Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dinners for October 7-13, 2012

Sunday: Wine braised chicken with tomatoes, peas and rice

Monday: Chicken fried rice (twofer!)

Tuesday: Butternut squash soup and grilled cheese sandwiches *squash was roasted on Sunday*

Wednesday: Dinner party at Whole Foods (more on this later)

Thursday: Oriechette pasta with broccoli and sausage

Friday: TBD

Saturday: TBD

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dinners for September 9-15, 2012

Sunday: Greek Style Shrimp with Feta (DALS Selection of the Week - page 70) with Quinoa and Spinach Pilaf

Monday: 3 Ingredient Tomato Sauce with pasta and garlic bread

Tuesday: Sausage and Peppers with Polenta

Wednesday: Back to School Night

Thursday: Balsamic Orange Chicken with brown rice and broccoli

Friday: TBD

Saturday: TBD

Loving: Everyday Food on YouTube


I can't stop watching these less-than-five minute videos on quick dinners made by Sarah Carey, the Editor in Chief of Everyday Food magazine. I really like her easy, breezy approach to dinner and often watch these clips while planning my dinners for the week.

Take a look at how easy and delicious this Orange Balsamic Chicken can be. She sold me on it when she spilled part of the dish around the 2:50 mark. However, the most notable moment in this video is at the 3:15 mark when I noticed that a woman in the background of the kitchen looks like she is not wearing pants. Upon further inspection using my computer monitor at work, it turns out she is wearing orange leggings. Whew! For a moment there I thought Everyday Food was trying get more viewers by being risque. Yes, that makes total sense!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Loving: Whole Foods (again)

                                                           "Whole Foods Parking Lot"

I've never hidden the fact that I am in love with Whole Foods, which is like admitting to everyone that I also like to breathe fresh air. So you can imagine how high I jumped when I heard that a Whole Foods was opening up just a few short blocks from my home. I almost keeled over from happiness. Fact #48:  Having a Whole Foods open up near your home signifies that the gentrification of your neighborhood is complete.

I would drive by the construction site on my way to the gym just about every morning and watched it progress from a gigantic pit of dirt to a gleaming storefront in just under a year. The store has been all over Facebook with its fan page and when they offered behind the scene tour, my neighbor and I jumped at the chance to walk around it before it opened up last week. I didn't take any pictures (I wasn't sure if I was allowed to), but the store is bigger than any other Whole Foods that I know of and the selections is jaw- dropping. I know many call it Whole Paycheck, but all I can say is thank you for coming to our neighborhood.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dinners for August 12 - 18, 2012

This week should be the calm before the storm since school starts next week. However, we have three birthdays within 18 days of each other and as a result we are busier than ever this week with a 3-year-old, a 41-year-old and a 70-year-old all celebrating birthdays.With family commitments, birthdays and appointments all colliding at once, we have a rare only-three-dinners-eaten-at-the-table kind of the week.

To make things easier on myself this week I chose two dinners from the Dinner: A Love Story cookbook. I'll post my review of last week's choice later this week. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the recipes as well.

Sunday: Kale, Sausage and White Bean stew <---- DALS Cook-A-Long selection of the week

Monday: My birthday girl requested "Sammin, a vegahble, bread, an a pupcake." For those not well-versed in preschooler, it translates into "Grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, some nice bread and a cupcake for dessert." Your wish is my command, Colette.

Tuesday: Out with family

Wednesday: Out with family

Thursday: Spinach, tomato and feta frittata <---- BONUS DALS Cook-A-Long selection of the week (p.117)

Friday: Out with family

Saturday: Out with family

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Salad Hack

One of the nice perks of my office location is that I am a two block walk away from Trader Joe's and can pick up some last minute items for dinner. Alternatively, one of the not-so-great perks of working so close to a Trader Joe's is that I also pick up things that I really shouldn't be buying - like my favorite sea salt and turbinado sugar covered dark chocolate almonds or a prepared salad for lunch while I am at the store under the guise of "getting something for dinner." More often than not, I will find any excuse to go in there on my lunch hour (more on my lunch hour grocery shopping trips here).

When my husband and I play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who wins the previous night's leftovers for lunch that day and he wins, then I just go to Trader Joe's for lunch. (Note to self: Watch linked video on how to win Roshambo every single time.) I try to find a healthy salad that isn't a total calorie bomb but will keep me filled for the afternoon. So while I am technically eating a salad almost every day for lunch, I am also paying about $4-$5 for these packaged salads which any person in their right mind would know is a royal waste of money. As I ate my favorite Vegetable & Grain Country Salad at my desk the other day, I took a quick look at the ingredients and realized that I was paying $4 for a whole lot of packaging and not a whole lot of salad. I resolved right then and there to make my own Country Salad (what, pray tell, makes it a 'Country Salad' Trader Joe's?).

This salad has simple ingredients and could not be any easier to make. The packaged version came with cooked bulgur wheat, garbanzo beans, two or three sad cherry tomatoes, some diced roasted red bell pepper and cucumber mixed together and placed on top of shredded cabbage.

Mine was the same but I threw in some basil and some edamame because I had it in the fridge. 

