Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Meal Plan 4/18-4/24

This is my last week before I start my new job. It's bitter sweet. On one hand, I'm really excited about my new job, it's all the best parts from my old job without the worst parts. But on the other, it's been really nice spending so much time with my Tiny Boy (who isn't so tiny anymore).

Change is always hard. At least there is always the constant of great food!

Here's my plan for this week:

Saturday: Roasted salmon, sweet potatoes and a veg

Sunday: Greek Meatloaves and salad

Monday: Grilled flank steak, veg and cheese scrolls (freezer)

Tuesday: Ricotta spinach pasta (Cooking light April 2012)

Wednesday: Pepperoni and veg pizza (using this dough)

Thursday: Hummus cheesesteak hoagies

Friday: Out

For the Freezer:
Slow cooker pork tenderloin x 2
Honey mustard chicken x 2
Chicken parm x 2

After we went shopping our plans changed a little and we ended up going out to eat Saturday night so the salmon got pushed to Sunday night and I'm saving the Greek meatloaves for another time. As much as I love to stay with our meal plan sometimes you need to be flexible and adapt to life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cooking Dried Beans in the Crockpot

This past year from my CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) I got a lot of dried, local, organic beans towards the end of the year. In theory, dried beans are great but only if you take the time to cook them. Cooking beans on the stove just takes so long especially when you take into account the overnight soak ahead of time. I knew there had to be an easier way which is why I was pumped to see a crockpot soup recipe that actually starts with dried beans.

This soup was great. The beans were cooked perfectly and the broth had a really nice thickness to it. Plus, it made the house smell amazing. Even though the weather is starting to warm up I think this soup will still have a place in our meal planning rotation

Slow Cooker Tuscan White Bean Soup, slightly adapted from Cooking Light, March 2015

6 cups unsalted/low sodium chicken stock (I used homemade)
1 large chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
2 minced cloves of garlic
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf (I left this out when we made it the first time and the soup was still yummy)
12 ounces dried white beans (any bean would be great in this soup BUT kidney beans need to be boiled for 10 minutes before being used in a crockpot due to toxins)
3 cups greens (I used baby spinach but chopped kale or swiss chard would be great too)
2 T tomato paste
1lb Italian sausage (I used sweet but any variety would be great)
2 T fresh lemon juice (I totally forgot to add this at the end)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese to serve

I swear it's tastier than this picture makes it seem!
1.) Add the chicken stock through beans to the crockpot and cook on low for 8 hours. Throw out thyme stems and bay leaf.
2.) Stir in greens, tomato paste, salt and pepper into soup.
3.) Remove sausage from the casing and form into little meatballs (I made about 30). Add to the soup, cover and cook on high for 30 minutes until meat is cooked)
4.) Stir in juice (if you don't forget) and serve with cheese on top.


Do you use dried beans?

How to: Grill a Whole Chicken with Indirect Heat

I know I've mentioned it before but I love grilling. Growing up, my dad always had at least 1 grill and a couple (or more) smokers and we used them pretty regularly. I haven't bought a smoker (yet) so I have to make due with my grill. A few summers ago, I started cooking whole chickens on the grill using indirect heat and they are so yummy. They have a slightly smoky flavor to them even though they are not smoked. It's also really easy. Think of it as the crockpot of summer.

How to: Grill a Whole Chicken with Indirect Heat
1.) Bring your chicken (4-5lb) to room temperature by taking it out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will help the chicken cook evenly.
2.) Each grill is different so get to know yours! While the chicken is warming up, turn on all the burners on your grill. You want it to get to be about 500F. I have three burners on the grill.
3.) Dry your chicken well with paper towels (dry chicken=crispy, brown skin). Seasoning is really up to you. I've used a mixture of fresh or dried herbs mixed in butter under the skin; lemon zest with herbs and butter under the skin; or just salt and pepper on top of the bird. Try different things and see what your family likes.

