Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beach Food

Our summer is spent at a local pond. Yes, we do a few other things in the summer, but Monday through Friday we are at the local pond for daily swim lessons and fun in the sun. Our local pond has a snack shack with items like hot dogs, pretzels, and HFCS confections. I'm not a complete food snob. The once in a while nutritionally deficient treat is a summer tradition. However, the snack shack foods simply do not fill my active kids' bellies. Here's what we do instead to keep everyone well-fed and hydrated so that we can have fun in the sun.

Every day I pack a medium cooler full of:
berries, grapes, and whatever other fruit we have
cucumbers, tomatoes, other crunchy "wet" veggies
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
fruit leathers
the occasional special request such as Trader Joe's Cheddar Corn Puffs (think Pirate booty or popcorn without the kernels or cheesy poofs as Cartman calls them)

I also pack a Diet Dr. Pepper for me (my major vice). I've packed leftover pasta in the past since I know the kids will eat it, though I prefer to have them eat fruits and veggies while we're out.

The kids still ask for ring pops and other sticky candy. Having our own food helps me direct them to those healthier choices and helps them figure out whether they are hungry or just jealous of somebody's unfilling candy.

I read a great blog called "It's Not About Nutrition," and I have to agree with the title. It isn't JUST about nutrition. For me, it's about setting habits and guiding growing palates. Giving my kids lollipops and pretzels every day teaches them to expect those items every day and it doesn't teach them which foods truly will satisfy them and give them the energy they need. Yes, packing snacks takes time, but it can be done the night before or even in the hour before leaving for the beach. Most important, it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long Overdue Post

At least I can say the reason for my blogging absence has been a truly busy schedule. And some of that busyness has been related to food!!

Garden Update
We have begun to enjoy food from OUR garden. We have picked and eaten (read: immediately consumed) about 20 strawberries. The squirrels and other critters have found them, but they have not devoured them YET. We also enjoyed our first swiss chard as part of a crustless swiss chard quiche. This time I used basil, oregano, pepper and kosher salt as my seasoning as well as a fair amount of shredded cheese (maybe about 1 c.?). Aaron and I both have been appreciating fresh romaine lettuce - him for his almost daily sandwiches and me for my much anticipated salads. Normally I'm not a fan of salads, but they really hit the spot in the summer, especially when the vegetables are FRESH.

The peaches continue to ripen and grow slowly, and we are seeing little changes in our other plants. Some of the snow peas and peppers have flowers. The bean and squash plants are getting much bigger. Most of my cucumber plants look fairly healthy, and the tomatoes now require cages to keep them upright. I'm happy to say that our herbs are starting to show more promise than a few weeks back as well. The basil is growing slowly but is showing improvement. The cilantro actually looks like very tiny cilantro, and I think a few green onions might be trying to reveal themselves. The big garden surprise for this week, or maybe for the month, is that the oregano seems to be sprouting after showing no sign of life for what felt like a LONG time. Other herbs planted on the same day had started to pop up with no sign of the oregano joining them. And now, it looks like we may have bunches of oregano.

Eating Update
I wish I had some great family-friendly recipes to share with you. Right now, we're sticking to what we know works. The quiche was an adventure since I knew the kids hadn't tasted it since last year. Caleb loved it; Ellie picked at it. She seems to be in the phase when she doesn't want her food mixed/touching. She picks and eats chocolate chips out of cookies and then tries to eat the crumbles of the cookie, for example.

Since our main dishes haven't been all that exciting, I will share that I made Aaron and Ellie yummy birthday cakes. For Ellie, I tried a new cake pan that allows you to make an ice cream filled cake. I tried out a new chocolate cake recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and it was great! For Aaron, I went with his favorite flavor combination and made a Chocolate Sour Cream cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate peanut butter ganache. I love the cake from this concoction - so moist and flavorful! I also modified my mom's peanut butter cookie recipe (originally from Crisco, so I replaced the Crisco with butter) to be a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe. So very yummy! I may never make plain chocolate chip cookies again. :)

As you might imagine, the decadent eating has not made my weight loss maintenance easy in the least. I'm up about 4 pounds from my goal, 2 pounds over my lifetime limit. I'm hoping that my exercising and increased salad consumption will help me get back down. Yes, I know I need to stop eating quite so much of the decadent desserts too. It's much easier said than done.

After writing all of this, I realized I needed to write about taco night. That will have to be another post. Thanks to the world of Facebook, we had a taco night. I asked the Facebook world what they were having for dinner and a high school friend mentioned taco night. We had all of the ingredients, and wow what a success! BUT, that is for another post since another non-nap is demanding some parental attention.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Garden Update

We made a lot of progress in the garden this weekend. Of course, a garden's work is never really DONE, but I feel pretty good about where we're at with it.

Planted as of 5/22/11
  • Lettuce - some green leaf variety, Boston maybe?
  • Red swiss chard
  • Kale
  • Tomatoes - JetStar, cherry, and possibly a third variety (should check with Aaron the Tomato Master)
  • Kentucky pole beans
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Butternut squash
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Scallions/green onions
  • Cilantro
To Be Planted
  • Rosemary
  • Bell peppers
  • Jalapeños
Showing signs of hope
  • Strawberry plants have MANY blossoms
  • Lettuce, kale, and swiss chard are growing and looking promising
  • Sugar snap peas are taller each day
  • The peach tree allegedly has small green fruit on it
Showing signs of trouble
  • The apple tree is being eaten by the evil winter moth larvae. Grr.
  • We must protect our strawberries before the squirrel and birds make their moves.
We're pretty excited about the developments. At least the garden reminds us that all the rain serves a good purpose. We hope for sunnier days to help the tomatoes grow and the beans not to rot. As the garden begins to look more interesting, pictures will be forthcoming.

Baked Oatmeal - YUM!

Caleb and Aaron recently went to Wisconsin for a father-son retreat at a summer camp. They came home and both raved about baked oatmeal. I had no clue what baked oatmeal was, despite my midwestern upbringing. After some Google searching and getting a reasonably accurate description from Aaron, I found a serviceable recipe. It makes a great snack or breakfast and is wonderfully filling. See my notes below for a few suggested changes.

Baked Oatmeal
Serves 8

6 c. quick cooking oats
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
6 eggs
2 c. milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. canola oil
1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400. Grease and flour a 13x9 baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and canola oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until well-blended. Spoon into the prepared baking pan, and spread evenly. Sprinkle walnuts over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

I made a few changes to the ingredients. First, I used "old-fashioned oats." I think the recipe simply means don't use instant or steel cut. Also, I reduced the sugar to 1/2 c because I didn't feel like packing an extra 1/4 c. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for canola.

I made one change in the process. I decided to mix the walnuts into the batter and then sprinkle a few walnuts on top. I think this would be good with any nut. I may try pecans next time because I adore pecans.

The next time I make this, I will add cinnamon, and maybe something like nutmeg. It was yummy and comforting without the extra spice, but I think we'll enjoy it more with the spices. I also may try a nut-free version so that Caleb can take it to school.

Classic Chicken Soup with Noodles

A friend of mine is sick today and I thought I would send her a link to this great recipe. Until I figured out that I had not posted this great recipe to my blog! SO, here goes - a really tasty Chicken Noodle Soup for you and your family to try!

