Sunday, August 28, 2011

MPM--August Endings

Earthquakes, hurricanes...nothing like a few natural disasters to end the summer. Around here, lots of schools were supposed to start on Monday and had to cancel for fear of Irene. Serves 'em right for starting before Labor Day, I say. Of course I am writing this in advance, and hoping desperately that this turns out to be a bunch of rain and that

Our last week of vacation is this week and I'm in my usual churn of ideas...Irene reminded me I need to empty my freezer, and pronto. We made lots of things from the freezer in storm prep and it was high time too.

Monday: CSA box day. Something veggie, and probably the pork chops on the grill from the freezer.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday!

Wednesday: I am hoping this is a beach day, but if not, the shrimp-and-corn thing that I love will be great tonight. When I find the recipe, I'll copy and post.

Thursday: Happy birthday, Mr. Picky Eater! We'll have something he likes this night, but I don't know what yet. The weather will determine how we celebrate. (Beach? Museum? Amusement park?)

Friday: Crystal ball is unclear here, too, though "something from the freezer" is a safe bet. There is a chick pea curry in there that is calling my name.

You know how I always cook way too much for snowstorms? As it turns out, I do the same thing for hurricanes. On a thundery day before the hurricane even gathered speed, I was busy in the kitchen, having filled the tank of the car, and bought bottled water, and all those other goodies. I made the curried egg salad, and alas, it was not a favorite; the red onion I had was overpowering even though it was little and I didn't use much. Next time, scallions or shallots. I made the sardines rillettes as well, the ones that the Tipsy Baker enthused about, and you know what? They were awesome. I used the Trader Joe's sardines, a 3.5 oz can, and it was exactly enough and the bones were already removed--score. I was dreading that part. I also made a potato pizza from Time for Dinner, using purple potatoes from the 25-cent bin at the Co-op, which made it much prettier.

So I was wandering through some blogs and some bookmarks and found some recipes I had been meaning to try. One was a bit of a blog-universe collapsing in on itself: the 101 Cookbooks author Heidi Swanson's recipe for white beans and cabbage via The Tipsy Baker. I ended up making it vegan by using the olive oil and forgetting to add the parm at the end. (When I realized I had, I tossed a bit on to see what it was like, and actually liked it better without.) If I hadn't made it myself, I would have sworn there was bacon in it, it had that kind of mouth feel. And while I liked the entire dish, I loved it before I added the cabbage, so I'll remember that for the future too. Also, I made it in my cast iron skillet, as I'm trying to use that more often, and that changes things a little bit--more rustic, more caramelization, etc. I might try in a non-stick sometime but for a Monday--it was a very tasty lunch and a great way to use up cabbage. NB: some versions call for thyme. I like thyme, but I'd be surprised if I liked it here. I skipped it and didn't miss it at all.

And we had another breakthrough for the boys: chicken sausage with spinach and feta. We grilled a link and asked them to try a piece. Both of them loved it and while Burger Boy went back to his burger, the other one--Mr. Picky--actually cut it in to slices, put it on a burger bun, added ketchup (um, eeuw, but ok), and ate that sandwich. Miracle!

Another miracle is a condiment that they both enjoy--it's a Wasabi Ginger Finishing Sauce, and I am hoping it stretches them enough to give wasabi and ginger the scaffold that they need for eventual acceptance. And it worked as a bridge for grilled eggplant for the older one. We had some awesome teeny eggplants, sliced, tossed with a little olive oil and kosher salt, and grilled in a basket. Yum. We were all almost grateful the little guy didn't want any--more for the rest of us.

I made the green bean-celery salad and that was a hit in my book. Really, no shock, with the vinegar-mustard sauce, but still--a nice option for green beans and anything no-cook works for me in a big way in the summer. It was crunchy and refreshing and very enjoyable. My husband couldn't really tell the difference between that and other salads I'd made with green beans so I bet it would be good with some cherry tomatoes thrown in there too. I also tried to replicate the tomato ricotta pie from the Co-op, and I couldn't do it but the recipe I used was fine, and my husband had seconds.

Looking for more inspiration? Try I'm An Organizing Junkie! for the best menu planning on the web.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

MPM--Summer's End...Almost

And just like that, we're in the waning days of August. I bit the bullet and put the boys in soccer camp. In some ways, I hated to do it; we had SO MANY THINGS we wanted to do this summer! But in other ways, it preps them well for the fall, which is so close. So we're having some big lunches, and tucking them in bed closer to school-year times this week. I hope.

