Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23 - 28

Happy fall!  Here's how I'm celebrating:  freezing inside my 63-degree house, yet not wanting to turn the furnace on for the first time.  Instead, I keep cooking things and burning candles.  WAY more efficient, right?

So we're settling into a kind of back-to-school, back-to-real-life routine.  And sitting down to plan a menu this time of year (when the freezer's full of summer veggies, and I've got stacks and stacks of canned goodies to choose from) is kind of like a free-for-all.  But planning a menu when you're hungry is sort of like grocery shopping when you're hungry, especially when the choices are limitless.  It's dangerous.  So I might find myself doing some editing as the week goes on, but here's the plan for now.

I was originally thinking chili, but we're only 2 days into fall, so there's LOTS of time for that, right?  Instead, I'm satisfying my urge for tomatoes and beans with Pasta Fagioli soup.  Quicker, a little more veggie-fied than chili, but still highly dippable with the yummy bread I got at Eastern Market yesterday.

Breakfast for dinner!
Pumpkin pancakes, sausage, and sliced apples.

For the pumpkin pancakes:
Mix together 1/2 c white flour, 1/2 c whole wheat flour
Add 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt
In another bowl, mix together 1 beaten egg, 1/2 c milk or water (we never have milk when it's pancake time), 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and 1/2 - 1 c pumpkin puree.  (I start with 1/2 c, then after I mix the wet and dry ingredients, I add more if the mixture is too dry).  Use about 1/4 c batter for each pancake.

Maple syrup is so extra yummy on pumpkin pancakes.

Clams with bread and salad:

Steam clams in a broth made with onion, garlic, and white wine.  After that, pull them out, add some tomatoes and cook it down a bit.  Pour sauce back over the clams and use the bread for dipping the sauce.

I'm thinking a plain old salad with balsamic vinegar to go with.

Turkey burgers with swiss cheese
Oven roasted cauliflower
Sauteed cabbage

Grilled salmon with roasted brussels sprouts and balsamic lentils (cook lentils and serve with balsamic vinegar drizzled over 'em.  Quite lovely, I think.)

Homemade pizza!  I canned some sauce for the very first time on Saturday, and I'm anxious to try it out.  I made 14 jars, so I hope I like it.  (If not, everyone's getting pizza sauce for Christmas!)  The crust recipe is posted in last week's post.

Have a great week.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16 - 20

If you know me at all, you know I tend to get ahead of myself during the edges of seasons.  I know it's technically still summer, but since it has been cooling off enough at night to sleep beautifully, I've been itching for fall.  Which is weird, because I'm a big big fan of summer.  But mentally I'm ready for lentils and soups and squashes.  (Which sounds fantastic when you wake up at 5:30 in the morning and it's 44 degrees outside, but not so much when you get home from work and it's sunny and almost 80.)

So I'm checking the weekly weather forecast before I make my food plan.  And just like my closet (which I worked on today, pulling out the MOST summery stuff, and beginning to add some of my cooler weather clothes), this week's menu is a mix and match of the seasons we're straddling.  See what you think.

Homemade pizza (I've posted my crust recipe here, with a mix of equal parts whole wheat and white flour.)
We'll top it with some basics:  onion, red pepper, chicken sausage, mushrooms, and maybe a bit of broccoli for fun.  Some hunks from a ball of mozzarella, and we'll be good to go!

Some delicious Fat Tire (now available in Michigan!) to go with.

Because the Lions are playing on Sunday night -- so we NEED football food for dinner.

My tomatoes have done exceedingly well this year, so I'm still finding ways to use them all up.  I'll make tomatoes stuffed with mushrooms, parmesan and spinach.  I can't wait.

The weather forecast is saying it will be cool on Tuesday, and maybe even rainy, so we're making meatloaf.  I don't crave it very often, and so I don't even have a go-to recipe...  so much time passes between each time I make it, I can't remember how I made it last time.  The fun thing is that I get to look for a new recipe each time I want it.  I'm trying Alton Brown's (from the Food Network) recipe this time.  It has cayenne and cumin in it, which are two of my favorite spices in the whole world.

We'll probably do some boiled baby potatoes and broccoli with it -- just a pretty basic dinner.

