Weekly Meal Plan 4/13-4/19

“But I can’t. I don’t have time. I have SO much to do. There’s crap all over my counters. There’s stuff all over the table. I can barely move in my kitchen. I HAVE to finish this house project pronto. I can’t possibly stop and write a meal plan right now. No, really I can’t. I need to keep working until this thing is finished…” And so the monkeys have been shouting in my head all day. They don’t really shout – that would be too obviously hostile. It’s more of a chatter, you know, like monkeys.

You see, in my brilliance, I decided that rather than spending one more minute being annoyed with my kitchen cabinets, I would – no not pay anyone to do anything about it because I am way too cheap for such a maneuver – begin the process of refinishing them. Okay, it’s not a full on refinishing, but the details are not really all that important. Point is every inch of my cabinets needs to be touched several times with a variety of renovation products and tools – many of which create smells that are likely killing my brain. Yeah, so I started that without a single thought about what else might be on the calendar. Yep, that’s how I roll. Call me impetuous. Call me impulsive. Call me shortsighted and long on initial enthusiasm. Here’s the thing. I have a LOT of cabinets. Most of the time, that fact resides in the positive category. Today… yeah.

At any rate. I was preparing to publish a brief explanation of why I didn’t make a menu this week because totally busy, kitchen under tarps, stain all over my fingers, addled by primer fumes, and then it dawned on me (in spite of the aforementioned addled state) that this is EXACTLY when I need to make a meal plan. My week is going to be crammed and difficult. Mr. Little Sis is traveling this week. A close friend is getting married on Saturday and I have music to prepare for that. I have some resume work to do for some freelance work I’d really like to score (as long as they don’t give it to me anytime soon). I really need to make a plan for SOMETHING or the whole family logistical world is going down the crapper. So, I need a meal plan. And I need to actually spend a little longer on it than usual so I choose wisely. Momma needs a lot of help or there’ll be a whole lot of carry out, and I really don’t want to do that. So, here we go friends. A meal plan for the uber busy, slightly overwhelmed, fume addled, and admittedly a little grumpy home cook.

Monday: Varia-Bowls with Roasted Asparagus and Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce

Tuesday: Nofredo Spaghetti, peas, Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Wednesday: Chickpea Salad Sammies, Oven Fries, green salad

Thursday: Tunisian Roasted Vegetables see Bigg Sis’ tips on easy tabil and harissa here

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Wedding Dinner!! (no, not our wedding, we already did that almost 16 years ago)

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with roasted vegetables, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Yeah, I’m taking a pass here, okay? Low sugar graham crackers from a box this week friends.

Adult Lunches: Kale salad – from a bag… that’s right, I said it. This is how I cut myself some slack during a busy week. I buy kale salad in a bag. I am weird.
  

I will take some pictures later in the week and post them on our Baby Steps to Better Health FB page, which I strongly encourage you to visit. :-) Hope you’re managing your time and expectations better than I am this week friends. And yes, that’s a low bar, so there you go a win for the week for you – and it’s only Monday! Eat well, be well friends.

Popcorn Pasta – A Strangely Named Last Minute Dinner

Popcorn Pasta?! WTH is she talking about?! This could take many unappealing forms – using popcorn AS pasta and putting sauce on it – which would, of course, melt the yummy part of the popcorn and leave you with a strangely starched and very hull-y red sauce. Yeah, that’s not it. One could also, in theory, put popcorn on your pasta as a topping I suppose, but similar difficulties would ensue unless of course you were using raw pasta in which case I would tell you that nobody who is sober should really chew on raw dried pasta. So what on earth is popcorn pasta, my kids’ new favorite?

