Monday, January 28, 2013

MPM--Whoops, That Monday Just Got Away From Me

Well, and just like that, it's Monday already, and me without a post. All is well, just work is perking along, and kids are in a lot of activities and it's January and cold and snowy, and there's just a lot of the minutiae of life. And I couldn't be more grateful for it.

This week:

Monday: potato leek soup for parents, chicken nuggets for boys, kale chips

Tuesday: God bless Taco Tuesday.

Wednesday: Wednesday Spaghetti again. "I don't like pasta" boy has become "I only don't like spaghetti," so as long as I make a different shape for him, we are good to go. Hurrah! And I'm now addicted to Rao's sauce (which I only buy on megasale at the ShopRite for $4.99 because hello, even that is a crazy price for sauce).

Thursday: Leftover pork roast from Sunday, baked or mashed potatoes, depending on my level of ambition,

Friday: Pizza night. Yes, again.

Eating down the cabinets is going pretty well; I tried making the quinoa last week with chicken broth this time and for whatever reason, it came out gloppier and was not as big a hit. I don't know why I keep messing with success; after I try to tweak something, they often stop eating it entirely because the one tweak turned them off to the idea of that food forever. Very frustrating--both that they stop liking the tweaked food, and that I cannot seem to learn to leave well enough alone!

But they they go and switch things up on me (that's their job, though, right?); I made the cider cream chicken at the end of last week, and it was roundly dismissed by the boys, who nibbled around it and ate the rice. Wait a few days, and we brought it back out, scraped off as much sauce as we could to disguise it, only to watch both boys tuck it away, saying it was delicious. The older one even poured the end of the sauce over his rice and ate it with a spoon. Wonders may never cease. I really just need to keep saying the "big picture...big picture..." mantra here.

The Smitten Kitten broccoli "pesto" was not well received by the kids but I found it to be an excellent baked potato topping.

I also tried the Clover Lane salad dressing because I totally agree with her that once you make homemade (and the hardest part is finding a shaker bottle), it's hard to go back to store bought. I liked it a lot and it gave my kids a great lesson in emulsions, which was awesome as part of their Martin Luther King learning was about global water issues, and why oil and water don't mix but don't separate well either. The emulsion blew their minds. But back to salad dressings. My total favorite right now is Catherine Newman's (with white vinegar and marjoram, see sidebar); I also love the buttermilk dressing on the sidebar and sometimes I need to switch things up just a little. The hardest part for me is that I have been trying to keep a food log on Lose It, and all this homemade stuff is hard to log. But this is the epitome of a first world problem and a dumb reason not to do something. (Especially with how easy CalorieKing is to use.) Now: does anyone have a good homemade ranch recipe?

In a fit of snowy day cooking, I made the Hungarian mushroom soup a friend on Facebook raved about; it went over well, and would be even better over noodles in a faux-stroganoff kind of way. I made it with vegetable broth (what I had) instead of chicken and it was still good. Not sure it can be veganized further but at least it made it vegetarian and my husband ate it all too.

Finally, in a long-delayed (cabinet cleanout) project, I made the Two Fat Als toffee-almond-coconut cookies. I still love them like crazy but they are no 10-minute bake time cookie. While they are by no means healthy with all the sugar and flour, I do like the oatmeal/coconut/almond aspect and when they are finally done 20 minutes later, they are still chewy inside and have a great mouth feel, but they harden pretty dramatically. In that way they are a "tough cookie"--too little and they are clearly underbaked; too much and they are hard on the teeth. But--yum!

Last crowdsourcing of the night: anyone have a warming drawer/"double" oven in a single oven space that they love? It's new appliance time at Chez MemeGRL and while the old stove and I are on decent terms, it's time for a new one. I'm a little sorry to see her go; she and I have an understanding now. I know how to get her to the temperatures I need by feel, and I know which burner does rice perfectly or browns beef as needed. But one burner doesn't work; neither does the clock, the timer, or the broiler, so while we are appliance sale-ing anyway, it's time. Off topic, same goes if you have a washer or dryer you love or hate--I'm all ears.

Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! to see other, better prepared lists!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

MPM--Ups and Downs

So, here we are, in the midst of a 3 day weekend, after a rousing performance by our older son in the Martin Luther King assembly this week. We were so proud--he was so good, and (even more critically) he liked it. I will get him to a drama camp yet! But it won't be soon; things crept up on me and the activities schedule is a little out of control this season, so we're dialing back. Still, it is overall going well; our older one, who is less interested in sports, had his best game yet in basketball; our younger is playing soccer twice a week with almost all his friends and loves it; and they are both still enjoying the language classes so it's a win, it's just busy. So even though Christmas break was so recently we just got the tree decorations away, I'm enjoying the long weekend. I hope you are too.

Monday: Apple cider chicken (link below), rice, salad

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, praise be.

Wednesday: Little guy is begging for Wednesday Spaghetti. We will fly solo this week (ie, not inviting any other families) but we'll do it. I am really jonesing to have all the Christmas bills done by Valentine's Day so lots of eating from the cabinet this week and spaghetti fits right in to the plan. However, I think I will try to not completely abandon the seven new meals challenge (some do 14 days; I'm calling all January) with this Smitten Kitchen broccoli pesto. If I call it pesto, it just might work.

Thursday: More cabinet/freezer eating: pesto quinoa for boys, leftovers and quinoa salad tbd for grownups.

Friday: We are definitely back in Friday night pizza mode. I can live with that.

I am really hoping that things even out eventually with our eaters. And they might! Older one, who has not liked pasta since it became the go-to food of Mr. Picky, went back for thirds one night. (Not that I'm such a fan of pushing noodles, but the principle of it was nice.) Of course the chicken I made (the apple cider chicken recipe) was only moderately received by the boys, who are very distrustful of any sauce not named A1 (oh, I exaggerate, ketchup and the Wasabi Ginger are hits too), but my husband and I liked the apple-shallot sauce, and the sour cream actually added just the right amount of creaminess. So I would make it again, but the boys won't eat it...sigh. And--it's not very fast. There were three of us cooking together to make it, which was great, I loved having the company, but it really showed me how long it takes me to prep food. This many years in to it, I'd hoped to be quicker, but no luck so far.

Same goes for the Moroccan Chicken recipe. I knew this wouldn't be quick but I really am the world's slowest chopper. I watch Rachael Ray and despair--if I could chop that quickly I might be able to make a 30 minute meal too but that is not in my skill set. OTOH--with all prechopped root vegetables, this would come together pretty easily, but then it would also cost a mint (and wasn't cheap to begin with). I bought what I thought were rutabagas but I think were turnips, and used parsnips (which I'm very fond of) and sweet potatoes only because I wasn't buying another root vegetable since they are not big hits around here. It still worked. And as a note--this would be easy to veganize--I didn't have a lot of chicken breasts left so it's very heavy on the veggies, but that's not a bad thing at all. Neither boy ate it but my husband asked for it twice in a row so that counts as a winner.

And in one more new year, new thing idea, I joined Pinterest. I am not a very visual thinker though, so it's leaving me a little cold. But I will follow my best friend just about anywhere online, so there we are. It is a good place to gather recipes, for sure.

Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! for more inspired meal ideas and have a great week everyone!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

MPM--Well, That Didn't Go Well At All

Well, that didn't go well at all--theme of the week, if you read last week's post. If you know anything about football, you know how Monday night ended. Then Wednesday, I pulled the lunches out of the fridge, saw how empty it was, and thought, huh, I forget what we're having for dinner tonight. But I know I did a meal plan, and I know I knew it had to be easy, so I'm sure it's ... somewhere. And then of course I looked at the blog so I could see if I needed to pick up anything and voila--I knew all that and STILL did not, in fact, actually make a plan. DinnerFail. Even my snarky comment about the walk-to-school day? Undeserved--it was over 40 degrees, sunny, and no breeze, so the kids had a great time.

So much for my great prognostication.