4.) Line a 1/4 sheet pan with foil and fit a small rack or broiler grate on top of the pan. Although the foil is optional, it really helps with clean up.
5.) Place your seasoned chicken on the rack and tuck it's wings behind it's body. This helps the wings not get dried out.
6.) Turn off on of the burners on your grill. Put the chicken on this side. After about 45 minutes rotate the pan so the other breast is towards the heat.
7.) After another 30-45 minutes, check your birds temperature. I take the chicken off the grill when a thermometer reads 165F. If you don't have a thermometer wiggle the legs, if they seem really loose your chicken is probably done. Another way to tell without a thermometer is to poke a small hole near where the leg joins the body, if the fluids are clear the chicken is probably done.
8.) Carefully (it will be really hot) take your chicken off the grill and tent with foil for about 10 minutes. This helps the juices soak back into the chicken so it won't be dry.
9.) Slice up your chicken and enjoy!

Do you grill with indirect heat?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Meal Planning 4/11-4/17

Every week I sit down with a pad of paper and plan out our meals for the next week. I do this for a few reasons but the biggest being I don't like going to the grocery store mid week. I'm not sure why but after work, I want to go home. I don't want to make any stops. So for the most part, unless it's an emergency (like running out of coffee) I won't go to the store mid week and we'll just make due with what we have. This is why it's important to make a pretty detailed list before we go shopping. Sometimes I may stray a little if I see a good deal and want to stock up on something but for the most part I stick with my list.

The first thing I think of before we go shopping is what do I already have on hand. I don't like wasting food or accumulating too much in our cabinets. Our new house has a lot less storage than our Colorado house so space is at a premium. Also, Costco (where we buy most of our meat) is further away than we are used to so we won't be going there weekly but instead every 3 weeks or maybe monthly.

Yes, it's that empty by the end of the week
The second thing I think of is what do we have going on that week. Do either Brian or I have a work event? Are we going out to eat? Do we want to make anything extra for the freezer? Right now I am trying to bulk up our freezer with meals, sides, different breads and breakfast items to make my going back to work transition a little easier. Even though I have always worked since having Jacob, between changing jobs and moving I will have been home for almost 2 months when I start my new job. Plus my hours are different so I will be getting home later than we're used to. For the next few weeks I have a goal of making 5 extra freezer meals and some sides/bread each week.

The third thing I think of is the weather. Wait, what? How does the weather impact cooking? The big question here, can we grill? I love grilling so if the weather is going to be nice you bet our grill is going to be on. Pittsburgh weather has a lot of afternoon/evening showers right now so grilling is a little iffy.

Trying to think of what to eat week after week can get a little daunting. Sometimes I get in a rut and we seem to eat the same things week after week. I like to have some favorites in the rotation but I also like to try a few new things ever week too. When I make my list I look at my stash of Cooking Light magazines and the Foodgawker app.

So, what are we eating this week?

Saturday: Slow cooker Tuscan white bean soup (Cooking Light, March 2015)

Sunday: Grilled whole chicken, potatoes and a vegetable

Monday: Chili Mac (Cooking Light, March 2014) I plan on doubling this recipe to have a few freezer meals

Tuesday: Beef tacos, slaw and a vegetable (Cooking Light, March 2015)

Wednesday: Roast pork tenderloin, thyme biscuits and a vegetable (Cooking Light, April 2015)

Thursday: Mini Greek style meatloaves, quinoa and a vegetable (Cooking Light, May 2013)

Friday: Out to eat

Freezer Extras:
Light Wheat Tortillas x 3
English Muffins
Crockpot Lime Pork
Tuscan Bean Soup

Grocery List:
2lb wheat pasta                  2lb mushrooms                 4 bell peppers                 freezer pans
veg x 4                               tomato sauce                     wheat flour                     cabbage
cilantro                              carrots                                baby spinach                  oranges
2lb sausage                        pork tenderloin                  bread flour                      mint
yogurt                                feta                                     lemons                            fruit
milk                                   2.5lb pork butt x 2             4 limes                            honey

Did you ever think blueberry pancakes could be so messy?

