Week 24: Purpose

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My favorite, and only, house blog that I follow, Young House Love, stopped blogging two years ago after chronicling 7 years of home improvements and DIY projects in their 3 homes. They recently started a podcast about DIY and house design that Travis and I both enjoy listening to on car trips while Stella is sleeping. One of their recent episodes discussed why they quit their blog so suddenly and what they learned from it. Now let me just say they had over 1 million followers, two books, product lines, etc. and were super successful. This was their life and both of their careers. My blog just started but I did take home one key message from their list of “lessons” which was about purpose and defining why you are blogging. This got me thinking of course about my purpose with this blog. So far I have met my one and only goal which was to have at least one other reader each week besides my mom. Check. But purpose is different. I wanted an outlet and something that would give me a little more purpose and structure to my week besides keeping up with Stella and Tazzie. A wonderful job but some days it doesn’t give you a very big sense of accomplishment in the typical sense. Nothing tangible. I can run around trying to get as much done as possible during Stella’s nap(s) or sit down and work on my blog. I appreciate that my blog gives me permission to leave other things for later. But I also wanted to challenge myself to be more creative in our meals whenever possible, try new things, and cook a greater variety of foods and dishes. Looking at my menu this week I can’t say I was blown away by the diversity of dishes, tortilla shop, chili and meatloaf all seemingly fall in the same category to me, but you can’t be perfect all the time. One thing they emphasized in their podcast about purpose was to write it down so you don’t stray. So there you have it. As the variety of summer produce dwindles I know this will be particularly challenging, but I hope to continue to try new recipes, knowing that some may be a total flop, and get a variety of dishes into our menus each week. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Black Bean Mole Chili with Turkey (optional), Corn Bread & Green Salad

  • I love chili and appreciate all the variety there is out there- white, chicken, beef, vegetarian, you name it. This is one of the more unique ones I’ve tried with some simple mole flavors.
  • If I use meat I brown it first in the pan, then add the vegetables.
  • I use 2 cans of no salt added beans and don’t rinse them, using all the liquid plus some additional water to make up for the 1 cup bean liquid.
  • I don’t find it necessary to make a paste with the spices but I usually do 1 ½ – 2 times the chili powder, paprika, cocoa and sugar to boost the flavor.
  • I use the cornbread recipe off the side of the corn meal, super fancy I know, and serve it with the chili and all the necessary garnishes- shredded cheddar cheese, lime, avocado, sour cream & cilantro.

Tuesday: Veggie & Cheese Quiche

  • As usual I went overboard with the veggies and sautéed a bunch of chard with the onion, adding the stems first and the greens later. I also chopped up the broccoli and added that in with the chard greens to give it a few minutes to cook.
  • Since I had extra veggies I put some in the quiche and served the rest on the side so our plate didn’t look quite so sad.

Wednesday: Turkey & Veggie Meatloaf with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

  • I like the idea of including veggies in a dish like this and not having them be pureed or hidden. Kids won’t learn to like veggies if they don’t know they are eating them. That being said, Stella is not super fond of vegetables but did eat this with all the corn, peas and peppers in it.
  • I didn’t have sweet potato or zucchini when I made this so I added a little more corn and peas. I used ground bison instead, though I wouldn’t think the meat would matter a ton, and had a little trouble getting everything to stick together despite using fewer veggies. But Eating Well’s recipe picture looks beautiful so presumably it worked for someone.
  • I couldn’t find whole wheat panko bread crumbs so I used ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs and ½ cup oatmeal, a pretty traditional meatloaf ingredient.

Thursday: Pineapple Tofu Stir-Fry with Brown Rice

  • This was a classic recipe from my college days when I didn’t like to cook meat. It is a very quick and easy dish if you can remember to start the brown rice in time.
  • I always try to drain the tofu a bit with a weight before marinating it, but this isn’t crucial.
  • I used ½ the leftover red bell pepper from the meatloaf as well as a green bell pepper for some extra color and flavor.

