A Year With Goop [best birthday cake]

We did it! We kept our son alive, and quite adorable, for a whole year! A celebration was in order.

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A celebration, of course, approved by my introverted husband. We took a trip to the zoo, and came home for cake and presents. Perfection.

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Though I love to bake, I’m just not a cake-decorator. I kept it classic with Deb’s best birthday cake. But, I did cover the whole thing with Lucky Charms marshmallows. One big box gave me all I needed to completely coat a six-inch, two-layer cake. I got 18 cupcakes out of the batter in addition to the mini cake, and stuck a leprechaun hat marshmallow in the center of each.

p.s. I often love what Janssen is doing over at Everyday Reading, and she wrote about making mini cakes for each of her girls on their first birthdays. One of their other birthday rituals is sugar-y cereal for breakfast in bed. Love that.

Whole 30 – I’m Making My Own Rules

I promise, this blog isn’t going to turn all crazy-healthy on you anytime soon, but I do have plenty to say on Whole 30 right now. We’ve got some great books to talk about, some lists to share, oh, and a birthday cake (!), promise.

But for now, I’m on Whole 30. Happy Day 1 to me. I’ve never done it before, but it’s popped up enough in my social media feeds that I’ve checked it out, and the spirit has moved me, and here we all are. There are a couple of reasons I’m excited about this approach to eating. The first is that according to the official Whole 30 website, you’re not supposed to weigh yourself before or after the month. I’m not doing this to lose weight, I’m doing this because gracious, I eat so much crap that I need a reset. Not a “diet,” in the traditional sense. I also like Whole 30 because it’s 30 days. The point of the program isn’t to convert its followers to a carb- sugar- and dairy-free lifestyle. It’s to get your body used to whole foods, and then to slowly reintroduce the crap you want when it’s all over. (Of course, one possible benefit is that you may not want to reintroduce the crap in such vast quantities, and wouldn’t that be lovely?)

But I am absolutely making a couple little changes to the rules that are going to make this much more doable for me. And I decided that’s completely okay. Without trying to sound like a martyr here, I will say that my life is not completely about me anymore. Since having Gooplet, he comes first, and that leaves a lot less time for poring through Pinterest, searching for meal ideas. I want to be healthier, but I can’t dedicate the same kind of time to that pursuit that I once could. No more barre 5 times a week.  No one is more sad about that than my missing abs, but that’s too bad for them. I’ll find them some other time.

So, my bending of the rules:

Coffee:  Coffee is okay on Whole 30, as long as it’s not sugared or dairy-ed up. Oooooh, except that is my favorite kind of coffee in the world. I found an iced almond milk latte at the grocery store that has 4 g of sugar per serving. I’m going for it. I’ll reevaluate that choice in two weeks when people swear I may not even need coffee to get moving in the morning. You people sound crazy to me right now, but I’m willing to hear you out in a little while. 4 g. of sugar per day is approximately 1000 times less sugar than I’ve been eating, so I am certain I’ll still be okay.

Beans: You’re not supposed to eat legumes on Whole 30. I could look up why, but I don’t want to. I’m giving up pasta, bread, and rice. I’m ditching sugar and my beloved milk (RIP macaroni and cheese, and ice cream).  Beans are a thing that grows in nature. In order to eat them, you do nothing but soak and boil them in water. That seems harmless. This diet is restrictive enough, and I’ve got plenty of meals that would follow the rules, save for the beans. So I’ll just make them, and eat I’ll beans. We will all be okay.

The Bigger Picture: When it comes to beans, and any other spur of the moment decisions I make in the month ahead, I’m choosing to be kind to myself. I hope I don’t attack the pasta that’s still in my pantry in a fit of depravity, but I’m not ruling it out as a possibility. There’s one serving of yogurt left in my fridge, and it’s very likely I’ll throw it in a smoothie tomorrow morning rather than let it go bad. If I’m on the go with my beloved small child, and all can do is reach in the fridge and grab something before we get in the car, then that is what it is and I’ll eat it. I can’t be a good mom if I haven’t eaten lunch. So I will eat lunch.  (I am keeping some of his applesauce pouches in my bag for me, though.)

Whole 30 – What the Heck am I Even Doing?

The other day, I texted SCL and told her I really wanted to do a Whole 30 and she said, “What’s that?” Um, I don’t really even know if I know, you know?

This is my working knowledge of Whole 30 – It’s this thing people with blogs do when they feel like they’ve been eating unhealthily and want to hit the reset button. And if they do it more than 30 days, they call themselves Paleo. I heard a lot about eating Paleo on some of my favorite blogs about a year or two ago, but haven’t heard as much lately. Whole 30, however, still seems to be very much a thing.

