Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White bread and burgers with Grandpa

My grandpa lives in a small town on the Iowa border that sometimes has a restaurant in business, and sometimes not. Since our last trip down, the gas station that used to feature a decent selection of lunch items changed hands and no longer had much selection. So, we made burgers at Grandpa's house instead.

There are exactly three items that will appear on the dinner table at his house in tremendous quantity, regardless of season or menu. They are: mashed potatoes, salt, and onions.

I like to eat at my grandpa's house, not because of memories the meals evoke (they have changed since my grandma died), but because they are always basic and good. They are often followed up with a bowl of strawberries or raspberries, unadorned, for dessert. The burgers we had for lunch were pan-fried and served on white bread with ketchup, the only condiment in his fridge. They were remarkably good. As usual, so were the mashed potatoes.

Survey Says...

I'm curious about what makes those of you that visit this blog regularly keep coming back. The poll this week reflects that curiosity, and might help guide me in a) continuing this blog in some form, or b) informing a future blog. Thanks for your input in advance!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Week 49--Divide and Conquer

MonRotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes
TuesChicken Veggie Stir-Fry (Taste of Home)
WedsSpaghetti & Meatball Soup (Parent's Magazine)
Thurs Steak & New Potato Toss (Taste of Home)
Fri fish something...
Extras Steaks w/Ancho Chili Sauce & Potatoes (Bon Appetit)
This week's menu reflects my husband's desperate cry for help. No recipes that use canned soups, please! He's at home for an indefinite period of time working on discovering new ways to enjoy the current economy. As part of that effort, he's doing some menu-planning and cooking. We'll see how the ancho chili sauce goes over with the kids. I am admittedly skeptical, but frankly, it is nice to have different scents wafting through the house on occasion. Happy cooking.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What the World Eats

There's an interesting exhibit on at the Bell Museum through May about what people eat around the world. The bulk of the exhibit is comprised of photos of families with the food that they consume in an average week.

The caption next to the photo of the American family cited this supposedly typical family spends around $280/wk on food. It might be a bit more than that, I can't recall exactly. Does that figure strike anyone else as exorbitant? Our total monthly bill is less than half of what that adds up to, but maybe that's because we don't have teenagers like the family featured. They also had primarily prepared and packaged foods which adds a lot of expense.

Then you have the Japanese family that has fish for 2 meals each day. The family from Mali that eats only grains and beans from communal bowls. The Mexican family that drinks 10 liters of Coke each week. Fascinating stuff to see! Naturally when you're representing an entire country with one family, things are going to be a little skewed, but the exhibit does give you a lot to discuss with your kids.

It also made me reconsider the whole idea of menu-planning. What would it be like to have fish 2x a day every day, or eat only rice and beans? I would be lost, but would enjoy such a different experience preparing meals.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Just to let you know, the casserole went over like hot lunch. As in, kids pasting food to the underside of cafeteria tables. Not that mine even got to the point of touching it. They both opted for a spartan slice of bread and called it dinner.

I had seconds, but I put the left-overs in the freezer knowing it would take an extreme circumstance to actually thaw it someday.

I decided to try the recipe because it had horseradish which I thought might bring an interesting flavor. I also thought it must be something special because the person said it was a "family favorite." I wonder what family favorites we have that would go over like a ton o' bricks at other houses? Pasta Puttanesca? Chip plates? Goulash? Grandma Barb's Spaghetti? It's what you get used to, clearly.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Week 48—Pesto, Peas, Puff Pastry

MonCreamy Pesto Chicken & Bowties (Taste of Home)
TuesBrats & beans
WedsHam & Swiss Puff Pastry Quiche (Epicurious)
Thurs Falafels
Fri Tuna & Pea Casserole (Taste of Home)
Extras chip plate; dirty rice
I am wiped out. The good kind of wiped out that comes from spending time outdoors hiking, riding bikes and scooters, listening to chirping birds, and smelling moist earth. Oh yeah, and chasing after your 2- and 4-year-old through the day kissing hurt knees, mediating property rights of toy frogs, and cleaning anything and everything in their wake. By 8 at night, that will pretty much leave any parent flat-lined for the duration of what would have been the start of a fun/productive evening not so many years ago.

