My little baker in training.
If I only have time to make one kind of Christmas cookie, which has been the case since a little lady named Stella Mabel came on the scene, I make Mexican wedding cookies. Until college I actually didn’t know that they were called anything but “butter balls” since that is what my mom called them growing up. In fact my recipe card says Butter Balls. Since butter is their primary ingredient it only seemed natural. Tuesday, my mom’s group had a cookie swap which produced some delicious results. There were chocolate chip cookies, delicate lemon cookies, peanut butter, ginger snap, macaroons, peanut butter-oat with M&Ms, chocolate, and so much more. We’ve slowly been eating our way through the tin thoroughly enjoying everyone’s labor of love. We also have homemade fudge and dark chocolate dipped pecans brought to us by our wonderful neighbors. It makes me want a glass of milk just thinking about eating any of these treats! Santa knows what’s up with that combo. I can hardly have a bite of cookie or fudge without getting the itch for a glass of skim milk. I grew up hating skim milk and now I drink it every day with my lunch, when I’m thirsty, and in my cereal. It’s my other water. Delightfully refreshing and of course hydrating. I do not however believe skim milk or any percentage of milk other than half-and-half should come in contact with my morning coffee. Oh no. I would honestly rather go without coffee than have to drink it with milk. Good thing Travis married me for my flexibility. Ha! Funny story though about my cookies and milk and coffee and half-and-half habit. I’m now lactose intolerant. As of Tuesday. Actually it was probably as of about 4 weeks ago I only just figured it out on Tuesday. And now I feel amazing (again)! Turns out you can develop temporary (fingers crossed) lactose intolerance from something like food poisoning which I had over Thanksgiving. The good news is that there is lactose-free almost everything (except the good Ben & Jerry’s flavors), the bad news is that lactose-free milk isn’t something I really enjoy drinking on its own. Life has been a little bit sadder since this new discovery but I am sure someday soon I will be able to make up for it in droves. So here’s my golden plan for keeping the holiday pounds off: get a food borne illness, remain nauseas for the next four weeks, become unable to drink milk which is required for cookie enjoyment, and click your heels to the New Year! Meal Plan & Grocery List
Monday: Slow-Cooker Chicken Pho
- I love this recipe! It takes about 10 minutes to throw everything in the crock pot in the morning. I think the hardest part is fishing the spices out of the crock pot later.
- Because it cooks for so long the broth gets a long time to flavor. If your crockpot is big enough I would add another container of chicken stock since the broth kind of disappears with all the other things that end up in there.
- And the more garnishes the better of course!
Tuesday: Mongolian Beef & Veggies with Soba Noodles
- This recipe was pretty straight forward and a great way to be creative with any vegetables you have in the fridge.
- The one trouble I always have with soba noodles is that they cake together terribly no matter what I put on them (oil, sauce, etc.). I kind of wonder if I might be overcooking them…note for next time.
Wednesday: Delicata Squash & Tofu Curry with Quinoa
- I cut the tofu in half all three directions ending up with 8 squares and cut those squares in half again to get 16 triangles. I then browned them with the spices on each side for 5 or so minutes. I find the triangle is easier to flip and gets more consistently browned than cubes that I toss around and never properly brown. But maybe this is a personal problem.
- I added the chard stems in with the onions and squash rather than tossing them.
- I opted for full fat coconut milk since it didn’t seem like an overwhelmingly filling dish otherwise. Super glad I did. It was delicious!
Thursday: Cornbread Topped Chili Casserole with Green Salad
- This was a good dinner but certainly not memorable.
- I didn’t have lean ground pork so I wish I had browned the meat first, drained it, and then added the veggies. I managed to drain most of the fat off but it would have been easier the other way.
- I thought a cornbread topping with all cornmeal might be a bit dry and grainy so I cut it with half flour. It was a little dense, but not grainy!
Friday: Dijon Salmon with Green Bean Pilaf
- I become a bigger fan of cooking fish in the oven every time we do it. The fish cooks so quickly and doesn’t dry out. And I can do it all by myself!
- I also really like recipes that give you the whole meal like this one. Veggie, grain and protein all in 30 simple minutes.
- Aside from cooking my own brown rice I pretty much followed orders here.
- Since I don’t love mayo I only used 1 Tbsp but do as you wish.
Bonus Recipe: Nonna’s Spaghetti & Meatballs
- This is a crock pot recipe that I just love but it takes a little bit longer than a typical weeknight meal and there is no way I could get this ready in the morning with Stella awake.
