Pre-vacation mash-up

Packing up for vacation is a great motivation to clean out the fridge.Owly Images

I hit 6pm last night with a random plan to use up baked ham, potatoes and brussel sprouts.  Then I found a yellow bell pepper. And half a carton of buttermilk. Suddenly dinner didn’t seem so desperate. Son #2 was thrilled to find mashed potatoes with buttermilk and garlic. Roasted sprouts and peppers, with a dash of ubiquitous MOF (Penzey’s Mural of Flavor), and the remains of a baked ham all made for a truly Tasty Tuesday. And it all came together as I hummed to last week’s recorded Love Songs episode of Glee. The last dinner I made while absorbed in Glee was disastrous. I learned my lesson … keep it simple if you want to dance and sing at the stove!

Posted in 30 minutes or less by Therese. No Comments

Making whoopie … pies

Whoopie pies

Husband away on business trip, on Valentine’s Day no less. One less man to feed. Motivation wanes for meal planning. So I made whoopie … pies, instead!

Here’s a close version of the recipe. Add food coloring at your own risk.

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Craving a cleaver

Chicken w/yogurt; braised kale

Yogurt & beer flavors chicken in the pressure cooker

The recipe said  “cut straight through the bone.”  What a bold move for a tame Thursday night.

I found myself fantasizing about a return trip to Tokyo where I could purchase one of those dramatic cleavers demonstrated so openly at the fish market.  At the time of my trip so many years ago I couldn’t imagine why I’d need such a blade.  But as I hacked two boned chicken breasts into six pieces, I developed a new appreciation for the value of such a tool. Aside from a few minutes of struggle through gristle and bone, last night’s recipe for Thermal Thursday was a cinch.  Created by a chef looking for filling and economical dishes while studying in Spain, Chicken with Yogurt and Beer turned out quite nicely from the pressure cooker after only a few minutes of browning chicken and onions and then blasting the whole pot for 15 minutes under pressure. That gave me just enough time to boil the egg noodles and braise a bunch of fresh kale with garlic.

Only two (!) easy nights in the kitchen this week. We started off on Meatless Monday with ravioli (frozen) topped with apples, walnuts and Parmesan.  Then I was out for two nights, leaving the guys to enjoy leftovers and Sloppy Joes. Smiles all around. February is turning out to be a light one for meal prep. Only six days left until a vacation that swallows most of the days left in this short month. And it’s six days of just the boys and me since my husband is traveling. Guess I’ll be planning DishesTeensLike!

Ravioli w/apples & walnuts; broccoli rabe

Oh-so-simple ravioli with apples & walnuts; braised broccoli rabe

Easy posole for hump day

chicken posole

Chicken posole + whole wheat quesadillas with broccoli and cheese

In my college days Wednesday was routinely observed as Hump Day — as if life was so challenging that we had to celebrate the week’s mid-point. Most weeks Hump Day was a reason to leave campus for an all-u-can-eat spaghetti feed at a local tavern.  Just the change of scenery made the trip to town worthwhile. The honky-tonk decor of the joint, complete with country western tunes blaring from a jukebox, offered a certain ambiance that just couldn’t be found in any other restaurant. It was cheap, it was easy, it was a break from the usual d-hall routine.

What does that have to do with last Wednesday’s dinner of Chicken Posole? Not much. I think it’s the ease with which dinner came together that reminded me of gliding into that vinyl booth, elbows resting on a sticky table, not worrying one whit about the mounting calorie count of my full plate of spaghetti and mug of beer. Luckily Chicken Posole is as easy as spaghetti.  And it’s healthier: Shredded chicken (leftover from Sunday dinner); chicken broth; chili pepper; tomatoes, onions, hominy. It seemed too simple so I threw in a dash of cumin, chili powder and garlic for good measure. A squeeze of lime and a healthy spoonful of chopped avocado topped it off.  A side of cheese and broccoli quesadillas (with whole wheat tortillas, natch) made the meal complete.

“Thanks, Mom. That was delicious.” Now that’s the kind of spirit booster I like on Hump Day!

