Category Archives: Menu planning

Standard weeknight fare

Made this for supper recently and thought it was a pretty fair representative of a standard weeknight meal. 2 veggies, a little protein, simple, fresh and yummy (in my opinion).

  • Asparagus tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then broiled. Serve with lemon wedge
  • Roasted gold beets, quartered and tossed with sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and a little feta and mint
  • Wild salmon- pan-seared (skin side up), then flipped, slathered with some pesto from the freezer and popped into the oven on broil (still on from the asparagus) for a few minutes.

Party planning

I need to take a break from work, so here’s some info on a party I’m planning right now. We’re having 25-30 people over on Friday night for apps, sweets and booze. I’m in the middle of a crazy week, so I’m looking to make it pretty easy on myself…but still amazing.  A few tips to that end:

  • I think a spread looks more impressive as a whole if it follows something of a theme (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Comfort food).
  • When the whole looks impressive, you have a little more wiggle room on the individual items. Meaning that you can buy more dishes ready-made or ready-to-assemble.
  • Always plan several items that can be wholly or partially cooked 1-2 days in advance.
  • For a cocktail party, I shoot for 3 savory dishes (1 veggie, 1 vegetarian or seafood, and 1 meat), 2 sweets and 1 signature drink.
  • Try to avoid dished that need utensils or more than 2 bites.

With those rules in mind, I came up with the following 3 menus:

Mexican

  1. Guacamole topped with chipotle puree and toasted almonds, served with chips (vegetarian): Easy-peasy. You have to make the guac the day of, but easy to puree the chipotle in adobo and toast the almonds in advance
  2. Cilantro dip  with crudite (veggies): The dip is store-bought and I’d cheat and buy a lot of veggies already prepped
  3. Oregano-crusted pork tenderloin sliders with pickled red onion and lime aioli (meat): Cheap, delicious and easy. I can make the pork and red onions in advance, the rolls come from the freezer section and the “lime aioli”is just mayo with lime zest and sauteed garlic.
  4. Subtly spicy Mexican chocolate pudding with cinnamon cream, served in little shot glasses (sweet #1): You literally make this dish in a blender. It is so good and easy…and vegan (minus the whipped cream)
  5. Key lime bars (sweet #2): The hardest thing on the menu, so I might think about a substitute.
  6. Margaritas (signature cocktail): Always easy, always delicious. Pre-mix everything and just have it out for people to serve themselves

Comfort food

  1. Michael’s curry dip with crudite (veggie): Easy to make in advance because it tastes better after a day or two…and I can outsource it to my husband
  2. Little crawfish pies (seafood): Store-bought pie shells filled with crawfish etouffee and cooked with parm on top. YUM. The etouffee isn’t “easy” but I’ll end up with more than half of it in my freezer for a rainy day, so I don’t mind the effort
  3. Pigs in a blanket (meat): Come on, people. They are delicious and everyone loves them. Literally just store-bought little sausages rolled in crescent roll dough and baked. Sprinkle some poppy seeds on some before baking, mix up some honey mustard (yellow mustard, honey and a bit of mayo) and Schriracha ketchup, and people with think you’re Christ come again.
  4. Brown-butter rice krispie treats (sweet #1): Just increase the butter a bit and let it get nice and brown before you mix it up. Sprinkle a bit of course salt on top while it’s still warm in the pan.
  5. Peanut butter, chocolate chunk cookies (sweet#2): My earliest signature dish and still a winner. Stay great for days, so you can make in advance.
  6. Bourbon slushes (signature cocktail): Mix it two days ahead and  pop it in the freezer. Then you just separate the ice with a fork and leave it out for people to serve themselves.

Italian/Mediterranean

  1. Rebecca F’s delicious prosciutto wrapped goat cheese (meat): So easy, plentiful and yummy. They do need to be assembled the day of the party, but it’s an easy job for a hubby or child (hah)
  2. Puff pastry tartlets with pesto, fresh mozzerella and sun dried tomatoes (vegetarian):  Another day-of job, but easy and great at room temp.
  3. Mediterranean platter (veggies): Store-bought grape leaves, hummus + crudite, olives, and Marcona almonds
  4. Nutella and banana tea sandwiches (sweet #1): Seriously. Nutella and bananas in perfectly square, little white-bread, crustless  sandwiches
  5. Meringue cookies with lemon curd (sweet #2): Store-bought meringues with store-bought lemon curd. Add a blueberry or raspberry on top and we’re in business
  6. Blood orange Sangria (signature cocktail): Add “blood orange” to the title and people will think it was harder. 🙂 Better if you make it a day in advance

So, 3 menus that are all easy, delicious and well-balanced. My honey picked the last one for the party. What do you think?

Either way, I’ll start linking back to some of these recipes. Fun, fun!

Brainstorming

Ok, ok…I know this is so predictable, but I need to go on a bit of a diet. I absolutely refuse to give up the things I love, but I am willing to make a much bigger effort to balance my diet and exercise. Especially if it means looking better in a dress.

