Update on the meal planning

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So, a quick update on the meal planning I started earlier this year. It started out great - I planned out my recipes and shopped for the week's ingredients. I carefully and dutifully prepared the first two meals. Then something unexpected happened: we went out to eat. The ingredients I'd planned to use for the meal that night needed to be used: my first recipe shuffle. I visited the calendar and moved recipes and dates around, and resolved using the (perishable) ingredients in the coming days.

The next night, something else unexpected happened. We had leftovers from the meal out (Vegetarian Fajitas, a bunch of cooked veggies), so instead of following the meal plan, John made them into an awesome frittata. Great stuff! Not on the plan. Menu shuffling: part deux.

Thursday was great! Back on track. Then John went out of town. My recipe from Thursday, made to feed six, was now feeding me six times over.

Travel and parties (with food) and restaurants, oh my! The next couple of weeks were a blur, and we're back to our original system, which is absolutely no system at all. I've made a couple of the planned recipes each week, but seem to go off course quite a bit in between.

The lesson? If you're making meals just for two people who spontaneously make and change plans, then plan only a few meals each week (2-3) and make it simpler to adjust as needed.

Ten Favorite Forms of Exercise

1. Dancing
2. Roller skating
3. Hiking
4. Skiing
5. Walking
6. Yoga
7. Kayaking (nothing fancy, just the sit-atop type)
8. Whitewater rafting
9. Biking
10. (you know)

Meatless Monday: Pad Thai

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As promised, the fantastic Pad Thai Recipe!! Adapted from this recipe on About.com.

Pad Thai


  • 8 oz. Pad Thai rice noodles (thin, flat linguini-like noodles)
  • (Like these)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup purple onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 "heads" of baby bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup ground (or well-chopped) cashews*
* John is allergic to peanuts, so I substituted ground cashews. You can use peanuts or any other nut you like, but to get the richness of flavor I would recommend cashews or peanuts. Maybe macadamias? Hmm...

Pad Thai Sauce:
  • 3/4 Tbsp. faux Tamarind Paste*
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 3+1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce (or gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 1/2 to 2 tsp. chili sauce (to taste), OR 1-2 fresh red chilies, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
* If you have it, use the real thing. I was out, so made up Faux Tamarind instead. To make the Faux Tamarind Paste, you'll need brown sugar and some juice from a citrus, preferably orange, but if you don't have orange try mixing it up with whatever you have on hand. Here's what I did: Mix up 1/4 cup boiling water, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, juice from 1/2 a lemon, a squeeze of lime juice (from the bottle), and a couple of tablespoons tangerine juice (I had a bunch of tangerines laying around). As you can see, it's basically brown sugar + some citrus juice + boiling water to dissolve it and meld it together. You then only need 2 tbsp of this mix, but I wound up with more than that because I wanted to use all the various juices. Note that these ingredients are completely separate from the other ingredients for the sauce. You still need that brown sugar, etc.

  • 3-4 Tbsp. oil for stir-frying (I like sesame oil for this, but olive or canola will work)
  • 2-3 Tbsp. faux chicken stock (or veggie stock)
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove from heat. Be sure to stir thoroughly or those babies will get all stuck together, just like any pasta. Stir it!!!! This is the voice of experience speaking. I waited to midway through to stir and wound up hand-peeling the noodles apart. Not so fun. Soak noodles in the hot water for 6-10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Tip: Noodles are ready to drain when they are soft enough to eat, but still firm and a little bit "crunchy". The noodles will finish cooking when they are fried.
  2. Dissolve the tamarind paste in the hot water. Add the other pad thai sauce ingredients and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add as much or as little chili sauce as you prefer, but don't skimp on the sugar (you need it to balance the sourness of the tamarind). Reserve.
  3. Place your large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 Tbsp. oil plus the garlic and shallot. Stir-fry 1 minute to release the fragrance.
  4. Add the bok choy plus the stock. Stir-fry 2 minutes, or until bok choy is bright green and slightly softened.
  5. Push ingredients aside and add 1/2 Tbsp. more oil to the center of the wok/pan. Add the eggs and stir-fry briefly to scramble them.
  6. Push eggs aside and add a little more oil to the middle of the wok/pan. Now add the drained noodles and 1/3 of the sauce. Stir-fry everything together for 1 minute using 2 utensils and a tossing motion (like tossing a salad).
  7. Add a little more sauce and continue stir-frying in the same way for 1-2 more minutes, or until the noodles begin to soften and become sticky. Reduce heat to medium if noodles begin to stick and burn.
  8. Add the water chestnuts plus the remaining sauce. Stir-fry to incorporate everything together for 1-3 more minutes, or until noodles are done. Noodles are cooked to perfection when they are soft but still deliciously chewy and a little bit sticky.

  9. Remove from heat and taste-test, adding more soy sauce if desired for more salt/flavor.
  10. To serve, scoop noodles onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with the green onion, coriander/cilantro, and ground nuts. Serve immediately and ENJOY!
The finished dish with its lovely cilantro, green onion and cashew topping:

Meatless Monday: Oven-Crisp Black Bean and Corn Flautas

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This is one of my favorite meals so far. It is super easy and one that can be done with mostly pantry items. If you keep a reasonably stocked kitchen, the only things you should need to pick up are corn tortillas and cilantro, and probably some salsa because this recipe calls for quite a bit of it. If you wanted to make it super easy, keep some corn tortillas in the freezer to have on hand any time.

