this week. Partly I loved the idea because it had the whole lemon, pith and all, and it reminded me of the Italian priest who baptized me. He was a dear friend of my parents', and my husband and I actually stayed with him on our honeymoon. When I was about 10, he was over for dinner and asked for an orange. "Please wash it well with soap, and rinse it verrrry carefully," he said, in his big booming voice with the rolling Italian Rs. I did, and he ate the whole thing like an apple. I was still in a grossed-out-by-pith stage (which my son has faithfully followed in my footsteps) but he said, "The rind is the part that is most like an orange!" I wondered whether it was an Italian thing, or surviving World War Two thing, and certainly I never did convert to it. But every time I use the zest of a citrus fruit, I think of him.

Thanks for coming down memory lane with me. Back to the lemon jam. I had everything I needed, and so when the food processor was out anyway, I made it. And it was exactly as she said. Intense lemon flavor, a little chunky, but I like the texture, and the savory is a great little twist. Plus it looked so springy and ready for an Easter table, with all that yellow and green (I used basil). It would also be great for a baby shower. It was very good on asparagus, as suggested, and on bread by itself. Whether it was my lemons or the jam, it did not improve with age. It wasn't terrible a day or two later, but it was more pithy, and not in the good literary sense.

Also off the beaten track, though less so: the Wednesday Chef's Apple Crisp. She thought of it as breakfasty, since she used muesli instead of oats; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but since I was in charge of fruit for Easter brunch, it seemed to work. It was very easy, I had all the ingredients, and while I lacked an appropriately shallow baking dish, one of my clear Pyrexes seemed to do the trick. I brought some Greek yogurt for it to Easter and there was approximately one spoonful left at the end of the day. It was awesome, and easy, and we had everything for that too. Yum.

I was also happy to have a great recipe come through from The Best Babysitter Ever (who has long since become so much more than that to us, but I refer to her that way so you know who I'm talking about) for a minted fruit salad with a ginger syrup. The ginger syrup was easy to make one night and just have ready, so all I needed to do was get fresh fruit the day before the holiday. It was exactly what I was looking for--a classic fruit salad, but dressed up a little bit. It was delicious, and the syrup did a great job with the underripe melon, making it taste restaurant-ready instead of too crispy to be truly yummy.

I also brought the Smitten Kitchen creamed mushrooms on toast. Our hostess loves mushrooms, and I knew she'd be crazy about them; and I have a Smitten Kitchen thing going on with my niece and her husband from DC. And, happily--I had so much extra mushrooms I made a batch for home, too. Mmmm. Oh--and of course the mac-and-cheese.

The night before Easter, we made Resurrection Rolls, which apparently have been around forever, but I'd never heard of them before. For the other uninitiated, you roll a white marshmallow (purity of Jesus) in butter and cinnamon sugar (preparing for "burial"). Wrap it tight in a crescent roll from a tube (burial wrappings) then put in the tomb (oven). Bake--and the marshmallow disappears, and the wrapping is empty. All but one of ours collapsed, but they smelled great and it was a fun opportunity to teach my kids a little more about Easter in a way that might sink in. Or not. The disappointment over the "missing" marshmallow was high. Either way, it was pretty neat.

This was a really jumbled post. Sorry about that. For more cohesive posts, and other post-holiday menus, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MPM--Spring Break!

I have deliberately hidden my head in the sand that it is mid-April. No, the taxes are done, but I cannot breathe if I think about how close to summer we are coming. So, this is my practice week for summer. I tried not to overplan, and just have some activity ideas and we'll go from there. But first, it is Palm Sunday (for you kind folks who read when I post and not from MPM), so a link to our fun food item du jour: Hearts of Palm Dip. I found a fun site called Catholic Cuisine, and they have lots of fun ideas for Holy Week and making the week accessible to kids through food. So I'll let you know how the dip goes. Tonight we have a fundraiser dinner at Peace A Pizza, so that should be fun and I am always happy to not have to cook. But the rest of the week...

