Cheese Day Saturday [tater tot breakfast skillet]

A while ago, The (Not So) New Girl introduced me (virtually) to her pseudo-cousin, someone who she said had a passion for all things cooking and cookbooks, and reminded her a lot of yours truly. Many a recipe-link/pin/email later, my foodie pen pal and I finally met up last weekend! We went to have brunch with The (Not So) New Girl, and wasn’t it a surprise when we discovered that each of us brought something with cheese.

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My contribution was a riff on How Sweet Eats’ tater tot breakfast skillet, but we all know these days I can’t be bothered to follow a recipe to the letter. Here’s what I did (and did again when I made this approximately 8 days later, yes it is that good):

Preheated the oven to 375.

Sauteed chopped onions, mushrooms, and a red pepper till soft, then added 3 minced cloves of garlic for the last minute or two. Put that mixture in the bottom of a well-greased baking dish.

Cracked 8 eggs, and added 2/3 C whole milk. Poured the mixture on top of the veggies.

Sprinkled 8 oz. of grated extra sharp cheddar on top of that.

Layered a bag of frozen tots all over the top.

Baked it for 45 minutes, and then ate way more than anyone ever should.

Meal Planning – For a Week

Oh, how I hope you enjoyed hearing from Cari Faye and The (Not So) New Girl and #ChefJon. If you’re just checking in on things for the first time in a little while, we’re talking about meal planning, and I’ve walked you through my thought process while planning a week of meals, twice.  Here are a few final thoughts, and a huge round up of meal ideas for you.


After taking a look at our family’s calendar for the week, my meal planning has a lot to do with types of meals. When I notice what our level of activity looks like, I pick a meal based on how much time I have to devote to prep, and leftovers are almost always an option. Here are my main categories, and our favorites from each. 


But first! Before we started this whole series, I had a lot of commenters tell me they ended up with nothing for dinner by the end of the week. And CV(D) mentioned she sometimes doesn’t know exactly how much food she needs to cook on any given day. So you’ll see a * by any recipe that’s easily doubled and/or frozen. For those of you who run out of food, cook a double batch of these dishes whenever you make them, and freeze them. That way when you realize you’re in a pinch in a week or two, you can take something out of the freezer and you’re all set. I have a lot of these options waiting for the same emergency right now. And CV(D), these are the ones I’d recommend for you, too. Instead of making one giant casserole in case of 20 people, make 4 in those 8×8 baking tins you can easily grab in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Twenty people show up? Great! They’re fed! Just the usual 3? Eat one and freeze the rest for when those other 17 show up, or for you again another week. 


Make aheads: easy meatball stroganoff*, baked pesto rigatoni*, baked beans with hot dogs, Outlaw Plantation barbecue chicken, eggplant parmesan, sausage and kale stuffed shells*,

Slow cooker meals: Mississippi roast*, carnitas tacos*, Italian chicken, gnocchi with pork sauce*, Buffalo chicken sandwiches

Easy, on-the-spot dinners: mediterranean chicken with couscous*, meatball subs, baking sheet macaroni and cheese, chicken piccata, pesto risotto, frittata,

Dinners on heavy rotation: spaghetti pie*, slow cooker white chicken chili*, beef chili*, Parmesan ranch chicken, apricot glazed chicken, wings, rich people meat, macaroni and cheese*, Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk,

 

 

May Reads

This month was shaping up to be a total dud. I had two weeks with the craziest schedule of commitments, and when all was said and done (plus a couple days of more Netflix than I’m comfortable admitting), I am so glad my New Year’s resolution is to read every day. My life felt out-of-whack, and I couldn’t figure out why my calendar had more wiggle room, but I still felt stressed and confused.

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I wasn’t reading.

Just Read:

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn – This is the book that brought me out of that spell. I hate the title, and I don’t use that term lightly. I think a lot of people will glance at this book and think, “I don’t hate my husband and I have kids, so this isn’t the book for me.” And it IS! Or, it might be! For a lot more people than the small amount who would go so far as to use the word hate to describe their feelings for their spouse.

Confessions of a Slacker Wife, by Muffy Mead Ferro – This book had been lingering on my to-read list for years until I found a used copy and decided to pick it up just the other day. I assumed it was a novel, but no. A delightful collection of essays from a Wyoming-based writer. I love anyone who makes their ordinary life sound beautiful.

Also, this, this, this, and this, all largely forgettable.

Reading:

Confession of a Slacker Mom, by Muffy Mead Ferro – The volume I read is actually her second book, so I’m backtracking here to read the first.

Maeve’s Times, by Maeve Binchy – Wooden Nickels introduced me to Circle of Friends years and years and years ago, and oh, how I fell head over heels for Maeve. She writes these cozy novels, usually set in small towns in Ireland, and delightful is an apt description of almost all of them. If you read enough, you’ll find some of the same characters pop up here and there in other novels, which is like meeting old friends again. This is a collection of columns she wrote for the Irish Times, compiled over about 40 years. I’m reading them here and there when I have short bits of time.

