What’s for dinner?

whats for dinner

Last week Anne @ Modern Mrs. Darcy blogged about some of the meals her family eats regularly for dinner. I’ll admit, her family’s regular meals may have made me weep a bit with envy: Sesame chicken, cauliflower, salsa verde beef, fritattas and paleo pizzas. That is her world and yeah I’m mildly jealous.

I’ve got a four year old who I’d suspect was a vegetarian if she didn’t devour bacon like it’s her job – and an eight year old who is trying so hard not to be a picky eater but failing miserably. Words like potatoes, chicken, rice, broccoli, seasoning, casserole or crock pot are fighting words to my kids. Simple foods have become the name of the game for this season of our lives. And when you throw in karate classes, cub scouts and other various afternoon and evening activities – suddenly super fast and easy are added to my list of requirements most evenings.

So what can I make that is healthy, balanced, of neutral palate for the kids but not too neutral for my husband, fast to prepare and affordable? Every night.

This is my life right now. I keep a long list of possible dinner ideas on pinterest but lately we are so busy that trying new stuff is rarely a good option so we’re getting by on tried and trues with a few frozen convenience options thrown in for sanity’s sake. And Dairy Queen. I’m not perfect. When a new meal does get prepared and is met with mostly smiling faces, I’ll pin it to my Dinner Wins Board. But a lot of my stand bys are not really “recipe” type meals so much as the “common sense get it on the plate” meals. Some favorites in our house include:

MONDAYS

On Mondays I am usually cranky that it’s Monday and throwing something together after karate. I want something tried and true and quick like:

  • Crock Pot BBQ Chicken is great because I can start it in the late morning / early afternoon and have it waiting when we get home. Use this recipe or just throw frozen chicken breasts in your crock pot and pour a bottle of BBQ sauce on top and heat. Only downside is my children hate chicken and will give me the death glare. Mac and cheese is often a usable peace offering side dish.
  • We also like this brown sugar maple crock pot pork tenderloin. And by “we” of course I don’t mean my children. They don’t like anything. If I really want to make them cry, I’ll serve it with mashed potatoes.
  • Tacos if I have a little extra time. If you are looking for a homemade taco seasoning recipe, we like Alton Brown’s. If my daughter declares that ground beef is the devil, I’ll make her a cheese quesadilla.
  • If I have a little more time – tacos sometimes turn into enchilada style mexican pizza, a recipe I’ve been adapting and tweaking for years. My daughter will not like it but the rest of us love this one. I’ve had to learn to accept that at least one person probably won’t like whatever I make.
  • Or I’ll come up with some reason why I can’t make dinner and try and talk my husband into picking something up or taking us out. Mondays are hard.

TUESDAYS

Tuesdays became Pasta Tuesday at some point when I was playing around with having themed evenings for meals. This is really the only theme that stuck but I like it and so it continues. Most evenings this just means a box of pasta meets up with that one bottle of sauce that everyone likes right now. Sometimes I throw in ground beef or crumbled italian sausage or frozen meatballs that I microwave while the pasta is cooking.

On days when the sun is shining and my motivation is super high (see also, once or twice every other month) I’ll make:

  • The Pioneer Woman’s Penne alla Betsy. My husband LOVES this dish and if I serve the kids before adding in the shrimp there is no blood loss.
  • This End of Summer Pasta recipe from Parents Magazine is one of my favorite things to cook. I found this the first time we bought a share in a local CSA and found ourselves with a mountain of vegetables. It’s pretty adaptable to whatever you have on hand and deeply satisfying if a bit ugly. Sometimes I’ll make the kids’ a version with raw tomatoes  and not much else because it’s prettier and easier for them to pick around. Also pasta with butter and parmesan cheese can go a long way in a pinch.
  • If I don’t make pasta, sometimes I’ll make this vegetarian french onion soup since Tuesdays are usually the only day I seem to have any spare time. It’s been awhile since I’ve made this but my husband and I both love it. The kids will often just have tomato soup from a can and leftover french bread.