With more than a slight sense of time-warp, I type in a recipe this week for tuna casserole that has even me wondering. I think about how we once sat down to dinner at this hour before getting ready to go out for the night. Parties that started at a time I now crawl into bed. My first baby shower that ended after 1 AM with guests still arriving as late as 11 toting wine to share. You know that past-life I'm talking about. The details may vary, but that line in the sandbox is there. Happy cooking.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Change in Perspective

Three significant things have changed in my plan-cook-clean lifestyle since starting this blog last spring.

First, I remember being stunned to learn that many of you do both the cooking AND the cleaning for the nightly meal. Now? I too do both the cooking and the dish-washing at least a couple nights a week. It affords my husband more time with the kids (and a respite for me), and, doing dishes has become significantly less onerous to me. All because of the addition of a dishwasher. HUGE change in my perspective that I never would have imagined when we first lugged that lumpy appliance into our home. So, maybe this is part of the reason why I couldn't relate to how so many of you seemed relatively at peace with the whole cook-clean routine. I get it now, at least a little bit.

The second major change has been with menu-planning. Although I menu-planned prior to starting the blog, this year has provided a lot of practice. I initially took 30-45 min to plan and write a list for the week. Now I'm easily down to 10 minutes. Someday I might even understand how people like my mom are able to get a perfectly reasonable dinner on the table with hardly any thought at all. For now, though, I still need the plan. That leads me to number three.

Last week I never got around to writing the menu on our chalkboard. It existed online, but each morning or afternoon as I stood in the kitchen pondering dinner, I'd scramble a bit to remember what the options were for that week. It took just a bit more concentration on my part to remember the menus instead of just glancing at the list. It drove me crazy. So, while the chalkboard has only been around for a bit longer than the blog, it's already a staple in my kitchen.

Speaking of which, some day far, far from now we'll be remodeling our kitchen. As housing values drop, our plans become more humble by the day. However, if anyone wants to comment on their favorite things about their kitchen, please share! I'd appreciate hearing what features make your kitchen work well for you. More on this topic later.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Week 47--Let's just eat out all week

Monsteak & potatoes, broccoli
Tuesbeef stir-fry
Wedsleft-over BBQ pork sandwiches and salad
Thurs Barb's spaghetti OR fast option of canned sauce w/my own added sausage
Fri soup supper or fish-fry out?
Extras pizza; breakfast
The title sums up my mood this week. So, here I stand pondering in my kitchen this Monday afternoon thinking I'll toss together this menu with what's on hand in the kitchen. Let's see how this goes. First step, inventory. Hmmmm...beef (ground and steak), ground sausage, sweet peas, misc pasta fixin's.

Ok. We'll just need to get some milk and buns with this menu. Love it. Thanks for helping me sort that out. Happy cooking.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Fever

It topped 60 degrees here today, marking this as the first day of spring in my mind. We uncovered the sand box and have the first (dreaded) piles of sand on the floor in the house. Green shoots are inching up outside and the kids have tested out bare feet on the soggy, still-cold ground. Bliss.

I no longer feel like cooking. Bring on the brat and burger picnics!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy Half-Birthday to You

We've made a habit of baking a mid-winter cake to celebrate our kids' half-birthdays. Since both of their birthdays are in August, it provides a good excuse to enjoy some cake at an otherwise slow celebration season at our house.

Our son wanted a blue cake. Our daughter wanted a princess cake. Since my only requirement was that this be a low-key affair, I used blue frosting with colorful sprinkles on top and considered it a fabulous job of meeting both requests. We used some half-used "Happy Birthday" candles, only using the "Happy" portion--it was only a half-birthday celebration after all.

