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Well, the year is officially flying by, and I can hardly believe that this meal plan will take us through the first week of June!  The weather is consistently up in the 80’s, the garden is starting to take off with all the sunshine (our very first strawberry is almost ready to be picked!), and I am starting to get very unsightly tan lines from my daily walks at work.  With all the changes in the weather recently, I have been wanting to change up my cooking too, craving a wider variety of meals.  I don’t generally make multiple new meals in a week, but this meal plan includes four new meals!  Wish me luck that I won’t be stuck eating mediocre leftovers all week!

Meal Plan for May 30th to June 4th:

1. Taco Salad – Green salad (from our garden!) topped with seasoned ground beef, bell pepper, tomato, red onions, avocado, sour cream, and a spicy “ranch” dressing (which will be homemade starting with a greek yogurt base).
2. Artic Char Chowder – A recommendation from my brother
3. Parmesan Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Broccoli – Pork tenderloin cut into medallions, then pounded flat and crusted with parmesan cheese, then pan fried. We’ll see how that one turns out…
4. Piperade – No relation to Powerade…this is from my French cookbook “Je Sais Cuisiner” (I Know How to Cook) by Ginette Mathiot, which I absolutely love! Piperade is an egg dish, with bell pepper, tomato, ham, and spices. I just like the funny name.
5. Steak with Grilled Mushrooms and Asparagus – The last of our grass-finished steaks *sigh*.

The last day of the week, Saturday June 5th, is our 4th wedding anniversary! That day, instead of cooking, we’ll be going to a restaurant downtown called Local 127 that serves only seasonal and locally sourced foods. I couldn’t be more excited!

Every once in a while I’ll make something that Adam deems “a good meal for kids.” I suppose this is because I also make meals that he thinks kids wouldn’t touch (like my beef, carrot, and cabbage stir fry….don’t make gagging noises, it’s really good!). I really appreciate his input, because he’s an objective observer of my cooking, and will tell me the truth about whether or not he’d like to eat something again.

Coconut Chicken Tenders with Honey Mustard Sauce got the official “Husband Approved” seal, and the honorary distinction of being something that kids would like to eat! You see, they don’t always go together. Since I don’t have my own kids to test this on (only dogs, who would just as soon eat chicken poop as they would eat chicken tenders), I’ll just hope to hear from someone else who does.

To get started, you’ll need 2 bowls, a baking sheet, and an oven safe baking rack (they are often also called cooling racks). The baking (or cooling) rack serves to elevate the chicken tenders, so that they will have air circulating around them and therefore be crisped evenly. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, then get started.

Ingredients for the Chicken Tenders:

4 skinless chicken breasts (this is one of the only recipes I ever use them in), cut into “tender” sized pieces
2 large eggs
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1. Whisk the eggs in one of your 2 bowls.
2. Mix the shredded coconut, paprika, salt, and black pepper in your second bowl.
3. Make an assembly line starting with your chicken tenders, then the egg bowl, then the coconut bowl, then the baking (or cooling) rack which has been set over your baking sheet.
4. Dip the chicken tenders into the egg, then coat them thoroughly with the coconut, then arrange them on the baking rack.
5. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, turn the tenders over, and bake 20 minutes more.

While your tenders are baking, whip up the Honey Mustard Sauce:

1/2 cup dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonaise (I usually make my own, good instructions are here)
1 tablespoon honey

Whisk together all three ingredients in a bowl and serve with the chicken tenders.

Adam requested sweet potato fries with this meal, which turned out to be a perfect complement to the chicken tenders!  We really enjoyed it, and the leftovers heated up very nicely for the second and third go-round. I sincerely hope someone reports back on the kid-friendliness of this meal, because I’d love to keep it in my arsenal for future use!

We are having yet another incredibly rainy May this year, with more than an inch of rain above the usual average. Luckily, we have also had enough sunny days to give the garden time to grow.

