Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Ah, Columbus Day. The kids are home from school, and Mr. Ten is playing with the junior high marching band in Chicago’s Columbus Day Parade. We’re excited to watch them on television this afternoon. In the meantime, I have big plans to buy foam for a headboard DIY (taking advantage of those Columbus Day sales), if we can all get dressed and turn off Hannah Montana for a minute. Miss Eight would like to invite a friend over or go to the pet store to buy a hamster. Little Five would like to remain in his pajamas and play Super Mario Bros. all day. My magic eight ball says that someone is going to be disappointed.

This week

  • Fried green tomato BLTs with fennel mayonnaise, fruit salad. We’re making this up as we go.
  • Chili, cornbread, salad (swap with Jen). The cornbread recipe on the Quaker cornmeal box is pretty good, especially if you add some corn kernels to the batter.
  • Lentil salad, hummus, pita, cucumber and tomato salad
  • Split pea soup, croutons, roasted carrots

Last week

  • Easy Sliders. Mr. Ten saw me getting out the pretzel rolls, gave me hug, and said, “Thank you for making these!” I only assembled 12 sliders, which was plenty for dinner and lunch the next day (for a lunchbox, cut the sliders in half and heat them wrapped in foil, then stuff the hot foil packet into a warmed thermos jar). The rest of the meat mixture went into the stuffed peppers.
  • Seco de chancho (Ecuadorian pork stew), yellow rice. This sauce is great no matter what meat you use, and the leftovers are good in tacos or stirred into scrambled eggs.
  • Slow Cooker Stuffed PeppersI used leftover meat from the sliders, rice and a can of tomato sauce for the filling. I didn’t plan ahead, so I baked them at 350 with a little water in the bottom of the baking dish. The kids ate them!
  • Sesame noodles, stir-fried garlic green beans.
  • Garlic and Thyme Roasted Chicken with Mustard CroutonsDeeeeelicious. There’s your Sunday dinner plan, right there.

Just today, this little blog made it to 200 followers! Thank you for reading–your support means a lot. We’ll have to celebrate!

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

After a good long stretch of Indian summer, fall is finally really here. We’re getting out the sweaters, taking the wool coats to the cleaners, and thinking about Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to more soups for dinner and cups of tea in the afternoon. (I can’t be the only one falling asleep at 2 p.m. Or noon.) I even bought three little pie pumpkins so the kids can enter the “decorate a pumpkin like your favorite character from a book” contest at school. Miss Eight has already decorated hers to look like Fancy Nancy, but I’m kind of hoping the boys will just let me roast their pumpkins and make pie.

This week

  • Easy SlidersMy dinner swap pal Jen has been making these for parties, and now people expect them and descend on the hot tray like so many vultures. If you don’t have onion soup mix (I sure don’t), just toss together a homemade substitute. I’ll make them early in the day and have Mr. Ten put them in the oven while I’m shuttling his siblings to piano lessons. (The little pretzel rolls are key!)
  • Seco de chancho (Ecuadorian pork stew), yellow rice. I’ll use cubed pork shoulder and no beer in the sauce. (Swap with Jen)
  • Slow Cooker Stuffed PeppersI really don’t know whether any of the kids will eat these, but I think they’ll like the filling. I might make some apple crumble to motivate them to try the peppers!
  • Sesame noodles, stir-fried garlic green beans.

Last week

  • Mexican Pizza, salad. Very good! Next time I’ll dial down the chile powder just a bit, and maybe have some more toppings on hand–guacamole!
  • Salmon with herbs, potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Finally! Everybody ate salmon! Don’t leave out the sauce on the side–garlic mayonnaise, or a lemony-herb yogurt sauce.
  • Quiche (I’ll use this crust, but the filling will probably be caramelized onions and bacon), salad. Make this crust. Don’t pre-bake it. Quiche can be a weeknight meal! (Also breakfast and lunch the next day.)
  • Winter squash soup with croutonsThe kids still aren’t squash lovers, but they’ll tolerate this soup because of its savory spices. Roast the squash and add a little more cream than called for to make it more soupy than baby food.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

It’s Sunday afternoon, and the Hub is “relaxing” in the kitchen:

I’m fairly confident there are half a dozen projects I ought to be working on, but the only thing I’ve really accomplished is cleaning and adjusting our sometimes fickle espresso machine. I never would have bought it for myself, but when we received it as a housewarming gift from my parents almost six years ago, we soon found we couldn’t live without it. Why would I darken the door of Starbucks when I can froth milk and dispense espresso like a barrista while still in my pajamas? It does require some maintenance, though, and I am very pleased with myself for tuning it up with nothing but the vacuum cleaner and a hex wrench. We’re going to need a good cup of coffee to go along with those cream puffs.

