A realistic meal plan

Chili Verde Enchiladas

I have been so tired lately. Well, story of my life. Or at least since I became a mom.even though I’m a stay-at-home mom, not working, and sort of creating my own schedule during the day, I’m just tired. I sort of create my own schedule but it’s a collaboration between myself and my child.

Lately Maggie sleeps great during the day and I actually can get things done during her naps. I can cook dinner, wash dishes, fold laundry, take a nap. But at night, I can’t sleep. Even if she sleeps better than normal, I find myself waking up at 1 am and again at 3 am out of sheer habit. Perhaps she’s waking up out of habit at this point too.

As I’m typing this, it’s 4:20 in the afternoon and I am debating whether I should suck it up and wake her up, so that she doesn’t stay up late tonight, or if she needs the sleep any way so I should just let her rest. Oh, baby sleep is such a mystery to me even though I have read countless blog posts on it and browsed through a few books on the subject half-heartedly.

Enough complaining. I came to share something that I have found useful in this time of sleep deprivation that you may find useful as well. I know I’m not the only one who could use some meal planning inspiration and I’m not the only one who is tired. I see you grad students, fellow parents, care-takers, etc., etc.

Meal planning: I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Sometimes I have found the phrase exciting and others times it sounds daunting and on the verge of overwhelming. I went through with planning this week’s dinner’s after some encouragement in the form of this Instagram post.

My plan for this week (as written on Monday):
Sunday: Simple Chili with Cornbread
I used my cousin’s recipe (found in the Carpenter Cookbook, family) for the chili. It made enough for leftovers that the three of us ate for lunch the next day and just Maggie and I shared the day after that. I used a box mix for the cornbread.

Monday: Chile Verde Cheese Enchiladas with Chicken on the Side
Why have the chicken on the side? I baked about 1.5 pounds of chicken breasts from a family value pack on a sheet pan. Making the enchiladas was easy using Frontera chili verde sauce and pre-shredded cheese.

Tuesday: Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
I used the leftover chicken from the night before. All I had to do was cut up a fresh pineapple and warm it all up.

Wednesday: Chicken Meatball Subs
I got a loaf of French bread from Sprouts this week and already have chicken meatballs in my freezer. Add some leftover jarred pizza sauce from when Paul made pizza last week and a few slices of cheese for any easy meal.

Thursday: Kale Salad and Butternut Squash Ravioli
I bought a bag os sweet kale salad to make sure we get some greens in. I did not plan enough vegetables this week, but at least this is something. I get the butternut squash ravioli from Trader Joe’s and love it this time of year.

Friday: Pancakes and Bacon
Breakfast for dinner is always fun. Pancakes take a little time to fry up. Would you say fry about pancakes? Well, you know what I mean. Maggie went to bed early on Friday so I made this after she went to sleep.

Saturday: Dinner out

All these ideas area really easy, but sometimes I run out of steam or I plan on starting dinner after Maggie goes to bed and it takes forever to get her to sleep. Plans change. I thought it would be interesting to compare the plan to reality and maybe continue this as a series. If it’s only interesting to me, I’m okay with keeping an online record any way.

How is turned out (written on Saturday):
Sunday: Simple Chili with Cornbread

Monday: Chile Verde Cheese Enchiladas with Chicken on the Side

Tuesday: Cereal for dinner. We ate the leftover chicken from Monday night in quesadillas for Wednesday’s lunch.

Wednesday: Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

Thursday: Kale Salad and Pizza Delivery

Friday: Pancakes and Bacon

Saturday: Dinner out

I was tired Tuesday night and Paul got home from work late, so we just had cereal. Other things moved around. Paul wanted pizza on Thursday because it’s his Friday. We didn’t have the Butternut Squash Ravioli or Chicken Meatball Subs for dinners this week, so we will either have those on Sunday or I will put them on next week’s meal plan.

Grandma’s recipe: Cinnamon rolls

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A few weeks ago, I made cinnamon rolls for my grandma’s 95th birthday party. I started them the night before the party, after Maggie went to bed. Although it did take a few hours including 1 hour for the first rise, it was totally worth it.

I only took a quick photo of the rolls at the party and went back to socializing. I didn’t take any the night before when I was making them because it was late and too dark. I guess if I want better pictures that could just be one more reason to make cinnamon rolls again.

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When I was growing up, I lived only two streets away from my grandma and grandpa’s house. I lived in that home from the time I was brought home from the hospital until I was 20 years old.

