I’ve been reading the Hartwig’s It Starts With Food and they have this brilliant and fool-proof meal map toward the back of the (really compelling, thus far) book about building your meals with a protein, a fat, vegetables, and spices. They list tons of options that aren’t really anything novel, but having it outlined so practically makes me wonder why I ever eat the stupid foods I’m prone to when in a hurried/tired/hungry moment. More on this book later. It’s going to be the kick I’ve been asking for.
It’s encouraged me to prep more meal components simply every few days, buy according to what ingredients are fresh, on sale, local, etc., and then pull out the pieces to different meals a few times a day. This has also proved to be excellent on-the-go cooler meals. We had a picnic yesterday with pre-cooked, cubed chicken breast, curry seasonings, raisins, roasted carrots, and spinach. How easy is that to throw together?! Simple, cooked ahead, stored separately, assemble to eat meals. I’m grasping this is the ideal way to eat in between recipes, always lending the option when I don’t have time to cook something new or am uninspired to follow the meal plan, which now at the end of the month, is the most frustrating thing ever.
For example: 1. pre-cooked chorizo. pre-roasted carrots. pre-washed and torn lettuce. single serve guacamole. 2. make 2 scrambled eggs and combine in a big bowl of deliciousness.
Another example: 1. pre-cooked coconut curry with beef. 2. pre-roasted and mashed sweet potatoes. 2. assembled with fresh spinach, dollop of plain yogurt, chopped tomatoes, and lemon juice. Recipe for the easily make-ahead curry below.
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp yellow curry
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 Tbs coconut oil or olive oil
1 cup coconut milk
2 Tbs unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, parsley, OR basil leaves, torn
1 tomato, chopped
Juice of one lemon
1 pound protein (such as ground beef, cubed beef/lamb/chicken, beans, or tofu)
Saute protein in oil in a skillet over medium high heat until it’s cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Back in the skillet, turn the heat down to medium and cook onion, garlic, and jalapeno until tender and onions are translucent. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Add the protein back into the pan and add the dried coconut, salt, pepper, and spices. Stir well and cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and basil leaves. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. The curry can be cooled and stored at this point. To serve, heap over steamed green beans or spinach and/or roasted sweet potatoes or cauliflower. Top with diced tomato and lemon juice. Nom.
Ok, folks. My crazy work week is finished, I am finally home and able to cook again! The pantry challenge was more of a list of suggestions for my mom, who fed Aurelia all week while I was gone. Now that I’m back, I am craving fresh, homemade food, and not much from the pantry. I stopped at Costco on my way home and for $100, got an incredible amount of vegetables, wild canned salmon, and organic meat for the rest of the month. I may go back to the menu this week, but I’m going to make my menu for next month more fresh.
Last night, I prepped a ton of vegetables and roasted cauliflower, carrots, and sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes were pulled out of their skins and mashed once cooled, to keep as an easy side dish or base to meat and veg later in the week. They also came in handy this morning when I just couldn’t get myself to eat eggs again for breakfast. I’m trying to get to the place where my sweets and baked treats are special, instead of everyday snacks. These muffins aren’t clean eating, exactly, but for a special reunion to the kitchen and a slow weekend morning with my darling girl, they hit the spot and are plenty sweet, even with my creative flours and scant sugar. I can’t believe how amazing they taste! Trust me. Make up a batch, eat a few with some tea and someone you love, and appreciate the occasion.
Sweet Potato Raisin Muffins
1 cup pureed sweet potato (about one sweet potato, roasted, peeled, and mashed well)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup plain yogurt
Preheat the oven to 350 and put 18 liners into muffin pans. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, mix the butter, eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, yogurt, and pureed sweet potato, just until all ingredients are moistened. Fold in raisins. Don’t overmix! Scoop batter evenly into prepared muffin cups. Bake muffins for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in one comes out clean.