This lettuce is ready to be used in salad, which we will do this week!  One plant that I’m rather excited about is this little sprout:

With all of the spaghetti squash   we’ve been eating this year, I thought it would be wonderful to  plant some of the seeds from a squash we had already bought, and harvest essentially free squash!  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to plant the seeds immediately after harvesting them from the squash, because all of the information I found about planting squash seeds called for drying and curing them for months, and saving them from fall harvest until spring planting.

I figured the worst that could happen is that they wouldn’t come up, so I cleaned my seeds, let them dry between two paper towels for a few days, hulled the seeds from the outer shells, and planted them!  After only a week, they have already tripled in size and had to be thinned! I’m very hopeful that they will make it through the summer and fall, and that I’ll have a stash of spaghetti squash in the basement for the entire winter.

The entire garden is planted at this point, including all of the herbs as well.  We’ve got two kinds of lettuce, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli, red and green cabbage, strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumber, spaghetti squash, rutabega, cherry tomato, roma tomato, heirloom tomato, red/green/yellow/purple bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, green bean, mesclun mix, carrot, green onion, brussels sprouts, artichoke, pumpkin, thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley, cilantro, mint, chives, oregano, and dill.  Whew!  This is the point where I tend to get excited, until I remember that it will be at least 60 to 90 days until anything is ready to harvest!  Now we just have to focus on keeping everything alive and healthy.

Since last week’s meal plan was such a hit, I thought people might appreciate some dinner ideas again this week! One thing I’ll be doing next week is using cooked meat on multiple days, in different meals. More batch cooking, since it’s my favorite way to plan meals that can be made quickly on weekdays. So without further ado, here are my picks:

Chicken Lettuce Wraps, made with leftover whole roast chicken (the recipe for which I will most definitely share)
Pulled Pork Salad
Stuffed Eggplant
Frittata with the already made Pulled Pork (with bell peppers/jalapenos/onion/garlic/mushrooms)
Cornish Hens with Roasted Broccoli
Cobb Salad with the leftover chicken from the Cornish Hens (always a hit!)

The cornish hens I buy from Findlay Market are no measley cornish hens, they weigh in at about a pound and a half each, which is considerably bigger than the ones I see at the grocery store. Consequently, I am generally full after eating only the leg/thigh half of my hen, and am able to save the entire breast for salad meat. If you have a bigger family, roasting a full size chicken will probably give you the amount of meat you will need to have roast chicken for dinner and cobb salad (or lettuce wraps) later in the week. Part of the fun of cornish hens is that everyone gets their own little chicken though, and who doesn’t like miniature food anyway?

I hope seeing my meal list is helpful to someone out there, I know I need some fresh ideas from time to time myself!

Strawberries are in season just about everywhere right now, and thanks to the collision of the California and Florida crops this year, they have been on sale everywhere!  I decided to take advantage of this unusual happenstance, and made a grain free (and consequently gluten-free) strawberry shortcake for a dinner party (well, book club, but it’s mostly about the dinner really) not long ago.  I started with a basic honey-almond cake recipe (I cut the honey for the recipe in half) and made my own whipped cream to go with it. You’ll also need 1 pound of sliced strawberries for this recipe.

To make the whipped cream, you only need the following ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream (get the best you can find, it makes a huge difference)
1/4 cup powdered sugar, or to taste (none if you like your cream unsweetened, more if you’re a humming bird)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (only the real stuff!)

**I like to use powdered sugar because it doesn’t take any time to dissolve in the cream, so you get a perfectly fluffy whipped cream. If you’d like to cut down the sugar, you could try subbing in a few sprinkles of cinnamon with the vanilla, since cinnamon registers as a sweet taste along with the vanilla. If you find it still needs a little bit of sugar, you can always add just a tablespoon or two.

1. Put your LARGE mixing bowl into the freezer, glass and metal will both work well. Get out your hand mixer while the bowl is chilling, and use a whisk attachment if you’ve got it (regular beaters will work as well, the whisk is just better in my opinion).
2. Pour your cream and vanilla into your frosty bowl.
3. Begin whipping your cream on medium, increasing to high, and adding in the sugar a tablespoon at a time.
4. Whip until the cream holds soft peaks, but not too long! This shouldn’t take more than four minutes. If you over-whip your cream it will curdle, and if you whip it even longer you’ll get sweet vanilla butter. Sounds good, but it’s not what we’re going for here.

