Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A week of meals made simple

Today I’m going to talk about meal planning. I do this, most of the time and it makes a lot of things go more smoothly in my kitchen.

First of all I have a master list. It contains 40 or more meals that my family enjoys eating. On the list are also recipes, if I need a recipe to remember how to make it, and an ingredients list for each item. One day a week, Sundays lately because we do our Trader Joe’s shopping on Sundays, I sit down and plan the meals for the next week. I try to first take into account what we already have that needs to be used up, especially in terms of fresh produce and meat. I also like to try one new recipe a week and incorporate it into my meal plan and shopping list. Once I have the meals planned I check the ingredients lists for those meal against what I already have and write a shopping list for the missing ingredients, as well as breakfast and lunch staples. I keep a magnetized list on the side of my fridge and write down anything that we run out of or that I remember we need during the course of the week. This also goes on the shopping list. I then write down in my day timer a reminder to take anything out of the freezer or start things in the crock-pot the night before a meal is planned if it is needed, it really helps with getting dinner on the table everyday.

One thing that I really like to do is meal plan to make my life easier and utilize leftovers. For example, here is a sample of a week of meals at my house.

Sunday: We have company for dinner. I roast two large chickens with a spicy saffron and lemon and ginger and garlic and garam masala rub that they sit in for several hours before roasting. We also eat rice and salad and some appetizers and roasted brussel sprouts.

Monday: I warm up some of the leftover chicken and serve it along with black beans flavored with cumin and chili and oregano and salt and pepper and cilantro that I started in the crock-pot that morning, and brown rice, and salad. Monday night I take what is left of the two chickens after dinner and put them in the crock-pot and cover them with water to simmer. They cook all day Tuesday.

Tuesday: We eat quinoa and lentils for dinner prepared with chili peppers and other spices, cooked peas, and raw carrot sticks and broccoli florets and red pepper slices. (I don’t feel like making salad.)

Wednesday: I drain the soup broth and remove the meat from the bones to add back to the broth. I add the leftover black beans and rice from Monday, the leftover lentils from Tuesday, some Dahl that I have in the freezer in tiny amounts for flavoring soups because I made too much one night and it was a little too salty but is perfect for adding flavor to soup broths, and added some celery and fresh kale and parsley at the end for dinner that night. We eat it with salad and sprouted grain toast.

Thursday: The kids want noodles. I make a tomato sauce with whole-wheat rigatoni and ground beef. In the summer I often have homemade tomato sauce. When tomatoes are in season and a good price I make big batches of sauce and either freeze or can them for later. But it’s February, so I use store bought canned and ground beef out of the freezer. Any leftovers will be lunch the next day.

Friday: This is our special dinner day since we keep Shabbat. On this day is when I usually try out a nicer recipe. In the morning I start the Challah bread, which is super simple once you’ve done it a few times. After lunch I start dinner prep. which this time is marinating a London broil to grill in Thyme and garlic and fresh ground pepper and red wine and olive oil. I try out two new side dishes, one with broccoli and olives that I like but no one else does and fennel root with blood oranges and broth. I also make scalloped potatoes and salad.

Saturday: We eat the leftover soup from Wednesday with the leftover Challah. We have roast beef sandwiches for lunch from the rest of the London broil. Sandwiches at our house are productions involving gourmet mustard, specialty cheeses, those tasty spicy pickles, and chopped pepperoncinis and olives, and often some whole-wheat sourdough from Trader Joe’s.

Sunday: I make cheeseburgers. We eat the leftover scalloped potatoes also and salad.

