Cooking for the Week Ahead

It has been too long. I am still here. I am still eating. I am still cooking. I am still writing.

Life has been busy and different. I no longer come home in the afternoons after work to shop and cook dinner. (In fact I now work almost 8 hours more per week than I used to!) Instead I try and spend Sunday evenings stocking up on foods to pack for lunch and dinner for the week ahead. With my new schedule I get home from work just in time to kiss my wonderful husband, heat up some leftovers, and thank my past self for making them. During the work day, instead of staying on my toes pulling pans in and out of the oven and serving hungry children, I’m on my (mental) toes keeping parents happy, making sure their kids get the care they need. It’s a different life. When I can I go for runs around this beautiful lake.

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So how I do plan around my new and busier schedule? I try to make foods that will travel and keep well and feed me with comfort and keep me full until the next snack. These blueberry walnut muffins were made as a challenge to myself while one of my friends was avoiding processed sugar. They contain a little bit of honey, plus whole wheat flour, oats, walnuts, and of course blueberries! The oats and nuts make them more filling, add great contrasting textures, and are also quite tasty!

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I know some of your are scoffing the the mention of whole wheat flour in a muffin, but trust me – these were well-received after our long and muddy hike!

IMG_2584This quinoa and chickpea salad is my new favorite go-to lunch salad. I adapted mine from this one on the New York Times Cooking site and I especially enjoy it with roasted carrots. Made with canned chickpeas and a few chopped veggies, it’s fairly quick to make (especially if you use couscous). If you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, you will be set for lunches for the week!

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Another quick and healthy lunch is a big salad. Boxed mixed greens, chopped deli meat, cheese cubes, nuts (toasted, if you’re fancy) and dried fruit make for a delicious lunch. Bring a bottle of dressing to work or a little container of your own if you can.

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For dinners, soups and stews make for tasty fare and can be especially easy if you throw it all in the crock pot. Above is one of my favorites – Ginger Chicken Meatball Soup – adapted from this lovely recipe. When I plan my meals for the week I try to make at least two recipes, preferably one in the oven or on the stove and the other in the crock pot. Between the two of us packing lunch everyday and eating dinner at home, we need a lot of food!

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On the weekends when you have some time to relax and you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, make yourself some pancakes, fluffy and warm, served hot from the skillet. Top them with bananas, toasted nuts, and real maple syrup. Don’t go out to brunch. Make it at home instead! Then you don’t have to decide between ordering the pancakes and the omelette – you can have both!

Ah yes, but the weekends don’t last long, so you enjoy them while you can. Go out to dinner, whip up a homemade dessert for your loved ones, and then get ready to get ready for the week ahead once again. Even if the week is a rough one, at least you can say you were well-fed!

 

 

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Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp

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Shrimp is one of those foods I usually have to enjoy on my own. That is to say that Sam won’t touch the stuff, even if it’s breaded and fried. I often buy a bag of raw shrimp to keep on hand in the freezer for lunches or dinners where we’re short on food or he’s out of town.

When we honeymooned in Barbados, I kept seeing coconut shrimp on the menus and figured I should try it while we were there. However, other dishes always tantalized me more and though I kept looking for an excuse to order it, not having someone who’d share it with me made it that much more unlikely. Finally on our last night we went to Champers for our final, elaborate, honeymoon feast. They took us to our table on their open deck, overlooking the beautiful Caribbean waters. Thanks to our wonderful hosts at our hotel, the restaurant had surprised us with “just married” confetti and personalized menus congratulating us on our recent wedding.

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Seeing as it was our last night in paradise, we opted for a three-course meal. We each chose our own appetizers, Sam’s a beautiful baked brie with apples and mine the long lusted-after coconut shrimp! They were perfect – crispy and sweet, with sprigs of lettuce for color and crunch and a sweet chili sauce to dip. We followed our appetizers with equally amazing entrees and desserts – three in fact! We ordered two (being the gluttons that we are) and they brought us a surprise extra – a scoop of ice cream with a candle and “congrats” written in chocolate across the plate.