Vegetable & Grain Country Salad Hack
(Note: I cooked 1 cup of dry bulgur wheat in 2 cups water which yielded 4 salad servings for me)

Bulgur Salad:
1/2 cup bulgur wheat, cooked = .49 cents
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and diced = .17 cents (Six for a $1 at the farmer's market)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced (I didn't roast it) = .25 cents (2 for $1 at the farmer's market)
1/3 cup garbanzo beans = .33 cents
6 cherry tomatoes = Free from my garden
1 cup shredded cabbage = .15 cents ($1 per cabbage at the farmer's market)

(no measurements, just did it to taste)
Exrta virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Squirt of lemon
Salt and Pepper                                                                                 

Total Cost:  $1.39

Crazy, right? All I did was cook 1 cup of bulgur wheat in 2 cups simmering water for about 15 minutes and  added extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper as it cooked. I added a little more oil after it was done cooking, threw in the diced vegetables, mixed it together and put the mixture (about 1 cup total) on a bed of shredded cabbage. I made about four salads with 1 cup of cooked bulgur and then used the remaining ingredients for other things in our dinners that week.

This was a successful Trader Joe's salad hack in my book. I love that I can easily make this and can add in whatever vegetables I have in the fridge at the moment. I've added shredded carrot, minced shallots, green onions, edamame, etc. It's very adaptable and quite tasty. Hope you like it!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dinners for August 5 - 11, 2012

It took me close to a week after our vacation to get back into the groove of things. I had a menu for last week but I can't even remember where it is or what we ate. Now that we are back into our old routine I was more than happy to go make a menu early Sunday morning while my kids slept and then shop for it that same day the way I usually do. It feels like I got into a rather bad habit of going to the store nearly every day to pick up this or that and it was driving me crazy! Who wants to go to the store every single day? I like to get it done in one day and then not have to think about it for the rest of the week.

This week's DALS Cook-A-Long meal is Fried Fish Sandwiches with Zucchini Fries. I love this kind of meal because it's a modified Twofer. I can use the breading from the fries for the fish as well and not have to clean up another plate.  

Sunday: Out with family

Monday: Fried Fish sandwiches with zuchinni fries <------ DALS Cook-A-Long Selection of the Week

Tuesday: Pork stir fry

Wednesday: Shrimp, bacon and corn pasta toss

Thursday: Yogurt-marinated chicken with zucchini fritters

Friday: TBD

Saturday: TBD

Monday, July 30, 2012

DALS Cook-A-Long #2: Barbecue Ribs with BBQ Sauce

50 Cent's other hit, "In da Rub" inspired this caption
In this second installment of the DALS Cook-A-Long I wanted to cook something that was screamed summer to me and for me that would be ribs on the grill. However, I had a mental block with ribs and I had no idea how to even cook the darn things. Seriously, they were as mysterious as Turducken to me. Do you know what I mean? This rib mystique probably came from logging far too many hours watching barbecue competitions on the Food Network in my formative cooking years (aka - unemployed after the dot com bubble popped).

I used to think that cooking ribs required a third generation family recipe, four days of marinating and cooking and a rotisserie barbecue grill about the size of my dining room table. Everyday Food disspelled this myth when they explained that delicious ribs simply required that one bake the ribs for three hours and then grill the ribs for about 10 minutes after that. Before reading this helpful nugget of information, I was the one who bought the pre-cooked and pre-marinated ribs at Trader Joe's. I didn't know any other way to do it.

Now that I am no longer a naive rib nerd, I had a feeling that Jenny's rib recipe was going to be a keeper. However, I did tweak a few things in the recipe.

BBQ Rub recipe notes

The recipe said the rub would make enough for 4 rib racks but I wasn't sure how many ribs were typically in a rack. So I  used half the rub for the 14 ribs in the rack and it worked out great. I baked the ribs at 300 degrees for three hours with no problems.
  • I opted to use 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika, since I didn't have regular paprika... we all survived.
  • I used fennel seed instead of celery seed. Delicious.

Barbecue Sauce recipe notes

First and foremost, the number one page turner in a recipe for me is the use of sugar with meat. My stomach turns at the thought of it, actually. So naturally I wanted to pass on this recipe but I had faith and I knew I could adjust the sugar contents.

  • I used 1/4 cup brown sugar instead of 1/2 cup brown sugar. I survived!
This barbecue sauce was incredible and I made enough to use for a dish later this week. It isn't sickly sweet and isn't too spicy for the kids. I had my hesitations, but this recipe was a winner.

And you can bet your bottom dollar I was singing the Scrubs version of 'Baby Back Ribs' while making these bad boys.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Pizza

Team Pizza USA!

I have been eagerly awaiting the start of the Olympics for months and now that it's finally here, I can hardly contain myself. The usually quiet television is on non-stop for the next two weeks when we are home.

When the games are over I experience a Olympic-sized hangover, mainly from the let-down of the games ending to the sudden silence around me when television used to be on 24/7.

In honor of the Olympics (and a sly effort to break our traditional pizza topping issues) I made this Olympic-themed pizza with blue potatoes, black olives, cherry tomatoes, kale and yellow bell peppers for our Friday night dinner.

May the odds be ever in your favor... oh wait, wrong games.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The last of the kale is in the background. Rest in peace old friend.
A good friend of mine has a really nice backyard garden here in San Francisco. Often we sit back there while watching the kids play and chat about about what she has growing in her raised vegetable beds. When she went inside to get a drink for the kids one day, her husband came over  to me on the sly and said, "When she needs to do gardening, she says she is going to "go harvest the garden." But then she only brings in a few cherry tomatoes! That's not a harvest! That's just picking what happens to be available at that moment!"