Once you’ve got the cake ready to go, slice it in half with a long bread knife (I haven’t eaten bread in almost a year, but I’d never throw out a good knife!) and set the top half aside for a moment. Spread about half of the whipped cream on the bottom layer of the cake, then spread about 2/3 of your sliced strawberries over the cream. Carefully lay the top half back over the cream and strawberries. Spread the remaining whipped cream on top, and the remaining strawberries as well. If you’d like, you can toss some toasted almonds on top as garnish, and drizzle a little bit of honey as well to give your guests a little clue as to what’s in your cake.

This cake was a huge hit at my dinner party, and I felt pretty good about serving a beautiful dessert with much less sugar in it than a traditional shortcake. Bon appetite!

I know I know, your grandma made you eat brussels sprouts as a child and they were bitter, mushy, and heaven help you, you were not going to eat the rest of them off your plate no matter how long you had to sit at the table! These teeny tiny cabbages (well, brassicas really) can be prepared in ways that do not leave them mushy and bitter, however, and I’ll bet you could even get your kids to eat them with gusto if you cook them with a little bit of bacon! If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a big fan of bacon grease, and use it frequently in my cooking because it imparts incredible depth of flavor. I realize that it is a saturated fat, and quite honestly, that’s one of the reasons I prefer to use it! I won’t do the subject justice if I try to explain it, so instead I’ll direct you to one of my favorite blogs to do the explaining for me.

Now that you’ve read up on saturated fat, and can heartily agree with me that it’s been unfairly demonized over the past half-century, let’s get back to brussels sprouts. These little gems contain good amounts of one of our favorite fat soluble vitamins: vitamin A.  They also contain vitamin C and folic acid, which are water soluble (in case you didn’t know already).  So, if you don’t cook and eat brussels sprouts with fat you’ll lose out on a major benefit of eating them in the first place!  They are in season from December to June, so snap them up while their flavor is still at it’s peak.

Ingredients:
1 pound brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half lengthwise
4 thick slices bacon (find a good, preservative and sugar free bacon)
2 tablespoons bacon grease
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cut your bacon into small pieces, approximately 1/2″ wide.
3. Using a large oven-safe skillet, heat the bacon grease and once hot add in the brussels sprouts and bacon pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sautee until brussels sprouts are just turning golden brown and bacon is cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.
4. Turn off the stove, and put your entire skillet in the oven, which should be preheated by now. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, then bake 10 minutes more until brussels sprouts are tender and nicely browned.

 I served them here with meatballs and marinara, which was delicious. I promise, they will be the best brussel sprouts you’ve had in a long time!

If you’re like me, your favorite parts of any stir fry are the vegetable and meat, not the piles of rice that they usually sit on top of. Fortunately, there is an awesome alternative to regular old white rice that’s both more nutritious and less bloat inducing! You may have heard of using cauliflower “rice” before, as the idea has been around for quite some time, but you probably haven’t tried it. It cooks quickly, readily takes on the flavor of your stir fry sauce, and doesn’t give you that fake “full” feeling that leaves you hungry again 2 hours later (a common complaint with stir frys and rice bowls!). So, if you’ve got a food processor with a grating wheel handy, give this one a try:

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower
1 large bunch broccoli
10 oz box of baby bella mushrooms (sliced makes it easy)
1 pound raw shrimp
4 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Wheat Free Tamari (I used low sodium)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 generous tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fat (I used bacon grease, lard or butter would work as well)