The gist of it is that you eat real (whole) foods for 30 days. There are a myriad of restrictions, most notably grains and dairy. Oh yeah, and alcohol. So I’ve gotta get this done now before the weather warms up, which is the only time of year I actively want to drink booze all the time, and then please give me tons of it, preferably on a screened-in porch. Okay, but Whole 30.

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(This is a random, old picture, because there is literally nothing I eat right now that is beautifully photographed and Whole 30 compliant, but I like posts with pictures so much better.)

It is going to be incredibly difficult, mostly because it’s not at all how we eat now. One of my single greatest victories in life was getting back into the kitchen and figuring out a new rhythm to dinner-making with a child underfoot.  Or more literally, on-ankles. Dinner involves lots of things that can be made ahead and lots of things that can be made ahead are starchy casseroles with cheese. Those have to go. So I’m doing some research between now and Goop’s birthday, and flagging everything I can possibly think of that will keep me full-up for the next month.

To be continued.

Dinner Round Up

We just had a Pinterest round up and those are always fun, so why not a dinner round up?

See also, I don’t take pictures of my food anymore. A confluence of life events has left me such that I’m often eating,

a) standing up, while trying to do three other things at once
b) er, shoveling food in my mouth frantically, so I can head out the door
c) in a state of complete exhaustion because the day kicked my butt

I’d give you a classic blogger excuse like the winter light is terrible (and it is), but that would be utter nonsense.  I’m not snapping pictures of my food because I don’t sit still long enough to do it. Check out my Instagram stories if you want to see what’s for dinner.

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If you want to click on what’s for dinner, however, that’s easy enough. It’s right here:

Amy Thielen’s fancy meatloaf is amazing, and the “fancy” does not apply to the prep–it comes together easily enough. (Next time, I’d chop everything going in super tiny, but that’s a personal preference.)

Pinch of Yum’s Skinny Spinach Lasagna (though of course I didn’t use the skinny ingredients) was my first foray into no-boil noodles, and dare I say, it was a rip roaring success. Lasanga can now be a candidate for weeknight meal. Never thought I’d live to see the day.

The Kitchn’s Creamy Skillet Tortellini with Sweet Potato and Spinach is amazing. Always wanting to work sweet potatoes into the rotation, and this was a great way to do it.

Brown Eyed Baker’s Italian Wedding Soup has shredded chicken and ground beef meatballs.  Loved it. (Doubled the pasta because I always do.)

On a smiliar note, Bon Appetit put together a zoodle soup, to which I added real (egg) noodles because, see above. Felt like a fun twist on a classic vegetable soup. (This is what’s in the picture above.)

This slow cooker basil chicken with coconut curry sauce is a great alternative to cream of mushroom soup in the slow cooker.  You know I can only handle so much cream of mushroom in the slow cooker.

The Kitchn’s Cheesy Lentil, Mushroom and Rice Bake was a great meatless addition to the table, and something that can easily come together if you prep the grains ahead of time.

The Slow Train* [easy meatball stroganoff]

The (Not So) New Girl is great at reminding me that my baby isn’t on the slow train with regards to whatever skill he hasn’t quite yet mastered, he’s just on his own train. He’ll get where he needs to go in due time.

And I guess I will too? But oh, lately does it feel like I’m on the slow train back to Sunday dinners. I used to love throwing a hunk of meat in the oven for all of Sunday afternoons until it was falling apart, and we were so hungry we’d eat enough to put ourselves in a food coma.

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(I really want this image to rotate, and I’ve spent too much time not getting it to work.)

Enter Design Mom’s easy meatball stroganoff.  The perfect, hearty Sunday dinner, but without all that roasting time. I prepped the sauce during the day, we took Gooplet for a gorgeous winter walk, saw an open house, visited with neighbors, came home to put him to bed, and reheated dinner for ourselves.  Dream day, dream dinner.

To make meatballs for 4 or 6 friends, you will need:

Ingredients
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms (white button or cremini), sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
One (24 ounce) package frozen meatballs**
1 cup sour cream, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
For serving:
Hot, buttered egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice (we used barley)
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Instructions
1. In a Dutch oven or large 5-6 quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and let cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add the mushrooms and season with a little salt. Saute, stirring often, allowing the mushrooms and onions to brown nicely. Remove the onions and mushrooms from the pan. Set aside and keep warm.
3. To the pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and melt. When foaming subsides, add the flour and stir well. Cook the flour, stirring constantly, for 30-60 seconds. Add beef broth. Whisk well to remove any lumps.
4. Bring gravy to a simmer. Add the thyme sprigs to the pan along with the reserved onions and mushrooms.
5. Add the frozen meatballs to the pan. Stir to coat with the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until meatballs are heated through. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan.
6. Once meatballs have cooked through, stir in 1/2 to 3/4 sour cream, depending on preference. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Spoon the meatballs and sauce over hot noodles, spaetzle, or rice, with remaining sour cream on the side.

