First and foremost, let me admit that I am pitiful after my first attempts at PiYo class yesterday. As mentioned, I have dabbled in yoga and Pilates, but never tried the new combo class dubbed “PiYo”. Phew! There were so. many. squats. My poor quads and glutes. I never noticed how many times I stand and sit until today. It is torture! I am groaning and hobbling around the house, much to M’s amusement. Thankfully, I can spend most of today parked on the couch, prepping scripts and paperwork for my company’s spring break camp.
I started to meal plan regularly in January, 2014, in hopes of simplifying my dinner prep and decreasing our grocery budget. I have been mostly successful in both goals. When I created my own planner, I included a meal planning section, which has proven to be very successful in prompting me to create a plan each week. In fact, the meal planning section was the least modified when I updated my planner for 2015. I am still sitting down each weekend to plan for the week ahead, but I’ve noticed that I am deviating from my plans more and more often. Instead, we go out or I scrap a more complicated meal and then try to piece together one that feels more simple from whatever we have in the fridge. Truthfully, most of our deviation stems from laziness. I’m hoping that documenting my meal plans here will: (a) help me stick to the plan I make, (b) help me notice trends in our meals, and (c) allow me to check on my plans when I forget my planner.
We made a huge Costco run last week. It’s the best place in our area to pick up organic meats and other items (goat cheese, olive oil, Kerrygold butter, etc) for cheap. So this week, I am starting to make a dent in our jam-packed freezer. I also want to focus on meals that are easy to prepare: either quick or in the slow cooker, so I don’t have to think too much after my camp days. My mother’s friend, Joana, also gave my a jar of tomato jam. I promised I would come up with some recipe inspiration to help her use up her own jar, so I started on that as well. My breakfasts rotate pretty evenly between egg dishes, oatmeal, and fruit or avocado smoothies, and I usually end up with leftovers from the previous night’s dinners for lunch. M does not often eat breakfast. Occasionally, he will take some leftovers for lunch, or go out with his coworkers. With all that being said, here is my first weekly meal plan:
Sunday: Honey Roasted Whole Chicken with Roasted Cabbage, Potatoes, and Asparagus This is based on a recipe from my Game of Thrones cookbook. All the veggies are ones we’ve had hanging around since last week, so it will be an easy way to use them up. After dinner, I will pick off the rest of the meat to make Chicken Taquitos and Chicken Salad to use for some of my lunches (and our dinners) later this week. Finally, I’ll freeze the bones to make stock after we use up our current supply of broth.
Monday: Tomato, Egg, and Goat Cheese Tart with Grilled Artichokes The first dish to use my tomato jam–it will add a really nice kick to the tart and pair nicely with the goat cheese. Plus, Joana is a pescatarian, so I want the dish to be fish or veggie based so she can recreate it. Hmmm…now I’m thinking about tomato-jam-glazed shrimp…. Anyways, I’m still deciding what veggies to add to the tart…maybe onions and mushrooms. Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables. I’m buying them almost weekly now that they are in season!
Tuesday: Slow Cooker Beef Chili with Cornbread and Artichokes I’ve been working on finalizing a chili recipe, and this will be another chance to adjust. M’s mum made us some spectacular chili when we moved into our apartment. Hers has chickpeas and tomatoes, which were awesome additions! I’m going to try adding them to my current recipe. The cornbread is the Old-Fashion Cornbread from Gluten-Free On a Shoestring. And I definitely have two meals-worth of artichokes.
Wednesday: Chili Mac Skillet with Salad and Peas One of my quintessential childhood dishes was chili mac served with buttered crackers. In true childhood fashion, we’d spoon the chili and macaroni onto the crackers, often eating the whole sleeve at one sitting. Now, the investment of so many GF crackers and GF noodles is too much for one dish. I’ve been working to transform the tastes of my childhood into a more wallet-friendly dish that I hope to share soon.
Thursday: Brie & Bacon & Tomato Jam Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Salad One of my favorite flavor combos is tomato jam + bacon. Sorry Joana, this one would not be for you. But we’ve had a wedge of brie since last week and these sandwiches will be easy, but indulgent at the end of a long week.
Friday: Chicken Taquitos (or Chicken Salad or BBQ Chicken) More or less, whatever is leftover, after my week’s lunches, from the chicken roast on Sunday. I’ll pair it up with any unused vegetables in order to clean out the fridge.
