A Week of Meals

“So, what do you eat all week?”

This is a question that’s been asked of me by people who don’t cook.  For many people, the idea of creating dinner/lunch/breakfast seven days a week is daunting.  As I’ve mentioned before, I plan out a week in advance, shop for that week and do as much prep as I can motivate to do over the weekends.  As far as I can remember, my grandmother worked a different way- she decided on the day of or perhaps a day before, what she would make.  Then she’d shop that day and see what was available.  I know from reading, experience and talking with others, that in places where fresh produce and farmer’s markets are widely available, people tend to cook dinner based on what’s there that day.  When I’m on vacation or over the summer, I tend to do more of that since I have the time.  Grandma, when I cooked with her, had retired, had no children in the house (well, except me and my cousins when it was summer) and had many options for fresh meat, vegetables, baked goods and fish.  The neighborhood has changed a bit since then and many of the Jewish bakeries, produce and meat stores have closed.  There’s still a fishmongers, a farmer’s market once a week and a Jewish grocery which has a meat counter.  I use them sometimes and feel like I’m back with Grandma.

Anyway, rather than a long story and recipe today, I thought I’d let you in on what it is we eat all week.  Just in case you were curious or wanted some menu ideas.

Breakfast around here tends to be a hurried affair on work days.  I’ll give the toddler some toast and a scrambled egg or just a banana, depending on what she wants.  Hey, sometimes it’s “ack-ers”.  I figure she eats well at daycare and at dinner so I can afford being  more lax around breakfast.  We eat early- maybe her stomach just isn’t ready.  I tend to have an egg white omelette with Munster cheese.  Protein, baby.  The husband eats cold cereal (the same one.  Every day.  Which always makes me think of this scene in City Slickers).

Today, however, I didn’t have to work  so breakfast wasn’t rushed.  We had french toast made with the challah I’d taken out of the freezer for Friday night.

Lunch is usually salad- I make a big one on Sunday and use it all week.  I’ll cook some chicken breasts as well and slice them, leaving them in the fridge for the week.  If there are good leftovers from dinners, I’ll take that to work as well  Packing your lunch definitely saves money and makes good use of the leftovers.  Plus, as I am “eating for two”, I am constantly either hungry or dissatisfied with what I have.  Good times.

Dinner is where the money is, so to speak.  I plan Saturday or Sunday through Friday.  By Friday I’m often beat and if it’s a paycheck week, might treat us to Chinese or Thai or some other easy take-out.  If it’s not, it might be leftovers or sort of a catch-as-catch can kind of thing.  In a perfect world, I’d cook a good, special, sit-down meal to celebrate Shabbat but I’m not there yet.  Challah and candles are the best I can do right now.

So, our meal plan for the week:

Sunday:  Lettuce Wraps(so good, check out the Hippo for the recipe) and Vegetable Fried Rice.  I don’t really have a recipe for fried rice.  I use leftover rice and whatever veggies I can find in the house.

garlic, celery, onion, carrots, green pepper, red pepper and broccoli

I’ll also throw in chicken or other meat if I have it.And sometimes, for decadence, cashew nuts.  If they’re on hand.  I saute all the veggies in some sesame oil, add the rice, add some soy sauce, siracha or whatever else seems tasty at the time.  I stir it all together and then throw in the nuts at the last minute. If you can find the dark soy sauce, that’s what makes it take like “real” fried rice.  What comes out is different every time, not always pretty but generally pretty tasty.Monday- Tonight I’m going to make a ricotta frittata and salad.  We’ll have been home all day and nibbling on leftovers and snacks so I won’t be that hungry and I’ll want something easy.  Plus, I have some ricotta to use up.  If I were doing it “right”- I’d make the ricotta itself.  But not today.  Today is for catching up on work, spending time outside with my daughter and napping.

Tuesday- It’s just me and the toddler as the husband is in class so we’ll try this soup I’ve read about but have never made, Avgolemono.  I’ll add some chicken for more protein and call it a day.