Popcorn pasta is named thusly only because I season it the SAME way I season popcorn. So you’re about to get a key not only to super easy and yummy pasta but to fantastic popcorn (you know the kind you make in a pot and then put stuff on). Popcorn pasta has 4 ingredients. Yep, I said 4. It is done in approximately 30 seconds longer than it takes to cook your favorite dried pasta, and, in case I haven’t said it, is super yummy. Four ingredients: dried whole wheat pasta (yes, please whole wheat and here’s why OR if you’re a white pasta devotee, still read that bit about why and try a blended pasta to get used to the idea of wheat pasta), olive oil, salt, and nutritional yeast.

We were fine there for a minute, weren’t we, and then I said nutritional yeast. There are many of you (our vegan pals) who already know about nutritional yeast and likely call it something like “nooch” so you don’t have to use this totally unappealing moniker, but the uninitiated will not find “nooch” in the store, so we have to pull back the curtain. What the heck is nutritional yeast?! Unfortunately this is not a terrible quick, or appealing sounding answer. I can tell you that it is NOT the same as baking yeast and substitutions will create messy and unpleasant results. It is also NOT Brewer’s yeast, which will not be as messy, but will taste like poo. Nutritional yeast comes in flake and powder form and is often used in dishes that might otherwise include some cheese – ya know, like pasta. Why on earth must they call it nutritional yeast? Well, clearly whoever named it did not study marketing, but here’s the skinny on “nooch” from one of my favorite bloggers (FatFreeVeganKitchen)…

“As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, is gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, is a great addition to the vegan diet (though I strongly recommend taking a supplement as the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying.

The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but truthfully, I use nutritional yeast for its flavor, which has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.”

So there you are – good reasons to use nutritional yeast despite it’s terrible name. Two more good reasons: awesome popcorn and Popcorn Pasta. I am only writing this up in recipe form because I am unable to bear the inconsistency that would result from simply describing the procedure (which would admittedly be adequate), now you know something about me you probably didn’t want to know.

Popcorn Pasta

  • Whole Wheat Pasta cooked according to your preference (we’re an al dente bunch)
  • Olive Oil
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Salt

So here you go, the big finish. Add olive oil to your cooked pasta – enough to make it a little slick, not enough to pool. Add generous shakes of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of salt (adjust for your taste and pasta amount). Stir together – if you have one of these beauties this part is even easier. Taste. Add ingredients as desired. Serve with veggies. Demolish. Delight. Yes, the procedure for super yummy popcorn is the same, although I use a mister for my olive oil in that situation to avoid the aforementioned popcorn mush problem. Eat well, be well friends, even when that means eating things with terrible names.

No! Not a Hummus Recall!

Ever wonder what 30,000 cases of humus look like? I hadn’t until this very moment when I read about that number of cases being recalled for potential listeria contamination. Mercy that’s a lot of hummus. Listeria is a nasty bugger. If you buy hummus at the store, please check the details on this one. If you’d like to save a little money and have the freedom to make your hummus just as you like, take a look at all of our hummus recipes. Just search hummus and you’ll have plenty of options. Eat well, be well friends.

Weekly Meal Plan 4/6-4/12

Here it is, the last day of “Spring Break,” which for us was shortened due to an overabundance of snow days. It is in these times that my Mom insecurity moves in for a few days and takes hold. I see all the pictures on Facebook of families who’ve gone somewhere exotic, or even not so exotic but away, for the break. I see other pictures of well-planned Staycations with lots of enriching outings. They’re all smiling so much in these pictures. I’m smiling too, because it’s going to be 73 degrees here today, but these pictures bring out that fear. Am I doing enough? Are they happy? Do my kids have fun? Will they have good memories? Why aren’t we at the beach? (Okay, that last one was a little different, and admittedly more about me, myself, and I.) And then I look at them.

Okay, I mean I get up and look out the window and look at them. They’re riding bikes with their neighbors and having a ball. They’re healthy and happy and we are all okay. Today we have to go say goodbye to a classmate of theirs who succumbed after a long battle with a rare disease. He was in the second grade. We will go pay our respects and probably cry. And hopefully offer some comfort by being part of a very large and loving crowd that will do the same. And then we will have the luxury of leaving and returning to our regular lives which are pretty darned wonderful. At some point in there, we will also eat and be thankful that we are able to find nourishment in our meals and joy with one another. A true thanksgiving, informed by sorrow, in the long awaited Spring.

