Thursday, August 27, 2009

First week of Lunch Menus

I finished off the first week of lunch menus for Hannah and Duncan. This is going to be a longish post, by the way. Hopefully the kids will have an extra hour on the weekend to do all this. I needed to pick some stuff quickly - I have about 30 but don't have recipes down for all of them yet. Keep in mind as you look at this that I'm gearing this toward a 13 and a 15 year old who don't cook much. There's a lot of purchased stuff here that sure, if I were doing for myself, I'd cook, or use fresh. But they don't have that kind of time, or the interest, and their grocery options are a little limited, given where they live. So here was their first week:

Egg Strata
Fruit Salad

Salad with Chicken Thighs, Mandarin Oranges and Green Onion

Pita Veggie Sandwiches
Fruit Salad

Pesto and Chicken Pizza
Green Salad

Chicken Spaghetti
Green Salad


Chicken Thighs
10 each boneless skinless chicken thighs
olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the oven to 400F.

2. Put the chicken thighs on the baking sheet and drizzle each side with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the middles of the thighs aren't pink anymore. Cool and store for multiple meals.

Egg Strata

9 slices French Bread, 1" thick
5 large eggs
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 each bell pepper, cut 1/4-inch thick
2 each smoked sausage, cut 1/2" thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups half and half

1. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch glass baking dish. Fit 8 bread slices in the bottom of the dish. Cut the remaining bread slice into 1 inch cubes and fit those into any empty spaces.

2. Whisk the eggs, salt and half and half in a large bowl. Pour over the bread, then drop in the sliced bell pepper, smoked sausage (like kielbasa or other cooked sausage, or you could use ham), and cheddar cheese. If you can chill this for a couple of hours before cooking, it will be better.

3. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake another 20 minutes. Cool, and then you can cut it into serving size slices.

Fruit Salad

1 large can mandarin oranges, drained
1 large can pineapple, drained
1/2 small jar maraschino cherries, drained
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Mix all fruit together and refrigerate.

Salad with Chicken Thighs, Mandarin Oranges and Green Onion

2 Tablespoons green onions, sliced
1 can mandarin orange, drained
2 each cooked chicken thighs, sliced
romaine lettuce
salad dressing
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Mix together the romaine lettuce, mandarin orange, green onions, chicken and almonds. Take a small container of your favorite salad dressing with you and put it on the salad right before eating. (note: You can use your favorite dressing, but a poppy seed dressing would be good with this.)

Pesto and Chicken Pizza

2 each small pizza crusts
1 jar purchased pesto sauce
2 each cooked chicken thighs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Spread about a tablespoon of pesto sauce over each pizza crust. Shred a cooked chicken thigh over each pizza. Top with parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted.

Pita Veggie Sandwiches

1 cup alfalfa sprouts
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
2 Tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 each cucumber, sliced
4 slices lunch meat
1 each tomato, sliced
2 each whole pita

Cut each pita in half. Spread the inside of each half with cream cheese, then sprinkle with sunflower seeds until the cream cheese is coated. Stuff the rest of the pita with alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomato and lunch meat.

Chicken Spaghetti

1 jar spaghetti sauce
2 each cooked chicken thighs, shredded
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
spaghetti noodles, cooked

1. Mix the spaghetti sauce with the chicken. This will be better if you'll simmer them together for a little while on the stove (maybe 15 minutes). Cook spaghetti noodles according to package directions. When you're draining the pasta, drizzle it with just a little olive oil and toss it around some. That will keep the noodles from getting all sticky.

2. Top the pasta with the sauce and then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Honey Nut Balls (for dessert)
16 graham crackers
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup coconut

1. Crush the graham crackers between two pieces of wax paper with a rolling pin or in a food processor.

2. Combine the peanut butter, honey and powdered milk in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.

3. Make small balls with mixture and place on wax paper. Roll balls in shredded coconut.

Mix up the egg strata and put in the fridge to chill
Make the chicken thighs.
While the chicken thighs are cooking, make the fruit salad.
Make the Pita Veggie Sandwiches if you want to do them ahead of time.
When the chicken thighs are done, put in the egg strata, (don’t worry if it hasn’t chilled as long as the recipe says.)
Make the chicken spaghetti (including cooking the noodles)
Make your pesto chicken pizzas
Make the honey nut balls
Make the salad with chicken thighs, mandarin oranges and green onion and put some salad dressing in a small container.
For the green salad for the other days, you might just chop up some veggies that you’d like to put in it and put those in a container in the fridge. Then when you pack your lunch for the day, grab a handful of lettuce from one of those bagged salads and toss in some veggies you like and take a small container of salad dressing with you. Don’t dress the salad ahead of time. It will get soggy and nast-eee!