Classic Chicken Soup with Noodles
From Weight Watchers - 8 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 6

3 pounds skinless chicken drumstick and/or thighs, trimmed of visible fat (I used some skinless thighs, I think)
6 c. water
5 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (I skipped this for my neighbors because they don't like celery)
2 medium onions, each cut into 8 wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 oz. parsley, about 3 sprigs (I probably didn't measure my dry parsley)
1/8 oz. thyme, fresh, 2 sprigs (ditto)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 c. uncooked egg noodles
1/4 c. parsley, flat leaf variety (for garnish, I'm sure I skipped)

Bring the chicken, water, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper to a boil in a Dutch oven (I use large pot). Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is no longer pink inside and the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Discard the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Garden Growth

Our garden is starting to show signs of life, and I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. No pictures yet, but really the view isn't that interesting unless you're practically IN the dirt. :)

For those of you who don't know about our backyard garden adventures, let me give you a bit of history. We have 2 raised beds, a very enthusiastic strawberry patch, 2 unproductive blueberry bushes, and 2 young fruit trees (apple and peach). We also typically grow a ridiculous quantity of basil so that we can make never-enough pesto. The raised beds have brought us pole beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, swiss chard, and unanticipated squash (thank you compost pile). We tried planting zucchini, yellow squash and pumpkin last year and were sadly disappointed. It was a learning experience. I never knew about squash vine borers before, and I assumed that plants would know to produce both male and female plants so that fruit, or in this case squash, would occur. I also planted some sunflowers only to have them destroyed by the local wildlife (aka my arch nemesis - the squirrel population).

Having this garden is a great opportunity for my kids to learn about food. They appreciate fresh real food. They learn about the effort that goes into making food. They love watching the changes over time in the garden.

This year we are trying a few new crops and sticking with some past successes. As soon as the ground was workable, we planted romaine lettuce, red chard, and some variety of kale - maybe a red stem? I also took a chance and planted sugar snap peas. I'm delighted to report that all 4 have started sprouting. The lettuce and the kale are doing extremely well. I tried thinning the kale this week, but I may have killed a few plants. I'm going to wait another week or 2 to figure out whether I did and whether I should try more thinning so that the plants have room to grow. The weeds have been annoyingly productive this year as well. Maybe I didn't care as much about weeds last year, but I feel like I have to keep plucking little bits of this and that out of each bed, even when I've just finished weeding.

The other new development in our garden is a much sturdier fence around the larger of the 2 raised beds. Aaron and Caleb built a wood frame and attached plastic fencing to it. Other than spying a small brown bird or 2 in the bed, I think the fence is fairly secure. I'm hoping they will build similar protection for the other bed and for our strawberry patch.

The strawberry patch continues to spread just like the weed it actually is. I gave two peony bushes to my neighbor to make room for the berry plants. She thinks I'm nuts for giving up the flowers, but she is quite happy with the bushes and I'm quite happy with my future strawberries. The strawberries have their first flowers this week, so they need some protection ASAP. I put the net from last year over what I could, but it isn't much of a deterrent nor a true protection since any animal really could figure out that the plants aren't fully covered. The netting we have covers about 1/2 of our plants and not even very well, so we'll have to figure out something better. That said, I'm still delighted to see strawberry flowers! They just look so happy and promising.

Coming up in the next few weeks, we will plant the rest of our crop. We're planning on pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I'm still debating whether to try squash again. I would need to clear out a patch for them in the "wild" part of our flower beds, but I do not look forward to that project. On the other hand, I hate having an unused "wild" part of the garden; it looks blah and icky to give it a technical description. I'm also still disappointed in last year's experience, but I suppose this would be a chance to do better. As you can probably guess, I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A surprising success

As I wrote about our recent recipe failures, I remembered a surprising successful recipe and thought I would share it. I found this recipe while I was doing some menu planning on Thursday morning. I pulled out a Weight Watchers cookbook to get some inspiration, and Caleb started looking over my shoulder. The cookbook has lovely pictures throughout, and he asked all sorts of questions about what each dish was and of course made all sorts of comments (nice and not) about what he saw. I was near the end of the book when he demanded that I turn back a few pages. He pointed to a picture with a skillet of spinach and some garlic cloves and insisted that we make and eat it. I was really skeptical even though I know Caleb likes kale and will eat salad fixings as long as they have no dressing. Still, I figured getting more greens in my diet is a good thing. Even if your kids won't touch green vegetables, you might want to try this as a side because it's yummy and pretty simple.

Tuscan-style Garlic Spinach
From Weight Watchers - 2 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 4

2 lbs. spinach, touch stems removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add spinach, in batches if necessary, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold running water. Squeeze out excess water and chop.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and increase heat to medium-high. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until spinach is heated through, about 3 minutes.

I didn't have the 2 lbs. of spinach on hand, more like 1-1.5 pounds, and I would definitely try this recipe with even more spinach. I don't think it would make good leftovers, but I definitely would appreciate having more. Chopping wet spinach is not the easiest thing to do. Yes, I drained and squeezed. I ended up having a lump of spinach which I cut in a grid shape. Speaking of spinach, I'm not sure what the Weight Watchers folks think I buy for spinach when they talk about the tough stems, but I used baby spinach and was quite pleased.

Tasty Recipes Which Fail

I am coming out of a cooking rut. For the past month, our eating simply has not been that exciting. I wish I had a great post about Passover eating, but I really don't. We tried more processed foods than I would have liked during Passover, and my kids didn't even really like those foods much. Once the week of Passover had passed (ha ha), I started thinking again about what I wanted to be eating and what I wanted my kids to be eating. The answer hasn't changed much - real food, a variety of it, and of course I want it to taste good.

This week I tried 2 new recipes which Aaron and I loved and the kids absolutely rejected. I did not try both recipes at the same meal because I figure I'll have better luck getting the kids to try something new if there isn't too much truly new at a meal. Without further ado, here are the recipes for you to try. Perhaps your families will enjoy them.

Maple Pecan Chicken
From SparkRecipes - 5 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 6

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 6 pieces
1/2 c. halved pecans
1/4 c. plain bread crumbs
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. reduced calories syrup

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the pecans and bread crumbs into a good processor. Combine until all of the pecans are chopped into the same consistency as the bread crumbs. Put into shallow bowl. Put syrup into another bowl.

Put chicken into the syrup, coating both sides completely. Put chicken into the pecan and bread crumb mixture. Coat each side completely.

Lay the breaded chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Coat the rest of the chicken pieces.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until all of the chicken is cooked through.

I do not measure pepper, and I don't actually remember using it. I use panko in place of bread crumbs. I also used our local maple syrup rather than a store purchased reduced calorie syrup. I did not end up using all of the syrup to coat my chicken.

Aaron and I really enjoyed this recipe for chicken. The chicken breast was much moister than I would have expected, and the breading was crisp and crunchy thanks to the pecans. The pecans get toasted in the oven, which makes them even yummier than they are when uncooked. Caleb rejected the chicken saying that it did NOT taste like maple syrup and that it tasted like chicken. Once he rejected it, Ellie didn't even want to lick it. She did end up trying a bite in the end and saying she liked it but didn't have any more. Aaron thinks calling this dish "maple candy chicken" would have been more successful. I'm not so sure. I think I'll make this again anyway because repeat exposure may change my kids' opinions.

This next recipe makes a great side dish to fish and probably anything else.

Asparagus Risotto

From Weight Watchers - 5 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 6

1/2 tsp. salt, for cooking water
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 sprays cooking spray
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 small shallots, minced
1 c. uncooked arborio rice
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 c. canned chicken brother
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. table salt or to taste
1/8 tsp. black pepper or to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add asparagus to pot; blanch for 2 minutes. Immediately remove asparagus from pot and place them into ice water to stop them from cooking and help retain their bright green color. Set aside.

Coat a medium pot with cooking spray and set over medium heat; melt butter. Add shallots; cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add rice and toss to coat; cook for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice; cook, until all lemon juice has been absorbed, stirring continuously so rice does not stick to sides of pot, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring broth to a simmer (in separate pot); keep warm.

