Friday, September 28, 2012

What a Day!

Ahhhhh! That's the sound of a tired lady, who is ready to put her feet up. But, it's been such a productive day, and it's a happy sigh.

Pumpkin cupcakes fresh from the oven.
Tomorrow, I'll top them with a
cream cheese maple syrup frosting.
When I started this post this morning, the title was, "Mmmmm ... Pumpkin." That inspiration was from the delightful pumpkin cupcakes baking in the oven at the time. The smell was intoxicating. So much so, that pumpkin inspired my planning menu for the week, and I am so incredibly excited!

Topping the list is pumpkin gnocchi with a sage butter sauce (that will be dinner Sunday!). The gnocchi are in the freezer, along with a batch of ricotta gnocchi. I figured, if I was rolling gnocchi, why not do them all and have them ready? The freezer is full. We probably have enough for six dinners worth -- maybe more. Yay!

To get the week(end) started, I also made stock, pie crust, and apple sauce and tonight's dinner (the last meal listed below). 

We're having company for brunch and dinner tomorrow, and the crust and stock will be the foundation for quiche and chicken pot pie. It'll be a day of comfort fall eating. 

I hope to use Sunday to get a few other things prepped for the week ahead -- maybe a casserole. I made two of those this past week. And, besides chicken pot pie, I was a bonafide casserole virgin. But after the two I made this week, I'm turning into a believer. Now, after having them for lunches a few days this week, I certainly will not return to those two recipes for a while, but I have a few others picked out in the future.

The week was quite chaotic, but the planning ahead worked out great. The menu included:

Pot roast made in the crock pot with
oven roasted potatoes, carrots and onions.

  • Broccoli, Beef and Potato Hotdish (I followed the tip for the homemade shredded potato instead of freezer hashbrowns
  • Pot Roast (Made in the crock pot!) 
  • Spaghetti squash casserole (This was the one I was most excited about, and it did NOT disappoint. So easy to make and tasty, too!)
  • BBQ Pulled Pork (made from the left over pot roast)
  • Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce with Roasted Pear Salad

With all the prep of the day, grocery shopping, absentee voting and even sneaking in a workout, it's definitely time to push away from the computer, grab my glass of wine and snuggle with the babies and enjoy Friday family movie night. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Work Week 1, Elizabeth 0

Work this week has really put a cramp in my style. After being in Texas for three days, and working 18 hours of overtime, I am waving the white flag of surrender for the week. 

As the title says: Work 1, Elizabeth 0

An Italian cornucopia of cooking
My welcome home present
from my fab hubby. 
Although I feel relatively unsuccessful, the hubby and kiddos survived Sunday through Tuesday on their own, enjoying some crockpot Chile Verde (see below) and some yummies from the freezer. When I returned home mid-week, I scrounged up some Chile Verde quesadillas one night and homemade pizza (with dough from the freezer) another. 

Last night, though, after working an 11-hour day (it was supposed to be my day off), I couldn't even fathom coming home and cooking. Hubby and I agreed to meet for dinner. After stopping at two packed restaurants with 30-45 minute wait times, we had this call:

"You know," I said, "if I had just gone straight home, we'd already be eating now."

"Yes," he said. "I just didn't think it'd be this hard to find something to eat. Why is everyone out tonight??"

We settled on a deli, Santini's, and had a tasty, albeit not homemade, dinner. The plus side: we ran into dear friends we'd not seen in well over a year and were able to catch up over dinner. They'll be coming over next weekend for a nice autumnal homemade dinner and my famous pumpkin bars. 

Tonight is date night. Hubby and I head to a delicious local restaurant, Potowmack Farm, that serves everything local and farm fresh. They churn their own butter and don't serve anything that's not homegrown or from further than 50 miles. We found this little delicious piece of Heaven last year and have waited an entire year before returning. We hope tonight's dinner meets our expectations. 

I did start the weekend off on a good note, though. We had homemade oatmeal pancakes (Hubby's favorite) for breakfast, and I made a few loaves of banana bread. We'll be planning our menu for the week tomorrow morning, and it will be full of autumnal goodies, including spaghetti squash casserole and hearty greens. (Finally!)

