Monday, January 27, 2014

What's for Dinner?

One of the things that makes a day that feels too long feel even longer is staring down the witching hour without a plan for dinner. What kids, you don't want fish sticks or spaghetti and meatballs three nights in a row? Weird.

Over the last few years I've relied heavily on meal planning to make my weeks run smoothly, and the menu chalkboard in my dining room is honestly just an ornamental extension of that plan, because I sometimes, okay frequently, go a couple of weeks without changing it. I'll try to share my weekly plan on Mondays from here on out so that might encourage me to stay on top of changing the board. However, my actual plan is written on a magnetic notepad on my fridge that has a column for groceries needed to complete that list, which I also use to write down the meat I need to pull from the freezer one to two nights before, and I try to incorporate a night of leftovers so that we don't have a build-up of mystery containers in the fridge the next time I do the pre-grocery shopping sniff and toss.

When I feel like I'm in a rut, I look through my pinterest boards to get inspiration. I know, I know, those boards are actually meant to be used for something other than time suckage and wishful thinking. I have boards for the crock-pot, for freezer meals, for the battle of the bulge and for nights of comfort. I have found that my kids will eat almost anything if I put it in a taco, so we have Taco Tuesdays which have spanned the range from fish tacos to this week's Pot Roast tacos with horseradish sauce (which I won't put on theirs because it's a) white b) 'Hot like Wasabi!' (in Charlie's words) and c) a condiment other than ketchup). Mondays I try for a meatless meal and Wednesdays are sometimes wheatless, although those nights are for putting variety in our menu more than anything because I heart gluten.

The chalkboard may not be updated, but we do sit down to the same meal as a family every single night, with the exception of nights that J and I have a date night. J's schedule means that I do the dinner, bath, bedtime gig alone a lot, but I've long since left behind my days as a short-order cook with chicken nuggets and pb&j for the kids while I eat a crappy dinner over the sink by myself later. There has been a lot of research on the importance of eating dinner as a family, and I love the books The Family Dinner and Dinner: A Love Story as a starting point for establishing this as a routine in your house.

Without further ado, here's my menu for this week:

Monday: Breakfast Burritos (egg and cheese for the kids, egg, cheese and roasted veggie for me).
Tuesday: Pot Roast Tacos with Horseradish Sauce *
Wednesday: Thai Peanut Noodles with tofu and roasted vegetables. I use brown rice noodles instead of udon or linguine.
Thursday: Spinach Lasagna Rolls
Friday: Family Movie Night (every Friday) Leftovers followed by Stove-top Popcorn (I have seriously perfected this-no old maids!) and treats.
Saturday: Date Night for Us, but Turkey Chili and Cornbread for the kids.
Sunday: Superbowl Pot Luck (Likely will be gluttonous. Not to be confused with, though may also include, glutenous)

*denotes recipes I'm trying for the first time.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Apples to Apples


What's more fun that a sink-full of apples that need peeling? Answer: Pretty much everything
This year, part of J's gift basket from work was a bushel of apples. Fuj's and Galas and Granny Smith, oh my! I had been buying my weight in 'squeezy applesauce' from costco, and had seen that you could buy diy squeeze bags, so off to amazon my fingers flew. After researching, I realized that most of them were intended to be reusable, but let me tell you what I don't want to spend time rinsing out and sanitizing; yup, plastic bags with a teeny, tiny hole. I found this 50 pack of bags (single use) by Infantino and read the reviews, which mentioned you should spring for the 'squeeze station'-although you could probably fill the bags with a baster, but that would be ridiculously tedious. Spend the twenty bucks on the filling station. Between the bags and the filling station, it works out to slightly less than a dollar a bag (the squeeze station comes with ten bags), and the produce was a gift. It's still a bit more expensive than the GoGo Applesauce I was buying before but you'll only buy the station once, and you have greater control of your ingredients.

But first, before we get ahead of ourselves, you must make the apples into sauce. I've had a simple apple peeler, corer, slicer that you suction to the counter and operate with a hand crank for years, but for whatever reason it's not been working very well, so I got to move between peeling with a vegetable peeler and paring knife until I wanted to stab my eyes out. What started as a fun little Saturday morning project quickly morphed into what amounted to a pile of apples that reminded me of a giant plate of spaghetti; no matter how many I peeled and sliced; turn around and they're still there! 
Pretty much the only apple that worked correctly.