Well, I can relate to her choice of words because anything I bring into my home out of my garden is a harvest to me. I had an amazing amount of kale awhile back and now that that situation has died down, we are harvesting delicious cherry tomatoes and the delicious sugar snap peas pictured above. In previous seasons, these little gems never made it past the back door because my kids would mow through the vines while playing in the backyard. But this year I managed to harvest a few before the kids got to them. I was quite proud of my harvest - all 12 of them that I promptly placed into their lunchboxes. (These are our favorite lunchboxes!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mom Camp 2012

Egg carton painting

Every year families across the United States scramble to find glorified childcare camps for their kids during the summer. The prices can really set a family back when you add up how many weeks of camp one must schedule for their children, particularly if the parent works outside of the home like I do.

Last year my friend Emma and I searched around for a few friends to do a week of Mom Camp, asking each parent to put in one day of watching kids for the other four days off. It was originally to save money, but Mom Camp forces you to think out of the box. It can get all too easy to take your kids to the park or the same old places every single week. We kept the Mom Camp structure simple: Hours were from about 9-4, each parent had to watch the kids one day that week and siblings were not included, unless you were the host parent and then you could have both of your kids at your day of camp. This rule was bent on Friday when the younger siblings had a separate camp at Emma's house (Never again. Right, Emma?). Besides sibling camp, I thought the whole thing went really well and I am eager to do it again next year.

This year the dad's got involved and proved to be as much fun as the mom's. This should not come as an surprise to any of our friends, both dad's involved this year should have 'Fun Dad' stamped on their foreheads.

Dad Camp - Monday, July 2nd

Dad Camp was fueled by strawberries and hot chocolate

My husband drove three seven-year-olds and our two-year-old daughter down to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport for strawberry picking. For $28, the kids had a blast picking and eating berries along the coast, eventually walking away with 10 overflowing baskets of organic strawberries. After they ate their packed lunches at the farm's picnic benches, they drove to Año Nuevo State Park  and walked around the trails, ending their adventure on the beach, digging for sand crabs and running in the waves. My husband commented that this was probably the best day he's ever had with so many kids all at once. He came home happy and the kids were thrilled with the strawberries as well as the copious amounts of hot chocolate he gave to them to keep them warm (hey, this is Coastal California after all, folks!). With sand in their hair and shoes and strawberries to share with their families, these kids were happy campers.

Mom Camp - Tuesday, July 3

The Butterfly Hunters of San Francisco

My friend Emma hosted camp at her house and being the crafty one that she is, had art projects ready to go for the kids. They created plastic water bottle bumblebees and Fourth of July luminaries, hunted for caterpillars and butterflies in her backyard, baked Peanut Butter Cup Brownies in her kitchen, and went on a geo-caching treasure hunt at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Whew! I am exhausted just reading the list of stuff they did. My son came home with his arms filled with art projects and stories that dominated our dinner hour. It was a great day of camp!

No Camp - Wednesday, July 4

Dad Camp - Thursday, July 5

Breakneck speed required on the cement slides in San Francisco
This dad took all the kids to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The kids had a blast trying out the science experiments and ate their packed lunches in the cafeteria. Afterwards, he took them to the infamous concrete Seward Street Slides. This part of the day turned out to be the highlight moment for all of the kids. After they were done with the slides, they all came back to his house to play in the backyard and drink gallons of lemonade. Perfection!

Mom Camp - Friday, July 6
Tin can stilt races
Looking for sea otters at Mori Point
I had a few things planned for the "at home" portion of the day, but as usual they took up less time than I expected. Our friends down the street joined our camp for the day and the kids painted egg cartons for the treasure hunt I had planned in Pacifica. Then they made their own popsicles with pudding and/or fruit juice with toppings to eat later on in the day. The night before camp, I made coffee can stilts for the kids to walk around on and they played on those for awhile (Best DIY Project: Old coffee cans with jump ropes from the Dollar Store for stilts. The kids loved them!). I took the kids on a hike to Pacifica's Mori Point and we brought along the egg cartons for the nature treasure hunt. I was surprised at how seriously the kids took this hunt, they were on a mission to find every color in their carton, however blue was the only color we weren't able to find. When we got to the lookout at the top of Mori Point, my son wanted to go higher and so we climbed this beast.

One child claimed this hill to be 380 stories high.

If the kids did not sleep well that night after this hike, then I did not do my job! It was quite a hike and they were exhauted when we got to the top. Afterwards, we went to the Pacifica Pier to watch the fisherman and then headed home to eat our popsicles. It was a great day for everyone. 

All in all, this was an incredibly successful Mom & Dad Camp. I would love to do it again next year and I hope our friends are up for the challenge. If you put it in dollars, the three families saved nearly $900 dollars for three kids in our camp and each day probably only cost about $20 for each parent to host. Definitely worth trying if you can find friends to do it with and have the time to put into it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Foggy Day Popsicles Round 2

A little San Francisco fog never slows us down when it comes to making popsicles around these parts. My son had been drooling over the Fruit Salad Popsicles from the cover of last summer's Everyday Food Summer issue and we finally got around to making them. Since his sister was in school that day we had some time to do these together and it was a perfect afternoon shopping trip and home project. These could not be easier and I don't know why I didn't do them sooner - it's just white grape juice and sliced fruit, after all. My son took great pleasure in using a knife on his own to cut up the fruit and these were all consumed in one day.

