Monthly Archives: April 2010

Happy cow, cranky boys

This week’s meals were a mash-up of simplicity and duplicity with mixed results, to no surprise.

We started out easy with salmon burgers on Monday.  No problem there.  By Tuesday fish sauce worked its way into the ingredient list.  It was noticed. Kale showed up on Wednesday and was largely ignored by the boys. Then, adding injury to insult, I substituted veggie “protein crumbles” for ground beef in the tacos on Thursday.  We nearly had an all-out revolt. Fortunately I had fish sticks as a back-up (I know what you’re thinking, but they do fit into taco shells quite nicely).

So what was I thinking? Truth is that I started the week with little time or energy to think about a meal plan.  Menus were scribbled on a card, scratched out and revised daily.  We did end up with a couple of winners but largely, meals were spontaneously created from ingredents on hand.  Here’s how it shook out:

Monday: Salmon burgers on Orowheat Sandwich Thins; spicy roasted broccoli; french fries; arugula and fennel salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

Tuesday: Thai pork chops with spicy vegetable salad*; rice.  *Excellent recipe from Sheila Lukins’ cookbook “Ten” – featuring her top 10 recipes in several food categories.

Wednesday: Chicken with carrots and olives; rice; sauteed kale with garlic

Thursday (a new low in culinary depravity): Tacos with veggie crumbles or fish sticks, cheese and salsa; corn; “margarita” cole slaw (a spontaneous concoction of shredded savoy cabbage, diced carrots and a dressing of mayonnaise and Trader Joe’s margarita mix) and … margaritas, of course!

Friday: Sole with orange brown butter; polenta with goat cheese and rosemary; caesar salad.

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Super foodie blog at the NYT

Wow … check this out: The New York Times combines its eating, drinking and cooking blogs into one: The Diner’s Journal. The blog features posts from Mark Bittman’s Bitten, The Pour and Diner’s Journal into “one free-range superblog.” Noted:

“Contributors include Eric Asimov, Mark Bittman, Glenn Collins, Florence Fabricant, Nick Fox, Julia Moskin, Sam Sifton, Kim Severson, Samantha Storey, Emily Weinstein, Pete Wells and others, Diner’s Journal embraces news and opinion about cooking, wine, restaurants and other matters culinary.”

Yet another distraction for foodies.  Ok, back to work now …

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King of Fish – Salmon in the Oven

Marinating Salmon

As a native Easterner, I love the fact that Seattle is passionate about salmon.

Watching spawning salmon in wild streams is a special weekend outing in autumn. On a hot day in summer you can see these magnificent fish leap at the Ballard locks. Native tribal lore and conservationists’ efforts keep salmon top of mind year-round in the Pacific Northwest.

I particularly love the fact we have five species to appreciate. Soon after moving to Seattle I put King, or Chinook, right at the top of my list.  So I was happy to see that Mark Bittman finally got with the program, as my husband would say, and recently declared troll-caught Alaskan king salmon as the king of fish. He offers a simple recipe with few flavors to compete with the richness of the King fillet.

Mark Bittman's Salmon c/o NY Times

I’ll save Mark’s recipe “Gently Cooked Salmon with Mashed Potatoes” for another day. I perused scores of fish recipes last Friday before settling on a selection from Whole Foods recipes: Saffron-roasted salmon with tomato fennel compote. The salmon in this case was Sockeye salmon, flash frozen at sea.  Sockeye is a bit drier and not as rich as King, thus my interest in the compote.  Anything with fennel and leeks and capers had to be good.  And it was doubly good.

YouAteThat photo
Saffron-roasted salmon with tomato fennel compote; quinoa pilaf and asparagus

In the future I might  dissect this recipe and use the marinade for fish or chicken and prep the compote to accompany risotto, polenta or other fish. This time, the recipe was intact.  And with toasted quinoa pilaf and steamed asparagus, the salmon made our meal worthy of a date night at home.

Fish on Friday, I like it.

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Friday night fish – 396 options and more

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m pondering dinner plans.  Fresh fish feels right. Just discovered our local fishmonger has 396 recipes listed on his website. And then I have a few new apps on the iPhone that are begging for attention: Whole Foods recipes; Big Oven; Epicurious.

Decisions, decisions. Stay tuned for results!

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Mac ‘n mess, thanks to Madonna

A scapegoat comes in handy when dinner flops. Tonight I had a couple – Madonna and a conniving character named Sue Sylvester.

http://www.fox.com/watch/glee

Glee's homage to Madonna = dinner disaster

I had decided to catch up on “Glee” while making dinner. The whole episode was devoted to Madonna songs – much to this material girl’s delight – and the highlight was a highly-styled black and white video of the evil Sue doing “Vogue.” It was a  major distraction that turned my effort at homemade macaroni and cheese with ham into a curdled mess.  “Is this soup?” Son #1 asked innocently.

