Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 14: Chipotle and Veggies

Courtesy of: My rip-roaring post work headache
Serves: 2
Prep and cook time: 5 minutes plus drive time

3 chicken soft tacos
1 cheese enchilada with beans and rice

Purchase and eat with a side of Veggie Tales.

Quick, delicious, and totally kid-friendly. :)

Never fear, I'm going to give the corn dogs a go this weekend. I just really didn't feel up to cooking last night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Words and deeds.

This morning as I stumbled out of my bedroom, sporting wild hair and Nate's old t-shirt, I literally ran into my family. My husband smiled at the sight of me and said to Calvin "look at your pretty mama!" Calvin whispered back "she is soooo pretty."

Let me assure you, I was looking anything but pretty in that moment. But the tone of Nate's voice wasn't sarcastic or teasing. It was sweet. Loving. And my son's tiny voice was reverent.

These boys of mine, they love me. Despite my bad hair, bad days, bad moods. Despite my failures as a wife and mom, which are plentiful. Every day I am showered with sweetness and adoration, most often when I don't deserve it.

My son is too small to understand the impact of his precious words. But my husband, he knows. And he teaches Calvin every day how to be a man. A man who respects women and cherishes his wife. A man who provides for and leads his family. A man who makes time for and treasures his children.

And he does so gently, easily, in both words and deeds.

What a blessing it is to be his wife.

Day 13: Crispy Apricot Porkchops and Roasted New Potatoes

Crispy Apricot Porkchops
Courtesy of: Everyday Food Magazine
Serves: 4
Prep and cook time: 25 minutes

4 bone-in porkchops
4 tablespoons apricot jam
2 slices of multigrain bread
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for pan
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 425 and brush oil lightly over cookie sheet. Tear bread into large pieces and add to food processor. Pulse until large breadcrumbs form. Drizzle tablespoon of olive oil onto breadcrumbs and pulse once or twice more until combined. Generously salt and pepper both sides of porkchops. Spread one tablespoon of jam on top side of each porkchop, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and lightly pat them down. Transfer porkchops to oiled baking sheet and bake for 14-17 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees and juices run clear. Serve immediately.

Roasted New Potatoes
Courtesy of: All Recipes
Serves: 4
Prep and cook time: 40 minutes

1.5 pounds new potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a plastic bag; toss to coat. Pour onto an ungreased baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 450 degrees F for 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

I love Everyday Food. Do you get that? It's a pretty cheap subscription and I think I got an even better deal because I also subscribe to Martha Stewart Living. Anyway, it's worth checking out. I've made a number of quick and delicious recipes from that magazine and I love flipping through it every month. (Also, the magazine's spine is striped and they look super cute lined up on my kitchen counter.)

This pork recipe stood out a while back but I never considered actually making it because, ugh, the food processor? Sounded like a lot of work to me. (It's not.) Nate gave me a quick tutorial last night and...yeah. I'll be using it again. Soon, probably. Why I am I so scared of kitchen appliances that make life easier?

Anyway — this meal was yummy!

1. It takes longer than 14-17 minutes for pork to cook. At least in our oven. I'd plan on at least 25 minutes.

2. I didn't have new potatoes or dried rosemary, so I used yukon gold potatoes and Herbs de Provence. Both were swell substitutions.

3. I used an extra piece of bread so the porkchops would be heavily coated. And I probably used more than a tablespoon of jam on each, too. We're all about excess at our house. Especially when it comes to jam and bread.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

July 5.

Is the date I should have taken down my Fourth of July wreath. Yet I chose to wait until September 25.

I think it was worth the wait.

I realize this needs a different color ribbon, but I just used what I had on hand because I couldn't wait to get it up. Although now that I've typed that all I can think is "well, you waited this long, why not wait another day and do it right?"

My inner monologue is so annoying.

Day 12: Pumpkin Waffles with Apple Cider Syrup

Courtesy of: All Recipes
Serves: 6
Prep and cook time: 45 minutes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 cups milk
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat waffle iron. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, salt, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a larger bowl, stir together pumpkin, milk, and egg yolks. Set aside. Whip the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until soft peaks form. Stir the flour mixture and 1/4 cup melted butter into the pumpkin mixture, stirring just long enough to combine. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into the batter, stirring gently until incorporated. Fold in remaining egg whites. Cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions.

Apple Cider Syrup

1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Stir together sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Stir in the apple cider and lemon juice, cook over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Boil until syrup thickens. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Serve warm.

Well, this didn't suck. At all. In fact, I ate three waffles and then felt a little like throwing up.

In a good way.

1. It takes a little longer for the waffles to cook. Let them get crispy on top before removing them from the waffle iron.

2. The syrup got a little thick for me...I think I maybe boiled it too long. I'd wait until it just boils, give it a couple stirs, and add the butter.

3. These waffles would be good with regular syrup. And this syrup would be good with regular waffles (or pancakes). Together it's quite rich.

