Lunch menus #20170313

Here’s the deal: dinner menus used to be easy. I would cook big batches for fun on the weekends, eat dinner with friends on Mondays, and really only end up cooking a full meal from scratch on Thursday nights when I alternated pasta and stirfry. Fridays the guys went snowboarding, and I’d pack them a bag-lunch-for-dinner and eat avocado toast at home with the pup. Viola. Dinner was done.

Here’s the second deal: bag lunches are big in my house. The eight-year-old will happily eat butter sandwiches, meat and cheese on the side, and apple slices daily. The thirty-eight-year-old and I both demand more variety.

The sad truth is that now that snowboarding season is over, I actually have to plan and cook more once again. Back to menu planning, double time! Lunches noted are for the adults of our household.

  • Monday: Lunch is curried chicken salad wraps, an apple (nature’s mouthwash), and crackers. It’s not my night to host our weekly friends-dinner, so I’m off the hook for cooking tonight. Woo hoo!
  • Tuesday: Lunch will be beef stew and a side salad. NOTE— the best thing I’ve done in a while is cube up a chuck roast, season, sear and cook a generic batch of stew meat. Half was already seasoned up and used for shredded beef burritos over the weekend. The other half will go into the beef stew for this day. Dinner will be pork chops, rice pilaf, and asparagus.
  • Wednesday: Lunch will be leftovers. Dinner will either be veggie Pad Thai OR veggie fettucini alfredo, depending on my mood and the input of other eaters.
  • Thursday: Lunch will be a creamy potato broccoli soup, with fruit on the side. Dinner will be Balsamic glazed chicken, green beans, skillet red potatoes with rosemary, and biscuits.
  • Friday: Lunch will be tuna salad wraps with either a side salad or fruit depending on the contents of my fridge at this point. Dinner will be semi-homemade-takeout. Beef & broccoli stir fry, rice, broccoli, and dumplings.
  • Weekend cooking
    • I want to make something with lamb! Braised or stewed, I’ll do some research, track down a lamb shank or shoulder.
    • I want to make some enriched bread! Maybe Challah! More research is needed! As you can tell, I’m very excited by my weekend cooking projects.
    • Some kind of cake will be made. I have a number of recipes I desperately want to make, so rather than try to choose I will put the decision to a household vote.
    • Cookies! Chocolate with peanut butter chip cookies, to be exact.
    • Three pounds of chicken breast. It’s not glamorous, but it has replaced lunch meat in our house and therefore must be cooked weekly. Perhaps I’ll get fancy and marinate some of it, but probably not.

That’s all for now- in my spare time I’m sifting through 4,389 lunch ideas on Pinterest, and will report back next week with any revelations.

Fireworks and Mandatory Park Visit

This may come as a shock to you, but last Friday was Independence Day here in the good old U. S. of A. My little family celebrated the 4th by going to a family cook-out, and then going to see fireworks up close and personal in Roseville, MN.

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This was our first time going to see fireworks there, and I was pleasantly surprised by how un-crowded it was. Families were spread out, and we got to set up on the side of a small lake path. It felt a lot more relaxed than our usual experience in St. Paul or Stillwater and it is by far our new favorite spot.

On our way driving there, I spotted a park I had never been to: The Central Park Nature Conservitory! Yes, that’s how they really spell it on Google Maps, so I’m going with it. It’s right above the word “Fireworks” in that handy map I have above.

Less than ten measly minutes from my home, there is 52 acres public green space and 1.34 miles of trails to explore. And Google Maps tells me that the Harriet Alexander Nature Center is there too, so that’s definitely what we’re doing on Saturday.

This made me wonder- what other parks are right under my nose in the Minneapolis/St.. Paul area? Let me know some of your favorites please, I’d love to explore the cities and any place with walking trails is where I want to be.

