Photo-worthy but will you eat it?

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Tempeh on kale salad - appetizing only to some?

“Now that’s beautiful.” My husband was genuinely enthusiastic about the plate set before him: sauteed  tempeh stacked atop a kale salad.  I wrinkled my nose; I wasn’t so sure.  “Oh, I see, you think your people wouldn’t like that.”

“Your people.” That’s you, dear reader.  I get lots of oh’s and ah’s over the photos on the blog, but I wondered if the kale dinner would measure up despite its photo appeal.  The prospect of eating fermented soybean cake over a bed of crunchy raw kale, accented with a smattering of carrots, red pepper and golden raisins and a touch of soy ginger dressing, might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Certainly the boys were happy I offered them the option of chicken burgers and Caesar Salad. But I agreed with my husband — the tempeh and kale salad is a simple super fast dinner that suits our palates just fine.

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Ellie Krieger's healthy version of beef stroganoff is a winner

Rewind to last week and the boys were the ones with all the compliments. It was one of those rare times for eating beef — grass-fed ground beef instead of the usual top round in a beef stroganoff recipe from Ellie’s Krieger’s The Food You Crave cookbook. Served with pappardelle pasta and steamed green beans topped with walnuts, the stroganoff scored major points with the teens.  For the adults, I laid a bed of raw spinach down first, helping us keep on track with our goal of devoting more space on our plate to vegetables and fruits than to protein and grain.

In retrospect, there’s way to much brown and green going on with these plates.  Time to bring back some color!

Market orphans make a meal

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Chiogga beets and other farmer's market remnants serve well at the end of the season

Last week was one of those weeks when Friday couldn’t come soon enough.  My husband was away on business and work was intense.  Little motivation to cook. I was looking for inspiration.

Case in point: Evening number two. It was 6:30 pm — picking up Son #1 after a long business meeting. Gone was any hope of making the planned chicken with carrots and olives at this late hour.  Time to default to a frozen pizza for the guys. “Frozen pizza is great, Mom!  Perfect! ” Son #1 was serious. “I’ve been trying to tell you that.  We don’t care about quinoa with red grapes or whatever, frozen pizza is just fine.”

He’s not yet recovered from the whole wheat pasta with sausage and red grapes of a few weeks ago (and here I thought the sausage was a major concession). I popped said pizza into the oven and set about to find some vegetable matter to balance out the boys’ dinner.

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Happy Farmers from the 5 Acre CSA

That’s when I realized a salad of “market orphans” would be dinner for me.  I recovered baby fennel long forgotten in the produce drawer. Beets stockpiled from my CSA order for three weeks and finally roasted a few days earlier for whatever reason might come along. The timing couldn’t have been better to try the chioggia beets presented proudly in my CSA share on the last pick-up of the season.  Sure, yet more beets but these ones are darn pretty with their candy cane stripes inside.

The boys happily munched on pizza and carrots while I relished the remnants of my weekly market vegetable share.  The folks at Five Acre say they’ll give their soil a rest for a few months this summer.  As for me, I’ll be searching far and wide to find vegetables as enticing as those picked lovingly by the fair maidens at Five Acre Farm.

Posted in vegetarian mains by Therese. No Comments

A lose-lose proposition, resolved

almond butter chicken DishesMENLike photo

A-I friendly Chicken with almond butter, salad, and snow peas

I’ve been away for a while. You see, my husband and I decided to take a class in anti-inflammatory nutrition back in June. Little did we know it would be a LIFE-CHANGING experience.

Beyond the fact that I dropped 11 pounds and my husband lost 20, we’ve been looking at our dinner plate in a whole new way. Our new eating plan, “to quiet inflammation” developed by Kathy Abascal, involves much less meat and sugar and a whole lot more vegetables and fruit. That’s a perspective that doesn’t always delight my two teen sons, thus, the blogging dilemma.  We lost weight and I lost favor with two of my three men. How could I write about meals that delight only one man out of three when the blog is named DishesMenLike?

For weeks every dinner started with an “oh, yuck” comment and the routine inquiry “where’s the meat?”  (sounds familiar). It has taken me a while to figure out a meal rhythm that keeps peace with the boys and enables the two of us to remain true to the new way of eating we love. We’ve found a compromise that seems to be working. I’ll prep classic kid food on the side now and then and the boys are willing to be more adventurous. They’re going along with A-I meals, often commenting, “not bad!” after looking askance at our own dinner plates. We try to remain true to the A-I plan, with two-thirds vegetables and fruits, one-third protein and grain. Most days, my husband’s meal looks more like “My Plate” proposed by the USDA, minus the dairy.

I’m taking note of a few winners thus far that all three men do truly LIKE.  Many recipes can be easily adapted to be A-I (anti-inflammatory).  Dishes such as  Chicken with Almond Butter; quinoa-stuffed peppers (ironically, the boys liked this one but my husband not so much); spicy kale and sausage soup.

Eating the anti-inflammatory way definitely adds a new challenge to getting dinner on the table each night.  A look at our meal plans will show we’re not purists.  But after four-plus months, we’re still committed and feeling great. Onward!

