Week 47: Life on the Mekong

Spring '07 227

10 years ago this week Travis and I went on our first date:) 

Today an old friend of mine is coming to visit us for a few days. We met 11 years ago on my semester abroad in Vietnam. She was the host sister to one of my good friends and we quickly became friends too. One of my favorite weekends that semester was a Sunday excursion four of us took to visit another local friend’s family in the country. We biked there like you do in Vietnam, around 20 km, stopping along the way to rest in hammocks in the shade and cool off with a drinks since as usual, it was hot. Our two local friends wore long sleeves or long gloves, long pants, and hats to shade their skin from the sun while we two Westerners wore t-shirts and helmets to be stay cool and protect our heads if we got hit. Different priorities and cultures for sure. Our journey wouldn’t have been complete without a flat tire, so with that out of the way we continued onto the market to buy ingredients for lunch. We decided to make sweet and sour soup, a classic and very delicious soup I ate often. We bough tomatoes, sprouts, pineapple, greens, chilies, okra and a fish that was alive when we chose it and very shortly afterwards not. Can’t get anymore fresh than that. Despite the heat, eating hot foods both spicy and temperature, is what you do in hot places to sweat and “cool” off. This of course wouldn’t be our only lunch. Every relatives house we went to we were fed more fresh mango, fried bananas, a sweet coconut soup with thick tapioca noodles, and more fruit, hence the 20 lbs I gained that semester. Yikes! We spent the afternoon talking with her relatives, picking and eating fruit from their trees, feeding their pigs, and enjoying our little slice of normal everyday life in Vietnam. Everywhere we went with our group we were a bit of a spectacle and it would quickly change the atmosphere as soon as we walked into a room. People would literally wake up their sleeping children to point at us walking by. So spending the day with a friend’s family “blending” in, cooking food, eating of course, and just enjoying the day with our new friends made this a very memorable day. I will spare you the pictures of me during my chunky phase abroad and instead give you a picture from when Travis and I had muscles and were young pups back in our rowing days.

 

I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty pleased with myself for this week’s menu. Each meal was super delicious on its own, but all of the leftovers were really tasty together, which was a stroke of genius luck. All these meals would have been far more appropriate had it not been in the 70s all week, but I can’t say it bothered me that much. Good food is always welcome. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Chicken and Waffles with Kicky Syrup

  • I actually don’t think I’ve ever had chicken and waffles, so I figured it was high time.
  • We used leftover buttermilk waffles from Sunday breakfast instead of frozen waffles.
  • This is at least the second time I’ve made this mistake in recent history, so shame on me, but I keep buying chicken breast instead of a thinner cut like cutlets or tenders. I’ve tried pounding them flat and failed miserably each time. I think the best solution would be to cut them in half instead. Next time! Chicken breast just take a lot longer to cook and are an uneven thickness of course, but fortunately the outside breading didn’t burn so no harm done.
  • Although I am sure adding Sriracha and soy sauce to my syrup would have been delicious, I am a purist and love my Vermont maple syrup as is.

Tuesday: Four-Bean and Pumpkin Chili

  • Since I still had some frozen chopped butternut squash this was a pretty quick meal. The squash also didn’t take the whole 30 minutes of cooking time the recipe suggests which helped speed things along.
  • I loved the cinnamon in the chili and as usual the flavors were better leftover the next day.
  • We used pepitas, cilantro, sour cream, avocado and cheddar cheese to garnish it.

Wednesday: BBQ Stuffed Potatoes and Green Salad

  • Our roast was a 2.5 lb arm roast instead of a smaller chuck roast. I used the same amount of spice rub and although there wasn’t a ton of sauce at the end it had plenty of flavor.
  • I also love the idea that the potatoes would cook in the crockpot so it truly was a dump and go meal ready to eat anytime. And unlike a lot of baked potatoes it was not at all dry.
  • This was killer left over with the extra chili by the way! Super tasty combo.

Thursday: Swiss-Fondue Mac and Cheese with Peas and Broccoli

  • No surprise here, but this was of course amazing. Enough good cheese could probably make a hotdog taste amazing, but it really did remind me of fondue.
  • While the pasta was cooking I chopped and steamed two small crowns of broccoli. I added them in at the end and tossed in half a bag of frozen peas (thawed) as well. One pot meal.
  • I didn’t have dry vermouth so I used dry sherry instead. I think white wine works too.
  • I couldn’t find Raclette so I added more Gruyere which was not a problem at all.
  • The leftover breaded chicken, chili and meat were all really good with this the next day for lunch.

Friday: Spicy Fish Taco Bowl with Cilantro Lime Slaw

  • Travis gets full credit for this meal. I usually make most of or a lot of dinner while Stella is napping but she had a shorter than anticipated nap this day so I got nothing done. And since we always get out and do something in the afternoon so we don’t go stir crazy, we didn’t get home until late. I think Tazzie was the most disappointed by this. She moped the whole time Travis cooked, devastated that her playmate was neglecting her. She is very emotional.
  • And of course dinner was super good! I’ve been on a bowl kick recently since there are so many new ideas to try and this made eating fish tacos so much easier! I love to pile on so much slaw that I can’t even pick up my taco. Problem solved!
  • Travis hand chopped the cabbage which I prefer since it gives it more texture than shredding.
  • I can’t say much of this was good mixed with other leftovers, but I did enjoy the extra slaw and quinoa the next day with some avocado for lunch.