Add 1/2 c. of hot broth to pot at a time; stir until absorbed. Repeat with remaining brother, making sure each addition of broth is absorbed before adding more. This process takes about 20 minutes.

When rice turns creamy and just done (should be slightly chewy and not mushy), remove pot from heat; add cheese and stir well. Stir in asparagus; season with salt and pepper.

1 serving = 1 scant cup.

When trimming the asparagus, make sure to remove the stiff woody ends. You probably could substitute vegetable broth if you want to make this vegetarian.

Again Aaron and I loved this recipe. I was hopeful that Caleb would like it because he loves asparagus. I was certain Ellie would at least eat the rice since she often requests cheesy rice for meals. I was absolutely wrong.
Unfortunately Caleb does not like creamy foods with the exception of Trader Joe's black cherry yogurt and Annie's mac and cheese. The creaminess overruled his love of asparagus. And again, his opinion affected Ellie's eating. Argh. She wouldn't even SMELL the food and spent the meal begging for her piñata candy, which I refused to give her (mean mommy). I'm sure I'll make this again anyway, and I'll just provide a different vegetable option for the kids.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Butter Chicken - Indian food success at home!

A long time ago, Aaron and I agreed that we should eat out when we want to eat something which we do not know how to make at home. We don't stick to this rule strictly, but we follow it most of the time. For example, we don't go out for pasta because we make pretty decent pasta at home. We do order pizza because we have not mastered pizza. Exceptions aside, it's a pretty good rule for us. We save money and really appreciate eating out when we do.

One of our regular eating out experiences is the local Indian restaurant. My kids love the Indian restaurant. The food is delicious; the staff is kind and patient; the prices are reasonable. Until this week, I never tried to cook Indian food. The idea of it intimidated me. Heck, I can't pronounce some of the food, so how could I cook it? Kids have a way of pushing our limits, of stretching us and introducing us to experiences we might have missed otherwise.

Caleb wanted butter chicken at home. Apparently butter chicken is also called "Chicken Makhani," but our local restaurant always labels it butter chicken. Thanks to the internet and living near a large metropolitan area, I found a great recipe and the ingredients required for it.

Click HERE for the recipe.

Since it was my first time making ANY Indian food, I didn't diverge from instructions much. I ended up tripling the recipe because I figured I might as well make enough for several meals. I was a bit short on the half and half, so I used some skim milk to top it off. I skipped the cayenne pepper for the kids' benefit, and Aaron sprinkled some on top of his. I served it with some jasmine rice from Trader Joe's (microwaveable rice - weirds me out to be honest, but the cooking required enough effort that I decided to make the rice even easier).

The kids absolutely loved it! Aaron loved it! My neighbor and her daughter loved it the next day! Yes, this recipe required more preparation than most of what I cook, but it was SO worth it. It's flavorful but not hot spicy. This is definitely worth trying with your families.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mid-Week Check In

I know Wednesday is mid-week for the rest of the world. Since I start my menu on Thursdays, Sunday or Monday ends up being my mid-week. I thought I'd post a quick update on food, weight loss, and... gardening!

Thursday's lentil and black bean chili was quite tasty but not well-received by the kidlets. The recipe called for some optional cayenne pepper, and I decided to add it since we were a bit short on chili powder. I'm pretty sure the kids would have eaten more of the chili had I skipped or reduced the cayenne.

Friday's dinner was nothing extraordinary, but I have managed to move my kids from regular fish sticks to a slightly less stick-like fish. Trader Joe's makes breaded halibut and breaded cod, both of which do not have stick shapes. Sure they are still breaded, pseudo-fried fish products, but they have a bit more verisimilitude to them.

Saturday we had delicious chicken on the grilled with Montreal Steak Spice (yes, steak spice and not chicken spice). I was excited to make the spice-roasted butternut squash again, but neither of my kids would eat it. Wah. Caleb declared it too sweet, which in turn meant Ellie wouldn't do more than lick it. On the bright side, both kids ate salad without dressing.

On Sunday, Aaron called for leftovers because our fridge was a bit full. OK, more than full. :)

As for tonight, I'm a bit nervous about presenting Mexican brown rice casserole to my kids again since they both summarily rejected it last time. I'll have to consider the spicing to see if I can make it more palatable to them.

Weight Loss
I've been in maintenance mode for the past month or so. Weight Watchers has this idea that if you maintain your goal weight for 6 weeks, you become a lifetime member. Lifetime membership means you no longer pay a monthly fee for meetings and online tools. This week will be my 6th weigh-in during maintenance, and I'm a bit nervous since I've been wobbling around between 150 and 152.4. I need to be at or below 152 to hit lifetime, and Ben and Jerry's Milk & Cookies is killing me. I would have hoped to learn some better self-control in the last year, but apparently I still have that battle.

I did make a decision to rid myself of many clothes which no longer fit. I promised myself never to be able to fit in those clothes again, so maybe a lack of internal self-control can be helped with some external controls.

Several of my friends started their seeds indoors weeks ago. They are so organized, ordering their seeds, planning their plots. I am not so organized and I got angry at New England's weather. We had snow on April 1 (not a funny April Fools' joke), and today the weather wasn't sure whether to rain or snow. I don't trust my seeds outdoors in this weather, and I don't have enough gardening-savvy to start seeds indoors. Besides I or the WonderBeast kills any living green thing in the house. So I'm still waiting to plant outdoors.

BUT, I turned dirt! The kids and I took shovels and dug into our raised beds to "stir" the dirt. I raked it level when we were done. We also are able to resume composting now that the bin is accessible again. The snow had covered it and frozen it shut. I feel much better not wasting our food scraps. I probably should review composting to see whether I can speed up the process given our lousy temperatures. Anyway, now that we turned dirt, I can start to think about crops and layout/spacing.

I'm looking forward to keeping you posted on our garden (see the old posts for what you can look forward to!) and our eating experiences.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back to the Posting

The lack of posting has so many reasons:
  • Travel out of state for a week
  • Caleb's birthday upon returning
  • Work-life-blog balance issues
Excuses aside, I'm back to the blogging with this week's meal plan - dinners only.

Thursday: lentil and black bean chili
Friday: fish, green veggie (probably broccoli), brown rice, challah
Saturday: chicken - maybe on the grill?, spice roasted butternut squash, salad
Sunday: Aaron's call since I don't get home until 3ish
Monday: Mexican brown rice casserole - hoping for better reception by the kidlets.
Tuesday: leftovers
Wednesday: Special dinner with Aaron (i.e., PIZZA!!!)

When I have a bit more time to post (i.e., I need to pay attention to the aforementioned kidlets), I will write about Caleb's birthday party food.

Good eats!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hmm... Bread...

I have posted about the 5 Minute-a-Day artisan bread before. You can check out the cookbook about this bread here. Despite having written about baking bread before, I feel compelled to write about it again. OK, I just want to wax poetic about it. One of my high school friends has a blog in which she writes about her cooking experiences. She writes with such passion that some might find it overwhelming. Yet I had an experience like hers today with the most recent batch of bread.

After a hodge-podge of lunch with Ellie, I decided to have a piece of the bread I made for the soup we had for dinner last night. For the curious, the soup from last night was butternut squash. And for the really curious, the hodge-podge lunch for me was leftover pea soup and a chicken drumstick. Ellie had food nearly non-stop from about 10:30 through noontime - fruit leather, grape tomatoes, granola bar, breaded cod fillet (from TJ's), broccoli, 1-2 slices of apple, and I'm probably forgetting something before the bread.


I made this batch of bread with all-purpose flour, rosemary and thyme for herbs. The shape ended up less than ideal, but the texture and taste has been phenomenal. I sliced some of the roundish loaf for me and Ellie, buttered our pieces, and decided to sit with Ellie to keep her company. Little did I realize that I would *need* to sit down while eating the bread.

