Week 58: IKEA Relationship Test Results

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Stella Mabel for the style points: on a 95 degree day she decided rubber rain boots would be the best choice. 

We redid our office the other week, which explains my absence, and I love it. I have so much storage and desk space it is amazing. The organizational freak in me is having the time of her life figuring out where everything should go. My desk before was the side piece to an “L” shaped desk with no drawer and little space in general. Travis had the big piece of the L but overall our office was failing us. After a little Pinterest research I found our solution and was geeking out on all the ideas. It took us about 6-months to actually get around to doing it, but boy does it feel good. Since we did the whole thing ourselves, it involved a trip to IKEA. Get your snacks and walking shoes ready! Anyone who has been to IKEA and assembled their purchase has probably heard and/or noticed that it is a pretty good relationship test. Stressful at best for most people. Travis and I had never been to IKEA until we moved to Minneapolis about 1 week after we got married. Swedish furniture in the land of Swedes seemed like the right thing to do. The store was far more stressful than any actual furniture assembly, which either speaks to my lack of desire to be in big crowded places while being forced to move very slowly, or our super awesome week old-marriage. You pick. Walking through IKEA feels like herding turtles, moving slowly through their maze-like walkway with no possible escape. It took us about 6 years to return to an IKEA which we wisely did without Stella. Twelve plus boxes later we were on our way home for a world of hurt. But I discovered something this past week. I actually enjoy the process of assembling IKEA furniture. It was what I did during Stella’s naps and after bedtime for a whole week but since it felt in stark contrast to my day it was almost completely enjoyable. Toddlers are crazy, erratic and unpredictable and IKEA furniture is 100% organized, predictable and logical. Call me crazy, but I think it’s my cup of tea. Plus I knew the end results would be so worth it and I was right. You would think my IKEA assembly skills would translate well to baking and other meticulous things but I think it pretty much starts and stops here. And solo assembly is definitely the key to passing this relationship test. We’ve assembled a few things together and did just fine but not with a toddler around to “help”. Any sucker who hasn’t figured out your partners strengths and how to use those to their fullest potential would definitely fail the IKEA test. It would be like me asking Travis to clean the house while I set up our computers and modem. HA! So we passed the IKEA test with flying colors because we, for the most part, worked separately on the things to we do best. Kind of like our kitchen game. One of us is good at grilling while the other is better at prep work. And in typical blog fashion my picture will have nothing to do with the post because we still have a little work to do on the office but a picture will be forthcoming. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Turkey Sliders with Crunchy Green Apple Slaw

  • We did these on the grill which made it a bit more challenging since I bought lean ground chicken that wouldn’t quite stick together. Travis added some breadcrumbs and oil to fix the situation and it worked just fine.
  • The green apple slaw was tasty and tart, a perfect combo in my opinion but I also love Granny Smiths.

Tuesday: Zippy Orzo Summer Salad

  • I did my own take on this salad since we had lots of greens last week in our CSA. I sautéed garlic scapes, kale, mustard greens, and added some fresh peas for good measure. Basically any veggie you have around would do the trick as well as any herbs.
  • I did include some grilled chicken and goat cheese, but a can of beans would be a good vegetarian substitute.

Wednesday: Korean BBQ Steak Bowls with Spicy Sesame Dressing

  • I went light on the garlic and chili paste for the dressing and used 1/3 cup soy sauce instead, but I actually marinated the meat for a change.
  • Travis grilled the steak and I lightly sautéed the peppers and scallions.
  • I served it over brown rice instead of spinach and it was plenty tasty with the extra dressing.

Thursday: Creamy Avocado & White Bean Wraps

  • This is one of my easy go-to recipes that does not involve cooking. Because it involves avocado it is definitely best when eaten fresh though spoken by someone who forgot about it and tried to eat it two days later.
  • I used a shredded carrot and a combo of red and green cabbage for the slaw.
  • My “wraps” end up being a lot less pretty than the ones in the picture with too much slaw to close the tortilla, but it was equally tasty I assure you.

Friday: Pork and Beans with Garlic and Greens and Garlic Bread

  • I think of crock pots as being very wintery but that is mostly because the recipes I do in my crock pot are wintery. They don’t heat up the house quite like an oven so it seemed like a good way to use up a bunch more greens and not have to cook.
  • I soaked the beans overnight and put everything in the crock pot on high for 5 hours. The beans weren’t super soft so longer would have been better but the pork was fall-apart delicious.
  • I used a can of died tomatoes and a lot of greens.
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Week 57: The VERY Hungry Caterpillar

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As you’ve hopefully figured out my pictures have nothing to do with my blog posts. But here is our new family room. It’s the best!