I’m cutting back on calories overall, cutting way back on simple carbs after breakfast, and limiting myself to 2 non-fruit desserts a week. Combine that with the amped up excercise routine I started a few months ago (err, minus a small break around the holidays) and I think I’ll be good to go.

On that point, I did some brainstorming yesterday. I wanted delicious dishes that fit my restrictions so that I don’t feel all sad and deprived. Boo. Here’s where I landed….

Main dishes

  • Thai chicken and basil lettuce wraps
  • Entree salads: Cobb, Chicken Caesar, Nicoise, Steak, etc.
  • Turkey patties with mushrooms and cheese
  • Tuscan chicken casserole
  • Frittata
  • Lamb patties with  minty yogurt sauce  with chopped Greek salad
  • Thai shrimp soup
  • Pescado Veracruzano
  • Roast chicken
  • Mexican chicken & lime soup
  • Venison chili
  • Indian veggie stew
  • Roasted turkey breast
  • Chicken salad, tuna salad
  • French Onion soup
  • Veggie-rich egg scrambles

Sides and Snacks

  • Thai bean noodle salad
  • Green beans with almonds
  • Roasted asparagus (with Parm or hollandaise)
  • Just delicious salads…all kinds
  • Roasted mixed veggies
  • Roasted cabbage wedges
  • Roasted Indian broccoli over raita
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Portobella mushroom stuffed with spinach, pinenuts & feta
  • Fennel and Celery salad with mozz (Dama Blanca)
  • Jicama and green mango slaw
  • La Condesa brussel sprouts (sounds weird, but it’s brussels with red grapes and bacon)
  • Spinach Madeline
  • “Deviled” eggs (egg whites stuffed with hummus)

I’ll update with pics and recipes as I get started. Off to the grocery today!

Random goodness

Here are some random meals we’ve had (somewhat) recently that I really liked and don’t want to forget….

Leftover pot roast on egg noodles: Pretty self-explanatory, no? When my mom visited, she bought me my beloved crock pot and made an introductory pot roast for me. I popped about 1/2 of it in the freezer and resuscitated it 2 months later for a delicious dinner.

A scrumptious salad: Arugula with chopped cherries, Marcona almonds, grated Parrano cheese and balsamic vinaigrette

Pollo Rico! This is one of my favorite local spots. 1/2 a delicious roasted chicken, Mexican rice, GREAT beans, 1/2 a roasted onion, corn tortillas, fire-roasted tomato salsa and creamy jalapeno salsa…all for about $7. Seriously?

Veggie curry: This is now my go-to pantry/freezer/leftover dish. Yum. Basically onions, garlic, ginger and chickpeas + any veggies I have around, all simmered in a sauce of diced tomatoes, curry, coriander and turmeric. Served with a raita made of shredded cucs, garlic, yogurt and a pinch of salt. Super easy. Super healthy. Super supper

Cobb salad: Your basic composed salad. Romaine + bacon + hard boiled egg + tomatoes + feta + avocado + light, lemony vinaigrette

Birthday dinner

Well, the birthday dinner was a big success. The table was covered with candles, bright colors and little toys. I hung old pics (mostly Polaroids) from the chandelier and got these great balloons that say “Happy Dumb Birthday.”

It all started off with my spicy acorn squash soup, topped with some crispy caramelized shallots:

You can see the carrot cake in the foreground, but here’s a better picture of its insane deliciousness:

In between those scrumptious bookends, I serves roasted asparagus (I should add that recipe) and this Tuscan chicken dish I made up a million years ago. Basically, you serve chicken cutlets with crisped prosciutto and a mushroom Madeira sauce on creamed spinach.  I came up with it when I was on that Devil Atkins diet. It was a keeper, though. Here’s a pic…

My honey’s birthday!

Tomorrow is my honey’s birthday and I’m chefing it up! He requested my acorn squash soup and carrot cake (trying a new recipe from the fabulous new Flour cookbook), and I’m rounding it out with this Tuscan chicken dish I made up and some roasted asparagus. It should be delicious!

One of the reasons I love this meal is that I can make a lot of it in advance. I made the icing yesterday and will make the cake today.  I think I’ll also make the base for the squash soup and the spinach base for the chicken dish tonight. That means that tomorrow all I need to do is reheat and finish the soup, cook my chicken and roast my asparagus. Easy peasy. I think the ability to chug along and make the dishes at a leisurely pace is critical for big weeknight dinners. If I were REALLY smart, I would have come up with something that froze well.

2 good dinners

  1. Thai chicken salad: I marinated a chicken breast in a ginger marinade, grilled it up and sliced it thin. The dressing is fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, a little sugar and grapeseed oil. The greens are mache, spinach and cilantro. Throw in some peanuts, carrot sticks, red bell pepper, and we’re good to go!
  2. Greek pita and salad: First of all, we didn’t need the beet/goat cheese stacks. I had a roasted beet leftover, so I made it. But it was overkill. Just saying.  I made small patties with ground lamb, lemon zest, salt & pepper, and chopped mint. Sauteed those and served in half a whole wheat pita. Top it with greek yogurt mixed with a crushed garlic toe, a whole shredded cucumber, salt & pepper. YUM. The greek salad is just parsley, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, cucumber and feta, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Boom

Green Chile Pork Tacos

Sigh. This is honestly one of my favorite dishes I have ever made in my whole life. SO delicious! Meaty and spicy and tangy and earthy and soft and crunchy. Basically, perfect. Also, easy. Hells bells!

