We are still enjoying the bounty of our CSA shareevery week. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with one more cucumber or squash (although my oldest is enjoying the pickles immensely. Maybe I’ll post about those, too.) The zucchini, however, doesn’t present a problem. I just keep making bread and sticking it in the freezer. I know there are other great things to do with zucchini – like roasting it – have you done that? Yum. But, I really like having loaves of bread stuck away for the future.
This particular recipe is a hybrid of about 3 other recipes that I kept toying with…and while I’m not going to say it’s “healthy,” I will say it is considerably healthier than any of the original recipes. I cut the oil down by more than half and substituted applesauce. I nearly doubled the zucchini and reduced the sugar by about half as well. (I omitted the walnuts…though that would be some extra protein and good fat…you could certainly add them in if that floats your boat.)
It freezes very well and also keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. If you have an abundance of zucchini, I recommend making a double or triple batch for the freezer. The last time I made it I had left over batter that wasn’t quite enough for a loaf, so I made muffins. They had all disappeared by the next morning. I only ate one. No one else is talking, of course. Suffice it to say, next time I’m making more muffins!
A lot of zucchini recipes will give you elaborate instructions for getting all the water out of the grated zucchini. I’m pretty lazy about stuff like that (see tomato sauce) and really don’t want to spend the time wringing water out of vegetables. So I don’t. I grate all the zucchini a day or two ahead of time, layer it lasagna-style in a bunch paper towels in a big Tupperware container and stick it in the fridge. The paper towels soak up most of the liquid and the zucchini is crisp and cold when it’s time to go into the batter. It seems to work out just fine.
This recipe has proven to be pretty flexible…so if you want it sweeter, add a little more sugar….moister, add more oil or applesauce. As long as the ratios stay pretty close it really turns out every time. So consider this a template for your own experimentations…enjoy!
Almost-Healthy Zucchini Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-3 cups grated zucchini (I use three)
Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans. Preheat oven to 325°. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, soda, cinnamon in a bowl. Beat eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla and sugars together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat well. Stir in zucchini until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 50 minutes (up to 60…use tester until it comes out clean.) Cool in pan on rack for at least 15 minutes, then remove and cool completely.
Are you a meal planner? Is your grocery list organized by store aisle? Do you even make a grocery list? Do you already know what you are going to have for dinner this Thursday night?
I have dreams in which breakfast, lunch and dinner are all planned for 7 days at a time. In which everything I need for all of those meals – 21 of them…more like 30 if you include kids’ snacks and a dessert in there somewhere – is all neatly organized in my kitchen and waiting to be turned into a Rockwellesque dinner around our table. You heard the part about “dreams,” right?
In that dream I also have a pantry that looks like this.
In reality, I feel like I go to the grocery store every other day and still manage to stand in my kitchen and not have the things I need to make whatever it is I’m throwing together at the last minute. And these are meals that will most likely be eaten by the boys at the senior-citizen dinner hour while they watch Phineas & Ferb, and then something else I come up with eaten by me and my husband when he gets home from work much later. There’s nothing Norman Rockwell about it. Well, except for how cute my boys are, of course. 😉
And in reality my freezer looks like this:
And my pantry looks like this:
But every once in awhile I say, “OK, I’m going to actually put together a full menu plan for the week and only buy those things at the store and not go to the store again for the week and not order out.” I did that today. The impending start-of-school tends to send me into a panicked flurry of wishful organizational dreams. There’s just something about clean, crisp, empty composition notebooks that make me so optimistic about the possibilities.
And today I was once again reminded of one of the many reasons I always feel compelled to be more disciplined about meal planning. I left the store having spent almost exactly the same amount of money I normally spend, but instead of coming home and wondering what we were going to eat for dinner for the week, I have multiple full meal options. I even managed to plan reasonable dinners for the three nights of the week I won’t be home. Why don’t I always do this?
It’s a mystery.