It's supposed to be nice out, so we'll grill -- chicken breasts, salmon fillets, or turkey burgers (they're all in our freezer right now, so we'll pick on Tuesday or Wednesday).  Salad and bread to go with.

One fall thing I love is stuffed acorn squash -- baking a squash, creating a filling, then putting the two together and baking some more.  There was a recipe in this month's Eating Well magazine for Curried Lentil Stuffed Squash that reminded me how much I liked this, and got me thinking about the stuffings I could make.  I think I'll steal the lentil idea, but I'll also add some turkey sausage, roasted and marinated red pepper, sauteed mushroom and onion, and some shredded parmesan cheese on top.  Or maybe feta.  Or goat cheese.  Thursday's still a long way off.  I have time to decide.

Have a great week!

Monday, August 20, 2012


So we just returned from a trip to Hawaii (Maui and Kauai).  Vacation food is always so much fun, so although our cooking was less frequent than usual (even though we were in condos with full kitchens and grills), we thought we'd share some of our Hawaiian food highlights!

We picked up this cookbook (always try to buy a regional cookbook when we go on vacation somewhere -- it's a great souvenir) and hope to use some of these recipes soon (like, we fell in love with  poke, huli huli chicken, kalua pork, and pretty much anything containing banana or pineapple).  I'll share recipes as I try them!  (And I will try them, I promise.)

Hawaii Cuisine:  A Sampler of Favorite Island Recipes by Chef Sam Choy

Restaurants we loved:

On Maui, we hit happy hour and had fabulous snacks and mai tais at 5 Palms in Lahaina.

And pineapple creme brulee for dessert.

We visited Sansei Sushi Bar and had fabulous sushi.  The sauce from our appetizer was so good we kept the plate on the table through the rest of the meal so we could keep using that sauce with other foods.

We also made sure to hit a luau (Old Lahaina Luau -- great fun), and got to try the kalua pig (loved) and poi (not so much).  And more mai tais.

We shopped a few times at The Fish Market Maui, both for ingredients for cooking in (opah, ono, shrimp, poke) and for take out for lunch (fish, shrimp and pork tacos).  We love that little place.

On Kauai, we were starting to get a bit of restaurant fatigue, so we quickly found a fish market there, and ended up with some fabulous tuna steaks and more shrimp for another home-cooked meal.

We did have a great dinner at Josselins Tapas Bar in Poipu on Kauai.  More great seafood -- ahi belly, butterfish, and (not seafood) a delicious little slider.  Realized we were hungry for burgers!

So later that week we visited Bubba's Burgers on Kauai.  And they were just what we needed.

And one of our best Maui meals happened randomly.  We were having a day of driving around, finding snorkeling spots, swimming, driving some more, finding little hiking trails...  and the chips and salsa/granola bars we packed wasn't really keeping us from wanting to chew our own arms off.  We were STARVING.  We ended up back at an overlook of Honolua Bay (a fabulous place to snorkel -- we'd been there that morning) and there was a guy selling chicken from the back of a truck.  Sketchy, maybe...  but we bought half of one, got one of our beach mats out of the trunk, and devoured that smoky grilled chicken as we watched snorkelers in the bay.  We talked about that chicken for days.

Honolua Bay -- isn't it pretty?

So, despite all the fantastic seafood we ate throughout the trip, one of our other favorite meals was another chicken place -- Chicken in a Barrel.  It caught our eye as we were driving to the north side of Kauai one day, because the name was funny.  Phil hoped it alluded to the size of a serving (like a bucket at KFC, but bigger?) but we found out it referred to the 50 gallon metal drums set up next to the road that were used as smokers.  We had a fantastic barbecue meal here -- chicken (our favorite), beef, pork, and ribs.

And I just need to mention shave ice.  I always thought it was basically a glorified Snoopy Snow Cone Machine (yes, I had one).  But it's so so so much better, though if I try to explain the difference, I can't, except to say that it has ice cream underneath.  And the flavors are so much better.  And when you're hiking 8 miles to see and swim under a gorgeous waterfall (but have to scramble over rocks for those 8 miles and your feet are exhausted and you didn't bring enough water and your chocolate in your trail mix has melted), all you can think about is a shave ice, and wish that someone with entrepreneurial spirit would set up a stand on the trail.