As usual, because I can’t help myself and my week doesn’t feel right without it, here is my menu plan:

  • Monday: Sauteed Tilapia with creamy dill pan sauce, corn on the cob, green beans and garlicky rice.
  • Tuesday: Stir fried rice noodles with chicken and mixed veggies.
  • Wednesday: Meatball Subs with pasta salad and cantaloupe on the side.
  • Thursday: Spinach leaves tossed with this “Summer Chickpea Salad with Honey Garlic Lime Vinaigrette” and topped with marinated chicken.
  • Friday: Turkey keilbasa sliced, seared, and mixed with pepper & onions. Served over rice pilaf with a side of broccoli.
  • Saturday: For brunch I’ll be making a Dutch Baby, because no (sweet) breakfast food makes me any happier. We’ll have fruit on the side and a turkey sausage/potato breakfast hash. We’ll pack sandwiches and carrot sticks for the hike. Saturday night, we’re grilling out at the Drive In for a friend’s birthday and I expect it to be amazing.
  • Sunday: Breakfast will be plain old oatmeal, home made and delicious. Lunch will be some odd combination of leftovers . Dinner will be homemade veggie sushi, edamame pods, and teriyaki beef skewers.

PS: Last weekend I made cheese enchiladas inspired by this lovely recipe [I used a a mix of monterey jack, sharp cheddar, and queso fresco in the filling, and used fresh fire roasted poblanos instead of canned chiles]. I also made a braised chicken in a tomato/cumin sauce, cilantro lime rice, black beans, roasted corn/grape tomato/queso fresco/cilatro/green onion salad, guac and sour cream. It was fairly epic, and I definitely recommend it.

Minnehaha Falls: Then and Now

What a difference (nearly) two years makes. This past weekend, we made the trip to visit Minnehaha Falls. We do it often, I take pictures each time, and it’s always a blast. Except for the part where I get all choked up because they’re trying something new, or they’re just SO much bigger than the last time we were there. We go there at least once a month, so realistically it can’t be that big of a difference.

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This time however, I went far enough back to see a BIG difference. Not only a difference in the boys (sniff), but a difference in the falls themselves. In November of 2012 we were at the end of a season of drought. The boys were playing in a dry creek bed, and they were so itty bitty that I just can’t take it.

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They even found ice in the shallow pools and happily smashed it to bits!

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Fast forward to last Saturday, and the water level had changed almost as much as the boys had.

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They were wading with whitewater rapids it the background. And looking far too grown up for my taste. Has anyone discovered a way to rewind kids back to being baby sized?

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The water had even eaten up part of the path, so we didn’t go all the way to the Mississippi like we usually do.

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Also- do you see how the water is basically up to the top of that bridge? Here’s the boys playing under it in 2012:

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One last one of then…

Minnehaha20121117_7 And now…

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They’re so big and brave! Which is awesome. But I would like it to stop now, please.

[Insert sobbing here]

Back to business. Here is the deal: I have 10 million things to do around the house, outside of the house, and with the boys this week. There’s no Tee Ball or Near Ball because it’s a holiday week. There’s also no school or work on Friday, so the law states that we have to go swimming.

What does this all mean? It means I don’t want to cook this week. At all. But since that’s not actually realistic or affordable, here is the plan.

  • Monday Chicken with mustard-cream sauce, rice pilaf, green beans.
  • Tuesday Stir fried rice noodles with soy/sesame, beef, broccoli, carrots, and whatever other veggies I can throw at em.
  • Wednesday Cheese Enchiladas, salad, beans and rice.
  • Thursday Chicken thighs topped with peppers, onions and cheese. Served with Mashed potatoes and broccoli. This is faster and easier than it sounds, and only uses two pans, a cutting board, and a single knife when I do it right. It’s on the table in about 22 minutes.
  • Friday Burgers, corn, veggies and dip. The buns will be these overnight refrigerator rolls, made to the size of burger buns and topped with sesame seeds.
  • Weekend I have no idea. This past weekend I ended up making a delicious crockpot meatloaf recipe, so I’ll probably experiment with other crockpot options.

That’s all folks! Any tips on how to not turn into a blubbering mess every time I see old pictures? It would be much appreciated.