Wednesday- It’s supposed to be a bit more chilly so I’m making broccoli and cheddar soup, based on this recipe, and will serve it with salad or good bread (If I can remember the night before to throw it in the bowl).

Thursday- Is my night to work so on Wednesday night, I’ll do some prep work (browning meat and onions) and Thursday morning before I leave, I’ll throw everything into the crock pot for this pasta and beef recipe.  Pasta and meat are never turned down in my house and since I won’t be eating it, I’ll even use real beef (Recently I’ve developed a revulsion to ground beef).

Friday- I’m planning dinner with a good friend/adopted brother and so will probably go with take-out of some sort.  Asian probably, ’cause that’s how we roll.

Meanwhile, in the fridge, along with the leftovers from Sunday night, I also have a yummy carrot and parsnip soup that I created on Saturday.  A friend of mine mentioned it a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to try it.  Again, I didn’t really have a recipe but here’s how I made it:

I peeled some carrots and parsnips and chopped them into chunks.  I chunked up  half and onion and a few tomatoes I had to use up.  I throw in a handful of peeled garlic as well.  It all went into a roasting pan and was salted and tossed in some olive oil.  They roasted at 425 for about 40 minutes- until things were tender and roast-y, if you know what I mean.

I put all of them into a pot, including all the veggie juices from the pan, and added enough chicken broth to cover.  I let it simmer for a while probably about an hour- I was busy!

I used my stick blender to puree all of it and added some chicken broth to thin it out a bit.

Then, because I needed to use it up and because I’m decadent like that, I added some heavy cream.

A little salt and pepper to taste and it was done.  It was really quite good and didn’t really need the cream.  I’m not sure I’d have missed it.  The carrots and parsnips were just sweet enough and the tomato gave it a nice little bit of acid.  I’m looking forward to eating it for lunch today and a few more days this week.

So, there you have it.  The answer to, “So what do you eat all week?”

Organizing (Part II)

I’m not sure if it’s the pregnancy hormones, the end of summer frenzy or what but I spent a good hour yesterday cleaning out and organizing the pantry.

Why, yes, those are labels telling me what's in each basket. Why?

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do since our housemates moved out in June.  They were lovely girls but, man, did they own a lot of condiments!

Now, since it’s just the two of us adults, we have a better shot at keeping things neat.  I hope.

I also realized just how much food we have.  I have a big bag of canned goods to donate to a local food bank since it’s stuff I’ll never use (I didn’t buy it- the ramifications of having housemates!).  I also now have a good mental inventory of what we have so that I won’t buy double.  Beans, for example, are something that is well stocked.  I can stop buying cans, “just in case.”

Up next?  Organizing the tupperware!

 

Surprisingly Tasty.

Full disclosure:  If you don’t like zucchini (ahem, Hippo, I am looking in your general direction), you will likely not enjoy this recipe.  All others, carry on.

For about a year in high school (I believe it was the year I took Biology), I was a vegetarian.  The idea of eating meat of any kind, along with all the microbiotic creatures that live in it, just turned my stomach.  My grandmother dealt with this as well as she could, making fish (which was sometimes ok), finding recipes with beans and other non-animal proteins and making lots of salad.  My grandfather grumbled and worried that I wasn’t meeting all my nutritional needs.  My mother rolled her eyes and figured it was a phase.

It was, in fact, a phase but what got me out of it wasn’t age or maturity or even a craving (true story, my cousin, M., was also a vegetarian for a time, much longer than I- she broke it one summer when she was at my house and I was cooking pork with brown sugar and soy sauce.  She caved and has been a meat-eater since.), it was politeness.  We went to Israel the summer between my sophomore and junior year and I couldn’t refuse the food offered to me for fear of offending my cousin or the family friends who were coking for us.  I came back from that trip eating meat.

