Weekly Meal Plan Plan

The word on the street is that I’m not the only one who struggles to plan my meal scene. After a few weeks of experimenting with a more regimented approach, I have to admit that the results I expected have once again proven true. Planning my meals ahead of time made my life easier in a variety of ways: 1) no last minute scramble, 2) a sensible, shorter, and more complete  grocery shop, and 3) less money spent at the store. What’s not to love about that? With all those pros, it seems like I could hardly fail to plan my meals…. except that I do fail to plan my meals and after a couple of weeks doing just great I stumbled and we had a chaotic week with weird food and greater expenditures at the store.

So, here I am, putting all my meal planning cards on the table. I am going to attempt to post my meal plans here. I’d like to say that I’ll do it every week, and I plan to. I know you’ll understand if life gets the better of me from time to time. Just in case you’ve always wondered how Little Sis’ family eats all week, here you go.

Monday: White Bean and Kale Stew (Kathy Hester’s The Vegan Slow Cooker)

Tuesday: Crock Pot Burritos

Wednesday Potato Pancakes with Cashew Cream & Apple Sauce

Thursday: Asian Varia-Bowls

Friday: Homemade Pizza (Mr. Little Sis is awesome)

Saturday: Dinner at a Friend’s (Yay!)

Sunday: Homemade Pasta (Again, Mr. Little Sis provides)

Yes, that’s a lot of slow cooker going on. We have fall sports going on and I’ve found the Crock Pot to be a great help on these evenings. Nothing better than coming home from the gym or field to great smells and hearty dinners. As for the planning, I know there are a lot of systems out there. I am a luddite. Here’s my meal planning system.

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Not terribly high tech, but totally user friendly and CHEAP. So I make a plan and then make a grocery list from the list. Has taken less than 40 minutes every time.

So there you have it. All planned up and grocery store bound at some point.Here’s to better grocery trips and home cooked meals! Ta Da!

Porridge Got A Bad Rap… Polenta with White Beans and Kale

Pease porridge hot

Pease porridge cold

Pease porridge in the pot

Nine days old.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that I am of the last generation to learn this little gem from 1760. Whenever I hear the word porridge, this little ditty goes through my head. The really interesting part is that pease porridge bears nearly zero resemblance to what most of us think of as porridge these days. Pease porridge is, if I may draw an ill fitting comparison for the purposes of illustration, much more like hummus than like porridge. As I understand it, pease porridge was legumes cooked, mushed and flavored (onions, olive oil, maybe meat if it was available). When we talk about porridge today, what most people mean is a grain cooked in liquid until the two do some magic to make a soft warm bowl that is neither liquid nor entirely solid. Deeply satisfying, warming, wholesome and hearty.

As you likely already know, the Sis sisters are huge fans of porridge in its traditional Western breakfast form – a little sweetness added to cooked grains. We’ve already shared pumpkin apple steel cut oats, chocolate oatmeal, and quinoa porridge, to name just a few. Apparently the Scottish are the kings and queens of porridge, and porridge has starred in a number of culinary competitions, including the recent London Porridge Championships, not to be confused with the World Porridge Making Championships… who knew? All this attention being paid to the production of and the adornment of porridge makes those packets of precut, highly sugared, not really that much more convenient than the real thing oatmeal seem a little, well, lame (more thoughts on reasons to ditch “instant” oatmeal here).

Aside from bolstering my own love affair with oatmeal, this story of the London Porridge Championships reminded me of a historical culinary truth that I keep forgetting before I can implement it in my own kitchen. Porridge can be savory. Oh yes, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore, in fact it never was. Old cookbooks are full of recipes for savory cooked grains for lunch and dinner. We eat a lot of rice around here, and frankly a savory porridge might be just the thing our varia bowls need every now and again. And so I decided it was time for a savory porridge experiment… but how to approach it to best hedge my bets with Ms. Picky Pants?

I settled on polenta photo a313cca6-c072-4607-8036-92e5599d8d40.jpg. I didn’t want to potentially diminish the power of oatmeal in the morning here by having an oatmeal fail. Polenta’s creaminess and corniness seemed promising for my corny crowd. Mediterranean flavors tend to fare well… seemed like a good bet all around. And so, while not perhaps a traditional Scottish porridge, a grain cooked in liquid to creamy perfection is indeed what polenta is. Topped with white beans and kale? Oh yes, please.

I made this delightful dish from Patrice at Circle B Kitchen. I followed the recipe pretty closely (I AM capable, just usually not willing) except that I cut the animal products out of the polenta by replacing the liquids for cooking the polenta with 3 cups of veggie broth and 1 c coconut milk. I also ditched the cheese in favor of a smaller amount of nutritional yeast. Butter gone, olive oil in. Done. Vegan polenta. Admittedly less creamy in fat feel, but still super creamily delish. And the perfect base for white beans with kale. Thanks Patrice, for a lovely dinner and a baby step down the road to porridge for dinner.