Good thing I like my waffles like I like my men.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some things never change.

The rarest kind of friend (and my personal favorite) is the pick-right-up-where-you-left-off friend. I've had a few of them in my lifetime and they really are some of my dearest and most favorite people on earth. Despite the whole never seeing each other thing.

My friend Trish is one of those friends. She's a fellow Taylor alum and 3rd Berg survivor. We spent two years living across the hall from one another and I can say with confidence she is one of the best things to come out of my time at Taylor (along with these lovely ladies, who I thankfully see on a slightly more regular basis).

Sadly, Trish and I haven't seen each other since my wedding. SIX AND A HALF YEARS AGO. I'm not even sure we've talked on the phone in six years. Which is kind of how things go when you get older and busier and have four states and a Mason-Dixon line between you.

Thanks to the magic of air travel and Trish's husband getting bumped off a previous flight, she had a voucher and got to come visit this weekend. And let me tell you, we lived it up.

We were going to get wasted on Apple Pucker and wear sparkly backless shirts out to the clubs (you know, like we did at Taylor), but instead we sat at my dining room table and crafted until 9:30pm, at which time we moved to the couch for a side-by-side game of Words With Friends on our iPhones.

We might be a few years older, but we're still just as cool.

Love this girl, and so thankful for friendships that really do stand the test of time.

Note: Horizontal stripes do not, in fact, camouflage an extra 25lbs of baby weight. Especially when a large portion of it is in your face. Friends, please learn from my mistakes and stick to solids. Also, you may want to avoid having your photo taken with a tan person from Atlanta when you're a pale person from Minnesota. That is all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Meal Plan: Week of September 26

Monday: Pumpkin waffles with apple cider syrup

Tuesday: Crispy apricot pork chops and roasted new potatoes

Wednesday: Homemade corndogs

Thursday: Crockpot chicken and dumplings

Friday: Takeout or go out

Saturday: Empanada pie

Sunday: Baked potato soup

This is the last week of my challenge, and I'm taking it one step further by trying to plan around what I have at home. I still need to buy a few ingredients, of course, but I've tried to base this week's plan on what's in the pantry and freezer. My grocery list for the week is:

• Can of pumpkin
• Apple cider
• Biscuit dough
• Apricot jam
• Half pound of new potatoes
• Cornmeal
• Spinach
• Salsa
• Monterrey jack cheese
• Cilantro
• Two refrigerated pie crusts
• Bag of frozen hashbrown potatoes
• Bread

All but one of these recipes is a new one (and four of these items are for one meal). Not bad, huh?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 11: White Chicken Chili

Courtesy of: Heidi again :)
Serves: 6-8
Prep and cook time: 25 minutes

1 rotisserie chicken, meat cut into chunks
4 cans great northern beans, drained
1 large jar salsa
1 block monterrey jack cheese, shredded
1 can chicken broth
1 tablespoon cumin
Hot sauce, as desired

Dump in a large pan and heat until cheese is melted, flavors are combined, and it's piping hot. Serve with tortilla chips.

First of all, a big thanks to my dear Heidi for sponsoring this week's menu. And also, sorry if I completely frankensteined this recipe, because I've made it so many times I don't even know if it's close to the original anymore (feel free to correct me in the comments). I just add stuff until it looks and tastes right. Which it always does. Because it's delicious and seriously impossible to mess up. Just ask my husband. Or my family. Or my coworkers, who swarmed me for the recipe after I made it for a chili day at work one year. It was actually kind of depressing to hand over the recipe, because it seems so much more impressive and complicated than it actually is.

You may notice I didn't post anything about Monday's dinner. It was just too silly to post (top a crescent roll dough triangle with a piece of ham and a piece of cheese, roll into a crescent and bake for 15 minutes) and I didn't take pictures. It was a hit with Calvin, though. Also, I was supposed to make a new pasta recipe last night, but after being up all night with a sick toddler I just didn't have the energy. So I made tonight's dinner last night, and tonight we'll probably have pizza or something similarly non-homemade and delicious.

Day 10: Quinoa with Shrimp and Goat Cheese

This is actually two recipes merged together.

Quinoa with Spinach and Garlic
Recipe courtesy of: My friend Heidi
Serves: 4-6
Prep and cook time: 25 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed (or purchase pre-rinsed quinoa)*
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add quinoa to skillet; cook, stirring frequently, until quinoa starts to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add broth, black pepper and red pepper flakes to skillet; bring to a boil. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low and simmer for 13 minutes; stir in spinach. Cover skillet and cook until spinach and quinoa are tender and liquid is absorbed, about 3 to 5 minutes; season with salt.

