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!

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Today is the last day I will have to take all my children grocery shopping with me this year. Hallelujah.

This week

Green Chicken EnchiladasI make these mild, with canned green chiles. First day of school dinner!

Baked Falafel, tzatziki, tomato salad. The kids love falafel, but I don’t love frying it. Hope we like this one just as well!

Grilled Steak, Parsley/Garlic/Olive Oil sauce, grilled potatoes, salad. Time to use a bunch of the parsley I’ve been growing.

Hamburgers, Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. We all love this creamy macaroni salad, and I can put some in lunch boxes this week.

Spaghetti with Zucchini and GarlicWill the kids eat this? I don’t know. I’ll probably set some plain pasta aside just in case. Their dislike of squash (pumpkin pie is the exception) is completely unreasonable.


Last week

Blueberry MuffinsI got a bag of fresh blueberries from my neighbors’ Michigan vacation, so it was time for these perfect muffins. Don’t waste your blueberries on anything else. The recipe calls for cream or half and half, but you can absolutely use milk.

Slow Cooker RibsI didn’t follow the recipe for the rub or the sauce here, but the method worked great! I used a rub of brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, salt and cayenne, and bottled BBQ sauce (not too much!). The ribs came out incredibly tender and moist, but with a nice caramelized crust. Exceeded expectations!

Creamed Corn with BaconThis is a bit of a production for a side dish, but it was really delicious. I didn’t wait for the corn broth to reduce as much as it called for, so I had some extra to freeze. Maybe I’ll use it in corn chowder or something.

Filipino Grilled Chicken. Mmmmm. I’ll be freezing chicken in this marinade to pull out for an easy weeknight dinner.

Garlic-Toasted Tomato Sandwiches. As usual, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (I used soft goat cheese instead of feta/mayonnaise), but there’s no better way to enjoy summer tomatoes.

Spaghetti with Mint-Pea Pesto. Fast, yummy, no planning necessary (peas from the freezer, mint from the garden). Even Miss Eight, who has developed a recent disdain for pesto, ate her entire portion.


Pecan-nectarine layer cake

I have this old Ladies’ Home Journal cookbook that I want to sneer at, but I can’t. The recipes are well tested. The photography is mouthwatering. The recipes are for dishes I want to make. Sorry for doubting you, Ladies’ Home Journal. You had some great food editors back in the ’90s. Clearly you’re not working at Midwest Living, which suggested I make blueberry muffins by mixing my freshly picked Michigan blueberries into my favorite cake mix batter. Go ahead, call me a food snob. 

Within the covers of this cookbook is a recipe for a cake that is perfectly August, bursting with ripe fruit but hinting at fall with its spices and nuts. Three layers of tender, bourbon-laced pecan cake are stacked with mounds of ripe nectarines and clouds of whipped cream. You need a crowd for this beauty, because it won’t keep for another day (though I’m not above finishing off that final slice after the party, cake layers slumped into a puddle of juicy fruit and melted cream). Bake the cake layers the night before, wrap them well, and slice the nectarines just before dinner so they have time to release their juices. After dinner, take 10 minutes to whip the cream and assemble the cake, then hurry back to your celebration.

Pecan-Nectarine Layer Cake

adapted slightly from Ladies’ Home Journal Recipes 1999

1 cup toasted pecans

2 cups cake flour (Don’t have any in the pantry? Here’s a handy substitute.)

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup bourbon

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, separated


8-10 nectarines

2 T. granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment or waxed paper and coat with baking spray or grease and flour. Grind pecans in a food processor or blender until finely ground.

Mix pecans, flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir buttermilk and bourbon together in a measuring cup. Beat the butter and sugars together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Reduce the speed to low and stir in half the flour mixture, then the buttermilk mixture, and finally the rest of the flour mixture. Beat just until smooth.

In a clean mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high until they just hold stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula. Divide the batter and spread it evenly into the cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the layers comes out clean. Cool the layers in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes; then remove from pans and cool completely.