Studying the picture so he could cut the strawberries the same way

Ta Da!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Dude Abides

Point Break meets The Big Lebowski
For the past few months my son was set on having a Mad Scientist birthday party. We had been watching fun science experiments on YouTube and researching ideas for transforming our garage into a labratory for his party. But then in the month leading up to his birthday he changed his mind and begged asked for a bowling birthday party at the local bowling alley. I was a little disappointed not to be able to execute the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment on our street, spraying cars and houses with soda. But then the idea of keeping my house clean and not turning it into a science lab also sounded very appealing.

My son has had a love affair with bowling from a very early age as you can see below. At three years old he was bowling in our hallway and told me, "This crown makes me bowl better." What can I say? The dude abides.

With the location and theme out of the way, we started to talk about his cake. At a restaurant later that night he pulled a notebook and pen out of my purse (any other neurotic list makers out there?) and drew a picture of the cake he had in mind, saying, "It's a surfer bowling cake where the surfer is actually bowling on the water and then a shark leaps out of the water at him!" Wow. I had no idea how that would even come together, but I brainstormed for a day or two and searched around for cake ideas on the web. I almost gave up and went to the dark side for help (the dark side being a bakery), but then I figured I could swing something along the lines of what he wanted.

I asked a few friends if they had a toy surfboard that I could use on the cake, but no one had anything like it. Then one friend suggested drawing a board, so I ran with that idea and made my own cake topper using old photos of my husband's long board and of my son surfing.

I used Mod Podge to adhere a couple of photos to stiff cardboard (an old Amazon.com box) and then I carefully cut out the figures with an X-Acto Knife.

I wish I had thought to take photos of the cake as I made it, but I was having a slight panic attack as I assembled it, thinking it was going to look like a Cake Wreck. I just focused on getting it done by that point.

I  used two boxes of Trader Joe's devil's food cake mix and baked them in two jelly roll pans so I would have plenty of space to work with. Then I baked another box cake mix in a 8x8 pan to use for the wave, cutting it to size. To make the wave, I placed a few blocks of cake on top of the sheet cake and frosted it, then I stuck a small sheet of foil into the wedge of the cake so that it would look like a wave, and I bent the foil to form the curl of the wave and covered the whole thing with frosting. I found the little bowling pins and bowling ball at a cake decoration store and used a rubber shark from our bath toys (Yes, I cleaned it thoroughly). The look on his face was priceless when he saw himself surfing on his own cake.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dinners for July 8 - 14, 2012

Our kids are with their grandparents for the week so my menu is all over the place this week. We want to enjoy our nights and leave the dinners flexible for this week. I saw a great slow cooker Chicken Tikka Masala on Pinterest that I am dying to make so that is going to happen for sure. For some reason that I cannot explain, but Indian food in San Francisco is so expensive. Yet over in the East Bay it's affordable. Maybe it's the rent? In any case, maybe this crock pot version will take care of my craving.

I have chosen to make BBQ Ribs on page 239 for this week's Cook-A-Long recipe and will also be making the Barbecue Sauce from page 238 to go along with it. Looking forward to hearing what you make and how it's received by you and your families.

Sunday: Dinner out

Monday: TBD

Tuesday: Crock Pot Chicken Tikka Masala with yellow rice

Wednesday: Dinner out with friends

Thursday: TBD

Friday: Reunion with the kids - not sure where we'll be, so I am leaving this TBD

Saturday: Barbecue Ribs with Broccoli Slaw and corn on the cob <-- DALS Cook-A-Long meal!

DALS Cook-A-Long: Salmon Salad

Last week was our inaugural leap into the very well-chartered waters of cooking from the new Dinner A Love Story cookbook. This diary/cookbook is such a joy to read and the bonus for me is that I have made enough of her recipes that I know that they will pretty much all work with my family.

I actually made two dishes last week, one planned and one on the fly. Below is my review of both and I'd love to hear your reviews as well if you want to leave them in the comments.

Salmon Salad

Photo credit: Dinner A Love Story
 I chose this as my first recipe because she demonstrated how to make the salad on the Today Show a few weeks ago. I also chose it for my menu for its deconstructive-ness, though I overestimated how much this would be true when applied to both of my kids.

You can watch the video here for more information.

When I made it for my family, I carefully set aside the components for my nearly 3-year-old daughter. I knew she'd eat the salmon, the green beans and the corn without blinking, but it would have to be separated. I assumed (and wrongly so) that my 7 year old son wouldn't need this kind of deconstruction and served him the salad all mixed together. Wrong. He saw his sister's plate and looked at his plate and immediately pointed out how unfair it all was. I helped him separate the parts as best as we could, but this was a dinner fail for  him and it was my fault. I should have known better!

I had also hoped that the purple potatoes would entice my kids a little, but they were not impressed. After my son took a tiny bite of potato, he said, "These don't taste any different than regular potatoes." And I took a bite and said, "Really? They taste totally purple to me, I always wondered what purple tasted like." He looked at me suspiciously and took another bite before putting it aside for good. Kid 1, Mom 0.

After I got the kids settled and we all were eating, my husband declared, "Wow, this is like Tuna Nicoise but far better. Why is that?"

