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Some strategies for getting dinner on the table

22 Sep

It hasn’t been easy changing from my former, single-person to early married life style of cooking — going to the store almost daily to pick great ingredients to cook a tasty meal — to my current style of cooking — get something edible on the table by 5:30 (after picking kids up at daycare at 5:00) or else suffer toddler breakdown and radically alter bedtime routine. I’ve been obsessing focusing on it, to various degrees, for maybe a little more than a year now, and I am proud to say that we’ve transitioned from boxed mac and cheese with peas at least once a week to no boxed meals. I’ve found a few strategies really helpful.

1. Keep a pot and skillet on your stove at all times. A while back, I read an article with this piece of advice: always keep a pot of water on your stove, and turn it on as soon as you get home. If you decide to make pasta or use it in some other way, you’ve already got a head start on dinner. If not, no big deal. I don’t quite go that far, but I do keep a medium-sized pot (the one I find myself using most often) and our cast-iron skillet on the stove. Most of my fast meals use one or both of these, and although it doesn’t save much time having them out, it’s nice to have one thing done already.

Similarly, we keep olive oil, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, our knives, the spice cabinet, and a cutting board right next to the stove. It makes it so easy to just toss those ingredients in.

2. Make two, freeze one. This is obvious, but worth mentioning. I do this with any slow-cooker meals, meats and Mexican rice for our taco nights, and pizza dough. We do Mexican food and pizza pretty much every week, and my freezer is usually stocked with at least part of each meal.

3. Keep the entire meal in one bag. Again, kind of obvious, especially if you read food blogs or Pinterest, but by putting the individual freezer bags of, say, the Mexican rice, chile verde, and tortillas in one giant bag, you just pull out one bag for the meal. No digging around in the freezer.

4. Clear out your fridge before you go shopping. I stole this idea from Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: The Playbook. Pick one day to be your shopping day every week. Before you go to the grocery store, go through your entire fridge and see what you can save. Have some extra berries? Add them to a freezer bag to toss in smoothies later on. Wondering what to do with the dried-up baby carrots? Put it in a freezer bag of vegetables for stock. (I have one for stock veggies — celery, onion, carrots — and one for chicken. When I have a full bag of the chicken, I add it to a stock pot with half the veggies.) Cut up fruit, veggies, etc. for healthy snacks and put them out or pack them for the next day’s snacks. If you have a baby just starting solids, those leftover-but-still-good veggies can be cooked, pureed, and frozen for them.

5. Prep when you get back from the grocery store. I don’t stick to this exactly, but early in the week, I make pizza dough (if we don’t have any frozen) and chop meat (and freeze it if I fear it will go bad before I can cook it). I have not yet done this, but I want to start packing healthy snacks for my toddler for the days that I have the kiddos and for the car ride home from daycare.

6. Cook the same things over and over. As I mentioned, we do Mexican food and pizza each once a week. Bug loves steak and Dave loves pork chops, so we usually alternate between those. That’s three nights when I generally know what I’m doing, cooking-wise. I’ve toyed with the idea of adding some more categories: slow-cooker, noodles, sandwiches. But I rotate those things in, anyway.

7. Follow your plan, no matter how inappropriate it seems to the weather. We had a heat wave on a pizza night a couple of weeks ago. I still made pizza. In the oven, even. It might not have been the best idea, comfort-wise, but I didn’t have to come up with a new plan for dinner.

The next step for me will be diving into the world of freezer meals (lasagnas, etc.) and slow-cooker recipes. COME ON, FALL! I am looking forward to cold weather.



Meatloaf, plus Pork with Cherry Sauce | Recipe Report Card

14 Jan

After last week, I was kind of patting myself on the back for all the successes we’ve had so far. But this week is helping bring me back down to earth. On Monday, Dave had a hit with meatloaf with mashed potatoes and our favorite kale recipe, Bitman’s kale with double garlic (here’s a similar recipe that proves you can use it with any green). His meatloaf recipe uses oatmeal, and though he usually uses Quaker Oats, he swapped it for steel-cut oats this time (since that’s all we have). It was soooooo good.

Oat-based meatloaf (We’re not sure of the source.)

  • Meal: dinner, 1/12/15
  • Kid tried?: Yes
  • Keeper?: Yes
  • Cook’s grade: A. Since Dave made it, I have no idea how easy or hard this was to make, but I do know it was delicious and clean-up was easy. The steel-cut oats added a really nutty flavor that helped it rise above your standard meatloaf. Although, I have to say, I do love even standard meatloaf.
  • Kid’s grade: B. The Bug tried it and ate some–enough to say that it was more successful for her than most of our dinners these days. She ate one bite of mashed potatoes, which used to be a favorite, and one bite of the kale, which is more than she usually tries.

