Monday, March 19, 2012

Dinners for March 18 - 24, 2012

Sunday: Family dinner party at Mom's house
Monday: Roasted salmon with brussel sprouts and parmesan quinoa

Tuesday: Mini meatloaves with broccoli and mashed potatoes
Wednesday: Chicken orzo soup with bread

Thursday: Veggie strata with hashbrowns

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: Dinner with family

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hash Leftovers A Go Go

Prepping the cabbage
We may have exhausted our corned beef quota for the season, but there is only one way (in my opinion) to use up the leftovers - Corned Beef Hash. I had a sneaking suspicion this would be a hit because my kids have never met a salted, cured meat they didn't like.

There are a zillion ways to make this dish, but I simply sauteed a small chopped onion and one diced red bell pepper in about two tablespoon of canola oil till soft. Then I added two cups of chopped corned beef, two cups chopped roasted cabbage and two cups diced cooked potatoes and let it warm through, browning and crisping the potatoes along the way. The adults fried an egg and plopped it on top of their bowls, but the kids inhaled theirs with a side of When Will You Be Making This Again?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Menu

Sometimes when friends ask me about how I put together a dinner menu for the week their eyes glaze over when I babble on for more than a minute. I think they were hoping for a quick, simple explanation to it all and there is, but it may not sound like it at first.

It took a few years to find a dinner groove with my first child and then the whole system had to be tinkered with in 2009 when my daughter was born. I needed to change our dinners to suit a new eater and I found the easiest way to do that was to make dinners that could be segmented for picky little people. I also kept in mind that while I may be easing a new eater into the routine, I still needed to make dinners that I want to eat, as in, "This had better be worth my time to make as well as eat."

Over the years I have collected a little library of reliable books, magazines and blogs to use in my menu planning. 

My menu arsenal
On any given Saturday or Sunday, I look at our calendar for the coming week and see what evening commitments we have and note it on the menu. Then I flip through my library for inspiration to cobble together dinners for the rest of the week.

These are my favorite resources:

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Dinner a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach (Jenny graciously sent me a galley copy of her book and let me tell you, it is worth every penny, so pre-order it now! What can I say? Being an early, gushing fan has its perks.)
Everyday Food magazines (more on my collection here)
Sunset Weeknight dinners (2005 edition, co-edited by my friend, Emma Bland Smith)
Sunset Fast & Fresh
Time for Dinner by the Cookie editors
Real Simple magazine

With these wonderful resources at my disposal, I keep a few basic guidelines in place.

1) I try to do most of my shopping on Sunday, but I supplement with extras from Trader Joe's during the week. I am very fortunate to work two blocks from TJ's so I go there during the week for extra's on my lunch break.

2) To avoid repeats, I organize the menu by the main dish. So in a given week we'll have one or two poultry dinners, one pasta dinner, one vegetarian dinner, one soup dinner, and one get-out-of-jail-free dinner (aka the frozen something or dinner out) and then I find recipes to fit into those parameters. I believe this kind of thinking comes from my mother and my grandmother, but then again she would never approve of having chicken twice in one week. C'est un scandale!

3) The seafood chosen for a dinner during the week will always be made by Monday or Tuesday. This is almost always amended by frozen shrimp, which is a must-have in our freezer due to my shrimp-loving son.

4) On Sundays I typically put more time into what I make, mainly because I have the time! I try to make it a little more special than my usual 30-minute-dinner-wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am type of meal. Even better if I can do double duty and get something else ready for later in the week, especially if I have a twofer in mind. This particular week I roasted a butternut squash to be used in soup for the next day.

So as you can see this is not rocket science. It may seem too rigid for some, but for me it's just how I like to do my dinners. I like a plan, but I like it be flexible and as a result, I rarely encounter rotting vegetables in the fridge. An extra bonus is that we eat pretty good leftovers the next day at work.

What else can I say?

"I love it when a plan comes together."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

About that Flank Steak...

As I mentioned in my latest menu, we don't eat much red meat. I have nothing against it, I love a good burger and I drool over the menu weeks ahead of our once-a-year trip to the House of Prime Rib. I appreciate red meat for all its iron and goodness, but buy it at my local *Safeway? No way.

This past weekend was unusually warm and I had steak on the brain. It's a practically fool proof cut of meat and my mom's marinade recipe is always a sure fire winner. We were in Bernal Heights and I stopped by Avedano's and was disappointed not to see any flank steaks. But this is where an awesome local independent butcher can shine like nobody else can. This place beyond accommodating - if you don't see what you want in the case, they happily go and get it out of the meat locker for you. If you wonder aloud how much steak will feed two adults and two children, they talk with you about it. If you excitedly describe your mom's amazing flank steak marinade, they readily agree with you that yes, she should bottle and sell it.

Avedano's reminds me of Meats of the World, the fictional butcher shop from the 'So I Married an Axe Murderer' movie, which was filmed in San Francisco: Friendly, courteous, with a slight tinge of hipster (they have curing and butchering classes for crying out loud!).

Best movie ever filmed in San Francisco.

Also, I felt like I could take my grandmother's advice for once - talk to the butcher and see what they recommend. When she and I would grocery shop together, she would ask the grocery store butcher what he recommended and then she'd look at the price per pound and decide what to make from there. However, I think she would have keeled over upon seeing at the prices at Avedano's. She appreciated freshness, but she also pinched pennies like nobody else - so paying top dollar for a steak would probably break her heart.

Yes, Avedano's is expensive, but at least they give me the peace of mind that what they weren't selling was some funky piece beef just off the freighter, this was the good stuff.  We got six meals out of that two pound steak (four dinners and two lunches) which came to roughly $4.60 per meal. That is far, far less than dinner out for a family of four and still less than a sandwich, chips and a soda for lunch.

Mom's Flank Steak Marinade
Enough for 2 pound steak
This marinade does well with time, I usually let it marinate the meat for at least three hours

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbls. EVOO
1 Tbls. grainy mustard or dijon
1 Tbls. worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbls. soy sauce
1 Tbls. chopped garlic
1/4 tsp. pepper

Mix all the ingredients and pour over your steak, marinate for at least three hours.

*Mini rant: I really can't stand the way my neighborhood Safeway has a completely pathetic selection  of organic poultry. They usually only have three very sad looking packages of organic chicken, all tenders for some inexplicable reason. Surely I am not the only person looking for organic meat in my section of the city.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dinners for March 4 - March 10, 2012

Sunday: *Grilled Flank Steak with Fiesta rice

Monday: Apricot preserve-glazed drumsticks with Parmesan quinoa and steamed broccoli

Tuesday: Sausage, oriechette and spinach pasta

Wednesday: Sesame Orange Shrimp with rice and veggies

Thursday: Bean Burritos with avocado and tomato salad

Friday: Crock pot *Corned Beef with roasted cabbage - I can't wait for next week, I need it now!

Saturday: TBD - busy day

*Red meat two times in one week is so rare for us. It's like seeing a unicorn on my menu!