Well, it’s not entirely a mystery. It takes a nice little chunk of uninterrupted time to sit down and plan out the week, the meals, gather the recipes, make the shopping list. I realize it is an investment of time and, in the long run, a huge time-saver, money-saver, stress-saver. But this is the biggest reason I get lazy about meal planning, says the world-class procrastinator. It’s a really lame excuse.
So in an attempt to hold myself accountable to my menu plan…and maybe inspire some planning support out there (hello?) ….here’s the weekly dinner plan:
Tuesday – 40 Garlic Chicken with mashed potatoes, a green salad and baguette (a crock pot meal because it is a support group night)
Wednesday – Shrimp Étouffée with orange-ginger green beans (something I can quickly cook and leave for the boys before I’m off to see evening clients)
Thursday – Pot Roast with roasted carrots/potatoes and a salad (a dinner that can cook all afternoon and be ready when we all get home from “Meet the Teacher” night)
Also enough stuff for a carpet picnic or two, Noodley and the makings for spring rolls with peanut sauce for the weekend.
Of course I’ll be doing my best to post recipes for the dishes that aren’t here yet. I must admit I was surprised to see that I have never posted a pot roast…it’s only one of my husband’s very favorite things in the world to eat. (UPDATE) In fact, it is in the menu plan at his request (along with the crock pot chicken and the Noodley.) Isn’t that nice of me to let him have a say?
Here’s two fun resources for menu planning assistance:
Eat Your Books – a truly genius website that lets you search YOUR OWN COOKBOOKS!! How many times have you thought, “Hmmm, I think I have a recipe for that….in one of my cookbooks. I wonder which one?” I love this site and have recently added most of my library to my account. In fact, just today I bookmarked several recipes from one of my cookbooks (that I haven’t looked at in years) as possibilities for next week’s menu plan. Isn’t that optimistic of me? And when I did a quick search for “shrimp” I was surprised to learn I had more than 200 shrimp recipes in my very own shelves. I am definitely not utilizing my own library of culinary resources – I hope this site will help me change that because I LOVE my cookbooks! (And if you are like my Facebook friends you are currently formulating a Forrest Gump joke at my disbelief that one could do so many things to a shrimp!)
Menu Planning Monday – from I’m An Organizing Junkie. This is a great place to start and get on-going inspiration for incorporating menu planning into your routine. She swears it changed her life and can change yours, too. (I’m saying this to myself right now. Looking right into the mirror. Wondering why I never listen to me.)
Signing out and launching into my fully meal-planned week. Wish me luck! (And please share tips, tidbits and resources if you are an experienced meal planner…or would like to become one!)
From Facebook friends and others…some meal planning resources:
For years I’ve been saying that I was supposed to be Italian. And I really, really mean it. I was totally born on the wrong continent.
That’s one of the villages in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. I wish I lived there. And here’s another village in that same region:
Of course there’s always the countryside of Tuscany – really, who wouldn’t want to run away to this place? It seems the sunshine there is always golden like that. Gorgeous.
If I ever just “disappear,” chances are good that I’ve found myself a little hideaway somewhere in all this beauty. Oh, and I can’t forget Florence.
Florence and Kiev have always been neck-and-neck at the top of my most-captivating-cities-I’ve-ever-visited list. Florence overwhelms me. In a good way.
I’m about to pack my bags right now…and I haven’t even started thinking about the food! The food!
I’m working on another food blog project right now – just doing the behind-the-scenes prep work at the moment for something I hope to launch this year (isn’t that a tease?) Anyway, some of the books I’m reading through as research claim to have lists of the “best dishes in the world” or “a global culinary canon” and on these lists there are 80 – 100 different dishes presented. Guess where most of them come from? In fact, on one list nearly one quarter of the entire list was from two places…Italy and France. The French, of course. (Not that I have anything against France…as long-time readers will remember from my Frenchphase…and it’s probably safe to assume that my “French phase” is more of a culinary stand-by than a phase anyway.) Those French – they’ve got the whole kitchen thing down.