Slice the nectarines into 1/4-inch slices (I didn’t peel them, but you can if you like). In a large bowl, toss the nectarines with the 2 T. of sugar. Beat the cream with a mixer until thickened. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until the cream just holds stiff peaks. (If you are serving the cake immediately, you can get away with using a spray can of sweetened whipped cream, but it will melt pretty quickly.)

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving plate and cover with a single layer of nectarine slices. Spread one-third of the whipped cream over the nectarines. Top with the second cake layer and repeat. Add the final cake layer, the remaining whipped cream, and garnish with the remaining nectarines. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

Makes at least 12 servings.

Enough birthday cake for Mom and all her grandchildren!

Enough birthday cake for Mom and all her grandchildren!

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

As much as I crave a return to the routine, we’ve still got some summer fun to pack into this week. We’ll be away from home a lot, so I don’t have many meals to plan. My garden was smaller than I originally planned, but I’ve had a great crop of parsley and basil, and two out of my three tomato plants are heavy producers. I also have a small crop of beets and carrots (probably just enough for a couple of meals). Along with a couple giant Costco containers of blueberries and strawberries, we’ve got plenty of produce.

This week

Last week

In no particular order, these are the recipes we tried last week and loved:

  • Wild Rice Gratin with Kale and Caramelized Onions (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook): I magically found myself with all the ingredients for this gratin without even planning. I had cooked a huge pot of rice earlier in the week, and had already washed and ribboned the kale when I made a salad on Thursday. The Hub and I agreed this would be a wonderful Thanksgiving side dish.
  • Eggplant and Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce (from Food and Wine): Definitely a weekend meal, but SO GOOD. Like eggplant parm in a single bite. If you roast the eggplant and make the sauce ahead of time, it’s not quite such a project. I think this would freeze well, too. If you serve this with pasta, you get several more servings out of the meal than just four.
  • Indonesian Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing (from Dinner: A Love Story): I doubled this recipe to feed a crowd of four adults and six kids (with a side of Trader Joe’s potstickers). Half of the ingredients were spread out on a platter with the dressing on the side, so the kids could pick and choose which items they liked, and half were tossed in a bowl with the dressing. Great summer meal after a day at the zoo.

Do you have a bounty of fresh summer produce to use up?

Summer ennui

For people without young children in the house, perhaps you don’t experience the change of seasons so viscerally. You go to your climate-controlled office, you come home, you go back to the office.  Things don’t change much from one month to the next.

Personally, I feel our American school calendar is for the birds. Nine months on, three months off–who needs THREE MONTHS off? Seriously, knock even one of those months off and spread the vacation days throughout the school year–or not–and we’d all be a little more balanced.

In our house we’ve all lost our momentum. The kids are bored and and snappish, and my routine is so out of whack that I haven’t planned a week’s meals in…three weeks? A month? I can’t take the anxiety of not knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner when five o’clock sneaks up on me. I can’t start some other project when I don’t even know what we’re having for dinner. Spontaneity is fine for other people, but apparently not for me.

All week I’ve been thinking about, and then avoiding, these eggplant meatballs. Saturday. We’ll make them Saturday. I finally plopped the eggplant in the oven to roast this afternoon, so we’ll be one step closer. Yesterday I didn’t know what to have for dinner, so I cooked a pot of rice (credit goes to Tamar Adler for that particular strategy). Then I got distracted by these corn cakes and decided to use up the four ears of corn in the fridge instead. With fried eggs and a handful of tomatoes from the garden, it did turn into a lovely meal (you should add a little more buttermilk to the batter, though).

I still wish I had planned it ahead of time.

Tonight we’ll be eating rice.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

After a very slow and rainy start, it’s definitely summer now. I don’t have much ambition in the kitchen lately (or much ambition at all, really). It’s so hot and humid outside, I don’t even want to get near the grill. I’ve got to make an effort for Miss Seven’s eighth birthday this week, though. We’re having a small party at the pool, and Miss Seven has taken over the party planning. Weeks ago she hand wrote the invitations and picked out paper plates with cute puppies. Yesterday she assembled and labeled all her party favor bags. I’ve been given a checklist with my assignments. I must admit that it’s nice to be relieved of the planning duties, but I’m still responsible for producing a cake in the shape of a present.