Friday: Tortilla Soup, Tortilla Chips and Green Salad

  • I’d never had or heard of tortilla soup until Travis’s family introduced me to it. And imagine my surprise to find it wasn’t a soup made of tortillas! This is my brother-in-laws recipe; before they had kids he even made his own tortilla chips to go with it, but alas those days are over. Delicious nonetheless!
  • I use chicken breast rather than a rotisserie chicken. We (Travis) usually grills them, and shreds them with a fork.
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Week 23: Worldly Cuisine

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My food pictures have failed me yet again so you get to enjoy my weekend view with me. Not too bad. 

For our birthday as kids my brother and I got to pick where we would go out to dinner as a family. Inevitably we would choose Sakura, a Japanese restaurant, or India House. Not your typical choice for a seven or eight year old but we were pretty adventurous eaters. I always used to say it was because we were born in Saudi Arabia, but given that we moved to Vermont when I was 2 months old I am guessing that might not be the whole truth. But we did grow up eating Middle Eastern food my mom would make as well as other wordly foods. When I was in high school my mom and I started a tradition of cooking a themed birthday meal. A few of my braver friends were willing to partake in our Middle Eastern, Indian, and Thai themed dinner the year my mom had taken a Thai cooking class when she joined her brother on his trip around the world.  My adventurous eating doesn’t go much further than wanting to try different ethnic cuisines, but I blame that on getting sick a few too many times while traveling. Takes the wind out of your sails a bit. But that is definitely something I’ve brought to our home palate. I like to throw in some dishes from different cuisines each week to keep things interesting. Granted they are usually very dumbed down versions of what is probably an extraordinary dish when made properly, but using what I can easily get my hands on and what is quick we get some very fine meals. This week I mixed some Thai and Middle Eastern flavors. Eating Well’s newest edition has a feature on quick weeknight India meals, so look forward to seeing some of those in the upcoming weeks. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Grilled Steak Salad with Eggplant & Veggies, Grilled Corn & Grilled Herbed Bread

  • The name of this is actually Steak Salad with Tomatoes & Eggplant but I thought I would change it to more accurately reflect our dinner. We grilled eggplant, red onion, and bell pepper along with steak and it was super tasty.
  • My simplified version of this recipe is to oil, salt, pepper and sprinkle a little oregano onto the cut up veggies. Travis grills them, chop them up, drizzle with red wine vinegar and voila.
  • Travis also buttered up some bread with basil and grilled it for a hot second to go along with our salad.
  • And what summer meal is complete without grilled corn? Since the season is coming to an end we are getting in as much corn as we can until next year.

Tuesday: Pasta with Pesto and Sautéed Greens

  • This is my answer to too many greens and basil. I sautéed three different bunches of greens, mizuna, beet greens and komatsuna spinach together and served them with pasta.
  • I still haven’t tried making pesto with sunflower seeds as I would hate to ruin it, so for now we still have traditional pesto that Stella has to miss out on. But if anyone has tried it and can recommend it one way or another, let me know!

Wednesday: Grilled Chicken & Peach Chopped Salad

  • Grilled peaches are such a delicious summertime treat. This salad called for nectarines but when in Colorado in the summer, use peaches.
  • I threw in a bunch of extra things we had laying around: cucumber, shredded carrot, chopped cabbage, avocado, grapes, and sunflower seeds.

Thursday: Thai Grilled Fish with Brown Rice and Green Beans

  • I’ve been trying to find more summer grilled fish recipes and came across this when I was looking. It fits all my criteria of being quick, easy and expanding my fish horizons.
  • I used flounder instead of red snapper or tilapia. It absorbed the flavors well and was a good substitute but we pan fried it since it was so thin.
  • In the sauce I halved the sugar and added a little basil and mint too.