1. Chop the cauliflower into pieces that will fit into your food processor shaft. Using your grating wheel, “rice” the whole head of cauliflower. You will only need about 4 cups of cauliflower rice, so if your head of cauliflower makes more than that you can easily freeze the rest.
2. Cut the broccoli into florets.
3. Heat the bacon grease (or lard or butter) in a large skillet (I used my 12″ cast iron skillet), and sautee the broccoli and mushrooms until crisp-tender (about 8-9 minutes).
4. Add in the cauliflower rice, and press in the garlic as well. As they begin to cook, add in the peeled raw shrimp. If you have cooked shrimp, wait until the very end to add them in.
5. After about 5 minutes, when the raw shrimp are turning pink, add in the black pepper, Tamari, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. **Toasted sesame oil has a strong flavor so don’t overdo it, but don’t leave it out! It’s the secret ingredient making this stir fry extra tastey!
6. Stir everything together, cook until all shrimp are just pink (don’t overcook), and serve!

If you really want to cook the cauliflower rice separately and serve it under the vegetables and shrimp, have at it. I really like that doing it all at once only uses one pan though, and let’s face it, it all gets eaten together anyway!

When Adam and I moved to Ohio we went from two decent paychecks to one very measly one (for a while). As any one else who has gone through a financial famine will relate to, spending money on frivolities like eating out became impossible. Prior to moving, we would go to the grocery store together, pick out whatever new things looked interesting, get the “staples” like Pasta Roni, shredded cheese, and a giant tub of peanut butter, and possibly think up a few meals for the week while we were there. We always had frozen chicken breast, ground turkey, cheese, and enough tortillas to wallpaper a Taco Bell, so if nothing else we could always have quesadillas. But beside the random grocery shopping, we also ate out a lot. Probably 7-10 times per week if you count meals for each of us.

Fast forward to October 2007 and nary a fast food container could be found in our refrigerator or trash can. Why? Because spending $10 on a fast food meal for two people, which does not leave any leftovers, seemed like a preposterous waste of our precious few dollars. It was around this time that I began making a weekly meal plan, and with it a comprehensive shopping list. If it wasn’t on the list, it didn’t go in the cart! Yes, I was a cart-nazi for a while, but someone had to be. Making a meal plan and list helped to lower our food bills substantially, as did making sure that any leftovers we had got eaten and not wasted.

Fast forward one more time to May 2010, and although our income is infinitely better than it was in 2007, my meal plan is still my security blanket. I always think about my meals for the next week on Thursday, make a shopping list based on the things that I’ll need that aren’t currently in my refrigerator, freezer, or pantry, and do all of my shopping on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Friday evening I hit the stores that are closer to work (which include Costco and Whole Foods), and on Saturday I hit Findlay Market (which is an amazing farmer’s market and local market that I’ll post about later) and Kroger. I do spend more money on food now than I used to at the grocery store and farmer’s market, but overall our food bills are incredibly reasonable because we eat out far less than before. It might average two meals out per week over the course of a month (that’s Adam and I combined, not each). I cannot stress enough how much easier shopping and cooking at home are when you have a game plan, especially when it comes to hectic weeknights where you only have 45 minutes to get something healthy on the table. If you already know what ingredients you have on hand and what you’re making with them, you will be much more likely to eat at home than spend extra money eating out.

With that in mind, I’ll post my meal plan for next week, which is usually structured from Sunday to Saturday:

1. Coconut Pancakes with Bacon and Eggs (who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?)
2. BBQ Chicken Legs with grilled asparagus
3. Hamburgers (without the bun of course) with sauteed mushrooms and onions, and all of the usual hamburger vegetables (tomato/red onion/lettuce…probably some avocado as well)
4. Cobb Salad
5. Coconut Crusted Chicken Tenders with Honey Mustard sauce and Roast Broccoli
6. Wings (Adam’s special request) with carrots and celery and a special Strawberry Crumble (which I will share with you later!)

There are only six meals here, but as I mentioned in my batch cooking post I like to cook enough food for a few meals every time I’m in the kitchen. So one night (at least) will be leftovers, and the rest of the leftovers will be eaten as lunch or breakfast.

I obviously keep fruit and extra vegetables around as well, but I don’t feel like posting my entire shopping list! If you’ve never made a meal plan before, or if you are a “buy what looks interesting” kind of person like I used to be (and a subsequent food waster, because many times I would forget to use some of my “interesting” things), try making a list and sticking to it this week. Hopefully it will encourage you to eat at home more than you eat out!