First I found myself amused at Ellie's attempts to eat the inside separate from the crust. Then I noticed that she actually was enjoying the crust. Next she told Tigger the Wonder Beast that he could not have her bread. Ha ha - Tiggers don't like bread. Or do they? He started begging from me too, so I gave him a crumb which he promptly devoured. I remembered reading somewhere about how you can tell real food from not-so-real-food by whether another animal desires and will eat the food item in question. So on to my bread experience now that the human and feline beasties were content.

I took a bite and just felt complete comfort and peace. The crusty exterior opened to a soft yet wonderfully chewy inside. The air pockets allowed space for the flavor to spread. The flour and cornmeal dusting added interesting texture and perhaps depth is the word I'm looking for. With each bite, I enjoyed the aroma of the rosemary and thyme, feeling as though I was in some idyllic outdoor setting like a quiet thick forest with a gentle breeze and old trees. I actually found myself closing my eyes and just smiling as though I knew some deep significant secret.

I know anyone reading this will think that I've gone off the deep end. I feel as sane as I've ever felt. I merely had one of my most amazing food experiences ever with something as simple as a piece of home-baked bread.

You simply must try to make your own. You owe it to yourself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Meal Plan: 2/24 - 3/2

I didn't post a meal plan last week because I was in a weight-loss funk. I had hit a nasty plateau in my weight-loss journey and I just didn't want to plan diddley-squat. I did end up with a plan for the week, but I never got around to posting it here. I did post 2 of the recipes, so I hope someone reading will enjoy those.

The plateau ended this week - huzzah! I reached my weight-loss goal, and so I'm feeling much better about my eating and cooking decisions. I didn't use my meeting time to write a menu last night, so I scrambled to put one together this morning. The scrambling was because I needed to figure out whether I would have to go to the store today or if procrastination was an option. Procrastination it is!

Since Aaron is having a "man-date" this evening, I'm going to cook up the Trader Joe's BBQ teriyaki chicken with jasmine rice for the kids. I doubt this is the healthiest option for any of us, so my plan is to finish off the split pea soup we have.

Our usual Shabbat dinner: fish, green veggie, brown rice. I imagine we'll stick with broccoli for the green veggie, but I have been craving asparagus. It's just not the right season for it. I can wait until some semblance of Spring.

Aaron has been asking to make grilled chicken or chicken in the slow-cooker. Honey, you're up!

Soup and bread. I think I'll use up another butternut squash, but I might see whether the sugar pumpkin on my counter is still usable and go for the Tuscan Pumpkin-White Bean instead.

Since the turkey meatballs were a big hit, I'm going to try my hand at some turkey burgers. I'll need to decide on a recipe and a side dish, but I'm excited to try some new things. Besides, I found one of those hamburger maker things - you know, the thing you put the meat in and squish it down with a round plastic thing? Yeah, I'm really technical here. I've been itching to try it out.

Cheesy lentil rice casserole will make a reappearance on the menu. I love that I can use up extra veggies in it and that the kids eat it without complaint.

Pasta night for the kids; splurge night for me and Aaron. :)

What's on the menu at your house this week?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs with Spaghetti

Another yummy recipe to share with you all! I decided that it was time for me to learn how to make meatballs. I don't know how I've reached the age of almost-35 and not made meatballs, but it is true that I have not made my own meatballs (as far as I can remember). I gained a great appreciation for those who do this on a regular basis or for restaurants who do this rather than purchasing premade meatballs. These meatballs were worth the effort, but I doubt I can find time each week for them. I bet I could make the meatballs in advance of need/want and freeze them though.

Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs w/Whole Wheat Spaghetti
From Weight Watchers - 10 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 4

8 oz. ground turkey
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
1/4 fat-free milk
1 large egg white
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch cayenne
1 1oz. piece part-skim mozzarella, cut into 16 cubes (think string cheese)
2 c. fat-free marinara sauce
1/2 c. water
8 oz. whole-wheat spaghetti (or other pasta)

Mix turkey, 1/4 cup parm, bread crumbs, parsley, milk, egg white, garlic and cayenne in large bowl. Shape turkey mixture around cheese cubes to form 16 meatballs.

Bring sauce and water to simmer in large skillet. Add meatballs; cover and simmer, stirring gently a few times, until cooked through. About 10 mins

Meanwhile cook pasta.

Divide pasta among 4 plates; top evenly with meatballs and sauce. sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup parm cheese.

Making meatballs is a messy, slimy endeavor. Be prepared to wash hands frequently during the process.

Changes I made: I used panko for breadcrumbs, 1% milk, and a generic EggBeaters product for the egg (1/4 c. = 1 egg). I had pre-minced garlic, and I skipped the cayenne for the kids. Aaron made a marinara sauce which included some spinach (maybe 10-16oz.?) I think the cookbook recipe actually calls for escarole to be tossed with the pasta for the last minute of cook time, but we put our greens in the sauce instead.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Mexican" Brown Rice Casserole

Aaron has been craving Mexican-style food for a while now. Maybe he wouldn't call it a craving, but he has been asking for it. I've missed Mexican-style food since restarting my Weight Watchers journey. Most Mexican-style dishes I make have some kind of cheese in them. Cheese is rather high in PointsPlus value, unless I use lowfat or no-fat cheese. I don't like using no-fat cheese, and I like A LOT of cheese, so Mexican has been off the menu here for a while.

At my meeting this week, I read the weekly pamphlet and was delighted to see a Mexican-style meal that didn't require no-fat cheese. In fact, the ingredients are pretty basic, and the preparation looked super-easy. The recipe did not disappoint me. It was flavorful, reasonably filling, somewhat kid-approved, and has made for good leftovers.

"Mexican" Brown Rice Casserole
From Weight Watchers - 8 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 6

1 spray cooking spray
4 c. cooked brown rice
1 1/4 c. fat-free salsa
1 tsp. ground cumin
15 oz. refried beans
10 oz. frozen corn, thawed
4 oz. canned green chili peppers, mild, diced
1 Tbsp. chili powder
10 oz. frozen spinach, or collard greens, thawed and set to drain in a strainer over a bowl
3/4 c. lowfat shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
2 Tbsp. cilantro, fresh, chopped (optional, for garnish)

Preheat oven to 375.
Coat a 2-quart rectangular, round or oval baking dish with cooking spray

In a large bowl, combine rice, salsa and cumin. Spoon 2 cups of rice mixture into prepared baking dish and spread out to evenly cover bottom of dish.

In another large bowl, combine refried beans, corn, chili peppers and chili powder. Using a rubber spatula, scrape bean mixture on top of rice layer and smooth out top.

Squeeze out any excess water from spinach or collard greens and then spread on top of bean layer; sprinkle with 6 tablespoons of cheese. Top with remaining rice mixture and smooth out top; sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Place casserole on a large rimmed baking sheet to catch any spillage. Bake until heated through and cheese is browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro (if desired), cut into 6 pieces and serve.

I skipped the cilantro, but I'm sure the dish would be good with it. I didn't bother with the large baking sheet because I could see that the casserole wasn't going to overflow. I think I will use more spinach next time. This casserole also would make fantastic burrito/enchilada filling. And one last note, this casserole would be great for sports gatherings/tailgating.

Buen provecho!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Menu Plan from Memory

After this week's grumpy weigh-in, I decided I needed to focus on what I could control. I thought about what didn't work this week and last week. I realized that coming up with a plan was not enough. I think I come up with reasonable plans, plans which should help me lose and eventually maintain a healthy weight. I need actually to stick to the plan. I decided to commit to actually sticking with my menu plan.

