Meal Planning

March 22nd, 2014 by Jenny

Before there are groceries, there are meals.  There’s a plan.  Built on the weather, what’s fresh at the farmer’s market, what’s cheap at the supermarket, and whatever my/my husband’s work schedule looks like this week.  I always try to plan the more complicated meals earlier in the week, because I know I’ll have more energy.  Warm meals should coincide with cold nights.  Grilling with warm nights.  And these days, North Carolina is getting both in the same week.  Plan a salad for Tuesday instead of Thursday, and you might seriously regret it.

Completely unrelated, but I fell asleep while watching Scandal last night, which means I was watching what I had missed this morning, and I just spent the last 5 minutes with my hand covering my mouth, gasping repeatedly as things became more and more intense.  Why did I think this could be a chill watch-as-you-write-a-blog-post show this morning?

And that’s how we ended up with shepherd’s pie planned for this last Monday.  Monday was supposed to be cold.  I had come across a picture of shepherd’s pie on pinterest, and very much wanted to eat it.  Joel has been requesting shepherd’s pie basically since we got married.  I didn’t grow up with it, and thought the whole concept was gross.  But oh, that picture.  I wish I could find it again, but well… you know the internet.

I didn’t even realize Monday was St. Patrick’s Day until I got to school that morning and saw my colleague’s shamrock tie.  But even then, I didn’t put together that shepherd’s pie was a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  And if I’m being really honest, Monday was a rough day for me.  I got home and made a huge mistake.  I sat down.  As soon as I sit down in the evenings, I don’t get up.  Knowing this, I sat down anyway.  I browsed instagram.  And whoa… St. Patrick’s Day was happening in a serious way.  It was all soda bread and Guinness.

The coincidence was irresistible.  To the point that I actually got off my hindquarters and made it.

Shepherd's Pie

In the end, it was a whole lot easier than I expected.  Here’s how it went down:

Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted from Alton Brown

For the potato topping:

  • 1 1/2 pounds red skin potatoes, chopped with skin on
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. salt

For the filling:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 2 T. corn starch
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 t. tomato paste
  • 1 t. gluten free Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 t. dried thyme
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas

Get the potatoes in boiling water.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large (preferably oven safe) skillet, cook the onion and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is just barely translucent.  Add in the ground beef.  Cook until browned.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir the cornstarch into the chicken broth until mixed completely.  Set aside.  Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and chicken broth mixture to the ground beef mixture.  Continue to cook until just barely thickened.  Add corn and peas.  If your skillet is oven safe, you can use that.  If not, transfer to a casserole dish.

When potatoes are cooked through, drain.  Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper.  Mash.  Spread over the filling, beginning at the edge and working your way to the middle.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until potato topping is just starting to brown.

Browning Butter

March 18th, 2014 by Jenny

People have been talking about this whole brown butter situation for awhile.  And to be honest, I was unconvinced.  Why on earth would I spend time at the stove carefully overseeing the browning of butter when I could, you know, not?

I gave Joy the Baker’s brown butter doughnuts a try.  Obviously, I had to make them gluten free, so I smushed together my two basic recipes.  I substituted brown butter for the oil from the buttermilk doughnuts in Baked Doughnuts for Everyone.  It definitely added a more complex flavor which I really dug.

Browned Butter

This is what brown butter looks like.  I didn’t know.  I also didn’t know that 2 tablespoons of butter, browned is different from 2 tablespoons of brown butter.  You live.  You learn.  I’m still not sure if this is going to be a regular activity for me, but I will acknowledge a difference in flavor.

Doughnuts Overhead

The real trick with baked doughnuts is letting them cool completely before you eat them all up.  It’s tough, but it must be done.  Scoop those babies out with the cutest little spatula you can find.  Then let them chill out for a bit.  In an ideal world, this would happen on a wire rack.  I don’t have one of those.  Whoops.  But I do have a platter that exactly fits 6 doughnuts.

Doughnuts Cooling

Joy’s chocolate glaze was basically divine.  They’re not nearly as heavy at the chocolate peanut butter doughnuts from last week, which makes two of these exactly the right amount.

Stacked Doughnuts

The husband and the little sister woke up to the smell of these Sunday morning.  I got more than a few bonus points.  Make these for yourself, and you’ll be a very happy camper.  Make them to share, and you’ll be loved forever.  That’s my strategy, at least.

The Weekenders

March 17th, 2014 by Jenny

There was a show on ABC on Saturday mornings when I was growing up.  It was part of their “One Saturday Morning” program, and it was called “The Weekenders”.  Every episode started Friday after school and ended Sunday evening.  They had this pizza place they went to every Friday evening for dinner, but it changed ownership (and therefore name and decor) every week.  They had a routine.

I liked that show more than I really should have.  But I really like weekend routines.  I like doing things the same way over and over again.  I like the rhythm, and I really like the predictability.

Unfortunately, this last weekend had me off my routine.  It started with a totally epic field trip to Carolina Beach.  We road a boat and explored Masonboro Island, and I got sunburned like whoa.  The kids were generally really well behaved.  In truth, I probably had fewer behavior problems than I would have on a regular day in the classroom.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a 12 hour trip.  A 3.5 hour bus ride there, and a 3.5 hour bus ride back with 40 fifth graders.

It was a lot.  So much that I went straight to bed when I got home.  No dinner.  Just sleep.

Saturday morning was great thought.  It was warm and sunny out, so Joel and I hit the farmer’s market.  Before that, though, we stopped by the ATM.  That’s when we came across this.