Friday: Middle Eastern Braised Cauliflower, Lamb Chops and Israeli Couscous

  • I’m going to pat myself on the back for this one. For the first time in my recent and not-so-recent memory I cut up and used fresh tomatoes in a dish rather than canned. We have been getting more than Stella can keep up with in our CSA so instead of letting them go to waste I cooked with them. Crazy!
  • Since this cooks down for long enough it worked out well, but I still prefer the skinless version I am given with canned tomatoes.
  • Travis grilled the lamb chops and there was enough sauce from the cauliflower to serve with the couscous.
  • I would probably double the spices next time and add a little cinnamon too for some extra flavor.

Week 22: Eat Local

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My less than successful garden harvest from earlier this summer. But it’s better than nothing!

On Sunday night we are going to a Colorado local foods pot-luck hosted by my friend Andy. We’ve each been asked to bring a dish that contains all local ingredients allowing for one non-local ingredient exception. This is in celebration of Slow Food Denver’s 30-day Eat Local Challenge in which they asked Coloradans to get as much of their diet from Colorado as they could. Andy accepted the challenge and ate 100% local from Monday August 29-Friday September 15. Impressive and resourceful! This of course has made me take stock of our pantry, fridge and freezer thinking about what percent of our diet is local at any given time. In the summer we get our weekly supply of fruits and vegetables from our CSA but of course always supplement with bananas for Stella and a few other odds and ends. We are lucky enough to be part of several meat CSAs that Andy organizes where we get ½ a lamb, ¼ of a pig and an 1/8 of a bison, all raised, butchered and processed in Colorado. But grains, beans, and most of our staples do not come from anywhere even close to local. And come fall and winter most of our local produce will disappear. So coming up with a multi-ingredient dish for the pot-luck was a challenge! I went to the store and was inspired to make a green salad with beets and goat cheese though there were so many veggies to choose from. Thankfully Andy has Colorado sunflower seed oil and local apple cider vinegar for the dressing along with some Colorado peach juice for a little extra flavor. Other additions to the feast that I know of include a chilled cantaloupe soup, roasted potatoes, burgers, sausage, grilled peaches with goat cheese and honey, and a lemon verbena ice cream. Yum! Although it is a huge effort to eat 100% local 100% of the time, I enjoyed the exercise of evaluating my pantry and taking stock of the choices I make while trying to think of little things I can change. Baby steps. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Sautéed Cabbage with Bacon and Soba Noodles

  • As you can see we’ve been getting a good bit of cabbage from our CSA. We’ve gone through at least 5 heads in the last few weeks. And once you get sick of raw cabbage, it’s time to start cooking it.
  • This was a pretty simple way to use up a head of cabbage. Nothing earthshattering but still tasty. The Worcestershire sauce was key to give it a bit of salt.
  • If it is still too bland with the noodles I found adding feta was a good addition when I ate it leftover.

Tuesday: Indian Spiced Eggplant & Cauliflower with Brown Rice

  • Travis was gone a few dinners this week so there was a bit of a vegetarian theme going on. Cooking bacon is about as far as I got.
  • This dish is plenty flavorful with all of the spices but it didn’t knock my sox off. I think roasting the veggies tossed with the spices and some oil would have put this dish over the edge and added enough flavor to make it memorable.

Wednesday: Corn & Basil Cakes with Grilled Chicken and Broccoli

  • I’ve always been curious to try these corn and basil cakes and since I have more basil than I know what to do with I figured why not. They are super quick and a unique side dish. I topped them with sour cream to go with our chicken and broccoli.

Thursday: Beet & Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Lime Crema and Green Salad

  • Goat cheese and beets is one of my all time favorite combos which is why this recipe sung out to me.
  • This was another meal that was just Stella and I, hence the vegetarian theme. The ultimate irony of the summer is that every week we’ve had more greens than we knew what to do with and of course this week there were none to be found. So I made this dish without beet greens.

Friday: Hawaiian Fish Kebabs with Whole Wheat Couscous

  • We used Halibut instead of catfish but I think most white fish would work.
  • Travis grilled the fish as whole filets and I put the peppers, onion and pineapple on the kebabs.
  • I don’t love raw onions so I steamed them in the microwave for 1 minute before putting them on the skewers so they were cooked rather than just charred.
  • I also made a little extra marinade and set it aside to serve as a sauce for the fish, veggies and couscous.

