School Day Breakfasts and Lunches

This is my first year packing a daily lunch for a kid, as well as packing a lunch for five of us one day a week. It’s taking a little more organization than our standard scan-the-fridge-ten-minutes-before-lunch approach. I’ve never been a meal planner for breakfasts and lunches but am very much a habits person for those meals. It reduces decision fatigue and makes grocery shopping easier. While breakfasts and lunches run on autopilot dinner is our creative meal. I rarely repeat the same recipe for supper in a month, or even two, though I do almost always make enough for two or three nights at a time.

Front porch dinner prep so I could supervise that little red speck biking on the driveway.

I usually eat breakfast when I get up two hours before the kids. Ever since childhood I’ve felt nauseous if I don’t eat first thing in the morning. On school days I spend breakfast braiding hair, packing backpacks, or doing our morning time readings while the kids eat. I like to give them meals that are quick to prep, rich in protein, low in added sugar, and with a reasonable balance of nutrients. I’m not a food fanatic but I like to feed the kids whole foods/from-scratch meals when possible. It’s also critical for both catching the bus and the cook’s sanity that everyone eat the same thing at the same time, and that the dish not require much individual or personalized prep. For the kids’ breakfasts we usually rotate between:

  • Fruit plus oatmeal mixed with unsweetened applesauce. I make them with milk, not water, for a little added protein. I’ll occasionally sweeten the oatmeal with mashed bananas (defrosted from my freezer stash) instead of applesauce.
  • Fruit plus bagels with cream cheese
  • Fruit plus scrambled eggs. I usually have one of the twins make the eggs while I deal with other tasks. Sometimes we throw in a little shredded cheese.
  • Fruit plus plain whole milk greek yogurt with a small spoonful of jam or mashed bananas, or honey/vanilla yogurt.
  • Fruit with sausage patties. This one is rare, generally reserved for a night when the Man is on call and I want to be able to cook breakfast the night before and just reheat in the morning.
  • Fruit and baked German puffed pancake. This one is also rare because of the honey/syrup factor but it’s an easy “special” school morning breakfast because it only takes a handful of ingredients and cooks in the oven instead of requiring I babysit the stove or waffle iron.

If the kids want more after finishing their breakfast they can have shredded wheat or cheerios with milk. They’ve yet to discover sugary cereals so for now they’re really excited for the bland stuff “just like Daddy!” ūüėČ . Once a week or so we’ll have “special family breakfast” on a day when the Man is home and we don’t have an off-to-school time crunch. It’s usually something like pancakes, waffles, or bacon and eggs and toast with jam. I’ll also occasionally make a batch of these always-tender whole wheat muffins with bananas, substituting a smaller amount of honey for the sugar. This rotation gives us just enough variety to prevent boredom while keeping things simple and semi-automated. Also, while everybody understands that they get what they get, nobody is stuck for too long with a food that’s not their favorite like egg-apathetic Jenny or oatmeal-resistant Josie.¬†If you’re looking for other low-maintenance but tasty breakfast ideas this post had a great roundup.

Dinner leftovers are generally saved for future suppers unless there’s only one or two servings left. Annie isn’t generally a lunch meat or cheese sandwich fan (she just deconstructs them) so for Annie’s school lunches I follow a basic rotation, prepping the night before and making generous use of her thermos:

  • Unsweetened applesauce (a treat around here), cheese, fruit, sliced raw veggies.
  • Yogurt, fruit or raw veggies, crackers or other carb
  • One pot¬†macaroni and cheese, fruit, raw veggies. This recipe makes a lot. There’s usually enough for two meals for all the kids, who thankfully aren’t picky about reheated pastas. If the adults are both eating it as well it makes enough for a meal plus a couple of people’s lunches the next day.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit. Actually Wow Butter and jelly because there are peanut allergies at her school. This is the highlight of her week. I like to keep it to just once a week because of the extra sugar, and because I’m not a big fan of all the soy in Wow Butter. I usually make it on the day of the other kids’ cottage school, with PB&Js for their packed lunches as well.
  • Natural cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fruit.

Once in a while I’ll throw in a little treat like a cookie or a couple graham crackers. While there’s nothing exciting or fancy in her lunchbox it’s enough variety to keep her interested, they’re all foods she likes so I know she’ll eat a full lunch at school, and they’re all foods she can eat without help opening packages or containers. And, once again, it’s all automated enough that I don’t have to think about it or rearrange the grocery list every week.

It’s worth noting that on work days the Man doesn’t require a packed breakfast or lunch because the hospital keeps the doctors’ lounge stocked with basic items like sandwiches, soup, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, and fruit.

What are the go-to breakfasts or lunches in your home? Does everyone sit down at the same time or is it a busier morning where everyone leaves at a different time? How do you handle that? Has it changed with the kids’ ages, number of kids, or homeschool/school/work shifts? What are your favorite easy meals to feed a crowd for breakfast or lunch? Any favorite options for make ahead meals or packed lunches?

In the Kitchen: Pantry-Clearing Meals

Movers won’t generally ship opened packages of food, easily perishable items, or liquids so we’re in a pre-move push to eat up the pantry and freezer contents. My meal-planning this week¬†centered around “stash busting” dishes.