On Tuesday, I made pork with cherry sauce, which I had marked in an old copy of Everyday FoodNot exactly a hit, and also a reminder not to cook anything from the more recent issues of Everyday Food.

Pork with cherry sauceEveryday Food December 2013

  • Meal: dinner, 1/13/15
  • Kid tried?: Yes
  • Keeper?: No
  • Cook’s grade: C. This was a fairly easy dish to make, and there were plenty of steps to do ahead, which streamlined the actual cooking. It was also very, very simple to clean up. But it just didn’t taste great. I’ve realized that, unless I’m frying something for real–like making fried chicken or tempura–I have no interest in dredging meat through flour and browning it in the pan. It seems like too much work, and I don’t enjoy the taste. The cherry sauce is more of a cherry topping, which was fine with me but disappointing to Dave. I also served it over polenta slices, baked in the oven, and that was not tasty at all. Better to go for creamy polenta or to pan-fry the slices (and maybe use better polenta than the prepackaged Trader Joe’s kind).
  • Kid’s grade: F. The Bug started pilfering the cherries from my plate, tried one, and then moved all the cherries on her plate over to mine. “No like cherries.” She tried a bite of pork, but was not interested in that, either. Dave called the polenta rounds “cookies,” but that didn’t work. “No like cookies.” (Which, for the record, is not true.)

Braised and glazed Brussels sprouts | Recipe of the week

28 Jan

I’m so glad I rediscovered Bittman’s braised and glazed Brussels sprouts recipe (I forget if it’s in How to Cook Everything or in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but it’s on the app). Just made it tonight, and I swear I could eat the whole batch. And, not only is it a three-ingredient recipe, but two ingredients are the most staple of pantry staples: water and butter or oil.

Here’s the down-and-dirty version of the recipe:

1. Combine 1 lb. trimmed Brussels sprouts, 3 TBSP unsalted butter or olive oil, and 12 cup water, stock, or white wine* in a deep skillet. Cover tightly. Boil on medium until Brussels sprouts are coked and nice and green.

2. Remove cover and turn up heat to boil off the liquid. Keep cooking so that the Brussels sprouts brown. RESIST THE URGE TO STIR. Let them brown. Have faith in the process. After about 10 minutes, shake the pan to brown the other sides. A little while later, do that again. It’s OK if they’re unevenly browned.

I made them before I put the Bug to bed and just covered them in the pan, and they were buttery and delicious when I ate them a half hour or so later.

* I used salted butter, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 cup white wine.

When you spend 15 minutes trying to help a technology reporter figure out how to dial into a conference call

6 Sep


Extreme facepalm animated GIF


If you download music and don’t pay for it, read this

18 Jun

This is probably the best-argued anti-piracy article I’ve ever read. One highlight:

Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly.  Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that  certify they don’t use  sweatshops.  Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China.  Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples.  On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation.   Except for one thing.  Artist rights.

Pumpkin bread from scratch | Recipe of the week

26 Oct

Pumpkin bread

Tonight, I made pumpkin bread from scratch. Though, to be fair, I started on the pumpkin puree on Sunday. We went to Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch in Half Moon Bay on Sunday to pick up some carving pumpkins, as well as a Cinderella and a Fairytale pumpkin for eatin’. Mrs. Farmer John told me that the Cinderellas were good for baking and the Fairytale was better for grilling, since it had less water.

I was thinking of roasting the pumpkins, like I often do with winter squash, but D wanted to use the pumpkins to make pumpkin bread. Good ol’ Cook’s Illustrated helped out here, with simple (though time-intensive) instructions for making pumpkin puree. We used the Cinderella for the puree and CI’s recipe for pumpkin-nut bread (leaving out the nuts). And voila! Pumpkin bread from scratch. We ate it with vanilla ice cream, after it cooled down a bit but was still warm from the oven. It was definitely a subtler taste than with canned pumpkin, but it was pretty darn tasty. Next time, I’d add a tiny bit more sugar and more spices.

Recipes: Pumpkin-Nut Bread (Cook’s Illlustrated). Although Mrs. Farmer John’s recipe (and pumpkin prep technique) is here.

Technique: Pureeing pumpkins (Cook’s Illustrated)

Bodum’s Chambord French press

4 Jul

If you buy Bodum’s Chambord French Press at Macy’s, it is made in China. If you buy it in Crate & Barrel, it is made in Portugal. It’s named after a Portuguese factory that the Bodum corporation bought.