This week

Last week

  • Fish cakesSuccess! And now there’s a bit more space in the freezer.
  • Chicken with Bacon-y Brussels Sprouts, thin egg noodles. One skillet, so good. In the past, I’ve used chicken broth as the liquid, but this time I used a little white wine, which really brought out the sweetness of the Brussels sprouts. The kids may have accidentally eaten a few bites while they were mining for bacon bits among the noodles.
  • Crispy Fried Eggplant, Tomato Salad and MozzarellaOh, these were good. Try to slice the eggplant fairly thin, and keep the temperature at medium so the breading doesn’t burn before the eggplant gets tender. (The kids ate bean and cheese quesadillas–more eggplant for me.)
  • Tabbouleh and grilled cevapi (swap with Jen). I love this tabbouleh recipe, and fill it with whatever veggies are in the fridge. If you’re out of lemons, red or white wine vinegar works fine. 
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce (from Jen); garlic breadTasty comfort food. Toasting the unpeeled cloves of garlic for a few minutes in a dry skillet removes the bite–but not the flavor–from the garlic bread.
  • Pork and Green Chile StewServe it over rice or with warm corn tortillas. We should cook with chiles more often!
  • Breakfast Oatmeal Skillet CookieMiss Eight helped make this for Saturday breakfast (swapping almonds for the walnuts and vanilla for the maple extract)–a big hit with the whole family. Next time I intend to experiment with reducing the butter and sugar a little.

Fish cakes

Aside from that one bad experience with a Dover sole (it was probably just a virus), if given a choice, I will still choose the seafood. My boys like fish, too, and Miss Eight eats it sometimes, which is better than nothing. They also like most anything made into a little fritter, even if they won’t eat it otherwise (i.e., zucchini).

I love the transformative power of the fritter to turn scraps (or good food that some people think they don’t like) into a perfectly lovely meal.

I was digging through the freezer, attempting to use up some bits of this and that, and decided to try making some fish cakes with two small tilapia fillets and about half a pound of smoked mackerel (left over from brunch a few months ago). I quickly pan-fried the tilapia, and then flaked it into the mixing bowl with the mackerel. I wasn’t sure how the smoked fish would fly with my taste testers, but I got one “Really good!”, one “Cleaned my plate!”, one “Tastes better than it smells,” and one “How many bites do I have to eat?” I thought these little fish cakes were delicious. I like smoked fish on a bagel, so it really isn’t such a surprise. Granted, the frying fish smell was a little strong, but nothing that some open windows and a pine-scented candle couldn’t erase.

You can use whatever fish you have, really–canned, grilled, smoked. Because I had a high proportion of smoked fish, I didn’t add much seasoning, but if you have a mild fish you will want to add salt, pepper, a dash of Worcestershire or soy sauce, and maybe some scallions or chives. In place of bread or cracker crumbs, you could use some mashed potato. Experiment!

Fish Cakes

     makes about ten 2 1/2–inch cakes

1 pound of cooked fish, skin and bones removed.

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

flour for dredging

neutral oil for frying

Stir together the egg and mayonnaise, and then fold in the remaining ingredients, breaking the fish into small chunks or flakes. Chill the mixture for at least 15 minutes.

Pour just enough oil into a large nonstick skillet to coat the bottom (about 3 Tbsp.) and turn the heat to medium-high. Scoop the fish mixture (about golf-ball size), press into small patties and dredge in flour. Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

Serve with remoulade sauce, tartar sauce, or any kind of sour cream or yogurty-dill sauce. To continue my thrifty theme, I puréed a little bit of this leftover salad and whisked in some mayonnaise.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

My Facebook feed was filled with photos of friends picking apples this weekend. As the lucky recipient of an entire trunk full of apples, I skipped the apple picking and moved straight on to the peeling, coring and applesauce making.

Though I peeled and chopped nearly 20 cups of apples, I barely made a dent in the apple supply in my basement. I made one small batch of Apple Almond Honey Conserve from Food in Jarswhich tastes like fall when spread on homemade bread (see my breakfast, above). I also made one batch of chunky applesauce in the slow cooker. My goal is to process a bag of apples every couple days, so that maybe I’ll be finished sometime next week.