Monday: Popcorn Pasta (named by the kids and I will share in a couple of days even though it’s so easy it’s hardly worth writing up, wait, you want to hear about those don’t you?)

Tuesday: Rockin’ Falafel, veggies for falafel sandwiches, large lettuce for lettuce wrap style falafel, tahini dressing, cut veggies,

Wednesday: Coconut Curry with Green Beans, Potatoes and Kale, green salad

Thursday: Lentil Minestrone, homemade bread, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Half Raw Stir Fry with Bibimbap Rice

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever AND Pesto, because we have no boundaries, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Effin’ Easter Candy (there’s not a ton of it, so I’m going to take the quick eradication approach this time)

Adult Lunches: Salads with lovely spring veggies and leftovers

 

There it is. A week of healthful cooking and hopefully grateful eating. Eat well, be well friends.

March Wrap Up

Holy Bananas I can’t believe March is over! After all that dreadful winter, the calendar leads me to believe Spring is actually upon us and the rain gauge outside agrees. Yay! I bought some pea plants today to give the garden a jump start – they were so beautiful on the shelf at the Food Co-op that I couldn’t help myself. Sometime over the next few Spring-y days I’ll get them in the ground. Because if there’s one thing I love in Spring, it’s garden fresh peas. Mostly I love eating them off the vine when nobody else is looking, but I’ve also been known to throw them in food for others, like the Company Good Pea Soup featured in this week’s menu. I’ll have to buy some for that, but even store bought fresh peas are a nice welcome for Spring.

Bigg Sis and I have both had a busy month in the parts of our lives that we don’t really highlight here. She’s been working her behind off at work and school. I’ve been trying to keep the twins engaged in what has been a less than spectacular academic year and learning and performing a whole lot of music. All that activity helped to shake the winter blues away, but sheesh we’ve been busy. I can’t believe we actually managed to write some posts at the same time.

Bigg Sis tempted us with Healthy Stuffed Peppers – which earned her a 100% approval rating at her house (a score that is difficult to achieve in both of our homes). I shared a variation on one of my favorite simple one pot dishes: Lentils, Potatoes, and Tomatoes. So good, and great as leftovers (I just thawed and ate some yesterday). A fan of potatoes and want a new way to eat them? Try Bigg Sis’ Shepherd’s Pizza – we loved it! Or go more traditional, and make some dairy free gravy using a tried and true cooking technique for sauces and gravies – a roux. Oh sweet comfort food, how I love you.

  

If you are also a fan of comfort food, try some of our meal plans from March (especially earlier in the month when it was colder) to shake things up at your house. We do these plans every week and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to plan, budget, spend less time at the store and have something on the table in a reasonable amount of time. Nice, eh? Take a look at all our Weekly Meal Plans by clicking on that category in the sidebar.

Unfortunately March brought us some food warnings and recalls. We post these when they catch our attention (find them in the Health News and Views category), but if it’s something you’re worried about, you should check out the Food Safety News website. I’ve also been contemplating posting these to our Facebook page, which you’ll find at Baby Steps to Better Health.

Hope you’ve had a spectacular March friends. I don’t know about this lion/lamb business where March is concerned, I’m just glad it’s finally getting warmer. Lion or lamb, we hope things are looking brighter and sunnier in your neck of the woods.