Want to Read:

Pretty much anything frothy and light* for summer, especially this and this.

*It should be noted I have both Americanah and Cutting for Stone on loan from readers I respect and admire, but they might be on hold until our beach trip, during which I hope to have at least a couple of stretches of more than 30 minutes in which to fit my reading.

Meal Planning – For a Couple Days

Welcome back to my series on meal planning, dear readers. No need to have been following along from the beginning, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point you toward my original meal planning post, if you’re so inclined.

I plan out meals a week at a time, because that’s what works for me. But that’s certainly not the only way.  Last week, you heard from Cari Faye who plans about a month at a time. Today, we’re checking in with The (Not So) New Girl and her husband #ChefJon who have a much looser planning system, and who share kitchen responsibilities pretty evenly between them.

Our only weekly planning is, what meat do you want this week?, and remembering to take it out of the freezer. If that doesn’t happen, we resort to vegetarian or sausages since they can be chopped and cooked from frozen.

We usually consider how many nights we need to make dinner before going to the grocery. Then we just buy x number of veggies, 1-2 more veggies than nights. Whoever is shopping gets the pick of the litter. Grocery/Costco almost exclusively only happen on the weekends. We’re not particular about our meats, oh hey, hormones, so we bulk up on meat at Costco about once a month and keep it in the freezer. It’s usually a variety of chicken, salmon, and sausages. Recently we’ve been trying to get more red meat in the house.

#ChefJon is the brain behind cooking and loves to look at  whatever we have, google some combination of ingredients, and then still put his own spin/modification on whatever he comes up with.  Once a week or so I’ll find a recipe I want to try or mention something I’m craving. The best nights are when we can actually manage to get in the kitchen together, #ChefJon and his #souschef.

It all works for us bc #ChefJon enjoys cooking and creating. The rare nights he’s not up for cooking I sometimes get stressed bc we didn’t “plan” on that. Those nights we usually end up with brinner* bc I am the queen of brin.

Outside of dinner, I make vats of oatmeal once a week for me, and an extra or so for our son. I Tupperware them all with necessary ingredients and usually eat at work. On the weeekends we eat cereal or eggs. And then we do lunch-making nightly. Usually turkey sandwiches** or leftovers. Whoever isn’t on cleanup duty takes care of lunches so neither of us is stranded in the kitchen.
Some of our staples, repeats, and go-to’s, which sometimes get their own spin are cauliflower bites, brinner (eggs over a veggie/meat/potato hash), eggplant Parmesan, winter soups/stews/chilis, stir fry or curry typically once a week (versatile because you can use any meat and veggie you have with a simple sauce), kale salads with combo of meat and veggies, veggie pasta with a different sauce typically canned tomato based, and homemade pizza on Trader Joe’s crust.

* aka, breakfast for dinner

** Part of the reason my husband likes The (Not So) New Girl so much is because she takes sandwich-making very seriously, just like he does.

If You Want it to be Spring Break, You Have to Make it Spring Break [Week in the Life, Monday]

Monday was the last day of our spring break. But not really spring break. I was just mom-ing away at home like I always do. The difference between spring break and regular life was that I declared it spring break. This meant laundry was neglected, I got lax about cleaning, I shirked some clean up duties to read on the porch every night, and we are all still fine.

One of the things I loved about being a teacher was that come June, the school year was over and done, and you could start fresh in the fall. Not so with mom-life. It’s on and on and on and on-going. And there’s never a good time to stop the madness and take a break from the daily routines. But sometimes, your friends are on spring break, and so you declare a little break of your own.

If you want it to be spring break, you have to make it spring break.

You decide that this is the week you’ll have a little more fun.

Here’s what Monday looked like.

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He just lives to be outside. I enjoy being outside, but not as much as him. On good days, I’m accommodating.

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He and I both share a love of the grocery store, thank goodness. He likes to bang on boxes in the front of the cart, and point and shout at balloons as we walk around. He loves saying hello to the butcher, and the check out ladies.

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I am almost always my most productive during Monday morning naptime. Today was dinner in the slow cooker, laundry folded, dishes washed, smoothie finished, coffee poured, trash and recycling out, groceries put away.

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We are in the car for something or another every day. Love seeing those chubby feet.

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We love when we have an errand to run right near two of our besties. Met them at the grocery store and picked up a couple things at Home Goods (but not the things I needed).

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He asked for TV when we got home, so 10 minutes of snuggles and Sesame Street (with Grover and Cookie Monster).

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He loves to play with little figures. These two are fresh from the Easter basket.

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We ventured off to see more friends (told you it was spring break). The grown ups had a glass of wine and spanikopita. He ran all over the place.

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They did dinner together while I caught my breath.