Well, for one, it uses salmon rather than tuna. Second, it doesn't have olives. Third, it just tastes better with the vinaigrette recipe she uses. We cleaned our plates and so did my daughter. However, my son was the unhappy camper of the bunch, eating bread with butter and picking at the green beans. Normally he would eat green beans, salmon and corn with no problems, but mixed together was asking too much. Lesson learned.

Playdate Cookies

Nary a peep during the M&M application process

I was with both kids on a soggy, wet Friday and was looking for some fun things to do while the fog whipped around the street outside. Going to a park was not an option that day, but firing up the stove was definitely on my mind. I had a stash of M&Ms in the cupboard and I knew that these cookies would be a hit with the kids, if only for the M&Ms part of the recipe. The cookie recipe itself is good, I thought it was a littler oilier than I would have preferred. But don't think that stopped me and the kids from eating bites of dough as we made the cookies. Since we were going to add M&Ms to the cookie, I opted to keep the chocolate chips out of the recipe since I thought it was a little overkill. I think the genius part of this recipe is the suggestion to give the children their own bowls of M&Ms to decorate with, you could easily do the same with chocolate chips with the same effect. I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it saved us arguing and tears. And the silence was deafening as they took this task very seriously. The cookies came out perfectly and my daughter is still talking about her M&M cookies.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dinner A Love Story: The Cook-A-Long!

After the exciting launch of Dinner: A Love Story's new book, I thought it would be fun to host a Cook-A-Long on this blog, merely because I know the recipes are going to be winners and because I am eager to hear how they work with you and your families (or spouses, partners, cats). I would really like to hear from others on how they are using the recipes with their families and thought this might be a fun thing to do together.

Each week I'll choose one recipe from the book and will announce it here by Sunday evening. During that week we all cook the recipe (or another one that you wanted to try) and post your results on your blog by the following Sunday evening or report back in the comments on how it went.

If you want me to link to your blog post about your DALS recipe from the book, then send me an email at dinnersinthe415 at gmail dot com by Sunday evening (11 PM EST / 8 PM PST) and I'll link back to your Cook-A-Long post along with my own recipe review by Monday morning. If you don't have a blog, then worry not, just wait till I post my review and chime in with your own review in the comments.

This is just a fun way to work our way through the book and share our thoughts on the recipes as we go through them. No obligations, no chain mail, no expectations. Just good old fashioned book club fun with a dinner twist.

This week's selection is on Page 62 of the book: Salmon Salad

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dinners for July 1 -7, 2012

Sunday: Frozen pizza - I went to the Castro Theater's 'Grease' Sing-A-Long with friends. So.Much.Fun!

Monday: Salmon veggie salad <--- My first meal in the DALS Cook A Long (Page 62)

Tuesday: Quesadillas with black bean and corn salad

Wednesday: 4th of July!

Thursday: Pasta with zucchini, basil and peas

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Loving: Justin's Nut Butter packets

Ignore those languishing projects at work when nut butter is near
I love a visit to Whole Foods as much as the next girl, but now I have another love to add to my growing list of "must haves" when I shop there. I picked up Justin's Nut Butters that came in these little " to go" packets because they were on sale, thinking I'd stash them in the car for a quick snack for the kids. But then I thought about it a little while longer and decided that giving a 2 year old a packet of squirt-able peanut butter would be like giving her free range with a Sharpie marker. I opted to keep them in my desk drawer at work and immediately fell in love. I can smear them on an apple or just eat it straight from the packet if I feel like it.

I realize that I am rather late in the game to rave about this product as well as my new found love of Almond Butter, which, according to one annoyed friend, has been around for years. Sadly, I am the same way about music. I tend to stick to the '90s era of music and when I do discover a new song, I am always late to the game. Remember the Onion columnist, Jackie Harvey, who reported on celebrity news and gossip about six months after the fact? That is me with music, "I just heard this new song by Adele, have you heard of her before?" Jackie Harvey and I are tight when it comes to matters concerning music and almond butter.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dinners for June 24 - 30, 2012

Boy does it feel good to be posting my menus again. I missed this kind of blogging because I often forget what I had planned for dinner and have to check my retro datebook to see what is on the menu. I much prefer keeping this here where I can check it on my phone.

I have a backlog of posts as well to get to and I also want to start the Cook-A-Long to the new book, Dinner: A Love Story. More on that later this week.

Sunday: Barbecue Pork Ribs with tomato bread salad

Monday: Spinach Feta Quiche

Tuesday: I am out for the night, so the family will have some turkey bolognese from my stash in the freezer with pasta.

Wednesday: Fish tacos

Thursday: Pesto yogurt marinated chicken with tomato cucumber salad. No link for the chicken - I just combine about 1/3 cup pesto with a 6 oz cup of greek yogurt, add chicken to the bowl and let it marinate while I am at work.

Friday: Camping - more on how scared I am of camping later this month. All I have to bring are S'Mores thank god.

Saturday: TBD

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why So Quiet?

We're in the midst of switching Internet providers so we have a week off with no Internet at home. I almost feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder without access to the world wide web, next thing you know I'll be boiling water in the backyard for our morning breakfast and asking my children to help me gather food for supper. So till late next week I'll be offline reading my new copy of Dinner: A Love Story.