Saturday: Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, French Fries, and Salad I’m working to incorporate more meat-free meals into our week. I’ve noticed that I have been relying far too much on grains and/or dairy to make up for the lack of meat, so this dish is the perfect way to break up that trend.
Yes, yes, here are the long-promised Taquitos! This has become a recipe that I come back to time and time again. Whenever I roast a chicken, I know that I can use the leftovers to mix up a batch of freezer-friendly taquitos. I am actually planning to make another batch tomorrow. This week is our county’s public school Spring Break. While many families are off to vacations, there are plenty who are staying in the area and my company is hosting a Spring Break acting camp. We revamped the program last year and now offer a unique benefit of allowing parents to sign their children up on a day-by-day basis. This draw does come with a fair amount of extra work, so I am expecting to be spending several hours prepping after teaching each day. Next week’s meals are all about ease and speed! The taquitos will be perfect to grab for lunch.
As mentioned in my last post, we’ve moved! M and I are quickly settling in to having our own place. We found a complex that is exactly between our workplaces. It means a significantly shorter commute for me and a bit more time in the car for M. Since driving serves as his main time to decompress, this actually works out perfectly! We specifically chose this complex for its amenities, which are lengthy. Walking paths, a dog park, community gardens, fitness classes, gyms, pools, and sports courts are spread over our complex, and we have tested out most of the amenities. M and I made a pact to take as much advantage of those amenities as we can, if order to balance out our investment in rent. Since our students are on Spring Break, we are off from our Saturday rehearsals for a few weeks, so I woke up early and headed to the PiYo fitness this morning. And died. Oh man, I have done plenty of yoga and tried a few online pilates videos, but this class was intense! I stuck it out and then ran over to the community garden next door for a gardening class. I have been researching square foot gardening ever since we signed up for our spot in the garden, so the content was mostly information that I already knew. But I learned things specific to our garden that was helpful, even as I froze in this 30 degree weather. All in all, we have been really happy in our new place!
Inside the apartment, we are down to one last box. That box is full of spices. No joke. For all the issues with our past two rentals, both had great pantries. Our townhouse’s pantry was huge! Honestly, I would not be surprised if the original owners had the choice of a half bath on the main floor, or a pantry. And they chose the pantry. So it was tough to move into our house, which has a very reasonably-sized pantry. But the pantry was there and had nice deep shelves. Our new apartment has a galley kitchen and no pantry at all. The limited cabinet space meant we had to look at other options for food storage. We settled on a small, 5-foot cabinet. I was hopeful that I could fit everything inside, but it was stuffed! So we need to order one more, which will allow us space for all of our food, drinks, and baking supplies. So that is the final major piece that we are waiting on.
Food storage aside, adjusting to a galley kitchen has been more work than I expected. Every house I have lived in has had a large, open kitchen. While I have a look-through that keeps me from feeling too closed off, I have just two small squares of counter space for prep after bringing in my KitchenAid mixer and our convection/toaster oven. I’m slowly reassessing how much I spread out during prep time and I am learning to corral my dirty dishes and clean up as I go. Even in my new tiny kitchen, these taquitos keep things tidy. Mix up the filling in a large bowl and fill and roll the tortillas right on the baking sheet! 1 cutting board, 1 bowl, and 1 baking sheet. That’s all you need! I also like using mashed beans as the ‘glue’ in this filling. Its has more protein than the usual cheese mixture that is normally used to bind the filling together. I’ve included a little bit of cheese, because you always need some cheese, but the beans are a perfect compromise. The spice list is long, but you could easily substitute a taco or fajita seasoning mix in place of the individual spices. The best part about the ingredients all being precooked before joining the mixing bowl is that you can taste as you mix up the filling and adjust the spices to your preference!
Chicken Taquitos with Avocado Crema
Serves: about 6 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes
For the Taquitos
- 1 1/2 lb. chicken, cooked and shredded
- 1/2 bag frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1/3 c. onion, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 c. cannelinni beans
- 2 oz cream cheese
- 1/4 c. cilantro, loosely packed
- 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 1-2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on your spicy preference)
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2-3. tsp hot sauce (depending on your spicy preference)
- 1 Tbsp. lime juice
- 18-20 corn tortillas
- Olive oil or oil sprayFor the Avocado Crema
- 2 avocados
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 c. cilantro, loosely packed
- 1/3 c. Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp. dried dill
- 1 tsp. garlic
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 Tbsp. lime juice
Make the Crema
Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt or lime juice, if needed. Cover with plastic wrap by pressing the wrap to the surface of the sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the Taquitos
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly oil.
