Monday, May 30, 2011

MPM--No, Seriously, Can't Be June. Nope.

We had a great blogger night last week with a ton of the local writers, and they gave me some great feedback and inspiration. One note: some of them said they were readers here (hi!) and because (like me) they read on an aggregator, they didn't realize there was a list of favorite meals on the sidebar. So, if you are reading off a reader, and are looking for something to make, I'm trying to keep a "greatest hits" list on the side of the blog to make it easy to find Recipes That Worked. Feel free to come check it out.

This week: boy, I hope some things work. The days still have some things here and there but the night whirl really comes to a sudden halt. Which is a beautiful thing.

Monday: Memorial Day. I wish there were a picnic or something at the pool, but there's plenty of that to come. Still, keeping it easy: Trader Joe's potatoes with green beans, something else from the freezer. Too bad I'm the only omelet eater in the house.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Love this anchor of my week as I try to figure out what to do for dinner five nights in a row.

Wednesday: Smitten Kitchen's lemon-asparagus-goat cheese pasta. This will not be popular with anyone but me, but I can serve the noodles to the kids (or a leftover taco to the noodle-averse) and hopefully my husband will eat some before he sneaks back to the plain buttered noodles for the picky one.

Thursday: chicken in the mustard-cream sauce, rice, CSA veggies

Friday: I really hope our grill is open for business by Friday, but my husband will probably want to play soccer instead. So, we'll see how that goes. If we grill, the boys will get hot dogs, and I will marinate some portobellos for me. I also got a closeout grilling basket for my husband last year so hopefully we'll have a bunch of veggies to toss in there and try it out.

This pizza was excellent. I roasted two Idahos with a little evoo, salt, and a minced garlic clove. For the pizza dough, I'm back to Pillsbury, which is a little sweet for my taste but remains the only dough I have any success working with. It was really great. The kids of course loathed the homemade pizza, longing for the round one that was spun in the air. So next time, I'll make the whole pizza for grownups and do something else for the kids. Score: 2/4, but I loved it anyway.

I made the rosemary bacon chicken again and at the excellent suggestion of some of the blog grls who came to talk to my moms' group, I have to rate this one a 4/4, meaning that all four of us ate it--woohoo! That may be a first. Full disclosure: I skipped the rosemary on the pieces for the pickiest eater. But still--that just made it easier. I also experimented with fava beans, after they were so excellent at Talulah's. They weren't hard to shell, and seemed almost prehistoric; the pods have this white cottony interior, which made it kind of fun. But then you boil them. And then you shell them again. And then they a nice mellow bean. And a huge bag of them makes...about 32 beans, which just about cover the bottom of a cereal bowl. Verdict: not worth it. But glad I did it once.

For his preschool graduation, my son decided he would like to give his teachers cookies and flowers. (Will he be the best boyfriend ever or what?!) He also wrote each of them a very careful thank you note with his best printing. I could expire from pride; he started the year just signing his name and I just loved watching him focus on the sample I wrote to make each note the best it could be. So we made them chocolate chip cookies (from the recipe on the bag), The Best Babysitter Ever's add-in cookies (with craisins and white chocolate), and the coconut-almond-toffee cookies I found on Two Fat Als but are actually from here. I used my new cookie sheets, and they were awesome. My husband introduced me to the saying, "Man! Always blaming his boots for the faults of his feet." and I really try to remember that as I'm about to blame circumstances for something that really came down to me. But--cooking might be an exception to this rule. There was a visible difference between the cookies on my old sheets and my new ones. And I need to remember that sometimes, it really is the equipment. Meanwhile, I ran out of flour (whoops), discovered two of my random flours were "best used by 2009" (whoops) and smelled like they were well past their I ended up topping off the toffee cookies with King Arthur whole wheat flour, to no ill effect in the cookie. Yum. I have to keep reminding myself in the cookie department: smaller is better. Smaller is better. Smaller is better. The toffee ones are supposed to be huge, but I find them harder to bake accurately. So, smaller next time. And bake a little longer.

We had a nice little menu: sandwich tray from the market, fancy salad from another market (poor planning but necessary), and, at my son's request, a cheese tray from the fancy little market. Add some snacky things--fruit, veggies, goldfish--and cookies, and it's a party. Low key but lovely.

Monday, May 23, 2011

MPM--Last Preschool Graduation Edition

Thanks to those who gave dinner-from-thin-air suggestions last week! It was fun to see what people are doing on the no-ideas-for-dinners nights. When I pull the whole list together, I'll post it here too.

