Week 44: Baking With Miss Vicki

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My baking assistant/future chaperone

Travis always says that he wishes he could set up hidden cameras and watch me bake. There would probably be a lot of swearing, back steps, and “problem solving”. He’d call it “Baking with Miss Vicki,” a name very few people are allowed to call me, and it would likely be hilarious for anyone who is not me. This week I baked a birthday cake for Travis and it went pretty darn well. It definitely meant giving up Stella’s nap, but it was for a good cause. Travis gets to pick out his birthday cake and this year he picked a gingerbread cake with a lemon-rum sauce from my favorite Colorado baking cookbook, Pie in the Sky. The woman who wrote the book tested every recipe in Colorado and made adaptations for 3k, 5k, 7k, and 10k feet above sea level. Totally fool proof. My absolute favorite brownies come from this cookbook. I used to love box brownies but now that I’ve gotten used to these I am truly a from scratch brownie snob. I taste the vegetable oil from the box brownies rather than the generous stick of butter in the scratch version and it’s just not the same. Travis and I can demolish a pan in just a few short days before they even start to think about drying out. The freezer would probably be another storage option, but we’ll enjoy our young metabolisms while they last thank you very much. And they are almost as easy as boxed brownies if you follow the directions. No good baking story ever starts with, “so, I was in a hurry…”, but seriously, I was in a big rush and thought I could whip up a double batch of brownies. As you can imagine things did not go as planned. I was 38+ weeks pregnant and one of Travis’s coworkers volunteered to take a work trip for him so he could stay home incase Stella decided to arrive early. I mean there was no way I was letting him go on a trip at that point but it was very nice of someone to step in like that so I thought I could make him thank you brownies. Who doesn’t like brownies after all. Since I was making them anyway this preggo lady figured she’d make a batch for Trav’s coworker and one for herself, naturally. Well the recipe calls for 3 eggs, so a double batch needs a whole half-dozen. I did not say these were healthy! Instead of putting in 6 eggs or forgetting to double them and adding 3, I used one egg. That’s it. Just one single egg. You would think the texture would have been like cement and given my mistake away but nope, I popped them in the oven and set the timer. When I when to check on them they looked like boiling lava. Something was not right. So I baked them a little more, flipping through the recipe to figure out my mistake, and admitted defeat as I took them out to cool. I am sure there was lots of swearing but after burning my mouth a few times I determined that the center was oddly eatable despite the outside edges being hard as a rock. Oops. I think Travis brought a bag of brownie crumble to his coworker; they tasted pretty delicious but were more of an ice cream topping than something you could hold onto and sink your teeth into. The good news about making such a big mistake on a recipe is that I won’t make the same mistake again. Every time I make these brownies I am keenly aware of the 3 eggs I add and pay very close attention to every ingredient. But there will be plenty of future recipes I will make in a hurry and destroy beyond belief. Thankfully I got my casual baking genes from my mom who famously put a pan of Palm Beach Brownies (i.e. heaven) into the oven, realized she hadn’t added the flour, pulled them out, dumped them back into the bowl, added flour, and continued on baking them. Totally salvageable. My brownies obviously weren’t but it is with this attitude that I do most of my cooking and baking. Forge on and make them most of it. Fortunately this came in handy this week with Wednesday night’s dinner plan when things did not go as planned…Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts with Brown Rice

  • Stella, Tazzie and I were flying solo a few nights this week so this seemed like a super manageable dinner for me to tackle during crappy hour with two little monkeys. Stella ate approximately none of it so maybe she doesn’t like my cooking, but I thought it was pretty darn good and very straightforward.

Tuesday: Better Broccoli Casserole with Chicken

  • A friend made this for Stella and I and it was delicious. With whole milk and shredded chicken it was a very filling and a well-balanced meal.
  • Casseroles can definitely get a bad rap, but with crunchy roasted broccoli rather than soggy steamed broccoli and the crispy topping the texture of this was exactly what a casserole should be.
  • And Stella ate a bit of quinoa and didn’t spit it out which I consider to be a victory.