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Bacon or not, meal plan scores


"Jig-inducing" falafel burgers

I knew last week’s meal plan would be a guy-pleaser — pot pie (two ways); “jig-inducing” falafel burgers; gourmet mac n cheese from Met market. I didn’t expect the ultimate expression of delight over Friday night’s steak dinner:
“Does the steak have bacon in it? ” Son #2 was earnest. “It’s so good!”

We had a laugh, talking about the cult following among bacon lovers (they’ve found each other on Facebook). Nope, the NY strip was naked save for a dash of kosher salt. I could only credit the quality of the beef (PCC natural beef) and the technique — a “master’s recipe” we had clipped a few years ago from The Wall Street Journal.


Coriander, cinnamon & ginger work wonders on roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes

A couple of nights earlier we decided the “jig-inducing” falafel burgers were keepers, but they didn’t compare to the boys’ first experience with falafel during last spring’s trip to NYC. “I guess it’s not the same as standing in a freezing rain on the street in Greenwich Village,” my husband noted. Son#1 was especially fond of the side: roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes dusted with the same coriander-cinnamon-ginger blend. Both recipes are featured in Kim O’Donnel’s Meatlover’s Meatless Cookbook (which is working its magic on my guys despite a rough start with tempeh). I’m conspiring to slip in a few more of Kim’s meatless meals before the book is due back at the library.

Posted in meat vegetarian mains by Therese. 2 Comments

Comfort food for exam week

Despite my admonition to “eat what you are served,” I well know that exam week is not the time to test the boundaries of teenage taste buds.

Additional stress at the dinner table is the last thing Son#1 needs as he preps for his first experience of exams in high school. So … the game plan for this week’s meal plan reflects feedback I’ve gleaned here and there from the boys:

Meatless Monday — Shrimp potpie with fennel (Son #1 spotted this recently in my clip book: “we should make that”)

Tasty Tuesday — Emeril Lagasse’s shepherd’s pie (Son #2 enjoyed this one with gusto the last time around)

Whole Grain Wednesday — “Jig-inducing” falafel burgers with tahini sauce; oven sweet potato fries (A recipe from the Meatlover’s Meatless Cookbook. With that title, how can they resist?)

Thermal (not) Thursday — Mac n Cheese from Metro Market (the pressure cooker takes a holiday while Mom is out)

Fun Friday — Steaks; rice pilaf; caesar salad (I’m banking on that research about men and meat)

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Week’s-end Reflection: A Mealtime Manifesto

We have a fairly simple rule around our house: You eat what you are served.

It’s not that my kids will eat anything. Wouldn’t we all love to say that? I can anticipate their reaction when I’ve had a heavy hand with the chipotle or I try to slip goat cheese into the eggs. One will look askance at rutabagas and shrug his nose at fish. The other has developed an aversion to anything he can’t readily identify on his plate. But the reality is, I rarely make alternative meals for the boys, however loud they complain. They haven’t lost weight and they’re rarely sick. So far, so good. I like to think their palates are expanding as they make their way through our varied menus.

Laurie David, the environmentalist, has a new book  – The Family Dinner – Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids, One Meal a Time. In a recent interview with New York Times she addressed the frequent question about how to reconcile kid tastes with adult preferences:

What is the proper response when your teenagers say they dislike your lemon chicken and want beef tacos instead?
You’re not a short-order cook, number one. You should be making dinner for the family, not for the individual. They eat what you eat. My kids now are eating quinoa and kale and beans, and they drink water instead of soda.

Thanks, Laurie.

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A shortcut to flavor


Penzeys -- on the list of rainy day destinations

No outcries for Thursday’s dinner — a quickie of lentils & sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker with catfish broiled in the oven. Son #1 gave it a thumbs up; Son #2 just shrugged. He’s not much on fish of any sort. I was happy because I took a couple of shortcuts with Emeril Lagasse’s recipe. Instead of fetching fresh thyme from the garden in a driving rain, I opted for dried.  And mixing up Emeril’s “Essence creole seasoning” seemed like an unnecessary hassle when I remembered I had a new blend from Penzeys tucked away in a spice drawer. Good decision!