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The famous coconut shrimp at Champers!

We left the restaurant five pounds heavier and happier, me glad to have finally enjoyed my coconut shrimp.

So yesterday, with Thanksgiving leftovers dwindling and a trip to the grocery store in the somewhat distant future, I decided to make myself coconut shrimp for lunch. Other than deep-frying, how hard could it be? The answer: not that bad at all. You dredge your shrimp, throw them in the pan (more like place them carefully and stand back!) and within a few minutes you have tasty, crispy, coconut shrimp.

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Then, since this was a totally impromptu lunch, I whipped up a simple mixture of ketchup and red curry paste to dip them in. Despite the splattering dangers and the mess on the stove afterward, they were worth every bite!

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Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp

serves 1 for a meal or 2 for an appetizer

1/4 lb. raw shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup flour

salt and pepper

canola oil for frying

ketchup & red curry paste

Set up your breading station as follows: flour in the first bowl – add a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, milk in the second bowl, and panko and coconut mixed in the third.

Heat a large skillet or deep saucepan (saucepan is probably safer) with oil over medium heat. Add enough oil to form a thin layer on the bottom about 1/4 inch. If you wish to deep-fry you can add several cups of oil, but it will take longer to heat up and can be more dangerous. I did mine in a skillet and though there was some splattering, they were easier to flip.

While the oil heats, bread your shrimp, keeping one hand for dry and one for wet (to avoid breading your hands). Dip in the flour first, milk next, and coconut crumbs last. Put breaded shrimp on a plate. Discard any remaining breading ingredients.

To test your oil, toss in a few extra breadcrumbs and see if they sizzle. When ready, use tongs to transfer your breaded shrimp to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. After you can see they are beginning to brown on the bottom, flip them. Let them cook about another minute and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let cool.

In a small bowl add however much ketchup you’d like. Mix in red curry paste to taste, starting with a small amount and tasting for spice. Dip your shrimp and enjoy!

 

 

Post 92 – How About Them Apples!

We took our annual apple picking trip Columbus Day weekend and we returned with 66 pounds of apples!

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(Ah the beauty of nature! I just love the color of these apples! Like purple plums! I wonder what happens to those sad apples that fall to the ground…)

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Our 66 pound stash included a full bag of just Honeycrisp (delicious!), some baking apples like Cortland (pie!) and some tasty eating apples like Gala and Fuji. We had the pleasure of hosting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law for the weekend so they helped us pick more than our usual amount.

On our way home from apple picking, we also made a stop at Walden Pond where we enjoyed snapping some silly panoramas with the scenic fall backdrop. Despite the cold temperatures and constant drizzle of rain during our picking, it was a wonderful way to spend a chilly fall day.

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Sadly the weekend had to end at some point. We sent them home with as many apples as they could carry and promises to visit them in their new home in Luxembourg in the future.

After a weekend of eating apples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, pie baking, and making our famous meat-stuffed apples (as well as sending some back with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law), we were down to about 35 pounds! I made some applesauce this past weekend and our stash is down even lower! We’ll see how long it takes to finish these off.

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While making the applesauce I enjoyed an informal apple tasting, stealing a slice of different apples here and there, comparing the texture and sweetness and crunch. I have always marveled at the beautiful colors nature creates with real, good foods, but I am even more amazed that even just within the category of apples how many different colors they come in. Check out this rainbow of apples!

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I hope you are enjoying the last few days of warmer temperatures and bouts of sunshine. The winter will be here before we know it.

Eat well!

 

Post 91 – Cupcakes for dinner!

That cozy time of year has started to settle here in Boston (for the moment at least – it was 85 this weekend!) and with that comes a change in the recipe routine. It’s time to start the soups, stews, and hearty meals that stick to our bones and keep us warm. Time to make all those pumpkin recipes you’ve been pining after on Pinterest. Well, my friends, do I have a recipe for you! Cupcakes for dinner! Feels like a treat, looks like a treat, and incredibly satisfying – how could you go wrong? (Wow, this post is already sounding like a sales pitch!)