This week

Monday: Pasta with Corn, Bacon and Basil

Tuesday: Chicken and Dumplings (this is the base recipe–I add extra seasoning and usually make homemade biscuit dough)

Wednesday: Salad Bar and grilled cheese sandwiches

Thursday: Green Chicken Enchiladas, yellow rice, beans, tomato salad, s’mores (for the birthday girl)

Friday: Fish and Chips, green salad

Last week

Monday: Lemony Potato Salad and broiled salmon, red cabbage slaw, watermelon

I added some more yogurt, lemon and herbs to the 4th of July potato salad, and we mixed in some broiled salmon. Good for a hot summer evening.

Tuesday: Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters, rotisserie chicken, farmer’s market carrots and peas with Homemade Ranch Dressing

I didn’t make the fritter recipe I’d planned because I forgot to buy ricotta. Instead I made this one, which was really easy and delicious. Little Five keeps asking me to make them again. I had to cook my own chicken because the market’s rotisserie oven wasn’t working–so much for convenience!– so I didn’t make the dressing, either. Next time! 

Wednesday: Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili (from Jen), rice

Tasty! Jen used chicken thighs, and the chili was nice and thick and would have made a good taco filling, too. Thumbs up from the kids.

Thursday: Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, green salad (swap with Jen)

I don’t know whether everyone else loves this recipe as much as I do, but at least everyone loves the bread crumbs! I used red cabbage and added caramelized onions, too.

Friday: Kofta, yogurt-mint sauce, Hummus and Pita (all from the freezer)

I made a double batch of these kofta kebabs a couple of weeks ago and froze the extras. They make a great freezer meal, reheated in a 375 degree oven. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly–I used half ground lamb, half ground beef, substituted cooked bulgur for the pistachios, and added an egg to the mixture. I also found that refrigerating the kebabs for at least 30 minutes helped them hold their shape on the grill. Skip the skewers if you only have bamboo ones. Even though I soaked mine, they disintegrated pretty quickly on the grill. I’m sure metal skewers would work just fine. This is definitely a meal to repeat.

Monday Menu

If you celebrated the 4th of July, I hope you had a great weekend. We had a lovely long holiday weekend, complete with parades, fireworks, swimming and pie. We even squeezed in a little yard work (a very little, in the grand scheme of our jungle of a garden) and a whole lot of reading.

In this hot and sticky weather, I don’t feel like heating up the kitchen too much, so we’re sticking to quick meals that don’t require much in the way of cooking. Except for cookies. We’re probably going to need some cookies.

Monday: Lemony Potato Salad and grilled salmon, slaw, watermelon

Tuesday: Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters, rotisserie chicken, farmer’s market carrots and peas with Homemade Ranch Dressing

Wednesday: Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili (from Jen)

Thursday: Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, green salad (swap with Jen)

Friday: Kofta, Hummus and Pita (all from the freezer)

Midweek Menu

This week I abandoned meal planning (and everything else, really) in favor of repainting Miss Seven (almost Eight)’s room. I grabbed a few things at the grocery on Sunday night, but other than that, I’ve been winging it. We had pesto again (we had it last week), which isn’t really a problem, especially when the basil comes straight from the garden.

But tomorrow is the Fourth of July, which calls for some celebratory eating–we’re going to be hungry after all that parading. We’re sticking to the classics: hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, potato salad, strawberry pie and watermelon. (This feast should take care of lunches for the rest of the weekend, too.) The Hub has volunteered to do the grocery shopping after work today, and I’m taking him up on it. Shopping brings out the worst in the Little Five lately, so I’m accepting every opportunity to avoid it.

What about the rest of the weekend?

Friday: Shrimp tacos, black beans, quick slaw with lime dressing

Saturday: Thai-Style Ground Pork with Chinese Eggplant, coconut rice

Sunday: Homemade Pizza

I’ll be back next week with the progress on Miss Seven’s room makeover and maybe even a recipe.

What are you cooking to celebrate Independence Day?