Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vegetable Recipe Ideas

One of my Facebook friends had this for a recent status:

I am looking for your favorite veggie dishes. We need to break out of our rut and try new things. SO please send me your favorite (healthy) veggie dish."

I know that cooking ruts are lousy, so I sent her the names of 2 recipes and directed her here, which I realize is a bit cocky. I don't think this blog is a great resource of vegetable recipes YET, but I was too lazy to copy the recipes again. Then I thought about my friend's status and had that "doh!" moment. My friend was in a rut; I've been in ruts; other people struggle to incorporate vegetables in their daily or even weekly eating. Why not share some of our favorite ways to eat vegetables just to give people some ideas?

Casserole-type Meals
These meals are an alternative to lasagnas and pasta casseroles, but they may bear a resemblance to them at least in terms of how they are cooked.

Cheesy Lentil Rice Casserole
I've written about the convenience and tastiness of this in the past, so I'm just linking to the post with the recipe. This recipe requires ONE baking dish and a cutting board to make it - no mixing bowls, no sauteeing. I will be forever thankful to the friend who gave me this recipe. It is a regular in our house. One of the many great things about it is the ability to add whatever vegetables you want, so it's always a little bit different.

These are a great way to "hide" vegetables. I'd rather be upfront about what I'm feeding my kids, but I know that isn't possible for everyone, and I occasionally have omitted ingredient information from my kids when I thought the information would prevent them from trying something I knew they would enjoy. This recipe is a variation on the one in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook.

Ingredients for filling:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onion (I use 2 medium onions, chopped)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced (I use pre-minced garlic and guesstimate)
3/4 tsp. salt (I skip salt)
1 large bell pepper (any color), minced (I use 2 large red bell peppers, chopped)
5 small (6 inch) zucchini, diced (I usually have 1-2 large)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (I probably used 2 – 2.5 tsp. when all was said and done)
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
cayenne and black pepper to taste
1 1/3 cups (packed) grated jack cheese (I use this much IN the filling and it was a mozzarella and cheddar blend. I put a bunch more on top)

Regarding vegetables, I have added black beans to this recipe, substituted summer squash for zucchini or just added summer squash. I've added chicken breast (chopped) to the recipe, which Aaron LOVES. There is a lot of flexibility in this recipe for vegetables. Also you can minced the veggies instead of chopping/dicing, which does disguise them a bit better.

1) Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add onion, garlic and salt. Saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the onion is quite soft.
2) Add bell pepper, zucchini (other veggies), and seasonings. Stir and cook over medium heat another 5-8 minutes, or until the zucchini (other veggies) is just tender.
3) Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Allow to cool for a few minutes before filling the tortillas.

Ingredients for sauce:
5 medium ripe tomatoes, diced (we use a 28oz can)
1 large red bell pepper, minced
1 tsp. salt (pretty sure I skip it)
5 large cloves garlic, minced (see above – we estimate)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
I add more spice than the recipe calls for and don't measure.

1) Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, partially cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
2) You can leave it chunky or puree in a food processor or blender. I use my immersion blender. For extra smooth sauce, pass the puree through a fine strainer or sieve.
3) Pour a small amount of sauce into a shallow baking dish (e.g., 13×9 pyrex).

Assemble the enchiladas by placing a few tablespoons of filling on one side of each tortillas and rolling up the tortilla. Lay each enchilada seam side down in the baking dish. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas. Add cheese if desired. Cover with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes in a 325 oven. Serve hot.

Years ago, my mother-in-law gave us a cookbook of her recipes. Most of the recipes have stories of who in the family enjoyed it or when she made the dish. There are a handful in this book which have become regulars in our house, and her "crustless quiche" is one of them. I think a crustless quiche may be more appropriately called a frittata, but the eggs in my crustless quiche aren't fried. Labels aside, here's how it works.