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We (3) did bath time with a super tired Gooplet.

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We ate dinner together, but each did our own (phone) thing.

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I ended the day the best way I know how. Reading (Small Admissions) on the porch. A couple nights away from home this week means this is probably not going to happen as much as I want it to.

Why so many photos in one day? It’s Week in the Life! Stay tuned for more shots from my week.

Questions? Ali invented it.

Past Weeks in my life? 2016//2015//Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday* Saturday Sunday 2011 (!!!!!)

*AGOMYR, you still reading? Be sure to click on Friday. xoxo

 

Wins of the Month, February 2017

Some months, I jot down wins as they happen, and others, it’s all I can do to look back at the calendar and wonder what happened. This month was the latter.

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And I think, rather than a bulleted list, our biggest win was that we survived.  My husband started traveling more for work, I took on a big role in our church, and the entire month was spent with one of us either coming or going. And we’re still standing. On to March.

 

Cooking for Pops [fesenjan]

When we go to the beach, we take turns cooking.  Most of us make our staples.  Wooden Nickels is always good for mac and cheese, brussels sprouts, and spinach pizza.  My husband grills brats, and there’s always a burger night in there.  But Pops does his own thing every time.  He spends the morning culling AllRecipes* for something that’s just right.  His tastes tend toward the exotic, so we know when he’s cooking we’re not going to end up with another boring casserole.**

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When Pops visited for a weekend, I combed my Pinterest boards to see if there was something worthy of serving him for dinner.  I came across this Persian chicken dish on one of the best food sites around, Simply Recipes, and I knew I was on to something good.  I love making something completely new and different, and while I don’t know whether or not this ended up tasting like a traditional Persian chicken with walnut stew, I do know that it was a great meal, and fun to make.  Because we’re always passing the Gooplet, we shared the responsibilities involved with preparing it, and all sat down to enjoy once he’d gone to bed.

*While at the beach this year, a friend pointed us toward their app, which has a great search tool you can use seriously, or for fun (Give me an appetizer that takes two hours to make, and involves Fruit Loops–ooh, now I want to play Chopped on our next rainy beach day.)
**I say that in jest, dear readers, as I am always, always good for another boring casserole.  They’re perfect at the beach because you prep them in the morning, and cook them in the evening, leaving you multiple hours to spend at the beach.

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.

 

A Resolution Breaker [stovetop mac and cheese]

This mac and cheese is amazing and quick, and if you’re looking for a great way to break your 2017, “be a healthier person” resolution, this is it.  I made it as written months ago, and we’re experimenting with Havarti and Mozzarella later this week.

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Cheers, dear readers, and happy 2017.  I’ve got tons to tell you, but I’ve gotta get through the most epic reading post ever.  I’ve been editing it for weeks–weeks!

To make Alton Brown’s Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese for 4, you will need:

1/2 pound elbow macaroni*
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

*I take issue with a lot of recipes that call for less than a whole box of pasta.  Why wouldn’t you make the whole box of pasta?  So use a big pot, and double up if you want, dear readers.

The Wisdom of AGOMYR [pioneer woman’s twice baked potatoes]

After Thanksgiving, AGOMYR was kind enough to inquire as to the results of a little experiment I conducted in my kitchen.

“How were The Pioneer Woman’s mashed potatoes?”

“Oh, AGOMYR, they were good.  They have almost everything Grandma Glass of Milk’s recipe has.  But they just weren’t the same.”

“Um, of course they weren’t.”

Because nothing is ever the same as your grandma’s mashed potatoes.  Especially when you and your grandma have gone so far as to exchange Hallmark cards specifically about mashed potatoes.

So noted.

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I can tell you, however, that The Pioneer Woman’s twice baked potatoes are absolutely and completely too good to be true.  There is not a shred of nutrition in them.  But now and again, I’m okay with that.

These would be a delightfully decadent addition to your Christmas table, and you could make them ahead of time, and reheat them in the oven right before serving.

To make potatoes for 12, you will need:

8 baking potatoes, washed
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 sticks salted butter
1 cup bacon bits (fry your own!)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Cheddar or Jack cheese (or a mix of both), plus more for topping
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3 green onions, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Rub them with the canola oil and bake for 1 hour, making sure they’re sufficiently cooked through.

Slice the butter into pats. Place in a large mixing bowl and add the bacon bits and sour cream. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.

With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scrape out the insides into the mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the shell. Leave a small rim of potato intact for support. Lay the hollowed out potato shells on a baking sheet.

Smash the potatoes into the butter, bacon and sour cream. Add the cheese, milk, seasoned salt, green onions and black pepper to taste and mix together well. (IMPORTANT: If you plan to freeze the twice-baked potatoes, do NOT add the green onions.)

Fill the potato shells with the filling. I like to fill the shells so they look abundant and heaping. Top each potato with a little more grated cheese and pop ’em in the oven until the potato is warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes.