Sunday, June 26, 2011

MPM--The StoveTop Version

First things first: when making popcorn on the stove at home, use coconut oil. That is the most important lesson of the week.

Menu for the week:

Monday: I'm out to dinner, so we'll see what the boys come up with. Kidding. I will be leaving them with CSA vegetables and noodles. My stash is really out of control and the weather isn't supposed to be so hot.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, but Mom's Night Out for me...yippee! To bolster for leftovers tomorrow, I'm also going to try to make the easy beans & rice from Rage Against the Minivan. At 89 cents for the bag of beans, and all the rice floating around my cabinet, if it's terrible, I lose nothing. And if it's great, woohoo!

Wednesday: Leftovers, plus something new from the box, I'm sure. It's also our ice cream stroll for our moms' group so it'll be quick so we can go enjoy frozen treats!

Thursday: Town picnic! Our part of the alphabet is in charge of fruit, veggie, or side dish. Not sure where I'm going with that. Might be barley salad (see below); my town is hippie enough that it might work.

Friday: Hopefully the oven will be fixed (see below) or it will be a good grilling night. If not...hmm, dinner pending knowing what I have to work with in the kitchen. With any luck my stove will be all better by then.

Saturday is our block party, so I'll figure that out too.

My little guy is my chef. Despite the fact that he won't eat anything, he'll help me cook everything if I invite him, and often makes dessert suggestions himself. My older one has very little interest in the kitchen. But that seems to have started changing, just a little, this week. He helped his dad make garlic bread (beyond my "spread butter/sprinkle garlic salt" way). His dad taught him to mince the garlic, mix it with Italian herbs in olive oil, and spread it on good rolls. He was ecstatic with the results. So the next night, when I realized I was out of Jora's taco mix, I had him help me again. His technique is, um, rough. I am not, for example, a fan of measuring the spices in the middle of the kitchen and then walking several steps, trying to balance the teaspoon without spilling, when I could be measuring right next to the container. But, this is how we learn. I hope. And he was thrilled with how good "his" tacos tasted, and I was happy to have had the help.

For Tuesday Wednesday Spaghetti, I thought I'd use what I had (I'm learning, slowly, but I'm learning) and make these Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars. But cutting butter in to things is not a strong point for me. It never looks like crumbs; it looks like sugar and flour with some lumps of butter in it, until the clumps of butter are small enough that it just looks like flour and sugar again. Adding the egg made it better but it really didn't reach dough consistency until I had the sharp little almond pieces bumping around in there. By that time I gave up on having it for dinner (just as well, it was so hot the chocolate would have been all over) I ran out to get some bread to bring and that seemed to be a better plan. But the toffee bars were made by soccer, and they were very, very good. There is too much chocolate to make them a great summer dessert but in two months when it's cooler, or in the mountains--they will make a return appearance.

And speaking of bread, I'm in a use-what-you-got mode again and was in a frenzy of cabinet clearing. Also in the freezer: whole wheat flour, so I made this cinnamon-raisin bread in my bread maker, and alas--I hit the wrong button and it didn't bake. And then I learned my pilot light was out on my stove. And I am a weenie wuss about things like fooling with gas. And so you are seeing MPM--The StoveTop version. I digress--I took my dough to my sister-in-law's, baked it off...and learned my flour was bad. Boo. But even with old nasty flour, it was pretty good so we will try again soon.

While clearing the cabinets, I found pearled barley I'd somehow talked myself in to buying, so I perused my bookmarks for why in the world I would have bought that. And first, I found this barley salad from Dinner: A Love Story. And not unlike my son saying, hey, pesto and hummus taste pretty similar, I should have figured out that with a whole grain, lemon, olive oil, and parsley, you're going to end up with, essentially, tabbouleh. But I like tabbouleh, so that was fine. However, the big hit for me was the 101 Cookbooks Buttermilk Farro Salad, which, happily, the notes said would also be ok with barley (because really, I already have barley and millet, I am drawing the line at farro, but you know that's a substitution I would never, ever dream of making on my own without specific instruction that it would be OK). The dressing was a total home run for my tastebuds and it took an incredible act of will for me to not drink it all straight from the salad dressing shaker I used to make it. Happily, there was plenty of barley to pour it on, and I got lazy and used the food processor to chop the radishes and zucchini to sneak the veggies in to the salad. But this was culinary love for me. Also, I tried two ways of making the barley: the one "instant" (from DALS: boil in a 3:1 water:barley ratio for 50 minutes--which is about how long dinner takes me so that was ok) and the other the overnight method (soak 5 hours to overnight in a 2:1 water:barley ratio, then boil 15 min. and drain). The package said the barley would be "fluffier" by which I think they meant "less sticky." I actually liked the sticky better.