I’m going to need more jars.

This week

Last week

  • Cheese and Chicken Quesadilla PieBig hit with the kids, and definitely a 30-minute meal (most of it is baking time).
  • Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Warm Spices, rice. I’ll be using brown lentils, and following the suggestions to streamline the recipe. My new favorite lentil soup–don’t forget the squeeze of lime. So glad there was enough to freeze for another meal!
  • Yogurt-Marinated Shrimp, pita, some kind of fruit salad. Mmm…shrimp. The marinade (Iemon-garlic), plus leaving the shells on, kept the shrimp from drying out under the broiler.
  • Black Bean Burgers, roasted potatoes, salad. In a reverse-vegan move, I replaced the flax seed with an egg. My only complaint is that these turned out a little crumbly–maybe I will make thicker patties next time.
  • Tortellini Soup. This is strictly for lunchbox thermoses. Quick enough to cook during breakfast and ladle into thermoses. Two out of three kids ate it up, and I had some for lunch, too. Homemade broth is the key, even if you have dried tortellini (I like the Trader Joe’s brand).
  • Maple-Bourbon Banana Pudding CakeThe Hub made this Saturday night, and it was superb. It only takes one overripe banana, and the rest you probably have in your pantry. Regular granulated sugar and 2% milk work just fine.

What are you eating this week?

The Evolution of the Waldorf Salad

Remember Waldorf Salad? Apples, nuts, grapes, celery, mayonnaise? So retro! (Apparently the Waldorf Astoria still serves it, fancied up with black truffles.)

I grew up eating this salad on a regular basis, but over the years, it evolved into something else. First, you have to understand that we ate this as dessert, not as a salad. We skipped the celery. For a long time, a few maraschino cherries (and a splash of juice from the jar) dressed it up. Eventually, sour cream or yogurt replaced the mayonnaise. Raisins got traded for diced prunes (too mushy, in my opinion) or dried cranberries. The maraschino cherries became passé, replaced by a little lime zest.

I haven’t managed to convince my children that apple salad = dessert (perhaps I should bring back the cherry on top), but it still makes an appearance on our table, especially in the fall. I’ve been known to eat the leftovers for breakfast. Whatever you call it, it’s good.

Apple Salad

4 medium apples, cored and diced (no need to peel)

1 cup of grapes, halved

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries, or both

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (toasted is extra nice)

1 cup plain yogurt

1 Tbsp. honey

a couple squeezes of lemon juice

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl. Serve.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Suddenly it’s fall.

It’s been pleasantly gloomy in the house all day, an intermittent drizzle falling gently outside. Squirrels are everywhere, always with a fat acorn crammed into their mouths. I’ve been puttering around, doing Sunday things like reorganizing my sweaters, scrubbing burnt sugar off the bottom of my stockpots (one down, one to go), more laundry, more dishes. The kids have been gorging themselves on old iCarly episodes and running out to play in the rain. I started looking around for banana cake recipes, but I think I’ll just bake muffins instead.

This week

Last week

  • Sausage, Potato and Apple Bake. I have to scale this recipe up a little, and I used fresh brats instead of Italian sausage. Always good.
  • Chicken Milanese, cherry tomato and arugula salad. Four fat chicken breasts, pounded flat, made enough chicken cutlets for two families.
  • Cherry Tomato Cobbler, roasted beets with vinaigrette, (mac-n-cheese from the freezer for the tomato haters). Incredible, from the jammy tomato and basil filling to the tender cobbler topping. No, the kids didn’t eat it, but then there was more for breakfast for the adults. I used a scrap of hard sheep’s milk cheese instead of ricotta salata–I’m certain you can substitute any flavorful cheese you like. Try this for brunch, maybe with a runny egg on top.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

A day late again. Yesterday I went grocery shopping before making a menu, and then by the time I scribbled something down, our internet connection had fizzled and Comcast wouldn’t answer my calls. Also, I was making jam with a friend all afternoon. We peeled, cored and chopped two grocery bags of pears, and now I have two pots of jam to reheat and can today. I’m not a fan of pears–the grainy texture on my teeth might as well be fingernails on a blackboard–but in jam form, the graininess has all cooked down, leaving sweet pear and cinnamon deliciousness. Next on the agenda: processing those eight bags of apples sitting in the basement. Applesauce, apple butter, and maybe some frozen sliced apples for baking throughout the fall.