I can't wait to post a picture of the books next to my bed at the moment. I have an interesting mix that cracked me up last night as I crawled into bed. The subjects range from Jane Austen and zombies to almost-smut (50 Shades of Gray, anyone?).

Happy Trails till next week!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dinners for June 3-9, 2012

Judging by the links in this post, you'd think this menu was sponsored by Dinner: A Love Story. Speaking of which, anyone interested in joining an online "Cook A-Long" with me when her book comes out on June 5, 2012?

I can create a web ring and we can all cook maybe one dish a week and move along through the book, discussing how our families like the recipes... kind of like a book club with a blog twist. Any interest?

Sunday: Defrosted soup from the freezer after a weekend out of town

Monday: Pork Fried Rice

Tuesday: Chicken with Brussel Sprouts and bacon (see my comment in the post on how I prepared this dish. It's super simple!)

Wednesday: Spaghetti with shrimp and bacon

Thursday: Bean and veggie tacos

Friday: Dinner and a movie date with my soon-to-be 7 year old. If I know my kid he'll request Boulevard Cafe and Madagascar 3 (I'm just going for the popcorn, let's be honest).

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is Your Get out of Jail Free Card?

I realize it can be defeating to refer to dinner as 'jail', but there are some nights where the 'D' word can feel a little like it. You know those nights where maybe your train was delayed due to Occupy Oakland protestors raiding a BART station, or you realize that you left the chicken for that night's dinner in the fridge at work, or you look at your weekly menu and say to yourself, "Not gonna happen. No way. Do not pass go, do not collect $200."

In our house, my husband and I refer to the items we keep stashed in the freezer on nights like these as our "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. While these delights are great to lean on in a pinch, we do try to serve them with some kind of vegetable, which we jokingly refer to as "The Obligatory C.P.S. Vegetable."

Below is a list of our favorite Get Out of Jail Free dinners that we keep in the Community Chest... or what most would call the freezer.

I realize our freezer dinners aren't that healthy, so no need to get all organi-sanctimonious on me. Let's leave that for the unhappy, judgmental people.

Cheese Tortellini: I buy these in bulk from Costco and keep them in the freezer for nights described above. Tossed with butter and parmesan (maybe some CPS-worthy frozen peas thrown in) and dinner is served.

Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausages (with Andouille for me): While *I* am not a fan of fruit mixed with meat, my whole family loves those sausages. So I always keep a package of chicken apple and andouille sausages in the freezer. Defrosted and grilled, maybe served alongside some good bread and whatever vegetable is in the fridge makes all four of us happy.

Frozen Pizza: My kids know they hit the lottery when I am out for the night and my husband pulls out a Trader Joe's frozen pizza. I secretly love the squishy texture. However, I don't want to know why it's squishy.

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken: I am not even sure this is really chicken, so we reserve these for special use and it violates my "No sweet meat" rule, so I eat a few pieces without much sauce. Serve this with frozen brown rice (again Trader Joe's) and you are golden.

Trader Joe's Fish Sticks: I am not going to lie, I kind of like these. What can I say? I am both ashamed and oddly thrilled to be showing you this. My husband was particularly proud one night when he served these with a side baby carrots. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dinners for May 27 - June 2, 2012

For the rest of the United States it is warm and sunny, which makes for perfect grilling weather. But in San Francisco it is cool and foggy (and I wouldn't have it any other way) so it is Beef Stew weather for us. I am a sucker for traditions so we are grilling regardless of the whipping winds and wet fog for this Memorial Day. How about you?

Sunday: Crock Pot Beef Stew

Monday: Yogurt-marinated chicken on the grill with vegetables and Rice and black bean salad

Tuesday: Chicken, Kale and Sweet Potato Hash (adapted from this Everyday Food recipe)

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Roasted salmon with green beans

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: TBD

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fried Quinoa

My grandmother always made fried rice with the leftover white rice and it has always been one of my favorite ways to use up leftover rice. As a kid, I loved it so much that there were times when I would cut back on my rice consumption at dinner the night before so I could guarantee that we’d have fried rice for dinner the next night. Needless to say, I’ve never met a fried rice dish that I didn’t like. 

About two months ago I went out to dinner with a group of friends at Eos in San Francisco’s Cole Valley. I had scanned the menu online ahead of time and the Fried Quinoa with Peanuts immediately caught my eye.  

We shared our dishes family-style, but I went back for seconds and then thirds of the fried quinoa. I loved it so much that I stole the menu (Hey, the waiter said they were going out of business the very next week!) to 
recreate the dish at home. I could practically hear my mother say, "You could totally make that."

Fortunately, fried rice for dinner is an easy sell with our kids, but lately I've been trying to add new grains into our diet without turning our meals into something that tastes like it came from the forest floor. I knew the added element of quinoa and kale would raise some eyebrows and it might cause a revolt at the table. But why not just serve it without saying a word about the new additions? It had the same exact taste as our favorite Fried Rice with Shrimp but it looked a little different. I was lucky that night because they were hungry and everyone ate their portions without a complaint – this is not always the case, believe me.

This recipe is best made with quinoa that has been cooked and cooled ahead of time. But if you don’t have time for that then you could cook the quinoa according to the package directions and spread it out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet to cool off quickly. 