This whole thing should take the two of you about an hour and a half to put together. Call or text me if you have any questions.

Grocery List:

Alfalfa sprouts
Salad greens
Bell pepper
Green onions

French bread
Pesto Sauce
Small pizza crusts
Whole Pita
Lunch meat
Smoked sausage (like Polish Kielbasa)

Boneless Skinless Chicken thighs (need about 10 ea.)

Cream Cheese
Half and Half (2 cups) or whole milk
Parmesan Cheese
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Shredded cheddar cheese

Nonfat dry milk powder (baking ingredients)
Sweetened shredded coconut
Sunflower seeds
Sliced almonds
Olive oil
Salad dressing (whatever kind the kids want)
Mandarin oranges (2 large cans)
Pineapple ( 1 large can)
Maraschino Cherries (1 small jar)
Crunch peanut butter
Graham Crackers
Crackers (to go with salad)
Spaghetti Noodles
Spaghetti sauce
Small containers to hold salad dressing

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flounder Stewed Tomatoes and Okra

You Okra Haters can skip this one. Phillip loves it, but I honestly think he "loves" it fried. He "likes" it other ways besides fried. Last night, no fried anything.

No pictures. I just didn't feel like it. You're not missing much. It wasn't the most gorgeous meal I've made.

Green Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing and Homemade Croutons
Grilled Flounder
Stewed Tomatoes and Okra
Potato and Olive Oil Gratin
I've already mentioned that the Roasted Garlic Dressing is one of my favorites. The Croutons were made out of some whole grain crusty rolls I had. I just cut it into cubes, tossed them with a little olive oil and kosher salt, and toasted them until they were done. They were really good and crunchy.
The flounder was just grilled simply. Salt and pepper, a little lemon zest and juice, and some olive oil. It was good and fresh and tender.
For the veggies, I sauteed half a chopped onion, added some sliced okra and a can of whole tomatoes and tossed in a handful of fresh basil. It actually worked out well served next to the fish. It made kind of a stew. Phillip said "mmmmmm!" a lot, so he apparently enjoyed it.
The potato gratin is a simple, fresh, lower-fat version of a goopy, delicous, cheese-filled gratin. I sliced potatoes, mixed about 3 Tbs. of olive oil with 1/2 cup of chicken broth, salted and peppered the layers of potatoes and sprinkled them with a little thyme and parmesan cheese, then poured in the broth/olive oil mixture and baked it for an hour or so at 375.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cucumber-Mint Soup, Lamb and White Beans

Cucumber-Mint Soup

Grilled Lamb with Figs

White Beans with Rosemary

Lesson learned on the soup: Do not substitute dried dill for fresh. Now, I know this, of course, but I was eyebrow-deep in chopped vegetables for six different soups when I realized I was out, so I thought "Oh, what the hell?" and tossed in a little dried. It gave the soup kind of a bitter aftertaste that I was not at all pleased with. So I won't be doing that again. Other than that, the soup was OK. (Just OK. Not spectacular. I'll be looking for a new recipe for that one. The one we had at Marc's on Market was way better.)
The lamb was just fine, though. I grilled it on a foil-lined pan with some fresh figs and served them over white beans I'd simmered with rosemary. I do love white beans.
Now I think it's time for me to go help clean the kitchen. Phillip is in there by himself and his muttering is getting louder and louder.

Butternut Squash Soup and Duck with Grilled Peaches

I'm getting my vegetable on with all the soups I made Sunday. It sure has made dinner convenient. All I have to do is yank one out of the fridge and serve it while the rest of dinner is finishing up. It has been well worth the two hours it took me to make them all.

This one I actually heated up, though. It's roasted butternut squash added to a sautee of one chopped apple and one chopped onion. And salt and pepper, of course. Once the vegetables were tender, I added chicken stock to cover it all, simmered it for about 30 minutes, then pureed it in the food processor. The end. Oh, and then reheated it for dinner. The end.

We were sort of pretending it's fall. It's so totally not, but we're getting tired of the hot, nasty, humid, buggy, nasty, sticky, (and did I mention nasty?) summer weather.