On the other hand, my "try new things" resolution (I know--it's an awful resolution, nothing definite or plannable) is going well; the Wednesday Spaghetti was followed up by doing the online Jeopardy! contestant exam. They will not call me (who knew Grover Cleveland was elected twice? I knew *someone* was, but my ability to name him went somewhere up the Mekong River--another answer I didn't know). But I'm glad I tried, and on to the next. The kids want to learn to ski and I want to learn to let them. And archery might be a fun family plan as well. And the kids started a karate class last week and loved it, so that's new for them. Finally, we tried a new-to-us pizza place (Venice Pizza, if you are local); it was yummy, but not very different, except that they had a delicious gnocchi bake that worked perfectly with my post flu shot exhaustion. (I am such a wuss--thank goodness I just got the shot and not the flu, I'd be a wreck.)

I know, it's getting late in January for resolutions. But that's how we roll. And I'm not resolving to change--just trying, little by little, to get better at this in real life, and not to care too much about it on the blog.

This week:

Monday:  Ok, Dinner A Love Story, you win. I'm not sure I'll try seven new dishes in 14 days, but I'm adding some to the rotation this week. Apple cider chicken, rice, asparagus.

Tuesday: Back to Taco Tuesday. Ahhh.

Wednesday: Moroccan Chicken Stew, thanks to Two Fat Als (I miss them but I totally get the not posting), rice, maybe a salad.

Thursday: Apple sausage bake, broccoli.

Friday: Hoping for leftovers. Otherwise--back to the freezer, which is fine!

Go check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for more inspiration...or keep reading for my thoughts on chicken, below.

So it wasn't new, but it was a revelation all over again: I don't think I make a better anything than the Armagnac Chicken. So I was horrified to learn that the link I have the recipe tied to is now firewalled. I rescued it and have it here now. The one change: I now have a larger enameled pot and will use it to quintuple the veggies. Oh, I kid, but really? I would cheerfully skip the meat and sop up the veggies with some crusty bread and call it a day. I about doubled the potatoes and carrots (I used baby carrots and threw in 12-15) and it was not even close to enough--and this is without kids who eat them. So next time--at least a half pound of baby carrots, lots of potatoes, and at least double the onions to keep them proportionate.

M. Jacques’s Armagnac Chicken
Serves 4.
From “Around My French Table,” by Dorie Greenspan.
This recipe, une petite merveille (a little marvel), as the French would say, was given to me years ago by Jacques Drouot, the maître d’hôtel at the famous Le Dôme brasserie in Paris and an inspired home cook. I’ve been making it regularly ever since. It’s one of those remarkable dishes that is comforting, yet more sophisticated than you’d expect (or really have any right to demand, given the basic ingredients and even more basic cooking method).
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
8 small thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 carrots, trimmed, peeled and thickly sliced on the diagonal
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 chicken, about 3½ pounds, preferably organic, trussed (or wings turned under and feet tied together with kitchen string), at room temperature
½ cup Armagnac (Cognac or other brandy)
1 cup water.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You’ll need a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting cover, one large enough to hold the chicken snugly but still leave room for the vegetables. (I use an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.)
Put the casserole over medium heat and pour in the oil. When it’s warm, toss in the vegetables and turn them around in the oil for a minute or two until they glisten; season with salt and white pepper. Stir in the herbs and push everything toward the sides of the pot to make way for the chicken. Rub the chicken all over with salt and white pepper, nestle it in the pot, and pour the Armagnac around it. Leave the pot on the heat for a minute to warm the Armagnac, then cover it tightly — if your lid is shaky, cover the pot with a piece of aluminum foil and then put the cover in place.
Slide the casserole into the oven and let the chicken roast undisturbed for 60 minutes.
Transfer the pot to the stove, and carefully remove the lid and the foil, if you used it — make sure to open the lid away from you, because there will be a lot of steam. After admiring the beautifully browned chicken, very carefully transfer it to a warm platter or, better yet, a bowl; cover loosely with a foil tent.
Using a spoon, skim off the fat that will have risen to the top of the cooking liquid and discard it; pick out the bay leaf and discard it too. Turn the heat to medium, stir the vegetables gently to dislodge any that might have stuck to the bottom of the pot, and add the water, stirring to blend it with the pan juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens ever so slightly, then taste for salt and pepper.
Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and sauce.
You can bring the chicken to the table whole, surrounded by the vegetables, and carve it in public, or you can do what I do, which is to cut the chicken into quarters in the kitchen, then separate the wings from the breasts and the thighs from the legs. I arrange the pieces in a large shallow serving bowl, spoon the vegetables into the center, moisten everything with a little of the sauce and then pour the remainder of the elixir into a sauce boat to pass at the table.
I can’t imagine that you’ll have anything left over, but if you do, you can reheat the chicken and vegetables — make sure there’s some sauce, so nothing dries out — covered in a microwave oven.
Bonne idée
Armagnac and prunes are a classic combination in France. If you’d like, you can toss 8 to 12 prunes, pitted or not, into the pot along with the herbs. If your prunes are pitted and soft, they might pretty much melt during the cooking, but they’ll make a sweet, lovely addition to the mix.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

