Week 29: Breakfast Vows

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One of our more colorful dinners from last week.

When Travis and I got married we wrote our own vows. About half of his promises to me involved food; clearly he knows me well! One of the things he promised was to make me breakfast on the weekends and so far he hasn’t broken it despite the arrival of a baby. And we are not just talking a bowl of oatmeal, weekends are for pancakes, waffles, French toast, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, etc. on both Saturday and Sunday. I know, high expectations, but I think his breakfast vow was fairly self-serving. It’s not like he doesn’t get to eat it too. Some chocolate chips might find their way into our pancakes every once in a while but generally “we” make both delicious and pretty healthy meals. French toast is usually with whole wheat bread, pancakes we use some or all white whole-wheat flour which is just a more palatable version of whole wheat flour, and we try to add some veggies and other goodies to our eggs. An excellent way to start the day! Being from Vermont maple syrup is a non-negotiable but starting the day with loads and loads of syrup isn’t always amazing. I’ve converted Travis and the rest of my family to eating pancakes and French toast with plain yogurt and syrup which means you don’t have to soak your food in quite as much syrup. The pumpkin pancake recipe at the end is a fall favorite of ours. I LOVE anything pumpkin and think these are delicious. We usually double them and freeze some for Stella to have for breakfast later in the week. I like to think/hope we are instilling in Stella a love and appreciation of breakfast and someday some poor sorry fool will be making her breakfast every weekend too. Sorry in advance! Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash with Green Salad

  • This is a fall classic for us and doesn’t take as long as it says if you make the filling while the squash is cooking. Towards the end of our CSA we get loads of winter squash that we store in our basement and use throughout the fall.
  • Be very careful when cutting the squash in half. I don’t have a magic trick for acorn squash but with others I cut off an end to make a flat side to help balance while cutting it in half.
  • I usually use more sausage since I like leftover filling.
  • I use canned tomatoes for the filling to help cut down on prep (and because I don’t like tomatoes).
  • Any kind of cheese you like works for the topping.

Tuesday: Smoky Ham & Split Pea Soup with Seeded Whole-Grain Quick Bread

  • You can easily leave out the potatoes in the recipe and it will be just fine.
  • I usually add more carrots, onion and celery since I love my veggies.
  • If you can’t find a smoked ham hock any old ham will due. If I get one without a bone I just dice it up and put it in the crockpot like that.
  • I was dubious of how this quick bread would turn out since it uses 100% whole wheat flour but it was so moist and delicious. The buttermilk and olive oil must contribute a lot to that. It was way quicker than the recipe says and will be a new regular for us.

Wednesday: Garlic Shrimp with Cilantro Spaghetti Squash and Green Salad

  • The spaghetti squash I got was too big to go cut-side down in a microwave safe dish so I put both halves in a microwave dish with a tiny bit of water and covered it which worked fine too. Basically it just needs to steam.
  • After I scraped the squash from its shell I put it in a colander to drain off all the excess liquid.
  • To make this meal more filling I cook a half pound of whole wheat pasta and mix it in with the spaghetti squash. That also gives us more leftovers.
  • A substitute for cooking with wine would be chicken stock or white grape juice and a splash of lemon juice.

Thursday: Calabacitas with Brown Rice

  • I usually add either a can of black beans or diced chicken to fill out the meal and serve it with rice or whole wheat tortillas and lots of garnishes.
  • I also do more squash and zucchini to substitute for the mushrooms.

Friday: Moroccan-Spiced Pork Chops with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Lemony Green Beans

  • I do this dish without the red pepper sauce mostly because I am lazy but also because everything has enough flavor that it doesn’t need it.

Bonus Recipe: Pumpkin-Oat Pancakes, From The Best of Simply Colorado Cookbook

  • These are delicious if you like pumpkin, which I do.
  • I keep powdered buttermilk on hand for baking. You can find it in the baking aisle. You just add the powder to the dry and water to the wet and use it like buttermilk.
  • This recipe is a bit too runny so we leave out the egg white and the skim