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150 Food Products Recalled

FSNBI’m reasonably certain that what is meant here is not that 150 individual items were recalled, but rather 150 different kinds of prepared foods have been recalled. I can’t find any specific number of the total being recalled, and I’m going to admit I might be glad about that at the moment. 150 Food Products. I DO love when it’s called a food product. At any rate, these particular food products may have listeria, so you may want to give this list a check, especially if you live in the South and eat any one of 150 different types of food products. Eat well, be well friends.

What Makes It Halloween for You?

 photo IMG_0830.jpgI saw purple candy corn the other day at the store. Purple candy corn. For me that is wrong on so many levels, but I should confess that I am not, nor have I ever been a lover of candy corn. It is, after all, just sugar, corn syrup, and marshmallow. Yeah, I didn’t know about the marshmallow either. And really, that’s mostly just more sugar and corn syrup (I love it when they have both). At any rate, I didn’t mean to go on specifically about the candy corn, but the purple stuff got me to wondering. How did we get here? How did Halloween come to be a night to go gather an enormous bag of candy? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my kids usually come home when their load is too heavy to carry any more.

What is Halloween about? That’s the funny bit. It seems that the march of time, cultural domination, and social realities have made Halloween about everything and nothing at all, all at the same time – a characteristic I would argue many of our holidays share at times. Halloween WAS about the fading of the sun, the rise of the dark. Then it was about honoring the dead. Then it was about pranks, and then, family fun (and CANDY).

As with all of our holidays, I sense that we sometimes forget what they CAN mean, and get caught up in a bit of what they seem to mean – thus the multiple aisles devoted to candy (as opposed to just the usual two) and the rush on costumes that have nothing to do with any of the original purposes of Halloween (lest you think I am throwing too many stones, I confess that I will be sending Elsa the Snow Queen out in a largely purchased costume because I couldn’t stand to say no to something else). I am taking this minute, right here in front of you like a intellectual and philosophical exhibitionist, to remind myself that I get to do Halloween my way, too.

This day of madness and mayhem gets to be whatever my family and I decide it should be. When I think back to Halloweens in my past, I remember with the greatest fondness being paraded around the neighborhood by Big Sis, coached about how best to approach the doorbell, and defended from the couple of neighborhood punks who sought to lighten my load. I remember costumes that were put together, fashioned as a project with my Mom; they were never perfect, but they were fun, and I remember feeling great about them. I remember crunching in the leaves, turning on the flashlight when the dark became too much, and moping on the occasions when I was forced to wear a coat over my beloved costume. I remember my Mom making salty roasted pumpkin seeds. And finally, I remember my neighbor’s popcorn balls. I would have given up everything else in that bag for another of those popcorn balls.

So where does that leave me in my own celebrations? What traditions do I wish to highlight, to start, to pass on? How is this night of candy hoarding about me and my family (cause I really do need everything to be about me ;-))?

 photo IMG_0825.jpgOur costumes will be hybrid. I bought big parts. We will use face paint and other special bits to make them extra awesome. We will work together and talk about the costumes to get them just so, to eke every bit of pleasure out of the dressing up that we can. We will decorate with creepy things to remind ourselves that death is a part of this great life as we stomp through the leaves that have indeed begun to fall. We will celebrate the abundance of the late harvest by picking pumpkins and roasting their seeds, maybe even making some pesto with them. And I am going to attempt to make popcorn balls without corn syrup (I’m looking at these, but have not settled for sure), in honor of the woman who I suspect kept my mother sane during my early years. I will hand out popcorn balls in a small bag with our name and address on it so people won’t be afraid to eat them and if we run out, there will be plenty of spider rings, glow sticks, and maybe a little dark chocolate for the truly worthy.

And when it’s all over, I’ll break the news to my kids that they can’t keep ALL the candy. They will not be surprised as I’ve been working up to it, and they still have some from last year. This year, we will take advantage of the candy buy back at a local dentist, and they will send it to our troops. Sounds like a good plan to me. Happy almost Halloween!

Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recalled?! DIY Pesto Coming Up!

FSNBOkay, so I know for sure I am a total food weirdo. Generally speaking when I share these recalls and food safety warnings, I am a little grossed out. I am a bit of a weenie on matters of… well… how do I categorize this? Most things to do with the body except when it relates to someone that I love. So I share these things with a shiver. I don’t really want to be thinking about spoiled whatever – especially when it’s stuff I don’t eat and don’t get me started on chicken. But THIS recall. This one only made me go hunh… really…. oh boy!