Lightly sauté diced onion and cannellini beans until onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant. Remove pan from heat, stir in cream cheese. Mash the bean into the onion cheese mixture, stirring well, until the cream cheese is incorporated. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, add shredded chicken, spinach, shredded cheese, all spices (cilantro, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, salt, and black pepper), lime juice, and hot sauce. Mix to combine. When the onion and bean mixture is cool enough to handle, mix into the chicken mixture. I found this to be best done with my hands (hence allowing the onion mixture to cool). The entire mixture should be uniform, with the softened cream cheese and beans binding the rest of the ingredients together. When you squeeze the filling between your fingers it should hold together, but the mixture should not be ‘wet’.
Warm tortillas 2-3 at a time in the microwave for about 25 seconds, or in a warm, dry pan on the stove for a few minutes. Warming the tortillas makes them pliable. Gently, spoon about 2 Tbsp of the chicken mixture slightly off center in the tortilla. Shape the mixture into a rough log shape, running from one edge of the tortilla to the other. Wrap the tortilla around the mixture and place, seam-side down, on the oiled parchment paper. Continue until all of the chicken mixture and tortillas are used up. Place about 1/2 inch about on the baking sheet, all seam-side down. Try not to move the wrapped tortillas–the tortillas will get less pliable and more prone to cracking as they cool. Light spray or brush the taquito rolls with oil.
Cook on the middle oven rack for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and gently turn over each taquito. The seams should hold together. Lightly spray or brush with oil once more. Return to oven to bake for another 10 minutes. Serve hot with the avocado crema. Leftover taquitos may be stored once completely cool, loosely packed in a tupperware with paper towels in between the layers, in the refrigerator for up to three days. Store avocado crema as mentioned above (with saran wrap pressed against the surface). Taquitos may also be frozen on a cookie sheet, then combined into a bag. Cook from frozen at 450 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, until heated through. I do not recommend freezing the crema.
February is hard. It has been consistently difficult for the last few years, but the month still manages to sideswipe my January-fogged brain and trample me into the ground. After we settle from the holiday cheer that lights up the winter through the New Year, we are only left with cold, gray January and February stretching out endlessly before us. In recent years, just to make this worse, our area gotten all of our snowstorms in February and March, prolonging this dark, plodding winter. This year was no exception. In February, I brood and mope and slowly descend into that dark stasis that is only relieved by the warmth breath of spring sunshine. I lose all ability to handle stress and instead, I find myself stuck swinging from panic to apathy, endlessly. February is a hard time for me. This year, I made it even harder. I was hunkered down, as usual, prepared to doze away the month in mild depression, but, instead, I added more projects. In addition to starting our Saturday rehearsals, I also spent February applying to grad school and moving into a new apartment (roommate-free!) with M. Both are things that I truly want to do, but I will readily admit that both events were poorly timed. Shortly afterward, I was finally forced to assess my mindset and its affect on my behavior, and, after a lot of ugly crying and a spoonful of resentment, I made myself come up with a plan to help me. My plan to de-stress was all about self-care. (That label makes me cringe at the cheesiness, even if the intent is so important). Making time for me, treating myself well, engaging in activities that would make me happy and make me better. To my surprise, when I finally settled on a list of activities, they were things like watching tv shows without multi-tasking and napping intentionally, without a guilt-trip. Reading books. Journaling. Taking care of my hair. Planning a garden. Big things and little things to get back in touch with myself. And, most crucially, a plan to continue all of these activities regularly.