  • 6-8 eggs, beaten - This isn't exact because it depends on how the mixture looks. I start with 6 eggs and determine whether everything looks well-blended. It shouldn't look like a soup, but it should be pretty gooey.
  • 1 c. shredded cheese (rough measurement)
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • Vegetables: chopped broccoli, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus are tasty options. You want something that will have a good texture after being baked. I haven't measured vegetables in a while, but I seem to recall using 1 box of frozen spinach thawed (10oz.) and drained to fill a 9 inch pie dish. With broccoli, I use about 2 heads/bunches. Sun-dried tomatoes are usually a topping rather than incorporated in the egg.
  • Seasonings: this changes depending on the vegetables. Some good combinations include: basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper OR dill with s&p. Really, choose herbs and spices which you like. The measuring is to taste. I judge by whether I can smell and see the herb/spice.
In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped onions and the vegetables of your choosing. Add some of your seasonings. Stir in beaten eggs. Fold in shredded cheese. Pour mixture into a pie dish. Bake in 350 oven until mixture sets and any liquid which comes out is clear. I test the quiche by poking a sharp knife in the center. If the liquid looks like water, it's good. If the mixture wobbles like jello, it probably needs a few more minutes.

Squash Kugel
This is another recipe I've shared before, so just follow the link. I'm also very thankful to the neighbor who shared the recipe with me. Her son refuses to eat vegetables but loves this dish. Really it's more like cake than a vegetable. It's pretty easy to make, really easy to double, and great as leftovers.

Soup-type Meals
My kids have pleasantly surprised me by enjoying a number of soups or soup-like dishes. At the Indian restaurant, Caleb sometimes enjoys dipping naan (bread) or chicken into dal (lentil) dishes. At home, I haven't ventured into Indian cooking yet, but my kids do like these next few recipes.

I've written about these 3 recipes before, and the recipes are in one post. I thought I'd add a few comments and any changes here.

Our chili still has no real recipe. However, we make both a turkey and a vegetarian chili. The vegetarian chili omits the turkey obviously and adds more beans and other veggies. Our most recent chili included zucchini and summer squash as well as the peppers and beans. For the turkey chili, we brown the turkey often with Montreal Steak Spice (mix of spices like pepper, garlic, salt). We serve it with whatever shredded cheese we have (usually cheddar). Caleb prefers the vegetable chili, and I *think* Ellie prefers the turkey, but they both eat either.

Pea soup
I've actually made this all by myself now! Unfortunately I didn't write down what I did, so I'm going to try to explain this by memory.

1 lb dried split peas (1 bag usually)
2-4 potatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
Chopped carrots, not sure of quantity... maybe 1-2 cups?
6 cups water
3 vegetable bouillon cubes (assumes that 1 cube = 2 cups broth)

Put all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

Butternut squash soup
Of the two recipes I mentioned previously, our family has been sticking with the classic one from the Whole Foods site. It's not sweet like the slow cooker recipe with apples, but it's quite filling and feels great on a damp evening. If your kids seem to gravitate towards sweet foods, you may want to try the slow cooker recipe.

I hope these recipes give you some ideas. As I cook some more this week, I'll try to add to this post any successful vegetable cooking. If you do try something you found here, please let me know how it goes!

Colcannon - Food of MY people

Aaron called me from his consulting job one afternoon and told me he had an idea for dinner. He saw what his colleague was eating it and wanted me to make the same. His colleague was eating colcannon, a traditional Irish dish. I'm part-Irish, and it has simple ingredients, so I figured why not? I'm so glad we tried this!

I started with this recipe from and made some changes

Colcannon - Variation #1
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, NOT peeled, quartered/eighthed
4 slices of turkey bacon
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (8 Tbsp. - we don't have milk on hand usually, so I substitute butter)
1/4 c. butter, melted (yes, in addition to the stick)

After cleaning and cutting potatoes, put potatoes in large pot with water to cover. Boil until very tender, easy to mash.

Place bacon in skillet. Cook over medium heat until browned. Set bacon aside to dry on plate, leave drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon after it has cooled and dried. With the drippings, saute onion and kale until kale wilts. Putting a lid on the skillet will help vegetables cook more quickly.

Drain the potatoes, mash with the 1 stick of butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the bacon, kale, and onion. You can transfer to a serving bowl if you like. Make a large well in the center and pour the 1/4 c. of melted butter in well. Serve immediately.

Colcannon - Variation #2
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, NOT peeled, quartered/eighthed
4 slices of turkey bacon
1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4 head of cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (8 Tbsp. - we don't have milk on hand usually, so I substitute butter)
1/4 c. butter, melted (yes, in addition to the stick)

See above. Saute cabbage with kale and onions.