Mango was our favorite flavor, but this one was a mixture of tiger's blood (really, it's a combo of strawberry, pineapple, and something else) and passion fruit.  I think there's mac nut ice cream underneath, but I can't quite remember.

The whole trip was fabulous, and despite appearances, we did more than just eat...  lots of swimming, turtle stalking, hiking, and biking.  All things that make you very very hungry!

Now that we're home, it's time to eat like real people again...  harder to justify ice cream in the middle of the afternoon when you're not on vacation.

Have a great week!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Canning Season is here!

Again, since it's summer, I'm taking a break from actual meal planning.  Like, last night we knew we'd make hamburgers, but then we started rummaging around in the fridge and found way too many delicious side dishes -- we ended up with lovely burgers, grilled/roasted potatoes, grilled corn on the cob, salad, and sauteed mushrooms and onions.

You see, I have an inability to limit myself at the farmer's market.  The rest of the year I can go to the grocery store and come out with only the things on my list -- the things I'll need for the next week.  But farmer's markets cause me to react a bit differently.  It might be the limited time -- this stuff won't ALWAYS be available, or the appreciation of the freshness, or the fact that if I buy a dozen ears of corn I can save a buck.  Whatever it is, we tend to have an abundance of produce all summer long.  I just can't say no.

Of course, I love to dabble with ways to preserve and save some of the good stuff.  So a few years ago I started exploring canning, and I try to branch out to a few new recipes each year.

Canning season has officially started in the Allmen household.  We started yesterday with corn relish, from the plain old Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  Here's what it looked like today after I cleaned up the jars and got them ready to store:

How could you NOT love a hobby that makes beautiful things like this?  And now we'll have an excuse for crab cakes all winter long...

Here's the recipe:

9 c corn kernels (I blanched 11 good-sized ears to get 9 cups.  Actually, I blanched 12, but only needed 11, so we finished the last one on the grill)
3 c finely chopped cabbage
1 c finely chopped onion
1 c finely chopped red bell pepper
4 c white vinegar
3 c granulated sugar (upon tasting this, it's a big sweet for me, but I know there are rules about changing ingredients when you're canning, so I'm not sure if I can add less sugar.  I'll try to investigate.)
1 c water
2 tbsp dry mustard
1 tbsp celery seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground turmeric

1.  Combine all ingredients in large stainless steel saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes or until liquid is reduced and veggies are tender-crisp.
2.  Prep canning jars (simmer in water in the canner).  Prep closures.
3.  Fill jars (1/2 inch headspace), put on lids and bands, and return to canner.  Make sure there's at least an inch of water over the top of the jars.
4.  Bring water to a full boil.  When it gets there, start timing:  boil for 15 minutes, then remove lid and turn off heat, letting jars sit for 5 more minutes.  Take them out and put them somewhere they can sit undisturbed for 24 hours.

The recipe said it would make about 5 pint jars, but I got 7 out of it.  Plus a little extra to use with the burger extravaganza last night.

Next up:  Zesty Zucchini Relish (with horseradish in it -- looks good!)

Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mint, mint, mint

So, with the crazy heat of this rainless July, my garden is limping along, in most cases.  We're coaxing enough cucumbers from it to keep us happy, but the zucchini seems to be shutting down.  We're trying to baby our tomato plants to keep them going -- can't wait to see this month's water bill.

One plant that needs no help at all is our mint.  We have the mint planted in its own little confined area, because it spreads like crazy, but the plants were growing so big they were shading the beds on either side of it.  So on Sunday, I cut down some of the longer branches that were leaning into the tomatoes and the beans.  Here's what I cut:

I couldn't just throw it out, but a girl can only drink so many mojitos...  so what else could we do with it?  We had two ideas:

Mint pesto!  Did you know you could make pesto from mint leaves?  We make a huge batch with basil each fall, and freeze it in ice cube trays and then use it all year long in soup and pasta and stews, but as soon as we heard about mint pesto, we began imagining it in marinades for pork and lamb, or maybe in risotto with peas.  So we read a few recipes online (they varied SO widely) and then came up with this one.  It was a matter of starting with a few ingredients, and then tasting again and again as we added more things:

In the food processor:
*  a bunch of mint leaves.  A whole bunch.  Like, most of the bowl of the processor (I think ours is a 7 cup one).
*  a handful of almonds (we used roasted and salted, because that's all we had)
*  a drizzle of olive oil

We blended this, then started adding more:
* a few cloves of garlic
*  red pepper flakes
*  lemon juice
*  a little more olive oil
*  salt and pepper
*  a little water to help with the consistency

This made enough to fill one ice cube tray, plus a little left over for the fridge to try on something in the next few days.