Oven-Crisp Black Bean and Corn Flautas
From Vegetarian Times

Serves 6

* 2 tsp. olive oil
* 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
* 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp.)
* 2 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained
* 2 tsp. chili powder
* 1 16-oz. tub prepared salsa, divided*
* 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
* 12 6-inch corn tortillas
* 1/4 cup chopped cilantro


1. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook onion 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute, or until translucent and fragrant.

2. Stir in beans, chili powder and 1 cup water. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer 10 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Mash beans until mixture is thickened but still chunky, and some beans remain whole. Stir in 1 cup salsa and corn, and season with salt and pepper. Cool.

Lesson learned that I need to share before you do the next step... Every time I've ever worked with corn tortillas, they just break whenever you try to bend them. This time was no exception, so you'll notice that I came out with something more like a tostada than a flauta. After I was done, I was so frustrated that I searched for how to keep the tortillas from breaking every time, and here's a tip I found. If the tortillas are not quite fresh enough to roll easily without breaking, spritz the tortillas with a small amount of water and place in a towel inside your microwave. Microwave on high for about 15 seconds, and this will restore the freshness to them. I haven't tried this to see if it works or not, so if you try it let me know!!

Ah! And, I just noticed that at the very top of my printout of this recipe, above the picture, ingredients and instructions (where I was sure not to notice it), it says to be sure to let the filling cool or the tortillas would split. Of course, I didnt' do this! So that might be a fix as well.

3. Preheat oven to 425F. Coat 2 large baking sheets with cooking spray. Spoon 1/3 cup black bean mixture down center of tortilla. Roll tortilla around filling, and secure closed with toothpick. Set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas and black bean mixture. Bake 6 to 10 minutes, or until tortillas are browned and crisp.

4. Meanwhile, combine cilantro and remaining salsa in small bowl. Place 2 flautas on each plate, and top with remaining salsa.

* "divided" doesn't make much sense to me here, because it doesn't say how much to divide out! And when it references it later in the recipe, it's also less than entirely clear. What they mean is, you need 1 cup worth (half the container) to mix in with the beans, and then you use the rest in the last step, to combine with the cilantro and top the flautas.

Nutritional Information

Per SERVING: Calories: 286, Protein: 11g, Total fat: 3g, Saturated fat: g, Carbs: 56g, Cholesterol: mg, Sodium: 435mg, Fiber: 11g, Sugars: 9g

Are you feeding the right wolf?

Monday, January 4, 2010

"There was a story that was widely circulated a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that illustrates our dilemma. A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, 'The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.'"

- from Taking the Leap, Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön

I love this.

Meatless Monday: Apple, Leek, and Butternut Squash Gratin

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I've decided to start off January by getting organized and putting together a 1 month meal plan. I was inspired by Simple Mom's menu planning guide, which I stumbled upon in a round-a-bout way by starting with her 20 Questions for a New Year’s Eve Reflection download, finding her grocery list download, and then backtracking to the menu planning info.

The system is pretty easy, because you actually only plan for 2 weeks and then you repeat the menus for the following 2 weeks. I love the idea of cooking intentionally, planning to use some of our oh-so-many pantry items, and trying out some new stuff. I've also tried to look for healthy options, including some from my Weight Watchers cookbook and trying to be mindful of calories on all the rest. I'm excited about trying the new recipes - I'm so tired of doing stir-fry as my go-to!! For the next two weeks, I only put in one recipe I've tried before. Hopefully these are good; otherwise they may get dropped from the 2nd rotation.

I planned Fridays as our "dine out" night, and 2nd and 4th Mondays I'm calling "fend night" because I have Toastmasters after work on those nights. And, I can tell already I'm probably going to need to plan in "leftovers" nights at some point, since everything I'm making is more than 2 servings. I'm trying to be good and bring the leftovers for lunch (and convince John to eat leftovers, another challenge for another day...!).

I'll document carefully and let you know how the recipes come out. Look for many more posts to follow, since I'll be building up a database.

Apple, Leek, and Butternut Squash Gratin
Adapted from this recipe on Whole Living.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, white part only, trimmed of roots and tough outer leaves, thinly sliced crosswise, well washed and dried
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup dry sherry *
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus leaves for garnish
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/8-inch thick**
1 pound apples, such as Gala, Cortland, Baldwin, or Macoun, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices ***
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* This is where the "adapted" comes in... I could have sworn I had some cooking sherry but when I got back from the grocery and started cooking, discovered I didn't. I substituted a bit of cheap Cabernet Sauvignon (less than the 1/2 cup of sherry called for, probably 1/3 cup?), added a capful of Vanilla Extract and a couple of splashes of Balsamic Vinegar.
** This wound up just being the neck of my butternut squash; I peeled and deseeded the body and saved that to be a side on one of the upcoming meals
*** About 3 medium-smallish apples


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add leeks and 2 tablespoons water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add sherry and sage and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes; set aside.

2. In a 2-quart shallow baking dish, arrange squash in overlapping layers; season with salt and pepper. Spread leeks evenly over the squash.

3. Arrange apples in an overlapping layer over the leeks. Brush apples with remaining tablespoon oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 45 minutes.

4. Uncover and sprinkle cheese over the top. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. The tip of a paring knife should easily pierce the gratin. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with sage leaves.

The verdict? Pretty tasty! Hard to describe... different from anything I've ever had before, but surprisingly good. And, John is willing to keep this recipe in for round 2, so that's a pretty good testament. I need to be sure to buy the cooking sherry for next time so we can see how it stacks up!

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