- If you are a purist as my dad is you brown the meatballs before putting them in the crockpot. If you are me, you don’t. You choose.
- This time around we did 1 lb of bison and 1 lb of venison Italian sausage but any combo will do just fine.
Learning from the best, James Wood, about how to butcher an elk quarter.
Hunting is not something I grew up doing in Vermont. We were certainly cognizant of hunting season and would wear orange for what felt like months whenever we walked behind our house in the fall, but no one in my family hunted. Our chocolate lab had to don a bright orange vest too lest she be mistaken for a deer. The famous or infamous story in the NE is of a woman being mistaken for a deer and shot while hanging up her laundry because she was wearing white gloves. So the fear was real. As you would expect having two parents from Texas Travis grew up hunting. Travis’s dad’s family had Thanksgiving early so they could go out hunting Thanksgiving weekend. Travis shot his first deer at age 12 and was excited to get back to hunting when we returned to CO after college. Always being up for something new I went on a hunting trip with Travis’s family and friends to Telluride about 7-months into dating. It was beautiful. Early morning sunrises, lots of walking and sitting, and plenty of good food and company. That year there were several lucky hunters including Travis. For elk hunting you want to bring along your strongest friends to carrying out an elk leg, or quarter, which is a big load. Wanting to impress all of Travis’s nearest and dearest I of course jumped in carrying the elk, butchering, and packing up the meat. It was definitely a new experience. Now 9 years later I’ve even learned a few things about cooking game meat. We save the tenderloin and tenders and grind the rest for burgers, chili, spaghetti sauce, and much more. Travis still does most of the game meat cooking though I am qualified to turn on the sous vide to start a tenderloin. We’ve learned over the years that overcooked game meat is inedible so cooking it sous vide, under vacuum, is the perfect solution. You set the temperature and a heat “stick” heats the water to exactly 125 degrees or whatever you want your meat cooked to and it is literally impossible to overcook and screw up. We slap it on the grill for a few minutes afterwards and it is dinner ready. This week we took advantage of a “warm” day and cooked up some fresh venison burgers from a deer Travis “caught” this fall on his boys hunting trip. Meal Plan & Grocery List
Monday: Venison Burgers and Roasted Zucchini Strips with Parmesan Cheese
- Since Travis just “caught” a deer and we have fresh venison he decided to take advantage of the “warm” weather and do some grilling.
- We also sliced some zucchini lengthwise, put them on a sheet pan on parchment paper, topped them with grated Parmesan and roasted them at 425 for 15-20 minutes. A super easy side dish!
Tuesday: Creamy Linguini With Peas Carrots & Prosciutto
- This recipe is new and I love it! It can be done with any combination of fresh and frozen veggies.
- We doubled the recipe for 1 lb of linguini.
- The sauce is easier than most because it calls for milk and chicken stock which makes it less likely to burn and therefore less time intensive in the stirring department. I didn’t find that it thickened up very well with just the flour alone, but the cream cheese did the job just fine and makes it taste so creamy and delicious.
- The lemon in here is the secret star of the show. I used the zest of a whole lemon and topped our bowls with a little juice.
Wednesday: Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet with Polenta or Grits and Green Salad
- I couldn’t find cooked or uncooked Italian chicken sausage so I used raw pork Italian sausage, sliced it and browned it as the recipe suggested with the vegetables.
- Browning the veggies is nice, but if you wanted to just dump everything into the cock pot and go, that would work just fine too.
- I definitely added more veggies than it called for and liked the ratio. We also used a whole 12 oz pack of sausage.
- I skipped step 3 and served it over polenta instead. Something like grits that could have soaked up the extra sauce might have worked better but it was super tasty nonetheless.
Thursday: Chicken Tikka Masala with Veggies and Brown Rice
- This was our last Thursday night with Travis out on jury duty. He got picked last December for Boulder County Grand Jury duty and has had to be gone a number of Thursday nights this year making dinner more challenging than usual.
- Since Tazzie is usually the most challenging part of our Thursday ladies night I try to do a quick and easy dinner so she can’t destroy too many toys in my absence.
- This week I browned some chicken, added a bag of mixed frozen veggies and tikka simmer sauce and served it over brown rice. Nothing glamorous, but it got the job done.
Friday: Sweet Potato Peanut Bisque with Garlic Bread and Green Salad
- This is a super hearty and very easy dinner. It definitely needs a green salad to help lighten things up a bit and the cilantro helps with that too.