We also tried one more experiment.  We're steeping mint leaves in a jar of white rum -- thinking that some mint-flavored rum might enhance the aforementioned mojitos.

This is what it looks like after two days:

We'll probably let it steep for a few weeks before we give it a go.  I'll be sure to let you know if it works!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25 - 29

There still isn't a ton of cooking in the plan for this week, but what we're lacking in quantity, we're making up in FUN!

Last night Phil and I attended our most educational dinner party ever, and we learned to make sushi!  I was so very proud of myself, especially since my tendency when making anything requiring rolling or stuffing is to put WAY too much stuff in (think burritos that won't roll, sandwiches you can't bite).  But I showed a little bit of restraint...
Phil's holding our first-ever sushi creations!

This morning was fun too -- our chives are sprouting, and so I clipped some and sprinkled them on my egg.  Since I watch Top Chef, I, too, think I can deconstruct food.  So this morning I made a deconstructed omelet.  Sauteed the veggies, put them on the plate, sprinkled feta cheese over them, and then topped it with a lovely fried egg.  And home-grown chives on top.

And for dinner?  Lots of events and meetings again this week, so the menu's pretty minimalist.  (Side note:  when I typed the word 'minimalist' I accidentally wrote 'minimalish.'  Which might make more sense.)

It's sunny and not cold, so we're grilling.  One of Phil's favorite cookbooks is an oldie from college:  Grill it Right.  We're trying to make Zesty Drumsticks, German potato salad, sauteed cabbage & red onion, and watermelon on the side.

Zesty drumsticks:
Make a sauce with 1/4 c currant jelly, 1/4 c chili sauce, 1 T vinegar, 1 T Worcestershire sauce, 1/8 tsp garlic powder, and hot pepper sauce to taste.  Put it in a saucepan and simmer  until bubbly.  Grill the chicken drumsticks and brush with sauce in the last 10 minutes of grilling.

German potato salad:
Cube about a pound of potatoes, cook in boiling water for about 10 minutes.  Drain and cool.  In a skillet, cook 4 slices of bacon.  Save a teensy bit of the bacon drippings and saute about a 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped celery in the drippings (supplemented with olive oil if necessary).  Stir in 1 T flour, 1 T sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp dry mustard, 1/8 tsp pepper.  Add 1/3 c water and 1/4 c cider vinegar.  Cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Stir crumbled bacon back in.  

On a big piece of heavy tin foil, put potatoes in center.  Pour dressing over top.  Fold foil around & seal with a double fold.  Grill on medium/medium-high for 15 - 20 minutes.

Slice red onion, saute in a bit of olive oil.  Add shredded cabbage, continue to cook.  Season with salt and pepper.

The theme today is use-it-all-up.  So we're making naan pizzas:

Put a piece of naan (we buy 4-packs frozen at Trader Joe's) on the pizza stone.  Top with sauce, whatever veggies are around, some sliced sausage or ham, and cheese.  Mozzarella is good, but so is feta, goat, or parmesan.  Bake at about 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown nicely.

Have a lovely week!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I'm Into Smoothies Now (March 18 - 22, 2012)

I know the main focus of this little blog is dinner, but I'm jumping topics today to breakfast...  Not sure if it's the premature sudden spring, or the lack of produce that this past school year has inflicted upon me, or an excuse to buy a new blender, but I've developed a bit of a smoothie obsession lately.  I started making them for breakfast as a way to start my day a little bit healthier, maybe get a few veggies into my life, but now I crave them.  And this past week, when I wasn't able to get to the grocery store to stock up on my fresh ingredients, I felt a bit lost.