I made Variation #2 when we had both kale and cabbage to eat. That is, it would have gone bad and wasted had we not eaten it. I also decided to double the recipe when I had 2 greens, mostly because I wanted to get through the greens but also because I know the leftovers are awesome. *grin*

The kid review is mixed. The first time I made this, they really enjoyed it - especially the bacon. The second time, they were both overtired and had a hard time eating anything. Ellie still showed excitement at the bacon, and Caleb professed love for "cold cannon," but I can't say either of them ate a large amount the second time. Still I think you should try it. Most kids seem to like mashed potatoes, and these are only slightly dressed up.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vegetables? What vegetables?

I just saw this article in the New York Times about Americans not eating their vegetables. Here are some quotes and my thoughts on them, but really I recommend reading the whole article (it's short!).

"The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it."

Yes, it's true. To an extent.
Did you know that a head of lettuce can last for about a week in the fridge after you wash it? Same goes for kale, arugula, and swiss chard. We soak the leaves in salt water to get rid of any yuck/critter. Then we spin dry the leaves in our cheap yet awesome salad spinner. We store the leaves in a large plastic container with paper towels in between layers of leaves. You know what that means? That means you can buy green leafy goodness before the day you plan to use it. I'm not suggesting you buy kale without a plan for how to cook it. Instead, buy the kale with the commitment to figure out what to do with it in 5-7 days.

"In the wrong hands, vegetables can taste terrible. And compared with a lot of food at the supermarket, they're a relatively expensive way to fill a belly."

True and false.
My father didn't like a lot of vegetables for years because of his experience with them as a kid. I didn't like tomatoes AT ALL unless they were processed (think pasta sauce, ketchup) until I had good tomatoes. So yeah, you probably ought to follow a recipe or some kind of food preparation tips when trying new veggies. The internet is a great place to look for recipes based on ingredients, and many basic cookbooks (e.g., Better Homes and Gardens) have suggestions for simple yet totally edible/tasty preparations of vegetables.

As for the expense of fresh produce, I justify the expense in a few ways. Fresh produce will fill my belly more than many processed foods. I end up buying fewer processed foods, and I end up eating less because the fresh stuff fills me more. Fresh produce gives me more energy and keeps me healthier. In the long run, I believe eating more vegetables will reduce my health care costs. For what it's worth, I've been noticing that my exercise routine is easier when I eat more fruits and vegetables.

"Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost."

This is just so short-sighted. What good are convenience and low-cost if we aren't healthy? And as for taste, figure out which vegetables you like and how you like them prepared. Then you'll have taste. For example, roasted cauliflower with some curry powder (or even just salt and pepper) tastes NOTHING like raw cauliflower. Roasted cauliflower is easy to prepare too. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with seasoning, bake at 400 until done (sorry, I don't watch the clock when I do it).

"A busy Manhattan resident... would eat more vegetables if they weren't, in her words, 'a pain.'"


I have a hard time countering this point of view. Vegetables do take more preparation than a lot of foods. If you are cooking fresh vegetables, then there is washing and chopping and seasoning and cooking. If you start from frozen or canned, you still probably have to wash/rinse. You might need to chop. You definitely still season and cook.

The previous quote is followed with this one:
"An apple you can just grab... but what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?"

When my son was around 12-15 months old, I used to pack frozen peas as part of his morning snack. No, I didn't try to feed him kale back then. Instead I opened the bag of frozen peas, poured them in a plastic container, and put them in the diaper bag. By the time he was hungry, the peas had thawed. And yes, he actually ate this.

Some vegetables are not very portable, like kale. Other vegetables can be quite easy to grab. You just might need to think about how, which of course is a pain to have to think about how to eat healthfully.

I completed resonated with the next quote though.
"It's just like any other bad habit. Part of it is just that vegetables are a little intimidating. I'm not afraid of zucchinis, but I just don't know how to cook them."