Roast Pork with Dried Apricots¬†from the (so far) infallible¬†Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking. So good. So, so, so good. We sat down to this meal after a chilly afternoon’s hike with the kids and quite literally moaned from happiness over our meal. It’s fabulously flavorful and moist. I used the stovetop method, plus dried thyme and spicy brown mustard because that’s what I had on hand. Bonus, it used up the big pork roast I’d purchased on sale months ago and tossed in the freezer. The kids also liked it – served with…I forget?¬†Definitely one to keep in mind for dinners with guests – it’s very¬†low maintenance and hard to mess up.

Steak with Chimichurri Butter. I received a free subscription to Martha Stewart Living after taking a survey this winter. The most recent volume included this mouth-watering recipe for Chimichurri Butter. I just used some steak from the freezer, pan fried it, and served with the Chimichurri and a big salad. Delicious РI deeply regret waiting this long in my life to discover Chimichurri sauce!

Chicken Thighs with Leeks, Potatoes, and Spinach. This was a good dish! It’s¬†simple but tasty. I used ground¬†coriander and bigger potatoes cut up. I enjoyed using the multi-stage approach to cooking an entire meal under the broiler. The lemons are really key – they provide a large part of the sauce’s freshness. Served with rice to soak up the sauce.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice. This was also a nice recipe worth making again. It’s another one that used up lots of ingredients from the fridge and pantry. Some recipes for Louisiana red beans call for ham hocks. We didn’t have any on hand, but this version was still delicious. I more or less followed the recipe except for not measuring, using red pepper instead of green, and throwing¬†in some oregano since parralel¬†recipes called for it. Delicious served with rice. Nice flavors, but still mild enough for the three-year-old contingent with just a touch of background heat. If we didn’t have young kids I would increase the spice.

Also cooked recently: waffles for a big waffle breakfast with friends, smoothies to use up our frozen fruit, a so-so double chocolate skillet cookie from Martha Stewart Living for Bible Study, and chicken nuggets (also pretty unexciting thanks to really tough meat).

In the Kitchen

We’ve had more seat-of-the-pants meals and fast food dinners than we’d prefer lately. As things settle (we accepted an offer on our house this week!) it’s been satisfying resuming normal scratch cooking routines and predictable family dinners.

We had a lot of hard boiled eggs in the fridge after Easter egg dyeing. A friend recommended this recipe for olive oil-braised chick peas. Delicious! I used dried chickpeas and dried thyme because that’s what we had on hand. Al dente savory chick peas, tangy capers, warm smooth olive oil, sharp creamy feta, smoky hot paprika – it’s such an amazing flavor medley for a simple dish. We had it on crusty bread paired with hard-boiled eggs the first night, then with salads the next night.

Baked Italian dishes with ricotta are among my favorite comfort foods. I loved this recipe for baked manicotti. The assembly is less fussy than lasagna or stuffed shells, but the flavors are just as lovely. Four out of four kids loved it, as did their parents. I started a quick marinara with saut√©ed onion and garlic, 28oz whole tomatoes, 28oz diced tomatoes, dried basil, salt, and pepper, then simmered it while prepping the rest. I increased the ricotta to 2 cups (perfect), used half fresh and half frozen spinach (I didn’t ice after cooking – it was fine), stuffed the manicotti with my fingers, and sprinkled some extra mozzarella on top for a nice browned crust. 30 minutes at 375. Addictive comfort food.

I’d made this carrot cake before, tweaked it again this time, and will alter it further next time. I like the base recipe because it has a wide variety of spices that create lovely complex flavors. I double the batter so it filled two round cake pans (adjust cook time to 25 minutes) but there’s no need to double the frosting. I reduced the frosting sugar by about 60% – it’s still plenty sweet. I substituted unsweetened applesauce for pineapple in the batter. I may try the pineapple one of these days. The Man doesn’t always like nuts in desserts so I substituted raisins. That ended up being too many raisins for the cake – next time I’ll try half raisins and half finely ground nuts. I only had vegetable oil, but it would probably be awesome with the recommended walnut oil.

As I’ve whined “discussed” before, the slow cooker and I have a fraught relationship. I want it to work. It smells so nice cooking all day, you don’t have to heat the oven, you can leave the house, it’s low maintenance… Then every time I use it the meal is flavorless or rubbery or just plain strange. I’d previously tried a recipe for crock pot shredded taco chicken that someone had raved about (“just throw some chicken in with a jar of salsa for four hours on high! It’s fabulous!”). No. No it was not. It was flavorless, dry, rubbery, and a complete waste of my meat budget. I really do want to find at least a couple good crock pot meals for our family for days when we’re out all day and hosting a crowd, so I tried this recipe instead. It was good! I think good slow cooker meals demand extra seasoning because the technique dilutes any seasoning’s flavor impact. The meat also just doesn’t do well cooked on high, no matter what recipes says. While this recipe does use some pre-made ingredients, they’re of the fresh flavor variety vs. the can o’ soup and a ranch seasoning packet variety. I followed the recipe except for chopping four cloves of garlic instead of using the jarred stuff. It’s pleasantly spicy, but not too hot for our little people. We had it with corn tortillas, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, and salsa verde. It would also be good with rice and bean bowls. The recipe is worth doubling and freezing. As written it only filled our crock pot a third full. I may play around with the seasonings in future for more depth of flavor. Oregano? Cumin?