Week 46: Hotdish

 

This has been a big week! I finally trimmed Stella’s mullet. It took me a while to get the right scissors but thanks to another mom’s advice I got short scissors with rounded ends which were exactly what I needed. I also delved into a recipe organizational upgrade which is huge and long overdue. I’ve started using Paprika per my brother-in-law’s suggestion and so far I think it’s pretty fabulous. I can upload recipes from any website, categorize them, make menus, grocery lists, and multiply recipes without messing up. I someday hope to get the contents of my recipe binder in here, but that will be a very slow process. Baby steps, but for now I’ve got a platform that is super user friendly and a place to put all the new recipes I cook each week. Now that the updates are over, we can talk about other things.

I’ve learned over the years that Travis and I tend to go big. We don’t test the waters and take baby steps; we usually jump in head-first and hope we remember how to swim. Hence the puppy, house and baby thing we chose to do in rapid succession. Ill advised by most, but somehow we survived and mostly enjoyed it. Back in early 2011 we decided to move to Minneapolis so I could go to grad school at the U of M, sight unseen. We packed up all our belongings two days after getting married, drove from Vermont to Minneapolis, found a place to live, and I started school a few days later. And as always we were so happy we took the risk. We loved our two years in Minneapolis. I know this is a huge stereotype, but people from the mid-west are SO nice! We met great people, biked a lot, ice-skated, cross-country skied, played ice golf, camped in the Boundary Waters, and enjoyed life surrounded by lakes and the Mississippi River. Plus my people, Swedes, are there in droves so there was no shortage of blonds. But in the end we missed the mountains and decided to come back to CO. However, along the way we learned a few things about the regional cuisine. There are several specialty dishes including cheese curds, anything fried and on a stick, and hotdish. What, you might ask, is hotdish? Hotdish is “a casserole which typically contains a starch, a meat, and a canned or frozen vegetable mixed with canned soup.” There is tater tot, green bean, taco, and tuna noodle hotdish to name a few. We just about never ate casseroles growing up, and I don’t think I’d ever heard of cream of anything soup until my post-college years, but for many people this is comfort food and I can see why. I really enjoyed Monday night’s Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole, a dish most Minnesotans would proudly call hotdish given that wild rice is a locally grown crop. It had a starch, vegetable, meat, creamy component though not from a can, and was baked in the oven. Since everything was from scratch it took a heck of a lot longer, but the enjoyment I get out of eating a dish I make far exceeds any I would get from a casserole with tater tots and cream of mushroom soup. Though hotdish is not that dissimilar from your classic casserole, there is much more pride and creativity that comes with it. And do take the time to study the map I posted. It is completely amusing and of course comes with its own Paul Bunyan and Babe. Meal Plan & Grocery List

hotdish

Monday: Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole with Green Salad

  • Casseroles are pretty much the opposite crock pot recipes, my favorite kind of cooking, but I am a sucker for trying new things. And since it was a casserole without a cream of something soup I thought it sounded pretty good.
  • Since you have to pre-cook everything it is pretty unavoidably time consuming, but it was great to get home at 5pm, pop it in the oven and be ready to eat at 5:30.
  • And we had tons of leftovers so I could have theoretically frozen half for another time, but alas we ate it all.
  • Since we can’t top our meals with crunchy almonds, I used some panko breadcrumbs and a little parmesan cheese instead. I also used more carrots in place of the mushrooms, and dried thyme instead of fresh.
  • Future goal is to find quicker meals that don’t take up my entire break during Stella’s nap!

Tuesday: Simple Coconut Quinoa and Lentil Curry with Lime Mango

  • I added a red onion that I bought for a recipe last week and forgot to use, and white quinoa instead of a mix.
  • This fits more into my simple meals goal.
  • Since I used water instead of coconut water or stock the dish needed some salt which I didn’t notice until we sat down to eat. Note to self: I should taste my food while cooking.
  • We served it with a splash of apple cider vinegar, yogurt and mango.

Wednesday: Spicy Roasted Ratatouille with Spaghetti

  • This dish can be as spicy or mild as you want it to be since red pepper flakes are the only spicy ingredient, but the roasted veggies are super tasty no matter what.
  • I used two zucchini and squash each along with a red onion and eggplant to have a little more vegetables for a pound of pasta.
  • I used some frozen basil from my garden last year but dried or fresh are both an option. Just add the dried to the oil and vinegar mix before roasting.

Thursday: Cumin Pork Tenderloin with Dried-Apricot Chutney, Green Beans & Couscous

  • These are pretty straight forward recipes that didn’t take all that long. I put the marinade on the pork during Stella’s nap but since it was pretty thick you can just toss it on before cooking and the flavors will still be very enjoyable.
  • Stella loved the chutney and ate that and only that for dinner which was a surprise given her usual love of meat. But I think her love of being unpredictable won out this time around.