Bonus: I made these Bacon Wrapped Peppers for a pot luck this weekend and they were delicious so I thought I’d share. What wrapped in bacon isn’t delicious.

Week 21: Well, That Tasted Healthy…And Not In A Good Way

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Stella playing with her toy carrot, leek and banana. 

I love eating healthy food not because someone tells me it is good for me but because I genuinely enjoy the food or the dish itself. I also thoroughly enjoy unhealthy, or “sometimes”, foods but that is another story. But when you eat something that just tastes “healthy”, you know something went wrong. In that vein I tend to avoid “healthy” baked goods unless they are completely delicious (Eating Well’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cake is a worthy exception) . Baked goods and healthy just don’t go together. Treats should be exactly that, a treat. Dinner every night is less in the treat department though and it is far more difficult to cook something healthy that tastes good than something with loads of cream, bacon and butter that is good. But sometimes healthy recipes take things a steps too far. Monday nights Crustless Quiche is a perfect example of that. It calls for non-fat cottage cheese, substituting egg whites instead of whole eggs, fat-free evaporated milk, and low-fat cheddar cheese. I mean seriously! That sounds like it would taste like plastic. And what part of that would keep me full? For us to eat this as our main dish requires some easy but necessary tweaking to bulk up the fat a little more so it “sticks to my ribs”. I also love to not have to eat an entire quiche myself to feel full, so upping the fat and calories allows Travis and I to both enjoy it as our dinner and hopefully even get a little leftover for lunch the next day. I even made one tweak to the recipe that made it “healthier” too. I substituted whole wheat flour for all purpose. This is when it comes in handy to be one of those people who are willing to wing a recipe the first time rather than having to follow it step-by-step and risk not wanting to repeat it. This backfires more often than not, but just sometimes it pays off. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Crustless Quiche and Green Salad

  • I like that this is a creative and much simpler version of a quiche as well as a one-pot meal, it however requires some tweaks.
  • Changes I make to this recipe include: using low-fat cottage cheese rather than non-fat, whole evaporated milk, 3 eggs rather than egg whites, and either no meat or chicken sausage.
  • I used whole wheat flour in place of all purpose. Not a huge difference by any means.
  • You can use any kind of greens you have on hand or like. I typically use chard since I prefer it to cooked spinach and I always do way more than it calls for.

Tuesday: Spiced Rubbed Pork Chops with Lemon Green Beans and Sweet Potato Wedges

  • I like Cooking Light’s style with their “Dinner Tonight” section in that they provide a complete meal that goes together. Often I get a main dish and struggle to come up with sides that aren’t boring same-old dishes we eat all the time.
  • I increased the quantities for this recipe and doubled everything for a family of 4. So 1 lb of pork, 2 large sweet potatoes and 1 lb green beans.

Wednesday: Silky Tomato Soup with White Beans, Garlic Bread and Green Salad

  • Despite my feelings about raw tomatoes, I am usually game to try a tomato soup so long as it has been heavily enhanced. This one sounded perfect to me since it has both bread and beans in it making it a heartier meal as well as a perfect disguise for tomatoes. It did not disappoint.

Thursday: Honey Dijon Glazed Salmon with Herbed Bulgur and Squash

  • I made this meal all by myself, which is something worth noting. Meat and fish cooking are not my strong suit so you know this recipe was super easy! Their salmon cooking directions were spot on.
  • I overflowed the honey mustard in the microwave and do not recommend that. Either use a big bowl or just skip the microwave.
  • I used green beans and broccoli (from my garden) instead of squash and they were a fine substitute.

Friday: One-Pot Cheesy Pasta Bake with Chard and Italian Sausage

  • I used Italian sausage instead of ground beef and increased the quantities a bit, and it turned out really well. I love one-pot meals so including the pasta cooking in the pot is always a win.