Weekly Meal Plan: October 7

Potato Onion and Gruy√®re¬†Tarts – From Williams Sonoma’s fast vegetarian meals cookbook, currently checked out from the library. We’re not vegetarians, but we do like to make a significant portion of our meals vegetarian. It forces me to think outside my go-to “meat plus some side” pattern into more interesting meal varieties, is a bit healthier than eating too much meat, and saves some money.

Pork Tenderloin plus some combination of vegetables/bread/salad – See, I told you. Meat plus some side. I’m giving this basic approach for tenderloin a shot, and am cooking extra for leftovers.

Black Beans with Spicy Corn Cakes – Also from Williams Sonoma’s fast vegetarian meals cookbook. Instead of canned black beans I will use this slow cooker black beans recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It’s awesome. I make a big pot of beans with it once a month and we use the leftovers for a variety of meals like tacos, rice and bean bowls, and beans on garlic toast with sour cream.

Because it’s an ICU week I also kicked things off by cooking up a pound of sausage patties for easy breakfasts for the kids, roasting a bunch of cubed squash for easy veggies they like, and cooking up a pound of whole wheat pasta. During ICU weeks I shoot for very simple balanced meals with foods that don’t take a lot of supervision or encouragement. There’s just no spare energy when I’m running the ship solo. Later in the week when they’ve finished the squash ¬†I’ll cook up half a dozen sweet potatoes as they also enjoy eating mashed sweet potatoes and I like that they’re a) nutritious, and b) low mess.

Christmas Recap and Cooking Notes

I hope you and yours had a blessed Christmas. Ours was the nicest one¬†we’ve had in years…which was pretty easy to achieve since it’s the first time the Man hasn’t spent¬†Christmas working at the hospital in three years! While we try to hold special occasions¬†loosely in our hands and not get too attached to celebrating on the “right” date, it was so nice to be able to celebrate the¬†actual¬†holiday¬†together for once. This was our first Christmas together as a family since we’ve had kids. As I’m sure any household with a member¬†who has a¬†medical/military/emergency services/non-business hours job can relate, you really do treasure special days together that much more because they are so rare.

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This Christmas we had extra reason to celebrate because the Man’s¬†mother was able to join us and meet all her grandchildren for the first time. Due to a combination of medical constraints, very slow bureaucratic adoption channels delaying passports, leave cancelled by the Army, another adoption, and another year’s wait for finalization for the next¬†passport, we had been unable to take the kids to Canada to meet her, and she was unable to fly here. This Christmas Granny and grandkids were finally all together! She had quite the adventure getting here as her connecting flight from Washington, DC to our city was cancelled. Thankfully a Christmas Good Samaritan stepped in with a car she’d rented after her own flight was cancelled, drove my mother-in-law¬†down, and dropped her exhausted but safe at our door at two in the morning.

After a Christmas breakfast of eggs, (store bought) cinnamon rolls, and berries we read the Christmas story and had a somewhat hectic morning opening presents (gift triage for six people with frenetic over-stimulated toddlers) then calmed down with a walk in the unseasonably warm weather. The afternoon was more relaxed, with peaceful time enjoying new gifts while the toddlers napped, calls to family, chatting on the driveway while the kids rode their bikes, a simple but delicious (if I do say so myself) Christmas dinner, and an evening playing viciously competitive Rummikub after the kids went to bed.

Because I don’t want to forget the recipes, here’s what we had for Christmas dinner:

  • Standing Rib Roast¬†I used a slightly smaller roast and dried thyme, added¬†a tablespoon of \dry mustard powder to the rub, doubled the sauce, and thickened it just slightly with a tablespoon of cornstarch in water, but otherwise followed the recipe. Fantastic mouth-watering roast! This will be my go-to recipe in future years. If rib roast weren’t such an expensive treat in and of itself I would gladly eat this every week for the rest of my life.
  • Creamed Spinach¬†Definitely rich and not an everyday food, but also delicious! I started from this recipe, then followed suggestions in the comments to add a shallot, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan. Steam a large quantity of¬†spinach about one minute until just wilted (I skipped removing the stems), melt 1 Tbsp¬†butter in a pan over medium-high heat, saute a diced shallot until just translucent, add 1 Tbsp flour and stir one minute, stir in 2/3 cup cream (or mixed cream and milk) and cook stirring constantly two minutes to thicken. Add 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan, then add the spinach, mix thoroughly, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Much better than my previous recipe for creamed spinach.
  • Roasted potatoes and portobello mushrooms with garlic and rosemary¬†We actually have this on a regular basis as a vegetarian main meal, and I make it a bit differently every time. In general, either scrub a bunch of fingerling potatoes or scrub and cube regular potatoes. Pop into a pan of salted boiling water for 7-10 minutes, then drain. Clean an 8 oz pack of fresh baby portobello mushrooms (can halve or quarter if they’re large). Dice 2-3 cloves garlic. Toss potatoes, mushrooms, and garlic¬†into a 13×9 pan – you want a good amount, but a little room between the veggies as they won’t brown if overcrowded. If things are heaping on top of each other, pull out an extra pan. Tear the leaves off a stalk or two of rosemary and sprinkle over the dish, then liberally shake olive oil, salt, and pepper over it all and stir. Pop in a 375 oven for about half an hour until everything is nice and golden brown and sizzly, stirring occasionally. The oven temperature I use varies a lot based on what else is cooking in the oven at the moment. If you want it browner at the end crank the oven temp up a bit to finish things off.