Friday: Teriyaki Salmon and Brown Rice Bowl with Veggies

  • I always appreciate making something as simple as teriyaki from scratch. And since bowls seem to be in I served the salmon over brown rice in a bowl with a mix of veggies including scallions, shredded carrots, cucumber, and some roasted broccoli.

Week 45: Recipes, Recipes, Recipes

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Tazzie on the day we picked her out back when she was the size of a small stuffed animal.

You can probably guess how nice it is each weekend by how late in the weekend I post my blog. This weekend has been super nice I haven’t even wanted to sit down at my computer! And since yesterday was Tazzie’s 2nd birthday, she’s Stella’s Irish twin after all, we spent most of the weekend outside finding places for her to swim, run and play. But I digress. Onto more important things: recipe organization. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I organize my recipes and sort through them each week to pick out our menu. Right now I am working with a super old-school system that includes a giant stainless steel 3-ring binder with recipes I’ve torn out of magazines over the years. I also have a 13-page recipe index I created over the years of all the Eating Well recipes I’ve made or ever wanted to make. Instead of keeping all the magazines, which I did for a while until they took over our cookbook bookshelf, I just type them into a super organized list, shocker I know, and flip through it to find recipes for the week. This confession should give you a full picture into my super organization/ODC tendencies. But as ridiculous as it is to have such a cumbersome and old-fashion system there are a few things that I like about it that I am not sure how to duplicate if I were to switch to an electronic system. I obviously have the recipes organized by type of dish (i.e. chicken, fish, vegetarian, soups, etc.) but I also have the month, or issue, the recipe came from which helps me pick more seasonal recipes. So in March I scan through and find all the recipes from the Feb/March issues and can easily make a menu that feels more appropriate to the weather and is easier to shop for seasonally. Even though I know transferring all of my recipes to an electronic system would take a lot of work, I think it would be worth it in the long run since I use my computer to menu plan, make a list, and as my cookbook when I am making dinner. So if anyone has a suggestion or recommendation for online recipe organization systems that would be a step-up from my current system, not super hard to do, please pass them on! This lady needs some help. Meal Plan & Grocery List

 

Monday: Beef Tacos with Green Salad

  • It has taken me longer than I’d like to admit to figure this out, but I need quick meals for Monday night. Stella and I go to the grocery store Monday afternoon so by the time we get home and unload everything I usually have a hangry toddler on my hands and no dinner. This week’s meal was perfect for that.
  • I browned 2 onions and added a lot more seasoning (1 Tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp each of cumin and paprika).
  • I skipped the step where you add water and wait 15 minutes and just browned the meat more.
  • Since I never put enough lettuce on my tacos to count as any sort of vegetable I just skipped it and made a side salad, serving our tacos with salsa and avocado instead.

Tuesday: Roasted Carrots with Farro, Chickepeas & Crème Fraiche and Green Salad

  • I never thought I would hear Travis, or myself for that matter, rave about roasted carrots but seriously. These were delicious. They take a lot longer than I would expect, but it was totally worth it.
  • I also roasted some asparagus (10-15 minutes) as well and served everything with a green salad.
  • I did not add anything to my crème fraiche since it is already completely delicious on its own.
  • I wish I had doubled everything so we’d had leftovers for lunch, but that is always a good problem to have.

Wednesday: Creamy Chicken, Brussels Sprouts One-Pot Pasta

  • I used 1 lb of penne and doubled all the seasonings and water.
  • Instead of mushrooms I used frozen peas that I added towards the end.
  • Kind of like the broccoli and quinoa casserole last week I roasted the Brussels sprouts and added them at the end to keep everything from feeling too mushy.
  • Since I wasn’t sure if things would thicken up enough I mixed a heaping tablespoon of flour with some water towards the end and added it to the pot.
  • I love this kind of dish and am always impressed when we have more than enough for the two of us for dinner and lunch the next day. Success!

Thursday: Shrimp Curry with Chickepea & Cauliflower and Brown Rice

  • I never would have thought to add fennel to this but since I found it at the store I took a chance. I am not always wild about fennel so I was a little nervous, but it was not too overpowering and was super tasty.
  • I unfortunately couldn’t find shrimp paste so I added more curry paste to make sure the sauce would have enough flavor.
  • I added the cauliflower once the sauce came to a boil and let it cook while the sauce thickened.
  • I also added some bok choy with the shrimp and chickpeas for more color and flavor. Most of the steps I took were to shortened the cooking time so I don’t think we got as much flavor out of the lemongrass, but it was totally worth it.

Friday: Veggie Chili with Cornbread

  • I prepped all the veggies during Stella’s nap so I could just toss them into the pan to brown while I whipped up the cornbread and then let everything cook. Pretty quick and easy.
  • I used the other half of the fennel bulb from Thursday nights dinner and kidney beans instead of the second can of black beans.
  • Stella can pound some cornbread so I used half white whole-wheat flour and half all purpose. Along with the whole grain cornmeal I feel better about her eating that and only that for dinner.