I feel like the very hungry caterpillar but in the version where I don’t turn into a beautiful butterfly. On Monday she ate half a stale Luna bar from the diaper bag, but she was still hungry. On Tuesday, she ate a piece of pretzel from Stella’s car seat (without giving it a second thought), but she was still hungry and a bit horrified. By Wednesday she’d just given up. The shame was just too much. But seriously, Stella eats very well yet I find myself eating old crumbs from her car seat, what gives? Stella is not an amazing eater so she gets breakfast, lunch, a snack after nap, and dinner. None of this grazing all the time business because she simply doesn’t need it as is demonstrated by her lack of interest in meals, particularly after too much snacking. And no one is permitted to snack in front of her, heaven forbid. It is truly not worth it, particularly if it’s anything she likes. So for someone who is used to eating every 2 hours it kind of feels like I’ve been put on snack probation. I’m stuck eating three square meal a day plus all the snacks I want after 8pm once Stella is in bed, which can be significant given that we eat dinner at 5:30. Whew. Living the dream here. Stella eats so well why don’t I grab one of her snacks you might ask? A homemade banana muffin, sunflower seed butter oat balls, all homemade by yours truly. Well to be honest every time I think about eating one, and let’s be honest I’d need about 5 for it to be a proper snack, I see my free time after her 8pm bedtime floating by. Because that is when I have time to make all of these delicious home made snacks. Not a good enough reason to deprive myself, but it feels pretty real to me. So I eat crap or go hungry while my daughter eats like a queen. Sometime if I’m lucky I can shovel food into my mouth while driving so long as the little lady isn’t privy to it. But on the road away from a sink it has to be nut-free. I bet if you list your top five go-to grab-and-go filling snacks they’d all include nuts. Mine sure would, so out of laziness I’ve sort of given up. So this little caterpillar needs to figure a few things out before she perishes from hunger. Healthy and filling nut free snacks that are easy to grab-and-go and making time to sit down and eat these delicious snacks. Ready, set, go.

Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Spiced Lamb Burgers with Whole Wheat Pita, Tzatziki Sauce and Green Salad

  • Real shocker, but I didn’t mix the lamb and let it sit for an hour because I failed to read the recipe ahead of time. It was still delicious. I also only used 1 lb of lamb and adjusted everything accordingly.
  • I also did not do any fancy pita bread stuffing, we just stuffed the burgers and sauce in the pita and used it like a bun.

Tuesday: Simple Buttery Spring Pea Pasta with Prosciutto

  • This is my perfect once a week big one-pot meal that gives us tons of leftovers. And while the pasta water is boiling I can get everything else ready so it is also a very simple dinner.
  • Any veggie would work here, just add it to the water a little before cooking if you use asparagus, broccoli or something else with a little more substance. I added some arugula at the end which was very tasty.
  • I didn’t add the extra eggs since I was in a rush, but I am sure it would have been delicious. And skipped on most of the butter. A few Tbsp seemed to work just fine for me.
  • I am also super nervous about raw eggs, says the lady who shovels raw cookie dough into her mouth like it’s no big deal, so I kept the stove on low for those few minutes while I was mixing the eggs into the pasta.

Wednesday: Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Crispy Tofu

  • I love spring rolls and after my friend Thoa’s visit I have a little more spring roll making confidence.
  • To simplify this recipe I skipped the tofu glaze part and just brown them.
  • The key to rolling a good spring roll is to not overfill it. A problem I have with everything I make and eat so the first few may be a learning process.
  • If you make the rice paper water too hot the paper will fall apart, so I’d go with warm to start and see how you do.
  • The dipping sauce can be made with peanut butter for a more traditional taste.

Thursday: Lemon Herb Salmon Burgers with Green Salad

  • Travis was out mountain biking and I had forgotten to do any dinner prep during Stella’s all too short nap that day so our evening was a hot mess.
  • I cooked the quinoa while I prepped everything else which worked out just fine in the end since it was already hot.
  • I ended up using 2 small cans of canned salmon and a small packet of smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was a nice accident though since it added some good flavor but wasn’t overpowering.
  • Since Stella was hysterical and Tazzie was in a constant flow of stealing toys I skipped the food processor part and mixed it all by hand and ended up with a slightly scrambled salmon burger. Rustic if you will.
  • I mixed some Greek yogurt and sour cream with the herb shallot mixture to top the burgers with and served them on a bed of dressed greens with some extra quinoa.