The other winners were Saturday and Sunday nights. Saturday, we learned our nephews (both in their early 20s) were alone for the weekend so we had them over for a cookout. I served the barley salads, and grilled up veggies in the new veggie basket for them. Alas, I was very disappointed in the onion-mushroom recipe, and even the zucchini didn't turn out as well as I was hoping. Any great uses of a veggie basket out there you can recommend? The winner that night though was last year's Dinner A Love Story yogurt-marinated chicken. Still totally enjoyable. I might branch out and try to fake my way through one of their other yogurt based marinades but this one is so good it's hard to leave.

And finally, by Sunday we were wiped out. We'd spent hours at the pool, playing baseball, hanging out with friends and family. So we cleaned out the fridge and freezer of berries and bananas and frozen pineapple and made several kinds of smoothies. And the boys drank all of them. Booyah. Of course, I didn't put kale in any of them.

In the non-food department...

Cars 2 was as disappointing as I hoped it wouldn't be. SO many guns, SO many explosions...every single major scene, a different family was leaving with a screaming, horrified child. It was SUCH a departure from the first one...very depressing. And I bought 3D tickets by mistake and I swear I could feel my ocular nerves jangling the rest of the day. Yeah, I'm old. And my kids liked it but even they thought it was a little over the top "with too many guns and stuff," said the one who begs me for Nerf weapons. And if he thought it was too was too much.

Since this is probably our last-chance summer to do it, I am making a huge effort to get to the 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know. I'm sure there are 100 lists like this and all different--where are the Sneetches? Where is Lois Ehlert? And why no Margaret Wise Brown? and on and on and on, but this is the one I picked. So I went crazy at the library, getting out a bunch and being inspired by a few others. And oh, how fun to revisit Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot. (We have other Strega Nona books, but not the original.) And what a delight to find some new ones on there. It's also been fun discovering books the kids have read that we didn't know about--Swimmy by Leo Lionni, for example. I never heard of it until I saw the list, but my sons were verbally falling all over each other to tell us about it, so we'll just check that one off. Helping with this project: DEAR, a lovely concept from first grade. For the uninitiated, DEAR stands for Drop Everything And Read. You don't have to tell me twice. We've had lovely 20-minute stretches of just quiet reading. I almost weep with joy when it works. Some nights it's 10 minutes. That's good too. But the boys flopped down blankets and pillows and stuffed animals all over the floor to prep for DEAR and I love it every single time. I'm also using it as a time to cull through the kids' books, which is hard for to donate, 67 to keep seems to be about the ratio. But I'm trying to be good about releasing those books to somewhere they will continue to spread joy.

For better ideas about food, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! See you next week...

Monday, June 20, 2011

MPM--June Buggin'

Here's what I learned last week: long stretches of time with the kids in the neighborhood sounds awesome...until I discover that the 4th grader (!!!!!!!) got Call of Duty: Black Ops as an end-of-year present from his dad and the kids are learning way more about warfare than is good for kids who aren't yet in kindergarten or second grade. Sigh. The neighborhood boys are generally great kids but I miss last week, when Ghost in the Graveyard and Sardines were the games du jour. I don't want to be the overscheduled summer mom but we can come up with something better than this. So I have a few day trips planned and some other things to hit a better balance of too-much and not-enough. But the house-to-myself was nice while it lasted; the doorjambs look much better since I had time to take a magic eraser to them. Woohoo!

Monday: CSA day, so we'll see what comes up from the farm. Meanwhile, the kids can finish the pesto quinoa from the homemade batch of pesto from Father's Day.

Tuesday: Tuesday Wednesday Spaghetti, and soccer practice, so maybe tacos for the soccer player and spaghetti for the rest. Also trying desperately to go on a date to see Company but I don't think I can make all the pieces fit. Argh.

Wednesday: Plum jelly chicken, rice, CSA veggies, including a salad of some kind.

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: It's our anniversary but it's also soccer can guess what takes priority! Actually, I think we'll be going out as a family...our hope is to nab Cars 2 matinee tickets (though the idea of Mater with firearms honestly makes me sick to my stomach) and go out for early dinner before soccer. Who needs Company when Pixar has a new movie?! (please let Company become available through Amazon Prime streaming...)