Butternut Squash Soup

Duck with Grilled Peaches

I think I've mentioned how much I love duck. I picked up a couple of duck breasts at Fresh Market. I do duck on the cast iron skillet outside on the hot grill. Way too much smoke in the house for my lame vent-a-hood-less kitchen. While the duck was cooking, I halved some fresh peaches (that is something I'm still enjoying from the summer weather) and put them cut side down on the grill. When they came off, I sliced them and tossed them in a sautee pan with a some shallots and a little dry rose' wine.
We split one duck breast between us, so there is one left over that I'll probably make a salad out of for us. Since it's still nasty hot outside. Did I mention that?

I'm going to crank the A/C down to about 50 and just stay inside for the next two months and try not to notice the condensation on the windows.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tomato Basil Soup and Salmon

Yes, you're in the right place! I changed shirts, so to speak. I was getting bored with the old one.

Tonight's dinner was simple, quick and, in my opinion, not as good as steak. But we can't have steak every night, can we? Damn. I didn't think so.

Chilled Tomato-Basil Soup

Grilled Alaskan Coho Salmon

Pasta Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables

The soup is from my Sunday Soup Extravaganza. Fresh tomatoes from the Farmer's Market simmered with some onions, then a little chicken stock, then a huge handful of fresh basil from outside, some salt, and a good long puree in the food processor. It was very refreshing and a great way to get my vegetables on without fooling with a salad.

The pasta was just some whole wheat fusilli mixed with some feta, fresh basil, tomatoes and grilled eggplant and zucchini. The leftovers will make a good cold pasta salad for lunch tomorrow.

The salmon was surprisingly good. I've probably whined about fish before. I'm just not a fan. I make salmon because Pootie loves it, but I usually just eat what I have to of it and think "meh" after the first bite. Not so, tonight! I took FOUR whole bites and thought "hmmm! not bad!" Then the fifth bite I was back to "meh". But Phillip raved about it until he finished his, being a salmon-lover and all. So I guess it was pretty good salmon. No thanks to my prep. All I did was salt and pepper it, drizzle it with olive oil, and put it on a foil lined pan on the grill. (I need to do with that what Rachel Ray did with Extra Virgin Olive Oil - EVOO). FLPOG. Doesn't have the same ring, does it? Maybe that's why she's famous and I'm not.

So there's dinner. And a new shirt.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Steak Potatoes and Broccoli

Boring title for tonight's dinner. But the menu titles are long, as all fancy-schmancy menu titles should be. (Hint: To make a dish sound impressive, include every ingredient in the name of the dish!)

It WAS good, though.

Seared Beef Filets

Roasted Broccoli with Roasted Garlic and Olive Dressing

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

I neeeeeeeeeded beef tonight. And having eaten it, I feel much better. Ahhh. As usual, I just threw it on the cast iron skillet which I had put on the grill and heated until it was sitting at about 600F. A quick sear on both sides and it was ready to go.

I love roasted broccoli plain. Phillip, not so much. So this time I topped it with one of my favorite dressings and some olives. The dressing is a head of roasted garlic, mashed up, a tsp. of Worcerstershire sauce, a tsp. of Dijon mustard, a tsp. of anchovy paste, 4 Tbs. of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil. It's so good.

The potatoes I've posted here before. They're small white potatoes from the farmer's market, so they're nice and fresh. I boiled them until they were tender, then put them on a dishtowel and smashed them flat, then roasted them in the oven at 400F with some olive oil and salt and pepper until they were crispy - about 30 minutes.

Dinner was satisfying and filling. And now I'm going to go clean up the kitchen. (boo!)

Eat Your Vegetables

I loved this video when I was a kid. There was something about watching carrots and beets being pulled from the ground and washed in that big farm sink that made me want to eat vegetables.

Until they were actually on my plate.

As my friends and family can attest, I am not a huge vegetable fan. My favorite food: Brown. My least favorite food: Green. The only vegetable I can claim to absolutely love is the potato. But we all know that's not ideal, and barely qualifies as a member of that food group. I offer the lame defense that I grew up in the 70s in a smallish town, where the vegetables available at the grocery were not exactly gourmet. The fresh produce at Safeway was pretty limited. I can remember being able to get iceberg lettuce, carrots, onions, potatoes, the rare avocado and artichoke, cabbage and really lousy tomatoes. Everything else came in the canned or frozen variety. Limp asparagus (which I actually liked a lot), LeSeuer (or Le Sewer) peas (BLEGH), "French Cut" frozen Green Giant green beans ... well, you get the picture. My mom wasn't a huge vegetable fan herself. Our sides were pretty limited to powdered mashed potatoes, green beans, peas (which to this day I steadfastly refuse to eat), lima beans (frozen), corn (frozen or canned), and that's about it. But I don't think I was missing much, given the available options.