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Of course I’m not talking about regular cupcakes – these are meatloaf cupcakes, personal meatloaves, muffin-shaped meatballs, meat-cakes or whatever you want to call them. They are quicker to bake than one big meatloaf and can be personalized and even decorated if you’re feeling fancy. I’m sure they would be a hit with young kids.

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Start with your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe, grease (or line with baking cups) a muffin tin and smoosh that meat mixture right in those muffin cups. I adapted this scrumptious recipe for meatballs with pumpkin in them and I highly recommend it (just use canned pumpkin instead of the butternut squash to save time). Bake them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned. NOTE: You might want to put the muffin tin on a sheet pan just in case the grease spills out and burns on the bottom of your oven.

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While they’re baking, chop up some potatoes (any kind), boil, and mash with a bit of butter and milk. Top your tasty meat muffins with your choice of mashed potato or sweet potato “frosting” – piped on if you’re feeling extra special (though if you leave the skins on the potatoes, as I did, piping is a little tricky so I just dollop-ed).

 

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Serve them up with your favorite roasted vegetables, salad, or sauteed greens. Delicious, easy, and sure to make you feel like you’re having a treat.

 

Meat Cupcakes

your favorite meatball/meatloaf recipe

OR

2 lb. ground beef

2 eggs

1 15-oz can pure pumpkin puree

3/4 cup shredded Parmesan

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 tsp. ground cinnamon (sounds weird, but is so good)

3/4 tsp. Kosher salt

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a muffin pan with cupcake liners or spray with a pan spray.  I made about 16 muffins with my mixture.

If you have time and so desire, toast your pecans for a few minutes in a saute pan on the stove or on a sheet pan in the oven. Be sure to watch them so they don’t burn. This should only take a minute and really enhances the flavor of the nuts. In a large bowl, lightly beat your eggs to break up the yolks. Add in the remaining ingredients (including pecans, making sure they’ve cooled a bit) and mix to combine all ingredients.

Divide the mixture between the muffin pans, filling the meat muffins to the rim. You could try mounding the mixture slightly too if you like that look, though they might make more of a mess. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165 and they are nicely browned.

Top with homemade mashed potatoes and serve. Yum!

Post 90 – What’s cooking

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In my last post, I declared my intention to following a low FODMAP diet – no onions, garlic, stone fruits, avocados, wheat, lactose… the list goes on. I was determined to stick to this diet for the sake of feeling better and I was determined to share all of these creative and exciting recipes with you, but that hasn’t happened. I have been eating low FODMAP (with a few moments of weakness here and there), but I have mostly been relying on resources for recipes from other people’s blogs so I have not been re-posting them here. Keeping meals simple (but still delicious) has been my focus, as well as eating slowly, deliberately, and smaller, more frequent meals.

I am also continually reminded that nothing exists in isolation to the rest of the world. While certain foods may trigger my symptoms, there are other factors that play a role as well – stress, good relationships or lack of good relationships, satisfaction with life, and good or bad habits. Not everything can be improved with a quick change of diet and so I have begun to consider these other outside aspects as well in searching for ultimate health. I’m sorry that I haven’t shared exciting recipes or revelations, but I appreciate you sticking with me despite my challenges.

Despite not being able to always cook and eat what I love, I have still been cooking for others. Here are some photos of what I’ve been up to lately. For a food truck’s staff party that I catered:

photo 2(35)My signature pasta salad, potato and chive salad, summer fruit salad, roasted skirt steak with herb butter, and spinach, peach and feta salad with sweet onion dressing.

 

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My mom’s brownie recipe (on a larger scale)

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For the family whose home I cook in three times a week…

photo 2(34)Baked pork potstickers – made in mini muffin pans for ease of cooking and fun eating for kids. They turned out great!

photo 1(37)With some green peas and dipping sauce on the side

 

photo 3(31)Green veggie risotto with chicken sausages. Yum!