Anyway…back to Italy.
Well, no, not exactly. I’m not in Italy. That’s the problem. I’m never in Italy. (insert sad-pouty face here)
So, that leaves me the food. And in our house, we’re more than happy to oblige.
Let’s talk about it.
It can be an all-day event. Or not. It can be tomato or Béchamel. With meat or not. With spinach or not. The variations are many.
I could live on lasagna. It’s one of the very few things I have in common with Garfield. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it seems appropriate. I think I’ve made approximately 213 different versions of lasagna. Don’t worry, I’m only going to talk about two of them right now. One that will take you most of a day. And one that will not.
Let’s start with the longer version.
Second only maybe to Hollandaise, I would say this sauce is my husband’s favorite. He gets a little gleam in his eye when I say I’m going to make it. Bolognese…this is the beginning of the all-day lasagna.
Commonly known as “aromatics” and the base to many, many stocks, soups, stews and sauces, the combination of onions, celery and carrots make up what the French call “mirepoix” (pronounced meer-PWAH.) Creole cooking calls it the “holy trinity” and in Italian it is “soffritto.”
The vegetables are cooked down for a few minutes in a combination of butter and olive oil. The the meats are added and cooked. Then the happy begins.
This sauce gets reduced three times. Yes. You read that correctly. Three. Which means three times the yumminess. And it also means it takes a good part of the afternoon. And makes your house smell scrumptious.
First a quart of milk. Reduce gently for nearly an hour. Then you do the same with red wine and the third time is beef stock.
After the three or so hours of reducing, it will look something like this:
A nice rich color and you can see the reduction on the side of the pot. At this point you should feel free to grab a spoon and just eat it right off the stove top. No one would judge you.
Or you can let it cool and use it to make lasagna. Or drench some pasta with it. And I usually divide it up and freeze some for another time. It freezes beautifully. But whatever you do with it, when you serve it you should immediately feel like that tiny little Italian grandmother who is perpetually in an apron and always seems to make the most wonderful things appear from her kitchen.
Now let’s talk about a lasagna that doesn’t require you to channel “Nonna” or stand near the stove for half the day.
Yes – that’s a crockpot.
I didn’t follow a recipe for this lasagna, so I’ll just show you what I did. The meat sauce is about a pound and a half of ground beef or turkey, browned, and then mixed with one of those packets of spaghetti sauce. You know, the kind you mix with a small can of tomato paste and some oil and water? And I also added some sliced mushrooms. The noodles are the pre-semi-cooked kind.
The cheese mixture is ricotta, parmesan and mozzerella. Then I added in some basil and some Italian seasoning. I have also used that herb-seasoned cheese spread mixture in place of the ricotta before – also yummy. You can see it here all mixed:
Then the parts all get layered into the crock pot.
A little sauce in the bottom, then noodles, then cheese mixture. Repeat. Repeat. You know how lasagna works.
After the last layer of sauce, cover with mozzarella. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. (You will have to experiment with the time in your own crockpot…depending on its size and how many layers you put in…it could take more or less time.)
It’s very easy to have the sauce and the cheese mixture in your fridge and it only takes about 10 minutes to assemble it. The last time I made it, I threw it together when I was cleaning up the kitchen from lunch. The boys and I headed out for the park and to run some errands…we got home about the same time as their dad got home from work…I put a quick salad together and dinner was ready.
It’s not Italy. I know.
But it kind of smells like it. Or at least a kitchen in Italy.