I think there was a time in our society that kids learned how to cook from their parents, by watching and helping, maybe by being given small tasks like washing vegetables or peeling onions. I didn't learn how to cook vegetables from my parents, and I didn't learn much in my middle school home economics course (do those still exist?). I don't think I'm unusual in this respect. I learned survivalist cooking in college, which included things like making teriyaki chicken in the toaster oven and discovering that Lucky Charms cereal with frozen yogurt tastes awesome any time of day. I don't remembering buying that many vegetables in college, and I can clearly remember being uninterested and/or overwhelmed by the idea of a salad bar. The most positive vegetable experience I can remember from college was a dish at Bob Evans Restaurant in which you could have 3 or 4 side dishes as your meal. You inevitably ended up with some form of orange or green vegetable as a part of this. I loved it because it was like having a mini-buffet on my plate.

Anyway, I reminisce too much. :) My point is that I didn't enter adulthood knowing much about vegetables beyond the idea that I should eat them. Sometime after college, probably largely influenced by Aaron since he was a vegetarian when we first met, I began exploring vegetables beyond green beans, peas, and carrots. And since joining a CSA last summer, I've learned so much more about cooking and enjoying vegetables. It hasn't been that much work, truly! I've had to look at recipes on the internet, ask a neighbor or a farmer for ideas, and then just be brave enough to experiment a bit.

Vegetables don't have to be a pain. They can be an adventure. I know I can't really convince anyone to eat more vegetables (see NYTimes article on how the gov't can't persuade us either), but I just had to rant/vent/share some thoughts from the article. Maybe you'll try something new after reading it. I hope so!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Storing Has Begun

Part of our family's annual Rosh HaShanah tradition is to go apple picking. Yes, I realize this activity is not in agreement with Jewish law/halacha. We go to appreciate God's Creation. We go to spend time as a family. And of course, we go to enjoy the apples and other fruits. I imagine this tradition will change as our kids get older. I envision the annual apple picking to happen around but not necessarily on Rosh HaShanah or at least such that we attend services AND get our apples too.

Justifications aside, let me share a bit of our experience from this year and explain the title of this post.

As in past years, we returned to Shelburne Farm in Stow, MA. We like Shelburne because of its size, the friendly farmers and staff, and the minimal pesticide usage. Oh, and the cider doughnuts are amazing. :) This year we decided to pick peaches as well as apples. Nom nom nom!

A peck of peaches, to be more precise:

We filled the box more than this picture shows, but you get an idea of what a peck looks like.

We also picked a half-bushel of apples - Cortlands and McIntoshes. I didn't take a picture of OUR bag, but this image will give you an idea of quantity.

SO what to do with so much fruit and only 4 people? I hear Bubba in my crisp, apple sauce, apple pie, apple in butternut squash soup. And those peaches? Peach cobbler, peach sauce, peach crisp... ooh what about apple peach crisp?

Yes, I made apple peach crisp and it was truly awesome. Here's a recipe for those who want to have divinely good food.

Apple-Peach Crisp (modified from Better Homes and Garden cookbook)
10 cups of sliced, peeled, cored/pitted apples and peaches
2-4 Tbsp. white sugar (I tend to use only 2)
1 c. regular rolled oats
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger (OPTIONAL! I skip it because my kids aren't fans)
1/2 c. butter

Place fruit in 13x9 baking dish. Sprinkle and stir in white sugar.

For topping, in a medium bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, flour and spices. Cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. I start this by "dicing" the butter, and I found a butter knife to work well for the task. Sprinkle topping over filling.

Bake crisp in a 375 oven for 30-35 minutes or till fruit is tender and topping is golden. Serve warm (perhaps with ice cream).

As much as we all could live on fruit crisp, it isn't the best option for processing so much fruit. The next thing we have been doing with the fruit is making sauce because it is wicked easy, gets through a lot of fruit, keeps well, and is delicious! Our first attempt of apple-peach sauce ended up being more like apple-peach juice since we didn't account for the amount of liquid in the peaches. That is, peaches are REALLY juicy and when they boil, they add lots of liquid to the sauce which ends up making "soup" or "goo" or "juice," depending on who names it. I'll let you figure out who named the concoction what in our house.

The second round of sauce making has gone much better. Here is what we did for proportions -- check out the simple ingredients!