So last week I was counting on the splash party and the Italian festival for some dinners. Wrong. The splash party was for kids moving up to 5th grade (nope, not here yet) and the St. Anthony's Festival night was actually my book group night. So, leftovers saved the day one night and the other, I tried the easiest stroganoff ever recipe from A Year of Crockpotting. The author caught greif for posting this two-ingredient paid recipe--it's beef and Philadelphia Cooking Creme (note: I am not being compensated. Hah! As though you needed to wonder!) in a crockpot for 8 hours. Done. Is it chock full of farm-grown goodness? Of course not. But it is the easiest dinner ever and for a processed food--the creme sauce was great. I usually can't stand things like this--I avoid most creamy bottled salad dressings and pre-made dips gross me out. But I had a coupon and a driving need to make dinner and this fit the bill. I tried to console myself by putting the leftover broccoli pesto on some of the noodles, but there was no getting around the animal-protein goodness of this dish. I will make it again, even though the kids wouldn't go near it. So while it's only a 2/4 score, it's SO easy, it gets to stay in the rotation.

I spent a lot of the week eating my kale salad obsession, but on another hot night I tried a green smoothie recipe from my CSA. I had everything, though alas, the avocado was very underripe, which did not help anything. But I had lots of kale and cilantro and a lime, so I went for it. It was a little like a too-green gazpacho. I drank it but wouldn't even think about giving it to anyone else in the family. It was too brown-green and garlic-smelling. I'll give it another shot when I have tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes but it was a good end of the day after a week with more meat than I've had in a while. And it actually got better the next day. Yep, I drank it twice.

Otherwise, we revisited some old favorites, made a chocolate cake for an end-of-school celebration, and broke out the grill with Montreal burgers (which were awesome) and zucchini made in the new grill basket (which my older, less-picky son, gobbled up with great glee, to my great joy). I'm trying to keep it easy, so apologies for any lack of inspiration here. Try over at I'm an Organizing Junkie for that! Meanwhile, have a great week, and happy summer!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

MPM--Summer Already

Ah, summer. Nothing like an early heat wave in June to throw off the end of the school year. When is the last time you heard a seven year old say it's too hot to go to the pool? And he was right.

Thankfully, this week looks cooler than last, so we'll have a few more food choices than hoagies from somewhere else and Anything Frozen on a Stick. But--last week the miracle occurred--Little Mr. Picky tried TWO new foods and liked them both! I honestly wept with relief. Clearly I'm too emotionally invested in this for either of our own goods. Foods shared below the meals for next week...

Monday: Such a nerd--I'm psyched that the fruit share starts with my CSA this week. Applesauce is one of the items so I'll make slow cooker pork, lemony smashed potatoes (also from the CSA; see sidebar for link), and a salad. (See below for my new dressing obsession.)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, and then Rita's Water Ice for all! It's School Spirit Night fundraiser there and I am already looking forward to it.

Wednesday: Last day of school! And, by some coincidence, Margarita Night for my moms' group. Hmm. Someone planned well. Splash party at the pool. And if they are not serving hot dogs, we'll order pizza for delivery.

Thursday: I'm hoping to take the boys to the St. Anthony's Festival for some awesome Italian food. Otherwise, leftovers.

Friday: Probably leftovers, and then off to co-ed soccer. It's been going on for a month, but we've barely been able to go (insert dramatic hand-to-forehead here) because of one party or another. So it really feels like the start of the summer season.

Shockingly, the first food he tried was...not with me present. (Uh...noted.) And it was (drum roll please): the mushroom-truffle flatbread from Trader Joe's. When he told me the next morning, I didn't believe him. He can't deal with a different (organic) milk, but mushroom-truffle flatbread is accepted?! Of course I am sure this is to tick off his brother, who could happily consume an entire one. But if you don't think I'm clearing out the TJ's freezer tomorrow, you have not been paying attention. Whee! Food the whole family eats! Yay!

And the second one--I cannot believe I put it off for this long, but they both LOVED the Heidi Swanson/101 Cookbooks/Super Natural Every Day orzo with broccoli pesto. I took a page from Dinner: A Love Story and pulled out some orzo (not whole wheat, just used what I had, will cross that rubicon next time) and just put the broccoli pesto on it. Smart Little Picky tasted it and said, "It reminds me of hummus! Can I have some hummus?" (So that came back too... I made him a hummus sandwich and was delighted that it's returned from banishment. Can sweet potatoes be far behind?) But smart boy, to make that link. I was very pleased. And it wasn't that hard...I will be playing with this some more over the next few weeks because it was really great and the whole family enjoyed it. I can hardly believe it's two weeks in a row with 4/4 rated recipes! And in other news...

So, as I said, the heat waves have started...or alas, continued, here in our part of the country, so last week was light on cooking and heavy on things that didn't need heat to make. First up: Cup and Table's lemon vinaigrette. I had lots of CSA parsley to use and am a sucker for lemons (ha ha) and it just looked perfect for a salad on the curly endive that came in the box. (Not to be confused with the torpedo-like "ohn-deeve" that the Barefoot Contessa just loves. This looks more like kale and was, believe it or not, one of my favorite salads when I was little. Then it kind of fell out of favor, and it's been fun to rediscover.) It was excellent, though a little sharp, even for my acid-seeking tastes. It also jazzed up my other favorite kale salad enough that my husband finished his serving, which was a nice surprise.