This week

Sausage, Potato and Apple Bake

Chicken Milanese, Roasted beet salad

Cherry Tomato Cobbler, green salad (mac-n-cheese from the freezer for the tomato haters)

Last week

Pizza on the grill, salad, apple crumble and ice cream

Felt like the perfect Labor Day menu. I made the apple crumble early in the day, and assembled the pizzas while catching up with friends over drinks.

Salsa chicken and black bean soup, tortilla chips

A slow cooker winner! The kids called it “chicken chili.” Minimal effort, good flavor. I was afraid the chicken breasts would dry out, but the two large fresh breasts stayed moist, and I shredded them into the soup just before serving.

Mote pillo and salad

One skillet comfort food. I ate the leftovers for breakfast.

Homemade macaroni and cheese, tomato salad

More comfort food easy for the babysitter to reheat and serve. I cooked 2 pounds of macaroni–enough for dinner swap and the freezer.

Thai-style ground pork, rice, salad

A regular in our dinner rotation. I have to double the recipe for our family, and I made it with meatloaf mix (a mix of ground beef and pork). When I’m out of fresh ginger and jalapeños, I use ground ginger and a squirt of Sriracha.

Plum Küchen

A week or so ago, I saw prune plums on sale at the market. They have a short season, so if you can still find a few, grab a bag and make this German plum cake. The recipe is from an obscure cookbook (that is, you can’t find it on Amazon) with a collection of recipes from New England Inns, so I don’t mind reproducing it here. It’s all my favorite things in a dessert. The pastry is barely sweet, and the plums and sugar bake into a jammy layer that seeps into the crust. We finished the cake in two days, but just yesterday Little Five asked me if we still had some plum cake. Alas, he had eaten the last piece (the one I was hoping to save for myself). I might have to swing by and see if a few plums still linger in the produce aisles.

Self portrait on the 2nd day of kindergarten.

Self portrait on the 2nd day of kindergarten.

Plum Küchen

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 T. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

3/4 cup butter, softened

2 T. water

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla


2 1/2 pounds Italian prune plums, washed, pitted and cut in half

4 T. butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cornstarch


Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, sugar and baking powder. With your fingers, rub the softened butter into the flour mixture until well incorporated. Beat the water, egg and vanilla together in a small bowl and add it to the mixture. Knead the dough together and press it into a 10-inch tart pan (if it’s too sticky to work with, chill it briefly).

Press the plum halves, cut side up, into the pastry dough. Slice the butter into thin pats and dot it over the plums. Stir together the sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch, and sprinkle thickly over the tart.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the plums are tender.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

I was going to post this yesterday–I had the menu all ready on Saturday–but abandoned the computer in favor of laboring a little in the yard in the morning and relaxing a little with friends in the afternoon. Today we are off and running, in a week filled with overlapping meetings, lessons, parties and back-to-school events.

With Little Five in kindergarten all day (he’s doing fine), I’ve yet to establish some kind of routine to my day, but it’s nothing short of miraculous how many errands I can accomplish all by myself in a single hour. I have soup in the slow cooker and am now ready to tackle some more of today’s list. I feel slightly guilty having so many hours in the day (six and a half!) to call my own. Fortunately (?), I have several bushels of apples and pears to preserve, a long list of house projects, and some freelance writing goals, too. Time to get off the couch!

This week

Monday: Pizza on the grill, salad, apple crumble and ice cream

Tuesday: Salsa chicken and black bean soup, tortilla chips

Wednesday: Mote pillo and salad

Thursday: Homemade macaroni and cheese, tomato salad

Friday: Thai-style ground pork, rice, edamame

Last week

Green Chicken EnchiladasComfort food! We liked it just as much the second time. Not too much work if you use a rotisserie chicken.

Baked Falafel, tzatziki, tomato salad, pita. Tasty! I made nearly a triple batch, so we have some in the freezer for a quick lunch or dinner. Drier patties than recipes I’ve tried with canned chickpeas, but a great vehicle for a big bowl of tzatziki, and so much easier than frying.

Spaghetti with Zucchini and GarlicTwo kids out of three ate it (one even said, “It’s not so bad.”) Pasta, garlic, zucchini. I liked it!