Friday: Curried Chicken Salad

  • We brought a giant bowl of this to a pot-luck on Friday night and took home about 1 Tbsp. It’d say it was a hit. And since everyone asked for the recipe, here it is.
  • I used ¼ cup each of light sour cream and mayo with about 2 Tbsp of curry powder, a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. I didn’t have any Major Grey’s chutney this time around but have made it both ways and think it is equally tasty.
  • To make this more of a meal serve it as a wrap with lettuce or spinach.

Bonus Recipe: 7 Ingredient Vegan Key Lime Pies

  • I made this dessert a while back for book group and keep forgetting to post it. They are totally delicious and, as I learned, my style of baking because there is actually no baking involved thus they are foolproof.
  • The crusts have to be baked but that is super simple. The rest just gets blended and chilled.
  • I am not a believer that all healthier faux desserts taste like the real thing but because this didn’t remove fat, a key component to good taste and texture, it was still very creamy and rich and tasted similar enough to a key lime pie for me to enjoy it.
  • They are very limey and tart which I enjoy, so go heavier on the sugar and lighter on the lime if you don’t love a tart key lime pie.

Week 56: Birthday Shenanigans

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Birthday weekend fun

We had a very fun and friend filled weekend celebrating my birthday so I was just too darn busy to post! I have a feeling that will happen a lot this summer. You’ve been warned! Last week our house exterior got painted which has been 2 years of HOA rejections in the making. The good news is that we LOVE it. I have a pretty serious crush on our house right now and can’t stop grinning every time I look at it. Especially those red doors. We also finished up our big family room project that I posted about so long ago most of you have probably forgotten about it. It is killer! I’ll post a before and after picture next week after we get a few more finishing touches done. But needless to say Stella and Tazzie are super excited to have their play room back as is evidence by the picture of Tazzie above.

For my birthday Travis and I went out for dinner on Saturday night and stopped at J&L Distilling in Boulder to grab a drink. Super disappointed by the way that both at dinner and the tasting room I wasn’t carded. Sigh. I blame it on my company. He must look wise beyond his years because on our first date the waitress carded me but didn’t card Travis, we were 21 and 22 respectively. I blame Stella for helping me look my age. But anyways, I digress. There are tons of distilleries in Colorado, but gin seems to be less common. I love gin but am a bit of a snob when it comes down to it. I’ve definitely found a few CO gins I can’t drink. If they stray too far from the delicious juniper in Bombay I’m out. But I’d heard good things about J&L and was excited to try it. My gin drink was a Beet Down and it was delicious. It was “Gin infused with fresh beets, ginger simple syrup, tarragon honey, and freshly squeezed lemon juice”. I mean. The owner warmed me that it wouldn’t be the best showcase of his gin because the beets were so strong and he was totally right but I loved it anyway! And look at it. Stunning too, right? We got to enjoy their amazing view of the flatirons and sip our drinks like real adults. It was pretty nice. We topped the weekend off with Stella’s first strawberry shortcake. She was pretty taken with it but didn’t throw a fit at the end like she’s has in the past with ice cream which was a relief. Maybe it was because she knew it was my birthday but I’m skeptical. Meal Plan & Grocery List 

Monday: Thai Grilled Corn and Peach Quinoa Salad with Grilled Meat

  • Travis made this one, groaning the whole time about the quinoa, but it was delicious and so summery.
  • We of course added a grilled meat to round out the meal but beans, feta and other goodies served on a bed of greens could make this a whole meal on its own for most people.

Tuesday: One-Pot Italian Sausage & Kale Pasta

  • I love giant one-pot meals like this that last for days and keep getting better and better.
  • I doubled the recipe for 1 lb of whole wheat pasta and pretty consistently doubled all the ingredients. The water takes a bit of time to soak up so maybe 1 cup less would work too. You can always add more to the leftovers if they get too dry.

Wednesday: Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Tacos

  • I opted for a very small amount of chipotles so it wasn’t spicy at all, but there was still plenty of flavor with the honey-lime sauce.
  • Foil is key!! I added a little oil to the veggie mix because I was nervous but I don’t think they needed it.
  • If you garnish this with lots of veggies as the recipe suggests this can be a stand-alone meal with plenty of color. Otherwise it might look a little blah but will still taste perfectly delicious. Your choice!

Thursday: Grilled Chicken & Nectarine Chopped Salad

  • This is the perfect summer meal! All cooking is done on the grill, and it involves peaches (in my version).
  • This salad has a good backbone with peaches and chicken but anything and everything can be added to it.
  • Romaine is not my go-to lettuce, we typically use red leaf for salads, but there is something satisfying about the crunch in a salad like this. It also holds up better to the heat if you don’t allow enough time for your ingredients to cool.