WEDNESDAYS AND THURSDAYS

Afternoon and evening commitments-wise these evenings are pretty similar. We’re often rushed and crazy and short tempered. Usual dinner suspects include:

  • Frozen lasagna even though invariably one child will declare they don’t like lasagna (not always the same one) or Stouffer’s will change their recipe just to infuriate me.
  • Sandwiches in a pinch. Ham and cheese makes my son weirdly happy and my daughter would eat PB&J for every meal if we let her.
  • More pasta.
  • Soup – a can of tomato for the kids and maybe something more fun for us. Ramen Noodles if anyone is under the weather.
  • That awesome pre-made meal at the grocery store that just saved my life – sometimes there will be a pre-assembled chicken pot pie or we’ll pick up a rotisserie chicken and a bagged salad and call it a meal.

FRIDAYS

For Friday nights when we may watch a family movie and I have a little time:

  • French Bread Pizza is something I have been really into. Joy the Baker has some great tips and topping ideas.
  • If I have more time, I’ll make pizza dough in my bread machine and make homemade pizza. Pepperoni is the old stand by but we love to play around with toppings. I’ll make two pizzas – one for the kids and something more fun for Dan and I. BBQ chicken or spinach and mushroom on an alfredo sauce are favorites.
  • For a more rushed Friday night, I am not above frozen pizza or take out.
  • Breakfast for dinner is a nice way to end a long week, too. I really like this baked french toast and this waffle recipe.

WEEKENDS

On the weekends we can often have a little more fun with cooking – usually because my husband who loves to cook is home. When we aren’t grabbing something at a resataurant in between errands, some favorites that he may make include:

  1.  Potato soup or clam chowder (love this recipe passed over from my best friend).
  2. Parmesan baked salmon – my husband loves salmon and this is pretty much the only salmon recipe we’ve found that I like.
  3. This is also a time when we might try a *new recipe* – either something fun I’ve seen online or something my husband comes up with.
  4. Or if the weather is nice, we’re grilling hot dogs and bratwurst or fresh fish (and hot dogs).
  5. Or if the weather isn’t nice, we’ll have homemade pizza if we didn’t have pizza on Friday but he’ll make the pizza dough the way he likes to without the bread machine.

So that’s our typical meal situation – what does your family like to do regularly for dinner?

Tell me the glorious and not so glorious details in the comments section!

7 Tips to Rule The Kitchen.

7 tips to rule the kitchen @ mommablogsalot.com

Some days it seems like I’ve pretty much got this cooking thing down. Things run like clock work and a dish totally comes together and maybe even the whole family eats it without sniffing it suspiciously and announcing, “I don’t like [insert perfectly innocuous food item here]”.

But the truth is most of the time I’m just making it up as I go along – trial and error and a lot of googling things like “how do you bake a potato?” or “why do people sift flour?” Basically just totally winging it, for better or worse. Either way – everyone gets fed.

But over the course of my 31 years on this planet and my almost eight years of motherhood (i.e. being placed in charge of the basic human needs of another) I’ve managed to learn a thing or two about cooking and how not to go crazy doing it. I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop to share with you…

Seven things I’ve learned about cooking – the hard way.

  1. When you are baking something – like anything with flour, baking soda, etc. – use a food scale instead of measuring cups if you really want it to come out consistently good. When trying my hand at pizza dough, homemade bread, even pancakes from scratch – I often wondered, “How can this recipe come out so differently each time?” And the simple truth is that measuring by weight is much more accurate than scooping with a measuring cup and in baking – the ingredients are not very forgiving. Bonus points: Less dishes to clean afterwards!
  2. The solution to chopping onions without sobbing uncontrollably – is frozen, chopped onions which you can find in pretty much any grocery store. Yes, yes – sometimes prepackaged cheats are lacking in quality or super unhealthy or way too expensive, et cetera… But in this one instance – god send. Pure and simple. Plus your odds of cutting your fingers off decreases exponentially. But what to make? Try this amazing vegetarian French Onion Soup sometime. It’s shockingly simple (and frugal!) to pull together and so delicious. My husband loves this one.
  3. Make a menu plan each week, month, couple of days, etc. Find a time frame that works for you and stick with it (as long as it continues to work for you). Having to figure out “What’s for dinner,” every night for several years weighs on a person. And then you think of something great but  don’t have the three ingredients needed to pull it together. Make a plan of attack before you hit the grocery store and you’ll save time, money and stress. Side note: Sometimes the monotony of a meal plan eats at my soul and I take little hiatuses where I just sort of cook what sounds good, minute by minute and make it work until I am ready to run kicking and screaming back to my plan.
  4. not so much a domestic goddess
    not so much a domestic goddess

    Use a timer. Even when you are like, “I’m just gonna stand here and watch it,” use a timer anyway. If you are like me – you are very easily distracted and have very distracting tiny mammals vying for your attention or like a really good book or something. Use a timer, save the english muffin.