Wednesday: Spaghetti & Vodka Sauce with Smoked Sausage and Green Salad

  • This was an emergency weeknight meal that I flung into action at 5:15pm when I realized that what I thought was going to be dinner was not going to happen. Funny story…Stella unplugged the crockpot right before we left for the park so my super awesome dinner plans fell through. Good thing she’s cute! So I plugged the crockpot back in, out of reach of little hands, finished cooking it minus the broccoli rabe and roasted red pepper, and served it reheated another night. I had already thrown the beans in before I realized what had happened so they were mushy but not too bad.

Thursday: Bison Filet with Red Wine Sauce, Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus and Gingerbread Cake with Warm Rum-Lemon Sauce

  • Thursday was Travis’s birthday so I tried to make a dinner full of things he loves. He picked the cake out himself but I am proud to say I sous vide (under vacuum) the bison filets and pan finished them all by myself and they were darn good. Sous vide is great because you can set the exact temperature you want your meat cooked to and it will be cooked perfectly in a water bath to rare or medium-rare which allows you to finish it off in a pan or on the grill but not have to worry about it being over done.
  • I roasted the asparagus with salt, pepper and oil for 15ish minutes at 425. They were perfect.
  • I boiled some potatoes with a few garlic cloves and mashed them up with salt, butter and half and half. Only the best for Travis so none of that low-fat stuff.

Friday: Crockpot Italian Chicken & Broccoli Rabe Chili with Garlic Bread

  • So this was an easy dinner since we had it left over:)
  • I couldn’t find broccoli rabe and Travis is not wild about it so I used kale instead which is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
  • I only used 1 ¼ lbs of chicken breast so I cut the liquid and spices in half too which worked out well.

Week 43: Business in the Front, Party in the Back

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Who wore it better? 

First of all, I made a cake. A chocolate hazelnut cake to be exact. Most rewarding New Year’s resolution ever! It is one of my all-time favorites and I can’t remember the last time I made it. Problem solved. It was gone in 3 days. Now onto more important topics…mullets. Stella has a mullet and it is most certainly genetic from my side of the family. I had a very nice mullet for quite some time when I was young. Either my parents a) didn’t notice it because they were too busy keeping my brother out of trouble, b) noticed it and thought it was cute, or c) noticed it but didn’t know what to do about it. I’m in the final category. I’ve trimmed Stella’s mullet twice now but it keeps coming back with a vengeance. And it is a bit terrifying to have scissors near a very wiggly toddler’s neck, so it is not my favorite thing to do. Vests and jackets definitely emphasize it as you can imagine but seeing that it is winter in CO those are not usually optional. The front of her hair just refuses to grow. As does the middle of the back of her hair for that matter. So basically the only part that seems to be progressing are her back sideburns. I know the eventual goal is long hair and the in-between time can be a bit awkward but does it have to be this bad? And I’m guessing that I have mom glasses on and think she is way cuter than everyone else does, so I can’t even imagine what you all are seeing. Probably what I see when I look back at pictures of myself at this age. The horror! I can just picture the eye-rolls I will get down the road for documenting such attractive parts of her past. And yes, she has already attempted her first eye-roll. I don’t think she actually knows what it means yet but she must have seen someone (ahem) do it and thought it was worthy of her efforts. Every week I promise myself I will tackle the mullet but so far I haven’t found anything to sedate her well enough to feel safe about using scissors around my wild child. I am hoping that by putting this out there I will be forced to deal with it and that by next week at this time we will be mullet free. Fingers crossed. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Farro Breakfast Bowl with Sautéed Chard

  • This was a really quick, tasty and satisfying dinner.
  • We did fried eggs instead since I thought the runny yolk would add to the dish and of course left out the tomatoes.
  • I sautéed a bunch of chard with a shallot and added it to the bowl as pictured.