We had our dinner with champagne (which I forgot to chill). I meant to make an almond apple tart, but gave in to reason and exhaustion and settled for some extra vanilla ice cream we had in the fridge topped with leftover berries from breakfast and some Christmas cookies. It was a nice blend between rich foods that felt special, and not so many dishes that cooking and washing up took half of the holiday.

Two days later after the Man’s mother had left for Canada and his teenage sisters arrived for a few days I used the leftover ribs to make soup, starting loosely from this recipe. Placed the ribs and one last leftover bit of meat in a large pot, filled with water to cover, brought to a boil, then left to simmer, covered, about two hours with occasional checks. Pulled the meat out and pulled it off the bones and cut it up, then put it in the fridge to wait. Brought the broth to a full boil and kept it going til reduced by about 1/2. Poured in an extra quart of beef broth, the reserved meat, 8 oz mushrooms, a couple peeled and chopped carrots, three or four peeled and chopped potatoes, a couple stalks of rosemary, some thyme, a few diced cloves of garlic, baby onions (peeled first by cutting an x in the end, dropping in boiling water for a minute, then slipping the skins off) and some worcestershire sauce, then simmered¬†it all about 20 minutes and salted and peppered to taste. It was tasty the first night, but was awesome the second night when I remembered to stir¬†in some of the sauce from the original roast (a red wine/beef broth/browned pan bits sauce). Definitely made the difference between a nice regular soup and something special. We got about 8 adult-sized servings out of it, although this could easily vary depending on how much you thin it with broth or how many extra veggies you use.

We’re not doing anything special for New Year’s Eve as the Man¬†is on call at the hospital. Nobody has energy to party after¬†wrangling tiny children solo for twelve hour stretches, or dragging home from the wards¬†late at night with a 4:00a.m. alarm for work the next morning. We shall celebrate by sleeping. May you have a happy, lovely, and blessed New Year!

Cooking Notes – July 2014

Pot Roast¬†We both agreed that this is the best pot roast I’ve ever made – I’m not sure what was different. I always use the same basic recipe but this was the first time I used whole tomatoes I canned myself after a big sale at the farm stand last summer (I’d only made jam before, and was nervous to try veggies I’d canned myself).¬†I also used white wine instead of my usual red and was pleasantly surprised – might do that again. Toddlers and adults alike loved the meat and veggies.

Quinoa and Kale Salad Despite the obnoxious trendiness of these two ingredients, the salad is fantastic and filling. Such a nice blend of soft and crunchy, sweet and tangy, fresh and rich. Some of the ingredients listed might be available in NYC but are most definitely not available here in Nowheresville, Podunk, USA. Substituted Feta for Ricotta Salata, and regular kale wilted by sauteeing in olive oil for the black kale. Used red wine vinegar, skipped the dill because I didn’t have any, and skipped the honey because I thought the cherries added plenty of sweetness. The boy loved this stuff and gobbled it up like candy. The girl was more hesitant,¬†though individual elements were immediately approved.

Chinese Beef and Tofu from¬†Save with Jamie.¬†I’d never cooked tofu before – it turned out well and the kids loved it. This is a great cookbook. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ve come out with a US edition yet so plan on a¬†couple minutes to convert all the metric measurements before cooking. A flavorful meal we all liked. My only beef (har har) is that it was a bit too salty even though I skipped the salty beef stock cube and used low-sodium soy sauce. Next time I will also skip sprinkling the meat with a little salt at the beginning, but I don’t think there’s anything else I could reduce. Our local store only sells one kind of black bean sauce, and most of the excess salt came from that.

Cooking Notes – June 2014

He approves of being fed

He approves of being fed

So far it appears to be the month of Jamie Oliver and Pasta…not a bad month to have, if you must pick a theme.

Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup¬†Simple and delicious. A friend¬†who’s an excellent cook shared the recipe – her recommendations never send us wrong. Served with a salad of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic.

Fresh Tomato, Basil, and Brie Pasta¬†An old favorite from¬†The Silver Palate Cookbook. Made for our church small group’s wrap up dinner and served with salad, Jamie Oliver’s Yogurt Salad Dressing, and bread, plus this cheesecake¬†from the¬†Joy of Cooking (we always skip¬†the sour cream topping, which we don’t like), and a sauce made of¬†raspberries cooked down with sugar and a smidge of water and corn starch.