Carnival

Armed with cash and reusable bags, we hit the farmer’s market.  It was packed.  The nice weather really draws the hipsters.  Then there was breakfast at DaisyCakes.  I get the biscuits at DaisyCakes way too often.  But this was the first time I had a full breakfast there.  We sat at a teeny tiny table outside.  It was white.  The side of the building was white.  My husband was white.  I was having trouble keeping my eyes open because it was just too bright.

Daisycakes Breakfast

But boy was it amazing.  Their three potato hash was A-MAZING.

After some yard-related errands, I hit naptime hard.  Then the little sister came over.  I liked that she stayed with me as endcaps to her spring break.  We watched really terrible television and ate way too many fruit by the foots (fruit by the feet?).  Sunday morning included couponing and doughnuts (recipe to come).  More naptime.  And then video games.

I didn’t do nearly enough in the way of chores, which is why my house is a disaster right now.  Along those lines, I was really hoping for a school delay today (yay wintry mix!), but alas…  While I’m so over this winter, I’m also not even remotely close to being ready for this week.  Here’s to sleeping 37 minutes past your alarm and caffeine.

Impressing Guests

March 11th, 2014 by Jenny

Last night, we had a guest over for dinner.  A single guy who typically purchases his dinner on his way home from work.  Which is only to say that I could have made almost anything and impressed him.  But the weather outside was delightful yesterday (and promises to be so again today), and I wanted to get that grill going.

Hamburgers.  Joel suggests these often, actually, and I always shot him down.  If I’m going to spend $6 on 4 servings of bread (that’s what Udi’s hamburger buns cost at my grocery store), I’m not going to waste them on hamburgers.  And I stand by that decision.  But we’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market with a booth dedicated strictly to gluten free bread.  Hello Imagine That Gluten Free!  So far, I’ve only tried their baguettes, but they’re divine.  And baguette slices can make a great partner for hamburger buns.  I buttered them up and threw them on the grill.  Flipped.  Topped with cheese.  Then threw a hamburger and various toppings on.  Then you scarf!

Burger Prep

The prepwork for this meal was easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy.  And then the actual cooking part was done outside with my husband (let’s be honest, he did the cooking), lemonade, and my favorite pup, Ramona.  But I wanted some sides for these burgers.  The sweet potato fries sitting in my freezer were an obvious choice.

I also had a Costco amount of sweet peppers in the fridge.  And that’s where our story really begins.  Cheese stuffed sweet peppers are a go to treat around here.  I keep people believing that they’re super hard to make, but really, they’re pretty easy, albeit a little time consuming.  You just have to core a bunch of sweet peppers.  Then I typically stuff with a cream cheese feta mixture.  This time, we had cheddar on hand, so I went with that.

Burger

They look kinda gross because of the blending of colors, which is why I didn’t take a ton of pictures.  But I’ll say this.  There were leftovers of everything but the peppers.

Cheese Stuffed Peppers

  • Sweet peppers (I made 10, but scale accordingly)
  • 4oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar (or feta or be creative and try your own thing)

Take out the cores and tops of the sweet peppers.  Cut a slit up one side of the peppers to create an opening.  Mix up the cheeses.  Now stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers.  I grilled them this time, but I’ve also roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees as well.  The cheese is going to ooze out to an extent.  Just go with it.

I don’t know

March 8th, 2014 by Jenny

When I was little, I knew everything.  I argued with adults because I thought I knew better.  I thought people getting hired for a job because they had more experience was nonsense.  The few times I didn’t know better, I played like I did.  ”Oh, uh… yea… I was about to say that.”  I wasn’t.

Somewhere in college, I learned how to say “I don’t know”.  I didn’t use it very often because hey, I still knew most everything there was to know.  I felt like I deserved to have a multi-page resume because I was just so great.  Since then, every day seems to teach me only one thing: I know less than I thought I did.

I used to create recipes and think that I was the bee’s knees.  Look at this pasta I made.  Aren’t I fabulous and special?  No.  Cooking requires experience.  The more you do it, the better intuition you have.  The more recipes you see combining certain ingredients, the more willing you are to go off script to create a combination you’ve seen before.  I like cooking.  I think that what I cook is usually pretty tasty.  But it’s not nearly as original as I thought it was when I was in high school.

… so this morning when I wanted doughnuts that combined chocolate and peanut butter, that wasn’t exactly a fresh idea.  I already have a tried and true chocolate doughnut recipe (see this cookbook).

Doughnuts in Morning Light

And peanut butter frosting just made sense to me.  I was a little nervous about how to go about that, though, because I wasn’t about to go shopping for whatever ingredients I was missing in any of the recipes I found.  … and then I thought about peanut butter pie.  That glorious creamy peanut buttery combo topping ground Oreos.  And the recipe for that is pretty simple.  Peanut butter + cream cheese + cream + sugar = amazing.

… but let’s make this simpler given the ingredients I actually have on hand: Peanut butter + dairy + sugar = amazing.  And so it did.  I used Yoplait vanilla greek yogurt because I have a Costco sized amount of it that’s going to go bad next week.  But let’s not kid ourselves, this recipe is hardly rocket science.

Doughnuts by Window

My sister requested that she be awoken when breakfast was ready, so I served her bedside with doughnuts and hot cocoa.  She kind of loves me a lot.

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 1/4 c. peanut butter (I used creamy, but I think crunchy would be grand)
  • 1 5.3oz. container yoplait vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1/4 c. powdered sugar

Mix ingredients until creamy.  Chill.  Frost doughnuts immediately before serving.