On Meal Planning

“Ugh,”  is my gut reaction to the term meal planning. It’s a pain. It requires a lot of time. It’s not very French (and aren’t we all supposed to be, so, so, French?).  It is usually accompanied by pictures of tater tot casserole and “freezer meals” that are very beige.

But of course, if you are a person who does not leisurely stroll through the markets in the evening, picking the freshest produce and fromage, you probably need to meal plan.

(Also, hello! I have not blogged in over two years. I have been working, had a baby, moved to Florida. I spent about 13 months primarily subsisting on meals I could make from Trader Joe’s frozen and prepared section.)

I tragically do not have the same levels of time I used to, where meal planning meant a few hours leisurely reading Food and Wine magazine and stopping to make a snack because the pictures made me hungry. Now it’s a meal planning race.

I considered a subscription to a meal planning website that promised me for $10 a month my life would “look like instragram.” That did not sell me. I would like my life to look like Instragram. But I want it to do it organically, casually. I want to have just happened to put a fried egg on my seasonal veggies, roasted in the wood stove in my remodeled farmhouse and served in the middle of a moss tablescape with whimsical string lights that appeared in the trees, probably hung by fairies. There are gourds. The “this old thing?” of dinner parties. Paying for my life to look like Instragram is too much pressure. “Is my life Instagram now?”

Also, the website in question’s idea of making your life “instagram” was a morning smoothie and homemade granola. Really! A smoothie and granola! What’s next, scrambled eggs and muffins?

I DIGRESS.

My current meal planning system is a very boring, so-not-Instagram spreadsheet. This way I can copy and paste recipe links into a days of the week chart. My “Baking” tab has the most recipes, which is not practical. I recently bought the Rifle Paper Company Meal Planning Notepad because I assumed if my meal planning felt more whimsical I  would be inclined to do it. This turned out to be correct. But now I meal plan on my spreadsheet and my notebook. At least one of those things looks better on Instagram.

 

 

 

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Almond Cake with Mixed Berries – Food and Wine, March 2015

Almond Cake with Mixed Berries

Hello, do you have a cake to make soon to take somewhere, or for yourself? Are you tired of very heavy winter things? Do you like almonds and berries? Than THIS is the cake for you!

It’s a very charming cake, made with almond flour, a bit of sugar, six eggs, and berries. It happens to be gluten free, if you’re into that sort of thing or make foods for people who are. It’s very simple, especially if you have an electric mixer. Christopher actually declared it “HIS FAVORITE CAKE,” so it’s likely to please people who like regular cake.

It is also a very forgiving cake, due to the scattering of berries on top. I cracked it right down the middle trying to get it off the springform pan, but the berries and powdered sugar topping nicely hid the crack.

The recipe, from Food and Wine, charmingly mentions that the recipe originated from a nice lady who lives in Fez and teaches cooking and makes it for her students for breakfast. This would be a nice cake to have for breakfast.

So! Stir together almond flour and baking soda. Throw six eggs and a cup of sugar together in a mixer and let it woosh for 10-12 minutes. Fold in half the flour, the berries, then the rest of the flour. Bake it.

The cake will fall down a little bit in the middle. That’s okay! That’s where rest of the berries go! Add them and cover it with powdered sugar. You’re done!

The recipe mentions serving it with creme fraiche, which I and my dining companions had never had before. It goes fantastically with this cake. If you have access to creme fraiche, get some to go with the cake. If not, whipped cream would do.

My only problem was with the recipe, which says “1 lb. of almond flour or 2 1/4 cups.” Those are absolutely not the same thing. One pound of almond flour is like…4.5 cups! The comments on the recipe recommended sticking with 2 and 1/4 cups, so I did, and so should you.

Almond Cake with Mixed Berries (Food and Wine, March 2015)

Ingredients:

Baking spray
2 1/4 cups blanched almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
1 pound mixed raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, or pitted fresh cherries
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional) (Note: I did not use rosewater)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Crème fraîche, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform cake pan with baking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the almond flour with the baking powder and salt. Set aside one-third of the berries in a small bowl for garnish.
  3. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the eggs with the granulated sugar and rosewater, if using, at medium-high speed until very thick and glossy, about 12 minutes. Fold in the almond flour and the remaining berries in 3 alternating batches, ending with the almond flour, just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
  4. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake and let cool completely.
  5. Top the cake with the reserved berries and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve with crème fraîche.

Cooking Food and Stuff – January through March 2015

Winter is just the worst, guys. It’s dark all the time. It’s cold. Sometimes you wake up and you look outside and there’s snow all over your car and the road and everyone’s like OMG SNOW DAY and you’re like “no, no, I have a huge project at work and need to leave the house.”