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Quinoa-stuffed peppers - thumbs up on the A-I (Anti-Inflammatory) plan



Shifting into better health with an anti-inflammatory eating plan

50/50 = Frittata & berries

Breakfast on the anti-inflammatory plan: Asparagus-tomato frittata and berries (lots of them!)

I’ve been MIA on the blog but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking.  First I drifted away because I simply was bored with food.  I started relying on Everyday Food, the monthly Martha Stewart magazine, to do the thinking for me. Meals were just okay , not much to report.

Then, I heard about a nutrition class focused on the anti-inflammatory diet.  The idea of focusing meals around vegetables and fruit, with a lesser emphasis on meat and starch, has always appealed to me. I’ve long struggled with a couple of skin conditions that flare up randomly. Neither my dermatologist nor allergist have determined a cause so I suspected certain foods could be a factor. Taking the five-week class would give me and my husband a chance to experience the anti-inflammatory way of eating as part of a group while learning the science behind it. We signed up.

So what’s the big deal? Well, we’re entering our third week of the elimination phase which means a big NO to alcohol, dairy, sugar (all sweeteners), wheat, beef and pork, canola oil and the usual suspects (preservatives and things you can’t pronounce).

cherry bites

Unsweetened chocolate is bitter on its own. Cherries make it work.

The result: We both feel great. More energy. Better sleep. Less snoring for him and itching for me. 4 to 5 pounds of weight loss each. And everything tastes better. It seems our taste buds have gone through a cleansing process.  Speaking of tastebuds, we continue to eat well.  It just takes a bit more effort to plan enough vegetables and fruits to make the 2:1 ratio at every meal and two snacks per day.  I sometimes find it difficult to squeeze in a snack because my appetite has lessened. And thankfully, I have fewer cravings for carbs and sweets. Mostly I miss red wine and chocolate.  Only unsweetened chocolate is allowed during this phase; not so bad if you tuck it into a bing cherry. It’s too bitter to nibble it on its own!

Grilled shrimp on arugula; fennel slaw

Spicy grilled shrimp on arugula with fennel slaw

What are we eating? Check out the new meal plan page for our nightly dinners. Breakfasts are always 50/50 veggies & fruits to protein; every other meal is 2/3’s veggies and fruits, 1/3 protein and grain.

With a few minor tweaks, a lot of the recipes we already enjoy comply with the plan’s criteria. Such dishes as South American Quinoa Salad from PCC; Mark Bittman’s asparagus with scallops (or shrimp); Deborah Madison’s Silken Tofu in Spicy Red Coconut Sauce.

While I thought we ate healthy meals before this switch, I’ve learned certain ingredients can easily tilt the nutritional balance in the wrong direction. Consider our meals the week before class started:

Pasta with sausage, leeks and lettuce – This dish contains Italian sausage  — something I missed most at the beginning of the A-I diet. Now I’m wondering how to use up that sausage stockpiled in my freezer.

Chinese-style ribs and napa cabbage slaw. Take out the sugar and the slaw could make the A-I plan; the ribs are out of the question. No pork, no sauces with preservatives and/or sugar.

Salmon with brown sugar and mustard glaze – Salmon, a thousand times yes. The glaze is a big NO with its 1/4 c. of brown sugar.

So the experiment continues. I see far more quinoa in our future.

South American quinoa salad

South American quinoa salad - a PCC Natural Market recipe

Redemption through mac ‘n cheese

Ginger lime cod in a bowl

Ginger Lime Cod

I’ve skipped posting our eats here for two weeks. The kitchen scene honestly has been challenging, due to busy schedules, and I’ve been well … bored culinarily (what a concept!). It’s not that I ducked out the kitchen entirely. I tried to motivate myself. Explorations included:

Ginger lime cod in a bowl — a twist on a Vietnamese noodle dish that involved poached cod, lots of ginger and lime and angel hair pasta (whole grain because it fell on a Wednesday)

fingerling potato coinsFingerling roasted potato “coins” – inspired by a local caterer and perfect with rosemary and sea salt.

quinoa w/herbs & peas

Naomi Pomeroy's quinoa

Quinoa with fresh peas, herbs and sour cream dressing – Divine intervention. Perfect to get the kitchen mojo going again. Try it as soon as you can get some fresh English peas at the market (used frozen the second time around — good but not divine.)

Shredded chicken tacos with lime cilantro cream for Cinco de Mayo – chicken thighs just four minutes blasted in the pressure cooker and then four minutes to rest — I’ll never make soft tacos another way, thanks to Lorna Sass yet again.

The guys tolerated a few other mishaps (e.g. flank steak with bok choy  was tasteless and chewy but then again, I’m not much of a red meat lover. I do believe I sabotaged the meal through negligence). I realized this week I needed to get my act together because traffic is up ever so slightly on the blog.  Time to get back in the game. What better choice than a homemade Mac n Cheese for Meatless Monday?