Monday was a dinner fail; I tried to make the outrageously good creamy mustard sauce on chicken instead of pork. I even flattened my chicken with a rolling pin, which I never do, with my fear of microscopic droplets of disease spraying my kitchen from the raw flesh. But I did it, and it was nice to just saute them up without agonizing about how done the middle was. And then I poured in the cream and...curdle city. My nice new farm-fresh cream was not so fresh. But! The kids, of course, enjoy a plain chicken breast, so they weren't much of a problem. And the Dinner: A Love Story post on Asparagus Ketchup reminded me: I had chimichurri in the fridge. Chimichurri is an Argentinian condiment to put on meat, and while this isn't my total favorite ever (somehow the originator's version is better), it's quite good and an excellent use of parsley. I first had it at a tailgate with some grilled sausages, and it was equally yummy on chicken breast. Apparently it can be used as a marinade too, but you know me: experimentation is not what I am looking for. I like clear directions that are followed with ease. But we'll see how this goes.

Recipe courtesy of a friend, and passing along to you:

Chimichurri, aka CHIMI!
Step 1: SALMUERA. Boil one cup of water, add 1 Tablespoon kosher or sea salt and mix until dissolved, take off heat and set aside to cool.
Step 2: CHOP. I hand chop although you can use a food processor. Just make sure that you keep the ingredients on the rough side, not too fine.
1 head garlic
1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
1 cup fresh oregano (I often replace this with 1/2 cup dried)
Step 3: MIX put your chopped herbs in a mixing bowl and add:
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
the Salmuera; mix well.
Put into an airtight jar and refrigerate.
The chimi is best after 24 hours and can be used as a marinade or a sauce.
I try never to finish the chimi and always add new to what I have.
Most of you have had it with chorizos, as a marinade it works great with entana or a shell steak.
Buen Apetito

What are you making? Inspire us at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Monday, June 6, 2011

MPM--Random Meal Generator

...thy name is June. The weather has been crazy here (though thankfully not fatal like some locales). 94 and super humid...or down to 55 and needing sweaters. So some nights I just threw fruit at the kids and hoped for the best, and others, I actually cooked. So take this week's menu with a grain of salt. (I always do.) We also had a spate of parties--graduations, first and ninetieth birthdays, you name it, so the party food has been crazy. Note to self: do a graduation brunch, and with another family. Smart smart smart.

Monday: CSA inspired something. Oh, I suppose I have to do better than that. Ok, I didn't get to the mustard-cream sauce chicken last week, so that, plus veggies from the box.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Woohoo!

Wednesday: Baseball game. I will feed myself something before we go but I know the boys will have hot dogs there.

Thursday: Leftovers.

Friday: Graduation party! I'm on for a vegetable tray. For 120. That's a lot of carrots. But so worth it.

Before I returned Eating for Beginners to the library (along with a hefty fine) I tried her No-Grill Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Vinegar, which she loosely adapted from Marcella Hazan. It was blissfully easy: melt 2T butter with 1 T olive oil; brown some tenderloins; turn heat to low, salt & pepper the loins, then pour in 1/2 C balsamic vinegar and some bay leaves. When done, reduce the sauce while the pork rests. This is my kind of recipe. Easy, little work involved, items I have in my house (if I get a pork tenderloin). The reduction is basically a vinaigrette. Yum. Interestingly, her original one calls for NOT balsamic. So now I'm going to try this version sometime soon. Meanwhile, the fine was totally worth it. Four out of four eaters in the house had some pork. It's more of a moral victory as Picky One had a sliver about the size and thickness of my pinky fingernail. But to prove to his brother that he did indeed eat some, he had a second, slightly larger piece, almost the size of my thumbnail, which he nibbled in three distinct bites. Still--a four out of four counts for lots around here.

Meanwhile, I rediscovered the joy of making "baked" potatoes in the microwave (for us: poke potato so it doesn't explode, wrap in a wet paper towel, cook 4.5 minutes on high and let rest 5 minutes)--what an awesome lunch. And my picky eater has gotten very curious about "what he used to eat." Which was everything. So here's hoping there's some progress soon on that front. I'm not sure his version of a taco is "progress" (sour cream and shredded cheese wrapped in a tortilla) but--it feels like a small increment up from those elements separately.

Next week is really up in the air. School is almost over, and I'm pulling my act together for the transition to summer. Stay tuned, and for much better planned dishes, try I'm an Organizing Junkie! to see what folks are doing there.