Busyness and Business

Life has recently taken over my life.

There has been all sorts of busyness with home stuff, family stuff, and work stuff. Business is booming at my job (yay), and on top of that we’re moving (yay again). It’s only across the hall, but there is construction, painting, new carpet and more going on to make it ours. I think the new space is going to work really well for us, and I’m pretty pumped. I also like meetings, so I guess this just confirms that I’m a little odd when it comes to work/everything in else in the world.

So! For Father’s day weekend we went camping at Wild River State Park here in MN with a few family friends. It was wonderful, but it rained so so much. Except for when it was time to leave, then it cleared up and was sunny and warm. It was a lot of fun in spite of the rain, and only about an hour drive from the cities. I took the day off Friday, and we arrived back yesterday.

There are two morals to this story: 1. You should go to Wild River State Park if you’re in MN because it’s pretty great, and 2. I have zero grocery shopping done so I’m kind of winging it with this menu plan based off of what’s in my freezer & what I can pickup easily at my neighborhood store.

The last few menu-plan-less weeks were ok-ish, we survived and ate generally nutritious foods, but it sure is a lot more mental anguish trying to figure out what to feed folks on the fly. Without further ado, I bring you this week’s menu!

  • Monday Cheater Chicken Parmesan: Sauteed chicken breast, topped with marinara (chunked up with bell peppers), a layer of mozzarella cheese, and a breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture, broiled til breadcrumbs are golden. Served with garlicky rice pilaf and a side of spinach.
  • Tuesday Pan cooked Steelhead Trout with a garlic/lemon/dill/cream sauce, baked breaded shrimp, green beans, and twice baked potatoes.
  • Wednesday Taco bowls with chicken, cilantro lime rice, black beans, lettuce and fresh salsa
  • Thursday Sloppy Joe’s, corn on the cob, broccoli slaw with shredded cheddar cheese and balsamic dressing.
  • Friday Movie night! Our church is showing The Lego Movie at 6:30, so we’ll be grabbing some sandwiches on the way there.
  • Weekend
    • Saturday brunch will be a french toast extravaganza! Turkey breakfast sausage, grapes, and a fricking toppings bar: strawberries, whipped cream,  bananas, chocolate sauce, maple syrup, and whatever else I can think up.
    • I’m making pasties this weekend, because I’ve been wanting them for months and just haven’t gotten around to it. I’m not sure which day it will happen, but it will happen this time.
    • Meaty marinara- whichever day I make pasties, I’ll also make a batch of meaty marinara sauce. The pasties will use 2 out of 3 lbs of beef I have, and the other pound will be made into red sauce to use at some point next week.
    • Whichever day doesn’t get pasties, I’m going to make chicken pot pie casserole. Shredded chicken in a homemade creamy gravy, with carrots, onions, celery, and topped with buttered bread crumbs. We skip the peas due to a few picky eaters, but they certainly belong here if your crew will eat them! Served over rice, with a side of green veggies. This makes excellent lunch leftovers with a small green salad, and I always cook up extra chicken when I make this for other grab n go meals.

Welp, that’s all I’ve got. Have a good one folks!

The Weekend Hike

This past Saturday,  the Kelly boys and I ventured out for a hike at Minnehaha Falls Park for the first time this calendar year. Last year we went nearly once a month, but the cold and snow have been brutal enough here in Minnesota that we had not attempted our trek in some time.

We do the same route when we hike. We start at the top of the falls.

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Darian (my little one, black hat), usually has a stick to use for a weapon/walking stick/thing to point out interesting things and this time was no different. Kimathi (Darian’s older brother literally from another mother, rocking the Charlie Brown hat) will occasionally grab a stick, but he never keeps the same one for all that long.

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Check it out! It was in the 50s or 60s, and there were still giant chunks of ice in the falls. Then, we go down the looong stair case to the bridge below the falls, where everyone else is taking pictures, but we rarely do.