Tuesday: Chicken Picatta with Brown Rice and Green Salad

  • I served this dish with brown rice instead of pasta because I don’t think pasta soaks up sauce as well. I liked it even if it is not traditional.
  • Since I used chicken breast I tried to pound them a bit to thin them out but they still took longer to cook than the recipe said.
  • I found this recipe in the “cooking with kids” section and I don’t think it would be my top choice of recipes to try with a kid. Raw chicken kind of grosses me out and makes me wash my hands so many times with super hot water they feel a bit damaged in the end, but maybe that is just me.

Wednesday: White Bean, Sausage Crock-Pot Ragu with Pasta

  • Loved this! This recipe as well as last week’s buttered chicken come from a piece in the Huffington Post called “10 ‘Dump Recipes’ For Slow Cookers That Make Cooking Stupid Easy” and so far I agree. They have both been very flavorful, healthy, well-rounded and easy meals.
  • I served this over whole wheat spaghetti which Stella still refuses to eat by the way. Loves whole wheat bread but pretty many refuses any other form of wheat or grain. I though kids were supposed to love noodles?

Thursday: Zucchini Chilaquiles

  • Having had chard and kale this week I left out the spinach and replaced it with more onion and zucchini and added a can of pinto beans. There were plenty of veggies!
  • I couldn’t find canned tomatillos so I used tomatillo salsa instead which I am sure had loads more sodium but worked in a pinch.
  • I was worried it would be too spicy so I left out the jalapeno but in the end wish I’d added it. It wasn’t spicy at all.
  • Extra topping and sauce make an excellent breakfast the next day with eggs!

Friday: Potato-Leek Chowder

  • Travis’s aunt sent me this recipe a few weeks back reminding me of my love of leek. Travis did really enjoy the soup but thought the green in the soup was broccoli. Hehe.
  • I really like that this soup has more than just potatoes. The leek, cauliflower and corn let me off the hook for having other veggies with dinner. I also used red potatoes and left the skin on which is of course one less step as well as some extra fiber. Double win.
  • I used frozen corn instead of creamed corn and added some dried thyme. I also used whole milk/half and half instead of skim milk to make it more filling and delicious of course.
  • And more bacon. Always more bacon!

Weekend Bonus Recipe: Crockpot Caramelized Pork Ramen Noodle Soup with Curry Roasted Acorn Squash

  • Holy smokes this was ridiculous. I used to eat ramen as a kid but haven’t gotten into the new ramen craze yet but I’m definitely on board now.
  • I would at least double the chicken stock since it cooks down so much and there isn’t a ton of broth left at the end. We also separated the fat off.
  • I used two packs of normal ramen and two packs of healthy (i.e. not fried and whole grain) and enjoyed the mixture.
  • Apparently two of my recipes this week came from Half Baked Harvest, so I guess I’m a fan now.

Week 42: Mom Brain

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Mom brain courtesy of this little goof

Mom brain is real, but it’s also an excellent excuse for forgetting things. One of my mom friends aptly put it that if you are only as strong as your weakest link then your attention span is as long as a (insert the age of your child) 17-month olds. Sounds about right! I’ve always been one to write things down before I forget but now I often don’t have the opportunity to as I chase after Stella so it just feels like I am more forgetful. But the other day I nailed it memory-wise and my mom brain confidence was boosted. I got to the grocery store Monday afternoon without my list; believe it or not that is not the nailing it part of the story. I was of course super frustrated but not about to go home and start again. So I went through the store as usual and just tried to remember what I’d written down. Pre-Stella there were a few times I forgot my list and could pretty much picture my list, having spent thoughtful time making it and picking out our weekly menu. I typically would do really well by re-creating most of the list in my head. But Monday my head was blank. No picture and no recollection of the menu I had planned. I was a little nervous that this would be a giant waste of time but as I went through each aisle the list seemed to come to me. And this is where I nailed it. I correctly bought 42 out of the 45 items on my list, which blew my mind! First of all that I buy that much food each week and secondly that I could remember random things like garam masla, tomato paste and a Spanish onion. I can hardly remember what I did yesterday or what I had for lunch but somehow I managed to save what I thought would be a super frustrating afternoon excursions. And good thing since we wouldn’t have had much to eat for dinner that night had I not been so successful. So yes, I forget things and thoughts slip my mind all the time but I’ve at least still sort of got it. And I’m sure memory exercises like forgetting my list are good for my brain every once in a while. Or at least that is what I will be telling myself! Meal Plan & Grocery List

