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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Post 107 – The Cookbook Challenge

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some people I’m sure, but I still have a plethora. I have old ones, I have new ones. I have thin and thick, tall and small. I used to collect them simply because family and friends knew that buying me a cookbook was an easy Christmas or birthday gift. Eventually I realized this could get out of control and I said, no more cookbooks! Sometimes I still pine for more when flipping through the glossy pages of a new one at Brookline Booksmith – my favorite bookstore.

IMG_1306So what to do with all these cookbooks? After talking with someone this past week who herself was trying to make better use of her collection, I decided that I need to cook from my cookbooks way more often. These days, I tend to go to the internet when I want a new recipe (or when I want to share a recipe – hello blog!) and my poor cookbooks are just taking up space on my bookshelf.

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast!

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast with cinnamon sour cream!

So I decided to do a cookbook challenge. I will make at least one recipe out of every cookbook that I own for the next several weeks (months? years?) until I get through every last one. I am still allowed to use the internet for a few recipes here and there, but the majority of my recipes will be from cookbooks that I own. This way I can still expand my recipe repertoire (as many of them have never been used!) and give my collection of cookbooks a little love.

I started my challenge yesterday, making oatmeal raisin pancakes with cinnamon sour cream for breakfast (pictured above). This recipe comes courtesy of Dorie Greenspan from a small book of pancakes I picked up at a used bookstore in Maine while visiting my aunt and uncle’s summer cabin. I altered the recipe slightly and the pancakes and sour cream topping turned out delicious!

Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes with Cinnamon Sour Cream

adapted from Pancakes: Morning to Midnight by Dorie Greenspan

serves 2-3 people generously

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 T. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 cup raisins

For the sour cream: Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tsp. brown sugar and set aside.

For the pancakes: mix all of the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda) in one bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients (butter through egg) in another. Add the wet to the dry and stir just enough so that all of the dry is moistened. Fold in raisins. Allow the batter to sit and absorb the liquid for 10 minutes. Preheat a pan or griddle to medium-low as you would for pancakes. When the pan is hot, add the batter in 1/4 cup ladles and cook for a few minutes until bubbles form. Flip and cook another minute more. Remove to a plate and serve with cinnamon sour cream. Repeat with remaining batter.

Now don’t think I stopped at one recipe for the day. After all, the day had only begun. For dinner I made Salmon in Phyllo (Filo) from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook. I had originally planned to make a steak and ale pie using the phyllo in honor of Pi day, but I ended up changing my mind. To use up the already thawed phyllo, I decided a sort of Salmon en croute would be delicious.

IMG_1297These pretty fillets were topped with rosemary, salt, pepper, and don’t forget BUTTER – whoa nelly! Wrapped up in pretty little packages, I tucked them in the oven to brown.

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Atop a colorful pot holder

The salmon and phyllo were flaky and wonderful, flavored nicely with the dried rosemary. Perhaps because of all the butter, the fish was very filling. I served it with roasted potatoes and as always a green salad.

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Salmon in Phyllo

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook

2/3-3/4 lb. salmon fillets

4-6 sheets of phyllo dough

rosemary, salt, pepper

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter a medium sized oven-safe dish.

Cut your salmon into two equal size pieces if it isn’t already. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried rosemary.

On a clean surface, lay out your phyllo dough, one layer at a time, brushing each with butter before adding the next layer. When all layers are done, add your salmon pieces on top, spacing them evenly apart. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo dough to separate into two pieces for each piece of salmon. Fold two opposite sides over the fish, brushing with more butter as needed and roll or tuck up the ends to make a package. Place in your oven-safe dish and bake for 18-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish. If it is an inch thick, 18 minutes is perfect. It is hard to check the doneness of the salmon though since it is wrapped in the pastry. You can cut into it if you are worried about the fish being done. Serve with mustard or a mustard cream sauce (as recommended in the book).

Since we don’t usually like to eat leftover fish, I made one more dish (from yet another cookbook!) for Sam to take for lunch today – Peppered Chicken Stir Fry. This came from a giant cookbook filled with an assortment of recipes from all different cuisines. Chicken is mixed with ketchup and soy sauce and then dredged in crushed peppercorns. It’s pretty peppery, which I knew Sam would love. Serve it with rice for a tasty and well-balanced meal.

IMG_1294(1)I have cooked from three of my cookbooks (out of how many?)

The cookbook challenge has begun!

Peppered Chicken Stir Fry

from 1000 Classic Recipes

1 lb. chicken breast

2 T. ketchup

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. crushed mixed peppercorns (I beat mine contained in a ziploc bag with a meat mallet)

2 bell peppers, your choice of color, sliced

2 handfuls of sugar snap peas

2 T. oyster sauce

Brown rice to serve

Heat up a large skillet or wok over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil.