For a week of "coasting" last week, I did a respectable amount of "new"...check the reviews after the break. This week is another busy one:

Monday: homemade pizzas (this one with the leftover onion beschamel, see below for that story, and a regular one for the kids); salad

Tuesday: overlapping kids' events, so Wawa hoagies for the parents, and happily, both kids are provided for at the various events.

Wednesday: and did I mention that the Tuesday meal for the one boy is tacos anyway so I can skip a week? Score! Bacon wrapped rosemary chicken, veggies from the CSA

Thursday: preschool "graduation." I'm not a big believer in these things, but at my sons' school, they don't do caps and gowns or anything, just a very nice end-of-year program, which is a really fun celebration. We'll get a sandwich tray and salads and have leftovers for dinner.

Friday: prom night! If my sister-in-law doesn't barbecue, we'll pick something up on the way home.

Back to last week:

As the week went on, I tried a few new recipes and went back to some old ones. I tried the crockpot version of Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. It came out pretty well in some ways, but was hampered by me developing an (unusual for me) wicked headache that day, so the smell was getting to me. But my son walked in from school and asked, "Mom, what's for dinner? It smells great!" That was a first, and I will treasure it forever. But. He didn't like the actual chicken. My husband loved it and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure it'll make it to the rotation.

CSA season started again, so I needed to keep the produce moving. I made an old success, the Simple Cauliflower from 101 Cookbooks, and had a big enough head of cauliflower to try it two ways, the traditional and the nutmeg. I was also in my favorite gourmet store and they were pushing roasted broccoli sprouts all week, but no way was I spending $7.95 per pound for them, so I roasted them myself. Yum.

I've also been reading a book called Eating for Beginners. It was reviewed in Brain, Child Magazine, which I love, and I saw the author and I went to college together (but we didn't know each other). It is a memoir of her year of learning to be a chef in a farm-to-table restaurant, not as a career change, but in an effort to find something to feed her ultra-picky child. So yes, I was hooked. The recipes all sounded great but I went with the ones that seemed easiest: roasted parsnips and creamed spinach.

I'll start with the Creamed Spinach: Seabrook Farms does this so well, I fail to understand why I'd make it any other way again. But the recipe sounded so good I couldn't help myself. I should have, though, because I messed up the bechamel. I had tons of it and it was totally gloppy. It was good but not better and so much more work. But the roasted parsnips were awesome. I don't usually roast with butter but I followed the recipe (cut in to smallish irregular pieces-"on the oblique"--dot with butter, roast 30 min at 350 with salt & pepper to taste) and it was great.

In an odd move, knowing that our CSA kale season is approaching, I bought some kale ahead of time to try again with a massaged kale salad. I have not, traditionally, been a fan of dark leafy greens. Spinach is ok when drowned in cream or vinegar, but that's really my limit. We did have success with kale chips, but really: there's not much in the world of edible items that isn't ok when doused in olive oil and salt and roasted. So I decided to try a massaged kale & avocado salad. I feared it would be a big waste of an avocado, but it worked out. The video was a huge help; it showed me how small I needed to get the leaves. So I destemmed, chopped away, and mixed with my hands--which I hate. And I cheated and used the whole avocado--first, because they don't store well, and second, because I figured it would drown out the kale. Did I love it? No. But I really enjoyed it, and felt very virtuous eating it. It's hardly low-cal with the olive oil and avocado (half of which I massaged in to the kale, and half of which I left in tasty chunks) but full of nutrients (and I did add the tomatoes). I also liked that it held up ok in the fridge overnight (due to the lemon, the avocado discoloration wasn't terrible). So this is a keeper for summer.

And, as a bit of a surprise, I hosted my Mothers & More book group meeting. (It was the best way to ensure I got to it--have it in my house!) The book was The Help, and while I would have loved to Southern-food it up, I didn't have time or energy. (And the leak I discovered in our house 27 minutes before the start didn't help.) But--I had rhubarb, so I made the strawberry-rhubarb crumble again which was well received, and I tried the buttermilk pie recipe that a reader posted in my comments. (Thanks, reader!) It was awesomely easy, made the house smell great, and was also well received. I did find that the amount of filling I had would have been better for a deep dish pie dish, or two regular pies, but it all worked out. It is an excellent use of buttermilk, so I'm very happy to have that in the repertoire now.