Week 28: Mamas on a Mission

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-28-40-pmBoth science and common sense tell us that diets don’t work. Not for the long term at least. But what has been show to work in many instances are socially supported efforts between friends or communities. Eating Well (magazine) has featured healthy weight loss and exercise challenges between friends as well as those across entire communities that have been hugely successful due to the community of support among participants. Nichelle, a mom I was lucky enough to meet through a local mom’s group, is a chiropractor, teaches a new moms’ fitness class, and just started her own business focusing on Womens’ health (Gaia Health). She also created Mamas on a Mission, a health and fitness challenge for moms. It is NOT a diet. It supports good healthy eating habits and encourages physical activity through a daily point system. I’ve been so excited to challenge myself to come up with new, healthy, well-rounded meals to add to the challenge and hopefully inspire some of the moms to try new dishes and maybe even some new foods. So starting tomorrow 24 mamas will be setting goals, taking pictures, cleaning out their pantries, meal planning and kicking butt. My most recent Eating Well (magazine) mentions new research supporting before and after pictures helping people stick to their goals, so think of that when you take your picture tomorrow and good luck!! Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Beef & Black Bean Nachos with Green Salad

  • In step 2 if you are anti-food processor for small tasks like this or don’t have a mini one, you can use a fork or potato masher with a little water and add more as you are mash the beans. Too much water at the beginning will just be a mess.
  • Watch the tortilla chips closely while they are broiling so they don’t burn!
  • I like the idea of their cheese sauce but think it is a bit too healthy. I would use a low or full fat evaporated milk and a full fat cheese. I like the concept of making a healthier queso but taking all the fat out will taste like you took all the fat out. Not very good.
  • I would also add avocado as another healthy topping.
  • I made this into a taco salad-esque meal by serving it on/with a bed of lightly dressed greens. Romaine is a typical choice but I prefer red leaf lettuce and think it works just fine too.

Tuesday: Butternut Cauliflower Coconut Curry with Cilantro-Chile Whole Wheat Couscous

  • We still have half a giant cauliflower head to use up in addition to a new one we got this week so I think you will see it again on next week’s menu.
  • I borrowed from this recipe and spiced my chickpeas before roasting them to add a little more flavor. I used 1 ½ tsp each of paprika and cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder and a pinch of salt and pepper. I also added more peas (around 1 cup).
  • I used a ton more cauliflower than the recipe called for and more squash too so I left out the potatoes. Because there was so much volume in the pot I covered it and let it steam for 15-20 minutes rather than cooking it uncovered as the recipe says.
  • I added another cup of frozen peas to the dish towards the end for more color as well as extra curry powder for flavor.
  • With the quantity of veggies I should have added a second can of garbanzo beans to even out the veggie ratio. Next time!
  • Whenever a dish calls for flour as a thickener, it is always possible to substitute white whole wheat flour instead. You won’t notice the difference.
  • I can’t say I would know what a Fresno chile looks like and since it is probably too hot for me anyway I used a jalapeno instead.

Wednesday: Grilled Chicken & Kale Salad with Tahini Lemon Dressing

  • An alternative to grilled kale would be to chop it up, dress it and “massage” it. It should shrink down and become more tender similar to cooking it.
  • If you don’t have tahini you can use any other nut butter for the dressing it will just taste different.

Thursday: Indonesian Pilaf with Greens

  • This was a kitchen sink recipe for me. I used farro instead of the pilaf they suggest but any whole grain would due.
  • I added a can of great northern beans, beets, and substituted sunflower seeds for the peanuts.
  • For some reason a meal like this feels more complete being served with or on a bed of greens or salad. But maybe it’s just me.

Friday: Sautéed Salmon with Citrus Salsa and Cilantro Quinoa with Nuts

  • If you don’t like cooking fish indoors because of the smell, grilling works just fine too.
  • Any herb and nut combo would work in the quinoa.

Week 27: Texas

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The cauliflower head makes my 8″ chef knife look like a toy.

We are on our way home from Stella’s first visits to Texas and boy is she tuckered out. All the meat this little girl could ask for and so much fun playing and keeping up with her big kid cousins. We are pretty whooped too trying to keep up with a very independent little lady who is a bit precarious on her feet. And keeping her out of harms way too of course from pretty much everything that grows there and has a spine or some sort of pricker. Just before we arrived Travis’s parents saw and eliminated the biggest rattlesnake they’d ever seen on the property. And it was right by the house. So not so relaxing. Internet is a bit of a situation out at the ranch so due to that and a few stupid key strokes my blog post this week got deleted. So this is what you get; a picture of cauliflower and some recipes. Sorry! Back next week with more. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Potato Leek Soup with Garlic Bread & Green Salad

  • The recipe says it takes 1 hour 20 minutes but it seemed quicker than that. I worked on getting the stock to a boil while I cut up the veggies and I cut the potatoes a little smaller so they could cook faster. I also didn’t peel them and had no trouble blending them later.
  • I tried to cook it down to thicken it more since I may have added more heavy cream than suggested…

Tuesday: Roast Salmon with Sautéed Yellow Squash or Zucchini and Farro

  • This was a super easy way to cook fish. I cooked it a little longer to get the skin to come off, but otherwise the directions were very straightforward and easy to follow.
  • I used parsley and chives as my herbs.