I cooked a batch of applesauce on the stovetop by filling up my beloved Soleil with mixed apples, one-half cup of water and some cinnamon, I let it bubble away on medium heat for twenty minutes (I only know that because I set a timer lest I forget about it while trying to organize my vortex of a closet) gave a stir then let it go for twenty minutes more and removed from the heat. After mashing and picking out the peel that I could-and burning my fingers-I read the directions for the handy squeeze station and went to fill my first three bags. Turns out, the applesauce needs to be really smooth, or you just get super hot apple sauce gushing back up from the plunger onto your hand and arms. Which feels awesome, thanks for asking. 





After the first round, I used the immersion blender to get it super smooth and all was well. My only other tip is to unscrew the 'filler' from the bag before pulling up on the plunger, or you'll suck some of the food back up into the cylinder, which is not where you want it. Even if you push down and pull up several times. Or slowly. Or quickly. Vacuums are sneaky little bitches. 

The second batch was all granny smith. I filled the crock of my 6 quart slow cooker to the brim and topped it with a glug of 100% pure maple syrup, then cooked it for about four hours on low. The two batches made about twenty-five bags of applesauce. Jack-attack was my taste tester and he proclaimed it delicious. 




(Because the bags are not insulated or airtight, it's important to remember that you're not preserving your food, but rather storing it. According to the packaging, you can store them in the fridge for about 48 hours and in the freezer for a few months. I plan to thaw them overnight in the fridge for lunches the next day. Or in a bowl of warm water the morning of when I've forgotten to pull them out the night before.)

Since I was already in stab-your-eyes-out-if-you-see-another-apple mode, (seriously, I would never make it in factory work) I decided to make three apple pies as well. My mom's (technically my mom's bestie's) recipe is still my favorite, mostly because imperfections only lend to its 'rustic' nature. Perfect for half-assers like me. 



Don't get too excited, this is for three pies. Only one stick of butter for each.


a little on the crispy side, but who has time to babysit the oven?



Heritage Apple Pie

Filling:
6 c. sliced apples (granny smith work great!)
1/2 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon

1 9 inch pie crust (unbaked- I like Marc Bittman's pie crust recipe the best)

Topping:
1c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 softened butter (I used salted, if you don't, add about 1/2 t of kosher salt)

Line a pie pan with the crust and flute the edges. Mix together the apples, cinnamon and sugar and fill up the pie crust. It will be heaping. This is good. For the topping, mix the flour and sugar and then cut in the softened butter with forks, a pastry cutter, or by massaging the flour into the butter with your hands; pick your poison. Top the pie with the topping (duh) and then bake at 400 degrees for 50-55 minutes. I used my convection function so I do it at about 380 for about 40 minutes. Cover crust edge with a pie ring or tin foil to prevent it from burning. Enjoy a la mode or all on its own.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Baby On Board

(redacted for privacy, created by Announcing You)
My Sister-in-law is due with her first baby this spring, so my other sister-in-law and I had a ton of fun putting together a surf themed baby shower for her. With a simple menu of cauliflower hazelnut and chicken bacon kale handpies (made by Heidi in advance and frozen to be baked off that day), salads and, of course, cake we were all well-fed and enjoyed visiting with family and friends while we celebrated Laura and the impending birth of baby D. The chicken-bacon handpies were made with Heidi's bacon bourbon jam, which is ahhhhhmazing, and will be added to my 'to can' queue as it added so much flavor and dimension to a dish that's so simple.

Heidi used fabric to create a rustic bunting and paired with some paper lanterns and a fun tablecloth that she made for another occasion, the decor was simple. A metal surf board-laden VW bus played up the theme, in addition to a pier piling ocean cake and sharky cupcakes. The cake was chocolate with salted caramel cream cheese buttercream, while the cupcakes were a simple vanilla with vanilla buttercream. I used the 'Best. White cake. Ever.' recipe, and it really is amazing. With 5 eggs, 2 sticks of butter, buttermilk and my own vanilla it was rich, dense and delicious. The frosting ended up being pretty sweet and I think I'd do a cream cheese buttercream next time, but I didn't get any complaints!

Washi tape graced the sides of the cupcake tower, and I found a printable on etsy that I used to create the shark fin cupcake toppers. Buttercream dyed to have an ombre effect, topped with a single sandy, surfboard cupcake created a display of caloric decadence. A big green salad and some ginger-limeade rounded out the food. 









No games, but we did have two crafts ;) Message to the parents on midnight diapers, and an ABC book with a letter page decorated by each guest with stickers, drawings or a message.

1:1 Gingerale and Simply Lime, my favorite party punch!