So here’s the important info. The pesto in questione (yes, I misspelled it so it would almost rhyme, humor me) is a Williams Sonoma product. Details here. While i can assure you I won’t be eating any Williams’ Sonoma Pumpkin Seed Pesto, I can PROMISE you I will be making my own. Oh yes, I will. And I’ll tell you all about it. AND it won’t have botulism.

If you now find yourself in the strange position of craving pesto, despite whatever image the words Clostridium botulinum put in your head, you should TOTALLY check out some of our super duper dairy free homemade botulism free pestos.

How about some creamy walnut pesto?

or welcome home pesto?

or sunflower lemon pesto?

All delicious. All dairy and botulism free. Eat well, be well friends!

Dump the Unhappy

Dump the Unhappy

just not in the ocean… the fish don’t need it either.

For tips on giving up soda and other sugary drinks, see Baby Step #1. You don’t have to dump it in the ocean to get off the fizzy stuff. We can help.

Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils

 photo DSC01007.jpgAs you can imagine, when I find myself in a food rut, I turn to the blogger community for a little boost. I’ve found some lovely meals this way. This find, however, deserves a little more than a “lovely” title. Batter Licker’s Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils were a culinary revelation, and not just because it’s another lentil dish although that may be part of it. ;-)

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working on planning my meals a little more carefully. Big Sis has a great system and is really good about making meal plans and following them. My intentions are good, but in all honestly I usually don’t make it to the finish line on this particular goal. As a result I spend more at the store than I should and I waste a lot of time late in the day coming up with a last minute fix (although some of these have turned out quite well).  In planning, I also provide myself with the opportunity to try to incorporate some new meals using ingredients I already have or know how to work with rather than scrambling at the last minute to follow someone else’s instructions. A few weeks ago Asian Cabbage Rolls made it onto my plan and BOY am I glad they did.

These rolls are warm and satisfying without leaving you feeling loaded up and weighed down. The lentils work beautifully with the Asian flavors. I can’t say enough about how much Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed this dish. At first glance the dish looked complicated, but really, the only tricky part is making the rolls themselves. The rest of the procedure is pretty similar to making any simple bean dish. The only changes I made to this recipe were ditching the egg (something the original author said she’d do next time), switching out the sugar for maple syrup in the sauce, and decreasing the chile in the sauce in favor of adding it at table for the sake of the little people.

This lovely meal goes something like this. There is admittedly a bit of chopping. And if you don’t have leftover rice and cooked lentils, that needs to be done as well. May I suggest you start the rice first, then the lentils, then the chopping and gathering of other ingredients and preheating the oven. Mark Bittman has rightly criticized the overly organized French method of mise en place, and I suddenly realized, upon finding out what his book was about, that I should have written that a while ago… another missed opportunity. ;-) I digress. The point is, start the longest bits first, then prep the rest. It’s efficient, and still yummy.

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After the chopping and cooking, there is some combining and then the fiddly part, the daggone cabbage wrap bit. I have tried making various cabbage rolls before and had all manner of trouble getting them to roll and stay rolled. I now have a trick, which I will share with you so you don’t curse and stomp in your kitchen. When you choose a cabbage leaf, get a big one that is not torn. Then chop a couple of inches off the bottom where it connects to the head. What you’re trying to do is to get rid of the thickest, toughest part of the cabbage leaf, you know the part that won’t roll. Get rid of it and you know what? They roll. IMagine that. The next part of the trick is to use a kitchen utensil to hold those rolls in place as you create them and place them in your dish.

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There you go. Awesome tricks so you can now make cabbage rolls – Asian ones, Polish ones, Italian ones, whatever you want. Cut the inflexible bit and hold everything in place. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I’ll find it after I eat more of these. Delish!

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Slow Cooker Herbed Beans and Barley

The weather has been doing its transitional season flip flop around here. One week it’s summer, one week it’s fall with a little scent of winter in the mornings. And with the change of seasons comes the change of activities that makes the challenge of family dining a very real one. While I limit my kids to one after school activity, because there are two of them, we are still on a wacky schedule for two of the five weekend nights. Monday Ms. Picky Pants does gymnastics from 5-6 and Tuesdays my increasingly gigantic son plays T-Ball from 6-7. These times bookend our usual dinner time.

Because there’s no way my gentle giant of a boy could make it through T-Ball without dinner, we simply eat early on those days. Monday is more challenging as there’s no way we could eat in time for a 5 o’clock practice. And so, given these complications AND the drop in temperature, there is no better time than now to bring the slow cooker out of the corner cabinet and keep it in semi-permanent residence on the counter. Preparing the meal the night before, or in the morning and letting it cook all day allows us to eat at whatever time and frees me up during the crucial times for chauffeuring and cheering responsibilities (I especially like the cheering part).