- I left the skin on the sweet potatoes. It softens up pretty nicely in the soup and doesn’t bother me.
- I skipped using the food processor and put the peanut butter and sweet potato in a big bowl and mashed it with a potato masher and added the liquid to mix it together.
- To make it a more complete meal I serve it with garlic bread too.
Hard to say who is more excited about their food, me as a toddler or Stella but I definitely win the cheek contest.
In the midst of the holiday season I can’t help but think of all the things that make the holidays so special. Comfort food, family traditions, and being with family among the many. Sharing a meal together at a table full of delicious food made with love, and family you may only see a few times a year is certainly special. But the rest of the year we still have to eat, and how we go about it is worthy of a few minutes of thought. Family dinners happen almost every night at our house, more as a survival mechanism than anything else since two against one is always better. Even if now we are mostly focused on building good food habits there are other things happening at the dinner table we may not even be thinking about yet. Studies have shown links between consistent family dinners and lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, higher grade-point averages and self-esteem, lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents, and boosted vocabularies. All great things that everyone surely wants for their children. These are obviously not things I am worrying about now with a 15-month old, but why not build good habits from the start. It’s relatively easy with one kid who doesn’t talk to make this happen and still feel pretty civilized, but I imagine the fun is yet to come. Oh how I look forward to the steely glares and eye rolls from our teenager across the dinner table when I ask how her day was. For now we are dealing with the usual food throwing, dog feeding, and general refusal to eat that comes with toddlerhood. But knowing that it might all be worth it in the end is encouraging and a good reminder as I pick Stella’s tomato off the floor for the 10th time and gently tell her not to throw it again. Lucky for her she’s pretty darn cute though I don’t know if I’d say the same thing about my toddler self! This week I inadvertently planned a very meatless week with lots of light but wintery dishes. I am guessing this was my stomachs way of revolting after a week of super tasty holiday meals in Texas. I’m sure next week we will be back to our usual tricks. Meal Plan & Grocery List
Monday: Spinach & Feta Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust and Grilled Chicken Sausage
- This was a very straight forward recipe that I mostly followed.
- I used a whole onion, 5 whole eggs, and more feta. Despite my increased quantities it all fit in the pan and was really tasty.
- We grilled some chicken sausage to go with it so we would have more leftovers for lunch, but with a side salad it could be a perfectly good stand-alone meal.
Tuesday: Sautéed Snapper with Curried Greens and Red Rice
- Any excuse to use coconut milk and I am in. I also don’t find I use a lot of collard greens so this was a nice reminder.
- Since the recipe called for cooked collard greens I added them in with the coconut milk and covered them to cook for a few minutes before letting the sauce reduce a little.
- This can be served with any grain, but one that soaks up sauce is idea.
Wednesday: Vegetable Chili with Quinoa
- This was a dish my mom made often when we were growing up. Until I met Travis I didn’t realize chili usually has meat. Not in our house!
- Since I don’t love big pieces of cooked tomato in my food I opted for a large can of crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes each. It also cuts down on prep time and cooking time since the tomatoes don’t need to break down as much.
- I also do everything in the Dutch oven all together. Brown the veggies first and then add the spices and everything else. No need for more dishes.
- This can be served plain or over any grain.
Thursday: Chicken Marbella with Brown Rice and Green Salad
- This is another classic from my childhood. I am sure most kids don’t dream of a dish with olives, capers and prunes but I’ve always loved that combo. Sweet and salty. Yum!
- Although this may not be an ideal weeknight meal it doesn’t involve much active time, just a little work the night before to get the chicken marinating.
- This recipe is a bit out of control quantity-wise so cutting it in half is a good starting point.
- I use either boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs, but not typically a whole chicken.
- Some of the recipe notes mention using less brown sugar which I tend to agree with. Start with less and add more if needed towards the end.
- This is a great recipe to make a big batch of and freeze for later and since there is so much liquid it won’t dry out the second time.
Friday: Broccoli, White Bean & Cheddar Soup with Garlic Bread
- This recipe could not be simpler. And because it has beans and cheese it is pretty hearty for a broccoli soup. Even Travis considers it a meal.
- Using frozen broccoli is a very easy substitute.
- This is another really easy recipe to double and freeze.
- I use an immersion blender instead of a blender to save on dishes and because I hate putting hot liquids in a blender.