MPM--2013 Is Already Old Hat

Oh, I kid. It's a shiny new year and all, and it was a terrific break, but we are right back in the swing and I couldn't be more grateful. Is life perfect? Of course not. But it is as perfect as life gets and I am reminded of that every single day.

So the big news from last week: we actually did it--we hosted a Wednesday Spaghetti! And it was awesome, except for my own flipping kids who took advantage of the chaos to (are you ready?) get another concussion--this time on the other child. And to be fair--it wasn't a concussion--it missed one benchmark for a concussion but was a serious enough bonk on the head to earn concussion treatment, though thankfully only for a week.

So, head injuries aside--it was great. We invited our street +1, for a total of 20 houses, plus our backyard neighbors whose street has zero kids besides theirs. And of the 20 houses--14 had at least one member come! At peak, we had about 40 people here, 12 of whom were kids, which is about capacity for our house. We took the leap because: 1) it was the day after our traditional January 1 party, so the party stuff was out and cleaned; 2) we both had the day off; 3) we'd been talking about it for years; 4) the type-A side of us loved the idea of knocking out a resolution on Day 2 of the year; and 5) we went to three funerals that week and were in a bit more of a carpe diem mindset than usual.

About 15 of the 20 houses have the same blueprints, so it's fun to go see what other people have done (or what former owners have done), and gives something immediate to share. About 4 of the families agreed that by putting "It's not a party; it's dinner. It's a school night, it's a work night, this is just a chance to catch up and be together before going home to get ready for the next day," attendance was definitely increased. The novelty factor definitely played in to it too. Oldest guests were in their 70s; youngest were first graders (and four of them!). Next time, I would use spaghetti instead of angel hair (too sticky; shells or rotini would be even better). We ran out of meatballs (and we had a lot of meatballs!) early, but awesomely, our neighbors had some in the fridge, ran home to get them, and saved the day. We had a ton of bread (breadsticks, garlic bread, homemade bread...), three salads, and some dessert.

So, with that euphoria done...on to another week. My obsession blog, Dinner: A Love Story, is having a 7 Nights challenge, and while you have 14 days to do it, I'm not sure I'm up to it. But I might try. We'll see. For's the plan.

Monday: Insert the Notre Dame fight song here! Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame! Cannot wait for this night. Still working out plans--not sure if any of my husband's ND buddies will join for festivities but we are Decked Out in blue and gold, the colors of Our Lady. Football food! Pigs in a blanket, buffalo chicken meatballs, brats...oh, and I'll find a vegetable somewhere.

Tuesday: My poor taco monster hasn't had a Taco Tuesday in weeks, but this isn't it either. Of course, don't feel TOO sorry for him; it is the night of the Lego Build so he'll have something gross from the food court to mollify him.

Wednesday: A crazy day--it's Walk to School Day (really, in 20 degree weather? Is this going to encourage them in any way?), and dentist appointments, and my Mothers & More meeting, so something easy is in store.

Thursday: Maybe we'll try for Taco Thursdays in the new year. It'll at least work this week.

Friday: I'm always tired on Friday, so this will be a freezer meal kind of night for us.

Go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! for more inspirational meal plans, and Go Irish!