Besides sticking to my own plan (and by extension to the WW method), I committed to drinking water first before soda and writing down what I eat. I am going to track, just like I did for so many of the past months. It keeps me honest and often makes me think twice about buying that bakery cookie (grf).

Realizing that only I can keep myself accountable, I'm just going to put my request out there. Anyone up for checking in with me around Sunday or Monday to see how I'm doing with sticking to this plan?

Turkey chili-mac (8 PointsPlus/serving). I have procrastinated long enough. The turkey is thawing out as I type.

The usual - fish, green vegetable, brown rice or potato (haven't decided), challah. I'll need to calculate points, but I remember that most fish I like is a bit costly, between 6 and 9 PointsPlus for about 6 oz.

Baked chicken (3 PointsPlus/serving), not sure of sides yet. I'd really like something like kale, but I doubt we'll find that at the market. If I don't do the potatoes on Friday, I will make the mustard potatoes as well. Based on the last time I made this, I'm going to make a few pieces that are less seasoned for the kids.

Anyone's guess. :) Seriously, I'm at work on Sunday and have a meeting after work, so I'm hoping Aaron will step up with something yummy.

Soup and bread. I'm not sure whether I'll make split pea or 15-bean soup. I'll need to calculate or estimate points for the 15-bean soup to see whether it fits with the rest of my food. The soups I make tend to be between 2 and 4 PointsPlus per serving, but I'm not sure how many the 15-bean soup is because I usually add chicken sausage.

I'm drawing a blank here. I know I wrote something good down last night on my food tracker, and my memory is just coming up empty. Grf. I'll update when I have my written copy in front of me.

Pasta for the kids. Pizza for me and Aaron. I'm not even discussing PointsPlus for this night. I strongly believe that letting loose once in a while, or once a week, is OK and probably a healthy choice for many people. I can't stand feeling constrained, so my "binge night" helps me. First, I don't have to think about the healthiness of the food. Second, eating crappy for a night reminds me why I prefer to eat healthier.

What's for dinner at your house this week?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Meal Plan Revised

I spent the so-called quiet time trying to make Hebrew fonts work in my ancient master's paper, so when I left to pick up my son from preschool, I didn't realize I should have already prepared dinner and put it in the oven. That is, we were supposed to have cheesy lentil rice casserole tonight, but it takes 90 minutes to bake, and I didn't start it before picking up my son and husband.

At 5:22PM, I had no idea what to make for supper. I suggested the ignored turkey chili-mac, and Aaron suggested the pseudo-Mexican food. Aaron wasn't ready for more chili yet, and I want a WW/weight-loss friendly recipe for Mexican food. Aaron thought we still had leftovers (wrong). As we pulled in the driveway around 5:30PM, Aaron said "How about I leave you alone, entertain the kids and you figure it out?"

OK then. :)

As I type, butternut squash soup is bubbling on the stove. In the process of making the soup, I sorted through the squash we harvested in the early fall to figure out which had gone past their prime (fuzzy squash = yuck). I even had celery to be used up since I hadn't used it as the fun snack I anticipated. We have some bread leftover from having friends over on Saturday, so I think we'll still end up with a pretty yummy meal even as we diverge from plan yet more.

And there goes the kitchen timer!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Plan in Progress

Another week of planning ignored! My weight loss effort would go much better if I stuck to a plan. At WW, they say "you gotta have a plan." Having a plan is at least half the battle. Sticking to it seems to be the tough part for me.

Thursday was on plan until dinner. Aaron and I decided we had so many leftovers that new food was not in order yet. And by on plan, I actually mean that the meals followed the meal plan, not that I ate healthfully. I think I need to get rid of the cookie dough in my house. Wah. I have no will power.

Friday was on plan except for the lunch. I intended to have leftover Thursday dinner, but instead I had some other leftovers for lunch (chicken and potatoes, I think).

On Saturday, I ate some fruit before Aaron got back from skating with Caleb. We did in fact have a fantastic omelet - spinach, onions, and red peppers. It was SO good. Lunch was not tuna salad, and in fact I'm not sure what I ate. Hmm... I'm supposed to be writing down my food intake per WW. Why am I sabotaging myself after I set a goal? Grf. Saturday dinner was changed because we invited our vegetarian friends over. Aaron made a delicious vegetarian chili, and I baked bread. It was quite yummy, and it would have been a healthy dinner had I controlled how much bread and cookie I ate.

Today is Sunday. I actually made my own breakfast AND lunch this week. Instead of a fantastic sandwich, I took some of the leftover chili and an appropriate portion of bread with a Laughing Cow cheese. Breakfast was raspberry greek yogurt over some grapes and banana slices. Aaron declared tonight another leftover night.

I *think* we'll manage to stick to our dinner plan for Monday, but I'm pretty sure Tuesday will change. We'll probably bring the chili back as a pasta sauce on Wednesday.

This week's lack of follow through has been from last-minute changes of plans like inviting over vegetarian friends on a night I had hoped to make chicken and from realizing we had too much already-made food in the fridge. Perhaps we'll have better luck following through when our fridge has fewer leftovers. The scale is not in favor of ignoring the plan, nor does it approve of the cookie dough.

Maybe people read this because they think they will find answers to their own food planning issues. I guess I'm writing this post to share how my family is muddling through food some weeks too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How Do I Menu Plan?

As I was responding to a FB friend about how I plan a weekly menu, I realized I probably could write about it here, and maybe I could write somewhat coherently about my experience of menu planning.

Menu planning has evolved in our family. I don't remember when we started being pretty regular about planning, and perhaps we aren't quite as regular at it as I would like to imagine. I do remember a time when menu planning was more like "hmm, what's for dinner tonight?" I'm also pretty sure that time was well before we had kids, or at least before we had kids eating table foods. Sometime between the "what's for dinner" time and now, I've tried different ways of planning what we will eat.

Menu planning has become crucial to my weight management. Without a plan, I eat whatever is around, and that may or may not be a healthy choice. Menu planning is not all about my weight management though. Menu planning gives me a chance to explore new recipes and try to have a reasonably diverse diet. I love pasta, but it is better for everyone if I eat something other than pasta for dinner. Menu planning also gives me a chance to think about my weekly schedule from a different perspective. When do I have the opportunity to cook? When am I more rushed and in need of something quicker? Thinking about my schedule in this way has helped me not forget about appointments, activities, and various commitments. It actually keeps me organized in non-food ways, weird as that seems.

And to be perfectly blunt, I'm a bit of a control freak (yeah yeah, I know my friends are all saying "a bit???"). Menu planning is an opportunity to control something which is nearly completely controllable (unlike #*!& ice dams).