Salad is made of whatever I have in the fridge. So this week the base of greens was romaine lettuce and arugula. I have been adding Italian parsley leaves and cilantro to all of my salads recently because it makes them taste really fresh. I also had some fennel leaves last week so I threw them in there. Sometimes that’s the salad, and we have a choice of dressings. I put different toppings on it for variety. Sunday was apples and raisins and walnuts, Monday it was red peppers and celery and broccoli and sunflower seeds, Wednesday it was just greens, Thursday I made a caesar salad using Brianna’ Asiago Caesar dressing, juice of half a lime and fresh ground pepper over the greens base, this tastes so good with the cilantro and parsley added. I also throw in celery for crunch and black olives. I don’t like croutons. Friday I think it was greens with fennel, blood oranges, goat cheese, walnuts and a limejuice balsamic vinaigrette. I think at this point you get the idea.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Every night I fill my crockpot up with whole grain oats, barley, and millet, add water and spices and leave it to cook while I sleep. It’s great, my kids can get themselves breakfast without waking me, (Huge bonus when I’m awake all night with the Baby) my husband has something ready to eat when he leaves at whatever gawdawful time of the morning and we all get a healthy breakfast out of the deal. Every morning after breakfast I take the empty crockpot and put it in the sink to soak off all of the grain that got hard and stuck to the sides as it cooked so that I can clean it and do everything again the next night. I have two crockpots so fortunately this doesn’t slow me down if I’m making dinner in the crockpot, which I do a lot lately because the short people all seem to be at their crankiest in the hour before dinner time and it’s nice to already have the meal prepared so I can spend time with them instead, and the kitchen isn’t as messy either because I’ve had time to clean up.

Anyway, yesterday while going through the multitude of helpful tips at Works for me Wednesday hosted by the lovely Shannon of Rocks in My Dryer, (Does anyone not know about this yet?) I found this one. And it has me wondering why on earth I didn’t think of that I’ve after all seen a bain-marie used for bread pudding many times. The benefit to this, besides not wasting the grain that gets stuck to the side and turning crunchy is that the crockpot stays clean. I like this idea so much I’m going back and changing this recipe to include this handy tip.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How to make Chocolate dipped strawberries

This is what I'm making for Valentine's Day this year. It's actually pretty good for you, fresh fruit, dark chocolate which has relatively little fat or sugar, and not too heavy. They are very simple and decadent. Here's how to make them.

Start with a double boiler. If you don't have one you can improvise with a metal bowl that can rest safely inside of a saucepan without touching the bottom. Fill the sauce pan with water and bring to a bowl.

Use some high quality dark chocolate. Trader Joe's sells large bars of Belgian chocolate that is good for melting.

Melt the chocolate in the double boiler.

Dip the strawberries halfway into the chocolate and place on a tray covered with wax paper to cool.

These can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 hours.

I will probably also dip some green grapes as well.

I will lightly grease a heart shaped ice cube tray and pour the remaining chocolate into the molds. Once chilled these will slide out and be cute little heart shaped chocolate treats.

I'm thinking about seafood for dinner because the GH likes seafood. I have some frozen scallops and shrimp but no firm plans yet.

What are you doing?

Monday, February 12, 2007

many bits of this and that

I feel as though I’ve been neglecting this little blog the last little while. My mother was here, and she not only set an impossible standard when it comes to number of books read in one sitting to my children, she cooked for me. Yay mommy! She likes to leave my freezer full of food when she leaves so that it’s easier for me to get dinner ready for a few months with the baby. Since I have a tiny freezer, we experimented with some fun ideas, as well as some tried and true methods.

First I’ll tell you the tried and true. Mom would never buy anything prepackaged at the supermarket. I’m not sure if this was because she was aware of how unhealthy most of it was, or if her innately thrifty nature was repelled at the thought of paying extra to have someone do what she could so herself. Why buy canned beans when you can make them from dry and for one-third the cost of canned? Why buy spaghetti sauce when you can make your own? Why buy snack pockets and pizza pockets when you can make your own? Don’t believe me? You can. I spent my entire childhood taking these things for lunch at school. Since we’re talking about my mom and childhood, I’ll tell you a story. And then I’ll tell you how to make your own meal pockets.