And a quick question: any great ideas for things that are not food to stuff in Easter eggs? And do you have a fruit salad recipe you love?

Monday: hot dogs from the funniest meal fail of the week. Well, fail is such a strong word...we went to tailgate in a monsoon. It was very fun, but the driving rain and flooding did keep all but the heartiest away, so there are leftover everythings. Which is also fun. I don't have whole wheat orzo, but I have regular orzo and will make the Heidi Swanson orzo with broccoli pesto to go with them

Tuesday: taco Tuesday!

Wednesday: I am hoping to be at the beach this night so look for me and the boys on the boardwalk. Ahhhh....

Thursday: Baseball practice night so something quick. There will be taco leftovers for one boy, and probably I'll make noodles for the other. But we'll see. I have a few other things in the fridge (carrot and avocado salad, maybe, and I couldn't resist the supercheap kale...).

Friday: It's Good Friday. I am planning to not buy any food specifically for today (so no run to the store for that one last ingredient).

Saturday: we'll see what's around...and we'll be making macaroni & cheese and fruit salad for Easter brunch.

So, the week started with the brining. I couldn't wait until Wednesday, and I needed more healthy food to offset the junk I knew the kids would have at the indoor play place fundraiser. Since Kathleen was interested in the results, I did two brines: one with the original "recipe" (2 T sugar, 3 T salt [I used kosher]), and one with just the salt (halved the water and the salt) and threw one chicken breast in the modified version. That made it very interesting. After I brined them and rinsed in cold water, I followed my favorite lazy chicken baking system and put them in my shallow Corningware round tray, covered in foil, and baked at 375 for 45 minutes. When I took them out, they were definitely bigger than the ones that I don't brine, and were clearly more moist. They had almost poached themselves with the foil. The one that I did in just salt was fine but was (wait for it) a little salty. The regular ones were not as salty tasting; the sugar must cut it somehow. But it was a good technique, and almost as easy as my favorite Crazy Jane's chicken. I'll bet it's awesome on the grill.

And of course I'm a sucker for Dinner: A Love Story so while I was making the quinoa for the pesto anyway, I made enough for their quinoa salad. I would have never thought to roast the tomatoes with honey, and while I won't do it every time, I did like the little kick of sweetness it brought. And the salad was awesome, even without the parsley, which I thought I had but had instead liquified on the bottom of the drawer (oops). Also: I roasted them way more than an hour, because of course the heat of the oven makes the liquids swell so the tomatoes don't look shriveled until you pull them out and they cool off. Still yummy, though.

And did I say "we" would finish up the non-meat corn dogs? I believe I meant the kids would. Because I am past the corn dog stage of my life, I am afraid. The one with cheese inside is a different story, though I don't know whether I could finish all of one of those either. But even without the hot dog of questionable provenance, the corn dogs just skeeve me out at this point. We didn't turn out going that route--things went a little crazy on Friday afternoon and we picked up pizza, which was awesome.

Have a wonderful Holy Week/Passover/whatever you celebrate! And for inspiration of the culinary kind, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! for more menu plans.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

MPM--The Comfort Isn't Just the Food

So, this week I'm back in the "try stuff, you might like it" mode. And there were a couple of winners, which will be listed after next week's menu.

First, a quick question, and an appreciation. The question: What do you do for on-the-go dinners? We have lots of gymnastics-to-baseball nights, or 5:15 lacrosse games coming up. I'm faking it so far but I would love something I could bring that won't break the bank.

And, the appreciation: I just love my vintage Corningware. It cleans so easily, doesn't have any of the BPA issues of plastic, lets me cook on stovetop or in the oven, goes from refrigerator to oven and back...and just looks so homey. But with dishwashers cleaning less effectively, it's really the cleanup that's making me swoon right now. The French White stuff is pretty too, but you can't beat the cornflower blue for the nod to childhood. At least mine.