Apple-Peach Sauce
5 peaches - peeled, pitted, and halved.
About 20 apples (we didn't count; we just filled our large pasta pot). We leave peels on because we're lazy and maybe there is extra healthy stuff in the skin.
2 cups of water - we probably could do yet less.

Put all in pot. Bring to boil and let fruit soften. Mash with a potato masher, immersion blender (my kitchen tool of choice), or food processor in batches. Enjoy!

We have about 7 quarts of this sauce - 4 from the soupy batch; 3 from the saucy batch. Caleb enjoys drinking the soupy kind at breakfast. Aaron likes the sauce straight from the pot, nice and warm. I like putting the apple-peach goo in my steel cut oatmeal. Ellie remains undecided about the goo, but she is intrigued. And it makes the house smell great!

To finish off the peaches before they became compost, we blanched about 10 peaches, which made removing their skins ridiculously easy. We sliced or halved them and put them in freezer bags. I'm excited about having sweet peaches in February.

Also on the storing front, I made a batch of grape jelly thanks to the generosity of our neighbors who have a grapevine that actually gives them grapes. This is in contrast to our grapevine which we ignore and thus get no noticeable fruit (or maybe the various critters get to it first?). I don't have a good system for storing jelly and jam since I have yet to make a cooked jelly/jam. I put the majority of the grape jelly in a quart container from take out soup, some in a 3 cup Rubbermaid container, and the last bit in an actual jam jar from the farmers' market.

Coming up in food storage - corn! Aaron made a delicious corn chowder tonight, so we will remove corn from cob and freeze it. I'm sure we'll store some corn on the cob as well since that worked well for us. Last year we stored green beans, but we blanched them a bit too long and purchased a bit more than we needed. This year, we'll purchase fewer pounds and see if we can get the blanch time right. I'd also like to store some bell peppers for things like chili and enchiladas, so I need to read a bit from our preserving book to see if I can just freeze them up too.

My bed beckons, but perhaps my next post will talk a bit about why we go to the effort of storing food from the summer instead of buying the same kind of food from a regular grocery store.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rice Lentil Spinach Pilaf

Yummy dinner at our house tonight with reasonable success on the kid front! And yes, it involves VEGETABLES! Even better, it's a Weight Watcher recipe which means it's good for me too. Of course, the chocolate cookie dough ice cream I ate later probably negates this, but food is a battlefield for me (no, love is not a battlefield in my world). Anyway, on to the recipe so you can try this out at your table.

1 tsp olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
3/4 c. uncooked basmati rice, brown (I have no idea if what I used was basmati)
2 1/4 c. vegetable broth, low-sodium variety (not sure about the sodium content in bouillon, but I suspect it isn't all that low)
1/2 c. dry lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
10 oz. spinach, frozen chopped variety, thawed and squeezed dry (I used 16 oz.)
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/4 tsp. table salt (I use kosher and guesstimated)
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground (I probably used more)
1/4 c. pine nuts (you probably could substitute other nuts but chopped?)

Heat oil in a large non-stick saucepan, then add shallots. Saute until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the rice and saute, until the rice is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Add the broth and lentils; bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Stir in the spinach, cranberries, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered until rice is tender, 10-15 minutes. Fluff the mixture with a fork and stir in the nuts.

Makes four 1-cup servings. Aaron enjoyed his with feta cheese (yum!).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On a Happier Note...

Dinner debacle aside, at least I came home from vacation to pick these beautiful tomatoes and reasonably decent cucumbers. The enormous one is the same variety as all the others (Jet Star, according to Aaron who has a better memory for these details). I feel very blessed to have such a great harvest of tomatoes. I've even grown to enjoy eating them! For anyone who knows me, this is a big deal. I used to eat tomatoes only in a processed form - pasta/pizza sauce, ketchup, salsa, cooked into various dishes like enchiladas. Then my dear husband introduced me to what I call Israeli salad - diced tomatoes, cukes, red onion in a "dressing" (read: marinade) of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. A few years after that, I politely tried our cousin's caprese salad and was shocked to find I wasn't repulsed by the red fruit. I still don't eat them on sandwiches, but I'm finding that I enjoy them diced in salads without dressing and that some small varieties make for acceptable (if not loved) snacks. I find it interesting that my tastes continue to change as an adult, and that food availability seems to be a factor in those changes.