Monday: We'll see what the CSA fairy brings, and add some meat. Probably a pork tenderloin. Or, to be honest, I'm jonesing for some macaroni-shrimp salad. (Macaroni, celery chopped small, salt, pepper, cooked shrimp, and a dressing of mayo mixed with vinegar--white, if presentation matters, or red, if you don't mind pinkish dressing, which I do not). It is 1970s comfort food at its finest for me. I am not sure anyone else in the house will eat it but that may not matter to me. The jones is strong. On a similar note, this is my week to try this egg salad, which has been knocking around my list for ages. I never heard of curry as a child, but this seems like a good update--old favorite, adult twist. I also know I want to make this bean and celery salad from The Bitten Word, because as you might have figured out by now, vinegar and mustard are members of the inner circle of my culinary happy place.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday. I have to tell you: I really love this anchor of my week. And I love it more in summer, when the tomatoes are so good I can just lightly sprinkle everything else in there and have a mostly tomato and cheese taco.

Wednesday: Cheesy Zucchini Pizza, and maybe a ricotta tomato pie, if I'm not tired of it yet. The Co-op was selling them last week and I could not stay away. It was just exactly the kind of summer food I was looking for, except for the jillion-calorie part. I'm sulking because they moved on but I am hoping that this version is similar.

Thursday: I have book group, for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so something southern. The boys will have something boys like, probably nachos from leftovers from taco night.

Friday: Moms' Movie Night--woohoo! Can't even tell you the last time I did something like this...we're going to see The Help, which we read for book group (like 87% of all book groups in the last few years...) so quick and easy from the freezer for the boys. I'm saving my calories for popcorn and a soda.

Last week I got back to my stove for a bit of a reunion. I made some old favorites and tried some new.

New: the cold asparagus sauce from Dinner: A Love Story. I love every ingredient in this and yet still was not thrilled with the final result. It was a little bitter. I used seedy mustard, and I'm wondering if that did it, or if there was too much lemon (I used about 1/3 of a small one). I did actually chill it, and had the chicken at room temperature. I finished it, because I love asparagus, but it wasn't as yummy as I was hoping. I might try again with a slightly different combo, because I really, really WANT to like this.

A zillion years ago, when I read Glamour, there were two different recipe pages I pulled out as a not-really-experienced-in-the-kitchen 20-something. One was for oven-roasted tomato sauce. The other was for nine different pasta toppings. I've made most of the 9 at some point (lemon cream, ricotta walnut...yum) but a continual favorite is the tomato-eggplant-mozzarella. It's so easy; take an eggplant; cube. (If you have time and feel fancy, salt, let sit, and rinse. If not--skip.) Heat some olive oil, and throw the eggplant in there with a minced garlic clove. Add either a bunch of cut up tomatoes and juice, or a can of crushed tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes, and before serving, toss with little mozzarella balls and basil. I just love this sauce and am so happy it's eggplant season again.

And for those of you who caught Lora's comment about crab fries--I had to laugh, and really, when push came to shove, I couldn't spend $7.75 on fries. I just couldn't. In fact, we did an upside down day that day and I made a hot(ish) lunch (it's summer, nothing too hot) and packed sandwiches, popcorn, applesauce pouches, and fruit leathers for dinner. So still "fun" food but for literally 1/10th the price of what we would have spent at the park. I'm sure the opportunity to got to Chickie's and Pete's will happen organically someday, and I'll try them then. But the ballpark versions of food are usually not as good as the original--and if the original isn't something to get excited about...just as well to skip it.

We double-checked-off another summer thing this weekend too: I made waffles for the boys on a pajama'd weekend morning. The older one wanted to skip soccer, and we let him. He's gone just about all summer and has more practices coming up, so I was happy to let him stay in PJs and play with Legos. He got his teacher assignment this week and I'm steeling myself for the havoc social interactions take on his psyche. In doing so, I paid attention: mom's waffle recipe makes 4 or 5 waffles, depending on how good you are at covering the maker. So now I know.

Check out I'm An Organizing Junkie for more late summer meal plans!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MPM--Really Lazy Days

And when I say lazy, I mean lazy. I fret as we cruise in to August--where are we on the "things we want to do this summer" list!? That is totally antithetical to August, I know. But I struggle with both wanting the days to be both long and unscheduled and a time we look back on and say, That was awesome. I'm so glad we did that.

Last week was amazing. We went to the mountains, alone for the first time as a family, and while we missed all the cousins (pesky high school kids, with college visits and jobs that keep them away from the Sports Week events), we loved being there ourselves and planning our own days. The scalloped tomatoes (see sidebar) were a hit with all the grownups (grandparents, aunts, uncles) who were around to try them. And otherwise, we ate pretty simply, to just enjoy the time at the lake and the games as much as possible. It was one of those golden weeks and I want to savor every second.

But now it's time to be home and planning. The good news is, I'm done all the back to school shopping, at least until the teachers' lists come, so it's time to just hang out and relax. Menus this week:

Monday: CSA box, trying the asparagus sauce from DALS with some chicken, and just tossing fruits and veggies at them otherwise.