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
Courtesy of: Ina Garten via Food Network
Serves: 4-6
Prep and cook time: 10 minutes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place them on a sheet pan with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in 1 layer. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, just until pink and firm and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

This is seriously one of my favorite things on earth. Heidi and I were both trying to eat better earlier this year (and now we're both pregnant so that kind of fell by the wayside), and she shared this quinoa recipe with me, along with a few tips:

1. Saute the spinach with a little olive oil and garlic before adding it to the quinoa.

2. Add mushrooms. I just threw them in with the onion and garlic since they take a while to cook down.

3. Top with crumbled goat cheese. This is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP. It totally makes the dish.

And then I take some liberties of my own:

1. Double the red pepper flakes.

2. Add roasted shrimp.

Quinoa is a complete protein on it's own, but I never need an excuse to add shrimp to something. I love it, and it's good for you. We've made this roasted shrimp a few times (you're meant to let it cool and serve it with cocktail sauce) and it's so good...and a very simple way to cook shrimp without having to fire up the grill. I make this at the same time, let it cool a bit (important, as it gets kind of wet after roasting), and then toss it in the pan with the quinoa at the end to heat it up.

A really easy, really yummy, really fast dinner (or side dish, if you don't want to eat a dinner plate full like I do). Just don't forget the goat cheese. Like I said, VERY IMPORTANT.

Monday, September 19, 2011

He's still cute.

I know I haven't posted about Calvin much lately. But don't you worry: He's still cute. And growing. And two.

Oh, heavens, is he ever two.

I love this age. It's challenging on so many levels (mentally, since he can argue with me and asks questions constantly; physically since his tantrums often require me to pick him up and haul him off to the timeout chair; and emotionally, because my love for him becomes more complex and overwhelming every day), but it's really so much fun.

The questions are cute. The faces are cute. The imaginary play is cute. And he loves us right now, so much. All day long there are choruses of "Play a football game wit me, Daddy? Make a track wit me, Mama? I come too, Daddy! I bake witchu, Mama!"

He's so independent, so spirited, so loving. There's no shortage of smiles, giggles, or kisses. There's also no shortage of defiance, disobedience, or tantrums. But, as with every phase, the good seems to outweigh the bad. And the bad really isn't that bad. I don't know whether he's getting more predictable or I'm just getting used to having no control, but these days I feel much more capable of handling whatever he throws my way.

Literally and figuratively.

Meal Plan: Week of September 19

Monday: Ham and cheese crescents with fruit and veggies (Nate's working)

Tuesday: French bread pizza (Date night - this is for Calvin and Grandma)

Wednesday: Quinoa with shrimp and goat cheese

Thursday: Gemelli with asparagus and sausage

Friday: White chicken chili

Saturday and Sunday: My friend Trish is coming for the weekend (!!), so nothing planned for dinner. However, there might be something yummy for breakfast one of those days...

Day 9: Beef with Snow Peas

Courtesy of: Pioneer Woman
Serves: 4-6
Prep and cook time: 20 minutes

1-1/2 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat and sliced very thin against the grain
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons cooking sherry
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
8 ounces, weight fresh snow peas, ends trimmed
5 whole scallions, cut into haf-inch pieces on the diagonal
3 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
Crushed red pepper
White or brown rice, prepared

In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger. Add meat and mix.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add snow peas, stir for 45 seconds, and remove to a plate.

Allow pan to get very hot again. Add half the meat mixture with tongs, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out the meat as you add it to the pan, but do not stir. After one minute, turn the meat over and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate.

Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first. After turning it, add the other half of the meat, the rest of the marinade, and the snow peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and serve over rice.

I worship this woman. She knows how to make simple things that taste really good (and very complicated things that I'm sure taste very good but I am too lazy to try). This was delicious and ridiculously easy. Nate was surprised by how tender the meat got seeing as it was cooked very quickly. (I just thought I'd share that because I don't know enough about meat to be surprised by anything, but maybe you'd like to know?)

My only tip is to start the rice at the same time, because otherwise you'll be halfway done and think – oh yeah, we need rice. And rice takes longer than this does to make. So, there ya go. Helpful hints from yours truly, queen of the obvious.

Day 8: Crockpot Ranch Porkchops with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Courtesy of: Real Mom Kitchen
Serves: 6
Prep time: 1 hour for garlic, 10 mins for potatoes
Cook time: 4-6 hours for pork, 30 mins for potatoes

6 porkchops, 1/2 inch thick
1 packet dry ranch dressing seasoning
10 oz can cream of chicken soup
4 lbs peeled, cubed potatoes
5 tablespoons real butter
1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
6 cloves roasted garlic (directions are below)
1- 1 1/2 cups warm skim milk (any milk will do, I used skim)
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper, or to taste

Place porkchops, ranch seasoning and soup into a medium sized crockpot over high heat for 4 hours or low heat for 6 hours.

Place potatoes into a large pot of cold water. Bring to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and transfer to the work bowl of a stand or electric mixer. Mix on low until potatoes are mashed then add butter, Parmesan, garlic, milk, salt and pepper.