Weekly Meal Plan 3/30-4/5

Shakin’ the tree… Shakin’ the food rut. Shakin’ it up. Doesn’t take me long at all to slip into a pattern with this meal planning business. I get bored. They get bored. Everybody gets crabby. Okay, so there may be more to the crabbiness than the dinner menu rut. The twins have discovered Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and have lost all their regard for lights out dictates… So we’ve begun double checking, ensuring books are down (a nice problem to have, I have to admit). Compliance has increased, crabbiness is waning. If we could get a nice day or two, we just might be getting somewhere. In the meantime, Momma needs some new dinner magic. This week I’m adding a couple of recipes from the Meatless Monday website. This is a great resource for anyone trying to up the plant content of their plate, which doctors seem to be agreeing is the thing to do. What do you do when you get in a recipe rut? Me, I’m gonna shake it up a little and see where that gets me. We could all use a little tree shaking now and again.

Monday: Lentil, Mushroom, and Sweet Potato Soup, Homemade Bread, green salad

Tuesday: Peppers Stuffed with Healthy Yum, roasted cauliflower, cut veggies

Wednesday: Mushroom Po’Boys (inspired by these Morel Mushroom beauties from Meatless Monday’s site – personally I don’t have a line on morel mushrooms, if you do, go for it and don’t tell anyone), sautéed green beans, green salad

Thursday: Potato pancakes, grilled vegetables, wedge salads with miso dressing

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Company Good Pea Soup, Homemade Bread, green salad

Sunday: Easter Dinner at Grammy’s

Lunchbox Treats: Awesome Oatie Bars

Adult Lunches: Avocado Radish Salad from Meatless Monday’s site

  

That’s what we’re up to. What’s new with you? What trees are you shaking? Anything fall yet? Eat well, be well friends!

Spinach and Spinach Product Recalls

NewsUpdate6Looks like we’re having a big spinach problem friends. If you have any spinach or spinach products in your house, please read the details that follow. This one has been expanded and it would be good to check where your spinach originates.

Twin City Foods (Washington state) has recalled several varieties of frozen spinach sold under a variety of name brands in places all over the country. Details here.

Superior Foods (sold at Target nationwide) is recalling frozen organic spinach for possible listeria. Details here.

La Terra Fina has recalled spinach and spinach and artichoke dip sold in Costco stores nationwide and Smart on the West Coast. Again the recall was for listeria. Details here.

I have to say I would be a little cautious about spinach until a little more time has passed to be sure they’ve figured out the scope.

Weekly Meal Plan 3/23-3/29

Another weekend behind us and 5 days of grind to get to the next one, but the next one has a date night in it!!! Wahootie! Mr. Little Sis and I will actually be leaving our house without our children and our beloved sitter (who is a kindergarten teacher, and yes that’s perfect and no, you can’t have her) will be entertaining the dynamic duo. We intend to eat something somewhere and then going to a singer songwriter coffeehouse. Perfecto. Spring is springing and now I am too.

Monday: Not Just Kramer’s Mulligatawny Soup, Homemade Whole Wheat Bread, green salad

Tuesday: Nofredo Orzo, roasted cauliflower, cut veggies

Wednesday: Lentil Bulgur Burgers, Oven Fries, green salad

Thursday: Oven Cooked Asparagus with quinoa and Mung Bean Sprout Namul (Spring has Sprung!!)

Friday: Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Date Night – That’s right I said DATE NIGHT!

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever

Lunchbox Treats: Almond Lemon Jots

Adult Lunches: big giant salads with sauerkraut and miso dressing – don’t judge, it’s awesome

  

Here’s hoping Spring has really sprung where you are. Today was the first day our resident woodpeckers passed up the bird feeders in favor of pecking on actual trees, I imagine in search of actual bugs and stuff rather than seeds. I miss watching them – they are really cool, but I take as a sign that all is right in the world that they don’t need us anymore. Have a great week friends. Eat well, be well!

Lentils, Potatoes, and Tomatoes – So Simple, So Good

The other day when I entered the kitchen to attempt to follow my meal plan for the week, I discovered that despite all my careful planning, I was missing a key ingredient for the dish I planned to make. What’s a Mom of hungry children to do? Divert from the plan is the only answer, but the question is what level of diversion. Rather than coming up with a whole new game plan, I decided to simply make some changes to the recipe based on the ingredients I DID actually have on hand. This is a common strategy on my part, and has nearly always resulted in some level of success. My success at making these change ups is likely because i don’t just replace the missing item with any old thing.( Read here for my suggestions on adapting, changing, and experimenting with recipes in ways that are more likely to create a successful outcome.)