However, I do still try to have one or two meat-free nights a week.  My husband has slowly adjusted to this and no longer asks (a la Wendy’s), “Where’s the beef?” or says “This would be better if it had meat.”  I have a few tried-and-true go-to recipes but am always looking for more.  Often they come from Vegetarian Times which my friend, K., is nice enough to pass on to me when she’s done with them.  These are some hard-core vegetarian recipes, often vegan.  Generally I don’t expect them to be that good as I do love my dairy.  I tend to adjust them, sometimes by using real cheese vs. soy cheese or sometimes by using chicken broth instead of veggie broth.   Sometimes I get lucky and it ends up really good- other times, not so much.  I like to think of my grandmother when I make these- she worked so hard to keep me fed in my veggie-phase and I’d like to think she’d appreciate how much work I’m doing now to ensure that her granddaughter eats the most healthy food she can. I also like to think my grandfather would still be grumbling as I serve up my meat-free meals a few nights a week.

Try this recipe- it was surprisingly tasty.  I did make some changes, which I’ll note here, that make it not vegetarian or vegan. I also think that if I’d had a mandolin I’d have been able to slice the zucchini a bit thinner and that might have been better.  Nonetheless, this one may make it into my weekly rotation.

Zucchini-Quinoa Lasagna

Adapted from Vegetarian Times, August 2011

Ingredients

2 large zucchini (or 4 small to medium), peeled and cut lengthwise into 12  slices about 1/4 inch thick

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups chicken broth (or veg broth)

1 cup quinoa rinsed and drained (I use red quinoa because I like it better but you could use white)

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup chopped onion (I used about 1/3 of a medium size onion)

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon oregano (I used fresh)

1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2-4 tablespoons of cream cheese (or you could use non-dairy cream cheese)

1 25 oz. jar of marinara sauce (I used Paul Newman’s organic and it was pretty good)

1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and parmesan or you could use non-dairy)

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and slice the zucchini.  Place on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with paper towels and let them sit so that the water will drain out of them. 

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in lots of cold water.  Make sure you rinse it well as this will help to minimize the bitterness.

Set aside to drain.  In a small pot, heat some olive oil (maybe 1-2 tablespoons at the most) over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic.  Let this cook for about a minute and then add the quinoa.  Let this toast over the heat for several minutes.  This also gets rid of the bitterness.  I think I let mine go somewhere between five and ten minutes, stirring once in a while.  

Add the broth, tomato sauce and oregano.  Bring it to a boil and then cover it, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Pour about 1/3 of a cup of marinara sauce into a square 8 inch pan.  Place four of the zucchini slices on top, as you would for lasagna.

Check your quinoa and if it’s done, add the cream cheese, half the shredded cheese and the herbs (basil and parsley).  I’m lucky enough to have a nice fresh herb garden on my steps, courtesy of my friend K. 

Stir the quinoa and the yummy dairy and herbs you added until everything is melty and combined.  The heat will melt the cheese and it will actually taste really good.  You could use this as a way to serve quinoa, in fact, maybe with a nice salad and some crusty bread.

But we are going to use it for our lasagna.  Spread about half of this mixture over the zucchini slices in the pan.

Top this with 1/3 cup of marinara and then four more zucchini slices, then the rest of the quinoa mixture.

Cover this with the last of the zucchini slices and the rest of the marinara.  Top with the rest of the cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is all brown and bubbly and the zucchini is tender.

This was seriously good.  I mean, no one will ever mistake it for meat lasagna with noodles but if you think of it as more of a zucchini-italian flavored casserole, it’s delicious!  Plus, quinoa is all kinds of good for you and I’m always looking for new ways to make it since the texture is, um, different.  It totally works in this recipe.

Also, in the spirit of organizing (why, no, I haven’t yet alphabetized my recipe index, why?), I re-did our meal planning board to incorporate our shopping list as well as our leftovers list:

Finally, I had some extra veggies (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini) that I needed to use up so I tossed them in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a few garlic cloves as well as the other 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.