 

Monday: Smoky & Sweet Turkey Chili with Cornbread and Green Salad

  • Sometimes I feel like a chili is a chili. Yes, there are white chilies, vegetarian, beef, 3-bean, 5-bean and every other variation imaginable but my enjoyment level is pretty much the same. I don’t particularly like smoky foods, but this chili kind of knocked my socks off.
  • I added black beans and would add more veggies like frozen corn, bell pepper and zucchini, but the flavors were definitely there.
  • I made my whole-grain skillet cornbread that Stella loves and crumbles all over the floor and a green salad to round out the meal.

Tuesday: Tuna & Rice Bowls

  • I made the brown rice at lunch and reheated it for dinner since being home an hour before dinner can be a stretch.
  • I also couldn’t find any tuna I would eat raw so Travis grilled it.
  • It was a very fresh tasting dinner despite having cooked the fish. I added radishes, shredded carrot and would recommend any other veggies you have on hand.

Wednesday: Crock-Pot Butter Chicken with Veggies and Rice

  • This smelled so good while cooking and didn’t disappoint! Giving the flavors a long time to work their magic was essential since a quick version of this dish wouldn’t have been the same. I thought the sauce was a little spicy or strong, not sure which, so I would probably use more cream, yogurt or both to mellow it out a bit. But we served it with lots of rice and yogurt to cool it off and that worked just fine.
  • I added half a cinnamon stick and a few cardamom pods and cloves to the rice to add some extra flavor and just steamed some broccoli and left it pretty plan to eat with the extra sauce.

Thursday: Grilled Lamb Chops with Cucumber-Mint Yogurt Sauce, Couscous with Dried Fruit and Lemony Green Beans

  • We had one last pack of lamb chops to use up from our ½ share of lamb along with some mint and cucumber so it seemed like it was meant to be. And it was a super simple and quick meal despite all the components.
  • Yogurt, diced cucumber, mint, a splash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt will about do it for the sauce.
  • I chopped up the extra kumquats we had in the fridge and added them to the water along with the couscous and some dried fruit.
  • Travis grilled the lamb chops with salt and pepper and I steamed some green beans and added some butter and lemon zest before serving. Pretty darn easy.
  • This is not the recipe I used, but it is a good starting place (minus the marinating part of course).

Friday: Leek, Mustard & Goat Cheese Quiche with Garlic Bread and Green Salad

  • I try to avoid making pie crust. Even though I have my grandmothers foolproof pie crust recipe, the last time I made it it was in no way flaky or light and more closely resembled play dough. Instead I found whole-wheat pie crust in the freezer section and give it a try. Stella really liked it and I didn’t have any major complaints myself.
  • I doubled the eggs, cream, mustard and goat cheese to get two quiches so we’d have enough for lunch the next day. Score!
  • I tried using one cup of half and half and one cup of sour cream instead of crème fraîche and I though it turned out well. With the creamy goat cheese and only 2 eggs per quiche the texture was really smooth and nice.

Bonus Recipe: This is the Dutch Oven Lemon, Garlic & Rosemary Roast Chicken we had last Sunday. The onions from the bottom of the pan were to die for. So lemony and delicious! I roasted some root veggies to go with it.