As I mentioned in my previous chicken post, we get seven eggs per day. Every day. If we don’t eat eggs every day (which we don’t always, just a lot of days) they build up!

I like to save about two dozen to let them age a few weeks, that way they can be hard boiled and will be easier to peel (extremely fresh eggs are very difficult to peel, see edinformatics.com to find out why). If we still have more eggs than we can eat, I sell a few dozen and earn enough money to buy more chicken food!

Besides all that, one great way to use a dozen eggs for breakfast or dinner is to make a frittata. Frittatas also reheat really well, making them a great choice for batch cooking (there I go again!).

My basic recipe, which can be modified in more ways than I can even imagine, starts out as such:

12 fresh eggs (get them from the best source you can find, it’s worth it!)
6 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1/2 cup diced vidalia onion
approximately 10oz mushrooms, coarsly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper (seeds and ribs removed if you want it milder, left in if you want it spicy)
1 large bell pepper (your favorite color)
1 pound pork sausage
1 tablespoon bacon grease
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Heat the bacon grease (or whatever fat you’d like to use, just make sure it’s not margarine or canola oil) in a large skillet, then add the mushrooms, garlic, onion, jalapeno, and bell pepper and sautee for about 5 minutes.
3. Add in the pork sausage, and cook through.
4. While the pork is cooking, break your eggs into a 9×13 glass baking dish, grind salt & pepper over the eggs to your liking, then whisk the eggs with a fork.
5. Pour your pork/vegetable mixture into the eggs, distribute the mixture evenly, and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until the eggs are set.

*Your favorite salsa would make an awesome topping with this frittata.
**Oh, and if you consume dairy, some good raw milk cheddar tops this dish off perfectly.
***Also, try adding your favorite spices, or other seasonal vegetables. I have really enjoyed adding eggplant, smokey paprika, and thyme (my favorite spice) on different occassions.

Again, this makes a great breakfast to reheat quickly when you don’t have time for much else. What would you rather have anyway, a “cereal” bar, or eggs with sausage and mushrooms and deliciousness baked right in? I hope you like it as much as I do!

The growing season has finally started kicking into gear hear in Southwestern Ohio, and we were so lucky this year that Adam got a job at Lowe’s! Those two ideas may not seem complementary, but they definitely are. Lowe’s is a very big company. They buy more things than they can sell on a regular basis. With washing machines it doesn’t matter too much, but when a store has literally thousands of seedlings that are getting ready to die, well, then they just start throwing things away. Being the upstanding employee that he is, Adam asked if he could possibly take some of the plants that had been thrown out. As you can see here, it was a success! With the exception of the strawberries (which lived all through the winter!) everything in the garden is brand new.

He was able to get A LOT of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, red cabbage, some arugula, a few different lettuces, eggplant, cantaloupe, rutabegas (not sure about those yet), mint, and a small rosemary bush!

We still need to plant the other two-thirds of the garden very soon, which will include:

Tomatoes (mostly cherry and roma tomatoes)
Bell Peppers (every color we can find)
Jalapeno Peppers
Carrots
Green Beans
More Eggplant
Spinach
More Lettuces
Cucumbers
Spaghetti Squash

And for the herb garden, I’ll need:
Basil
Thyme
Oregano
Sage
Parsley
Cilantro

Last year was a very rainy, gloomy, cool summer in our region, which did not make for good gardening. We are hoping for a much better year this time around, and with a little good weather and good luck we’ll have more produce than we know what to do with! We are also doing things slightly differently this year, taking a “square foot gardening” approach to our 10 foot by 20 foot area. Last year we planted in neat little rows, and while that was very nice and organized, it definitely was not as productive as it could have been (bad weather aside). We’ll intersperse some jalapeno plants and marigolds as we go to try and keep some of the bugs away (they don’t like spicy plants, or marigolds!), and hope for the best.

I can’t think of a better price to pay for organic, homegrown vegetables than free!