Here is how I plan a week of food.
  • I pick a day/time to do my planning. For me, this usually is Wednesday night or Thursday morning since I have my Weight Watchers meeting on Wednesday and prefer to do my grocery shopping in the second half of the week.
  • I think about my schedule and the family's schedule for the week. When I will be out? When am I in a hurry? When do I have time to cook something requiring more attention?
  • I think about types of meals I might like for that week or types of meals someone has requested. To do this, I actually made a list of our most frequently consumed meals and categorized them by "genre" (e.g., pasta, chicken, fish, vegetarian, "Mexican," etc.). This list making took under 15 minutes. As I think about meal types, I can refer to the list and consider family favorites (pasta night = pesto tortellini; chicken might = chicken fingers or baked chicken or chicken shepherd pie, etc.).
  • I try to make sure a few meals will leave leftovers for lunches.
  • I match the type of meal to a specific recipe/idea while considering schedule. For example, when I have time to cook, I might choose to make chicken fingers with green beans and potatoes. When I don't have as much time to cook, I might choose a slow-cooker soup with bread.
  • I browse recipes for new ideas, esp. when I know a main ingredient but not how I want to prepare it.
  • I plan meals for every dinner at a minimum, but I don't plan to cook new food every night. At least one night, usually 2, is up to Aaron due to my schedule. And we do order pizza or Thai food once a week.
  • The last step is that I look at recipes and make a shopping list. The previous bullet points can be done in whatever order works for that week, but the grocery list is super important. I do it last so I make sure not to forget anything. I usually forget something anyway.
Something else that helps with my menu planning is that I have some no-cook, go to meals for when I really don't have time for anything. Mostly this applies to breakfast when I'm trying to get kids fed and out the door. I barely have time to eat on preschool mornings, so forget about actually cooking anything! These basic quick meals also change with time. Right now, quick breakfasts for the kids include instant oatmeal, Cheerios, and yogurt (not usually all of those at one breakfast). Ellie also sometimes will eat toast or string cheese. For me, I love Chobani Greek yogurt on top of fruit, specifically fruit requiring very little preparation. I pull off a handful of grapes, peel a clementine, quickly cut a banana. Pour yogurt on top and enjoy. It's amazingly filling, more so than a bagel with cream cheese and keeps me going longer. A few months ago, I made large batches of steel cut oatmeal in the slow cooker and would add a bit of brown sugar when I was ready to eat it. These quick breakfasts reduce the planning, and I don't have to think about food when I really don't have time.

Although there never seems to be time to plan a menu, I find that menu planning actually gives me more time during the week because I don't have to come up with food ideas while trying to do everything else. Making a bit of time each week to come up with even 2-3 dinners makes the rest of the week go more smoothly. I make fewer "emergency" trips to the grocery. I eat more healthfully which generally helps my mood and energy. Menu planning means I never get to 5:00 and ask "what's for dinner." Instead, I answer that question when my family asks, feeling competent and confident in the plan.

Meal Plan: 2/3 - 2/9

The snow is making me a bit nuts, so I'm going to try to control those things in my universe which are controllable. Can't control the damn ice dams, but I can control my food (sort of - emotional eating notwithstanding).

Breakfast: kids will have leftover oat pancakes (nom nom nom). I will have yogurt and fruit (we have yellow bananas!!)
Lunch: I will have leftover soup. Kids will have leftover pesto ravioli.
Dinner: Ellie has been mentioning turkey chili mac over the past few days. Ask and ye shall receive.

Breakfast: yogurt/fruit for me because it's quick. oatmeal, Cheerios, yogurt, leftover pancakes (likely none by Fri.) at kids' requests.
Lunch: leftover turkey chili mac
Dinner: fish, green veggie (I think Aaron bought broccoli!), rice, challah

Breakfast: learning from last week, I need to eat breakfast before Caleb gets back from ice skating. He needs a second breakfast after skating. I may make myself an omelet/scramble while he is out, and everyone else's food will be thrown together from standard stuff. Besides, we might go to the market again this week, and the kids usually get treats there (scones, honey bunches)
Lunch: Maybe I'll get around to making the tuna salad I mentioned last week. Thinking sandwiches, maybe soup and grilled cheese for the kids.
Dinner: I'm thinking chicken of some kind or maybe pseudo-Mexican. At least I know I'll have time to cook dinner on Saturday.

Assuming that I am teaching (not a guarantee given the pending snow on Sat.)
Breakfast: yogurt, fruit
Lunch: yummy sandwich made by dear Aaron (my husband is awesome)
Dinner: Up to aforementioned awesome husband. Maybe he'll make a chili, but that might be too much chili in a week - is that possible?

Breakfast: standard quick stuff (non-cooking)
Lunch: leftovers
Dinner: Cheesy lentil rice casserole - easy to make and usually well-received.

Breakfast: omelet for me, whatever kids request (within reason). Maybe I could make them smoothies if I'm feeling motivated.
Lunch: leftovers
Dinner: Soup and bread! Not sure which soup I'm craving... ok, I know which soup I want (tuscan pumpkin white bean), but I don't have all those ingredients. SO... perhaps either butternut squash as it is close to what I'm craving OR the 15-bean since I seem also to crave protein this week.

Breakfast: quick stuff
Lunch: leftovers (love reruns of food)
Dinner: pasta for kids, "special dinner" for me and Aaron

Just found out that my mother-in-law will be arriving on Friday and leaving on Sunday. I may switch my chicken day with the soup day to meet everyone's dietary preferences.

I have 2 complaints about this rough plan. First, I don't have any new recipes in it. I like expanding our options. Second, I have not specified side dishes, but I tend not to plan those. In general, I aim to have a "true" vegetable for a side dish at every meal - something green or not terribly starchy - and some dishes just lend themselves to certain side dishes. Chicken tends to get green beans whereas fish tends to go with broccoli, for example. This week, Aaron chopped up some raw vegetables and set them in a bowl on the table before bringing all of the meal. The kids went to town on cucumbers, broccoli, and even tried the red bell pepper a bit. When I get stuck about vegetables, I look to our fruits. No, they are not local, but I have decided to let that battle go for the winter months. The kids have been enjoying the dark red cherries and grapes. Clementines seem past whatever peak they may have experienced, but they were good for a while. And a lot of things I have planned for this week (and I suppose more generally) don't really need side dishes. Turkey chili mac has protein, fat, and carbohydrate covered. No, it doesn't have a green vegetable, but it has lots of beans. Surely beans count for something. Cheesy lentil rice casserole is another dish that doesn't really need a side. Sure, I might want an additional texture at the meal, but nutritionally the dish covers a lot of ground.

So that's the plan, with a commentary about side dishes. It is a guideline and certainly subject to change. I'll report throughout the week to let you know how we're holding up despite the tundra in which we seem to live.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baked Chicken, Dijon Potatoes, Green Beans

The post title was tonight's dinner. Aaron and I both thought this was a tasty and filling meal. The kids thought the chicken was overspiced but good without as much seasoning, and they both ate the potatoes and green beans. Well, Ellie mostly ate her green beans and devoured the potatoes. Caleb declared the potatoes too sweet until he tried a regular-sized bite at which point he said "these aren't sweet!" Right... cooking for my kids has taught me not to take anything judgment too seriously.

The baked chicken is a big success for me as it is 3 PointsPlus and tasty!! The Dijon potatoes are similar to a recipe from my mom, so they are another comfort food. The green beans were not exciting - just reheated from our freezer and added a touch of butter for the adults. Ellie asked to eat "just butter." After explaining butter's role as a condiment, she said "I'M SAD!!!" *shrug* It's hard to be 2.

Baked Chicken
From Weight Watchers - 3 PointsPlus per serving

1 spray cooking spray
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, four 4 oz. halves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. lemon juice, or more to taste
2 tsp. rosemary, fresh, chopped
2 tsp. parsley, fresh, chopped
1/4 c. fat-free chicken broth
1/2 medium lemon, quartered (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 400. Coat a small, shallow roasting pan with cooking spray.

Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Transfer chicken to prepared pan and drizzle with oil; sprinkle with lemon juice, rosemary and parsley. Pour broth around chicken to coat bottom of pan.

Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Garnish with fresh lemon and serve. Yields 1 chicken breast half per serving.

I didn't have a lemon for garnish, and I used dried herbs. I probably could have used a bit less seasoning, but I like herbs and spices.

Dijon-Roasted New Potatoes
From Weight Watchers - 4 PointsPlus per serving

1 spray cooking spray
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 pounds uncooked new potatoes, red or white, quartered or halved

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a 9- X 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, oil, paprika, salt, thyme and pepper; add potatoes and stir to coat.

Transfer potatoes to prepared baking dish and roast 15 minutes; stir and roast until tender on inside, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Yields about 1 1/4 cups per serving.


If your potatoes do not get crispy enough, coat them with cooking spray and then bake them for a few more minutes.