Vegetables are my cooking nemesis. Since I don't like them very much, I don't always spend a lot of time focusing on them and preparing them well. I'm far more likely to use them as an afterthought when I'm cooking. I'll knock your socks off with some starchy side dishes and the meat but that's likely to come along with an uninspired pile of green beans with garlic as anything else. I don't like making salads, I don't like fussing with trimming and chopping vegetables and figuring out how to season them, and the end result usually shows my lack of interest. The payoff usually isn't worth the effort to me.

But, obviously it's very important to eat good, healthy vegetables, and since we started P90X, it's imperative. We're being very good about following the guide, which specifies a certain number of lean proteins, complex carbs, fruits and VEGETABLES a day. And as you might suspect, the number of vegetables is on up there. (sigh). What's a Starch Queen to do? Definitely time to get serious about obtaining GOOD vegetables, and preparing them WELL.

First order of business is the procuring of decent produce, which is where the Farmer's Market comes in. Thank god I'm no longer relegated to three bins at the Safeway. I'm a grocery shopping grownup in the era where Farmer's Markets are not only available, but fashionable, hip and PC, even. Every cooking magazine you open has some article about Farmer's Markets, sustainable food, the glory of the local grown, and how it's the wave of the future. Suits me just fine. I'm sure all those fruits and veggies at the grocery taste great when you actually eat them IN California or Mexico where they grow, but they don't exactly inspire my palate when I get them at The Teeter. We've Saturday Farmer's Market devotees since it opened in the Spring and that in itself is a great motivation for me. First of all, if I'm going to go to the trouble of hauling my kiester out of bed on a Saturday and schlepping downtown just to get something, I'm by golly going to make sure I eat it. Second, the stuff truly does taste really good. I actually look forward to eating what we get down there, and seeing it all pretty and fresh and smelling what vegetables ought to smell like inspires me to take some time to prepare it.

The next order of business of course is figuring out ways to cook with this bounty. Some of it is so good that I use it on salads for lunch. (I know, right!?) That's one or two veggies down for the day! And another thing I'm enjoying very much is making soups out of them.

I do like vegetable soups a lot. Not the brothy kind with floating bits. I can't say I'm a fan. But I do enjoy the concentrated flavor of a single vegetable pureed soup. I'm going to spend some time today making several different ones for the upcoming week. This time of year, it's great to pull it out of the fridge and eat it chilled. Today I'm going to make soups out of carrots, broccoli, cucumber, and then I'll throw in a gazpacho for good measure. That should get us nicely through the week, and I'll be in good shape for veggie consumption.

But I'm still not going to eat peas.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fig and Proscuitto Pizza

Got some fresh figs at the Farmer's Market last week, and thankfully, they've kept well. Tonight I tried a modified version of the pizza in either this month or last month's Bon Appetit.

I made a whole wheat pizza crust - thin - then put a little mozarella and feta on the crust, and layered proscuitto over that. I cooked it most of the way, then put sliced figs that had been soaked in sweet balsamic vinegar on top and finished cooking it. Then it came off and was topped with arugula tossed with balsamic and olive oil and some parmesan shavings. The Bon Appetit version used Gorgonzola, which would have been delicious too. Phillip ate most of it in one inhale. He loved it. And it was a great use for the figs.

For the rest of them, I'm going in search for some lamb tomorrow.

Soliciting Lunch Ideas

Hey peeps! I'm starting my project for the kids' lunches that I told you about post before last. If you feel like helping, I'd love your ideas. Email them to me at and if I use any of them, I'll of course give you credit if I blog it.

We're looking at lunch ideas for a 16 year old girl and a 13 year old boy. Both active, so they need nutrients!

Duncan hates turkey slices, broccoli and spinach.

Hannah hates deli meat and olives.

Other than that, go nuts!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tandoori-Style Chicken Thighs

No pictures. I shall describe the dishes to you and you can use your imagination!

