Cauliflower, pre-roasted - still not too colorful
You know how it is when a song gets stuck in your head and you can’t shake it? And it’s usually a tune you never liked to begin with? This week’s tune was a reflection of our menus. A Whiter Shade of Pale. Argh. While autumn colors are nearing their peak on the outside, our plates were looking fairly anemic.
It’s not that the meals weren’t tasty. Gnocchi with roasted cauliflower and celeriac salad with apples and walnuts made a perfectly fine duo for Meatless Monday. But time ran short on Tuesday. We ended up with a quick fix of Zatarain’s Dirty Rice with beef and baked cabbage with wine and thyme. Tasty but, again, not too colorful. I avoided the kitchen altogether on Wednesday for a business dinner and on Thursday for a night out with friends. As Friday rolled around, my husband pondered if I might cook (having tired of frozen lasagna and deli chicken).
“But I’ve run out of white food ideas,” I explained. We settled for pizza, a popular option for “Fun Friday.” As I plan next week’s meals, I’m thinking in technicolor!
Any reason NOT TO COOK on Friday night is a sound one to me. Last week’s excuse was particularly tasty one — an ad hoc potluck with the Bunco group. A silly game of Bunco is an excellent reason for the ladies in the ‘hood to catch up over wine and share some mighty fine cooking. It’s a good thing we started rolling the dice because I probably would have helped myself to seconds of the following:
Chicken Marbella — I should have known this is a Silver Palate recipe. Elegant roasted chicken with capers, olives and oregano. The recipe serves 10-12. What a great choice for a relaxing Friday dinner with friends.
Super Slaw – colorful and crunchy with red and green cabbage, carrots, peppers and cilantro and an Asian-style dressing. Lisa noted it appeared in Sunset magazine many years ago. I sniffed around and located the recipe on a clever “Tastebook” website here.
Hearts of Palm spread – I brought this easy baked spread to kick things off. One of my standbys from the Seattle Junior League cookbook. You can find the recipe online here.
Next time I’ll round up the rest of the crowd’s recipes. Maybe a special page for Bunco potlucks is in the making!
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
Ravioli with Apples & Walnuts; braised kale
It didn’t take too much encouragement from readers for me to try the Coca-cola-stoked corned beef dinner in the slow cooker. I couldn’t find a full recipe for this cola concoction on the web, so I adapted this one.
With potatoes, carrots and onions, along with the brisket, can of Coke (real, not diet, not Pepsi) and a cup of brown sugary liquid, the slow cooker was full to the brim. No room for cabbage. That turned out to be a very good turn of events. It was the perfect time to try Molly Wizenberg’s version of green cabbage braised in cream with lemon. I’ve tried this approach before, but Molly advised a gentle browning to caramelize the cabbage wedges in butter, before adding the cream to simmer. Delicious.
I found the cabbage recipe in a review of Molly’s book here. I’m editing my old recipe to make sure these techniques never go away. As for the rest of our traditional St Paddy’s day dinner (delivered a few days early), the guys gave the corned beef a big thumbs up. It was tender, just like the Trader Joe’s lady promised. I personally was far more enthralled with the cabbage. And my pint of Guinness. But I’ll keep the recipe filed away except next year I’ll try hard cider instead of coke.
One of the ironies of having a meal plan is the freedom it offers to be flexible. Knowing in advance what you’re going to assemble for dinner on busy weeknights prevents headaches and hassles. It also seems the mere existence of a meal plan can inspire other ideas, depending on what’s stocked in the kitchen.
Tonight I had planned on caesar salad, one of the few salads my boys will eat, with grilled chicken for day 3 of the “while dad’s away” dinner plan. Then I stumbled upon a chickpea recipe on Orangette that was similar to the red cabbage salad — both dressed with just lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Thanks to leftover cabbage salad and the five minutes it took to mix up the chickpeas, we ended up with three salads for dinner. Plus grilled chicken apple sausages, another switcheroo.
The change in plans moved me closer to one of my New Year’s resolutions: salads and veggies occupying two-thirds of my dinner plate. Tonight’s proportions were closer to three-quarters: a chicken apple sausage was lost among the helpings of caesar salad, red cabbage salad and chickpeas.