 

And last but not least, I have started doing some health and nutrition centered bulletin boards at the school where I work to provide some colorful and educational information about food. Here is my September board:

photo 4(21)Unfortunately I think the picture I took is a little crooked, but I am happy with how it turned out!

Have a wonderful weekend. Fall is coming!

 

Post 83 – Spanish Tortilla

I do a lot of meal planning these days and mostly with limitations. I plan dinners for Sam and me at home (and now lunches for me to take to work), lunches for Sam, lunches and dinners for another family, and sometimes food for events I do for other people. Needless to say as much as I used to love menu planning, I’ve started to run out of ideas, in particular for creative foods that I can eat at my current stage of food experimentation.

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The other day I was asked to prepare a special lunch for the family I cook for since they were having a midday pool party with some other kids and moms. At a loss for what to make when the mom requested a shrimp salad, I was saved when she pulled out all of her magazine clippings and began ooo-ing and ahh-ing at all the recipes she wanted me to make. Great! I thought. Finally someone else is coming up with the ideas.

At first I have to admit I was a little out of my comfort zone. I had taken over the entire counter (as I don’t usually do), leaving shreds of brussel sprouts, kale, and lemon seeds strewn in my path. I told the mom later “the more unfamiliar I am with a recipe, the more I make a mess.” The kitchen displayed the evidence that I was very unfamiliar. Now it’s not like these recipes were difficult, but their relative newness threw off my organization. I hadn’t had the usual prep time to study and decide how to execute them so instead I just dove in, hoping for the best. Thankfully I work for a wonderful family and the recipes turned out well. The mom helped me clean up near the end and she seemed thrilled with the food that I had made. It’s good to get outside your comfort zone and it’s great when someone else finds the recipes (so long as you can actually make them!)

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Yesterday, however, I was confronted once again with the ever-present problem of what to make with the ground beef that I’d bought earlier that week. I went through the usual options in my head – tacos, meatballs, “spaghetti,” none of which either sounded appealing or possible for me to eat. Then somehow I came up with a more exciting option. I thinly sliced some potatoes and gently browned them in oil and I threw the ground beef and some eggs on top. Voila! A delicious, simple, and comforting meal.

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I have included the recipe below, with some options for those of you who can eat certain foods that I can’t. The great thing about this recipe (like many favorites of mine) is that it is flexible. Throw in some veggies, leave out the meat, use more eggs, whatever floats your little boat.

Spanish Tortilla

2-3 medium yukon gold potatoes

olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1/2 lb – 1 lb. ground beef or Italian sausage

1/3 cup shredded cheddar or other cheese (optional)

8-10 eggs

1 cup milk of your choice (I used almond milk with no flavor issue)

salt and pepper to taste

rosemary (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet or cast iron skillet over medium heat with a splash of olive oil. Meanwhile wash and thinly slice your potatoes, trying to keep the thickness as even as possible. When the pan is hot, carefully lay the potato slices in the pan, overlapping slightly if necessary. If you have to do multiple layers, salt and pepper each layer before adding more. (You can also add the onion here) I also added rosemary in this step. Allow the potatoes to brown for a few minutes, without stirring them. Check them by lifting them up, flipping them over to get the top layer down to the bottom of the pan if needed. Once they are starting to brown, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow to steam for a few minutes. They should be able to be pierced with a knife or fork to the point of being almost edible (they will cook more in the oven).

Meanwhile in a separate pan, brown your beef or sausage, drain of any fat and set aside. Be sure to season your beef with salt, pepper and rosemary if using beef (the sausage will have plenty of flavor). When the potatoes are ready, add your beef on top. Whisk together your eggs and milk. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and beef (top the beef with cheese before adding the eggs if desired). You want your egg mixture to cover all of your filling so beat more eggs with some milk if necessary. Turn off your burner and immediately transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until firm and lightly browned. Let cool slightly, slide a spatula around the outside and invert onto a cutting board or serving plate. Cut into slices and serve.

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Post 62 – Prosciutto Pinwheels and Parties

Have you ever heard the Shel Silverstein poem that starts: “I’m writing these poems from inside a lion and it’s rather dark in here…” ?