By the time I was in junior high I was supposed to make my own lunches, which was simple since it meant going to the freezer for premade pockets, or making a sandwich, the fridge was always full of fresh vegetables and fruit, so it wasn’t hard. But some days I would forget a lunch, some days I wouldn’t have time. It took about 5 minutes to walk to school so we didn’t live that far away. I would phone my mom sometime after first period and tell her I didn’t have a lunch if she didn’t already know and she would bring me one. (She always did, every one cheer for my saintly food providing mother who never said, “Too bad kid, I guess you’ll be hungry at lunch time.” Maybe she wanted me to get good grades in my afternoon classes too.) Remember my mom is a caterer and has a talent for making food pretty. So my lunch would be something like a tuna salad on whole wheat with pickles on the outside, she never put pickles or tomatoes in the sandwich; that would make them soggy. Then I would get carrot and celery sticks, an apple and an orange, maybe some dip or homemade crackers. Nutritious but boring right? Wrong! First, it was never in a bag, it was on a disposable Styrofoam or plastic tray, she liked to reuse stuff. The sandwich would be cut diagonally and laid on its side the sliced pickle would be wrapped in cellophane and arranged in a fan across or beside the sandwich. The carrots would be in the shape of flowers, or in really thinly sliced curls, the apple and orange would be sliced and arranged in a circle that looked like a flower alternating apple then orange then apple again, which kept the sliced apples from turning brown. The tray would appear in the office just before lunch hour with my name on it, and I would get paged with threats like, “Carrien you’re lunch is here, and if you don’t hurry up the principal says he’s going to eat it, if he can fight the rest of us off.” Yes I was spoiled. It was actually plainer than most everyone else’s lunch, I didn’t have chips or cookies or Lunchables or pudding or any of the things the other kids were eating but they were all jealous of my lunch, maybe because I had a mom who would take the time to make it special. Needless to say, I was not one of the kids trading their healthy lunch with another kid for their processed fatty snacks. I just remembered that, but it once again goes to show that if you just take a little more time to take pleasure in your food, if you make it look appetizing, you and your family will enjoy it more. Eating is something we need to do every day, why not take pleasure in it?

I do not do things nearly as elaborately as my mother though I do like to at least put it in nice serving dishes, but I’m remembering while she’s here all the little tricks she had to make eating fun, and I’m sure my kids will want carrot and cucumber flowers after she’s gone, and mini tuna patties that they can eat with their hands, and pickle fans and my freezer will be full of “Turnovers” aka. meal pockets.

Turnover Recipe

Make pastry.

I use olive oil instead of lard, I’ve been doing it so long that I honestly forget the exact proportions because I’ve gotten very good at eyeballing. I think you substitute about the same amount of olive oil as you would lard in a basic recipe. I also use whole-wheat pastry flour, which is milled finer than regular flour and makes a big difference in how it turns out since whole-wheat flour is naturally grittier. I add a pinch of salt and a lump or two of butter for flavor. If you don’t like that taste of extra virgin oil you can use the “light” second press stuff, or canola oil for that matter. The beauty of this is that it’s a healthy oil and super fast because it just takes seconds to mix with a fork instead of all that cutting that you need to do with lard. Add warm water a little bit at a time until it just starts to stick together when you pinch it and all the flour is absorbed. Put it in the fridge for a while, this give times for the gluten strands to stretch and get sticky so that it rolls easier. Most things made with whole-wheat flour do better if you can let them sit for a while for this reason, because it’s lower gluten.

Anyway, once you have pastry. Make fillings, these can be as simple or elaborate as you like. You can use cubes of ham and cheese, you can use barbequed pork you can use broccoli and cheese, spicy lentils, beans, thick chili, ground beef, potatoes and onions, you can make these whatever flavors that you enjoy. (You can also put in fruit fillings like what you would use for pies for a dessert pastry.)

