July 16, 2014
In 18 weeks or so, I'll be a mother all over again. It's scary business. We've got a good thing going with just the three of us, and a part of me is mourning its loss. I'm snuggling our firstborn more so that he knows I cherish this special time when I am just his Mommy and no one else's. Our whole world is about to change.
But the other side of the coin is that our whole world is about to change. Again! Like the first time, only completely different. My little boy will become a big brother! I will see him grow and learn to love and share in ways he's never known. I'll see just how far my love (and patience) can stretch to make room for this new little one.
Once again, I'll see that I'm made of strong stuff -- I didn't realize it for a long, long time with my first because depression gets its grip on your mind and makes you feel so many untrue things. But now I know how the ugly lies it tells and that its foolish to believe them. I know when I need help, too, and how to ask for it.
I know that I can handle what's coming. I've done this before.
What I haven't done before is stock up my freezer before baby. When our first was born, we were living with my parents while hubby finished his Masters degree. There was no need for me to worry about feeding the family after the baby came -- my mom took excellent care of us.
This time around, after my mom comes out for the first little bit, we'll be on our own. And I intend to be prepared. I'm sure I'll be busy nursing and diapering. Going to the store will be challenging, but the family will still need to be fed. Having homemade meals on hand in the freezer will go a long way to making life manageable. These are things I could take from the freezer and get to the table with minimal work, or that hubby can make up after a long day at work so we won't resort to take out. (The options where we live are abysmal anyhow.)
Here's what I'm stocking up on for after baby makes his arrival:
Pre-Cooked Steel-Cut Oats
Oats are great for breastfeeding moms, and my preschooler adores oatmeal. Having it cooked up in advance and frozen in individual portions will be the perfect start to fuzzy, sleep-deprived mornings. Just add a little extra milk and a smear of jam or maple syrup.
From the freezer to the toaster to your plate in just about a minute. And who doesn't like waffles?
I have a 25 lb. bag of high-protien flour sitting in my pantry for homemade bagels (it was the same price for a 3 lb. bag as it was for 25 lbs. at Cash & Carry, so I guess we'll be making a LOT of bagels...). I know the recipe will make more than we can eat in one sitting, so the rest will keep nicely for later tucked into the freezer. Just toast and add cream cheese!
Chicken Noodle Soup
I'm due in November, prime soup season. Make up a batch of your favorite chicken noodle soup recipe, only omit the noodles until you're ready to serve. Then all you have to do is reheat and cook the noodles. My favorite noodles for chicken noodle soup come from the freezer section anyhow, so I'll just slip a package of those next to my soup in the freezer.
Any chili makes a great freezer meal. Just reheat and top with your favorite things (mine are cheese and sour cream).
Baked pastas are a great freezer meal option. I'm planning on making up a pan of Baked Ziti, and may also make up some Stuffed Shells. Both will go straight from the freezer to the oven beautifully.
Sloppy Joe (or Sloppy Sam) Filling
Sloppy Joes are one of my favorite dinners, but making them from scratch is a lot of work. Do it in advance and freeze it for an easy dinner. All you'll need are fresh buns and a green salad.
I considered making a couple batches of pizza dough, but with arms full of newborn, it's difficult to roll out pizza dough. Reheating pre-cooked calzones, however, would be a cinch -- whether I'm doing it one-handed, or hubby gets it going after a long day at work.
Slow-Cooker Beef & Barley Soup
Freezer-to-crockpot meals are a fabulous option for hands-off cooking. I love that I can throw this in the slow cooker in the morning and have something worthwhile for my family to eat come dinner time. Just dump and go.
I consider these a meal all on their own. Just bake the potatoes, stuff as desired, then freeze. When you're ready to eat them, bake them again from frozen until heated through and golden.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
I don't know who wouldn't consider these essential. I'll make up a big batch of the dough, scoop into portions and freeze for cookies any time I need a little something sweet.
Do you stock your freezer with easy-prep meals to make life less hectic? What are your favorites? I'd love your recommendations!
July 08, 2014
I have to say that my pictures hardly do this dish justice, which is a shame because it is one of my absolute favorite vegetarian main dishes. It reminds me a lot of this Trader Joe's salad, only heartier, and without the chicken. I love this dish any time of year, but I find myself busting it out most in the spring and summer months, even though it involves heating up the oven. It's worth it! The peppers get tender and mellow, and the couscous filling with chickpeas and currants gets toasty and a little crisp on the top, but still moist in the center. The chickpeas are one of my favorite parts, especially the ones that toast up on the top!
