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!
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)
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.
Pork & Pineapple Pickup Sticks - A Perfect Ten
Just the name of this recipe sounds delicious: Pork and Pineapple Pickup Sticks with Savory Mint Mayonnaise. Shelia Lukins scored with this one from a new favorite addition to my cookbook shelf: Ten: All the Foods We Love. It’s the last book produced by the late Sheila Lukins and I think it’s her best. All the guys liked this one. No surprise there!
Filed under Cookbooks, Quick
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.
When I first read the recipe for custard-filled cornbread in Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, I wondered why it lacked a warning label. Two cups of whole milk, one cup of heavy cream, corn meal, flour, sugar. The fat warning zoomed straight to red on this one.
But oh, is it worth it. Molly discovered the recipe in Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. You can find the recipe here. I was relieved to see that a square is only 213 calories; it tasted to be at least twice as much. Consider reducing the sugar by half if you’re serving it for dinner as I did. But take Molly’s advice and replace that sweetness with a spoon of maple syrup. The sweet gooey cake-like bread was the perfect side for the spicy main attraction on a weeknight: Louisiana Greens with Andouille Sausage, a recipe on the package of Trader Joe’s bagged greens of kale, mustard greens and chard.
We enjoyed more of the cornbread the following night with paprika-spiced pork chops and roasted cauliflower with red pepper and caper vinaigrette. Trader Joe’s came to the rescue again, allowing me to substitute the roasted red peppers in the original recipe with a few dollops of its Red Pepper spread. I love this zesty mash of red peppers, garlic and eggplant on most anything that benefits from a kick just before serving: scrambled eggs; artichoke dip; chicken burgers.
With my husband out of town, I took advantage of short cuts on Wednesday (baked penne with marinara sauce and sausage) and skipped the kitchen altogether on Thursday with teriyaki take-out. No complaints from the guys on this plan!
Filed under Cookbooks, Quick
It’s amazing how many people want to pour Coca-cola into their slow cookers. At least that’s my takeaway from the statistics on You Ate That???
Keyword searches for “cola,” “slow cooker” and “corned beef” — or any combination thereof — appear to be one of the most common paths for random visitors to find this blog. Pulled pork is another commonly searched term. My last endeavor with a pork shoulder in the slow cooker wasn’t so successful. I figure I did something wrong along the way so I’m still seeking salvation on the web.
Good Stuff NW, a food blogger in Oregon, discovered a series of tweets from The Little Red Bike, a cafe in Portland, for an amazing pulled pork. Here is the tweeted recipe:
- Secrets to our pulled pork revealed! Start with nice, healthy pork butt. Make rub w/ pepper, paprika, mustard, coffee, ginger, sugar, salt.
- Rub, cover, let sit in fridge overnight. Remove next day, allow to rest @ room temp. 2 hours, place in crockpot. http://twitpic.com/1f7cca
- Top roast w/ garlic and sliced onions. http://twitpic.com/1f7ctu
- Here’s the secret! Pour in one bottle of ginger beer. Cover, set crockpot on low 12 hours and cook. http://twitpic.com/1f7d9h
- After 12 hours, remove remaining fat, shred, return to pot along w/bottle of BBQ sauce and cook 4 more hours. Place on buns w/slaw & enjoy
My taste buds occasionally dictate our travel plans so I keep a mental list of food destinations. The Little Red Bike is now officially on the list. The blog could be satisfying substitution until we make the trip to Portland; it’s on our “one day we will go to xxx for the weekend” list.
If anyone tries this recipe, let me know how it turns out!
A pattern has been brewing for a while in the schema of meal-planning: Despite the best intentions I lack interest in cooking on most Friday nights. We rarely go out on Fridays, preferring to end a busy workweek with a relaxing evening at home. But that tempo is reflected in the kitchen as well. The longer the week wears on, the less interested I am in standing at the stove.
Scallops in Curry Sauce
As usual, we started off fairly strong on Monday with Scallops in Curry Sauce — actually rescheduled from the previous night’s plans (I’ve found Sunday nights are just as likely to burn out as Fridays.) In this case, the scallops proved to be the highlight of the week.
We moved into Tuesday with a homemade carrot ginger soup and ravioli with bacon and chard. I’ve been hankering for the carrot soup ever since our trip to NYC, but my homemade version from one of the Seattle Junior League cookbooks just didn’t come close to my fabulous snack in the Village. The search goes on.
Wednesday’s barbeque ribs in the pressure cooker prompted one of my frequent warnings about becoming a vegetarian. “You always say that,” my husband noted. It’s true, my body keeps talking to me. On Mother’s Day we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a picnic lunch. The options seem endless. The guys picked up sushi, turkey sandwiches, chicken noodle salad. I went for the tempeh, kale and chickpea salad — a subconscious response to an overload of carbs and meat the day before. I rally on meat for the kids at home because they’re not ready for the tofu-and-beans route anytime soon. It’s no surprise, for instance, that bacon was a major appeal in Thursday’s Spaghetti Carbonara.
So what to do about the Friday flame-out factor? We’ve resolved that Fridays will be subject to the whims of the week. Sometimes it’s a time to cook together, be creative, and enjoy the easy pace of a late dinner at home.
Other times I’ll be reaching for the phone.
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.
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
I realized this evening about 6:20 p.m. that noting merely “pork chops” on the meal plan is an invitation to relapse to not-so-savory habits. At that point I had only an image of dinner: pork chops, that package of baby yams gifted the night before, frozen green beans and oh, the beleaguered leftover rutabagas.
Shake and Bake to the rescue. “Beautiful,” my husband said as he peeked into the oven. And he was serious. He likes the stuff. Which naturally causes me to wonder about the credibility of his kudos on other meals but hey, who’s complaining?
French-style yogurt cake with lemon
I was all ready to throw together an “instant” cake for son #1’s 14th birthday. But then A Homemade Life is still sitting by my stove. Molly loves to bake so I knew she’d offer a preferable alternative to a box mix. Sure enough – French-style yogurt cake with lemon. I debated if I had enough time to make it or if several pieces of cut-up lemons in the fridge would provide sufficient juice. Son #1 overheard my out-loud thinking and jumped right in. “Yeah, it will work,” holding up a quarter cup measure and eyeing the lemon segments.
Jon loves lemon anything. Just like his mom. While zesting the lemons for the cake batter, I remembered that my son has me bested in this category. Suddenly I had a clear recollection of pushing Jon around in a stroller at an arts fair when he was 4 years old. After drinking the fresh lemonade, he sucked on the lemon rinds. And then he wanted more rinds, not lemonade.
Molly’s cake did the trick. “This is really lemony,” he noted. No one missed the traditional frosting. I drizzled lemon syrup over the warm cake and then topped it with a lemon icing that’s more like a glaze. Topped each slice with freshly whipped cream and added a few sliced strawberries. Divine. And even more dangerous than the evil banana bread. I’m going cold turkey on white flour for the next week.
Oh, the ribs. The trusty pressure cooker came though again for BBQ country pork ribs with sweet and spicy sauce. My husband declared, “This is it. This is the only way we should ever eat ribs again.” The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender after 25 minutes under pressure, then crisped by a quick run under the broiler. With coleslaw and a sliced baguette, dinner was done. A happy high calorie birthday dinner – just what a growing boy needs, right?