I confess, I should have read the directions more carefully.  A reviewer mentioned stirring the cream sauce constantly to avoid curdles. It’s hard to do that and keep a beat. And I was reading the recipe on my iPhone — my first effort to use the Epicurious app. Another excuse. Waah! Diligent and focused cooks could give the recipe a spin.  I, however, will return to Annie’s boxes next time.

This week hasn’t been a stellar experience in the kitchen.  Last night I was crashing on a deadline so my husband wrestled together hot dogs and beans. God love him! Monday night’s highlight was round two on a yummy salad found on Epicurious:  Roasted Red Peppers and Cauliflower with Caper Vinaigrette.  However, the online recipe is missing the first couple of steps. A kind reviewer retrieved her print copy of Gourmet and provided the missing info, but it’s buried deep in the reviews. The recipe is worth the effort to patch together the steps so here are the missing details:

Preheat broiler. Quarter bell peppers lengthwise and discard stems, seeds, and ribs. Broil peppers, skin sides up, on a broiler pan about 2 incehse from heat until skins are blistered, 8 to 12 minutes. (Alternatively, roast whole peppers on their sides on racks of gas burners on high, turning with tongs, until skins are blackened, 5 to 8 minutes.) Transfer to a bowl and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. While peppers stand, preheat oven to 450 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Peel peppers and cut each quarter lengthwise into 2 or 3 strips.  (see rest of recipe here)

The cauliflower was a nice side to pan-grilled Aidell’s Chicken Sausages with Roasted Garlic and Gruyere.  We added an iceberg salad with grapefruit, avocado, blue cheese and pecans plus baked potatoes. At least the week started off decently!

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Recycling menus on the meal plan

Now that we’ve passed the 12-week mark on my commitment to maintain a weekly meal-plan for a year, it’s inevitable that some meals would begin to reappear.

For Tuesday’s dinner I was eager to recycle one recipe in particular from Week One: Sausage and White Bean Casserole. The combination of cannellini beans and swiss chard, baked with Italian sausages to flavor the pot, is fabulous.  A time-saving stand-out from Real Simple’s easy recipe collection.

The guys “enjoyed” leftovers Wednesday while I headed to my monthly business dinner (creme brulee for dessert – my little secret now revealed).  I ignored the meal plan on Thursday and dove into the freezer instead for a Costco lasagna. I was ready to hit the kitchen again by Friday.

Salsa Couscous Chicken

For an easy end-of week meal I retrieved the recipe often known as “Million-Dollar Chicken” because a Seattle woman won just that amount for her grand-prize winner in the 1998 Pillsbury Bake-off. (I’m still puzzled why a couscous recipe qualifies for a contest sponsored by a company known for baking products.)  In any case Salsa Couscous Chicken is easy and kid-friendly.  Not a drop left on the boys’ plates.  It’s about time – I struck out with a few meals earlier this week :-/

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Lesson learned: Rethink the “kid-friendly” rating

I had no idea ground chicken could be so sticky. Could it be the first time EVER I had used it in a recipe? Selective memory could have led to me forgetting what a pain the stuff is to work with.

While making chicken burgers Monday night, I fussed about the goo of the ground bird between my fingers and wondered if the seemingly tiny burgers would amount to a substantial meal worth repeating.

As it turns out, the burgers were filling and delish. Clipped out of this month’s Sunset magazine, the recipe for Chicken Burgers with Caramelized Shallots and Blue Cheese was a hit with the adults. It was the topping that got a definite thumbs-down from the boys, despite an icon indicating the recipe was “kid-friendly.” Son #1 was skeptical. “So, did kids tell them that or was it some adult deciding kids would like this?” My husband noted that blue cheese isn’t a kid food. I confess that thought crossed my mind but my adult tastebuds took over.

After last night’s tofu incident, I’m two for two with the boys. Let’s see if I can redeem myself the rest of the week.

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Relaxing weekend faves

Last weekend was nice and easy – hanging close to home after a busy vacation to regroup and yes, cook.  I retrieved two favorite recipes for a relaxed time in the kitchen.

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Corn muffins in the making

Greek Scampi with Orzo – I LOVE this recipe and it’s so easy. It’s my go-to recipe when I find wild domestic shrimp on sale at the market. Another great pick from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. Fortunately a kind soul at Recipezaar has posted the recipe here.  Double the quantity, add orzo and steamed asparagus, and dinner for four is ready.  Yum!

Vegetarian chili with tofu* –  Fresh, healthy and again, a zip to prepare (especially if you have a mate gracious enough to help with the chopping.) My sons aren’t too thrilled about this one (“where’s the meat?”), but that comment cued my husband to launch into one of his favorite mini-lectures: “Beans, they’re the food of the future. Better get used to it.”  You can imagine the reaction of two growing boys who view hamburgers and pizza as diet staples. We start chatting about the value of eating lower on the food chain. Complex topic, and deep enough to stop the complaints about the “toad food” in the chili.

Ironically, we were watching the amazing Life series on Discovery during our chat. TV during dinner is a taboo in our house but on Sunday nights we sometimes make exceptions. Good timing on this one!