Andrew Engle's Mac n Cheese

Color inspires seconds on mac 'n cheese

This time I vowed to pay attention.  No catching up on Glee while stirring the roux. (My excuse for a gloppy mess on the last mac attempt.) Nope, I was full focus, following the recipe in Shelia Lukins’ Ten cookbook without distraction.  The result? Chef Andrew Engle’s Mac ‘n Cheese was perfect – creamy, tender, filling. And ever more appetizing served in colorful Le Creuset wide soup bowls. I’ve put myself on the slow purchase plan to refresh my tabletop but my husband surprised me with four more colors for Mother’s Day. What a sweetie! He knows color inspires me (thanks to 13 different colors painted on our walls) so why not try it in the kitchen?

Recipe coaching can spice things up

Meatless Monday is a taste challenge for our meat-minded teens. Last night I was feeling pretty good about locating a vegetarian pasta recipe my husband could throw together while I was off fantasizing about writing a book at a local foodie event. Problem was, it was too simple. Bland. He followed the recipe for linguine with asparagus and pine nuts exactly. And that’s just the problem.

Many recipes touted as quick and easy for weeknight dinners just don’t satisfy the palate. They act as a solid foundation that can be spiced up to suit your tastes. Fortunately, ingredients that add a certain zing can usually be found in our kitchen: Dijon mustard, lemon juice, wine vinegar, parsley and usually mint or cilantro — in addition to selections from the spice drawer. That linguine probably would have benefited from a dash of red pepper or dill or a bit of lemon zest. And perhaps more olive oil and cheese.

I know if I had taken a minute to review the recipe with my husband, I could have advised a few adjustments. It takes time to develop that sort of sensibility and he always appreciates a little coaching from the sidelines. I can do that. Getting my men in the kitchen is, after all, one of my major goals 😀


Recycling easy weeknight meals

Last week was such a blur that  it didn’t seem a meal plan was in action. With meetings scheduled four out of five nights (well, I flaked out on one out of sheer exhaustion), it’s a wonder everyone got fed.  Still, we managed to recycle a few favorites:

Farmed tilapia is common on Costa Rican menus

This week got off to a muddy-tasting start.  I was inspired by this month’s Real Simple feature on 10 easy tilapia recipes. Always a bargain and sustainably raised, tilapia is a decent choice for our Meatless Monday meals. Tonight’s recipe for tilapia with peppers and olives failed to inspire. It was a repeat on our meal plan but somehow seemed better the first time around. In all fairness to the fish, I think I overcooked it.  I was daydreaming about the pool of tilapia we saw during a coffee plantation tour in Costa Rica last summer.  Somehow, hanging out with those fish in the tropics was far more inviting than making dinner on this day that started with near-freezing temperatures.  Ah, spring in the Northwest!


Posted in meal plan Noodles, Rice, Pasta by Therese. No Comments

Date night dining with a cooking class favorite

Last Friday night we both had something to celebrate on the work front, so cooking at home gave us a chance to unwind. A martini to start, followed by a dish learned in a cooking class a few years ago with Ethan Stowell, a noted Seattle chef who now runs four popular restaurants. His simple yet elegant recipe  for seared sea scallops on avocado puree with parsley salad is one of my favorites. Accompanied by a recently discovered salad of  roasted cauliflower and radicchio, the scallops were divine.  A great way to wind up the week.

Date night scallops

Posted in 30 minutes or less by Therese. No Comments

Tofu takes a turn on the rim

Parked tofu

A not-so-subtle maneuver to avoid the dreaded tofu

Sneaking tofu into Whole Grain Wednesday’s warm quinoa salad with shrimp and asparagus didn’t work out so well.

“Mom, here’s the thing.  It has no taste.” Son #1 was carefully parking the fried tofu squares along the rim of his plate.

“Don’t listen to him. It’s delicious!” declared my husband, ever the supportive voice at the dinner table.

As for me, I was ambivalent. I found the recipe on my Whole Foods iphone app while standing at Fred Meyer. I was committed to quinoa for this week’s whole grain meal and asparagus was in the cart. The recipe called for only a half pound of shrimp, but suggested tofu for additional protein. I figured it couldn’t hurt. The recipe seemed strange enough already  — sun-dried tomatoes, sugar snap peas (my substitute for peas), onions, garlic and cashews.  As one review noted, the dish seemed “schizophrenic — somewhere in an untasty land between Italian and Chinese.”

Warm quinoa "salad"

Warm quinoa "salad" with asparagus and shrimp

For adult tastes, it wasn’t half bad. “Kind of hippie-like,” my husband noted. To him, that’s a good thing. To the boys, not so much.

“Autumn” minestrone for a blustery April Monday

I’ve had soup on the brain for days. Mostly because it has rained every day for a week plus.  So an old Moosewood recipe came in handy today when the temperature topped out at 49 degrees and showers persisted. Chock full of all kinds of vegetables for Meatless Monday, “Autumn” minestrone is perfect for cool wet weather whatever season it happens to be.

The soup, a breeze to make in less than 30 minutes, was fantastic on its own.  Beemster goat cheese topped with Stonewall Kitchen’s Roasted Garlic Onion Jam took the meal up a few notches. It’s a great Meatless Monday plan to file away for those rainy days in November, our other soaker season in the Northwest.
"Autumn" minestrone