Then we start hiking down the path, towards the Mississippi river. Not pictured is the stop for peanut butter sandwiches and strawberries as the boys sat on a fallen tree.

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We hike, and we hike, and we hike until we get to this long path that kind of floats above the more marsh-y parts of the creek. The boys run ahead of me, until we get to the more fun, less path-like path.

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The tree roots are kind of like steps in some places, there are large rock-steps in others, and some of the path is downright precarious.

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The boys are pros at navigating the trickier parts of the trail. They run ahead at all the right times, then wait dutifully at the parts of the path they know I want to cross as a group.

KellyBoys_MF6_20140419Shortly after we make it through the more Mountain-Goaty part of the trail, we can see the might Mississippi river! There is is just past the bridge. Up and to the left of Kimathi’s Charlie Brown hat if you’re having a hard time locating it. Most all the benches at this part of the trail are more sculptural than functional. Beware of rusty screws.

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Oh, and there are the sandstone cliffs.

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There is tons of “graffiti” scratched into these cliffs. The boys always add their own bit, and do a pretty good job ignoring the more adventurous additions put there by some young adult. They couldn’t ignore the large naked lady though, it was about my size and must have taken ages for the artist to carve. If it’s still there next time I’ll take a picture!

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Darian always finishes with the sandstone before Kimathi. Here he is making a break for the Mississippi. The water was quite high this year- usually there is a large sandy stretch to the right of that bridge.

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But The Tree is still exposed! It’s one of my favorite features of the Mississippi river front after our hike. The roots are all exposed and climb-able.

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See how much use that stick is getting? It’s been about ten different things at this point in the hike. I love these boys.

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Now we’re at The Other Tree, which I always force them to go climb into for a picture. There are five different trees all growing together. Thanks for putting up with all these photo ops, kids!

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I keep taking pictures, even though they have no time to pose for me. Which makes me incredibly happy, by the way.

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There! They’re peeking out for a smile. I like that they’re so into what they are doing, that posing isn’t a priority. Sometimes the second a phone comes out they yell Cheeese! and stop what they’re doing. There is not of that nonsense on these hikes.

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Later on the walk back from the Mississippi river, we found a rock to rest against. This is the part of the hike where they inevitably regret going as far as we did. Fun fact- I was told by their father that those are gang symbols on that rock. I’m glad that even hoodlums get out and enjoy nature.

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Here’s the last picture of our hike before my phone died. You won’t get to see the wading area, where in years past they frolicked in the dry creek bed. Or the massive, steep stairs that can only be climbed if it’s turned into a competition about who can get to the top first. Or the odd “Easter Event” that the park was hosting that day.

I love this picture for so many reasons. When Kimathi (now 8) was Darian’s age (5), I often called him “Captain Caution” and had to encourage that he take even the smallest risks. Now, he walks across fallen trees. Then jogs across them. And my heart bursts with love and pride. Darian had to be severely encouraged to make it across the log, and he crawled on his hands and knees the entire way. He was so proud when he made it across that I could almost talk him into trying it again. But not quite. Next time!

Now, as per usual, here’s my stab at this week’s menu.

  • Monday Burrito bowls: Ground beef seasoned with salsa & cumin, pre-fab rice, black beans, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese, and salsa. Not necessarily in that order. Garnished with a few tortilla chips. Carrot sticks on the side for the picky kid who doesn’t like fresh tomatoes.
  • Tuesday Sticky orange/teriyaki chicken drumsticks (baked then coated in the thick sauce just before serving), fried rice, potstickers, green beans.
  • Wednesday Junk food night because it won’t affect the kids! Darian is over at Kimathi’s house for dinner, so we’re having frozen pizza, nachos, and salad. And probably Easter candy for dessert.
  • Thursday Baked fish & shrimp, home made tartar sauce, creamed spinach, garlic bread made with leftover rolls from Easter feasting
  • Friday Sweet chili chicken, terikayi/peanut butter rice noodles with mixed veggies, sauteed broccoli, quick pickled cukes, carrots, and onions on the side, cilantro for garnish. Inspired by my beloved lettuce wraps from The Cheesecake Factory, but made at home to avoid the expense.
  • Saturday Date night! My sweetie is taking me out somewhere, he just doesn’t know it yet. If that fails, I’ll probably make coconut chicken curry again. I could easily eat this twice a week, and there won’t be any kids to complain when I make it as spicy as it should be!
  • Sunday Fancy Italian-American style dinner:
    • Cheese tortellini with pesto
    • Baked chicken “parmesan”: chicken thighs sauteed, then topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a mix of panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, italian breadcrumbs, and melted butter. Broiled on low til breadcrumbs are golden
    • Fresh baked bread, served with garlic/herb infused olive oil for dipping
    • Sauteed Brussels sprouts with garlic