Friday: Blackberry BBQ Pork Chops with Corn and Grilled Asparagus

  • Since this week felt green and salad heavy I opted to skip the collards and just grill some asparagus with the corn instead. I also like to save my bacon eating for the weekend with pancakes. But to each their own.
  • I used frozen blackberries for the sauce since fresh fruit gets eaten pretty quickly in this house. The frozen berries mashed into a sauce very easily which was another plus but it ended up being super crunchy from all the seeds which definitely detracted from the experience. So maybe fresh would be better next time.

Week 54: The Shoe Battle

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Her shirt says it all, c’est la vie! 

Stella has quite a shoe collection thanks to her Aunt Rebecca and Cousin Layla who are the source of her shoe amazingness. Just to give you an idea she has around 15 pairs of shoes that fit her right now, and about 5 pairs of fashionable boots not to mention winter and rain boots. So this girl is set. Her shoe collection would make you drool. From her practical hot pink sneakers and keens to her gold Converse, we have shoes for any occasion. More recently Stella has gotten into picking out her shoes and having big opinions about it. Not a huge shock if I’m being honest. I still pick out her daily outfit but she accessorizes and gets to pick her shoes. We went to dance class on Friday in a tank top and capris with a furry hooded white vest, pink sunglasses that she refused to take off inside, her favorite baseball hat and her glittery gold Toms. She looked like a total rock star. Though she loves her shoes she also LOVES taking them off. Always her right one. So if we go run 5 errands, I have to put her right shoe and sock back on five times. A lot of time I hear a big struggle and grunt and find the shoe and sock landing quite close to me on the console or passengers seat. Girl has got aim! A frustrating habit to say the least, but I will always be able to find her shoe in the car (so long as I don’t open any back windows). This habit has also extended to our daily walk/run with Tazzie. For months now she has been taking off her right shoe and sock at some point during our outing and discarding them. For a while I would consistently find it in the stroller tucked behind her or in the foot well, but now she takes great pleasure in throwing both her shoe and sock overboard. Drives me crazy! We hit our low/my tipping point a few weeks back when she threw a shoe that I didn’t discover was missing until we got home. Travis went on his bike later that afternoon and retraced our steps but to no avail. I was pissed. I posted on Nextdoor, a neighborhood app, asking if by some small chance someone had seen a right toddler shoe. It must have been my lucky day because at 9pm I headed out with my flashlight to follow a tip from a neighbor and found the missing shoe. Whew. You would think I would just not put shoes on her by now. Fool me once, twice, how ever many times, but some mornings it is really cold, others I don’t want her feet getting sunburnt so I keep at it. After another few weeks of daily shoe and sock throwing and many a retraced steps I’d finally had it. On Monday morning I caught Stella in the act as she threw her favorite hot pink Nike sneaker. I took her sock away and told her the shoe was gone, we’d lost it and would never see it again. Well she burst into tears and was devastated. I tried to explain to her what had happened but she was inconsolable. Five minutes later, still sobbing, 10 minutes later this has turned into the most stressful run of my life. I finally caved and showed her the shoe, told her we’d found it, but didn’t give it back. She was still beside herself with salt stained cheeks from all the tears. I felt awful but also completely justified. Yesterday we went on a run and for the 5th day in a row with no shoe or sock removed. So either I am a complete genius and outsmarted a toddler (for now) or I have deeply traumatized my sweet little girl. Only time will tell but for now I will continue my feeling of satisfaction and smugness while she schemes up a new way to make things interesting again. It’s never really over with toddlers, but I think I earned my break this week. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: White Turkey Chili

  • Since this recipe takes longer because of the bulgur I cooked the bulgur ahead of time to make this a quick meal. All you have to do is soak it in hot water for an hour and it is done. No boiling or pot watching required.
  • I added more zucchini and a bell pepper for color but any veggie would enhance the dish.
  • I didn’t realize our oregano bottle was nearly empty when I went to the store so instead of 2 Tbsp I had about 1 tsp. Oops. So I added chili powder instead. Different flavors than the recipe intended, but better than no flavor.
  • With dishes like this we usually pick out the big chunks of meat for Stella our carnivore and give her offerings of the rest that she completely ignores. But, she actually ate the bulgur too this time around so long as there were no beans mixed in.