Yesterday, I had an hour free between work sessions at the week long conference I’m at, so I went to the gym by myself and did:
10 minutes of intervals on the treadmill (2 minutes walking at 3.5 on the highest incline, 2 minutes running at 6.0 with no incline, repeat to time)
3 sets of 15 reps of 6 abdominal exercises
10 minutes of intervals on the step machine (2 minutes at 70 steps per minute, 2 minutes at 90 steps per minute, 1 minute of 105 steps per minute, repeat to time)
I had no partner, no music, and no excuses. I saw the hour, knew I kept gym stuff in the car just for this reason, and with a quick shower and powder touch up, was back to my next meeting on time.
Salmon cakes with avocado and caper mash, plain corn, and sauteed garlicy broccoli for dinner. I called the sweet potatoes dessert and avoided all the cheesecake and cookies finding their way to every meal here at the conference.
This morning, I noticed a new muscle. I had 3 eggs for breakfast and a mid-morning snack of tuna with salsa. I keep looking at my schedule wondering how I’ll fit in a leg workout this afternoon.
Excited to go shopping this afternoon with Aurelia and a new shopping list. I feel a positive food challenge coming on. I love this sense of “readiness” one gets when you know you’re on the cusp of personal growth.
Summer is just starting to show itself in the local grocery stores. I picked up a gorgeous watermelon, some beef stew meat, and cilantro today and dreamt of BBQ the whole afternoon in anticipation.
This grilled corn, bean, and rice salad is fresh, substantial without being heavy, bright, and will be even better tomorrow. I made this big batch to keep leftovers in handy mason jars for lunches through the week.
The beef marinated for a couple hours in a Jamaican jerk seasoning and then were simply strung on kabob sticks with onion wedges and grilled with the corn. Delish.
Summer Salad with Black Beans & Rice
Adapted from Eating Well
2 cups short-grain brown rice
7 cups water
1 25-ounce can (or 2- 15 oz cans) black beans, rinsed
4 large ears corn, husked
3 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup hot tomato salsa
1 cup orange juice
2/3 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Rinse the rice in a colander under water a few times. Add it to a large pot with the 7 cups water, stir and set over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low to keep a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and pour the rice back out into the colander, letting it drain for 10 seconds. Put the drained rice back in the pot and set aside with the lid on for 10 minutes. Once it’s done, fluff the rice a bit and then spoon it out into a large bowl. Add the beans beans and set aside.
Meanwhile, preheat grill. Grill the corn (husks on or off) turning frequently, until tender and charred, 10 to 12 minutes. Cut kernels from cobs and add to reserved rice and beans. Add the onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper to the rice mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk salsa, orange juice, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, oil and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with the rice mixture and serve.
I’m rather impressed with how closely I’ve stuck to the menu plan for this month. Except for a couple dinner dates and a night where we had goat cheese, bread, and strawberries and called it good, I’ve cooked according to plan and thus, according to my pantry.
Tonight was slightly off-course, but I believe for the better. The menu called for leek and pea carbonara and while I do love a quick pasta with eggs and bacon, I felt like I had too many little bowls of leftovers in the fridge to make what would be a big bowl of more leftovers tomorrow.
Between Aurelia’s birthday, my brother and his family visiting, and the vegetable roasting I’ve been doing, there were several odds and ends that were sure to be discarded if neglected much longer.
I pulled out the bowls and bags and jars to deal with: a half cup of packed slow roasted tomatoes, a portion of ground turkey and caramelized onions, a thumb’s width of grilled asparagus, a whole leek, a carton of cream with a couple tablespoons left, the remains of a condiment bowl of pico de gallo, a cup of crumbled cotija cheese, a scant half cup of a pesto, goat cheese, cream cheese mixture I’d made crostini with, and 8 eggs.
The leek was the basis for the carbonara I’d planned, so I diced, washed, and sauteed that first in some olive oil. In a mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, I combined the eggs, cream, and cheeses. I put in the tiny bit of pico de gallo, half teaspoons of cumin, coriander, and garlic powder, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne, and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt while it whisked away.
In a deep, buttered pie pan, I layered the roasted tomatoes, turkey/onion mixture, and chopped asparagus. Once the leeks were getting some color, I put them on top of that. The egg and cheese mixture was poured on top and the whole thing baked for 50 minutes at 350 degrees until done.