I’m sure by Saturday I’ll be itching for another adventure with the boys. What’s your favorite way to get out and do something in the Spring?

For Christine

You know what’s the best? Little babies. They take over your world, and the only thing you want to do, the only thing you should do, is snuggle them and do the laundry necessary to keep them in (temporarily) clean clothes. A friend of mine from college, Christine, now lives in Florida and has a beautiful little boy. Even though I’ve never met the little man in person, I know he’s beautiful because she does the right thing and shares pictures and videos galore. Thanks Christine!

Back to business. Little humans don’t stay little for very long, so here are some strategies and recipes to spend less time cooking and more time snuggling.

  1. Get a rotisserie chicken
    1. First night: Bring it home, but keep it in the bag. Microwave potatoes or reheat some cooked ones, heat up some broccoli and cheese. Split your potato, add some salt and pepper, top with the veg, then open up the still warm chicken and carve off a few pieces. Put the lid back on the leftover chicken & leave it on the counter while you eat. When you’re done with dinner, it should be cool enough to put in the fridge without making your other food warm.
    2. Skip having chicken two meals in a row. Brown some ground beef, add a jar of sloppy joe (less work than packets- I like this one, but others work), then slop it on pre-made buns have have some pre cut veggies and dip on the side. Give yourself some potato chips too if you’re feeling it.
    3. Second night: Make an entree salad with shredded leftover chicken! Get a bagged salad, add dressing, croutons or other crunchies, whatever veg you like and some kind of cheese or get a salad kit.
      1. I like making ‘greek salad’ by adding feta cheese, greek dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives if you like them. Pita chips and humus on the side!
      2. Add balsamic dressing, cheddar cheese, and craisins some time. It’s so so good! If you’re feeling fancy, have the hubby pick up a crunchy baguette that some store made fresh that day, slather some butter on it and call it a side dish.
  2. Make a beef chuck roast, about three pounds, in your slow cooker overnight.
    1. Get a steak seasoning blend, put more than you would think is ever necessary all over the meat, then sear it in a hot non stick pan till dark brown on both sides.
    2. Pick up the pan and plop the meat directly into the slow cooker, then set the still hot pan back on the stove. Pour in two cups of water, and stir it around to get all the bits off the bottom of the pan. Dump in more steak seasoning, stir it around, then pour into the crock pot.
    3. If you have a bigger ceramic mixing bowl, put it in the fridge (so you make sure there’s room for the cooked meat, and get it cold).
    4. Cook the roast on low for 8-10 hours (overnight).
    5. In the morning, put the now tender roast in the cold mixing bowl, shred it with two forks, and dump the liquid in too. If it seems dry, add a bit more water. It should look about like the picture that says “Use two forks to gently pull the meat apart. It should be very tender and easily shredable. (Yes, I know shredable is not a word.)” (that’s a great website by the way), but a bit drier is ok too. Add a few ice cubes, then cover it in plastic wrap, and stash it in the fridge until that night.
      1. First night: there will be a lot of fat that has risen to the top of the meat. Scrape off a bunch of it, but not all. That stuff is tasty! the liquid will now look kind goopy if you can see it at all- that’s ok! And good! First night, I say have a taco night. Get soft of hard shells, sour cream, or a few other fixins. To taco-ize this meat, put it in a pan with pre-made salsa, add cumin, then heat through and taste for seasoning. If it doesn’t seem right add extra salt and cumin til it does.
      2. Second night: Take the night off! Order a pizza! Or get one of those “take and bake” ones!