I started making the cake around 9 at night on Saturday and chose the recipe based on the ingredients I had on hand. Naturally, I discovered too far into it that I was missing cocoa powder. I called a neighbor and got some. The next day, another neighbor called us to borrow some cocoa powder and my husband gave them the can that I had borrowed the previous day. 'Tis the season, apparently.

The cake came out great. My daughter's only question: "Uh, Mom...Aren't we missing something?" She looked at me with an inquiring face. I said, "You mean presents? It's a half-birthday. You have to make it a whole year to get the presents!"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Week 46—Target trip

Monlentil soup with ham
Tueschicken enchiladas (Best Loved CrockPot Recipes)
WedsBBQ pulled pork sandwiches and greens (Best Loved CrockPot Recipes)
Thurs chicken fingers and sweet potato fries
Fri cheese and broccoli soup (HyVee Cookbook)
Extras pizza
We've been gone all weekend, so I'm preparing to head to the store now after having made a quick menu plan. We need everything from cleaning products and toothpaste to milk and bread, so I'll go to Target for a one-stop shop. My husband is reading to the kids. He definitely has the more daunting task ahead. Anyone know if they sell kid-sized sheets of Velcro I could attach to my kids' sheets and pjs? Happy cooking.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Parent's Night In

We had a rare opportunity Thursday night. Grandma was visiting and offered to take the grandkids (my 2 kids and their cousins that live nearby) out for pizza. The kids were thrilled of course, and happily bounded out the door with Grandma "Orange Juice."

The particularly unexpected part was that we had dinner ready when Grandma came in and made her offer. We had grilled some steaks (it's above freezing in MN so grilling season has officially begun), made a nice salad, and oven-baked some potatoes. Even grabbed a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner.

Once Gram left with the kids, my husband and I were alone with a great meal in front of us and blissful peace and quiet all around. We were giddy as we s l o w l y enjoyed our meal. We conversed. We sipped wine. We were in our own home and were tasting every bite of our meal. Heaven!

We guessed that the next time such an event might happen is when the kids are all teenagers and eating with friends. Maybe I'll do a 10th? 13th? 15th? anniversary blog post to mark the occasion. Sort of like watching for Haley's Comet. You know it'll come, but it might be a long, long wait.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food Product

We have a huge box of Velveeta cheese-product in our fridge right now. The last time I saw this in a fridge in a house I was living in was approximately 28 years ago.

It was suggested as part of a macaroni dish I made last week, and I must have put it in and out of my grocery cart three times before committing. I started to read the ingredients list but stopped myself.

In the days since buying this mysterious food-product I've enjoyed experimenting with it. Does it taste good straight out of the box? No. Does it cut well? No. But it is bouncy, which is sorta fun. Does it "melt better than cheddar"? Yes. And it makes a decent mix with other cheeses in a grilled cheese sandwich. It acts like Elmer's School Glue to hold everything together, which is rather nice. And it is pretty quaint. Like the green cans of parmesan cheese-dust I grew up on.

Food snob? Nutritional guru? I don't qualify. I have pudding cups in my cupboard and really like frosted shredded wheat and Ovaltine. We've recently rediscovered butter & cinn & sugar sandwiches from my youth -- finally a sandwich the kids and I all rather like! But the Velveeta will probably not be making a repeat appearance anytime soon. Even if it is nice and bouncy.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Week 45--The guy in line wins on simplicity

Monchip plate w/leftover tomato & chickpea soup
Tuesbeef and noodles
Wedspepper lime chicken w/basamati rice & Indian side (box side)
Thurs steak and potatoes
Fri Southwest pasta soup (mix from neighbor's recent trip to Arizona)
Extras pizza; dirty rice
We grocery shopped en masse this week (2 parents, 2 kids). My husband noted the guy checking out in front of us. His order contained: 8 pack of Dr Pepper in bottles, 2 cases of Dr Pepper in cans, 2 packs of Oscar Meyer bologna, 2 packs of American cheese. No bread. Atkins diet? Menu planning should be so simple! Happy cooking.