Topped with parsley, sour cream, and lime juice, a quarter pie served as a one plate, low carb, fridge clearing, pantry challenge approved dinner. This was impossibly good, filling, healthy, and resourceful. I can’t help but pat myself on the back and make a post out of it.
Keep local, free range eggs on hand. They’re wonderful for you, cheap, keep for a while, and can turn nearly any other protein, vegetable, or grain into a rounded meal.
My baby isn’t much of a baby anymore. Aurelia turned two on Monday. Birthday party recap to come. It’s been a very busy week and when I do have a break, this is what keeps me occupied. I’ll take all the last “rock-a-baby” (as she asks for it) moments I can while I can still hold her in my lap.
Aurelia, You are mindful, gentle, sharp, stunning, and take every step with purpose. I can’t imagine a breath without you. In the words of a favorite book, “On the night you were born, the moon shone with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you… ever in the world.” Your birthday is not a celebration of your birth, but of the life you’ve lived since. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you, forever. Always, Your Mama
I put my energy into making dinner at home. Breakfast and lunch are very simple. I am getting better about eating breakfasts. Aurelia gets the same options each morning: fried or scrambled egg, greek yogurt, waffles (mini, whole grain, frozen), whole grain cheerios, oatmeal, and whatever fruit is on hand. She eats a bit, but this is more of me feeling better about offering her food in case she is hungry and partly giving myself 10 minutes to do my make up in peace. Breakfasts are a far cry from our bonding, sit down, well made dinners.
Lunch is leftovers on a good day. Salad, soup, sandwich, rice and veggies. Again, simple. Aurelia eats a(nother) breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack at school where they provide food, so she is mostly spared my shoddy lunch planning. I try to pack my lunch to work, but will often just drink a green smoothie, protein shake, or walk down to the coffee shop for a greek yogurt with blueberries and granola.
I’m focused on making great food on the weekends and striding ahead to prepare for the week’s dinners, but lately, I’ve been making more breakfast foods on the weekends too. Take these banana bran muffins. I made them on Sunday and ate one for breakfast that day, Monday, and today. I’ve been working out more, so the added calories get my metabolism working early. I will admit to worrying about eating all day when I have breakfast because it makes me hungrier sooner. With the extra gym time, that concern is actually a benefit.
So, exercise and eat muffins! Life will be wonderful and impossibly delicious. This recipe is not your run-of-the-mill bran muffin and it tasted as wonderful this morning as it did two days ago.
Banana Bran Muffins
adapted from Ina Garten
1 cup unprocessed oat bran
1 cup buttermilk (shaken)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 free range eggs, at room temperature
scant 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut (if using sweetened, reduce sugar to 3 Tbs)
2 ripe bananas, large-diced (don’t mash!)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into a regular size 12-cup muffin tin or a large 6-cup muffin tin, like I used.
Combine the bran and buttermilk and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, 1 at a time. Scrape the bowl and then add the molasses and vanilla. (The mixture will look curdled.) Add the bran/buttermilk mixture and combine.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the batter just until combined. Don’t overmix it! Fold in the coconut, bananas and walnuts with a rubber spatula.
With an ice cream scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin cups to the top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes (35-40 for large muffins), until a cake tester comes out clean.
Once a week I’m buying whatever lovely looking, fresh produce is available locally to eat for the whole week. I wash it all up in a big sink full of water, then dry, cut, and arrange it on baking sheets. Topped with a bit of olive oil, and foil in some cases when they need to steam, into the oven they go. I roast at 425 on convection for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size and strength of the vegetables.
Once out of the oven, I season them lightly with salt, vinegar, or more oil. The vegetables are stored in mason jars and sit in the fridge to be eaten whenever the meal or craving calls for them. I like them right out of the jar, on top of a plain green salad, and especially along side meat and grains. Vegetables have such a way of brightening up a meal, don’t they?
Other ways I’m prepping vegetables for the week is by boiling (see broccoli) or pickling (see green beans). All excellent options that make the weekday dinner rush that much easier. Aurelia seems to like prepared vegetables more than raw ones. So, win win.