      3. Third night: You could serve this on buns, but I like to use microwaved potatoes to make mashed potatoes. If you’re doing potatoes, get them started now. Heat a good amount of the beef. Make a small cornstarch slurry, but putting a few tablespoons of cold water in a cup, and adding about a teaspoon of cornstarch. Mix til it looks milky in the cup and there are no chunks, then add it into the meat to thicken up the juices. It will thicken as it cooks, so just stir it around a bit and let the cornstarch do it’s magic. Taste to see if it’s salty/flavorful enough. If not, add more steak seasoning Serve with salad or other veggies.
      4. You’re sick of shredded beef now! Put any leftovers in quart sized freezer bags, and freeze em (lying down flat at first makes them easier to handle, I sometimes put em on a cookie sheet if there’s room). Then when you want to use them, put em in the fridge the night before to thaw.
  3. Get another rotisserie chicken!
    1. First night: treat yourself to some pre-made biscuits, and serve it with a salad or veggies and dip
    2. Second night: Preheat your oven for garlic bread, and get water boiling. Cook cheese tortellini from the refrigerated section, cook it according to package directions. Get the garlic bread in the oven at some point- timers are your friend so you don’t forget about it! Heat and add tomato sauce, then top with Parmesan cheese. Serve with garlic bread.
    3. Third night: Shred up leftover chicken, add BBQ sauce (taste for seasoning after it’s heated, then add more salt if needed- or hot sauce!). Serve on buns. If you like coleslaw then go for it- but! If you have it available and like broccoli, I really recommend trying broccoli slaw. I mix in some shredded cheddar cheese and ranch dressing. Yum!
  4. Sausage with peppers and onions.
    1. You can either mix this in buttered pasta when you’re done, or serve it over a baked potato. Both are good, get em started now cause this takes no time at all. Season that part of the meal with salt and pepper to taste when it’s done, which should be after your sausage is started.
    2. Using one of those smoked sausage rope thingies, slice and sear it. After it’s brown on both sides, put the sausage on a plate.
    3. Slice and cook onions and sliced bell peppers in that same pan. Season with your steak seasoning and cook til they’re almost tender. Add about a half cup of water to the pan and stir it around to get the bits off the bottom of the pan and create your “sauce”.
    4. Blast the heat to reduce down the liquid (leave it a little soupy if you’re adding it to noodles, cook it down a bit more if you’re putting it on a potato), then add back the sausage. If it seems like there’s no sauce now, add a splash or two of water.
    5. If you’re doing noodles, add em directly to the pan and stir. If you’re doing potatoes, top em with this. Serve with other veggies if you feel the need, if not it already has some in there!
  5. French bread pizzas. I love The Pioneer Woman. Thanks Ree! I sometimes do this on the soft (not crusty) “baguette” they have at the big grocery store’s bakery section. It’s really not at all authentic but the softer crust really works for these!
  6. Spring for fancy burgers once in a while. Most meat counters have pre-made burgers with all sorts of cheese and/or other goodness in them. They’re already in patties, so all you have to do is put em on buns, and put some veggies or salad on the side.
  7. We usually have some kind of frozen/baked fish weekly. It’s not a lot of hands on time, and if you put parchment paper on tray you bake it on, clean up goes really quickly. Add some of those “steam in bag” veggies from the produce aisle, seasoned with butter salt, and pepper. Serve with a wedge of fresh lemon to squeeze over the fish, and that’s dinner!

I hope this helps. I like cooking, so if this is too much work let me know and I’ll think of other less stuff that takes less effort. It also helps if you take a few minutes to plan out your week’s menu so you can get most of it in one trip to the grocery store, even if you don’t end up sticking to it.

Enjoy that baby Christine, and keep the pictures coming!