Proof of Life's Balance

Tonight I made fish and chips. It's easy from an ingredient perspective, and it's a bit time consuming to clean and cut potatoes and bread the fish. However, our neighbor brought us haddock he caught, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to use something so fresh.

Kid review: 2 thumbs down. Ellie ate ketchup and a few bites of the chips. She told us that they were not chips but in fact potatoes. Caleb complained about not being able to pick up the food with his fork and then tried to convince me that the fish was too spicy. The spiciest spice is black pepper followed by deli mustard, so this is not a spicy dish by most standards.

I suppose I need to remember that my son will eat fruits and vegetables happily so that I don't want to stop cooking for him.

Bath time has arrived and the natives are beyond restless. Would someone please try the recipe (see link at top!) and let me know what you think?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Farmers' Market Challenges

I have written about our local farmers' market before. We love it and go there nearly every Saturday. I went back to it today for the first time since our various trips. The weather was fantastic now that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Earl has passed. However, my trip to the market was not as idyllic as I had hoped.

For starters, I had both kids without Aaron. Aaron needed to prepare our office for painting today. This is the weekend we agreed to paint the office, otherwise it won't get done for another year. To make Aaron's job easier, I took the kids to the market. After all, we needed vegetables and fruits anyway and I missed our market.

Second challenge... since I haven't been to the market in a few weeks, I'm out of sync with the harvest. I had hoped to buy raspberries and lettuce. Aaron had asked for plums. Well, plums are out of season already. Lettuce will be picked again next week, three different farmers told me. And raspberries? Ha ha ha. I seem to remember that we went to Stillman's at the end of the CSA season and picked berries, so maybe hope remains. I also wanted broccoli, which I KNOW is in season, but somehow no one had any at their booths. :(

Even with those challenges, I bought some fine looking beans, corn, cucumbers (ours are on their way out), cherry tomatoes, peppers, and nectarines. Nectarines are named SO appropriately. The name means "nectar like," and nectar is considered food of the gods. I adore nectarines. I may have to buy more than the 8 I purchased this time. Such a fine, sweet, cool, juicy, delectable...

(dreamlike state in which nectarines dance in my head)

OK, coming back to so-called reality. Despite the challenges of not losing my children and not finding all the produce on my list, I was quite glad to return to our market. I like the ritual of it, seeing familiar faces and products each week, feeling the buzz of community, and acquiring some of my needs so close to home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Breaking News: Preschooler Eats Salad!

Tonight's dinner was leftovers. It's too blasted hot to cook, and we had some goodies to get through. On the menu:
  • Trader Joe's chicken sausages
  • Pesto tortellini
  • Salad fixin's - lettuce, cukes, tomato (maybe only for Aaron?), red pepper, olives, feta
I skipped the olives since I have yet to meet an olive that I like. Aaron ate a bit of everything. Ellie ate mostly tortellini, played with her red pepper, and chewed some chicken sausage (not sure about actual swallowing). Caleb ate everything except for the feta cheese. Yes, everything! He asked for the salad fixin's!! As he worked his way around the plate, he didn't touch the vegetables he requested. He started with chicken sausage, then we gave him tortellini while he munched a few vegetables. Before giving him more tortellini (he asks for more before swallowing his last bite), we suggested he eat a specific vegetable first (e.g., "have your red pepper, then we'll get you tortellini"). Sure, he complained a bit the first time, declaring that none of us would have tortellini. I responded by stabbing a piece of my tortellini and showing him that I would eat it. Yeah, I know I'm immature.

At the end of dinner, no vegetables remained on his plate. Aaron assessed what Caleb ate.

"Caleb ate peppers, olives, cucumbers, and lettuce."

Last I checked, that is a valid salad!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Menu Planning Attempts again

We need menus here. We need regularly planned meals. It makes for much easier grocery shopping, saves money (really!), and reduces stress all around. Months ago, maybe even a year ago, I made a list of favorite meals and sorted that list by type of food (e.g., chicken v. pasta v. veggie). For reasons not entirely clear to me, that list isn't working for me. I don't feel inspired to make any of it, even though I know the choices are good choices. For example:

Veggie enchiladas (easily made into chicken enchiladas)
Potato frittata
Summer squash casserole

Part of my trouble with the recipes I love most is a simple matter of calories. If I want to continue to lose weight, I cannot eat large quantities of cheesy, creamy foods, and small quantities generally don't fill me up.