Scoop mashed potatoes onto plates and top with porkchops and gravy.

Roasted Garlic
Preheat oven to 350. Wrap garlic bulb (skins on) lightly in foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove from foil and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove garlic from skins, place in a bowl and mash with a fork before adding to potatoes.

Yep — back to my trusty old cream of something or another soup. And kind of weird about porkchops in the crockpot, huh? But this was super simple and so good! The meat got really tender, the gravy was yummy, and the potatoes were quick and tasty. Nate devoured it. A few tips:

1. Double the soup and ranch (at least double...maybe double and a half). I actually halved this recipe and only used three porkchops, but even with three it didn't seem like enough gravy – especially for my sauce-loving husband. I'm glad I doubled it.

2. Watch the cook time. Remember how I said my crockpot cooks super hot and fast? Well, I put this on the six hour setting and it was done in three. When the meat starts falling off the bone and the gravy looks thin and well-combined, it's ready.

3. Go a little lighter on the salt when making the potatoes. I thought a tablespoon was too much...luckily I thought of that before I added it.

4. Serve with bread. This kind of meal calls for bread. Lots of it.

A yummy, homey, quick and easy dinner!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two weeks in.

I would just like to take a moment to point out that I've made seven meals over the course of the last two weeks. That's like a 95% increase in meal making. Or something. Who knows, I don't do math. But I didn't cook before either so maybe next I should do a math challenge?

Anyways, I am loving it. Besides a few planned meals out, we've eaten at home. No takeout, no peanut butter and jelly, no making last-minute stops at the store. Just real, homemade dinner using ingredients we have on hand. Like a normal family.

I'm so proud of myself.

(And probably a few pounds heavier. I really love macaroni and cheese.)

Day 7: Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

Courtesy of: Emeril Lagasse via Everyday Food Magazine
Serves: 6
Prep and cook time: 45 minutes

Coarse salt
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 large eggs
1 can evaporated milk (12oz)
¼ tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/5 cups grated sharp cheddar
½ cup grated monterrey jack
½ cup finely grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 475. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook macaroni six minutes (it will be undercooked). Drain. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium and add bacon. Cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon mixture to a medium bowl. Add macaroni and stir to combine.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and evaporated milk. Add ½ teaspoon salt, cayenne, nutmeg, and cheeses; mix well. Add macaroni mixture and stir well to combine. Transfer to an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish or a two quart gratin dish. With a spoon, gently spread mixture to form an even layer. Bake just until sauce is bubbling at edges, about 12 minutes. Let rest 10 mins before serving.

Macaroni and cheese is HANDS DOWN my favorite food of all time. And I'm not ashamed to admit my very favorite version is good old Kraft from a box. Straight up comfort food. Panera's comes in a close second. Yum. Anyway, this recipe is really good and really easy. Especially if your sweet husband measures out all the ingredients for you ahead of time because you're worried about getting it all done while taking care of your toddler alone (thanks, honey!). I made this with the parmesan chicken in my other post and it was so yummy. A lot of yellow tones for one meal (especially since I only had corn on hand...broccoli would have been my preference), but total comforting goodness. I made one change:

1. Nutmeg. Not a fan. It calls for very little (1/8 tsp) and I still didn't put that much in. I maybe added 1/16 tsp. I really don't like it, and it still tasted awesome without it. So fear not, nutmeg haters.

Excited to have found a good (non-boxed) mac and cheese option. Although it would be kinda tough to mess up bacon, cheese and noodles, dontcha think?

Day 7: Parmesan Chicken Tenders

Courtesy of: Everyday Food Magazine
Serves: 4
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes

1/3 cup panko or plain dried breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders
1 tsp dried thyme
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a small bowl, mix together panko and parmesan. In a 9x13 dish, toss chicken with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and thyme, season with salt and pepper. Arrange chicken in a single layer and sprinkle with panko mixture. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bake on upper rack until topping is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

Incredibly simple and quite delicious. The chicken was tender and very flavorful. This method of breading doesn't coat the bottoms, so they aren't really chicken tenders in the dipping sense. I sliced Calvin's up for him and he ate like a champ. I wasn't sure how he'd feel about the thyme, but he loved them, and didn't even ask for dip (a first). No modifications to this one, it's a keeper!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 6: Make-Ahead Muffin Melts

Courtesy of: The Pioneer Woman
Serves: 6
Prep time: 45 minutes (includes egg boiling & peeling, bacon frying)
Set time: Overnight or all day
Assembly and cook time: 5 minutes

12 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
2 cups grated cheddar
1 cup mayo
12 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 dashes worcestershire sauce
6 whole English muffins, split

Boil eggs, crumble bacon. Fold all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. Top each English muffin half with a mound of egg mixture, then broil 3-5 minutes on middle rack until browned and bubbly.