And, if you close your eyes while eating that Bolognese sauce, you just might be able to transport yourself to this place:
It’s worth a try.
adapted from Martha Stewart, 2003
3 TB unsalted butter
3 TB extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, ¼ inch dice
3 stalks celery, ¼ inch dice
3 carrots, ¼ inch dice
2 pounds ground sirloin
2 pounds ground pork
1 quart whole milk
2 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 quart beef stock (2 14.5 oz cans)
1 cup tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
¾ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
In a large cast-iron or enamel pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, cook until they soften (5 minutes.) Add celery and carrots, cook until vegetables are tender (8-10 minutes.) Add ground sirloin and pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink. Add milk, cook at a gentle simmer, skimming fat from surface until liquid has reduced by half (about an hour.) Add wine, simmer until liquid is reduced by half again (about 45 minutes.) Add beef stock, tomato paste, salt, pepper and simmer gently until sauce thickens (about an hour.) Makes about 3 quarts.
The boys are sick and have been for a few days. Just colds, but annoying in so many ways. I don’t feel good about taking them anywhere – and contaminating any other children – so it means I can’t go to the gym or keep my playdates or send the four-year-old to his summer program while he’s hacking up a lung. Even though they don’t have fevers, they aren’t quite themselves: active, but crankier and whinier than usual. Not to mention the shocking amount of runny substance continuously flowing from my ten-month-old’s nose. I think I say “gross” about 37 times a day.
So here we are. In the house. Plying ourselves with Scooby-Doo and Batman cartoons. Trying to keep the baby from wiping his nose on our clothes.
Of course, I go to the kitchen any chance I can get. To escape. Not even to eat. (I’m trying this protein-shakes+working-out thing which, so far, has proven highly unsuccessful…but until I abandon it completely, I can’t even snack!)
So what am I doing in there?
I had a bag of green beans that came in my Greenling box and I didn’t think I would use them this week. So, I cleaned them and trimmed them and put them in the freezer. Not ideal as I prefer them fresh, but better than having to throw them away.
Also in the box were blackberries and plums – beautiful. But I already had a nice bag of plums from my in-laws’ tree. I knew we wouldn’t get through all of those before they started to get mushy. So I did this:
Made a mess?
Yes. A little bit.
That’s cooked down plums and blackberries (with just a little bit of sugar) being strained into a plastic bag. I try to do this on occasion with excess fruit I have before it goes bad. With this very simple base of plums and blackberries, I’ll have several options in the future. It will be good just like it is drizzled on oatmeal or yogurt or pancakes. Another good way to use a fruit sauce is to reduce it with butter and wine or balsamic vinegar and use it like a pan sauce with chicken or pork. You could also use it as a base for a relish – like with mangos and beets – to serve on fish. And with some herbs and oil and vinegar you’d have a lovely fruit-based salad dressing.
This really is as easy as it sounds. I literally wash the fruit and throw it into a saucepan. Skins and pits and all…since you are going to strain it, it doesn’t matter. I cut the plums in half so they are juicy quicker. If there isn’t a lot of natural juice I might squeeze a lemon or add a splash of wine…just something to get the moisture working. Once it’s all warmed through and a little bubbly, I mash it. Just like potatoes. Then I taste. Add some sugar or honey or not. Add some lemon or orange zest or not. Depends on how it tastes. That’s it. Just the essence of the fruit.
Strain it into something and save.
And then when you have some last-minute dinner guests you can really impress them with ice cream, sitting on a bed of crushed vanilla wafers, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled in a beautiful fruit sauce. It will look like a dessert you intended to make instead of one you just threw together in a semi-panic. Yes, I’ve been there. And a splash of Amaretto or Grand Marnier wouldn’t hurt either.
I’ve often thought about keeping a freezer inventory list. Since we have the regular freezer and a deep freeze, I worry sometimes that things get lost or forgotten. How neurotic would that make me? A spreadsheet with an inventory of freezer contents…I think I’ve been locked in this house too long.
After the fruit sauce, I froze a bunch of carrots. I love cooked carrots in a pot roast or stew. Add carrots to the inventory with green beans and blackberry-plum sauce and pancakes.