Fortunately, this quest for self-care coincided with the ground slowly beginning to thaw. Our first sunny day was about a week into my new routine, and it has stayed either not-cold or sunny since then. (There have been some warmish rainy days or cold, sunny ones, but spring is definitely on the way!) I’d like to think that my first forays into de-stressing have been exceptionally successful, but I think most of the credit has to go to the promise of Spring sunshine and warmth. While Daylight Savings Time is still kicking my butt when I try to get out of bed each morning, the fact that it is just starting to grow dusky at 7:00pm is a huge relief. I am so, so ready for Spring. As part of my more conscious self-care, I am trying to return to more nutrient dense foods. We re starting to figure out those little things that really “work” to help us feel great. For M, its vegetables, tea tree oil, and being outside. For me, its probiotics, healthy fats, and sunshine. I know that I feel better with rich broths and healthy fats in my regular diet, so I am stocking up on bones, avocados, coconut milk, and fish. (Some of my favorite vegetables–asparagus and artichokes–are, delightfully, back in season, too!) We endured a trail of poor food choices and a lot of eating out during the moving process. First we had to unpack, then we had to wait for pantry cabinets to arrive to store all of our dry foods (I’m still picking spices out of a moving box each night), then our oven was smoking horribly for a week where I wasn’t able to start dinner until 9:30pm and I was too afraid of setting off the fire alarm for our poor upstairs neighbors to allow the oven cleaner to burn off properly. By the time that I was able to cook dinner–really cook dinner: chopping vegetables and simmering sauces and turning on the oven–I was blissful. I had missed the routine of dinner prep. Living the roommate-free life means I get to try new recipes as well. I tried to be cautious with strong- or odd-smelling recipes, or those that took too prolonged of a cooking time, when we lived with other people. I hadn’t really realized the weight of sharing a kitchen until it was lifted. We have lived in our new apartment for exactly one month and I have already made two batches of stock from bones in my crockpot. 24 hours for chicken and four days of siphoning and replacing the liquid for beef bones. I didn’t have to worry that the crockpot would be in the way, or that the smell of broth would get overwhelming. Now, I can make whatever odd experiments I want. I am sorely tempted to try brewing kombucha, but so far I am hesitant to forfeit anymore of my limited counter-space. But a batch of vinegar-boiled potatoes and fried fish are coming back on our dinner menus soon!
The bone broths were quite successful and very exciting. My beef broth gelled! I ended up with about four quarts of broth after four days, so soup was definitely in order. French Onion soup is one of my standbys. One that I’ve now learned to make three different ways, given the time I have available to prepare dinner. The addition of the rich bone broth made this soup even more delicious, adding a lovely silky quality to the broth. As mentioned, I have three ways that I like to use to prepare this soup. The first is the traditional recipe, where you caramelize the onions slowly, for nearly an hour, before constructing the soup. The second is a quick-cook stovetop method, browning the onions over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. You get lovely color, though not quite as deep of a caramelization. The third way is a crockpot method, started the night before you want to serve the soup. This involves caramelizing the onions overnight in the crockpot and then adding all the other ingredients in the morning before allowing the flavors to meld in the slow cooker all day. All three methods use the same ingredients and result in very similar soups. Choose the method that best suits your prep time and enjoy!
P.S. Did you notice that I had to trade a gas stove (love!) for a glass top? Boo! Even so, I think it was a worthy compromise for our new place!
French Onion Soup
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 3-4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- 2 Tbsp sherry*
- 4 cups beef broth (preferably bone broth/stock)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 c. red wine**
- Salt and pepper
- Shredded gruyere cheese
*If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an equal amount of beef broth
**If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an additional 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar + enough beef broth to make 1/2 c. of liquid
Traditional Method (Onion prep):
Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions. Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium heat. Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown. When the onions begin to turn color, turn the heat down to low and stir occasionally. Over the course of an hour, the onions will condense caramelize to a deep brown. Proceed with the recipe.
Quick Cooking Method (Onion prep):
Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions. Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium-high heat. Stir constantly. Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown. Continue stirring over high-heat as the onions continue to brown to a deep amber. Proceed with the recipe.
Traditional/Quick Cooking Methods (Soup prep):
Once the onions have caramelized, add the minced garlic. Stir for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the sherry and stir well to deglaze the pan. Use your spatula to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Stir thoroughly and turn the heat to medium. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes to combine the flavors. Remove bay leaf before serving. Salt and pepper to taste
While the beef is simmering, prep your bread. Butter your bread and then decide on your method. You can either broil the cheese on the bread separately to add to the soup, or wait until the soup is cooked, then ladle into oven-safe bowls, top with the bread and cheese and broil directly. Broiling should only take 2-5 minutes, just enough time that the cheese melts and begins to bubble and turn brown.
Slow Cooker Method:
Coat the inside of a slow cooker crock with oil, then add the slice onions. Turn the slow cooker on its lowest setting (8 or 10 hours) and allow the onions to cook over night. In the morning, add the butter, minced garlic, and sherry to the slow cooker and stir well, until the butter is melted. Add in the broth, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and red wine. Reset the slow cooker to high for 4 hours or low for 8-10 hours and allow soup to cook. Remove the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste before serving. Broil the bread and cheese at meal time.