Wednesday: Pasta with Cauliflower, Bacon & Bread Crumbs and Green Salad

  • This one takes a little bit of time and juggling of a few pots but it is so worth it!
  • I do a lot more bacon and breadcrumb topping since we had the largest head of cauliflower I’ve ever seen. I had our 12” skillet overflowing and I still only used up half, so be prepared for more cauliflower recipes next week!

Thursday: Vegetarian Tikka Masala with Roasted Okra and Brown Rice

  • I did press the tofu for 30 or so minutes and then failed to read the recipe properly and tossed it with the entire spice mixture. I think it worked out just fine.
  • For a quick weeknight Indian dish I thought it was very tasty. No heat, but that is never a problem for me.
  • I also definitely added more half-and-half than the recipe called for.
  • I put oil, salt and pepper on the okra, and roasted them on a sheet pan at 425 for 15-20 minutes.

Friday: Rutabaga & Beef Stew with Couscous and Green Beans

  • We had family in town this week and made a different beef dish that took a lot longer than would work for a normal weeknight. So I substituted a simpler fall beef stew that we’ve had before.
  • As I recall it takes the rutabaga longer to cook than the recipe says, but otherwise it was a pretty easy flavorful weeknight stew that is perfect for fall.

Week 26: Fall

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Kale and White Bean Potpie with Chive Biscuits

We got our first frost this week and I of course was not at all on top of it. After dark I was running around in the rain/sleet trying to put a sheet or two over my favorite pots and parts of the garden. And I am so glad I did because it was cold and very frosty in the morning. I “saved” my beets, basil and two pots of flowers that I can’t bare to part with yet. I assumed and hope (fingers crossed) my Christmas cactus can handle the cold, though only time will tell. But it was a good wake up call for me to get with the program and put an end to the gardening season. The squirrels have mostly done that for me of late eating my two cucumber plants, my sad zucchini plant that didn’t get enough sun and never got big enough, and my pepper plant. I also had eggplant and pepper plants that never took off and fruited so my beets and basil were just about all that was left and worth saving. Pesto making is definitely on my list of things to do this week as well as making room in our house for my four Christmas cactus and geranium pots that I overwinter to add some cheer. With a toddler who likes to knock everything over and is of course very curious I genuinely have no idea where to put them. No room is safe, not even the bathrooms. Despite my frustration when I have to clean up Tazzie’s water bowl yet again after Stella has dumped its contents, it is just water. A large pot of dirt and roots would be a whole other story. Is it weird to put plants on top of the refrigerator? Despite my gardening season coming to an end our CSA is still going strong since thankfully they are skilled professionals. So we will move onto winter squash, potatoes, leek, apples, cider and other tasty fall treats. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Lemon-Caper Black Cod with Broccoli & Potatoes

  • I couldn’t find black cod so I used “regular” cod and had a very tough time flipping it. We ended up with scrambled cod which I take full credit for. I’m pretty certain Stella could have done a better job.
  • I’ve never browned capers and I couldn’t tell much of a difference but I did enjoy them with the dish. Aside from the fish hiccup this was a very easy and straightforward dinner.

Tuesday: Kale & White Bean Potpie with Chive Biscuits

  • I thoroughly enjoy this dish and always add way more veggies than it calls for along with some chicken too. This typically requires a larger glass dish as well as more biscuits so I 1 ½ the biscuit recipe…if you give a mouse a cookie.

Wednesday: Tangerine Beef Stir-Fry with Brown Rice

  • Since it is not quite tangerine season I used the zest from one orange and bottled orange juice.
  • I used different vegetables than suggested cooking the bell pepper first for a few minutes before adding the quicker cooking greens and bok choy.

Thursday: Southwestern Three-Bean & Barley Soup with Green Salad & Garlic Bread

  • I made the quick version of this soup using canned beans and quick 10-minute barley turning this into a 30-minute soup instead. Much better!
  • Since it is a southwestern soup I added poblano along with the other veggies and despite the quicker cooking time I thought there was enough flavor.