Pasta with Lemon Cream and Prosciutto¬†Everyone from babies to adults loved this dish – a banner day since the Man usually doesn’t like dishes with citrus flavorings.¬†I only¬†followed the recipe loosely based on what we had in the house. 1 shallot (though more wouldn’t hurt), no orange peel, fresh baby spinach instead of peas, no mint, whole wheat pasta. Sauteed sliced chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a squeeze of lemon at the end and put a few pieces on each pasta serving. Only used 1 slice diced prosciutto (about right – more would make it too rich in my opinion). Nice balance of fresh, creamy, and spicy. Could substitute other lemon-friendly veggies for variety.

Mini Shell Pasta With A Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce¬†by Jamie Oliver. No, we didn’t eat all these pastas in a row. I threw this together for a quick dinner after returning from vacation. It was good, but the first Jamie Oliver recipe I haven’t fallen head over heels for. The kids didn’t particularly like it at first try, though I’m sure they would after repeat exposures.

Chicken Fajitas, another from Jamie Oliver. Tasty with lots of nice fresh veggies. I ended up using a pre-made guacamole from the grocery store deli, but much prefer homemade. This dish was primarily memorable for the epic cleanup required on the griddle – my husband is a saint. Both kids liked the meat, and Annie enjoyed chowing down on the peppers as well.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth from, you guessed it, Jamie Oliver. This dish has become a staple in our home over the last half year. We have it about once a month, varying the technique and ingredients every time. It’s a great way to use up leftover bits of veggie or nice scraps of meat. I use vermicelli noodles made from brown rice for a bit of a healthy boost, and we both like to squirt a bit of hoisin sauce on when serving. Just the noodles on their own, cooked as they are with ginger, broth, and chile, are very nice. This dish is a touch spicy for the kids so far, but they’re working up to it with pieces of meat and veggie from our bowls.

Cooked Turnip Greens with Cornbread,¬†both recipes from¬†Joy of Cooking.¬†I grabbed the greens at the farmers market, cooked them low and slow with some leftover ham from the freezer as well as bacon, and served with hunks of cornbread for dipping in the sauce. Delicious. I’ve never really liked most “mess o’ greens” dishes we’ve had in the South, but I think the problem has been cooking method (too short, resulting in chewy bitter greens). These were melt in your mouth and delicious.

Crock Pot Yogurt Not a dinner, but my first attempt at homemade yogurt. I’d never realized you could make it in a crock pot until Sarah at The Provincial Homemaker posted about it. Very easy, very delicious, and very inexpensive. I used 1/4 cup of Stoneyfield plain whole milk yogurt and 1/4 cup of Greek Gods Plain Greek Yogurt for starter. Even with organic milk, making this yogurt at home worked out to about $1.25 per 32 oz container compared to $3.79/$4.00 for the storebought stuff. I chilled the whole crock pot insert full of yogurt¬†in the fridge for 6 hours at the end of the process for a little extra thickening. Next time I may try straining through cheesecloth for a greek yogurt texture.

Fried Rice¬†using a recipe from the Man’s step mother.¬†I used up leftover pork from a church pig roast (delicious!) plus¬†egg and¬†odds and ends of veggies like broccoli, scallions, onions, garlic, etc. Used a mix of low sodium soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce for seasoning. This was a treat for the Man for Father’s Day. Jack loved it, while Annie was initially hesitant but ate most of it in the end.

Cooked Beet¬†Greens with Cornbread,¬†both recipes from¬†Joy of Cooking.¬†I hadn’t intended to make greens twice in two weeks, but a friend gave us a bunch of lovely beet greens when cleaning out her fridge for a move. I cooked these a bit less long than the turnip greens since beets are more delicate.

Flatbread Pizzas¬†using naan and this shortcut recipe from Jacques Pepin¬†(look for “Lavash Pizza” halfway down the page). Great, and loved by everyone from adults to toddler. I sauteed diced portobello mushrooms, sprinkled them over the oiled naan, layered with very thinly sliced tomatoes and shredded basil from the garden, then topped with shredded parmesan and thinly sliced fresh mozzarella. The only problem is that it’s a bit soft in the middle due to all the layers. Next time I might cook the oiled naan for four or so minutes first to crisp it before adding the toppings. Also, fresh mozzarella has more moisture than the regular grocery store variety.

Roasted New Potatoes with Portobello Mushrooms and Rosemary, Baked Zucchini with Parmesan This was such a nice summery meal, all from local farmers except the mushrooms. I scrubbed the potatoes (halving or quartering any bigger than an inch or so, parboiled them about 10 minutes in salted water, then tossed them in a baking dish with cleaned portobello mushrooms. Sprinkled everything with sea salt, pepper, diced garlic, diced rosemary from the garden and a bit of olive oil, then tossed. Roasted at 425 for 25 minutes with a stir in the middle. At the same time I thinly sliced yellow and green zucchini, arranged them in a thin layer in a pan, sprinkled with salt and pepper, topped with shredded parmesan, and drizzled with olive oil. Popped them in alongside the potatoes for 20-25 minutes. After liking zucchini all winter the kids are on strike. Ah well, the adults loved it.