Part of the trouble comes down to seasonal issues. I don't like using the oven when it is 90+ degrees outside. We don't have central air, and our window a/c units keep the house pleasant until I turn on the oven. I don't like humid hot spaces.

When I address the seasonal issues, I don't find great options for the kids since they don't really do salad like I would. They will eat raw cut veggies, but veggies generally are sides for them rather than entire meals.

When I address the calorie issue, I find that the food is hit or miss with the kids. Grf.

Maybe I need to set aside one evening a week to do loads and loads of cooking. Get all the hot stuff made and ready to be reheated, store in fridge and use as appropriate. And this idea brings me right back to menu planning. If I'm going to cook at least a week of meals in advance, then I need to know what those meals are. Since we get our farm share box on Mondays, maybe I can try to do my planning on Monday? I'm not sure when I/we will do other grocery shopping in the fall, but maybe Tuesday will work even though that including the kids. In theory, including kids in grocery shopping is good - they learn about where food is bought (not its actual origin), and they can feel helpful when given small tasks. In reality, my experience of grocery shopping with kids is not so great. There is often much whining about who sits where and for "sample cheese" (icky white American cheese from deli counter).

Do you plan a menu for your family? How do you decide what to eat each week? Do you plan the menu and then shop or the other way around? Share what works and doesn't!

Post-Vacation Update

We're baaaaaaa-ack!

We spent 11 days in the midwest, returned home for 4 days, and then spent a week in the Berkshires (western MA). We ate at more restaurants than we would have liked on our journey to the midwest, but I think we did pretty well with food overall.

What do I mean by well, anyway?

Well = eating real food rather than highly processed or scientifically designed concoctions which taste and look like food but may not actually be FOOD. Limiting junk, enjoying the process of acquiring, preparing and eating FOOD.

I already wrote about our trip to the midwest here and here, so I'm going to write about the Berkshires trip this time. Even though we knew we could buy food when we arrived, we wanted to minimize shopping trips since they are a bit trying for the kids (and thus for us). Here are some of the many foods we brought from home:
  • Vegetables - we took things we knew wouldn't last until we made it back (minus the spinach we somehow left at home???). This included several cucumbers, probably a sweet pepper. We brought green and yellow beans, which we ended up enjoying on Friday night. I *think* we brought an eggplant because I made a vegetable stew. I brought red and brown/green lentils for our favorite casserole. We also packed carrots since I like to put them into cheesy lentil rice casserole.
  • Fruits - we meant to take our peaches and nectarines. Somehow we forgot those too. :( We did take some berries (blue and raspberry, I think). Those never last long.
  • Grains - oatmeal, whole wheat sandwich bread, Ak-Mak and Vinta crackers, frozen tortellini, brown rice, Israeli couscous, Cheerios, Puffins, Trader Joe's fruit bars.
  • Dairy - cheese (Feta and a cheddar-based shredded), yogurt as though it's going out of style
  • Beverages - beer (I suppose this is a grain), seltzer, milk (yes I know that's dairy too), diet soda
  • We also brought our most commonly used spices and vegetable bouillon
  • Peanut butter (is this a vegetable? fruit?)
We still ended up shopping quite a few times. We bought fish and challah for Friday night dinner, another loaf of sandwich bread, and we bought more diet soda and seltzer.

We still ate at the occasional restaurant such as when we met our friends at a tasty burrito shop or when we were at the top of Mt. Greylock and it was much easier to order at the lodge than drive back 45 minutes with increasingly tired kids. That said, I felt like our eating was pretty well balanced. We snacked on cucumbers and fruits, especially
on the day we went apple, pear, and plum picking.

We hiked 2 different mountains, and I realized I want to make my own fruit bars which would work well for hiking. I'm thinking something dense and chewy with bits of crunchy goodness (nuts, chips). I just need to find a recipe that the kids will like AND will retain its shape reasonably well. Feel free to send me suggestions for fruit bars!