OK, end of unpaid endorsement. I've been cleaning out cabinets and closets and rediscovered the Corningware and wondered how I ever let it slip out of daily use.

This week:

Monday: I'm loathe to even say it, but we're eating out. The reason I hate to say it: we'll be at an indoor playground for a school fundraiser. A portion of the food sales support the Home and School Association. But the food is gross so I will be offering all kinds of things before we go (oranges! bananas! applesauce!) and sneaking in something for me.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, of course. I have sweet potatoes again so here's hoping I get to that this time.

Wednesday: a new technique for chicken breasts, highly recommended from my aunt: brined chicken breasts, rice, broccoli

Thursday: leftovers, augmented if needed by the freezer

Friday: pesto quinoa for the kids again (we did skip it last week, I'm not in that big a rut)...and freezer fish for the grownups. (The TJ's prepared scallops were scotched for the Phillies fish recipe in honor of the Phillies' first week back to the regular season (holla!). We'll see, though; we have a baseball game that night so I might try to finish up those non-meat corn dogs that are sucking up valuable real estate in my freezer.

Last week:

First, the clear home run: pineapple pork chops. Prep time: less than five minutes. Might have been less than three if I weren't also supervising spelling homework and doing laundry. (I had the jarred ginger and used that.) And the three of us who eat Things Which Are Not Beige loved it--all four chops were polished off that night. Woohoo! This is definitely one to try and will be part of the rotation here.

Another winner, but in a more limited capacity: the banana-cashew smoothie from Real Simple. Easy, forgiving (I would be embarrassed to tell you how many days my cashews soaked), and a great use of my frozen bananas. The grownups loved this. Kids were not as enthralled, but we thought it was terrific.

And on Taco Tuesday, my husband was at a ballgame (you're welcome, honey) so I made the 101 Cookbooks quesadilla recipe. Eggs are just all over the place right now, aren't they? And I am frankly tired of tacos and am continuing to look for ways to jazz them up for me. This was a fun little experiment, and got me through a taco Tuesday, but I'm not sure I'll do it again, at least this way. I did like it as a breakfast sandwich later in the week with some of my favorite pico de galo instead of the capers, and actually think that with regular sour cream, tomatoes and/or salsa and cheddar--this would be excellent. Or I might also try it with lime in the cream instead of lemon, but I'm just crazy for limes.

We also revisited some favorites--the edamame and cherry tomato salad, the hot chicken salad, the roasted cod (or in this case, haddock) and the green bean salad with pickled red onions, all on the sidebar, all still winners, at least for the grownups. Especially the pickled onions. Mmmmmmm.

What are you making this week? Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! for some great menu planning ideas!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

MPM--Settling In to Spring

I'll tell you what, having a given night designated for a certain meal--Taco Tuesday, in our case--makes life much easier. And I love that it's Tuesday, because then I really only have to plan two dinners--one for Monday, one for Wednesday, and Thursday leftovers. It's a beautiful thing. Even better? Getting the slow cooker involved. Which I'll have to do more of next week.

Monday: Trying something new, in the clearing-the-pantry way: Pineapple pork chops, rice, green bean salad, either from last week or the other crazy delicious Smitten Kitchen one

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, of course, and thank goodness. Baseball season has started and I need to feed the boy promptly and get him the heck to the field.

Wednesday: Trying again for the Hot Chicken Salad, rice, Oasis Carrot Salad, asparagus (see sidebar for recipes)

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: pesto quinoa for the kids, Trader Joe's scallops in light sauce for grownups.

As to last week--nothing new. I'm spent. We had an awesome time at Wednesday Spaghetti, and then my high school reunion this weekend, which meant time with old friends I just don't see often enough. It didn't leave much time for creative time in the kitchen. And I'm kind of ok with that, even though it makes the blog dull. Here's hoping your week has more inspiration! Try I'm an Organizing Junkie for more great meals on the web!