On this particular occasion I was short the chickpeas required to make Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes according to Deborah Madison’s recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (see my thoughts on Deborah Madison). I know, I know – me out of chickpeas, it’s almost too much to believe, but I tried not to linger on that ridiculous reality and moved quickly to surveying what I DID have available. And what I DID have was some already cooked lentils (always cook extra of staples – see here for why). Yay! I pulled the lentils out as well as the other ingredients and got down to business. It occurred to me that while the lentils were going to play the same nutritional role as the chickpeas (protein, fiber), they are so radically different in size and texture I supposed there may be some consequences for the switch. But I proceeded and just sort of kept my eyes open for things that needed tweaking.

As it turned out, the lentils did give the dish a very different flavor and overall feel. They also seems to take up some of the liquid from the dish, even though they were already cooked, I added to the tomatoes called for in the original recipe and then added some extra seasoning to make up for the additional volume. It was a delicious dish and scored a 75% percent approval rating in our house, Ms. Picky Pants was, not surprisingly, not a fan. I was a simple dish with delicious flavors and while it was nice and warming on a chilly day, I’m told it can also be served cold with lemon wedges and black olives. I have some ideas for summer!

Lentils, Potatoes, and Tomatoes – inspired by Deborah Madison’s Chickpeas, Potatoes, and Tomatoes in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

  • Olive oil for the pan
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 red potatoes, peeled and diced (I went slightly larger than a dice and used the three small russets I had on hand – I also didn’t peel them, I know I’m bad)
  • 2 carrots cut into small rounds (less than 1/2 and inch so they cook in a reasonable amount of time)
  • a pinch to 1/2 t chili powder or smoked paprika, depending on your heat preferences
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 2 1/2 c diced tomatoes (I used cans and did not drain them)
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (I used French as that’s what was in the fridge waiting to be used)
  • 1/2 c raw cashews (or 1/2 c more beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c water (or enough to make a broth to simmer in)
  • 1/2 c chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 c chopped parsley

Warm oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until onions are beginning to color – 5 to 10 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, chili, and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, lentils and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to simmer. Simmer until veggies are tender. About 25-30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Stir in fresh herbs and cashews if using.

  

We served ours with lemon wedges and quinoa. Absolutely delish!

Garlic Powder, Walnuts, and Boxed Mac N Cheese Recalled

NewsUpdate6Hey friends. I haven’t really been on top of these lately, so I apologize if I am your sole source of food safety news. There are many sources of this kind of information out there, including this one, which allows you sign up for notices. I strongly recommend that you find a way to check this info periodically. I have discovered that two of the markets that I use regularly actually contact you in the event of a recall, but in both cases I had already heard about it from FoodSafetyNews and in one of the two cases was able to avoid eating the product altogether because I’d heard about it early enough. Listen, I’m not suggesting you live in fear. I’m suggesting that having access to information about your food is a good thing. So here’s the dealio…

Garlic Powder: Natural Grocers recalls all organic garlic powder for potential salmonella. Walnuts: Wegman’s recalls organic walnut halves and pieces for potential salmonella.

What about the boxed Mac n Cheese? Salmonella – a bacterium associated with food poisoning and other digestive woes? Listeria – a bacteria commonly associated with processed foods? No, friends. Certain lots of mac n cheese may contain metal pieces. Metal pieces. Like, pieces of metal. Not part of the natural world at all, dirty or clean. Do yourself a favor, replace that expensive not very nutritious box of potentially metallically infused macaroni and cheese with our Instantly Healthier Mac N Cheese. Or, if you want a dairy free version, try these Zucheesey Noodles. You don’t need that stinkin’ box.