Thinly slice your chicken breast and mix it with the ketchup and soy sauce. Toss in the crushed peppercorns and mix it all together. When the oil is starting to shimmer, add your chicken breast slices and stir fry for a few minutes until no longer pink on the outside. Add your sliced peppers and snap peas and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with brown rice.

Post 84 – Some food snapshots

I haven’t been doing a whole lot of interesting cooking lately, but here are a few snapshots of food in my life. Even though I’m still not eating sugar, I’ve found a few creative ways to feel indulgent, pancakes being one of them (no sugar added of course). I followed Chris Kresser’s recipe

photo 2(29)Buckwheat sourdough pancakes cooking…. mmmm love the bubbles.

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photo 1(32)Topped simply with fresh fruit!

 

One of our wedding presents was a slow cooker.

photo 3(26)Here is our first slow cooker meal! Beef roast with root vegetables and herbs – not quite the right weather, but we had to give it a test drive. Loved the hands-off cooking!

 

And finally a meal I made for the family I cook for…

photo 5(7)From top left, clockwise. Arugula, basil, & zucchini salad with Pecorino cheese and almonds (apparently Maggie Gyllenhaal’s favorite), roasted shrimp, couscous, and mango-cucumber salsa.

 

 

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Hope you’re making some tasty summer dishes! Happy summer 🙂

Post 82 – Birthdays

 

Growing up my birthday always felt like it lasted more than a day. Perhaps it was the anticipation, the build up, or the spread of celebrations with school friends and family and extended family. I used to count down the days until my birthday, write a birthday list at least a month in advance, plan with anticipation the cake I would eat (and often make), and feel giddy the night before thinking about my special day. And then it would be my birthday! And something about the day would be happy! and joyous! Everyone would wish me happy birthday and I would feel a glow of love and attention unlike any other day.

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Birthday buckwheat pancakes instead. And eggs!

Birthdays are different now.  There are fewer parties and no cake, (this year at least) and since moving to Boston family is farther away. Each year the days go by faster and there’s less anticipation and more grown-up problems to worry about (wah wah).

Homemade sushi that fits the restrictions of the elimination diet!

Homemade sushi within the restrictions of my elimination diet! Fresh avocado, fresh ginger, brown rice, smoked salmon, and nori.

Nonetheless a birthday is still a reason to be grateful for another year of life and a wealth of love and support. So despite a slightly different attitude toward birthdays now, I am grateful for all of the birthday love (so much love). Thanks for the text messages and phone calls and facebook messages that came pouring in, for my sisters sending me pictures of their goofy “missing you” faces, and the awesome voicemails with original rhyming raps from one of my best friends (you know who you are).

The Beatles said that all you need is love and I think that’s mostly true. Thanks for all of the birthday love and support. Here’s to another great year – the year of the spatulas! The year of scraping every last drop!

photo 3(24)Cheers!

Post 38 – Dining out and Hanky Cake

I know, I know, I’m sorry. I have no excuses! This week I did not attend any glamorous guest chef events or prepare any more salads for a 94 year old’s birthday party (grand success by the way!). I just went to work, made my camp lunches (the most lucrative week by far), and went out to dinner a few times. So why is it that I barely posted a word this past week?

There’s something about being busy that actually makes me more productive. There’s this exciting energy when all of your metaphorical pots are bubbling away on the stove and you decide hey, why don’t I make a cake while I’m at it. This past week I had hardly any metaphorical pots going and yet I didn’t write a blog post.

Eh, sometimes it’s good to take a break.

Some eating highlights from this week:

Tuesday: antijitos Mexicanos prepared by the lovely Gloria. (Sadly no pictures)

  • shrimp and avocado salad on top of tostones
  • chicken taquitos with sour cream and queso blanco and
  • black beans and Mexican rice (cooked with tomato, garlic, and onion to give it that slight boost of flavor and color)
  • dessert: sweet Mexican candies called Glorias made with dulce de leche

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Wednesday: an end of the summer celebration and thank you dinner at The Fireplace in Brookline with the Director, Assistant Director, and Camp Nurse.

Pre-dinner activities: laughing/crying with the nurse (I rarely cry from laughing) over a “Thank You” cake at a staff meeting that turned into “hank you” and eventually “hank y.” (Henceforth named: Hanky cake)

Fireplace Dinner:

  • crab cakes with lemon-caper yogurt sauce
  • pan-seared scallops with lobster hash
  • shared desserts: blueberry tart with lemon curd and
  • chocolate fudge cake with espresso ice cream and hazelnut sauce

Scrumptious though again no pictures.

Saturday night: a nice dinner out with Sam at Lineage – a family owned restaurant that focuses on seafood and local food. I opted for the Chef’s whim tasting menu with wine pairings and was pleasantly surprised (I was expecting some crazy out there dishes, but didn’t get anything too challenging).