And then you make food for dinner and there is no soul in it, just necessity. And even if you do make something exciting the pictures look so bad because of The Darkness. I am definitely not a photographer at the best of times, and winter food pictures are…unpleasant.

BUT it appears to be spring now. There is sunshine! I can go outside without four sweaters! I am pleased. My cooking magazines have piled up and are full of dog-eared pages. Things will be made from them!

Since I have actually cooked a bit this winter, some of it from my news year’s resolutions, this post will be a bit of a roundup.

Basketweave covers a multitude of lopsided layers

Basketweave covers a multitude of lopsided layers

Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Icing and Raspberry Filling

We had an extremely well-coordinated surprise party for my friend Krystal, who was quite surprised that her friends had shown up in her house and decorated it and brought food. We only had 15 balloons and two things of mismatched crepe paper for decorations because apparently none of us are on pinterest, but we had a giant cheese plate with heart shaped brie, so.

I made a cake! Per her husband’s request, it was a chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream. I layered it with raspberry filling to balance the sweetness of the chocolate. The decorations were sugar/gum paste flowers I made the week prior.

  • The cake base was this fantastic one-bowl chocolate cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart, same recipe split into two 9-inch cake pans. It is not as sturdy for layering as the butter cake I usually use, so I may keep hunting for a sturdy chocolate cake recipe. This one is quite delicious though. One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
  • The chocolate buttercream was Wilton’s recipe. I made it with cocoa powder and did the extra fudgy version. I doubled the recipe and also added two tablespoons of meringue powder so it would ice better. It was VERY thick so I thinned it slowly with extra water until I could pipe it easily. Chocolate Buttercream Icing  
  • This raspberry filling recipe is amazing. I use it all the time. The only thing I do differently is just get regular frozen raspberries instead of sugar-packed ones. I let them defrost all the way on the counter and then microwave them to get the maximum raspberry juice through the strainer. Raspberry Filling

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers – New Year’s Resolution #1

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

Action shot seconds before they disappeared

OH YES these happened. I made them for a faux-superbowl party and they were glorious. If you haven’t made them, you must. They are not too spicy for the fearful among you, once you remove the seeds and membrane from inside the pepper. Then you fill it with cheese and wrap it in bacon. I followed this recipe by Pioneer Woman, which has you brush a little bit of barbecue sauce on the bacon before cooking. You must absolutely do this. It makes the bacon taste like candied bacon. They were gone almost instantly at the party.

 Lasagna – New Year’s Resolution #2

If I had not promised myself to make this for New Year’s and wanted to point out that it had been accomplished, I would not be posting about it. This was sort of a disaster. I tried making my own ricotta, but didn’t have heavy cream and the low-fat milk just curdled and it was horrid. There was a foot of snow outside and we risked life and limb to drive to the store to get MORE ricotta and somehow, when everyone was frantically buying milk and bread for the 12 hours of being housebound, they bought all the Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles. So I used Trader Joe’s brand, which is NOT the preferred brand of Italians everywhere. They were very gummy and I do not recommend them. My mother, who held my hand via the phone throughout the process, almost disowned me for frying up ground beef and sausage for the meat layer instead of making small meatballs, per our family’s tradition. However, the spaghetti sauce did turn out perfectly and I will post that recipe at some point very soon.

The lasagna itself was not photographed, because there was a group of hungry snow refugees at my house and I do not usually take pictures of hot food if there are hungry people waiting for it. Everyone said it tasted very good, so I will remake it with the correct ingredients that one can usually find if they are not trapped by accursed snow.

Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Cumin (Food and Wine, January 2015)

Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Cumin

This dish doesn’t have a pretty face, but it has a beautiful soul

Soooooo sometimes I get on kicks, where I can’t get enough of eating the same thing over and over because it is just SO DELICIOUS. Like, every 10 years or so I go on a chicken tenders kick.  You might be thinking this means “oh, she ate chicken fingers a lot for a few months.” NO. Every night, every SINGLE night for two weeks, I would come home from work and soak chicken tenders in buttermilk then batter them and fry them and they were SO FREAKING GOOD. I have gone on two chicken finger/tender kicks in my life (one was at age eight and one was at age 21) and both of them ended the same way: I ordered them at a restaurant and they were greasy and soggy and terrible and then I was done.

I might be going on a sort of kick with this AMAZING dish, which I have now made once a week for three weeks and will probably make again this week. It’s so fast and delicious! This recipe is pan-caramelized brussels sprouts, crumbled spicy sausage, and Middle Eastern spices, and it’s AWESOME.

The recipe in the magazine says TWELVE MINUTES. So many other recipes say “Thirty minutes!” but then after thirty minutes you realize you’re still chopping vegetables and haven’t even gotten close to having the meat cooked all the way through. This is not like that at all. It really takes about 12 minutes, making this the most wonderful meal for a weeknight.