Friday: Roasted Autumn Veggies & Chicken Sausage with Corn Bread

  • I wish I’d had more veggies since they shrink down so much when you cook them but I really liked the easy and simple, hands-off aspect of this kind of dinner.

Week 25: Eating with your Eyes

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One of few photo worthy dishes. And even so it looked way better in person.  

Food pictures are something I have so much trouble with as you all may have gathered. I forget 90% of the time and of the times I remember I’ve either already dug into my meal or it isn’t a very photogenic dish. Perfectly tasty, but not super appealing if you aren’t sitting there with us. Travis and I used to make a game of comparing our dishes to the pictures in the magazines. Sometimes we were close-ish and other times it looked like we’d made a completely different dish. The good news is that it didn’t bother us a wink either way though sometimes it did truly amaze us. How could we have (mostly) followed the same recipe and gotten a dish that looks nothing like theirs? I know presentation is so important since you eat with your eyes first but as a home cook I don’t think a lot about how a meal will look until we are sitting down to eat it. A meal with fish, couscous and yellow squash may be a good meal on paper with three food groups and some good recipes but when it all goes together on a plate it is white on brown on yellow. Not at all amazing to look at. But thankfully there are good smells, my knowledge of what is in each dish having prepared them myself, and a general enthusiasm for food that gets me excited about every meal I eat. But it makes me think a lot about Stella who is still learning about food, flavors, textures and tastes. Appearance of food and a meal is so much more important to her than it is to Travis or me. Making a plate that is colorful, appealing and nutritious for her as well as us is a challenge. Loving to cook and eat I have a huge fear of having a child who doesn’t love food or is really picky beyond her toddler years. Since Stella is not in school 100% of her food choices and habits, good or bad, come from us. It certainly feels like a big responsibility but I guess we will just add it to the list along with keeping a tiny human safe and alive. As a part of that big goal I’m beginning to think Stella should wear a helmet more often than not…

p.s. This post was late because Travis was an idiot (his words) and cut the internet wire coming into our house. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Maple-Spiced Apples & Red Cabbage with Pork Chops and Quinoa with Dried Fruit

  • Maple is a recurring theme this week in the menu, so brace yourself.
  • We had more than a head of red cabbage so this seemed like a nice fall dish. I cooked the cabbage for longer than the recipe called for to make it extra tender. The flavor wasn’t wowing me so I added some raisins and a little caraway seed and served it mixed with the quinoa.

Tuesday: Tofu Curry with Lemongrass & Green Beans and Brown Rice Noodles

  • Before I cut the tofu lengthwise I cut it in half widthwise so I would end up with 8 tofu squares instead of 4. I didn’t want too thick of a “raw” tofu bite so I opted for more browning.
  • Otherwise I followed the recipe for the most part. I used a ½ cup of coconut milk and left out the water for a more flavorful sauce.

Wednesday: Squash & Red Lentil Curry with Green Salad

  • This was a very tasty fall dish. Travis is not wild about lentils and even he thought it was good!
  • I bought a whole butternut squash and cut it myself, but otherwise followed the recipe fully. I definitely had more than 20 oz. but that was not a problem.

Thursday: Maple Ginger Roasted Salmon, Sautéed Kale with Apple Cider Vinegar and Red Rice

  • I had never cooked red rice before but it ended up being a great side for the salmon. It’s a whole grain with a pretty nutty flavor and it only takes 35 minutes unlike brown rice. I’m definitely a fan.
  • Even if you don’t have enough time to marinate the salmon, since you reduce the sauce and serve it with the dish there is ample flavor.
  • I had some kale that was a bit tough and bitter, more so than usual, so I sautéed it with an onion for quite a while adding cider vinegar and some apple cider we had to keep it from drying out. I added some golden raisins at the end and it ended up being delicious.

Friday: Gnocchi with Pumpkin Cream Sauce and Green Salad with Beets & Pear

  • I LOVE pumpkin and will try to eat it as much as possible between now and Thanksgiving, so watch out.
  • Aside from leaving out the mushrooms and forgetting to put in the sage that I bought, I followed the recipe. So next week I will have to find a way to use up the sage instead.
  • Stella did her Italian heritage proud and ate the gnocchi too which was a pleasant surprise.

Bonus Weekend Recipe: Eggplant Involtini

This one doesn’t take too long but it may not quite be an easy weeknight meal. Nonetheless I love it and think it is delicious. Basically you roast the eggplant slices, stuff them with a cheese mixture, and finish them off in a tomato sauce. We served it on spaghetti.