And that's our week that was. Hey, if you're local, my Mothers & More group is hosting a blogger night on Tuesday; leave me a comment with your email if you want more details and I'll send them to you. We're happy to meet lurkers in person! There will be some awesome bloggers there--we'd love to have you, too!

Meanwhile, for more menus-check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It seems funny to consider this month to be coasting...we're all about having the kids finish the school year strong (keeping up the spelling word streak) and there are so many events (baseball! gymnastics showcase! preschool graduation! field day!), "coasting" doesn't seem like the right word for May at all. But, last week was a glorious weather week, and we did lots of bike riding and introduced the idea of coasting to the kids (who, of course, loved it). And, my car is a hybrid, so it has a screen on it to show where energy is coming from (electric battery, engine, brakes) and going to (wheels, battery recharge), and the kids are newly fascinated by that. And they love that (wait for it: metaphor ahead) energy is created by coasting.

So May has felt like a bit of a victory lap for my blog. With the incredible rush of so many events, I've really cut down on the new-recipe trying and fancy-technique doing, and new-food introducing. It's time to hang back a bit and rediscover some old favorites, so I've mostly been using the ones listed on the side over there and loving it. That said, the chicken recipe is new this week, but it's a crockpot recipe so it doesn't add much work.

Monday: chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (from the slow cooker); CSA vegetables

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday

Wednesday: Freezer meal of some kind. I worked down a bunch of things over the weekend (always love the TJ's gnocchi, but the pad thai...not so much) and would like to keep going for the annual summer thaw.

Thursday: Leftovers. And if not...see below (chicken with mustard cream sauce...yum).

Friday: Take me out to the ball game...these "extra" May activities are fine by me when they get me out of a dinner.

The big food news from last week was the pork with mustard cream sauce. I didn't have the evaporated milk this time, but had cream leftover from Easter and, um, YUM. Don't be surprised to see me try this again next week with chicken, the sauce is SO good.

Also, a "coasting" way for me to get more fruit in to Mr. Beige Food Only: Mashables. This is not a paid endorsement (ha! I wish), just me sharing a parenting hack. It all started with Trader Joe's applesauce in a squeezer; now the mashables are fruit puree in a fun tube. I hate the fun tube part of it but am that desperate to get actual fruits and vegetables in to my son on a reliable basis. So here we are. (For the record, smoothies often, but do not always, work, so this has been a nice backup to the apple/banana routine we had going.)

Finally, on a bummer of a note...what are your "dinners from thin air?" You know--the night you just got back from the emergency room/unexpected extra innings/just longest day at work ever. Ours are soft pretzels, cheese, and applesauce; Trader Joe's mac & cheese and a salad or piece of fruit and of course spaghetti but there isn't always time. In summer, BLTs sometimes work. We're pulling together a list for a friend going through a rough time of dinners you don't necessarily want to do all the time, but in a pinch, they work. Cereal, of course. Anything I'm missing? Or, for a night with more time but little energy--what's your go-to meal?

Thanks! Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for more ideas around the web.

Monday, May 9, 2011

MPM--Mother's Day Afterglow

Hi all--I have to be honest: I usually hate Mother's Day. I don't want to be a downer, but it's one of my least favorite "Hallmark holidays" because it makes me feel like a failure (because who can live up to the mothers described in those flowery cards?!) and an orphan (not fair, with my amazing aunt and loving mother-in-law, but, both of them have lost their mothers too and totally understand). But this one--this one was for the books. My one son made chocolate bark and was so proud he was dropping hints for days; my other wrote a poem for me that I will treasure until the day I die and beyond. I am eternally grateful to his teacher for all the work she did with him on it. And then our celebration here, which for most of the week looked like it would be just us and the grandparents, suddenly turned in to an all-play with every local family showing up in droves, so drinks and appetizers for 6 turned in to dinner for 14. And still--it worked out great. We had lots of freezer appetizers (little hot dogs, brie and raspberry rolls, etc. etc.), chips, pico, hot pizza dip, veggies and dip, and those yummy pretzels that are flavored and baked. For dinner, I made the Armagnac chicken (which got really exciting when I spilled the brandy and up it flamed)--though I had to make 3 and had almost no leftovers!--and augmented with a spinach salad, the carrot & avocado salad, and a pasta and veggie salad and potato salad from another party, plus leftover cake and I made a strawberry-rhubarb crumble. It was awesome, and so fun to have everyone here on a beautiful day.