So, I've been messing with recipes, and I have my current favorite.  But it changes slightly each time I make it, and so I'm sure it will continue to evolve.  But for breakfast tomorrow, here's what I'll be having:

Cucumber and Blueberry Smoothie
Into the blender, put:
1 peeled and roughly chopped cucumber
1 cup frozen blueberries
mint leaves (a pinch -- maybe 10 - 20 leaves?  Think mojito serving size...)
1 peeled and sliced kiwi
1 handful spinach leaves
lime juice

You can add a bit of water or a shot of orange juice if it's having a hard time getting going.

I also love to add some shredded zucchini (and we still have a TON left over from our monster zucchini plants last summer) or maybe some peaches.  Blueberries and cucumber are my base, and I mess around with the rest of the ingredients.

And yes -- it looks a little gross, especially when you've finished your cup and there's little bits of stuff left behind.  Just hide your dirty dish until you have time to wash it.

Okay, on to dinner...
So, with spring comes that time of year when there are LOTS of extra things (performances!  planning meetings!  annual whatevers!) that keep us out later in the evening.  I broke down and bought a loaf of sandwich bread this week (don't do that very often) because I'm thinking it'll be a sandwich kind of week...

Homemade pizza -- make the crust in the KitchenAid mixer (half white, half whole-wheat flour) and top with:
pizza sauce
blend of mozzarella and goat cheese
roasted red pepper
red onion
Italian chicken sausage
bit of spinach

Bake at 450 for 25 or so minutes (depending on how thick the layers of ingredients are).

lettuce, leftover flank steak (from Saturday night -- it was yummy), blue cheese, roasted red pepper, sunflower seeds, red onion, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper

Sandwiches!  Some possible ingredients:
For Karen:  turkey, hummus, spinach, red pepper, red onion.
For Phil:  ham, swiss cheese, mayo.

Sandwich day can make us both happy!

We're going to attempt to cook a real dinner!

Grill some salmon.  Probably top with some barbecue sauce.  Sauteed green beans, salad, rolls.

Looking forward to the day when I can crack open a cookbook again (and actually cook from it), but I think we're doing okay for now.

Have a great week!

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 19 - 23

Happy Presidents' Day!  In honor of it, we'll be having soup.  (Really, we'd be having soup sometime this week anyway.  Hard to avoid soup in the winter.)

We spent the weekend up north, so Sunday dinner was a giant leftover salad -- we had half a tub of arugula from the weekend, plus some spinach waiting at home for us.  That was the base.  We sauteed some veggies we'd brought along for the weekend:  bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and the rest of the asparagus from Saturday night dinner.  Mixed it all in with the salad base, plus a bit of parmesan cheese, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  We grilled flank steak on Saturday, so we used the leftovers to sprinkle on top of the salad.

We're eating out!  A few of the top contenders:  Union Woodshop, The Root, or a mystery third option (French Laundry?  Holly Hotel?  Mesquite Creek?)

Found this recipe in the Detroit Free Press:

Meatless Mexican Stuffed Peppers
I'm thinking I'll go easy on the cheese, though -- it seems like a lot of cheese.

We'll also have sauteed zucchini with garlic, onion, chiles, and lime juice.

Grilled fish (not sure exactly what's in the freezer right now)
Butternut squash and pear soup

And a lunch bonus!
When I was looking through recipes, I found this lovely salad, and thought it would be perfect for lunch.  Lunch hasn't been the healthiest or most structured time for me lately -- but I think bringing an actual food (instead of just grazing on the random fruit/granola bars/yogurts/chocolate/nuts I keep in my office) might help.

Lentils with Mint and Beets (from Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington)

1.  Saute 1 clove chopped garlic and half a chopped red onion in a bit of olive oil.  Add 1 c french lentils, a bit of salt, and enough water to cover.  Boil, then reduce heat to medium low.
2.  Simmer about 20 - 25 minutes.  Drain the water and spread the lentils on a pan to stop the cooking process.
3.  Cook 3 whole beets in boiling water until done (check every 20 minutes or so).  Rinse under water, and rub the skins off (when they're cooked, their skins will rub off easily) and chop into small cubes.
4.  Stack about 15 fresh mint leaves, roll them like a cigar, then slice them thin.
5.  Make a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and a bit of salt and pepper.
6.  Combine everything.
7.  The recipe says it's great with either some toasted walnuts or a bit of goat cheese on top.  I say, "Maybe both!"