Our favorite new slow cooker recipe was an improvisation of mine, a pantry wonder that is sure to become a regular in our house. I’ve used kidney beans because I had them on hand, and because I think they’re so good looking (that’s weird, isn’t it). I imagine just about any bean would work here, although this one time I’d steer you away from lentils as they do tend to mushify a bit and the pearl barley is already providing a creaminess that benefits from a little more substance in the bean department. White beans, black beans, chickpeas would all be great. This dish was so simple and satisfying. The gentle giant just LOVED it.

Slow Cooker Herbed Beans & Barley

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  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
  • 3 c kidney beans (soaked overnight or quick soaked*)
  • 1 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 5 c veggie broth
  • 1-2 t thyme
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm olive oil in pan on stove. Add onions and celery. Sauté until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute or so. Place sautéed veggies in crock pot with all the other ingredients. Turn on low. Cook for 5-6 hours. Yes, that’s it. Stir, season to taste, and serve on a bed of deep greens. Spicy fans may enjoy a little hot sauce. I like it both ways. Delish.

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* Quick soaking beans requires bringing the beans to a boil, allowing them to really boil for 2 minutes, and then leaving them in the hot water for an hour, then rinse and use for cooking. They will not be tender as they are not fully cooked yet, but will not be little rocks anymore.

Summer’s End Zucchini Bread

The nights have gone cool, and who can complain at this point in the year? While I confess that the climate in mid-Maryland often leaves something to be desired, a nice fall here really can’t be beat. Our nights are cool, and days are dry with clear blue skies. Perfect time to get the last few harvests of summer veggies.

I’ve gotten the last of the tomatoes, the cukes are dwindling, my butternut squash are hanging on the vine getting a nice protective skin, and I thought the zucchini were done. Then I lifted a few of those gigantic leaves. What I had assumed was the wooden border of the garden was actually a huge and very dark zucchini. I mean HUGE. And two days later – another on a plant that I thought had given up earlier in the summer, but was growing in secret behind another plant. So now I have these enormous zukes.

My favorite trick with zucchini is to shred it and freeze it. I tend to do it by weight, put it in a bag, write the weight on the bag and pop in the freezer. Why by weight? Because my favorite zucchini bread recipe calls for zucchini by weight. So as we move into the cold months, I have my key ingredient already shredded and measured, ready to go. My favorite zucchini bread recipe is based on one I used for years from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. America’s Test Kitchen publications, such as The America’s Test Kitchen New Family Cookbook (this is the new version of the book I have which is no longer in print), are fantastic. If you are trying to improve your cooking skills, there are few more comprehensive resources. The recipes are not intended for restrictive diets, but they are full of real food and I’ve successfully adapted many of them as my own dietary preferences have changed. And what I’ve learned from the authors has been priceless. This zucchini bread is lightly spiced, sweet but not cloying, and deeply satisfying with a cup of coffee, or a mug of tea, or whatever you want to drink.

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  • 1 pound zucchini, shredded and drained (see below)
  • 1/4 c coconut milk (or whatever kind works for you)
  • 3/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 4 T coconut oil, melted and let cool but not harden
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 c walnuts chopped and toasted (or if you’re like me you don’t toast, forget to put them in the batter and then put them on top where they will toast in the oven and then think you’re awesome for doing that)

Preheat oven to 375 with rack set in middle of oven. Coat a small loaf pan (mine was 8 x 4, standard is fine, but your loaf will be shorter). Shred zucchini on large holes (I used a food processor)l Place zucchini in strainer. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir to distribute the salt. The salt will pull the liquid out of the veg. Let drain for at least 15 minutes. Wrap a tea towel (or paper if that’s all ya got) around the zucchini and squeeze the remaining water out. Be astonished by the amount of water in that veg. No, you can’t skip that step. Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup, applesauce, coconut oil, flax eggs and lemon juice together in a bowl. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Fold the zucchini and the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix (yeah, I don’t know why either).

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Scrape batter into loaf pan. Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean – or until it feels right to you (that’s my test, a little press in the middle with my finger), should be about an hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Continue cooling on wire rack for at least an hour, being sure to have a taste while it’s still warm. Super yum.

Frozen Chicken, Smoked Steelhead, Beef Corndogs Recalled

FSNBThose of you who’ve been playing along know I’m not likely to have any of these in my kitchen, but where these recalls are concerned, I have this lingering fear that someday I’ll read one a few days too late and see the list of foods I’ve given my kids for dinner. I was late on the nectarine recall over the summer and was so glad I hadn’t shared them with the kids… thus my motivation for sharing recalls for foods I don’t eat. Someone might be serving them up for dinner tomorrow. Frozen chicken details (Foster Farms strikes again, listeria) here. Smoked steelhead details (listeria) here, and beef corn dogs (improper storage) here. Even if these are not foods you eat, please pass these along. Clean fridges, clean freezers, clean eating – but you don’t have to clean your plate – no matter what your mother told you. Eat well be well friends.