*An alternate story to tell with the serving of this dish, was my husband’s commentary that we are a great match because I understand it’s appropriate to serve bacon with meatballs.

**The key to the meatball-finding is to look for beef meatballs that are not Italian season.  The author of the post recommends meatballs from Trader Joes or IKEA.  I can vouch that frozen IKEA meatballs are one of life’s great joys.

Mom Brain [baked pesto rigatoni]

The other day, Wooden Nickels sent me an article, a headline, something, I don’t remember, about how “mom brain” isn’t real.
Hah.
Mom brain is absolutely real.  You know all those studies that show how important sleep is for making you a functional person?  (See here for what is perhaps the most applicable.) Well moms don’t sleep.  Even moms with “good sleepers” don’t sleep because their babies are teething, or have learned to stand and have decided the best time to practice this skill is the middle of the night, or the moms go back to work and upset the balance in which their life was hanging.  And moms of bad sleepers?  Ugh, just come sit by me.  Moms don’t sleep.  And a lack of sleep kills brain cells.
Enter, mom brain.
Mom brain is what allowed me to get entirely through the making of this dish, up to the point I needed to sprinkle the assembled casserole with cheese, and realize I didn’t ever put the basil in the pesto.  And by realize, I simply mean I saw two packages of basil sitting pretty in the drawer in the fridge, and then thought, huh, isn’t basil an essential ingredient in pesto? (Answer: yes!)
Here’s the great news.  Cooking is incredibly forgiving, and I loved this baked pesto rigatoni anyway.
To make a 9×13, or two 8×8 casserole(s), you will need:
For the pasta:
  • 1 lb. rigatoni
  • 2-3 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes
  • ½ cup reserved pasta water
  • ½ cup shredded cheese of choice (I used a mozzarella and provolone blend)
  • pesto (recipe follows)
For the pesto:
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup basil (unless you claim mom brain and leave it out)
  • ¾ cup almonds or pine nuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water is boiling, chop up the tomatoes – I just cut the little ones in half. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, place all the pesto ingredients in the food processor until smooth. Go ahead and stick a glass measuring cup in that boiling water and pull out 1/2 C, sans pasta, to thin out the sauce a little bit.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the cooked noodles with the chopped tomatoes and pesto. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish (or two 8x8s if you want to share with someone else) and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover loosely with well-oiled aluminum foil and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  Crisp things up by cooking 5 minutes longer without the foil.

AGOMEYR [enchilada orzo]

About as many times as I’ve mentioned AGOMYR on this blog, she has mentioned that she doesn’t really put the Y in AGOMYR.  And a couple of weeks ago she proved me right by going and having a kid of her own.  Cue all the frozen meals!
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It’s a little risky making food for AGOMYR, because she’s a bit of a foodie herself.  So, for inspiration, I visited her own Pinterest boards, knowing that was sure to lead me to something exactly right for her.
What I didn’t know was that I would also find a great dinner for myself, my husband, and Gooplet in the process.  I doubled (and tweaked) Damn Delicious’ slow cooker enchilada orzo, so we could enjoy some too.  It’s not a recipe I’d have made otherwise, but thank goodness I did.  Gooplet inhaled it. He couldn’t get enough.
So thank you AGOMYR, and brand new, adorable AGOMEYR (A Glass of Milk’s Even Younger Reader?) for introducing us to what is sure to become a staple in our family.
To make enchilada orzo for 4-6, you will need:
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 (10-ounce) can mild enchilada sauce
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth, or more, as needed
  • 1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
  • 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
  • 2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Place the tomatoes, enchilada sauce, chiles, vegetable broth, corn kernels, black beans, salt, and pepper in a pot, and stir to mix everything well.  Turn on the stove, and let the mixture come to a boil.  Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook at least 30 minutes.  Really, cook as long as you want, but keep checking on it every now and again, stirring it and making sure the liquid hasn’t all cooked out.  Be prepared to add more broth if need be.

About 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve add the orzo, and let the mixture continue simmering, uncovered now, for about 10 more minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the cream cheese until melted.

Serve, and top with cilantro.

A Balancing Act [bacon wrapped club crackers]

When a family is kind enough to invite you and your baby to a cocktail party, you are forced to make a tricky decision.  Do you…

a) pay a babysitter a large chunk of money so you can go childless, only to have everyone in attendance ask you why you didn’t bring your adorable child?

b) bring him and leave super early because he goes to bed when the rest of the world is eating dinner?

This go-round, we chose b, and for the first time in my life, our family was both the first to arrive and the first to depart at this event.  I am so glad we went, though, as I got to catch up with some old faves.

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They say motherhood is a balancing act, and my one regret is they served my favorite party appetizer here. In my balancing of wine in one hand, and child in another, I never managed to get my hands on one.

So I made them at home.