I roasted them at 475 for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with them but I’m thinking maybe serve them over rice, kind of like a roasted ratatouille or with pasta as a veggie pasta dish.  I’ll keep you posted.

Start Your Engines

Growing up, my grandmother threw huge parties.  Dinner parties, wine tastings, political events… you name it, she hosted it.  Partly because my grandfather owned a wine shop and imported affordable French wine long before anyone else did, partly because she knew all these gourmet chefs and they were always interested in eating well. In fact, just for fun I did a little google search with my grandfather’s name and the name of his store and came across this article. It’s a conversation from September 2005 with Tom Scheisser who is a buyer for  a local wine store.  And he mentions both my grandfather and his store.  I’ll put the direct quote here (FB is the interviewer):

FB: That’s quite a devoted franchise career. You’re as rare as Carl Yastrzemski!

TS: Yes, as the youngsters move up the ranks, I’m now regarded as one of “the old guard” along with people like Roger Ormon (Brookline Liquor Mart), Doug Shaw (MS Walker), Carmine Martignetti (Martignetti Liquors/Carolina Wine), Dellie Rex (formerly an educator at Boston University, now New England Culinary Institute).

FB: Yes, you go back to Myron Norman, who, in his wineshop by Justin Freed’s Coolidge Corner Cinema, weaned me as a BC student, off Ballantine Ale and onto Cler Blanc.

TS: Myron Norman was one of the greats. He was one of the most interesting people in the business. He inspired a lot of us, as did people like Leo Sulkin (Branded Wines), Richie Hogue (Charles Gilman), Bert Miller (Brookline Liquor Mart). They have all left their mark.

So, if people are still referencing him, years and years after the close of his store, you can imagine the crowd at these gatherings.   I wasn’t often invited to these parties, mind you, because I was just a small kiddo but I remember all the planning and preparations.  Wine glasses would need to be washed, the “good” silver would be taken out, seating charts were drawn….  It was lots of work!

Now that I’m a (haha) grown-up, I am in awe of all my grandmother could do.  It’s an amazing amount of work to put something like that together and I don’t remember her ever seeming to be frazzled or overwhelmed.  I’m not sure how she did it.  I mean, I remember the prep work but I don’t remember seeing her make lists or plan things out or organize herself.  I’m sure she did but to me it just seemed effortless.  Easy.  Fun.

Me?  I’m a list person.  The number of lists I have going at any one time is really silly.  I have stickies on the desktop of my computer, I have scraps of paper in my bag and I have more than a few spreadsheets going at once.  I have lists of testing cases, lists of things to do, lists of things to fix, lists of things to buy….  Well, you get the idea.  But it’s how I can organize myself.  It’s how I can manage big dinner parties.  Or you know, holidays.

I’m often asked how I can cook for so many people.  For instance on Monday, for Passover?  I think we’re at about 20 people with about 10 who haven’t replied.  I’m not worried since people drop in and out up until the last minute anyway.  But how do I organize?  Well, a list of course.  Made on a spreadsheet. Naturally.  I have a shopping list and then what needs to happen on what day.  I feel like this is what my grandmother was able to do so effortlessly in her head.  Me?  I need a visual.

Yes, my shopping list is divided into categories. So what?!

So, the menu for Monday? Actually, I’m making another dinner and a lunch before Monday- a Middle Eastern-Themed dinner for some friends on Saturday night and a lunch for a cousin on Sunday.  Truth be told, Sunday is likely to involve a lot of leftovers with maybe a new dessert.  Anyway, the menu for Passover:

Matzo Ball Soup

Hard boiled eggs (Grandma always made these, maybe to symbolize spring?)

Roasted Chicken

Potentially brisket or another meat.  Not sure yet.

Green Beans

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes (these are a staple, as you know)

Chocolate Carmel Matzo

Passover Brownies

Ice Cream

Plus the traditional charoset for the passover plate/”service”.

And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something…  I always do.