Chicken Nuggets¬†An easy-peasy recipe from childhood. Cut chicken thighs or breasts into 3/4 inch chunks. Roll until well coated in a flour/salt/pepper/paprika mix. Fry until browned in olive oil. Served with barbecue sauce and a bowl of cumin mixed with mayo for dipping sauce (curry mixed with mayo is also nice), and a side of cucumbers from the Farmer’s Market.

Perfect Roast Chicken from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, served with the roasted veggies, bread, and sliced seasoned tomatoes.

Cobb(ish) Salad Leftover roast chicken, diced ham, spring greens, sliced tomatoes, sauteed sliced portobello mushrooms, blue cheese dressing.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth (again), this time using up the last of the roast chicken.

Cooking Notes – November 2013

My standard cure for falling into a cooking rut is finding a few interesting cookbooks at the library. A favorite from recent weeks is The New Portuguese Table by David Leite. We’ve enjoyed everything we’ve tried so far. After a few dull weeks in October it’s turning into a pretty good food month around here.

Azorean Kale, Sausage, and Bean Soup: From The New Portuguese Table – a really fantastic soup. We loved it! Have you looked at the Azores on a map lately? They are a very long way from anything, out in the middle of the Atlantic (take a look on Google images, too – what a gorgeous place). However, it¬†turns out they’re home to awesome Portuguese food. I could not find Portuguese dry-smoked chouri√ßo¬†and only found¬†lingui√ßa a week later, so I used regular raw soft Mexican chorizo instead, draining off most of the fat. It was awesome – I might just stick with the Mexican kind because it made a perfect soup. I love that this soup is fresh and healthy yet filling. Pureeing a third of the beans is a nice touch. Served with bread or Whole Wheat Cream Biscuits from The Joy of Cooking.

Dried Cherry Cream Scones: A standard favorite from The Joy of Cooking, prepared for a ladies’ tea hosted by a friend.

Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken. Yes, again. Served with crisp-roasted brussels sprouts.

Chicken Soup: No recipe – just the carcass from the roast chicken plus scraps from the fridge like carrots, celery, onions, garlic, etc.

Black Olive Risotto: From The New Portuguese Table. This is a great risotto, cream and flavorful and filling. We both really liked it. Served with Broiled Tomatoes with Parmesan. Could switch the chicken broth to vegetable broth to make this a completely vegetarian meal.

Pork Shoulder with Sauerkraut and Apples: Very very tasty – pork, onion, apples, thyme, wine, sauerkraut, brown sugar and caraway seeds cook together into the perfect tender and savory fall meal. This recipe came from another library book I really love, Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Slow Cooking. I used pork butt with¬†the fat trimmed¬†because that’s what I had in the freezer – we tend to shop meat sales and stock up when we find them. I also added an extra apple and used whatever varieties we had on hand. I love that this cookbook offers both a crock pot and an oven variation for each slow cooking recipe since I usually prefer the texture of oven-cooked meats. I prepped this up during the kids’ nap and left it in the oven to slow cook all afternoon. I’m not big on sweet with my savory so next time I might cut the brown sugar. Served with hot rolls. Funnily enough, our girl, who has lately been refusing some of her favorite foods like tomatoes and oranges, gobbled down serving after serving of sauerkraut like it was cake. Odd child.

Spicy Korean Chicken with Fresh Cabbage: From, you guessed it, another library book: The Korean Table. A nice mix for warm, cold, spicy, fresh, soft and crunchy. Big hit in our house. Half a head of cabbage makes a lot of cabbage paired with just a pound of chicken. Might want to reduce it a bit and save the rest for something else.

My Mother’s Carrot-Cabbage-Cheddar Soup: A fall classic my mother’s been making for as long as I can remember – a bit of bacon, onions, shredded cabbage and carrots, broth and cheddar cooked together into more than the sum of its parts. Fair warning it does look like puke when finished…pretty sure my siblings and I were each dismissed from the table at least once for asking my mother why she’d served us vomit, so brace yourself if you have any 8-12 year old boys in your house.

Chorizo and Potato Tacos: Very easy and delicious with a little salsa verde and sour cream. Usually I add egg to potato and chorizo tacos but they were very nice without it. I also liked the addition of the chile. Used the leftover chorizo from the Azorean soup above.

Almond Chicken Soup: Fantastic! I roasted butternut squash and a few chicken thighs in advance, and used kale instead of collards. Flavorful and filling.

Sausage and Egg Tortilla:This is a tortilla in the Spanish sense, meaning more of a baked egg dish like a frittata. The recipe came (again) from The New Portuguese Table. Delicious, though a bit salty. Also, I’d never cooked linguica sausage before – beware that it dries out easily. Best eaten with something light and fresh like salad greens.

Cooking Notes – January 2013

Throughout the month of December kind church members, local friends, and neighbors provided us with a steady stream of meals on the days Carl had to work. Theoretically he was on paternity leave, but practically speaking there were weeks where he had to go in every day, and days when he had to work until 8:00 or 10:00 at night. Having dinner taken care of was incredibly helpful in the twins’ early days before they had a nap schedule and were still screaming little babies adjusting to some huge transitions. We simply didn’t have ten predictable minutes when one baby (if not both) didn’t need to be held. Between¬†donated meals and ¬†a few frozen dishes, I cooked (if you can call it that – brats and canned sauerkraut) exactly once before Christmas. God bless the lovely people that surround us! A month ago I couldn’t imagine how exactly I was going to get meals on the table with¬†two babies¬†in my arms. However, by the week before Christmas nap schedules really began to shape up and these days we have a long predictable nap in the morning and another in the afternoon. In fact, my first several days back to cooking involved not just us but three additional houseguests – we ate simply, but getting meals on the table felt easy and manageable again.

