Category Archives: Weeknight

They ate it, they liked it!

Chickpeas. Wheatberries. Brown rice pasta. Not exactly kid food. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve sneaked these items into our meal plan and eureka, no complaints!

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Chickpea salad with pesto - no complaints

Sometimes I wonder it’s just a matter of planetary alignment that I get fewer grumbles than usual from my sons. Maybe their growing bodies/appetites are finally forcing their tastebuds to be less discriminating.  I like to think that they’ve surrendered to my passion for themed menus this fall.  Meatless Monday, Whole Grain Wednesday, Thermal Thursday.  They’ve realized I’m not willing to give up this effort easily.  And we’re all starting to look forward to Fun Friday when a) we order pizza or b) indulge in a special meal that isn’t easy to achieve on weeknights and c) we often add a movie from our instant queue on Netflix (you can find those movie titles on the Friday night meal plans too).  Themed meals are certainly making my life easier. The rhythm is easy to remember, especially when the themes are helping me achieve overall goals in the kitchen on weeknights:

Eat more fiber (explore the confusing world of whole grains)

Consume less meat (Meatless Monday is easy: We love fish; the boys will tolerate vegetarian meals)

Use time- and energy-saving techniques (use the pressure cooker, rely on a stable of simple recipes)

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Pork medallions with wheatberry salad

And we’re cooking new foods along the way.  Wheat berries – I’ve always loved wheat berry salads from the deli.  Cooking them at home was an adventure.  I ended up buying both soft and hard wheat berries, even though the recipes don’t specify which type works best.  I soaked them all day ( the soaking time on recipes ranged from zero to overnight soaking). And I cooked them in the pressure cooker, which turned out just fine even if they were a bit squeaky to bite.

More to learn, I suppose. As long as they eat the stuff, I’ll keep cooking it.

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Filed under pressure cooker, Weeknight

Back in the kitchen, back to my senses

More than two months without a post. Wow. The summer was a blur of work, travel, kids without a schedule and fun times with friends.  I skirted my way with a few memorable menus, but generally lacked any discipline for meal planning.

My waistline noticed. Five pounds heavier. Egads! What the heck happened?  Well, let’s see.  Could have been the fruit shakes and guacamole in Costa Rica. Fresh plaintains, still green and starchy, smashed into cakes and fried, make a savory filling snack that likely contributed to my “expansion” early in the summer.

Then friends visited from Austin. Oh good, a reason to finally prep a decent meal or two!  Grilled chicken and peaches with arugula salad for a picnic by the lake.  Steamed crabs on the back patio, followed the next day by crab cakes topped with sherry aioli.

I entered the true danger zone, calorie-wise, during the month of August. A business trip Down Under was the beginning of the end. Fish and chips, with a pint of ale, at Watson’s Bay in Sydney.

Breakfast the next day: Ricotta pancakes with berry compote, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I simply lost my senses with this concoction, gazing at the ski surfers while sitting in an outdoor cafe at Manly Beach.

Then it was back for two weeks before heading to Santa Fe for a long-planned vacation with a dear friend from Cleveland. Enter sopapillas – doughy pillows topped with sugar (or savory, stuffed with chicken or beef) – at Tomasita’s, amazing blue corn enchiladas at The Shed.  We hit two of the city’s hottest restaurants — La Boca for tapas and Restaurant Martin for new American cuisine — and relished every bite.

Sopapillas at Tomasita's Cafe

No wonder, then, that I’m now browsing through stacks of recipes for healthy eating.  Time to get back into a meal plan that’s easy to manage. This fall I’m thinking in themes to keep me on track. I figured a handful of catchy phrases would bring some rhythm and inventiveness to the tedious task of meal planning.  Already we’re in our second week of themes.  Here it goes (with comments from the peanut gallery):

Meatless Monday – “Yeah, Baby” (husband) “WHAAT?  You’re kidding me.” (sons)

Tasty Tuesday – “Mom, that’s stupid.  Isn’t every meal supposed to be tasty?”

Whole Grain Wednesday – “Hmmm, Not sure about that one.” (husband)

Thermal Thursday (using the Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker) – “Clever.” (husband)

Fun Friday (because we either order out or indulge in a late “date night” meal without the kids) – “Great Idea!” (me)

Details to come as weeknight meal plans swing back into gear!

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Filed under Foodie, Health, Restaurants to try, Weeknight

Oh no, not again … meatloaf with a surprise inside

Meatloaf is one of those dishes that fails to inspire me.  It ends up on our meal rotation because it’s a reliable kid favorite … until the day I decided to change things up a bit.

I figure meatloaf just begs for excitement. Anything to take it from blue-plate-special status to the latest inspiration of celebrity chefs.  (Indeed! A search on Food Network yields 524 results.) So it’s not surprising that a chat with son #2 last week went something like this:

Son: “So, what’s for dinner?”

Me: “Meatloaf.  But I’m thinking of something different … maybe a surprise ingredient.”

Son, wearily: “Uh, like what kind of surprise?”

Me: “Well, I once made a Russian version that had hard-boiled eggs inside.”

Son (roar): “Oh NO! Don’t do that!”

I knew eggs inside might forever remove meatloaf from our family meal plan.  But the remnants of a Trader Joe’s pesto and sun-dried tomato torta in the fridge sounded very tempting.  I mixed the ground beef and pork, threw in some crumbled feta, and layered the pesto spread in the middle of the loaf before baking.  We ended up with Greek Meatloaf with Feta, thanks to a little doctoring to the recipe on Recipezaar. With mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, the diner favorite took on an appealing twist for a weeknight meal — for the adults, anyway. The boys put feta in the same category with blue cheese — too strong for their young tastebuds. Hmm, I’ve heard this somewhere before.

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Turkey burgers worth repeating

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Turkey burgers get a thumbs up, finally

Ground turkey is slowing gaining respect in my household.

Instead of a guaranteed groan from the guys — all three of them — they’ve become more open-minded when they hear turkey burgers are on the menu.  It took some digging, but I’ve stashed away a few recipes with enough flare to make budget-friendly and bland ground turkey a regular on our weeknight menus.

On Thursday I gave the guys a choice — turkey burgers with zesty Mexican seasonings or curried turkey burgers.  They chose the latter; I was glad.  I had picked up a package of whole wheat Mediterranean flat breads from Trader Joe’s that would be just right with the curried recipe.  Also scored dried cherries and organic chickpeas for a salad featured in this month’s issue of Real Simple.

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Mesclun salad with chickpeas and cherries took t-burgers to new heights

Back to the turkey, it takes a lot of seasoning to make the bird palatable in this form.  In the case of Curried Turkey Burgers, it’s a combination of curry powder, chutney, green onions and mint that gives the burgers a kick, plus a yogurt-based topping. Together with the mesclun salad with dried cherries and chickpeas, the burgers seemed more special than usual.  The boys inhaled the burgers but the salad was snubbed this time around. I understand. I didn’t like chickpeas as a kid either.

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Filed under Quick, Weeknight

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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Filed under Quick, Seafood, Weeknight

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.

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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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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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