Well I’m writing this post from inside a congested head cold and it’s rather stuffy in here, which made me think of Silverstein’s poem.

It was a good weekend, a busy weekend, which is why I think I’m sick now. It started out Friday evening with a wonderfully acted play called The Yellow Boat, performed by the middle school at the school where I work. The kids did an amazing job and I was moved by their performance. Check out the script if you’ve never heard of it.  Warning, it’s a tear-jerker!

Saturday Sam and I prepared for our housewarming/birthday party – there were cupcakes and appetizers to be made, wine to be bought, and house cleaning to do, of course. People loved the chocolate frosting on the cupcakes (same as last year requested by Sam) and the appetizers went over pretty well too, despite a slightly runny cheese ball.

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blowing out his cupcake candles

blowing out his cupcake candles

In addition to party preparations I had another party to prepare for: a holiday party for a repeat Kitchensurfing client! Being asked to cook for him again was a great pleasure, but preparing heavy appetizers for a party of 40 by yourself can be a bit overwhelming. Here was my (over)ambitious menu:

Prosciutto Pinwheels (From Causing a Stir – shout out to my St. Paul’s folks back home!)

Baked Spinach Bites (also from CaS)

Shrimp Cocktail

Beef tenderloin sandwiches

Cucumber and smoked salmon cups

Spiced Nut Mix

Bacon Scallion Cheese ball (in the shape of a pine cone)

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with pecans

Mini pumpkin cheesecakes

Apple cider caramels (post to come)

I spent much of the day Saturday either lugging groceries from store to home or racking up mileage in my kitchen going from fridge to counter to fridge and back. Sunday was equally busy as I spent it cooking (and cleaning) pretty much from dawn to dusk. Needless to say the work paid off. I remembered to bring everything (except the darn camera!) and the party was a hit! At the end of the party, the host toasted me and my companion (his housekeeper – without her I couldn’t have pulled off such a big party since she helped me clean everything and tray the apps). He even invited us to join the party and have a glass of wine. We politely declined in favor of dragging our tired bodies home instead.

Despite not using the labels I had brought to tell the guests what items were, (everyone thought the prosciutto pinwheels were cinnamon rolls – oh well) everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food. The runny, bacon cheese ball, which had been such a mess when I practiced it for our party guests turned out beautifully for Sunday’s party, and the spinach bites were a surprise sell-out! The day ended happily despite my lack of sleep Saturday night and I came home exhausted and happy to find the laundry done and dinner made by my ever-supportive and loving guy. What would I do without him?

The only negative consequence of a successful weekend is my poor health, so I recommend to you if you’re throwing a holiday party to keep it small and don’t cook for two parties back to back. I learned my lesson.

And if you’re hosting a party and you want an easy hand-held appetizer, the prosciutto pinwheels are sure to please and simple to make. Just make sure people know what they are! Happy cooking.

Prosciutto Pinwheels

(an illustrated recipe – from Causing a Stir)

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Thaw 2 sheets of puff pastry from a 17.5 oz package (see package for recommendations how)

IMG_3890Spread with as much or as little creamy, herbed cheese as you desire (Causing a Stir recommends 10-12 oz. of the Alouette brand cheese for 2 puff pastry sheets) leaving a 1/2-inch border on one side to seal (the picture above is before I had finished spreading all of the cheese).

IMG_3893Layer with thinly sliced prosciutto (3.5 oz per roll) to cover the entire surface, still leaving the 1/2-inch border.

IMG_3894Tightly roll (like a cinnamon roll) toward the edge that you left uncovered. Moisten the border with a bit of water and gently press it into the roll to seal the edge. Repeat with remaining puff pastry, cheese, and prosciutto.

Freeze the rolls for 45 minutes or until firm. Slice into 1/4-inch slices and bake on parchment-paper lined sheet pans at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and serve!

I wish I could show you a picture of the result, but since I forgot the camera for the party I have nothing to show. Make them for yourself and you will see. Delicious and beautiful.

Here’s to more holiday (and other) parties!