Instead of Dijon, I used a spicy deli mustard. I also just used regular baking potatoes, maybe Yukon Gold or Russet? I definitely recommend cutting the potatoes to a biteable size, in our case this was quartering.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Comfort Food

Just a quick post to acknowledge a mighty fine meal!

Before I left to teach this morning, Aaron reminded me that he would prefer not to make the bread dough. Fortunately making bread dough is much easier than many people think. Until about a year ago, I was one of those people who thought bread was complicated. Bread CAN be complicated, but it doesn't have to be. At 8AM, I started to mix the ingredients for bread.

3 c lukewarm/tepid water
1.5 Tbsp. coarse salt
1.5 Tbsp. yeast
6.5 c. flour

Today's bread had a mix of all-purpose flour (recommended by the bread book I use) and white whole wheat flour. I didn't feel like opening a new bag of all-purpose flour when I had plenty of flour open already. I also decided to add some herbs to the water, salt, yeast mixture before adding flour. The same bread book suggests 1 tsp. of thyme and 1/2 tsp. of rosemary, if using dried herbs.

Aaron made my lunch and breakfast as well as worked on getting pancakes started for the kids while I set the ingredients in my stand mixer (love that appliance!). At 8:15AM, I was ready to leave for work, and the bread dough was sitting in the mixer bowl with a towel over it, ready to rise.

Now bread is a comfort food for many, but that isn't the only yummy thing I came home to. Dear Aaron set up split pea soup in the slow-cooker, as we planned. When I opened the door after what had been a VERY long day, I smelled a most delicious soup burbling happily in the kitchen.

After a few hours at home, catching up with the kids and Aaron, playing some video games to unwind from the aforementioned VERY long day, I realized I should put the dough in the oven. 5PM - preheated oven to 450 with pizza stone on one rack and broiler pan beneath. 5:30PM - put shaped dough on stone and in oven, poured 1 cup of cold water on broiler pan and quickly shut the door.

6PM - Homemade split pea soup with freshly baked bread.

Caleb ate 3 bowls of soup and at least 2 pieces of bread. Aaron and I both agreed we ate 1 piece too many of the bread. Ellie happily ate her soup (yay! veggies into dear daughter!!) and politely requested bread with butter. All was right with the world.

Vegetable Barley Casserole

The following recipe was our Thursday night dinner and my Friday lunch. I happened upon it while browsing the Weight Watchers website for vegetarian main dishes.

Vegetable Barley Casserole
From Weight Watchers - 4 PointsPlus per serving

2 tsp. canola oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained
3 c. Swiss chard, thick stems removed, coarsely chopped (I used stems)
14 1/2 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with chilis, well-drained (I combined diced tomatoes with 1/2 can of green chilis)
2 c. cooked barley, quick-cooking recommended
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 sprays cooking spray
1/2 c. low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, sharp variety recommended.

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat oil in very large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, corn and Swiss chard; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and Swiss chard is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, barley, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Heat through.

Coat a 2.5-3 qt. baking dish with cooking spray (think 13 x 9). Spoon barley mixture into prepared dish in an even layer; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until cheese melts and mixture is hot, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing into six pieces. 1 piece = 1 serving.

I cooked the onion and the chard stems together first, adding my minced garlic partway through. I added the corn and chard leaves after the onion began to soften. I measured salt, but not the pepper.

We didn't find this to be particularly sliceable, but maybe leaving it stand longer would help? We did find it quite yummy. At first, Caleb was not sure about the new dish, but he got excited about the corn (thought it was farmer market corn - sadly no, funny boy). Once he tried it, he was pretty happy with it. Ellie decided she didn't want dinner that night. I'm certain it had nothing to do with what was being offered. She was tired beyond tired. Aaron seemed to like it quite well. He couldn't remember having tried barley before, and I think he found it interesting. I loved this dish. It's vaguely "Tex-Mex" but not very spicy. It definitely falls into the category of comfort food and good for those cold or wet nights. It's pretty easy to prepare, and I know you could substitute many green leafy vegetables such as spinach for the chard if you can't get any chard in your area.

I definitely would make this again.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Plan? What Plan?

Normally I would have waited until I was planning next week's menu to post, but I feel a need to share some process with anyone reading this. Sidenote: I was asked by a mom at the Y whether I had any readers. I sheepishly said "maybe 10?" and tried to justify this blog's existence by saying how I write mostly for my own benefit. Anyway, I just needed to get that insecurity out of the way. On to my plan issues!

Today is Saturday night - the end of Day 3 of "THE PLAN"
Thursday: We all followed the plan! Yummy food for all. My downfall remains chocolate. I went to my neighbor's house to keep her company while she tackled her kitchen. She offered me yummy wine and British biscuits (Hobnobs, etc. - they're like cookies). I have no will power. I blame only myself.

Friday: Turns out I did not have leftover butternut squash soup as I thought. I had leftover vegetable barley casserole instead. This recipe turned out REALLY good. I'll post it in another post. Low in WW PointsPlus and pretty tasty! I also had an emotional eating binge (leftover biscuits) due to some potential health stuff. Everyone is fine now, but I'm pretty sure the scale is going to rat on me.

Saturday: I forgot we had a morning birthday party, and I decided to run for a second day in a row to attempt to balance out the biscuits. As a result of the party, I did not make bread, and we did not set up soup. Since I jogged, I did not make yummy oat pancakes. In fact, I never really had a true breakfast - a banana before jogging, a rice cake with Laughing Cow cheese before rushing to party. While at the party, we were invited to Indian buffet for lunch, and I have no will power. And let's not forget the cupcake at the party, though one cupcake in the grand scheme of things is hardly my issue. Dinner ended up being leftovers for all of us, in shifts as the kids were wiped before dinner.

SO, why do I plan? If I'm not going to stick to the plan, why have one? Why not just make it up as I go?

I suppose I like the sense of security a plan gives me. I like knowing that I have an option and the tools to make that option happen. After the kids' bedtimes tonight, Aaron said he could make the soup tomorrow as long as I make the bread dough. He isn't a baker really (all that measuring!), so this seems quite reasonable. Since dinner was up to Aaron, according to the plan, split pea soup sticks to the plan again. :)

Every day is a new day, and every day I can recommit to a plan. Plans don't have to be fixed in stone. Maybe I should consider my plan a strongly recommended guideline.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This Week's Meal Planning

After a not terribly successful week in the weight loss department (grr to cookie dough!), I decided to take a few precious moments before sleeping to do some more thoughtful meal planning.

Breakfast: veggie omelet for me, oatmeal/yogurt for kids
Lunch: oven chicken fingers, salad?
Dinner: Vegetable Barley Casserole (recipe from WW, may need to shop!)

Breakfast: yogurt with fruit, oatmeal/yogurt/cereal for kids
Lunch: Butternut squash soup
Dinner: salmon, green veggie, brown rice, challah

Breakfast: oat pancakes, eat fruit before Caleb's skating, make bread dough for dinner
Lunch: Sandwich - either chicken/turkey or tuna salad
Dinner: split pea soup

Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: sandwich, make sure to take fruit to work!
Dinner: ??? Up to Aaron

Breakfast: yogurt with fruit
Lunch: leftover soup
Dinner: WW fish n chips, should figure out a green veggie

Breakfast: omelet
Lunch: soup or sandwich
Dinner: Baked Chicken (recipe from WW), green veggie, dijon potatoes featured in WW weekly flyer

Breakfast: yogurt w/fruit
Lunch: soup, sandwich, or leftovers
Dinner: "Special Dinner with Aaron" after weigh-in

Breakfast isn't terribly inspirational. Many mornings I'm rushing to get me and the kids somewhere, and the Chobani Greek yogurt with fruit is quick and delicious (and filling!). On the days with less rushing, I tried to have more interesting breakfasts. I don't have much trouble choosing a healthy choice at lunch. I hate getting to the end of the day without a clue for dinner though. Plus having a dinner plan ends up taking care of lunch for me. :) Now I'll just need to see what shopping has to happen and make sure this plan works for Aaron!