Fried Quinoa and Shrimp with Blistered Peanuts     

1/2 cup shelled peanuts (I used Trader Joe’s Roasted and Unsalted peanuts)
2 Tbls. vegetable oil, divided
1 Tsp. sesame oil
2 large eggs, whisked
1 bunch of kale, tough stems removed and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ½ cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 pound shrimp, deveined and tails removed
3 Tbls. rice vinegar
3 Tbls. soy sauce

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbls. vegetable oil over medium heat and add the peanuts, moving them around to coat with oil and fry till blistered and lightly browned. Reserving the oil in the skillet, remove the peanuts with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Add the whisked eggs to the skillet with some salt and pepper and cook until set like a pancake – about two minutes on one side, then flip the eggs over and let it cook through for another minute. Remove the eggs from the skillet and let cool on a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, roll the egg up and slice thinly crosswise.

In same skillet, heat remaining 1 Tbls. vegetable oil and 1 Tsp. sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add kale, onion, and garlic and stir, seasoning with salt and pepper (the skillet will be very full). Stir frequently until the kale and onion soften, about 5 minutes. Push the kale mixture to the side of the skillet and add in the shrimp, cooking through for three minutes. Add in the cooked quinoa, sliced eggs, rice vinegar and soy sauce to the pan. Stir ingredients together till combined and warmed through. Divide into bowls and serve with blistered peanuts on top.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dinners for May 20-27, 2012

This week's menu was inspired by son's request for three ingredients to be use in our dinners this week: Sausage, Rice and Mashed Potatoes. I like how he neglected to mention kale as if he didn't hear my public declaration that it will be a permanent menu fixture till we make a dent in our garden.

Sunday: Turkey meatloaves with mashed potatoes and sauteed kale w/ almonds and red onion

Monday: Fish cakes (use up those leftover mashed potatoes) with roasted sweet potatoes and kale

Tuesday: I'm out for the night - Chef's (Dad's) choice: Sausage, kale and pasta toss

Wednesday: Dinner with family from out of town (Hello, Wisconsin!)

Thursday: Chicken teriyaki with Gwyneth Paltrow's Green Rice

Friday: Movie night - Pizza? Indian?

Saturday: TBD

Friday, May 18, 2012

Loving: Kale is Coming Out of Our Ears

I never thought this would happen, but we overplanted kale this year. My husband got a little excited about the options at the nursery and purchased Lacinto Kale AND Red Russian Kale for our raised vegetable beds in the backyard. (BTW - he built those beds himself using this tutorial).

Strawberries, green beans and broccoli... oh my!

Now we have kale blooming all over the place.  I've never been one to hide vegetables in my children's food, but Chocolate Kale Muffins might be making an appearance around here soon.

Below is a round up of our favorite recipes so far.
  •  Kale Chips modified by me, (source: Dinner: A Love Story)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Simple is Best

Every single time I make these drumsticks, I wonder why I don't think to make them on those nights when

a) BART is delayed
b) I answered my phone at work five minutes before I have to catch the 5:10 train
c) Opened up my son's backpack to discover an insane amount of homework
d) I can't muster the strength to make dinner

This dinner doesn't get any simpler. It's easy enough, my kids cheer when I make it, and I always seem to have the ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Behold! The Wonder Dinner guaranteed to stop you from putting your favorite take out joint on speed dial (not that there is anything wrong with that... Hola La Corneta!) 

Apricot-glazed drumsticks: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and lightly cover non-stick cooking spray. Place 6-8 drumsticks on the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put two heaping spoonfuls of apricot preserves in a small bowl and brush it over the drumsticks. After 15 minutes of roasting, flip over the drumsticks and brush them with more preserves. Roast for another 15 minutes.

Sauteed sugar snap peas: Heat a few glugs of olive oil, a pat of butter and a pinch of chili pepper flakes in a skillet and sautee sugar snap peas till slightly tender, about 7 minutes.

Warmed baguette: Wrap a store bought baguette in foil and throw it in the oven with the drumsticks. Remove it when the drumsticks are done.

I realize this isn't gourmet, but it's homemade and as my mom would say, "There is plenty of green on the plate." The kids were infinitely more thrilled with this meal than with my attempts to convince them that Ratatouille is actually not a rat, but a delicious vegetable stew. They didn't buy it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fava Beans: What The Recipe Writers Won't Tell You

Deceptive packaging
A family friend gave my mother a sack of fava beans to bring along with her while she was in town visiting us this past weekend. This friend grows them in her garden in a huge patch alongside her house. Many years ago, I house sat for her (not the same friend whose kitchen I almost burnt down) and I was impressed with the size of her fava bean garden - it was huge! I remember thinking, "Boy, she must really love fava beans." It turns out that she merely *likes* fava beans, but thinks that growing them is a good way to return nitrates to the soil. 

I am here to tell you the truth about fava beans. They are the most deceptive vegetable out there.

Alright, alright... I know that is a bold statement to say about such a great vegetable, but do you even know how many steps it takes to get them on your plate? All I can say is: Do not attempt to make these on a weeknight with two kids nipping at your heels for dinner.

I'll show you in pictures what a piece of work these beans really are.

Step 1: Fava beans come in gigantic pods (pictured above) that have small beans nestled in a fur-lined pod. Break these open and remove the beans from their pods.

Wait a second... this is all we got from those huge pods?
Step 2: Dump the beans into a pot of boiling, salted water for about 1 minute.

Step 3: Quickly strain the beans and put them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Step 4: Remove the gray outer skin, like my mom did below (What? You think she doesn't have to work in the kitchen on Mother's Day? Think again)

Hmmm... these beans are getting smaller and smaller.