Have a great week.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29 - February 2

Yahoo!  January is almost done!  Not that I want to wish my life away, but winter isn't really my favorite thing.  But I'm trying...  so there are a few new soups and stews on the menu this week...

Chicken and chorizo stew:  based on a recipe from Jan/Feb 2012 Cooking Light, but with many, many different ingredients.  Here's what I'm doing (it's cooking as I type):

1.  Poach two boneless skinless chicken breasts in a mix of water and chicken stock.
2.  Remove chicken from pan, let it cool, then shred it.  Pour liquid out of pan and save.
3.  Saute some chorizo in a bit of olive oil.  Add (one at a time, stirring in and letting each cook for a minute or so):  chopped onion, chopped sweet potato, sliced mushrooms, chopped red bell pepper, corn, diced zucchini.
4.  Stir in some garlic (I chopped 3 cloves) and some spices:  a teaspoon of cumin, a quarter teaspoon salt, some saffron threads, a sprinkling of cayenne.
5.  Pour the cooking liquid back in, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer.  Simmer for 20 - 30 minutes.
6.  Add the shredded chicken back in.  Cook some more (at least until chicken is heated through) until you're ready to eat.  Be sure to check the seasonings, since measuring the amount of veggies was vague at best.
7.  Stir in a bit of red wine vinegar at the end.  Sprinkle with parsley.

I can't vouch for the taste yet, but it smells fantastic.

My favorite go-to dinner in the winter:
Grilled salmon (with bq sauce)
Roasted brussels sprouts (wash, remove stem bottom and cut in half, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then spread on a baking sheet.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes, stirring every now and then.  Sprinkle a little bit of shredded parmesan for the last few minutes of cooking if you're feeling festive.
Sauteed veggies (a misture of mushrooms, onions, red bell pepper, green beans)

Spinach and lentil soup with cheese and basil

Beet soup with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese:

I'm making this one up as I go along.  Here's what I'm thinking:

Roasted golden beets, a chopped onion, some chopped garlic:  saute it all in a pan.  Add a bit of veggie stock and simmer for a while.  Puree.  Mix in some plain greek yogurt.

Top with some crumbled feta cheese, some toasted pine nuts, and a drizzle of 18 year balsamic vinegar.  I'm thinking it'll be good!

Have a great week!  Happy February!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15 - 19

Well, it finally feels like winter...  and I was kind of thinking that things might just jump straight to spring. I'm ready to be done eating oranges and soup.  But it's only the middle of January, so even though I wrote a generic "fruit" on the grocery list, I still came home with my weekly bag of clementines.  Sure, there are other fruits at the store, but they're looking about as vibrant as you'd expect cherries to look in January...  (not very).

So we're still working hard on reminding ourselves what real food tastes and feels like.  And since it's January, we're roasting lots of things.  Here we go...

Broiled barramundi (rubbed with a bit of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper)
Roasted brussels sprouts (again, olive oil, salt & pepper, perhaps a bit -- or a lot -- of garlic, and maybe some parmesan cheese at the end, when there are only a few minutes left to cook)
Salad, perhaps with some of those orange pieces (hey, if I'm gonna buy 'em, I gotta eat 'em, right?) and some fancy olive oil and vinegar we got for Christmas:  tangerine balsamic and blood orange olive oil from The Olive Grove in Farmington, MI.

It's a big old salad day.  Here's what I'm thinking:
Salad greens
roasted asparagus
sauteed mushrooms and onions
roasted red pepper (I can it in the fall in a mix of white wine vinegar and olive oil, so it has a lovely tanginess?  tangy-ness?)
feta cheese
olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing
top it with a gorgeous fried egg

I can't wait.

Tuscan white bean soup with escarole

And we're gonna try something new...

Last night, as we had our usual really long wait for a table at one of our favorite restaurants (the French Laundry -- the Fenton one, not the California one), we began to reflect on this practice of going out to eat on Saturday nights.  Lovely, yes, but a bit claustrophobia-inducing as we huddle closer together as more and more swarms of folks come in the door.