The next morning, I had breakfast with my girls at Tasty n Alder, then stopped in at Blue Star for treats to bring back to the boys. After the drive home from Portland, they made for the perfect Breakfast for Dinner.


Cointreau Creme Brulee for Mama, though I snuck a bite of J's Blueberry Bourbon Basil, it was amazing. I would get it next time; clean, not too sweet and the basil flavor was the prominent note: delicious!






Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fit to Be Tied

My sister-in-law and I hosted our other sister-in-law's baby shower this weekend. We put together a basket of essentials for the first few months, including some fun touches like these applique onesies. You can transform any shirt with whatever shape or print your desire. All you need are a pair of scissors, fabric, a shirt or onesie and fusible interfacing makes the job easier. Next time, I would use a backing fabric for the inside of the shirt so that I don't have skipped stitches like I did with the bow tie. If you're planning to use a straight stitch, you don't need to worry about it!

I wanted to do ties, so I just folded the material in half (so that my free-hand would at least be symmetrical) and then cut out an approximate neck tie and bow tie shape from two different fabrics. Iron on the material, stitch around the edge of the design to affix it to the shirt, et voila! 





I love this flannel bug print. I've had it in my stash since H was a babe!
Since I had my sewing machine out, I decided to bust out another project I've had in my queue for a few months. I have enough of each fabric to make two maxi skirts (I didn't realize this when I ordered) so I'll get creative. However, It should be noted that I did not use a tape measure or any other official tools (not even my rotary cutter) I just eyeballed it, which caused me to do the side seam twice after I realized it was several inches too large. The waistband is a foldover yoga waistband, which I did by folding a piece in half so that the folded dimension was about 6-7 inches in tall, then put all the raw edges together with right sides facing and sewed around. Because it's a knit fabric, I made it a little snug in the waist, so there are slight puckers where it attaches to the skirt body. Had I done an official measure, I'd have been able to do the side seam once, and angled it from a wider bottom to the smaller top. Since I didn't it's a little restrictive at the bottom, so I'll be making this first one a knee length skirt and then taking what I learned to make the new one the correct width. This knit fabric is from a really fun website Girl Charlee Fabrics, which has a ton of really cute knit fabrics to choose from at really reasonable prices. I have four different prints, including the bold neon stripe I used to make the shirt I wore in our family photos (below). The one tip I have for working with knits is to use a light hand in moving the fabric through the machine so that you're not stretching it as you go.




Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ginger Chicken Salad (or Tacos)

When I was working in Hillsboro several years ago, the big to-do was an outdoor mall that was being built right near my house, with high(ish) end stores and eateries galore. One of the restaurants was P.F. Chang's, and people were excited. After trying to eat there a few times, I was not super impressed because the food was so salty. However, there was one appetizer that I always liked, minus about 5000 mg of sodium (actual sodium count is only 650/serving, but it tasted like much more the few times I tried eating there).

The last few times I've eaten at a chain restaurant (never our first choice, but sometimes those are the options) All I can think is 'Man, I've become a really good cook!' The dishes I used to be perfectly satisfied with when I ordered them are now just, meh, and the price tag makes them taste worse. 

So, when my friend posted a recipe on her facebook page that was similar to the Chang's Chicken Lettuce Cups and said that her kids liked them as 'Chinese Tacos' I knew I'd add it to my rotation for the week. I generally do some version of Taco Tuesday, but I'm not jazzed about eating plain jane beef simmered in taco seasoning every single week so I've tried to put a twist on it every week. Taco inspired meat loaf, taco soup and now Chinese Chicken Tacos.  I was planning to sub in ground turkey, but on my last shopping trip, I found that Safeway is now carrying an all natural ground chicken so I picked up two packages. The recipe calls for a pound, but the pacakages were 13.5 ounces each, so I used two and bulked up the ginger and garlic, but left the proportions of the sauce the same. I used about a teaspoon of salt with the chicken and onion while they browned, and a good inch and a half of fresh ginger. 

I served the meat in a tortilla for the kids, but mine was served over a bed of romaine and spinach, and the beauty of this dish is that it requires no extra dressing to make a super flavorful salad because of the sauce. The big boys ate two tacos each, and Jack gobbled up a bowl of the filling. Being freshly prepared, and with minimal salt, (I used low sodium soy sauce) the ginger really had a chance to shine and the chopped cashews added another dimension of texture and flavor. At under twenty minutes from heating the pan to 'dinner's ready!', this recipe is a keeper that will stay in my meal rotation.