Week 41: Super Bowl Sunday, Of Course

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Our little Bronco fan watching the Super Bowl last year

I feel like this post should probably be about Super Bowl Sunday since that is what the rest of the country is talking about today. I’ll first admit that I didn’t actually know this weekend was the super bowl until last night, I still don’t know who is playing though so there’s still a little mystery left thankfully. And I will also say that I truly don’t care about, or understand, football. How un-American, I know. My excuse is that I grew up in VT high school football didn’t exist until after I’d moved away. And now of course that high schools in VT have teams I am sure they will slowly start to not have teams as the consequences of head injuries set in with parents. But that’s a whole different topic. When I was in high school my dad would call us all in from homework and making dinner for the super bowl commercials, a highlight for many of us. In college I went to my first super bowl party my senior year to see a cute boy I liked (hint: we’re married now;). And last year for the first time ever we had some friends over for a mini super bowl party since going to one with a 5-month old seemed unlikely and it was a great excuse to see our friends. So that pretty much sums up my lifetime super bowl participation. Not amazing. All logic would point to me being a fan of Super Bowl Sunday given that it can mostly be about good food and friends, a very appealing combo. But it still involves a lot of football and time, something I find very valuable these days. This year for Super Bowl Sunday Travis is out mountain biking, I’ve been doing yard work (in shorts and a t-shirt for those of you not in sunny CO right now), and Stella is sleeping. Not too shabby. I think of how far we’ve come from last year when we had a chunky little nugget who napped for 30-minutes 8 times a day and couldn’t even sit-up on her own to life now with a toddler who runs, eats food, I’m pretty sure talks back though I can’t understand it yet, and naps only once a day! That is plenty enough to celebrate for me. Hold the side of football and TV, I’ll just take a drink and some good food. Tonight I am cooking a whole chicken in a dutch oven with some roasted veggies. Hopefully it will be delicious though I realize that is not most people’s idea of super bowl food. And I am, however, super excited, as is Tazzie, to watch the puppy bowl!  Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Chickepea, Chard & Winter Squash Gnocchi

  • I used shelf stable gnocchi which saves time and dishes. I also had pre-cut butternut squash so there wasn’t a lot of prep work.
  • I substituted craisins and raisins for currents, chard for spinach, and totally forgot the balsamic vinegar but it was delicious anyways! I love gnocchi, but I think brand is important. I like Gia Russa’s whole wheat gnocchi while other brand’s whole wheat gnocchi can be super tough, grainy and not amazing.
  • Serve with parmesan cheese of course.

Tuesday: Steak & Purple Potato Salad

  • Travis wanted some credit for this one, so here it is. He made a London broil over the weekend that was too large for one dinner so he suggested we use the leftovers in this salad. Winner!
  • Very minimal work was required on my end which I was a fan of. I served it all over a green salad to balance out the meal.

Wednesday: Slow-Cooker Pinto Bean Stew with Jalapeno-Corn Dumplings and Green Salad

  • Aside from misreading the final step where it says the dumplings need to cook for an hour, this recipe was a great weeknight meal. I like the idea of the corn dumplings on top rather than a whole other dish to prepare. I ended up cooking them for 30 minutes instead and they seemed done. I also did 1.5 times the dumpling recipe to have more leftovers for lunch.

Thursday: Pork Tenderloin with Blue Cheese & Pears with Broccolini

  • I couldn’t find pork tenderloin so I used pork chops instead.
  • I wish the onions had been a little more cooked, but otherwise this was a super tasty dish. And Travis even ate and enjoyed the blue cheese!
  • While I was prepping the onions and pears I started roasting the broccolini at a lower temp, 400 degrees, and finished them off with the pork at 500.

Friday: Pad Thai with Shrimp & Tofu

  • I did end up making it to a large Asian market in our area last week and was very overwhelmed but also quite inspired. Among other things I got some rice noodles and tamarind concentrate to make Pad Thai.
  • This recipe called for tamarind paste so I had to taste the sauce a lot to figure out the right amount of tamarind concentrate, but somewhere between 6-8 Tbsp seemed right. Because of the ingredient substitution the dish wasn’t dark and didn’t look like what you would get in a restaurant but it tasted great.
  • We used more noodles, tofu and shrimp but the sauce quantities seemed fine to me.
  • I liked the addition of the Napa cabbage. Travis of course grumbled about it but I think he survived.
  • Definitely a fun weeknight meal!