 * * *

Crockpot Chile Verde (adapted from Eating Well)

  • 1 pound 93%-lean ground beef
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 16-ounces green salsa
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 15-ounce can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed

Turn crock pot on to low. In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Set aside. To the crock pot, add chopped pepper, chopped onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, salsa, water and beans. Stir in ground beef. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve with tortillas or chips. (Makes a great filling for a quesadilla, too!)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farm Fresh

Farm fresh: Empire apples.
One of our  babies reaches
high to pick her
afternoon snack.

Today, our little family spent the day at the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, and picked pounds and pounds of fresh apples. Red Delicious, Green Delicious, Empires, Romes, Crispins, Ida Reds .... All of them at the peak of flavor, all of them crisp, juicy and delicious.

Although we go to a local Farmers' Market several times a month, there's nothing quite like walking through an orchard and taking your pick. Farm fresh.

The kiddos (3 years old and 20 months) are just old enough to really get into it this year. Taking these little trips give the girls a real understanding of their food, and encourages them to want to eat something they may never have tried in the past. The littlest (pictured right) loved picking her apples. And, for the first time, actually ate one, then another, and then a third. (She was partial to applesauce before.) 

In addition to the apples, we picked up some scrumptious end-of-season corn, and tonight I treated the family to a tagleatelle pasta with fresh corn pesto. This will be our last of this in 2012, so we thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

We're looking forward to making even more special memories with the kids this fall. 

* * *

Tagleatelle with
fresh corn pesto.
Corn Pesto

Bacon (4 thick slices) or pancetta
5-6 ears fresh corn
Pine nuts or walnuts
Olive oil
Tagleatelle pasta
Parmesean cheese
  • Crisp bacon/pancetta. Take out from pan and let cool on paper towel.
  • In the same pan, add garlic. Cook for one or two minutes. 
  • Add corn. Sauté for a few minutes. Turn off heat. 
  • Remove half corn/garlic, set aside. 
  • Move the remaining corn/garlic to a blender. Add 1/4-1/3 cup parmesean cheese, 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 pine nuts or walnuts.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Cook pasta. Before draining the pasta, save 2 cups pasta water. 
  • Put pasta back in the pan (no heat), add pesto from blender. Thin with pasta water. When you're happy with consistency, add back the corn/garlic and the bacon/pancetta. 
  • Add a generous amount of fresh basil. Toss gently. 
  • Season with salt and pepper. 
  • Top with fresh grated parmesean. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Progress, Not Perfection

Wednesday's dinner:
Homemade ricotta gnocchi
with spinach and
cannellini beans 
When I was a kid, I read (and reread) a book called, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." I think about the book from time to time, but it really sums up about every day this week. From our cat having (unnecessary) surgery to a catastrophic work week, from an ocular migraine attack to bronchitis, it has been one for the books.

The chaos of the week taught me a valuable lesson: it's about progress, not perfection. 

For someone as Type A as me, that's a hard pill to swallow, and an even harder lesson to accept. But, it's true. By aiming for perfection, I'm trying to obtain something unobtainable. I must be willing to roll with life's punches. (And, no, not just when I get to control them.) If I can't have a perfect week, I have to make the week the best I can ... with what I have in front of me (even if that means pizza or burgers one night).

As much as I wanted to have a homemade, wholesome dinner every night this week, that just wasn't our reality. All the planning in the world didn't even help. How could it when the work day spans 12 hours, the commute is an hour, you have to pick up your cat before 8 and get the kids in bed by 8:30? (And that was just Thursday.) 

Regardless of a few days of unbelievable mayhem, we still put three delicious homemade dinners on the table:
Friday's dinner: Greek chopped salad

We're going to put the chaos of the week aside and jump right into fall fun tomorrow. We plan a day of apple picking at an orchard in the foothills of the mountains and a dinner of roasted spaghetti squash and homemade applesauce.