Here’s how you do it! The recipe doesn’t call for rice, but I really recommend serving this with brown rice for heft, since it’s a fairly light meal. So start your rice, then slice your brussels sprouts in half and clean up any brown leaves. Cook them in olive oil in a hot pan until golden, about four minutes.

Now we add sausage. I’ve both used homemade “sausage,” seasoned ground pork rolled into a sausage shape, and sweet Italian sausage. I preferred the homemade sausage, or spicy sausage. If you do buy it from the store, remove the casings before adding to the pan so it appropriately crumbles. All that’s left from here is to add the sausage, cumin, and oregano to the pan, let it cook, then add orange juice and a dash of honey.

Then you eat it, wish there was more, and make it again the very next week.

Brussel Sprouts with Sausage and Cumin

Pictured: the first time I made this. AND FAR FROM THE LAST.

Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Cumin

(Food and Wine, January 2015)

Recipe by Ana Sortun

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 14 brussels sprouts (10 ounces), trimmed and halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 6 ounces sweet Italian sausage (2 links), casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Directions:

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring once, until golden, 4 minutes. Add the sausage, oregano and cumin. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the brussels sprouts are caramelized and tender and the sausage is cooked through, 3 minutes longer. Stir in the orange juice and honey to coat the sprouts. Transfer to plates and serve warm.

Farro Salad with Winter Fruits, Pistachios, and Ginger (Food and Wine)

Farro with winter fruit and pistachios

Glamorous Desk Lunch

Hello, welcome to the first weeks of 2015. This is the time when we can barely park at the gym (“I WAS HERE ALL DECEMBER, PEOPLE!” I complain, imagining my “comes all year” parking space of honor), when our Facebook feeds are flooded with detoxes and cleanses and apple cider vinegar shots, when we take all our leftover candy to work and try to pawn it off on our coworkers.

We have eaten, drank, and been merry and we are now filled with cheese and regret.

I have always had no luck following a cleanse. I tried the Bon Appetit’s food lover’s cleanse last year. I made a delicious steak with chimichurri and sweet potato fries. I cleansed for two days and somehow gained two pounds.

I tried the now defunct Whole Living Magazine Cleanse the year prior, abandoning dairy, wheat, peanuts, corn and everything tasty, pretty much. I lasted a little longer, two weeks, but someone brought cheese to my house and I have no willpower when it comes to cheese. It was delicious and I’m not sorry.

THIS YEAR I am admiring cleanses from afar while sipping coffee and looking at smoothie and salad recipes. I am, however, trying to bring lunches to work from home instead of jaunting to the downstairs cafe every day and spending $7 on an only decent Chicken Caesar wrap I can make at home for not $7.

This Farro Salad is a really nice compromise recipe, cleanse friendly and take to work friendly. It’s a vegan salad, with fruits and farro and stuff. It has good for you things like ginger and mint and citrus.

You can make it on Sunday, before the week starts and take it to work for three days. You can try to make it on a Tuesday night for the rest of the week. I did both, and my Sunday salad turned out much better because I measured everything and didn’t lazily just squeeze oranges and lemons into a bowl then try to fish out the seeds.

This salad is delightfully not-bland. The citrus zest and juice gives it a bright flavor, having both mint and cilantro give it a much-needed zip, the ginger gives it a spice, and the farro is delightfully chewy and nutty. If you do make this to take this to work, I recommend adding all the ingredients together except the cilantro and pistachios. Take them in separate baggies and sprinkle them on top when you go to eat the salad.

I recommend making this exactly as written, maybe adding different dried fruits or nuts if you must. You could easily swap out farro for quinoa if you wanted to make it gluten-free. All the herbs and seasonings are essential and should be fresh.

Farro Salad with Winter Fruit, Pistachios and Ginger

(Recipe by Annie Somerville, Food and Wine, January 2012)

Notes:

  • Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro is the perfect size for this recipe and saves you 15 minutes.
  • I’ve found that it keeps for three days, which is fine. You will not want to eat it for lunch any more than that, as good as it is.
  • I’ve left out the scallions each time, woops. I bet they’d be really tasty. You should add them.
  • I’ve ended up using 2 tablespoons of cilantro with each serving because I really love cilantro.

Ingredients:

  •  Salt
  • 1 1/2 cups farro (10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried sour cherries
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup salted roasted pistachios, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions:

  1. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the farro and simmer over moderate heat until al dente, about 35 minutes. Drain well, shaking off the excess water.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, ginger and oil and whisk to blend. Season with salt.
  3. Add the warm farro to the dressing along with the raisins and cherries and toss well. Let stand until the farro is almost cool. Just before serving, fold in the scallions, pistachios, mint and cilantro and season with salt.