SO.  Here we go.  Play along at home- I’ll try to post each night with the progress I’ve made.  This is the one meal it takes me days to make.  So worth it!

Halfway There

The demolition of the counter cabinets has been done and has left me with a great deal more counter space.

The shelves are up and loaded.

Now I’m just waiting for the appliances to come in and be installed.  Hopefully soon…

Tomorrow we’re celebrating G’s birthday!  I’m trying to make a shopping list now so that I can spend tonight making her cake(s).  I’m planning chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles as well as a yellow cake with mini-chocolate chips and milk chocolate frosting.  We’ll see how it goes.

 

Coming Up

Reading The Hippo’s latest post got me thinking about my grandmother and her style of meals.  She certainly had a wide repertoire, ranging from superfancy (classic French) to superquick (baked filet of sole).  I’m not sure how she went about planning her meals.  I don’t know if she planned by the week or day by day or what.  And sadly, she passed away before I could ask her (actually, as I get older I think of so many things I never got to ask her.  It sucks.).

I meal plan by the week.  At the end of each week, I look at the weather for the coming week and make my meal decisions based on that.  Strange?  Maybe.  But I don’t want to be eating chili when it’s 90 degrees outside nor do I want to be eating iceberg lettuce when it’s minus six and snowing.  So we have a little whiteboard on the fridge and on it I write the weather and the meal I’m planning for dinner. I compare it to my work/school calendar and plan accordingly.  That is, if I have a meeting until 4:30, I make sure not to plan a highly complicated meal.   I tend to use leftovers for lunches and at least one night a week we have leftovers for dinner (I hate wasting food).

In the summer, I go to the Farmer’s Market and then meal plan.  During the other seasons I plan on Friday nights or Saturday mornings so that I can do my food shopping on Saturdays.  During the school year, I cook as much as I can on Sundays so that I’m mostly filling in during the week after work.  It all sounds so organized when I write it out this way but I’m not sure it really is.

Anyway, I have a few go-to dishes that I make and will likely post about here at some point.  I think my grandmother did as well, since there are a few meals she made that I can remember having often- dijon lamb, baked sole, salad, various kinds of chicken, salmon…. Part of my wanting to write this blog was to re-capture those meals.  I spent some time this past weekend, organizing Grandma’s recipe box and am excited to make all of her dishes again.

So what have I been making lately?  Lots of BLT’s- there’s been an abundance of wonderful tomatos this year and with this bread recipe (or this one, if I remember the night before) it’s been a no-brainer.  Though, I have switched to turkey bacon within the last few weeks in a lame attempt to be healthier.  I often make shashushka which I learned from one of my Israeli cousins and while I’ve made it at least three times since starting this blog, I keep forgetting to photograph the final product.  I make chicken burgers and turkey meatloaf pretty often.  I have photos of them but haven’t written out the recipes yet.

Our meal plan. Note the milk count in the bottom right corner- we have to have several gallons of milk on hand as my husband drinks milk until, well, the cows come home looking for him. This is how we keep track- the number of gallons that are in our basement fridge.

So what are we eating this week?  As you can see, it was BLT’s tonight.  Last night it was fresh bread (the rest of which went into the BLTs today) and butternut squash soup (made with a squash from my BFF’s garden in NH).  Tomorrow it’s going to be sort of cold so I’m making chicken chili.  I’ll use the tomatos from my father-in-law’s garden (two of them went into the BLTs tonight) along with some canned beans and canned tomatos.  I have some delicata squash leftover from last week so I’ll be making squash risotto on Wednesday night- it’s quicker than it sounds- and Thursday night is a Grandma recipe- cheese blintzes.  Friday is a fish night (see my last post) so I’m making salmon and some sort of green vegetable.  Saturday I’ll check the weather, my calendar and my freezer and start planning again.

So coming up for the blog?  A grandma recipe for blintzes and maybe the delicata squash risotto recipe.  That’s my goal-here’s hoping!