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!"