Tuesday: Bangkok Coconut Curry Noodle Bowls

  • I used whole wheat noodles instead or rice noodles which are a little slipperier and don’t soak up the sauce as well but I’ve become less enamored with rice noodles recently and am taking a break. They taste like nothing which is great for soaking up a nice curry sauce, but also seem to lack any substance and leave Travis and I hungry. Not a good scene, let me tell you.
  • I opted for the saucier version and added a little water. Since it reduces for a while it was still nice and flavorful rather than watered down.
  • I cooked the veggies in a pan to brown them but added them to the sauce to finish cooking the broccoli and carrots.

Wednesday: Everything Greek Pork Pitas with Green Salad

  • We had the same oregano problem with this dish as we did earlier in the week. Like I said, oops. Instead I used an Italian Herb blend that has oregano as its first ingredient. Close enough. I used 1 ½ Tbsp instead.
  • I also added ½ cup of water so it didn’t burn to the bottom.
  • All the of the crockpot recipes I’ve done this winter have worked pretty well by cooking them on high for 4 hours instead of low for 6-8 as many recipes have called for. This one however didn’t. After 4 hours I was able to get the meat off the bone but it still needed more time to fall apart. We at it after 4 hours but the leftovers were way better.
  • I made a quick tzatziki sauce with cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and served the pork with feta stuffed in a pita pocket.

Thursday: Sesame-Ginger-Chickpea-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Green Beans

  • I cooked the sweet potatoes in a glass microwave covered dish with a Tbsp of water for 10 minutes flipping them halfway. Add a few minutes at the end if they aren’t quite done but it sure beats cooking them for an hour.
  • I used two cans of chickpeas and doubled the spices and oil. It seemed like an awful lot of garlic powder but it worked. Trust me.
  • I used a little more ginger and vinegar in the tahini sauce and skipped the garlic assuming the chickpeas had enough already. I would probably have wanted it with a bit more punch, either spice or acid.
  • I thought it was a pretty delicious combo. Stella respectfully disagrees.

Friday: Chipotle Mahi Mahi Bowls with Coconut Cilantro Lime Rice, Spicy Strawberry-Mango Salsa, and Grilled Corn

  • We didn’t include a burrito in the bowl since it had rice already, but the coconut rice was tasty and unique. I’ve never added coconut milk to rice before, but I’m a fan. We don’t do a lot of white rice since it isn’t very filling, but the full fat coconut milk helps with that and is definitely a welcome addition.
  • Our salsa had a few strawberries, some canned pineapple, cucumber and mango.
  • I didn’t include black beans, just too many things going on already so I completely forgot, but the bowls were plenty tasty without it. Lots of cilantro, feta, lime, sour cream, avocado and cilantro. What’s not to love. A very summery meal with the grilled corn.

Week 52: Classics

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Stella helped me pick flowers in anticipation of some cold weather this weekend. Can you guess which one she picked? (hint: it has no petals)

I know some people have a pretty regular rotation of their favorite, or go-to, recipes that they make every couple of weeks or a typical menu that gets them through the week. It is definitely easier and works for a lot of people, but not us, or at least not us yet. I try to do a chicken dish, pasta, vegetarian, seafood, and meat dish each week with some longer more complicated recipes reserved for the weekend. Since we eat fairly seasonally, there are certain recipes I get excited to make (total nerd, I know) ever winter or summer. But in general my recipes take us all over the place. A little case of recipe ADD. I am constantly looking for new recipes to try and make dozens of different chilis, curries, meatloaves, and soup recipes all winter long never settling for just one. In the summer it is burger, dinner salads, and anything on the grill but again, something different every week. This week however, we managed to fit in three favorites, Cherry Burgers, Sopa Seca and Black Bean & Salmon Tostadas. We both really like these recipes but I was realizing that this is only the first or second time I’ve posted each of these recipes on the blog which means despite their status as some of our favorites, we only make them once a year. How do we have so many recipes we like that we only make the ones we really like once a year? Not a bad problem to have at all since we have a whole lifetime of food and cooking and we don’t want to get sick of them, but kind of crazy. This is coming from a person related to both my dad and brother who could and do eat the same thing every day for YEARS! I remember being absolutely shocked and astounded when after Thanksgiving one year, my dad chose to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich rather than leftovers. He hadn’t had one “in a while” (likely a week) and was genuinely excited about the prospect. I hadn’t had Thanksgiving leftovers in oh, let’s say a year, and was completely and utterly thrilled at the prospect and here was someone I share 50% of my genes with passing up on the opportunity. Well trust me, there were words. In the end, it seems that most of our favorite recipes end up being like Thanksgiving, something you make once a year, enjoy the heck out of, and then leave behind. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Glow Bowl with Bulgur

  • I really liked the spice combination in this recipe and would totally use it in other dishes too. Big hit.
  • I made some bulgur to do a lazy version of tabbouleh. I added olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, salt, cucumber and mint.
  • We served our bowls with yogurt and hummus. Feta would have been good too had we had it on hand.