As a caveat to this glowing picture, I should add that earlier this week I made our favorite Leek and Potato Soup from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was coming along perfectly, and I turned it up to finish simmering before pureeing it. Then I went upstairs to put a baby down for bed, forgot about it, and came down to a smoky house and a burned mush of vegetables stuck to¬†the pot. Now I know why my mother always burned the lima beans when she had young kids :).

BAKING/DESSERTS

Cream Scones I made these with one of Carl’s sisters when they visited right after New Years. We used my favorite cream scones recipe from The Joy of Cooking and added chopped apricots. I made them a second time when a friend came to tea. With only a handful of ingredients and 15 minutes in the oven this is about as complex as baking gets these days. We skipped our usual Christmas cookie baking throughout Advent this year and instead picked up a few packages of cookie dough for the occasional afternoon or evening of fresh-baked cookies.¬†This Christmas I was very grateful for many items in the frozen food aisle at which I’d previously turned up my nose.

Lemon Sour Cream Cookies from an old sample copy of Cook’s Country. The New Year just seems to call for lemon…

MAIN MEALS/SIDES

Beef Soup with Bread When my parents visited right after Christmas, I asked my mother to help with meal planning as I didn’t have much time to prep for my Dad’s special dietary needs (no gluten, onion, garlic, or beans). She graciously jumped in and did most of the cooking as well – not restful for her, but a huge blessing to us. Carl had to work on Christmas, so we had our big Christmas feast two days later after my parents had arrived – a big prime rib with mouth-watering gravy was the centerpiece. After they left, I cooked the leftover rib meat down¬†and made¬†a stew with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, rice, beef broth, and¬†herbs/spices. It felt so good to be experimenting in the kitchen again! We ate the soup with rye bread sent by my grandmother – a good hot winter meal.

Indian Curry Chicken Salad Piggybacking, once again, on a meal my mother made, I cut up the leftover meat from two roast chickens and tossed it with halved grapes, chopped celery, diced apricots, mayo, cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and LOTS of curry (hot and sweet). It makes a delicious cold chicken salad when you have leftover meat or don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Served with fruit and bread for an easy lunch.

Steak with Salsa and Black Beans and Salad¬†A group effort – Carl cooked up the steaks. I made the black beans in advance using a recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. The beans were fairly bland and uninteresting, so the hunt is on for a good slow cooker black bean recipe. I served the steak with several topping options – chopped tomatoes, tomatillas chopped and mixed into salsa verde, sour cream, and shredded mexican cheeses. Served with a salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic by my mother in law to round out the meal. As a nice leftovers dish, I heated a scoop of black beans, and topped with a fried egg, more salsa verde, and a bit more mexican cheese.

Ham with Mashed Potatoes and Wilted Greens My sister-in-law helped out by putting the ham in the oven, and after that it pretty much took care of itself until I added the glaze near the end. I mashed the potatoes with cream cheese, butter, salt, pepper, and a splash of cream (a caloric Christmas treat!), and my mother-in-law infused a bit of olive oil with garlic on the stove, then poured it over the spinach greens with a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Ham, Tomato, and Cheese Omelette With leftover ham. I diced up five extra baggies worth of ham and put them in the freezer for soups, quiches, and omelettes this winter.

Spinach Soup I used this recipe, with significant tweaks after realizing that A) a pint of half & half is a LOT, and B) the soup really had no seasoning other than one clove of garlic and a pinch of nutmeg. I used 12 oz. of fresh spinach, three cloves of garlic, significantly less half & half, and added salt, pepper, tabasco, and a few other odds and ends from the spice cupboard. While nothing out of this world, if you cut the half and half it whips up a reasonably healthy dinner in ten minutes. Served with rye bread.

Korean Steak with veggies and bread The Korean Steak recipe came from a cookbook my grandmother sent for Christmas: Food & Wine’s Best of the Best. It was delicious. Tweaks for next time: low-sodium soy sauce so the salt doesn’t overshadow the other flavors, more meat (the marinade made a lot), and a shorter cooking time (the recommended time resulted in well-done beef – tender, thanks to the marinade, but not what I was hoping for).

Bratwurst with Warm Leek and White Bean Salad¬†The recipe for Warm Leeks and White Beans also came from Food & Wine’s Best of the Best. A great, very simple recipe – flavorful, without overwhelming the other tastes on the plate. We will definitely make this one again. Served with raw veggies.

Baked Eggs with Diced Ham – a quick, hot after church meal.

Thai Ground Pork Wraps From a booklet that came with the food and wine cookbook – Best Healthy Recipes. Ground pork (in this case I had to use a pork/beef/veal mix b/c the grocery store didn’t have straight ground pork), mixed with spices, fried, stirred up with a savory sauce and herbs, and served with lettuce for making rolls, and peanuts and sriracha chile sauce for topping. Tasty, though not quite the flavor I was shooting for.