Carrot Cumin Soup (it was orange!)
Tandoori-Style Chicken Thighs (Brownish/Turmeric colored, shaped like chicken thighs)
Roasted Parmesan-Paprika Potatoes (Reddish Wedge Shapes)

The Carrot-Cumin Soup was made by simmering five chopped carrots, 1/2 chopped onion, 1 stalk of celery (chopped) and a tsp. of cumin and 1/2 tsp. of coriander in chicken stock. Salt to taste. Then I used the immersion blender to smooth it. Note about that - I discovered (again) that the immersion blender is best used when it can be completely submerged. After I cleaned carrot soup off my shirt, arm, face, hair, countertops and wall, I moved it to a smaller pan, where it was a little deeper. Then I was able to puree what was left (ahem) into a smooth soup.

The Tandoori-style chicken thighs were marinated in plain nonfat yogurt, a tsp. of turmeric, 1/2 tsp. coriander, 1/2 tsp cumin, salt and pepper, and about a Tbs. each of minced garlic and ginger. Then I did my usual thing of putting them on a foil-lined pan and sticking them on the grill. Technically you're supposed to grill them, but there's that thing about the charred stuff from the grill not being good for you. (I figure that sounds better than the real reason I do it, which is that I'm too lazy to clean the grill all the time.)

The potatoes were tossed with olive oil, parmesan cheese, and paprika and roasted for about an hour.

It was nice to sit down together and do a little catching up with each other after having the kids here. Dinner wasn't the most amazing thing I've ever made, but it was good enough.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacation from Posting

This is why I haven't posted in several days. Hannah and Duncan were here for a visit! They're such great kids. We had a blast.

They are the children of our very first couple friends. We met their parents, Ben and Amy, when we all lived in Atlanta, right after we'd all gotten married. I think Ben and Amy have actually been married a couple of years longer, but you get the point. Anyway, when they moved away from Atlanta (and us), Amy was pregnant with Hannah. We've obviously stayed close with them, and we've known the kids since before they were born. They're all family. And for the past few summers, we've gotten to borrow the kids for a few days to play.

While they were here, we were on the go a lot, so it was smoothies for breakfast, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, and simple dinners or dinner out. I made a pasta dish one night that they both liked a lot - zuchinni, turkey sausage, pesto, green beans, and a little parmesan. And another night we made pizzas. We went sailing with Jack one night and had Flaming Amy's burritos, and last night after kayaking and playing on the beach in the hot sun all day, we took them and Ben (who came to steal them from us) out to Marc's on Market.

I do have a new cooking project centered around them. They were talking about how gnarly their school lunches are, and I told them if they wanted, I'd send them a weekly menu of stuff to pack for lunch along with any necessary instructions or recipes and a shopping list so they could do their own. They seemed excited about that and said they'd commit to spending 45 minutes or so on a Saturday or Sunday getting their lunches ready for the week. Ben was less enthusiastic. He seems to think it will just be one more thing he has to nag them about. We'll see.

It was a great visit. They left with Ben first thing this morning and we're bummed and lonely now. But we're also tired. I think the kids are, too. First of all, we didn't stop and rest much while they were here, and second, their dad woke them up early this morning to drive back home. They weren't thrilled. We're already looking forward to next year, and I'm excited about helping them with halfway decent lunches for this school year. I'll post about those when I pull some things together for them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Peach Caprese

This is one of my favorite summer salads. It's perfect when the peaches are in peak season, which is more or less now. Layer fresh peach slices with good quality mozarella, sprinkle with chopped fresh basil, sea salt and pepper, and drizzle with white balsamic (or regular) and a little good olive oil. "Wa-La". A delicious and pretty first course.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


That's pretty much all we've been doing the past several nights. But the office is finished!

It's been a long haul, with a lot of tedious work, some boring (and very late night) dinners, but definitely worth it. We're both thrilled. It was officially finished Tuesday morning, and last night was the first time in a while we had dinner by 6:30 together.

Because of the work we've put into this project, this past weekend was devoted entirely to finishing up and NOT to planning meals. Needless to say, dinner Monday and last night didn't rank up there in "most inventive". Turkey cutlets with a pesto sauce, a brown rice pilaf, and some grilled eggplant did us fine last night, but wasn't worth blogging about. Tonight won't be much better for the main course, but I will blog about the salad, which is one of my favorites for this time of year. That will be later. Meanwhile, I sit at my desk (right) and look around at my new office and go "ahhhhhhhhh..."