Step 5: Stare in horror and curse under your breath at how few fava beans you actually have for your Mother's Day Dinner, all 1-1/3 cups of them. Oh snap!

All this for 3 adults and 2 kids!?!

Step 6: Soldier on and cook your beans (again). We chose to sautee them in a little olive oil, a pinch of chili pepper flakes, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. Everyone got 1-1/2 spoonful of fava beans which was a comically small serving next to our steaks, but we ate every single last bean.

The moral of this story is to judge a book by it's cover. Fava beans deserve to be judged. And always buy more than you think you'll need.

And if you need to return nitrates to the soil... well, you might want to consider just buying some mulch.

Dinners for May 13 - 19, 2012

Sunday: Grilled steak, sauteed fava beans and bread

Monday: School fundraiser dinner

Tuesday: Roasted chicken with strawberry surprise salad

Wednesday: Pasta with carmelized onions, spinach and parmesan

Thursday: Dad is on his own with the kids = chef's choice!

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Open Letter to Green Onions

Dear Green Onion,
  Nothing annoys me in my kitchen more than wasting food. This feeling has been passed down from my grandmother who thought nothing of cutting the mold off of cheese and serving it to my friends visiting after school (one time she mentioned this fact after we ate the cheese sandwiches, oh yes, she really did). I may not be able to smell, but you and I don't really get along too well. It's pretty obvious when you start to knock on death's door. Your green ends go yellow, your white tips turn brown and you start to emit liquids that I didn't know you had. You turn ugly fast, Green Onion.
  I've talked about some of the usual suspects that meet their demise in my fridge. But Green Onion you really take the cake (oh, if only I could put you into cake!). You pretend to be fancy by using a pseudonym like Scallion, but we all know who you really are. I resent the way you come packaged in bunches of ten like we could always use an extra one of you. I don't want more than five or six at at time, yet you put yourself out there like we want more of you. Don't even get me started on how Trader Joe's manages to put in nearly 15 green onions into one package. There was a time when I would scour books trying to plan a week's worth of meals around one measly package of green onions and it never worked. I'd start with a spinach feta quiche (six green onions gone!), then I'd do a stir fry (three green onions gone!) and then I'd lose steam and watch the remaining green onions wither away into a liquidy green mess.
  But not anymore, Green Onion. You will not break me. You will no longer be left at the bottom of my veggie drawer waiting for a turn in the compost bin, I'll leave that to the marscapone cheese and sour cream. I managed to find three recipes which used every green onion in the bunch this week and you will not be wasted for once.

Can you believe I just wrote three paragraphs about green onions? It's a slow week, people.

Sunday: Orzo Cucumber salad (three green onions)

Monday: Black Bean Tostadas with corn relish (two green onions)

Tuesday: Pollo ala Cacciatore (six green onions)

Afraid No More

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dinners for May 6-12, 2012

I am going to start keeping our Saturday 'TBD' because by the end of the week, both my mind and the veggie drawer are empty. Something comes together but it all depends on weather, spontaneous plans and our mood. 

Sunday: Grilled chicken with orzo cucumber salad

Monday: Black bean tostadas with corn relish (I love this relish because it gets better with time so I make it the night before)

Tuesday: Pollo ala Cacciatore

Wednesday: Dinner out with family - my birthday!

Thursday: Pork chard hash (I subbed in pork tenderloin)

Friday: TBD

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Smelling Famous

I saw a quick strawberry sauce recipe in a magazine recently, but I couldn't find the article when I needed it this past weekend. We had a surplus of strawberries from the farmers market with a limited shelf life and I recalled the basic principle behind the recipe: Clean, simmer, add some maple syrup and cornstarch. This may be the year of winging recipes for me.

Since breakfast around here is only "fancy" on the weekends, it felt pretty special to make waffles AND cook a sauce on the stovetop. However, as I cooked the sauce on the stove my son walked by and commented, "Wow, that sauce smells famous." With that kind of ringing endorsement, this sauce is worth the extra pot to clean.

Quick and Easy Strawberry Sauce

2 cups washed and hulled strawberries
2 Tbls. maple syrup (adjust depending on the sweetness of your strawberries)
1/2 Tbls. corn starch

In a pot combine strawberries and maple syrup and turn on the heat to medium-high. As it starts to bubble, add cornstarch and mash the strawberries with a fork to break them down a bit (I like it chunky). Let it simmer for about 3 minutes or till thickened. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool.

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of sauce. In addition to our weekend waffles, I used it as a topping on Greek yogurt and also just ate it by the spoonful. It lasted less than six hours in this house, but maybe you can make it last longer in your home.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Rainbow Carnival Cupcakes

I may not be the mom who picks up and drops off their kid every day at school.

I may not be the mom who is the first to reply back on email about bringing in a classroom drink or treat.

I may not be the mom who chaperones every field trip.

I may not be the mom who remembers to coordinate an outfit for Twin Day at school.

I may not be the mom who collects money from everyone to buy a teacher appreciation gift.

But I am the mom who spent her Friday night up to her armpits in food coloring and frosting so her son could bring rainbow cupcakes to the annual school festival.

Behold the Rainbow Carnival Cupcake with enough food dye in the frosting to put a leprechaun into a coma. Frosting recipe can be found here.