Roll out the pastry cut out circles approximately 5 inches in diameter, larger if you want them bigger, put a spoonful of filling in the middle, using a bit of water or egg white wet the circumference of the circle, fold the pastry in half and press the edges closed with fingers or a fork.

Then place on a baking sheet and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes at 450F.

The trick to these being convenient is to take one day a month and make a gigantic batch, I loved helping make them when I was little, and then put them in the freezer. Pull them out and put them in lunches, they’re thawed by lunch, and if you like using a microwave you can warm them up just the same as the pockets you find in the freezer aisle. Only they taste better.

Here is my favorite filling.

Tuna Filling (Also good for sandwiches)

1 can tuna

1/4 cup prepared mustard

1/4tsp chili paste

6 pepperoncinis chopped

1/2 cup grated cheese

Here is a not too sweet apple filling.

4 granny smith apples-sliced

2 tbsp limejuice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp cornstarch

Stir it all together

I like to add ground fennel as well if I have it but it’s not necessary.

(This is a really simple dessert even without pastry, just bake in a dish in the oven and serve with plain yogurt on top.)

Oh yeah. My last midwife appointment I weighed 161. That’s a seven-pound loss from where I started at 168. Since the baby was 7 weeks old I assumed it was a pound a week that I was losing, which is a perfectly healthy respectable rate of weight loss. Then I realized that when I weighed myself before the baby was already 3 weeks, which means I’m almost at my goal of losing 1 1/2lbs per week. Yay. That’s pretty remarkable since my birthday was in there and the Genius husband made me the most chocolaty rich cake you have ever tasted. Don’t believe me?
The bottom layer was a French flourless chocolate cake recipe. He brushed port onto this layer.
The next layer was a dark chocolate ganashe flavored with chai liqueur. The layer after that was made of dark chocolate shaving and another ganashe. The top layer was brownies, mmm I love brownies, and he topped the whole thing with another layer of dark chocolate. (Half of it is still in the freezer.) I had many tiny slices over my birthday week.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

This is for Dave

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while and then I read this post by Mama Tulip. After I got finished laughing I remembered this salad, which my husband invented, and most of hid guy friends who don’t touch salad in general will eat a lot of this. Maybe it’s because there’s no lettuce.

You will need, in approximately equal amounts

Broccoli Florets
Bell peppers
Cut them all salad size and place in a bowl.

Add one 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained, and if you want to splurge just a little, some low fat feta cheese finishes it quite nicely.

The dressing is what is fun. Chop very small a half cup of garlic stuffed olives, 1/2 cup pepperoncinis, add one half cup balsamic vinegar, on half cup olive oil, add salt and fresh ground pepper. Let dressing sit to allow all flavors to blend. Just before serving pour on salad and mix.

It's a great low index, high fiber dinner with protein.

You can also add grilled chicken breast cubed, to make it more meal like.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Girl has decided she loves Gorgonzola cheese. She first discovered it in a salad with strawberries and walnuts and bean sprouts on spinach with Annie's rasberry vinaigrette so I naturally assumed that those things had something to do with her eating it, that was until she started eating it all by itself in little handfuls, and I started vacuming out of the rug before it got mashed in. (We have a carpeted eating area, whose brilliant idea was that I wonder?)

So I thought for sure she'd eat the baked brie that I made for my birthday. Brie, wrapped in light flaky pastry, all warm and gooie, what's not to like, right? Well, she didn't like it, put it down after two bites.

The Boy claims to not like either, though he ate the Gorgonzola in the salad and I caught him pulling gooie bits off of the Brie and putting them in his mouth. Oh well, I guess it's back to parmesan, and asiago, and romano, and feta, and goat cheese, and of course chedder.

I bought them some string cheese a while ago, they begged, I decided to try it after all it's cheese right? They wouldn't eat it, wouldn't finish a piece, so I tasted it. That has got to be the nastiest cheese I've ever encountered. I guess it really is working to feed them real food.
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