Oh, brinner. One of my favorite meals of all time. Nate's not a fan (HOW? WHY?), so I usually reserve breakfast-for-dinner for the nights he's working. Like last night. And this was a great option! Not only was it super easy (I boiled and peeled the eggs Monday night; Nate fried the bacon and mixed it together for me yesterday morning; I assembled and broiled last night), it was yummy and very kid-friendly. Especially since my kid shares my deep love of eggs and cheese.

There are only two things I would do differently:

1. Use one less dash of worchestershire sauce. It erred on the side of salty and I think that must have been the culprit.

2. Let the egg mixture sit out for a few minutes before broiling. It went straight from cold to hot and the top got nice and browned and bubbly but the bottom of the mixture was still only room temp. Might warm up better if it doesn't go in cold. But even the cold mixture was yummy, so it really didn't matter much.

I served this with cantaloupe, nectarines, grapes, and a big glass of milk. We'll be making this one again. Maybe even for breakfast, if Nate's lucky.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 5: Turkey Burgers

Courtesy of: My friend Andrea
Serves: 4-6
Prep and cook time: 25 minutes

1.25 pounds of lean ground turkey
1 cup salsa, divided
1/2 cup shallot, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Shredded or sliced cheese (monterrey jack or mozzarella)

Mix ground turkey, 1/2 cup salsa, shallot, cilantro, 3 tablespoon oil, hot sauce, cumin, salt and pepper. Form into 4-6 patties. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add burgers and heat until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Add cheese and let melt. Top with remaining salsa and serve on buns.

This recipe is a family favorite. Andrea gave it to me at my wedding shower and I've made it many times since. Quick, easy, and delicious! The only modifications I make are with the hot sauce and shallot. Nate doesn't like onions/oniony things, so I usually add a little less than the recipe requires. And I lower the hot sauce just a tad when Calvin will be eating with us. (Sometimes I split the meat mixture into two and then add more hot sauce to one batch.)

We typically serve these burgers with sweet potato fries, which I buy frozen from Costco (Cheater. Sorry, I probably shouldn't have posted that as part of the menu plan since I didn't make them myself). Last night we had green and red pepper slices, too, since Calvin is a big fan of those and it was just the two of us.

A quick and easy meal that also left me enough time to prep for Wednesday night's dinner. Gotta love that!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meal Plan: Week of September 12

After a weekend of selling and eating junk, I'm back on track for week two. Here's the plan!

Monday: Turkey burgers with sweet potato fries

Tuesday: Bowling with friends, Nate's in charge of dinner for Grandma & Calvin

Wednesday: Muffin melts and fruit

Thursday: Parmesan chicken tenders with bacon mac & cheese

Friday: Out for pizza with friends

Saturday: Ranch porkchops with parmesan mashed potatoes

Sunday: Beef with snowpeas

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 4: Pizza Casserole

Courtesy of:
Serves: 6
Prep and cook time: 1 hour

2 cups uncooked egg noodles
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup sliced pepperoni
16 oz pizza sauce
4 tablespoons milk
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350. Cook noodles according to package directions. Brown beef, onion, garlic, and pepper in large skillet over medium high heat. Drain excess fat, stir in noodles, pepperoni, pizza sauce, and milk. Mix well, and pour mixture into a casserole dish. Bake for 20 minutes, top with cheese, and bake 5-10 minutes longer, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

This tastes exactly how you think it will, which is good but not great. Super kid-friendly, however, and perfect for a quick meal. Since I usually have all of these ingredients on hand, I will likely make it again with a few modifications.

1. Spicer/zestier sauce. I used Muir Glen organic pizza sauce, and it was a little bland. Target has some fun house brand sauces that have a bit more kick to them, and I think that would have helped.

2. Italian sausage instead of ground beef. I need to start keeping this in the freezer, because I think its a good substitution for beef in a lot of recipes. Again, this would probably help kick it up a notch.

3. I added some mozzarella to the mixture before baking. We like things cheesey. I also threw in a handful of fresh mushrooms during the beef/pepper/onion browning step, tossed in some Italian seasoning, and used another 1/3 cup of sauce because I had some leftover from last week. Next time I'll add more garlic, too.

While certainly not the most amazing thing I've ever eaten, this is an easy recipe the kids will enjoy — and it offers some serious flexibility ingredient-wise.

See that big empty space on my plate? I was going to make a salad to go with this, but Calvin was being a hellbeast and I had a pounding headache. It took all I had in me not to scrap our dinner plans altogether and make us both a PB&J...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bedtime prayer.

"Dear Jesus, thank you for a wonderful day! And thank you for Miss Jenny, Miss Trina, and Miss Jake. AMEN!"

Calvin's first unprompted and unassisted bedtime prayer. I'm sure his teacher, "Miss" Jake, would be proud.

I sure was. Precious boy.