Ginger Chicken Tacos/Salad

1 lb ground chicken (can substitute ground beef, turkey or pork)
1/2 minced onion
salt and pepper
2 minced garlic cloves (I used 4)
1″ knob ginger, peeled and minced (I used 1.5-2 inches)
2 1/2 tbsps. tamari (or soy sauce) (I used low sodium soy sauce)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp almond butter
1/2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp honey
2 tsps. sriracha sauce
dash of pepper
3 chopped green onions (I omitted because I didn't have them on-hand...well, I did but they were no longer edible ;))
small can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped cashews
lettuce leaves
1. Heat a large pan on high and add ground chicken, onion, salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is nearly done. Add garlic and ginger, then continue cooking until meat is no longer pink.
2. In a bowl combine, tamari, vinegar, oil, almond butter, water, honey, sriracha and pepper. Microwave for 20 seconds, then stir until smooth. Add to the meat.
3. Add green onions, water chestnuts and cook for another minute or two.
4. Sprinkle with cashews and serve over lettuce leaves or on top of a salad. (Or in tortillas for kids who would likely cry if I made them eat salad for dinner.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

iText

Living in 2014, it's not news to anyone that texting while driving is no bueno. Would it surprise you to know that it is just a dangerous as driving while intoxicated? Likely not if you've read a newspaper or listened to a newscast, or even seen a Facebook forward about the latest tragedy caused by a driver who was distracted by their phone. (Coincidentally, I saw this article on Facebook today)

But, I know that there are many, many people still glued to the screen, when they should be glued to the road. I know this because I see them every day, but also because I've been guilty of it myself. With a full schedule and too many commitments, driving down the road something will pop into my head and 'if I don't do it right now. I'll forget about it!'  Rolling up to a stop sign and sitting there that second longer than necessary so I can tap out a quick note to myself, glancing over to see what x had to say in the text that just popped up because 'What if they need something from me right now?!', any task that just takes a few seconds so it wouldn't really be a distraction because I'd be able to look back at the road in a jiff...it's not as if I did it flying down the freeway, or while negotiating heavy traffic, or with a Keystone cracked open in my lap (although one could argue that drinking Keystone is a crime, driving or not), so that makes it all better, right? Right?

Believe me, I know how it sounds. 'Hi. My name is Sara, and I'm an iAholic.' 

One of the awesome parts of having a tendency to be anxious is that you get to spend chunks of your day letting worst case scenarios play out in your head...what if I got into an accident while I was texting? What if somebody died because I was so self-important that I thought anyone would need something from me so urgently that I couldn't wait to look at a text until I got home in about three miles? 

Then, my mind went a step further...forget all of the horrible guilt and damage, what would actually happen to me (legally) in a worst case scenario? What would my kids and husband do if I had to go to prison because I answered a text? Just so's you know, the sentencing guideline for vehicular homicide in the state of Washington (RCW 56.61.520) for a first-time offender driving recklessly is 51-68 months, and for driving with disregard is 21-27 months. The thought of missing that much of my kids' lives alone turns my stomach. It has to stop. Immediately. As in, cold turkey.

It's not something that people talk about a lots because we all know that it's completely irresponsible. Just writing this post was hard because I'm sure people will judge me for being careless, but being a (kind of) good Catholic girl, I find relief in confession. And gratitude that I'm writing this post as a 'what if' and not a cautionary tale. Anyone else care to 'fess up and commit to quit?


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Julia Gulia

Alas, I'm only to the arm increases on the back of my Hitch sweater, because I'm really good at gauging how much time I'll have to knit half of a sweater in tiny yarn on small needles. Having it completed for my week one project was not realistic.

However, Pepperberry Knits posted a knitalong for their Julia boot cuff pattern, which I've had in my queue for some time, and I have more pepperberry cashmere than I care to admit. Actually, strike that, I love my PBK stash but hoarding it in my bonus room instead of knitting it up into projects is not doing it justice. I chose Tangerine Twist, because I love the meld of cream, tan and orange for a bright pop of color on a winter day. With a sweet double ruffle and tiny buttons for a bit of detail, these will look really cute peeking over the top of your favorite boots, but won't add bulk at your ankles like full-on boot socks would. Made from 100% cashmere they're luxury, warmth, style and function all rolled into one. Without further ado, meet Julia.


Attaching the ruffles one at a time with a three needle stitch.



I love the extra detail of the slipped stitch in the ribbing.


tiny buttons, also from my stash