Orechietta with N’Duja and Aragula except not because our little hick grocery store had neither orechietta nor n’duja nor aragula, so we substituted and had Farfalle with hot Italian sausage and spinach. It was very tasty. Also from Food & Wine’s Best of the Best, served with salad.

Baked ham with tomatoes and onions, and crisp-roasted brussels sprouts My Mom’s old easy baked ham dish, plus a very easy, very tasty side of brussels sprouts using a method my friend taught me. You’d never have convinced 12 year old me that I’d one day love brussels sprouts (at least ones cooked in a healthy way vs. soaked in bacon grease…). Sprouts with the stem cut off, quartered, tossed with pepper, olive oil, and lots of salt, and roasted at 350-400 around half an hour until the outer leaves are crispy. Like potato chips but better.

Pesto Prosciutto Sandwiches Pesto frozen from our garden this summer, whipped up with mayonnaise and diced sun-dried tomatoes, spread on bread, then layered up with prosciutto, turkey, and tomatoes. Lots of flavor in one simple sandwich.

Soy Sauce Broccoli A quick side whipped up to go with a casserole someone from church dropped off. I’ve never made broccoli in the microwave before, but this actually turned out a very tasty, simple recipe for fresh veggies¬†in minutes – a handy trick to fall back on for busy nights. Place broccoli in a microwave-safe dish. Add 2 Tbsp. water. Drizzle lightly with soy sauce (I used Tamari), and light sprinkles of garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Cover and micrwave 3-4 minutes until cooked but not soft.

Brussels Sprouts with Avocado, Bacon and Lime, and Polenta with Goat Cheese Delicious dishes, both. Go ahead and click the link – the page of recipes is great! I’m becoming a brussels sprouts convert. These were quartered, sauteed with just a bit of bacon/grease (two pieces for a large pan), and tossed with avocado to warm, with a squeeze of lime over all and salt and pepper. A really delicious, flavorful, and filling¬†plate of vegetables. I make polenta in the microwave – 1/2 cup of polenta, 2.5 cups of water, a dash of salt and pepper. Microwave 4 minutes, stir, microwave another 4, stir, microwave another 2-4 minutes to desired thickness. I like to stir in crumbled goat cheese at the end, but you can also serve plain or with other add-ins or herbs.

Steak with Mashed Turnips and Garlicky wilted Spinach – When I asked Carl what he wanted to eat this week he said “steak” very firmly. Luckily the grocery store had a great sale on. This was my first time cooking turnips. Peeled, quartered, boiled ~25 minutes until tender, mashed with salt, pepper, and sour cream. I meant to add horseradish (per a recipe) but realized we were out at the last minute. For the spinach I sauteed a couple of crushed garlic cloves in olive oil, then fished out the cloves and poured the hot oil over the spinach, tossing to coat. A little drizzle of balsamic, and just a pinch of salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms, plus sauteed Kale The pasta recipe is a favorite from Lidia’s Italian Table (found at a library sale). This was my first time making kale. On the recommendation of a friend I sauteed it in a bit of olive oil and garlic. Delicious! I love how much more body/texture it has than spinach.

What’s cooking in your house?

Stocking the Freezer

When you’re adopting newborns, your hands are tied on most advance preparation. Because a birthmother can revoke her consent to adoption up until a week after the birth, our agency warns against stocking baby supplies, clothing, or furniture in advance. When you can’t work on the nursery or prepare in “traditional” ways, what can you do? Stock the freezer. If babies don’t come, we can still enjoy the convenient meals on busy nights. If they do come,¬†we’ll have dinners¬†prepped to cover several weeks¬†after¬†our church stops dropping suppers off. I’ve been making meals in big batches and freezing the extras. Carl usually goes through a large container of yogurt each week. Those containers¬†(plus large cottage cheese or sour cream containers) are¬†perfect for freezing meals; each container holds enough soup or stew for one dinner for two adults. So far we’ve got:

DINNERS (each meal is enough for two adults)

  • Curry Chicken Stew, 2 meals (I always tweak the Silver Palate recipe, but this is close)
  • Silvia’s Stew, 2 meals
  • Lasagna, 3 meals
  • Shredded pork for tacos or quesadillas, 2 meals
  • Homemade pesto, 3 meals (more to come – our basil plants are exploding)
  • Chunky meaty spaghetti sauce, 2 nights’ worth (making more today)
  • Buttermilk Biscuits, 3 meals ‘ worth of sides
  • Still to make and freeze: Ham and Mushroom Quiche, 3 meals
  • Still to make and freeze: Shredded chicken or turkey

BREAKFASTS

  • Cream Scones, 2 meals (Joy of Cooking)
  • Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, 4-5 meals (Joy of Cooking)
  • Still to make and freeze: Egg and Cheese Burritos
  • Still to make and freeze: Sausage Biscuit breakfast sandwiches

I’m still planning ahead and making more as I go. Do you have any favorite meals that you think freeze beautifully? I’m all ears/eyes/potholders.