Day 3: Potato Leek Soup

Courtesy of:
Serves: 6-8
Prep and cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

1 cup butter
2 leeks, sliced
1 quart of chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook leeks in butter with salt and pepper until tender, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Stir cornstarch into broth and pour broth into pot. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil, then season with salt and pepper. Add cream, reduce heat and let simmer at least 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

YUM. I loved this recipe. Not only was it incredibly simple, it was delicious and perfect for a fall evening. And it was fun to cook with leeks (fresh from the farmer's market!) for the first time. I served this with a spinach salad topped with low-fat raspberry vinagrette, walnuts, dried cranberries, and cheese (feta for Nate, monterrey jack for me. If I'd had goat cheese I would have used that), as well as sliced baguette. A few tips:

1. To clean leeks, trim both ends, slice in half lengthwise, place flat side down, and slice into small pieces like you would a celery stalk. Place leek pieces in a bowl of cold water and mix them gently with your hands until the dirt and sand falls to the bottom. Use a slotted spoon to remove.

2. Halve the butter. I saw a few reviewers mention they did that, so I did too. I think one stick is plenty.

3. Serve with a little shredded cheddar and some crushed croutons. The croutons add a nice garlic flavor and some texture.

4. If you want a smoother soup, you can puree it in small batches using a blender or food processor. The chunks were delicious, but we might try it blended next time.

Now go, make, and enjoy. I plan to enjoy this one again around noon.

*In the interest of full disclosure, Nate started this recipe for me because he had to be somewhere at 7pm and I don't get home until 5:45pm — he wouldn't have had time to eat if he waited for me. But I took over as soon as I walked in the door, right around the cornstarch part. And I sliced/cleaned the leeks the night before so I did some prep work. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On naming.

I have the following conversation about, oh, fifty times a day.

Friend/family member/colleague: "Aw, you're having a girl? Do you have a name picked out?"
Me: "Not really."
F/FM/C: "Do you have any contenders?"
Me: "Not really."
F/FM/C: "Well, I can't wait to find out!"
Me: Smiles, changes subject

For reasons unknown to me, my mom has been telling everyone our daughter's name is Olivia. Even my dad, who called to tell me how much he liked our choice. (Thanks, Mom.) Don't get me wrong, I think Olivia is a darling name. But it's not the name we've chosen. And yes, we've chosen a name. Tentatively. And no, we are not sharing it with you, even though you are by far our favorite parent/friend/sibling/colleague/fellow blogger. And here's why:

People are rude.

Not you, of course. You're delightful and kind. And I'm certain the rudeness is unintentional. But it seems even the nicest people have no problem saying things like "You're kidding, right?" or "Oh, I knew a ________ in high school, she smelled bad" or "Oh, that's really popular. How about _________?" in response to potential (and even final) baby names.

Which is Not okay. Why would anyone think that's okay?

Unless you were an active participant in the child's creation, will be pushing it out of your hooha, or plan to cover its expenses from birth through age 18, you don't get to voice your opinion on this matter. Instead, you get to say "Oh, that's wonderful!" or "I'm sure little Zelda will be just beautiful" or "What a lovely tribute to your great grandfather's sister's brother!" because someone has just been kind enough to open up and share something very personal and exciting with you.

You do not get to say "Wow, um, huh. That's different..." to the child's parents while making a face like you just swallowed a gallon of spoiled milk.

We got a wide range of reactions to Calvin's name. Some loved it, others did not. While it hurt my feelings to hear negative feedback on a name Nate and I had lovingly and thoughtfully selected for our baby, we still used it. Because it was OUR perfect name for OUR child. And I don't think there's a person out there who would say the name Calvin doesn't fit our son. In fact, I've yet to meet a child who didn't fit their name, even when it's a name I wouldn't choose myself.

Names are 100% subjective, and everyone has their own criteria for choosing one. Nate and I like classic, old-fashioned names with a twist. Names you can say and spell easily, but that aren't commonly used. And we both feel strongly about using family names. Calvin's middle name is John, which is both Nate's middle name and the first name of his beloved grandfather. Our daughter's middle name will carry on that tradition. In choosing our children's names, we strive to honor our families while still expressing our own tastes — and the dreams we have for our kids and who they'll grow to be.

Truth is, names that sound silly or stupid or downright ugly to me and you might be beautiful and meaningful to someone else — for reasons we don't know or understand. Which is why I firmly believe the only appropriate response to someone else's baby name is a glowing one. No faces, no offering other options, no opinions. Just smiles and congratulations, and maybe a few jokes with your significant other behind closed doors later on if it's really terrible.

So, yes. Nate and I are pretty sure we have a name for our daughter. And we'll be more than happy to share it with all of soon as she's born.

We're hoping it will be harder for people to make the spoiled milk face while looking at our pretty girl.