There are some places we've really been craving lately (especially Union Woodshop -- but since it appeared on that Food Network show with Guy Fieri, we hear the wait is REALLY awful) but haven't gone since we'd be sitting around for hours waiting.

And Phil had this excellent thought:
1.  We like to cook.  It's hard to find time during the week, but we have more time on weekends.
2.  We like to go out to eat.  Often, it's a time-saver as well.
3.  The restaurants we love best are crazy crowded on the weekends.  Still full during the week, but not as bad.
4.  What if we swapped our Saturday for a weeknight?  We could go to our favorite restaurants again, and spend our weekends cooking elaborate & gorgeous (or at least a bit more time-consuming) dinners than we attempt during the week.

I like it.

But we have to make sure we're not just turning it into going out MORE.  Because that would mean that we're cheating something, somehow...  sort of.

So we'll see how this goes...  Have a great week!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 7 - 12

Week two of We-Cook-Our-Own-Dinners again...  And we're even planning to cook on a Saturday!  That would be big, even back when we cooked during the week.

But the LIONS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS.  Yep.  So we're having a lovely dinner and we're parking our butts on the couch to enjoy this grand event.  Happy playoffs to you!

Rotisserie venison roast (firing up the grill -- should be lovely)
Oven-roasted sweet potatoes (slice them, stir in some spices like cumin and chile powder and salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil, then spread on a cookie sheet and bake at about 400 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes)
Roasted brussels sprouts (olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so)

Chicken noodle soup (from Simply Organic, by Jesse Ziff Cool):
1 whole chicken
2 large onions
3 large carrots
2 celery ribs
5 peppercorns
2 sprigs dill
3 sprigs parsley
1 chopped parsnip
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 oz egg noodles

Cook chicken, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery rib, peppercorns, dill, and parsley in a large stockpot covered with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 4 hours.  Cool slightly.

Remove chicken, pour everything else through a strainer.  Discard solids, refrigerate broth (3 hours or overnight) and shred chicken.

Remove fat from top of broth.  In a large stockpot, combine broth, remaining chopped veggies, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover, and simmer one hour.  Add chicken and noodles, cook until noodles are done.

Omelette night!  My favorite has tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and feta cheese.  But this is a "whatever sounds good at the moment" kind of dinner, so we'll see...

Brown ground venison burger, mix in delicious spices (ancho chile powder, garlic, salt and pepper)
Chop veggies (onions, tomatoes, cabbage, avocado)
Maybe we'll cook a little corn in a pan too...
Warm tortillas, then build tacos.  Top with salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream

Grilled salmon

Have a lovely week!

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2 - 6, 2012

So we're giving the planning thing a go again.  I'm leaving Tuesday as an open day -- it's the day that's the toughest for us to actually cook -- so that might be "leftover" or "cheese and cracker" or "make a bad choice about dinner" day.  Gotta leave myself a little wiggle room.  But the rest of the week looks pretty solid, and the grocery list is actually really small...  we already have most of what we need here.

Grilled salmon filets (perhaps with a bit of barbecue sauce)
Asparagus (done in a bit of olive oil in a pan)
Roasted potatoes (chop small, toss with some olive oil and seasoning, spread out on a cookie sheet and cook for 20 - 30 minutes -- depending on size -- at about 400 degrees)


Veggie fried rice:
1.  Chop whatever veggies are around.  Be sure to include onion and mushroom, then find whatever else there is (I'm thinking asparagus from Monday, some red pepper from the freezer, some edamame from the freezer, maybe some bits of broccoli, maybe a tomato).
2.  Saute the veggies.  Add some pre-cooked brown rice.  Mix it all together.
3.  Stir in some soy sauce and sriracha.  Sometimes some rice wine vinegar gives it a bit of zing.
4.  The egg:  either make a well in the middle and add an egg, then scramble it in with the rest, or fry an egg and serve it on top of the bowl of rice.

Slow cooker day!  We're trying Swedish Yellow Split Pea Soup, but instead of ham, we're using a pork chop, because that's what we have in the freezer.