Tuesday: Cherry Burgers with Grilled Asparagus

  • If we are doing this as a quick weeknight dinner I skip the cherry ketchup, but on a weekend it is totally worth it if you love cherries as much as I do. But feel free to throw a few of those spices into the burgers instead.
  • The burgers are so straight forward even I can make them. They do fall apart a little on the grill, but are still perfectly eatable. So eatable that Stella ate two! Yes, two whole real adult sized burgers. She’s pretty into meat.

Wednesday: Soap Seca and Green Salad

  • I really like this dish for no other reason than I think it is unique. You can make it as spicy as you want it by adding more or less of the chipotles peppers but overall the flavors are pretty simple.
  • I always double the pasta and use a pound of whole-wheat spaghetti with 4 cups of broth. I don’t double everything but do use a large onion and more cumin and salt. It takes longer to cook than the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe because of the whole-wheat noodles but I’ve adapted the recipe accordingly.
  • And for the second time in her life Stella ate noodles. Winning!

Thursday: Chicken Curry Bar with Brown Rice and Broccoli

  • I love garnishes, so this dish really floats my boat. There were lots of unique one too, so that was fun.
  • I steamed some broccoli to serve with it since my pan wasn’t big enough to fit everything while it was simmering, but that would have been the smart money. I tell you, it pays to read a recipe before starting.
  • I think it goes without saying that I used full-fat coconut milk. I also added the raisins when I added the coconut milk so they could soften a bit more.
  • We used lime juice, green onion and cilantro as our garnishes and it was perfect. More is always better but we didn’t have banana chips and almonds aren’t featured in our cooking anymore:(

Friday: Black Bean & Salmon Tostadas

  • Depending on time and motivation I either make or buy the tostadas. Yes making them from scratch is healthier, but since we eat them about once a year it doesn’t keep me up at nights. So do as you wish.
  • We use two cans of salmon and make a bit more coleslaw since it is good leftover the next day for lunch.

Week 49: Blogiversary

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Food has clearly been a passion of mine for many, many years. 

One year ago I started Dinner Plans. I didn’t have a lot of ideas as to what I would do with it and what I would write about each week and I still don’t, but somehow a year has already gone. Thanks to my amazingly flexible boss, I’ve taken weeks off here and there when we’ve gone on vacation to keep it fun rather than feeling like “work”. Some weeks I feel like I can crank out a super diverse menu that sounds and tastes delicious, has a variety of foods and flavors and is put together with great ease. Other weeks it feels like it takes forever to come up with a menu that is just fine, but nothing special. I’ve found new food blogs to get weekly inspiration from, Half Baked Harvest and Pinch of Yum being two of my new favorites, in addition to my go-to cooking magazines Eating Well and Cooking Light. In the last year Stella has gone from playing with and exploring food to eating or at least having the potential to eat everything we do. I’ve tried not to change the way we eat to cater to her in any way and to expose her to a variety of flavors and food. It’s a long game so we will see how that plays out. More and more though I am looking for quick meals, like 20-30 minutes, that I can prep during her nap and execute in 10-15 minutes when we get home from the park or an afternoon play date. I obviously am a fan of crockpot meals, but as summer approaches those are likely to get fewer and far between. Cooking and picking out what to cook is an always evolving process that changes with season, times in your life (i.e. life with a toddler), and as your skill-set and food preferences grow and change. I was talking to a friend the other day about the early days of cooking and learning to cook when we weren’t as adept at deciphering recipes and made some questionable meals. Thankfully I’ve learned a ton over the years and can pick recipes out better and change them as I go to make meals that are always eatable and can be rescued or given a pop of flavor if needed. Just because someone puts a recipe out there doesn’t mean anything anymore, so the ability to pick, choose and adapt is even more important. Two weeks ago was the closest I’ve come to not publishing a recipe. The Quinoa Chicken Curry Bowl wasn’t bad it just wasn’t anything like it was described and clearly my recipe reading (and following) skills failed me to have not been able to see this. It would be like if someone handed you a spring roll and called it a burrito. Both good, but very different. Who knows where this next year will lead me food-wise and what new challenges will come along. Having dinner ready at 5:30 was this year’s challenge for sure! So thank you all for hanging in there with me in this first year of Dinner Plans, trying my recipes, giving me feedback, and following along! It’s been fun. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Thai Coconut-Pumpkin Soup with Green Salad and Garlic Bread

  • This soup was delicious and brace yourselves…Stella tried it and potentially enjoyed it. I almost died but tried to keep my poker face on.
  • I used a large butternut squash but hadn’t planned on doubling it, so I just increased a few things to compensate and figured it out from there. I added more ground ginger (1 tsp), more curry paste (2 Tbsp and a whole can of coconut milk.
  • I always worry that soups like this won’t be enough for dinner for us so I used a can of full-fat coconut milk along with a whole grain bread as a side. It was really thick so we both felt unexpectedly satisfied with it as our dinner.