Dear readers, do you know the magic that is bacon-wrapped Club crackers?  Safe to say if you attended a Super Bowl party in the 1990s, you’ve eaten one or two. May I refresh your memory and encourage you to eat another couple.  And soon.

To make bacon-wrapped Club crackers, you will need:

  • Club crackers
  • Parmesan cheese (I like to use shredded, not grated)
  • sliced of bacon, cut in thirds

Line a baking sheet with foil, and top it with a cooling rack.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

To prepare the crackers, place a heaping teaspoon of cheese on each cracker.  Wrap bacon on top.  You want the cheese facing up and the seam from the bacon facing down when you place these on the rack on the baking sheet.

Bake for 2 hours.  Enjoy them right away, or prep them ahead of time, and serve at room temperature.

#momlife [pork saltimbocca]

I had visions of gloriousness for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  My husband was taking the week off, and I wanted to do two things.

  1. Visit Arlington National Cemetary, where Grandma Glass of Milk is buried, because it’s so pretty in the winter, with the wreaths adorning the graves.
  2. Make fried chicken.
  3. *Okay, maybe I also dreamed of a trip to Target sans Gooplet.

I did neither (*none) of those things.  Instead, we spent a whirlwind Christmas weekend biting off more than we could chew in terms of family visits and food and fun, and then my husband got sick.  With a cough.  That still hasn’t entirely gone away.

I threw an awesome mom-fit about how I JUST WANTED A BREAK and I didn’t get it.  And after a couple days, I realized, this is #momlife.  It’s never getting a break.  Suck it up, Jennie.

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Despite all my fit-throwing, I did make the time to cook some dinners that are more hands on than usual.  Since I had an extra pair of hands, albeit germy ones, at home all day, every day, I could make dinners that required a little more active cooking.  These have eluded me for, oh, about the last 10 months.  Here’s a winner:

To make pork saltimbocca (or #porkonpork) for 4, you will need:

4 boneless center-cut pork chops (1/2 inch thick; 5 ounces each)
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large shallot, finely chopped
8 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
5 thin slices prosciutto (about 3 ounces), 1 slice chopped
1 cup grated fontina cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 10 -ounce package frozen peas

Preheat the broiler. Season the pork with salt. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dredge the pork in the flour and add to the skillet; reserve the flour. Cook until browned, 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the shallot to the skillet and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the sage and 2 teaspoons of the reserved flour. Cook until sizzling, 30 seconds. Add the wine; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, 2 minutes. Add 1 cup broth; return to a boil and cook until thickened, 2 minutes. Add the pork; return to a simmer. Top each chop with a prosciutto slice, then the cheeses. Broil until bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped prosciutto; cook until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peas, the remaining 1/4 cup broth and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover; cook until the peas are tender, 5 minutes. Uncover; increase the heat to medium high. Cook until the liquid is reduced, 1 minute. Serve with the pork.

A New (to us) Breakfast Food [overnight Belgian waffles]

I asked my husband for a waffle maker for Christmas.  He was shocked, and thought it was the most un-romantic gift ever.  Which I thought was weird because usually we get each other (drumroll…..) nothing.  We’re adults who can buy whatever we need, and a lot of stuff we want, and we all know I spend half my life trying to own less crap.

That said, I got a waffle maker!  She’s beautiful.

In our family, I make pancakes, my husband commandeers French Toast, and no one makes waffles because we don’t have a waffle maker.  Except now we do, and so for its inaugural run, we graced it with Ina’s overnight Belgian waffles.  Do not be scared off by the yeast this recipe calls for.  This is not like making bread from scratch (but that’s easy too, see here.)  This is a recipe that involves stirring a bunch of stuff you dumped in a bowl, and that’s it.  I made this batter after Gooplet went to bed, and kept things moving in the waffle maker while my husband fed him breakfast the next morning.  The perfect recipe for us right now.

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To make 10 or 12 waffles, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • 1 package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 cups lukewarm whole milk (90 to 100 degrees)
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the waffle iron
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Sliced bananas, toasted coconut, warm maple syrup, and crème fraîche, for serving*

The night before, combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a very large bowl (the batter will expand enormously). Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves and the mixture has started to foam, which tells you the yeast is active. Stir in the milk, butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit overnight at a cool room temperature.

The next morning, heat a Belgian waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions and brush the top and bottom with melted butter. Beat the eggs together with the baking soda and whisk them into the batter until combined. Pour just enough of the batter onto the hot waffle iron to cover the grids (⅓ to ½ cup each, depending on your waffle maker), close, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat, until the waffles are golden brown. Cut them apart with a small knife, if necessary, and remove them with a fork. Repeat the process until all the batter has been used. Serve the waffles hot with sliced bananas, toasted coconut, maple syrup, and crème fraîche and let everyone help themselves.

*We didn’t use Ina’s fancy toppings, just maple syrup.  We get a bottle from friends every year–it’s our favorite.