This recipe is from the January/February 2012 issue of Eating Well.  I tried to find the recipe on their website so I could just link it, but no luck.  So here it is:

3c yellow split peas
4c reduced-sodium chicken broth
4c water
2c diced yellow onion
1c diced carrot
1c diced celery
8 oz ham, trimmed and diced (or a pork chop, in our case, left whole, then shredded at the end of cooking and mixed back in with the soup)
1 tbsp minced fresh (hah!  Or a jar -- that's just us) ginger.  On second thought, we might use garlic instead.
1 tsp dried marjoram
fresh pepper to taste

1.  Place split peas in a medium bowl.  Wash with cold water until the water runs clear; drain and spread in a 5 - 6 quart slow cooker.
2.  Add broth, water, onion, carrot, celery, ham/pork, ginger/garlic and marjoram to the slow cooker.  Stir to combine.
3.  Cover and cook for 5 hours on high or 7 - 8 hours (or 10, if you're us) on low.  Season with pepper.

Trying for home-cooked on a Friday night.  Our pizza is better than take-out anyway, and if we plan for it, we should have all the stuff at home to make it.

Pizza dough in the Kitchen Aid:
1.  Dissolve 2 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) yeast in a cup of hot water.
2.  Add 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp olive oil, 2 1/2 c flour (I use equal mix of white and whole wheat).
3.  Mix for about 3 minutes with the dough hook.
4.  Put in a greased bowl and cover, let rise for 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
5.  Put the pizza together on the pizza stone.  Top like this:  yummy sauce, slices of chicken pesto sausage, onion, mushroom, roasted red pepper, whatever other veggies still exist in the house by Friday night.  Top with mozzarella.
6.  Bake at 450 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, depending on how thick all the toppings are.


Beginning again

So, I've been a yoga student for at least 12 or 13 years.  And there are some things I still can't do.  Grab my hands/arms/elbows behind my back?  Ha.  Things that require balance?  Only when the universe is lining up perfectly.

So when I'm in yoga class, and it's balancing time, and I tip over (as I almost always do), my teacher says:  just begin again.

Last fall I got this new job kind of unexpectedly and rather quickly without much time for planning or adjustment.  And it has been a huge challenge in terms of finding a bit of balance with the rest of my life since September.  (And as I already said, I'm not naturally good at the balance thing).  One thing that has fallen apart for me has been planning and eating healthy meals.  Not knowing when we'd be home at night, not having the time or energy to cook when we got home, not being able to pull it together to find recipes that were faster and easier than what we usually do -- all these things led to the downward spiral of our eating.

And three weeks ago, I hit rock bottom.  All fall, things that used to be "not okay" were becoming "more okay."  Take-out on a week night?  Okay, because we're busy.  McDonalds for a french fry snack?  Okay, because I forgot to bring anything for lunch and just had a drinkable yogurt in the car for breakfast and I'm starving.  A meal without produce in it?  Okay, because we're hungry and we didn't have time to shop.

So I was driving around on a Saturday, doing before-Christmas errands.  Been up since 5, it was now midday -- this was my day to get it ALL DONE!  And I realized I was hungry.  Really hungry.  And my hungry little brain immediately thought that a spicy chicken combo from Wendy's sounded like a good idea.  I don't think I've had a fried chicken sandwich from a fast food place in about 5 years.  And I know that in moderation, everything's okay.  But I didn't have second thoughts, didn't consider the health or quality of the food, just that I wanted it.  And I drove through, and I got the combo, and I ate it all.

And I did not feel happy with myself at all afterward.

I haven't been doing this balancing thing very well lately.  So I'm going to begin again.

Starting with planning my dinners again.  If we have a plan, and we have the ingredients around to follow that plan, there's a better chance I'll eat something that will make me smart and strong and less likely to regret my dinner choices.  We might not follow through on the plan every night, but we definitely won't if there isn't even a plan in place.

So step one:  make a plan.

Step two:  look for quicker, easier stuff.  I love interesting recipes and will willingly try to make nearly anything.  But I need to acknowledge that those might need to wait for July.  So expect simpler, quicker, less ingredients.  This might be my bigger challenge.

Step one:  make a plan.
Step two:  get simple.

And step three?  When we fall off the good-food wagon (because January and February are not traditionally the best months for me to make healthy choices -- they're the months I just want to wear pajamas and eat cookies all day), just begin again.  Because what other option do I have?

Wish me luck.  This week's menu coming soon.

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