Tuesday: Crockpot Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Bolognese with Green Salad

  • This crockpot recipe breaks my rule of having to cook, but since there wasn’t much prep otherwise, it didn’t offend me too much.
  • Unfortunately my spaghetti squash did not fit in my crockpot so I had to cook it separately. I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and put it in a 9×13” glass dish with a half-inch of water and microwaved it for around 20 minutes, turning it half-way through.
  • I added an extra 15 oz can of diced tomatoes for a little extra sauce. In the future I would probably use all diced tomatoes since I don’t love big chunks of tomatoes and the whole tomatoes stayed pretty whole, but that is just a personal preference.
  • And reading through the recipe now I realize I forgot to add the mozzarella cheese I was so looking forward to when I bought it. Bummer! We used parmesan cheese instead, but I fear it would have be seriously tasty with the mozzarella. Next time…

Wednesday: Yellowfin Tuna with Scallions and Ginger, Baby Bok Choy and Brown Rice

  • I reversed their directions doing the scallions and ginger first. I added my baby bok choy to the pan as well and put the lid on for a few minutes to steam them. When they were done I added the rest of the ingredients and removed everything from the pan.
  • Next I cooked the tuna, but not in 1½ cups of olive oil. I seared them on both sides in the pan then added the bok choy mixture with all the liquid to cook the tuna in and not dry it out. It worked pretty darn well I thought. I served it all over brown rice.

Thursday: Lemony Spinach and Artichoke Brie Penne Pasta

  • Travis doesn’t love or really even like artichokes from a jar or cooked spinach, but I hoped enough brie could win him over and fortunately it seemed to work.
  • This was really simple but very tasty. I of course used whole wheat pasta which I think adds to a dish like this.
  • I also added a sliced onion to the garlic and artichoke mixture for more flavor.

Friday: Banh Mi Bowls with Lemongrass Meatballs and Forbidden Black Rice

  • Delicious!! And so simple.
  • This was an easy dish for me to prep in advance during Stella’s nap so all I had to do at dinnertime was cook the meatballs and plate everything up with some fun garnishes. The pickles are key so if you don’t have time to make them an hour before dinner just make them the night before and they will be more pickled.
  • I used regular sugar instead of coconut palm and only added 2 Tbsp to the pickles which I thought was a good ratio.
  • I served ours over black rice just to try something different but all of her suggestions would be equally quick and tasty and used cilantro, mint, avocado, and cucumber as garnishes. So fresh and flavorful. Seriously.

Week 48: Toddlermoon

VBYS5103Travis and I never took a babymoon because we chose to get a puppy instead. Not quite the same thing, but in our case they ended up being mutually exclusive. We also had a new house we were madly working on so the babymoon just never happened. And we haven’t exactly lacked for travel in our life so I certainly don’t feel bad for us, but the idea of taking a weekend to relax and remove yourself from real life is exactly what every couple needs before having a kid whether they know it or not. So instead of a babymoon we did a toddlermoon and took a much-needed break from our sweet darling Stella Mabel. Love that girl, but after 551 days (who’s counting?!?) of being around Stella with only a few hours of separation it was time for a break. Travis’s parents bravely took her on for 3 ½ days and we farmed Tazzie out to a friend. One toddler is big plenty! So we hopped in the car, headed to DIA, zipped through security and started our vacation off right with a sit-down meal and cocktails at Root Down before taking off for New Orleans. Neither Travis nor I have ever been to New Orleans but fortunately got lots of excellent ideas from friends who have. Most of them involved food, which means they know me well. We did plenty of other things besides eat, but when your guidebook (yes we got a guide book from the library) has a local food dictionary you know you are going to do well. Denver and Colorado have a big food scene but there is little besides Colorado lamb that I think of as our “local” or signature cuisine. New Orleans has gumbo, po boys, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, muffulettas, beignets, and plenty more to fill you up and put you into a full-blown food coma. We of course tried to fit it all in which was a rigorous eating schedule, but we take our food pretty seriously here. The muffuletta, a local sandwich 3 meats and 2 cheese, was recommended by a friend as something Travis would love and I would be slightly disgusted by. That pretty much sums it up. My ¼ of it was a perfect late afternoon snack to fuel us through a rainy day visit of the WWII museum. We of course enjoyed a bag of beignets coated with a very generous pile of powdered sugar. Fried green tomatoes, an exception to my fresh tomato rule, fried chicken, collard greens, as much seafood as we could get our hands on, and of course plenty of delicious cocktails with brunch, lunch, dinner and to-go…because we could. I had been looking forward to our trip for a lot of reasons, but the food was a big one and it didn’t disappoint. Our Bloody Mary was total perfection with bacon and pickled okra, two huge favorites in this house. I could go on and on but suffice it to say we had a great time and didn’t even talk about Stella that much! We also got to stay out late and sleep in which was awesome, sleep and read on the plane (what!), and not have to worry about any kind of schedule (I am sure my mom friends are drooling right now, and not about the food). All in all it was a super successful weekend that we certainly earned more than any babymoon we wished we had gotten to take. And now back to reality. Meal Plan & Grocery List