  5. Mise en place is not just a fun french saying. It’s your saving grace. Before you start cooking anything, make sure you actually have everything you need – if you have the time, go ahead and premeasure everything, dice and chop and get yourself organized and then enjoy feeling like a totally bad assed chef as you whip together the family meal in no time.
  6. Find a method to save all your favorite recipes in a way that makes sense to you. I have tried a few methods and failed a few methods and at the moment I’m calling pinterest my recipe box, but whatever method you use, it’s better than having no method and finding yourself saying, “Where the heck is that recipe???” every damn night. When you make a meal you love – save the recipe somewhere that you’ll be able to find quickly next time.
  7. Keep an assortment of easy cheats on hand for the nights where you accidentally dump the whole casserole on the floor or you have the flu and apparently your four year old doesn’t know how to cook. This can be frozen meals you’ve made ahead of time or cans of spaghettio’s – no judging. And on those hard days, remember that PB&J or ramen noodles or an emergency trip to Dairy Queen is not the end of your parenting world. You can be Super Mom tomorrow.

What are you favorite kitchen tips / lifesavers? What’s for dinner tonight at your house?

Mama’s Losin’ It

Recipe: Momma’s Enchilada Style Mexican Pizza

enchilada mexican pizza @ mommablogsalot

I’ve shared this recipe before but it was pretty incomplete and not entirely accurate – whoops! Definitely time for a do over!

This recipe is a big favorite in our house and it’s very versatile. I use the same basic ingredients whether I’m making the dish pie or pizza style or just as basic enchiladas. You can use any variety of enchilada sauce or even taco sauce so you can adapt it to your family’s preferences. I keep a bottle of hot sauce on hand for my husband who likes it spicier than the rest of us.

enchiladas

Here’s a pic of the recipe making regular old enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning (or make your own – I love this Alton Brown recipe)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4-6 flour tortillas
  • About 4 oz. (1 cup) of shredded cheese but you may use more or less depending on preference
  • 1 can of enchilada sauce (you could also use taco sauce)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook up 1 lb ground beef until it’s browned through, then drain excess grease.
  3. Add a packet of taco seasoning and 1/4 cups water, then continue cooking meat until the seasoning / sauce is “thick” or basically, until it’s not watery and all the meat is covered.
  4. Using a flat round skillet that can go in the oven (or a cake pan or square pan – whatever is handy), place a tortilla on the bottom, add cheese, then your meat, then another tortilla and so on until it’s full, finishing with a tortilla.
  5. Top all of this with a can of enchilada sauce – we like the green chile style – try and make sure the whole thing is covered so that the tortilla doesn’t overcook in the oven.
  6. Then add more cheese to the whole thing.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or so until cheese is melted.

We usually top each serving with diced tomatoes, sour cream (or Fage Greek yogurt) and / or guacamole. You can basically cater this to individual preference.

What’s your favorite go-to recipe?

Recipe: Andrea’s Clam Chowder

clam chowder

Lately my favorite place to store recipes is on Pinterest. I have a board for recipes I want to try – and another one for recipes that are all kinds of tried and true. It’s nice to be able to scroll through a bunch of meals that are known favorites in my family as I’m planning my menu for the week.

But some of my favorite recipes aren’t online and thus are un-pinnable! I’m trying to rectify this and I thought an easy solution would be to share some of them here.

Today I want to share with you a clam chowder recipe that I got from my my bestie, Andrea. She shared it with me awhile back and my life hasn’t been the same since. Sometimes I’ll call her in the grocery store to ask what kind of clams to buy again and what brands does she like and have I told her how much I love her lately.

me & andrea

Me and Andrea wayyyyy back when!

Ange and I go way back – we met at a bowling party for a mutual friend back in high school and were basically inseparable from that day forward. Though we live 1,500 miles apart now – we have one of those super easy friendships where we always pick up where we left off whenever we do get to see each other as if no time has passed at all. Love that.