  • seared tuna with heirloom tomatoes and basil pesto
  • homemade tomato sauce with ricotta cavatelli and herbed breadcrumbs
  • crispy salmon with bacon, corn, and onions
  • dessert (my choice) – an amazing butterscotch pudding

Sam had

  • Little gem lettuces with grilled peaches and panisse (so delicious he only gave me one bite of because he loved it so much. I’ll be trying to make something like it soon hopefully)
  • Scallops with wheat berries, squash, and sofrito vinaigrette
  • Chocolate mousse with espresso whipped cream

The best part of all this was paying for most of it with a gift certificate!

This morning I started my day with some gluten-free buckwheat banana pancakes using a recipe I adapted from my aunt Angie. Quite delicious with mixed berry jam and maple syrup.

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I ate extremely well this week! What did you cook or eat?

Post 18 – Birthday

Yesterday I turned… one year older (you can’t just tell the whole internet your age!) and I can feel it. No my bones aren’t aching nor my knees giving out. I feel it in the sense that time is sprinting right by me. I feel it in the sense that I should be living for what I love and seizing opportunities. Time really does disappear too fast.

I remember waiting with my sisters on Christmas morning until we were allowed to wake up our parents to open presents. We’d look at the clock. 2 minutes gone by. We’d play some cards, look at the clock again. 5 minutes gone by.

Five minutes is FOREVER, we thought.

Now a week disappears in a blink and “wasn’t it just last Tuesday?” becomes a phrase in my life connecting all similar moments as if in one long string. Every Tuesday is just a continuation of the previous Tuesdays, as if no time passed in between. Like a movie reel the tape just keeps on rolling. Wasn’t I just having a birthday like a year ago? (Uh yeah, you were.) But somehow it didn’t seem like that long ago.

I have to admit that I wasted much of my birthday being grumpy. The weather in Boston was un- May-like -ly (how’s that for a made-up word?) cold and drizzly and I was supposed to be packing and measuring our new apartment and a couch to see if it fit. Birthdays are supposed to be for fun, I grumbled to myself, not for responsibility.

As I get older I realize more and more that birthdays are for taking action (instead of making wishes) and for counting the lucky stars in your life that are there to celebrate with you and to tell you to shape up when you get grumpy on your own birthday (thanks. You know who you are).

Speaking of lucky stars, my number one lucky star made me a surprise breakfast this morning (photo credit to him): hash browns, pancakes, and bacon.

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And I am ever so grateful for my wonderful friends who got me a beautiful Chocolate Mousse Decadence cake and celebrated with me over a delicious dinner at the Elephant Walk! To the credit of my friends, the day did start and end well, but I realized too late in my grump-slump that I needed to change my own attitude.

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Having a birthday is a reason to celebrate, but also a chance to reflect. If a year can go by this fast, just imagine the next year and the next. What do you want to be doing? When you look back in five years, where do you want to be? (I know, I know, I used to hate this question too and I don’t like spouting cliche phrases) but I have to remind myself ALL THE TIME – do what you love and do it now. I highly recommend this book for reflecting on this in detail.

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Oh ok, you want a recipe. Well in honor of birthdays, here are two for my favorite chocolate frostings.

WARNING: the first one is very buttery and sweet and rich and delicious and it takes a bit of time to make, but the second one is also delicious and much simpler to whip up.

Happy Birthday to me! (or to you if you’re reading this on your own birthday). Make it a day of gratitude.

 

Perfect Chocolate Frosting

from The Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghiradelli’s 70%)

½ cup half-and-half

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Place a large bowl in the sink and fill with ice about half way. Make sure it is bigger than the saucepan you are going to use in the next step.

In a saucepan (see previous step) pour chocolate chips, half-and-half, and butter and melt over medium heat. Stir constantly until it melts and the mixtures thickens, about 5 minutes. Do not let boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth. Remove the pan to the bowl of ice in the sink. Be careful not to allow any water into your pan of chocolate or it will be ruined. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer on low speed until the frosting thickens and is satiny, about 5 minutes. (I did it once by hand and it doesn’t get as smooth, plus you get tired.)

Use as desired for cupcakes or cake of your choice. The frosting will stiffen up as it sets. If it gets too hard to spread, place the saucepan back over low heat for a few minutes.

 

Chocolate Buttercream

adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook

1/3 cup butter, room temperature

½ cup cocoa powder

4 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 T. milk, depending on consistency desired

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer, Kitchenaid, or by hand. Beat in cocoa powder. Slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla, and a bit of milk. Add as much sugar and milk as needed to reach the right consistency and taste. (To be honest, I don’t usually measure the ingredients for this these days).