The Week in Review

Aaron made a tasty turkey chili this week. We served it over penne, and I also had it without noodles a few times this week. The kids were not as enthused about this particular chili, but Caleb did eat it quite thoroughly when it was sent to school.

I did not seek out the shredded chicken, so pseudo-Mexican night again is postponed.

Leftovers worked out beautifully. I cannot tell you how happy I am that we cook enough for leftovers.

Cheesy lentil rice casserole remains a favorite, though Ellie is particular about getting cheesy parts.

My only complaint about the week is that it felt uninspired. This week can be better, so I'm going to spend my next post brainstorming on that.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another week, another plan

The past few weeks have been a bit crazier than usual around here. Since Christmas, someone in the house has been sick in one way or another. Caleb had strep throat before Xmas, stomach bug as soon as we arrived at my parents' house for Xmas, and an ear infection the first week back at pre-K. Ellie had snots for most of that time, but it didn't seem serious. After Caleb had recovered from the ear infection, Ellie told me her ear hurt. I was surprised enough to take her to the doctor and discovered she had a double ear infection. The spot where Caleb's amoxicillin had been became the spot for Ellie's amoxicillin. During the kids' various illnesses, Aaron and I also caught the stomach bug 2 days after Caleb had it and contracted some kind of upper respiratory/bronchitis bug after we came home.

Why am I telling you our sick story? Because meal planning has been sketchy at best and quite boring often. We have enjoyed a lot of soup, with Caleb eating vegetable broth for one of his meals when he had the ear infection. I think we are coming into a clearing this week, so I'm going to brainstorm some food ideas and let you know how they go.

The meals from my previous meal planning post were generally well-received. Caleb enjoyed the Turkish Vegetable Stew much more than the first time. I loved my bean soup (tweaked the recipe on the bag to replace ham with chicken sausage, skipped tomatoes) and the turkey chili mac. Both the soups and the chili mac really hit the spot. It's still wicked cold here, so comfort food is in order.

The Plan:
  • Chili - Aaron declared that we had too many containers of leftover tomato "product." What this means is that I use canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, etc.) but I don't use the entire can for a given recipe. I save the leftovers and sometimes forget to use the leftovers in the next recipe OR need to use whatever I didn't have leftover (e.g., recipe calls for diced and I have crushed leftover).
  • Cheesy lentil rice casserole - This came up at lunch today when I was explaining to Caleb that he did in fact like the cheese we used for his grilled cheese sandwich (shredded cheddar). I told him I use shredded cheddar on the lentil casserole he likes, and Aaron said we should have that this week. I'm kicking myself for not buying more broccoli to add in, but it will be yummy without it.
  • Chicken quesadillas - IF I can find already shredded chicken, I want to try the Weight Watchers recipe I found last week. We haven't had pseudo-Mexican food in a while, and we all usually like it a lot.
  • Leftovers! We have most of a quart of butternut squash soup, oven chicken fingers, and a hodgepodge I can't remember while away from the kitchen. We might even have a pasta night in which we use up leftover chili as the sauce (nom nom nom - think Skyline Chili for those of you from the midwest).
Lunches for the kids will be leftovers, sandwiches, and tomato soup from Trader Joe's. Tomato soup became a favorite for Ellie this week, so I want to take advantage of the fad. I think we still have some chicken tacos from Trader Joe's too. Although I won't generally eat them (a bit too rich for my preferences), the kids really love them. I also want to have them make their own mini-pizzas in the near future, but that will require a bit of grocery shopping, so I'm pretty sure that project isn't happening this week.

Tonight what I'm really craving (again...*sigh*) is a really good moist brownie. This does not help my weight loss efforts in the least, and I'm so ridiculously close to my goal that I almost want to just fast for a day to be there. Not a healthy choice AT ALL, but I'm less than a pound away!! Anyway, my body is rebelling and begging for baked goods. Damn winter for triggering my desire to carbo-load and hibernate! Still if anyone has a truly magnificent brownie recipe, please let me know. :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is it Real Food?

One of my Facebook friends (hi Ilse!) posted this as her status. Read, comment, enjoy!

Is It Real Food?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dinners Planned for This Week

I don't make New Year's Resolutions usually, but I would like to make a better effort at regular meal planning not just for this year or because it is the new year.

Reading other meal plans online is helpful to me. My friend Renee over at Beyond Rice and Tofu plans her meals in part due to her celiac disease. I find her consistency and diligence inspiring. When I do post a meal plan, I hope that it keeps me on track but I also hope that maybe someone else decides to try something new or give the planning a try. I would love to hear from readers about what you're eating and what works for you for meal planning.

I KNOW how much easier our lives are when I plan our dinners in advance. Fortunately, I am blessed to have a husband who cooks well, so meal planning means we can decide who will cook when based on our schedules. Meal planning theoretically saves us money at the grocery because we buy what we need and we don't make unplanned extra trips in the middle of the week. Meal planning also gives my kids a chance to say what they might like to eat that week. I think giving kids some say in their food choices is important and increases the chances of kids eating well.

This week is a pretty laid back week for us because Aaron is not back at work yet and I don't have to teach until next Sunday. Nevertheless, we're making meals which are pretty easy to prepare and easy to make double portions for leftovers. I think winter is partly responsible for our menu. After all, winter screams comfort food like casseroles and soups. Plus, the kids end up indoors more than they would be in the summer, so they get a bit restless by the time I want to start cooking. As much as I enjoy cooking with kids, sometimes it really is easier to do it myself.

In no particular order, here are the dinners we have planned for this week:
  • Cheesy lentil rice casserole - This actually is baking as I type! I will be forever indebted to my friend Cathy for this recipe.
  • Soup night - I'd like to make butternut squash soup since we have a ton of squash. Caleb wants split pea soup. I also picked up a 15-bean soup mix at the grocery. All 3 are very healthy and delicious, and I'll make the so-called 5-minute artisan bread to go with whichever soup we pick.
  • Chicken - No recipe picked yet, and this is Aaron's meal. He suggested he'll bake it with Montreal chicken spice (yum!) OR fry it if I'm OK with that preparation style. I'm leaning toward the baked one of course.
  • Turkish Vegetable Stew with Israeli couscous - I made this over the summer when I had more fresh local produce, but I think it would feel better in the winter. It wasn't a huge success with the kids, but it wasn't a flop either. Besides, Aaron and I like it.
  • Whole-wheat chili mac (aka Turkey Chili Mac) - Our latest obsession. I don't think I could rave enough about this meal. It's a classic and reminds me of childhood.
Evaluating this week's plan
Needs/wants met:
Aaron wanted chicken. Caleb wants pea soup. The kids love the chili mac. All of the recipes are very Weight Watchers friendly.

Potential downfalls:
I haven't decided the order yet other than to know that I'll make the soup and bread on Tuesday when our friends are planning to visit. I'm not sure they are staying for dinner (unlikely, I think), but the smell of bread rising makes for lovely visits. Most of the meals are quite easy to prepare, but the vegetable stew requires a lot of chopping time, so we might not get to it which would mean a very sad eggplant.

Other considerations:
My son desperately wants more social time this week, so at least I have some good meals planned if we do end up with dinner guests.
I realize I probably have more meals planned than necessary. I rather would have too many meals than not enough. All of these meals leave us with leftovers, which certainly helps with lunches but also for those nights when we say "I don't wanna cook!"