Tuesday: Need you ask? Actually, we have ball game tickets tonight so I'll let the Phillies feed me. (More on that below.)

Wednesday: Taco Tuesday, a day late.

Thursday: SOME of us are going to the beach. Boardwalk pizza. My mouth waters just typing those words.

Friday: leftovers/freezer meal. I went in to my freezer for my crashed hard drive and couldn't believe how much stuff was in there. So I'll start working that down before it's too cold to defrost my freezer before winter hits.

We lucked in to Phillies tickets in a much swankier section than we usually have for last week and this. And so being down in the expensive seats, I learned there are way more food options than up in the "cheap" (ha! ha! even standing room isn't "cheap" but "cheap" is easier to type than "less insanely expensive") seats. In some ways this is good--I'm intrigued by the salads, and I've never tried the crab fries (shh, they'll take away my Philadelphia residency if they know). But in other ways, it was lousy, in the way that too much choice is always lousy...I had to walk exactly half-way around the stadium (which is not small) to get a plain burger for my son. Plus, I had to make stops at five different places to get what everyone wanted. (Hot dog, hamburger, Italian sausage, chips, beer, soft drinks.) And after a series of unfortunate finds in my last few hot dogs at ballparks (really. you don't want to know. and it was not just the Phils' MLB stadium), I tried the vegan dog. It wasn't great, but it wasn't scary, which was a step up. There are black bean burgers too, but I worry about the pepper thing (I can't eat them, and I can't find the ingredients list or vendor name). Can't top the strawberries and whipped cream at the BOB (in Arizona, ages ago) but still--a step in the right direction.

That's the news for the week. Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for more transferrable menu ideas and have a great week!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

MPM--On the Road Again

Phew! What a week! We did all kinds of things we'd never done before. Our kids were in the water show at the pool (so cute, all the five-to-seven year olds playing gods and goddesses in Hercules), we went to the Crayola Factory (and not a moment too soon, my oldest, not-a-drawer, had all but aged out of there), and I had my eyebrows threaded (less painful than waxing, but took longer, so a bit of a wash). Lots of things were checked off the old summer list--yay! In between, we tucked in Daddy Days, more of the 100 picture books, more games, a trip to the beach, and a cousin visit. The scare of August has commenced--time to squeeze in all of summer that we can!

This week:

Monday: yogurt-marinated chicken (yes, I'm obsessed), CSA veggies

Tuesday: taco Tuesday!

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: freezer food. I have some chili in there and a few other things just waiting for the defrost.

Friday: Take me out to the ball game!

We had my in-laws for dinner and had a summer feast, courtesy of Dinner: A Love Story. (I really need to move on but I'm having a crush.) We had two different meats, the yogurt-marinated chicken and Tony's flank steak. The steak was terrific except we didn't slice it thin enough. But still--yum. That is a new one in the rotation. For sides, I made the lemony smashed potatoes, a mozzarella and tomato salad, green beans, and corn on the cob. Amazing. And, double bonus, all gluten-free for my father-in-law, who's been having some gastric issues. No one missed the gluten, that's for sure!

I made the massaman curry in the slow cooker, even though it broke one of my rules of slow cooker cooking. I prefer the "throw it all in with minimal prep" version and this included browning meat on the stove. But I tried it anyway. I tend to agree it was a little too liquidy, so next time I'll use one can of beef broth instead of two cups. But there probably will be a next time; it was really good, mild but clear Indian influence, awesome over rice. I'm not a huge fan of chuck roast, though, so I might try it again with something else, though I'm not sure what.

I've been doing lots of reading lately...The Hunger Games as I mentioned, and now I'm just waiting for book 3. I also read some other kid/ya lit...A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer, in hopes my kids would like it, but they did not; and The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, which I enjoyed but they did not. My book groups are reading Love in the Time of Cholera and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I'm trying to read the Bible in 90 Days but I am woefully behind (but not out!). I finished Temple Grandin's first book, Emergence: Labeled Autistic, and it was a good insight in to the world of an autistic child and reminded me to wait wait wait for my kids to catch up to themselves. I finally finished Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, by Kate Braestrup. I won it from Ready, Set, Wife! and was so excited; I love Kate's writing and her story is so hard and so compelling. And then the book literally slipped off my bedstand and I just found it again. But it was kind of at the right time: one of her (literal) lessons is to fill in the blank: Nothing is more important than _____________. And she goes in to a lot of different riffs on the theme and it was kind of what I needed to hear right now. How would I finish that sentence? Right now? Tomorrow? (Not for the blanks, though that would work too, really.) I finished Super Sad True Love Story though it pained me. So much promise, so fell off a cliff. And I'm with my friend who thought he was too misogynistic to be borne. She's not wrong. There were some others but I can't remember them anymore, which is why I wanted to get these down.

Anyway. More lazy August days of reading ahead...for more meal plan reading, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!