Monday: Stir Fried Singapore Noodles with Garlic Ginger Sauce

  • I used soba, or buckwheat noodles, instead of rice noodles. I’ve been enjoying rice noodles less and less and find them to not be very filling. Soba noodles have a more similar texture to regular wheat noodles and cook in 3 minutes. For the first time since I can remember, Stella ate noodles. Not just one, but a bunch. I am sure she won’t do it again for quite some time but I’ll take my food victories where I can get them.
  • In addition to the veggies they suggest I added some chopped cabbage and carrots.
  • I didn’t have mirin so I used white wine with a splash of honey per my google search’s suggestion.
  • I thought the curry powder was a really tasty addition to an otherwise pretty simple sauce.

Tuesday: Meatloaf Sandwiches with Roasted Green Beans

  • I used 3 lbs of meat to make two large meatloaves and tried to tweak the recipe accordingly. Since it’s hard to split eggs I used two whole eggs.
  • Instead of croutons I put 2 pieces of whole-wheat bread in the food processor to make bread crumbs
  • I just sprayed two loaf pans with oil and baked them in there. I could only cover them with the ketchup mixture on top, but it seemed easier. One problem I always have with meatloaf is that I end up dumping a ton of liquid out of the pan. Maybe I would avoid this if I put them on a sheet pan because it would run out and steam off, but that is the one downside to using a loaf pan. They always taste delicious so I don’t see it as too much of a problem just a quirk.
  • And for once in my life I made it far enough in advance that I could let it cool and slice it properly. We ate it as a sandwich on buns served with roasted green beans.
  • I just turned the oven up to 425 while the meat loaf was cooling and popped them in with some salt, pepper and oil. They cook super quickly so the timing worked well.

Wednesday: Quinoa Chicken Curry Bowls with Green Salad

  • This was not at all what I was expecting. Tasty, but more along the lines of a tomato sauce with eggplant and chicken than a curry bowl. I did not get any curry flavors, but the garam masala and ginger came through nicely.
  • I of course did this in the crockpot and didn’t follow the directions amazingly well, which may also be why it came out differently, but I still think curry bowl is a total misnomer.
  • I used a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh, and a full 28oz can of tomato puree to add more liquid since I used more eggplant.
  • In the future I would make this again with just the tomato and eggplant and chicken with dried oregano and basil instead and serve it over pasta, or I would skip the tomato puree and add more curry paste and serve it over quinoa. Two good options that would give you two very different meals.

Thursday: Potato, Bean & Kale Burritos

  • This is a super quick way to get dinner on the table and have a bunch of leftovers if you use more potatoes and veggies.
  • I diced the potatoes and steamed them in a microwave dish for 5 minutes.
  • I also (have Travis) fry up some eggs to add to our burritos.
  • It is also excellent leftover with scrambled eggs for breakfast another day.

Friday: 30-Minute Spicy Ancho Turkey Chili

  • In addition to the onion, I used a whole one, and jalapeno I added some bell pepper.
  • Since we had black beans the previous night, I used pinto and kidney beans instead.
  • I didn’t have ancho chili powder so I used 2 Tbsp of chili powder and 1 Tbsp cumin. I’ve never regretted more seasoning in a chili and this was no exception.
  • I added a little extra water rather than the salsa since I used more spices and didn’t think it needed the extra tomatoes.
  • I really enjoyed the farro with the chili. I usually use grains that soak up the chili like corn bread but though this added a nice texture. And Stella sort of tried it, only spitting it out if a bean dared get onto her spoon. How does she know?!? Seriously!