*The recipe is by Deborah Madison, a chef I’ve followed for years for anything vegetarian. This recipe originally appeared in Cooking Light magazine. With muffins made from Arrowhead Mills cornbread mix, a chili dinner was a nice way to ease into the new week.

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Yelping works in DC

To Yelp means to cry out in pain. Ironically, that works well in Washington D.C. Our culinary adventure in the nation’s capitol wasn’t quite as exciting as NYC. The density of Manhattan is far more conducive to grazing. Feeding a family in D.C. meant finding nourishment before we collapsed in most cases. You do a lot of walking to see all the highlights in the nation’s capitol. I relied on Yelp to navigate our way.

YouAteThat photo

Sated at Burma

In the spirit of efficiency, here’s a quick look at our finds:

  • Innovative menu, great value – Teaism (3 locations)
  • Cultural adventure on a budget – Burma in Chinatown
  • Authentic atmosphere (and best french fries) – The Tune Inn on Capitol Hill
  • Lovely ‘hood with multiple options at a Metro stop – Ardeo in Cleveland Park
  • Best environment for a hot dog lunch – Hirshhorn Museum gardens
  • Disappointing service – Le Pain Quotidien at Eastern Market

Yelp came through our first day with a great place for breakfast: the Galley Cafe, one of those family-run places tucked into an office building. That evening, I ventured back to my old neighborhood just a few steps from the Cleveland Park Metro stop to Ardeo restaurant. It was fun to be back in familiar surroundings and spend time with a long-time friend over a dinner of spinach salad and roast chicken. Classic bistro stuff and girl talk.

The next day, after our tour of the Capitol, I Yelped again and found Capitol Hill’s best known dive bar The Tune Inn. Animals hanging from the walls and the sticky tables were only part of the atmosphere. Our chatty waitress made us feel right at home. I dug into a BLT while the guys had burgers.  And the fries were the best.  Later we met family for dinner at the Beacon Bar and Grill. I can’t remember what I ate — obviously not memorable. The outdoor tables and lively crowd suggested this place would be far better for happy hour.

Friday lunch at Cafe Soleil at Lafayette Park — a spendy crabcake sandwich. By dinnertime, we decided to hit Chinatown — a frenzied street scene on a Friday night.   Momij – good sushi, friendly waiter – hit the spot.

Afternoon snack at Teaism in Penn Square

On Saturday, while waiting for entry to the Spy Museum, I yelped for tea. We meandered a couple of blocks to Penn Square and one of my favorite finds in D.C.: Teaism. The selection of teas and snacks (and lovely bento boxes) was impressive.  The free refills on iced Moroccan Mint iced tea was a deal.  After the spy museum, we made our way again to Chinatown in search of Zagat-rated Burma restaurant. Though we had to wait a while for a table due to lack of staff, the meal was simple and delicious: golden eggplant; spring ginger salad; fried noodles with pork; and sour mustard plant (an odd-sounding dish, but worth a try — mustard green leaves pickled, diced and sauteed with shrimp).

Our trip ended with a trip to Eastern Market where I recalled a lively farmers’ market and delicious street food from my time in D.C.  The market building was closed, still under renovations due to last year’s fire, so we ended up at Le Pain Quotidien.  Horrible service, okay food. Ah well, time to go home!

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Shortcuts aren’t so bad after all

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol knew all about Mom's favorite ingredient

As a child I noticed my mother and grandmother relied on Campbell’s condensed soups as the foundation for many a meal. Boxed mixes were the next best thing. Instant potatoes, Hamburger Helper, and more — these were exciting options for homemakers looking to cut their time at the stove.

When starting this blog I decided to be truthful about what we actually consume on a weekly basis. No prissy talk and airbrushed photos. What’s disclosed here is how we really eat, week in and week out, at the end of busy work/school days. Perhaps it’s inevitable that a mix or two would show up in the meal plan. Truth is, I do have a couple of mixes that save me on nights I just don’t feel like cooking. Still in post-vacation mode this week, I wasn’t inspired to sift through cookbooks.

If you’ve read this blog, you know Shake and Bake is one of my pantry shortcuts.  The other is Zatarain’s – a New Orleans-inspired line of meals that serve as our own version of Hamburger Helper. I keep a stack of these boxed mixes in the pantry for “just in case” nights. Tuesday night was one of them. Brown a package of natural ground beef, simmer it with Zatarain‘s Garlic and Herb Mix, add steamed sugar snap peas and carrots plus a green salad — all done.  I ate a quick spoonful before heading to a meeting.  When I returned, the guys had scraped the pot clean. As they say, Mother knows best.

The rest of the week’s plan was a speedy endeavor as well:

Wednesday: Pan-roasted pork chops with paprika; cabbage braised in cream; mashed yams.

Thursday: Rotisserie Chicken from Costco; basmati rice; green salad

Friday (my favorite meal this week): Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts; braised kale

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Ravioli with Apples & Walnuts; braised kale

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