In our hometown back in MA we have an annual Chowder Fest every year where restaurants and chefs from all over compete to make the best clam chowder. It’s a major summer event and before moving to Wisconsin I went basically every year – so although I’m probably not a clam chowder expert, I do like to think I have pretty high standards when it comes to my chowder. Seasoning and consistency are pretty important to me and I consider myself kind of a chowder purist – I like it simple and this recipe is simply delicious.

andrea's clam chowder

Andrea’s Clam Chowder

Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 1 1/4 lb potatoes
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1.5 tsp thyme (fresh use a little less than bottled)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 cans clam (1 minced, 2 chopped or whatever sounds good to you)
  • 8 oz clam juice
  • 1 quart heavy cream

Directions

  1. Slice 1/2 pound of bacon into small pieces, and fry in a large pot until crispy. Once crispy to the touch add in celery and onion (cut into small pieces so they will fit on a spoon.) Cook down until celery is looking translucent and is soft to the touch.
  2. Add seasoning to pot, more can be added if flavor is lacking at the end of all cooking. Stir mixture together until thoroughly seasoned. Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until flour is coating all items in pan.
  3. Add 2-3 cans of clams (I usually do 1 minced and 2 chopped) and clam juice to pot.
  4. Concoction so far can be frozen for future preparation!
  5. In separate pot cook cubed potatoes (again, bite sized) until they are soft enough to eat, but not too soft that they will fall apart.
  6. Add potatoes (drained of all water) and heavy cream to large pot and cook until thoroughly warm. If chowder is thin then you can cook it for longer (it will thicken as it stands) or create a roux using melted butter and flour and adding it to the chowder which will help it thicken. To really make the flavor complete add 3 drops of hot sauce!

I love this clam chowder recipe – I hope you will, too!

Winter Wish List (2012 / 2013)

winter wonderland

Winter came in with a bang this year with a snowstorm delivering 20 inches of snow in some areas of my town. While I look forward to a White Christmas, let’s think about the winter season ahead and make some goals and wishes for the season.

Things to Do

  • blow bubbles outside and watch them freeze
  • Ring in the new year – I want to throw a little Family New Years Party with the kids and our in laws visiting. Order some take out, watch a movie and play board games, make a fun dessert and see how late we can stay up!
  • throw a party – maybe a New Present Party for the kids (everyone bring a fun new present they received and have fun playing with friends?) or a book exchange party?

Things to Make

Places to Go

  • a local museum like the Geology Museum or the Mustard Museum – we’ve been wanting to visit both since we moved here but haven’t done it yet.
  • Visit the Botanical Gardens indoor garden and soak up some nature on a cold winter day.
  • My favorite yoga studio – Time to start actively trying to get into better shape again either via yoga or some active video games or DVDs.

New Recipes to Try

Guess who’s back?

Back in town… Momma’s back…

Did you notice I was gone? I was gone. For like 2 1/2 weeks. We went to Massachusetts for an epic vacation filled with birthdays, a wedding, a romantic getaway, hot dogs, clam strips, Boston Cream Donuts and lots of Dunkin Donuts iced coffee for good measure. Like it was goin’ out of style, guys. Cause it kind of was.

I have a ton of pictures and a ton of stories that I want to share but I’m still unpacking and cleaning and running the kids from thing to thang and oh, guess what? My refrigerator died. Seriously. I know I have said a few times that I’d love to replace our ridiculous refrigerator that has had problem after problem after problem since we moved in, but I didn’t want to replace ALL of our perishable food, too. That part does not please me. Nor the water all over my floor – and apparently we have a weirdly sized space for a refrigerator that has us ALL KINDS of limited and all the websites are saying, “Sure we can deliver that to you… in two weeks.” Ummm…. I don’t have a refrigerator guys. I was kind of hoping to get one sooner than that.

So we’re going to the mall this afternoon when hubby takes his lunch break and we’re going to talk to Sears and probably Best Buy and say “this is what size refrigerator we can have. Is there ANYTHING we can buy today and bring home with us or maybe get delivered tomorrow???” So wish us luck. May our next refrigerator fit in the kitchen and not be possessed and strange and stupid.

Here are some cute pictures as a thank you for reading this tiny rant – a little preview of blog posts to come…

another beautiful day. on 365 Project

things that make you feel small. on 365 Project

Dusk. on 365 Project

Blueberry picking. on 365 Project

She's three: pretty, pretty princess. on 365 Project

Her first haircut. on 365 Project

Attitude. on 365 Project