* * *

Great-Grandma's Neapolitan Ricotta Gnocchi

     4 ½ cups of flour
     2 ½ cups ricotta (about 1 ½ pounds)
     1 tsp. salt
     3 eggs

Combine all ingredients in food process and process until all flour in well incorporated into the dough.  The dough will form a ball around the processor blade.  If pasta is too sticky, add additional flour by the tablespoon until the dough is easy to handle.

Flour a bread board.  Break off a small portion of the dough. Roll into a strand about 3/8 inch in diameter on the floured board.  Cut into ½ inch lengths and use these small pieces to “twirl” into pasta.

Place pasta on a cookie sheet.  Freeze until ready to use.  If not used on the same day, remove from sheet, place in a plastic bag and return to freezer until ready to use.

The frozen pasta is cooked by adding to rapidly boiling water.  When pasta is done, it will float to the surface.  Do not over-cook or pasta will become sticky.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Supermarket Success!!

All right .... So, last week marked our family's first official planning session for the week's meals. We spent just about $7 per meal per person, but that included some pretty high-end dishes. 

This week, the goal is simplicity. 

There is nothing that says dinner has to be super elegant every night of the week. Our motto is homemade and wholesome.  I just have to keep telling myself that. So long as it's tasty and healthy, does it matter if it roasted for four hours and took two hours to prepare? No. It doesn't and it shouldn't -- at least not every night. 

This week, I found some great sounding recipes. And, more importantly, they're recipes that I think the kiddos will eat ... and enjoy!

When totaling everything for this week's meals, including lunches and breakfasts, we checked out at the supermarket at under $2 per person per meal! What a tremendous savings we're making in just one week! 

We have a slow cooker recipe and a few "light" casseroles on the menu -- including a spaghetti squash and spinach casserole that I'm dying to make. All the recipes I found take less than an our to prep and cook, so they're perfect for mid-week chaos. And the best part is, the simplicity of the recipes means no weekend prep, so I get to spend all day tomorrow with the family. Now, that's something I can get behind!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Momma Mia!

Homemade marinara simmering on
the  stove for tonight's pizza.
After a rough week, this sauce
will be the perfect medicine.
Are there few things better than the smell of garlic, onions and peppers sauteing on the stove? 

It's one of the best smells in the world to me, and the house is getting all warm and cozy as I prepare sauce to top tonight's pizza. I'm thinking of starting pizza and movie night Fridays, with tonight being our inaugural night. Now, I know our movie nights will get more entertaining as the babies get older (lots of action flicks with explosions and fast cars!). Tonight, though, I imagine we'll watch the classic 101 Dalmations or a Barney movie. (Can you sense the excitement?)

But, I digress...

Pizza is just the perfect way to end this week. It's been quite a doozie. The babies aren't sleeping well, Mommy has bronchitis, my husband is overworked and our kitty has a kidney stone that's causing lots of problems (his surgery is Thursday).

Thursday's dinner: chicken
pot pie.
Pizza nights were always special treats when I was a kid, especially when it was homemade pizza courtesy of my mom's kitchen. And I know the kids love pizza. In fact, when my older daughter turned 3 last month, she wanted pizza, so I had her and her friends make their own little personal pizzas. They had a great time decorating, but I have to say, once they saw the cake on the counter, the whole notion of eating pizza was off the table, so to speak. 

I used my sick day yesterday (doctor's orders) to get ahead on some cooking (umm, not doctor's orders). I made chicken pot pie, a few dozen delectable oatmeal butterscotch cookies and a few batches of pizza dough and popped them in the freezer.

Oatmeal butterscotch
The hubby loved the pot pie, as did our 20 month old. I kept hearing, "More chicken, Mommy." But, I still can't figure out what will satisfy our 3 year old; although, I know she'll be enjoying some pizza tonight. (I just have to figure out what -- beyond pizza -- she will eat.)

We'll do our menu planning and shopping tomorrow (or early Sunday) and do what we can to get ahead for the week. I'm looking forward to my day off next Friday, where I'll be able to do a lot of prep for the week -- and maybe even get a few full frozen family dinners cooked, portioned and in the freezer.