Then I finished up some black beans that had been getting happy in a pot overnight. These beans are so good they deserve their very own post. So you’ll have to wait to hear about them. I’ll just say YUM.
Then I made a chipotle-ranch-sour-cream sauce for the fish tacos I was going to make for dinner.
Then I fixed something for the four-year-old to eat. He eats about 17 times a day.
Then I wiped wet gooeyness off my knee.
Then I had a protein shake while longingly looking at a bottle of pinot noir.
Then we built a dinosaur puzzle. And I realized my four-year-old is better than I am at puzzles.
Then I wiped wet gooeyness off my forearm.
Then it was almost time to make fish tacos. Which we had with those black beans. Which I will tell you about another time.
Right now, I must go and start my list of freezer contents.
Do you ever grab those little breakfast muffins in the bakery at your grocery store? Are you ever jolted by how super-sweet they are? I like the idea of muffins for breakfast, but I don’t like them to be too sweet. And no, I’m not a fan of those all-bran-sawdust muffins, either. Disclosure: I’m a savory-breakfast kinda girl. But, I made these this morning, and with a few tweaks, they will be a perfect breakfast muffin.
Pumpkin isn’t just for the fall, right?
So, the biggest tweak is that I don’t think they need as much chocolate as the original recipe calls for… 1/2 an ounce per muffin tasted like a lot to me. Or maybe those teeny-tiny chocolate chips would be a better choice. I’m inclined to leave them out altogether. Disclosure: I’m not a huge, huge chocolate fan. Now don’t freak out, I didn’t say I DON’T like chocolate, just that I’m not nearly as crazy about it as I know some of you are.
Anyway, I found myself wishing for a little lemon zest flavor to lighten them up a bit and maybe even some poppy seeds. Oh, and cranberries. But I thought, “Do pumpkin and lemon flavors even go together? Can I do that?” Then I remembered a fabulous Christmas gift from my mother. This book. In the back of this book is a huge grid of “Classic and Contemporary Flavor Combinations.” Basically you can look up one flavor and follow its line across the grid to see where it best matches up with berries, nuts, citrus, fruits, chocolate, spices and even some vegetables. And guess what? Pumpkin and lemon were paired. I’m going to take that as one vote for my tweaking plan.
But if you have to have a daily chocolate fix, these wouldn’t be a bad way to get it.
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Break eggs in another bowl and stir. Add pumpkin and butter to eggs. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour over dry ingredients and gently fold in until all moistened. Do not over mix. Pour in lightly greased muffin pan and bake 22 minutes at 350°. (Be sure to check with cake tester as the batter is a little dense.)
These will also freeze well after cooled completely. Wrapping each muffin in plastic wrap before storing in a large freezer bag will help prevent freezer burn.
We had Hamburger Helper on occasion when I was growing up. I don’t remember anything specific about it, really, just that it was there sometimes. And I think homemade versions of the Hamburger Helper concept are great food-to-share recipes. (I say “homemade” because the sodium content of the boxed version should send you into orbit. Seriously. It shouldn’t be legal. Take note that the numbers refer to 1 cup of the prepared meal.)
This is easy to throw together with things you probably have in your kitchen most of the time: macaroni, ground beef or turkey, onions, bell peppers, some spices, some canned tomato products, brown sugar and cheese.
Nothing fancy here, folks. But my grandmother enjoyed it and was delighted to have it on hand to share with some people who dropped by.
As I write this, she is not at home enjoying a home-cooked meal. In fact, she was admitted to the hospital today. We’re not sure how serious it is, but I’m going to keep stockpiling these easy-to-share recipes just so I’m prepared to help when she returns home.
This process always speaks to me about how intimately food is tied to our communities and to our families…how integral it is in the fabric of our lives. It is a very immediate, tangible kind of support to deliver a meal to someone.