Day 2: Chicken With Capers and Green Beans

Courtesy of: Better Homes and Gardens
Serves: 4
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup seasoned fine dry breadcrumbs
8oz fresh green beans, trimmed
2 lemons, 1 sliced and 1 juiced
1 tablespoon capers
Olive oil

Pound out chicken breasts to even thickness. Brush chicken with mustard; sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and coat both sides in breadcrumbs. Heat 2T of olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and cook four minutes on each side or until no pink remains. Transfer to plates. Add 2T olive oil to skillet. Cook green beans in oil four minutes or until crisp-tender; add lemon slices at the last minute. Transfer to plates. Add lemon juice and capers to skillet and heat through. Drizzle on chicken.

Let me start by saying the chicken was amazing. I almost always bake chicken, so doing it on the stovetop was a departure for me and it was super delicious. And we like to have a grain or starch with our meals, so I paired this recipe with frozen brown rice from Trader Joe's. I also have a few adjustments to this recipe based on how it turned out:

1. Chicken: Use liberal amounts of mustard and breadcrumbs to get them good and coated. You'll lose some in the cooking process. Also, four minutes on each side was perfect, and left the chicken tender and juicy. This was delicious, and I think it would be awesome sliced on a salad or in a wrap. I also think it would have been just fine without the sauce if you're looking for an easy chicken recipe to pair with something. I used plain old garlic/herb breadcrumbs.

2. Green beans: These were kind of meh. My biggest complaint is that they came nowhere near tender in four minutes, and I felt like the chicken was getting cold while I waited for them to cook. I would recommend boiling/steaming them first until they are almost cooked, then finishing them in the pan. I also added some lemon pepper to spice it up a bit, and I think garlic may have been a good addition, too. I love green beans and the ones I used were from the farmer's market, but I think I would have preferred roasted asparagus with this recipe.

3. Lemon caper sauce: Capers were great, but the sauce was way too tart. The lemons were completely overpowering (and this is coming from someone who loves lemon). Nate and I brainstormed a bit after dinner to figure out what would have made that more palatable, and after searching through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, we determined it was butter. It needed butter, or oil, or something to cut the lemon juice. If you use the straight lemon juice the recipe calls for, I'd recommend a very light drizzle.

All in all, not bad. It was quick and easy, and the chicken is a definite keeper.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 1: Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Tacos

Courtesy of: My Mom
Serves: 4
Prep and cook time: 2 hours

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used chicken tenders)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes and chilis (Rotel), drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1.5 teaspoons chili powder

Spray crock pot with Pam. Mix beans and tomatoes with chilis in bottom. Combine olive oil, cumin and chili powder in small bowl, rub all over chicken. Place chicken on top of bean mixture, cook on high for an hour and 45 minutes. Slice or shred chicken, and serve with tortillas and your choice of taco fixings.

This recipe is the easiest thing on earth. It would be mighty hard to mess it up, and the result is a totally blank canvas. Nate wasn't home last night, so instead of tortillas, I made mine into a salad and served it with tortilla chips. I thought chips might be a more kid-friendly option and I was right. I think this chicken would be excellent on nachos, which is probably how I'll serve it next time.

I would say the spice is fairly mild, so if you like it hotter, increase the amount of cumin and chili powder, or use the hot Rotel. I also think it could have cooked a little less (it was bordering on dry), but my crock pot is crazy hot and cooks at lightning speed, and I was using smaller pieces of chicken. Just something to note.

Also something to note? My lack of skill when it comes to photographing food. This looks a little like cat food. I'll try to do better tomorrow so you'll actually want to try whatever it is I'm showing you.

Meal Plan: Week of September 5

Monday: Chicken and spicy black bean tacos

Tuesday: Chicken with capers and green beans

Wednesday: Potato leek soup

Thursday: Pizza casserole

Friday-Sunday: Open. We're having a garage sale, so we'll see how it goes.

A good mom.

I think every mom has to define "good" for themselves, and their families — based on priorities, circumstances, abilities, interests, time constraints, family size, and a plethora of other considerations.

For many, being a good mom probably involves having dinner on the table every night at 6pm sharp, making sure the kids are bathed daily, and having everyone's clean clothes neatly put away on a weekly basis.

Yeah, not me. I'm more of a "sure you can play outside for an extra 20 minutes before bed, I'll just rub you down with a baby wipe to give the illusion of cleanliness" kind of mom.

And you know what? I'm okay with that. My kid is happy and healthy and so far hasn't shown any signs of severe emotional disturbance from maternal neglect (saving it up for his future therapist, I'm sure). Plus we almost always have clean clothes...even if they rarely get folded. (Downy wrinkle releaser, folks. It will change your life. Take it from the girl who used to iron her jeans.)

While I may not be the most organized parent, I think I do a pretty decent job of caring for my family. However, there is one area where I fall down. Big time. And that area is cooking.