Do you meal plan?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chicago Marathon Recap

Back in October I traveled to Chicago with Jacob to run the Chicago marathon. Brian was supposed to come with us but had to work at the last minute so instead I had my first solo flight with a 9 month old baby.

After a very delayed flight, we finally got to Chicago around 12:30 in the morning. With an over exhausted baby in tow, we took a cab from the airport to our hotel to check in. Unfortunately, the crib I requested was not in the room so we had a wait a while longer before we could get to bed. Jacob was really great on the flight even though it took much longer than expected.

In the morning, we met my sister and her husband Jeff who had also traveled to run. We met up with their friend Susanna and hit up the expo.

It was crazy. This year, when we do Chicago (Brian wants to actually run it) I am going to go to the Expo on Friday instead of Saturday. There were just too many people. Everywhere. People. People. People. And to top it all off, the vendors were sold out of anything marathon related. No jackets, shirts, anything that said Chicago Marathon. I'm not usually a huge Expo person but this one was really overwhelming. After eating lunch in the food court it took us another 30 or so minutes to get out of the building. Seriously, it was so confusing. Once we were finally back at the hotel it was time for a much needed nap before dinner.

For dinner we went to a great Italian restaurant that wasn't too far from where we were staying. Then it was early to bed for the big day.

My sister had an Auntie-Jacob day while I was running. She was a little nervous because it had been a while since she had taken care of a baby for that long but they had fun in the end.

In the hotel lobby before walking to the start
Unlike other marathons I've done, Chicago starts much later so you can actually sleep until a reasonable time in the morning. Jeff was in an earlier start than Susanna and I so we said our goodbyes then took off to our separate starts.

Waiting for the gun to go off
Even though there were a ton of people on the course it never felt too crowded. I was always able to get to a port-a potty in a reasonable amount of time and there was never a wait at any of the water stations. When I run I don't tend to take in a lot of the scenes so I don't honestly remember that much about the course except that it was nice and flat. There were barely any hills, which was a nice surprise after training in Colorado. There were also some solid food options at the water stops like bananas and pretzels that I really liked. The biggest bummer for me about the race was that my Garmin watch was not keeping my pace properly. I'm not sure if it's because it's getting old or due to the tall building or lots of people but my miles were way off making my pace not reliable. Oh well. After having a less than stellar train up for this race then having to travel by myself I was just really proud to be out running 9 months after having a baby.
Spotted by my Sister!

Time to run again
After the race we went back to Jeff's Aunt's house for Mexican food. It was the perfect ending to a great day.
Jacob ate all the food.
So shiny

Although I didn't PR on this race I was really happy with how I did. I finished in 4:42:47.

Overall, I would highly recommend this marathon. The course was flat and the support (both nutrition and crowd) was amazing. I can't wait to go back this year.

 Then all I had to do was fly back to Colorado with a lap monkey....

I'm back....

So over the past yearish life has gotten crazy and I got lazy and stopped blogging. In the middle of April we found out I was pregnant (yay!).

Then I stopped cooking anything fun or imaginative and we ate out too often. By the time I was finally feeling creative again we were in the middle of moving from our apartment into a bigger house to make room for our new addition.

Then I was pregnant for what seemed like forever until our tiny baby finally made his appearance right after the new year.

We've spent the last year and a half enjoying our baby and learning how to be a family of three (four if you count Latte the cat) and there wasn't much extra time left over at the end of the day.

Now we are living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I have a new job that will hopefully leave me with much more time at the end of the day as well as energy.

I've still been cooking up a storm and have a lot of new ideas for this blog. So hopefully, if any readers are still out there and are looking for fun, healthy, local recipes to create in the kitchen please stay tuned!