This week:

Monday: Party leftovers. Chicken with vegetables, and I'll make rice to go with. Also salad, as I found iceberg lettuce at 2/$1, woohoo!

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, of course!

Wednesday: Creamy Mustard Pork (didn't get to it last week), rice, asparagus. Can't be late as my moms' group is having our Mothers' Day celebration and it's Trader Joe's night--I'm looking forward to seeing what people bring!

Thursday: Leftovers or spaghetti

Friday: Relay for Life at a local high school--we'll eat there since it's a fundraiser. Also, I'm very psyched: the American Cancer Society is launching a long term (decades!) health study to look at cancer risks. It's the third large-scale research project they've done; the first is what linked smoking and lung cancer. My husband and I are enrolling in the study, and they are doing the intake work at the Relay for Life.

And that's the week that's coming! Last week was kind of different. The pork I had bought from Trader Joe's had a microhole in the packaging so by the time I went to pull the tenderloin out of the fridge, it had leaked pork juices all over. I couldn't get back to exchange it that day so I pulled off a freezer meal, delighting my kids, and set the tone for the week. And Wednesday--oh, I barely have words! We went to Talula's Table, an ultra-gourmet restaurant, famous right now for being the toughest reservation to get in the country since they only have one table. Well--now they have two-after I "liked" them on Facebook, I learned that there is a kitchen table, where you get to sit in the kitchen and watch the chefs and learn from them while they cook. It was awesome and the menu was unbelievable.
The entire thing was awesome, including the amuse-bouche plate they brought us at first, with an eggplant tarte, tuna salad topped with fried capers on a hash-brown, and a mushroom-and-brie ravioli. YUM. It was crazy-expensive, but less than the trip we'd hoped to take to California (you'd hope so, right!?!) and oh-so-worth it.

Here's hoping you get to splurge on something you love this week. Meanwhile, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for more realistic and inspirational menus!

Monday, May 2, 2011

MPM--Sorry, World Events Intervened

Hmm, a little delay there while I blinked in disbelief at the news. I cheer no one's death but I am relieved for those whose lives he devastated, that they may sleep a little easier, that one source of evil in the world is here no more.

On to my mundane, first world problems, that I am grateful to have. The CSA starts today--woohoo!--so veggies are subject to change.

Monday: pork tenderloin in creamy mustard sauce (see sidebar); kale chips; asparagus

Tuesday: taco Tuesday

Wednesday: Chik-Fil-A fundraiser (shudder)

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: baseball game, so food-to-go; I have pizza shells in the fridge so a pizza/flatbread of some kind will probably work as a portable, fast meal.

Last week, I lucked in to an awesome roast chicken day at the Co-op (it's always amazing when I can buy a fully-made chicken for less than a raw one that I have to do the work on myself), and we had that one hot night, and my husband did a terrific sundried tomato "stir fry" with some of the chicken later in the week, using Trader Joe's sundried tomato pesto and some other things--wine, pine nuts, parsley--which was awesome. It's really tragic for our family that I'm the one who ends up doing most of the cooking. He's so much better than I am in the kitchen.

Last week, I alluded to my Matrix moment with food. One of them is related to this article, where they write about how food dyes create flavor out of thin air, literally. The food chemist tells how a white pudding tastes like vanilla, even with mango flavor in it, and a yellow pudding tastes like banana or mango even with no fruit in it. Am I the only one thinking of the turkey dinner on Camazotz from A Wrinkle in Time? While I know the science doesn't support it, we've really noticed a difference in our son since we cut out the red dye. And I am kicking myself--how hard was that? Not hard at all--especially for such a big difference. The only good thing is that he's old enough so that when he had the dye, and melted down, we could talk to him about it reasonably, and say, "Do you like how you are feeling right now? Is this easy or hard?" and then help steer him to non-dye choices later, which was easy, because he hated how it made him feel. There are still a few places it sneaks in--the excitement of the ice cream truck, for instance, made him forget to check for dyes--but overall, I'm very proud of him for making the choices himself. And we just try to stay a step ahead and stock the cabinet with things that don't have the dye, and reasonable alternatives. (For example, "all" the kids have fruit gummies at lunch, so I bought Annie's and some others that don't have dye.)

Anyway, we're in the treading water time of year here, so no new things to review from last week, and not much excitement this week either. I'll get back in to it eventually, I'm sure. For more meal-planning ideas, you know where to go!