Off to top the pizza and pop it in the oven. Yum!


Pie crust (makes a 2-crust pie)

12 ounce chilled butter
2.5 cups All purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

In food processor, with the pastry blade, add flour and salt. Process until blended. Cut butter into 1 Tbsp pieces. Place butter in the food processor.  Take lid off food processor and sprinkle with 3 Tbsp water. Combine. If dough does not stick into pea-size pieces, add a  little more water with processor running.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


As anyone would tell you, I don't do leftovers. Well, never did leftovers ... until now. 

Labor Day Dinner:
Fresh, local corn,
Carolina-style ribs, peaches and
baked beans (from our
old pantry stock).
In the past, there was the rare occasion where I'd make a big pot of soup and immediately freeze half. I insisted -- and still do -- that those aren't really leftovers; they were "plan ahead" dinners. And then there is my family "sauce," which really isn't leftovers. Afterall, the Neopolitan sauce just gets better as it sits and reheats, sits and reheats.

Well, tonight, I'm turning over a new leaf, or at least trying to. Dinner is a smorgasbord  from the last few nights: risotto, cajun rice and ribs. It's a left-over bonanza.

I've never been impressed by the texture or flavor of leftovers. I'm not sure why. I don't distinctly remember any awful leftover traumatic experience from childhood. But, I would rather make something new than eat something old. Tonight marks just the first of many celebrations of good eats, or re-eats.

Now, the trick moving forward will be finding recipes that
reheat (and/or freeze beautifully) or provide a perfect foundation for repurposing.

For those who like leftovers (and I know plenty of people who love them), do you have any favorite recipes? Any tips or tricks for a newbie?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

For most things in life, I am the ultimate planner. I like to know the who, what, where, when, why and how of everything. (We can thank the journalist in me for that.) I hate surprises -- just ask my husband. (I really hate surprises!) But, when it comes to meals for the week, I've always gone to the store with a few ideas -- and a few things I really wanted to make for the week -- but, the rest was ad lib. It would always work out ... well, until a late work day, a bad commute, a sick kid, etc. 

Our load for the week.
(I'm thinking I may have to investigate
how to make yogurt, since we eat so much,
but then that's probably just
crazy talk.)
Yesterday, we did it. 

We planned dinners and lunches for the entire week, and breakfasts for the rest of the holiday weekend. For example, the Italian bread that's rising in the kitchen right now will be sandwich bread for lunches and serve as the perfect base for the French toast that we'll have tomorrow morning.

The bill was a little steep, but, including eight days of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, we're paying less than $7 per meal, per person. (But, I must say, I think this new venture might lead me into the mad world of couponing. hmmmm....) But, when you look at our menu for the week, the bill really wasn't that bad: 
Saturday's dinner (and Sunday's lunch):
Cajun rice with vegetables.

  • Ribs (Really, who could order ribs anywhere for $7?!)
  • Chicken and biscuits (or chicken pot pie)
  • Risotto 
  • Corn and potato chowder
  • Spaghetti squash with roasted veggies
  • Pizza
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Cajun rice with vegetables -- This was one of my favorites growing up. Now I know why my mom would only make it on my birthday. It's a ton of work, and uses a TON of vegetables, but it's SO worth it. 
A good thing about this week's menu: a lot of the dinner leftovers will either be lunch or can be frozen, which will save us in the future.

Oatmeal bread (bottom) and
banana bread (the other loaf
is already in the freezer)
To help prepare for the week ahead, I made homemade chicken stock last night. We have enough in the fridge for chicken pot pie, chicken noodle soup, chowder ... and maybe even risotto. We also have some in the freezer for an upcoming week later this month. 

I also made banana bread, oatmeal bread and Italian bread. Each of the bread recipes make plenty to have for this week and to freeze for the future. 

Now, I know this weekend is atypical. First, it's been dreary and hot, so we're not too interested in venturing out. I'm also taking advantage of the long weekend to do as much "plan ahead" work as I can. This will make future weekends a little less kitchen intensive.

So, we'll see how this planning works. Now, off to bake some Italian bread. Yum!