The sauce. Oh, the sauce. It's really a lovely green color (not sure why it photographed white...) and so delicious -- I could eat it all on its own! It's creamy and tangy and herbaceous, and obsession-worthy. This makes a filling and healthy dinner -- I usually only eat 1/2 of a pepper and I'm full to bursting. But it still manages to be light and summery. I'm not big on side dishes, so I usually just serve this by itself, but it would be fantastic with corn on the cob, or a crisp salad of greens or marinated cucumbers.
Leftovers are also fantastic -- I like to cut up the peppers and have it cold or room-temp the next day as a sort of salad with plenty of the creamy, dreamy dressing over top. I get excited about lunch the next day when these roasted peppers happen at my house -- and that's saying a LOT, because I HATE lunch. Lunch is the worst.
But I digress.
Make these. Then eat them. You'll see what I'm talking about.
Couscous Stuffed Peppers
from Giada De Laurentiis
4 bell peppers -- I prefer red, but you can use any combination of colors you like best
1 c. vegetable stock
1 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 c. whole wheat couscous
1 c. canned chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c. dried currants
1 c. lightly packed spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 c. crumbled feta
1/4 c. oil, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste
Prep bell peppers: remove tops, ribs, and seeds.* Set prepared peppers aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat stock, cumin, and a pinch of salt until steaming or at a low boil. Remove from heat and add the couscous. Cover and set aside 5 minutes, or until couscous is tender. Fluff with a fork and let cool a bit before combining with chickpeas, currants, spinach, feta, and 1/4 c. oil in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. (Feta is a salty cheese, so go easy on the salt at first, and be sure to taste before you add more.)
Spoon this mixture into prepared bell peppers. Place peppers in a baking dish and carefully add about 3/4" of water to the bottom of the pan, being sure to avoid drenching the peppers and filling. Drizzle filling with oil, if desired.
Bake at 400º for 40-50 minutes for halved peppers or 50 - 60 minutes for whole peppers. The dish is done when the peppers have softened and the filling is golden. If the filling begins to brown more than you would like, cover the top loosely with foil and continue to cook until peppers are done.
Meanwhile, make the sauce (recipe follows).
*Note: I prefer to cut my peppers in half completely, rather than hollowing them out and leaving them whole -- I find they cook faster this way and I get a greater ratio of the tasty, toasty topping I crave. It also provides nice portion control, since getting through a whole pepper is a LOT of food. But you can certainly go the more traditional route by leaving them whole. I've given cooking times for both methods.
If you leave them whole, you may need to slice a bit off the bottom of the pepper to help it sit flat.
Creamy Basil Sauce
1 c. lightly packed basil leaves
1/2 c. creme fraiche (You can use sour cream in a pinch, but creme fraiche gives much better results. You can easily make your own, if you think ahead a day or two.)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste seasoning and adjust.
When ready to serve: Plate each pepper, then top generously with basil sauce and serve warm or at room temperature.
May 26, 2014
I never really loved blueberries until two summers ago. You see, we went strawberry picking a bit too late in the season -- there were hardly any strawberries worth taking home with us, which would have been depressing if there hadn't also been blueberries to pick. They were the best blueberries I've ever had. Ever. We feasted on them for days, freezing some for later when we could eat no more.
Now I dream of blueberry season. And since it's almost here, I know you'll need a great, simple recipe to help you shovel as many as you can directly into your mouth. And this is it. I found this at Real Simple, but quickly made a couple of changes to make it even better. It doesn't take much to make the blueberries truly shine with this easy peasy tart. The puff pastry does all the work, I swear. You could easily make this with cream cheese instead of mascarpone, but mascarpone is much lighter on the tongue and really lets the sweet and mellow taste of the blueberries be the star of the show.
Not a blueberry fan? This would be delicious with pretty much any berry you adore. Raspberries and blackberries, in particular. Peaches could be good, too. Mmmmm...
Blueberry Mascarpone Tart
Adapted from Real Simple
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water)
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature.
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
3 heaping Tbsp. powdered sugar
2 c. fresh blueberries
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. vanilla sugar (can substitute regular sugar)
Preheat oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold thawed puff pastry and press the seams flat. Score the pastry on all sides about 1" from the edge to create a crust for the tart. Dock (prick) the inside section all over with a fork. This should allow the edges to puff more than the middle, making a lovely crust. Brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle all over with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 18 - 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, combine mascarpone, cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Whip until well combined and slightly fluffy. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine blueberries, lemon juice, and vanilla sugar until blueberries are coated and sugar has dissolved.
When the pastry has cooled, make sure the inside section is depressed. You may need to re-score the lines for the crust and gently press on the inside to flatten it down a bit. Spread the mascarpone mixture evenly in the depressed section, then top with the blueberries -- be sure to leave behind any juices that may have collected in the bottom of the blueberry bowl, as they could make the tart soggy. Top with additional lemon zest for garnish, if desired.
Cut into squares and serve immediately, or chill until ready to serve.