I  discovered Penzeys spices only a year ago when a dear friend from Cleveland sent a small sampler box as a holiday gift. Included was a small jar of Mural of Flavor, a name that struck me as strange until I finally opened the jar sometime last fall.  Then, suddenly, Mural of Flavor vanished. I sprinkled it on EVERYTHING: eggs, veggies, potatoes. So I was delighted to learn a couple of months ago that Penzeys had opened a store in Seattle. We found it near Pike Place Market — a low-key storefront in a historic block. Though I had only minutes to shop, I managed to restock on MoF (this time in a larger size), assemble a sampler for my grill-loving brother and pick up the Northwoods blend … which made its way onto our catfish last night.  Now I’m hooked on a second seasoning blend.  I can foresee another trip to Penzeys sometime soon.  In fact, it sounds like a great rainy day destination!

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Quarrels over quinoa

“I can’t eat that.” Son #1 stared at his plate, outright defiant. “But it’s an ancient grain grown 12,000 feet above sea level!” I explained, relishing every bite of the quinoa with grilled zucchini, red peppers, garbanzo beans and cumin.

quinoa w/grilled zucchini, chickpeas

Quinoa inspires teen revolt

“No. You keep making all these meals from other places. South Korea, Antarctica, the Andes.”  Not really. So we had Thai-style red curry tempeh on Meatless Monday.  Not really so exotic. The issue is we have been migrating slowly into the zone of non-compliance, a simmering revolt against the healthy meals I’ve been concocting ever since last summer’s over-the-top feasting while traveling.

“If you keep this up, I’ll have to change the name of the blog to DishesMostMenLike,” I warned. “And besides, you eat non-traditional foods all the time. What about last weekend’s roasted rutabagas?” Son #1 acquiesced. “Those were good because they were, well, basic. This stuff is just weird,” he grimaced at the mash-up on his plate. “Well, you liked the turkey and feta meatloaf last night,” I persisted. “Yeah, that’s because it was an adaptation of a conventional food. This isn’t!” Son #2 chimed in: “I’m eating it. I don’t really like it, but I’m eating it.”

"I'll enjoy it more if I can't see it."

He was still feeling pretty smart from his trick the previous night, coming to dinner table blind-folded so he could “focus on my taste buds. I’ll enjoy my food more if I don’t have to look at it.” It was strange, sure, but he cleaned his plate. Turkey meatloaf with feta and sun-dried tomatoes, compliments of Giada De Laurentiis. Steamed brussels sprouts and parslied potatoes. Maybe I should blindfold Son #1 tomorrow night?

One year, 42 meal plans later …

It’s amazing how much dining, and occasional whining, can go on in the course of a year in the family kitchen. This blog is celebrating its first anniversary with 42 meal plans, Yay!

Barring travel and a few lazy weeks in the summer, I kept up with the goal to maintain meal plans for a year and record the results along the way. My husband and sons have provided plenty of commentary — mostly positive, always honest. Like most things in life, our meals don’t always turn out as planned. In fact, it’s the detours in the kitchen that provide fodder for this blog. Soooo…

To kick off the second year of this blog I’ll start posting the week’s meal plans on Mondays. I’ll check in during the week to report how it all shakes out. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what’s going on in your kitchen. Visit our new Facebook page and share your meal plans and gotta-try-this recipes there.

And away we go. Here’s the plan for Week 43:

Meatless Monday : Thai-style Red Curry Tempeh & vegetables; basmati rice; mango

Tasty Tuesday: Giada De Laurentiis’ Turkey meatloaf with feta and sun-dried tomatoes; brussels sprouts; mashed potatoes

Whole Grain Wednesday: Quinoa with grilled zucchini, garbanzo beans and cumin; grilled chicken sausages; applesauce

Thermal Thursday: Fresh thyme, garlic and lemon Catfish with bread crumbs; lentils with sweet potatoes; peach salsa

Fun Friday: Pizza night (Mom’s away)

On this week last year our meal plan included salmon burgers; chicken over polenta; Italian sausage casserole with white beans and chard; and frozen pizza with cardboard (d’oh!).  Sounds good. It may be time to recycle that plan (minus the cardboard).

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