Like so many things (dental exams, going to the post office, showering), I love the results but HAAAAATE the process. The last thing I want to do after working all day is come home and cook dinner. Maybe it's because I'm lazy, maybe it's because I'm a sucky cook, probably it's both. All I know is that for the past two years my child has eaten way too many hot dogs and I would be completely lost without Steamfresh vegetables.

Sadly, pretty much everything I make that isn't a microwaved hot dog involves chicken, instant rice, and cream of something or another soup. Ick. That isn't good for me and it isn't good for Calvin. I don't want my kids raised by a mom who relies on packaged foods and the microwave for dinner. I didn't grow up that way, and neither did Nate.

So, my friends. I have given myself a challenge this month. And that challenge is cooking dinner. Real, honest-to-goodness dinner (and a few fun things for breakfast and dessert).

No hot dogs. No macaroni and cheese from a box. No cereal. (Because cereal comes after dinner. About 9pm. It's my late night pregnancy snack.)

I'm starting small — and realistically — with a meal plan. Last week I began gathering recipes that sounded good, and on Sunday I sat down and planned out our meals for the week. For the next month, I am going to post my meal plan for the week on Sunday. And then, if things turn out well, I'll share the recipes with you. And if they don't, I'll share my failures with you. Not only will this provide me with some much-needed accountability, it will hopefully give you some inspiration in the kitchen — or at least a few new recipes to try at home.

Keep in mind that I work full-time and am a novice cook, so none of these recipes will be overly involved or earth shatteringly fancy. And some may involve cream of something or another soup, but I'm going to try to limit those recipes to nights when Nate's working and I have to make quick, kid-friendly meals.

So, that's the plan. Me. Cooking dinner. For a month. Like a good mom.

Hope you're ready to laugh.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday, Friday, Friday, OHHHHH.

For some reason I always sing Rebecca Black's Friday to the tune of Justin Beiber's Baby.

And this concludes the portion of today's blog post where I embarrass myself.

I hope.

Things I love today:

1. Amy Grant's Better Than a Hallelujah.

2. The Band Perry's If I Die Young.

Note: I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks in my car lately (I'm on the 10th Janet Evanovich book) so I rarely have the radio on. Maybe the rest of you have been aware of those two songs for months (years?), I have no idea. I may be horribly dated, but at least I finally got the the part of the Stephanie Plum series where she gets it on with Ranger,* and that's been a long time coming. And since most of you have no idea what I'm talking about, I will just say that he is HOT and and leave it at that.

3. Leftover coffee in the coffee pot at home. I never used to drink coffee, but right now I need it to survive. And I am so happy when there's some leftover from the day before because I don't have to chill it — it can go right into my ice-filled reusable tumbler. Obviously I don't have any sort of trained coffee-drinking palate, and I'm guessing that is a completely gross and unacceptable practice. But that's okay. I'll drink mine and you'll drink yours and we'll all be happy and caffeinated and productive.

4. Rio. Nate and I watched this movie with Calvin last night and we were totally and completely delighted by it. So cute. I laughed a lot. Especially at all the Minnesota references, none of which hold weight ("cheese and sprinkles" is not really a thing, sorry). Highly recommended for the little ones. Or the big ones, if you're immature like we are.

Things I never thought I'd want to buy but do:

1. A minivan. Apologies to all my friends who have not yet gotten on board with the swagger wagon, but it's going to happen. Soon. Being cool** is just not as important to me as storage space and doors that open on their own. I understand if you're no longer willing to ride with me, but just know that I'm going to be mighty annoyed if I have to open my own door when getting in your car.

2. Uggs. (Ughs.) Last year, out of desperation and due to copious amounts of snow, I bought a pair of Target knock offs. And oh my heavens were they ever comfy and warm. They were also a cheap piece of crap and fell apart about a month in. In preparation for another long Minnesota winter (and the very real possibility none of my shoes will fit me in the last month of pregnancy), I am going to start scoping out real ones. I still think they're ugly as sin, but let's all reference the footnote from my #1 and remember that I don't care about shallow things like looks.***

3. Jeggings. I've succumbed. To maternity jeggings, no less. There's really nothing more to say except I probably look like a lumpy carrot and, well, so be it.

Things I always knew I wanted to buy and still want to:

1. Baby girl clothing. You guys, I have a problem. A big one. And that problem is my income to spending ratio when it comes to tiny dresses and striped leggings. Is there a 529 savings account for clothing? There should be. I'd max that sucker out.

Things I should probably stop doing:

1. Eating for two.

2. Shopping for baby girl clothing.

3. Watching Toddlers and Tiaras when Nate's not home. And probably TLC in general. Train. Wreck. However, if you haven't seen this parody with Tom Hanks, it's worth a watch.

Have a great weekend, lovelies!

*Don't worry, my mom already knows I listen to smut in the car. And she agrees with me...Ranger is HOT.
**Who am I kidding? Being cool has never been top priority for me. Lazy ALWAYS wins.
***Okay, fine. I do. Stop picking apart my blog post.
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