I’ve been going to my grandmother’s house several days a week to check in on her, help out, and drop off food. And I always go on the days I pick up my son from preschool. After several weeks of this new routine he started asking me as soon as he got into the car, “Are we going to MeMaw’s house?” And when I would say “yes” he would ask, “Why?” In the beginning I just said, “To visit and drop off some food.” That seemed to satisfy his question.
But after awhile I realized I was missing out on a great teaching opportunity. I was neglecting a chance to instill something in him about family. Since then the conversation has been a little different.
When he gets in the car he still asks, “Are we going to MeMaw’s house?”
I still say “yes” and he still asks “why?”
“To see how her day is going and if we can help her with anything…and because I have her dinner for tonight and her lunch for tomorrow.”
“But we just took her dinner, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did. And she ate it. And now she needs dinner again. Don’t you eat dinner every night?”
“Yes, I guess. How long will we keep taking her dinner?”
“For as long as she needs us to do it. This is just one little way we can let her know we love her and want to help her and take good care of her. Isn’t that what families are supposed to do?”
And then one of those little light bulb moments I adore:
“Do you make my lunch and dinner because you love me and because you are my family?”
I hope we have many more weeks ahead of us to keep having this conversation. And if we don’t, then I suspect there will be other lessons ready for us about what families do to support each other when they need it.
Cook the pasta until still firm to the bite – a little less than al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid when you drain the pasta and set it aside.
Brown the ground meat until no longer pink and drain off any fat. Set meat aside.
Saute the onions and peppers in the oil until they just begin to soften. Add the spices and garlic and continue to cook until they brown a bit (about 7 minutes – you want a nice rich color here.) Add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree, brown sugar, reserved pasta water and ground meat. Bring to a simmer and allow flavors to meld for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat and stir in pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour into baking dish (9×13…or 2 8×8…or even smaller portions if you plan to freeze several.) Sprinkle with cheese. (If freezing, you are finished here – cover and put in freezer. When ready to eat it, thaw completely and bake in a 350 degree oven until warmed through – about 25-30 minutes.)
If serving immediately, pop in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes to really melt cheese and warm through.
Another meal I made to take to my grandmother…easy to double, easy to freeze, easy to make, easy to share. Really, you should have this in your repertoire.
This is so quick to make, I didn’t even have time to take any proper photos. Somehow I managed to click some shots as I was packaging it up…but you’ll still be able to see its deliciousness, I have faith.
This recipe is adapted from a Pampered Chef recipe. I’ve made it roughly four hundred and thirty-two times. Toss some corn bread in the oven and dinner is both simple and yummy.
White Chicken Chili – adapted from The Pampered Chef
2 cans (15.5 oz) Great White Northern beans, drained
1 jar (16 oz) salsa verde
Slice off 1/4 inch of the pointed top of the garlic heads, exposing the cloves. Place the heads in a microwave safe bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teas. salt and 2 TB oil. Microwave, covered, on high for about 3 minutes – until garlic is soft. Set aside to cool.
Heat remaining oil in large skillet or Dutch oven. Saute onions and peppers in oil over medium heat until soft. Add seasoning blend. Cook for a minute until seasoning is well blended. Add chicken and saute until no longer pink.
Meanwhile, squeeze the cooled garlic into the bowl. Discard skins. Mash with a fork or with one of my favorite tools. Add beans and salsa to garlic and mix well. Add to chicken mixture and heat through. You can thin with some chicken broth if you prefer. (If you like a little more heat, add diced jalapenos to this, too.)
We serve this with grated cheese and sour cream and tortilla chips. A squeeze of lime would be nice, too. Some cilantro maybe. It’s up to you.
** I know, I know, you are thinking “THREE heads of garlic?” Sounds like a lot? It’s not really – very subtle because it is cooked. Come on, really? Such a thing as too much garlic? No way.
* If you don’t have a southwest seasoning blend, you can substitute the taco seasoning powder.
So go ahead: make a vat of it. Eat some. Fill your freezer. Make friends.