Here’s the problem…I don’t really have a recipe, per se. More like some vague instructions. Still, it’s so easy, I don’t see how it can go wrong. It seems like a lot of steps, but it’s a lot of passive cooking and it literally made 20 tacos.

I’m breaking it down into 4 separate sections- pork, pickled red onions, sauce and tacos.

Pork

  • Slow cooker
  • Pork roast (needs to fit in slow cooker)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Veggie oil
  • Chicken broth
  • Roasted green chiles (I used hatch frozen)
  • Seasoning: Mexican oregano, Salt & Pepper, Flour
  • Yellow onion
  1. Get ~2 T veggie oil heating in large skillet over med-high. Meanwhile, trim the pork of outside fat. Pat dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour and pat in (about 2 Tablespoons). When oil is very hot, add pork and sear on all sides.
  2. While pork is searing, slice onion into thin half moons (pole to pole, then across). Place onions in bottom of slow cooker. When pork is seared, place on top. Add green chiles to taste (I used a full container of hot, so about a cup).
  3. Add enough chicken broth (or water + bouillon) to come 3/4 up roast. Smash and peel garlic, and add whole. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon mexican oregano. Put slow cooker on high for first hour, then cook on low for 6-8 hours. The meat should fall apart.
  4. Remove meat from pot, cover and set aside. When cool enough, strain remaining solids (onion, chiles, garlic) from liquid and set aside for sauce.
  5. Defat liquid by placing in fridge and removing top fat when cool OR by using a fat separator.  Place remaining liquid in small pot and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until reduced to ~1/3-1/2 cup.
  6. Meanwhile, shred meat with two forks or fingers. When liquid is reduced, stir into pork and set mixture aside.

Pickled red onions

  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into rings (OPTIONAL)
  1. Thinly slice onions into half moons and place in medium, heat-proof bowl.
  2. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt and optional jalapeno to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When boiling and sugar fully dissolved, remove from heat and pour over onions.
  3. Stir to combine and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in fridge for 30-60 minutes. Strain liquid and reserve onions.

Green chile sauce

  • Reserved solids from pork
  • Honey
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Blend reserved solids in blender until smooth. If too thick, add a bit of water.
  2. Add ~1-2 teaspoons honey (you can always add more later, but you can’t take it back) and salt and pepper to taste. It should be spicy and creamy.
  3. With blender running, slowly drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to emulsify.

Tacos

  • Corn tortillas
  • Green chile pork
  • Creamy green chile sauce
  • Sweet, sour and spicy pickled red onions
  • Optional: cilantro, feta or cotija cheese, shredded carrots and/or cabbage
  1. Warm corn tortillas over gas burner until slightly charred or wrapped in foil in 350 degree oven.
  2. Place pork in tortilla. Top with pickled onions, green chile sauce and optional toppings. I don’t have a picture of it, but I LOVE it with carrots, so don’t discount that.
  3. Eat!

Pasta Carbonara

My sis sent me this recipe and it was delicious and super easy. It’s not going to win any cooking light awards, but we had a small portion with a big serving of salad, and I did not feel even a little guilty afterwards. The other cool thing, is that you probably have most of this stuff on hand all the time. I love pantry/freezer dinners.

On that note, it has been AGES since I went to the grocery store. I think at least a week.  We’ve definitely eaten out a few times, but I am mostly just pulling together delicious, healthy meals from the freezer and pantry.  I need to do a post about that one of these days. Grrrr….

  • 1 large onion, cut into thin strips (half moons)
  • 1/2 pound bacon, cut into strips
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed through
  • 1 (16 ounce) package fettuccini pasta
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in bacon, and cook until bacon is evenly browned. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and set aside. You need ~ 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Depending on how much fat is rendered, either keep in pan or pour off and measure out 1 tablespoon.
  2. Over medium heat, stir in onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and slightly browned. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Before draining, remove ~ 1 Cup pasta water (TIP: put your measuring cup inside your colander in the sink. You’re less likely to forget to save pasta water that way). Drain pasta, then return it to the pot.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream, and shredded Parmesan. Pour the bacon and onions over the pasta, then stir in the cream mixture. Thin as needed with reserved pasta water. The mixture will thicken up as it cools, so make it a tad looser than you’d like. Season with salt and pepper.

More good breakfasts

I just cannot make myself actually type up a recipe for this kind of thing. I want to keep track of the good breakfasts and maybe give some other folks a few ideas, but that just has to be good enough. What do you think? Am I lazy?

  1. Eggs scrambled with Mexican oregano on whole grain toast with 1/4 avocado sliced on top (squeezed lime and salted avocado) + golden honeydew and plums
  2. Fresh fruit salad ( peaches, plums, strawberries and raspberries) and mini banana muffins (from freezer after niece’s wedding)