With my granparents living so close, they often helped out my parents by taking care of me and my siblings. My grandparents would take care of my sister Mary and I after school and sometimes in summer when my parents were working.

I have a memory of making cinnamon rolls with my Grandma and Mary but I don’t remember when. I think it was in the summer and I might have been in middle school. we might have made them together more than once.

What I do remember is my grandma asking my sister and I to read off the ingredients and slowly adding things to the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl. I remember placing the dough ball in a big bowl, covering it with a light towel, and placing it on a table in her covered patio for it to rise. When it had doubled in size, we (mainly Grandma, I think), rolled out the dough on the pull out breadboard in her kitchen. I thought it felt funny to spread the brown sugar on top of the butter and dough. Then came the rolling and cutting. My grandma would make an indent to mark where to cut and she would let us kids slice the dough. I loved all of it.

Of course, the cinnamon rolls are delicious and the frosting is amazing. I’m so glad I made them recently so I could share them with family. I got a few compliments. For me, the joy is also in the baking and not just the result. It’s like writing. It’s therapeutic. Dough is especially that way, more so than your basic cookie or cake. There’s a special reward that comes from the work of forming the rolls.

A few years ago, I put together a family cookbook of favorite recipes, including this one. I said “If you’ve never made cinnamon rolls before, you should really give them a try.” One of my cousins told me at the party that she thought about it but the recipe looked too long for her. I can understand that. It does take some time. I just love to bake so much that I even stayed up late to do it, although most nights I fall asleep on the couch around 10 pm.

cousins grandparents.jpg

Cinnamon rolls

4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup margarine or butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 tablespoon half-and-half or light cream

In a large mixer bowl combine 2 1/4 cups of the flour and the yeast.

In a small saucepan heat the milk, the 1/3 cup margarine or butter, the 1/3 cup sugar, and salt just till warm (120° to 130°) and margarine is almost melted, stirring constantly. Add to flour mixture. Add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining 2-1/4 to 2-3/4 cups flour as you can.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl (I use Crisco), turning once. Cover; let rise in a warm place till double (about 1 hour).

For filling, combine brown sugar, the 1/4 cup flour, and cinnamon. Cut in remaining margarine or butter till crumbly; set aside.

Punch dough down. Turn onto lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Sprinkle filling over dough square. Roll up jelly-roll style; pinch edges to seal. Slice roll into eight 1-1/2 -inch pieces. Arrange dough pieces; cut side up, in a greased 12-inch deep-dish pizza pan or a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

To make mini rolls (they will still be a good size), follow above directions, but instead of rolling up the 12-inch square, cut it in half first. Then roll up each rectangle and continue on as normal.

Cover dough loosely with clear plastic wrap., leaving room for rolls to rise. Refrigerate dough for 2 to 24 hours. Uncover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Or, for immediate baking, don’t chill dough. Instead, cover loosely; let dough rise in a warm place till nearly double, about 45 minutes.)

Break any surface bubbles with a greased toothpick. Brush dough with half-and-half or light cream. Bake in a 375° oven for 25 to 30 minutes or till light brown. If necessary to prevent over-browning, cover rolls loosely with foil the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Remove rolls from oven. Brush again with half and half or light cream. Cool for 1 minute. Carefully invert cinnamon rolls onto a wire rack. Cool slightly. Invert again onto a serving platter. Drizzle with glaze or cover in icing. Serve warm. Makes 8 big rolls or 16 mini rolls.

For the icing, I used a new to me recipe, the Tangy Cream Cheese Icing recipe from Sweetish.co. It was so good.

I don’t know if my grandma had a certain icing recipe. Her memory isn’t what it used to be so I don’t think she could tell me. When I went though her recipe collection for the family cookbook, I found the cinnamon roll recipe she used. It was a black and white photocopy of a three page magazine spread, including a powdered sugar frosting recipe. However, I thought she made cream cheese frosting and I think it goes perfectly with cream cheese.

Beer braised beef short ribs in a Dutch oven

Braised short rib with couscous

For this short rib recipe, jalapeño, onion, garlic, beer, and rosemary all come together to make a savory and slightly spicy braise. I love that the liquid imparts a lot of flavor on the short ribs in the long cooking process.

I should probably mention that you should plan on getting started on this about 3 hours before you would like to eat dinner. It takes about 1/2 an hour to prep and sear the meat and then it cooks in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. It is so worth all that time in the oven though. The meat becomes very tender and pulls completely away from the bone.

The beef short ribs taste great with rice, couscous, or another grain and any hearty winter vegetable. In the photo above, you can see that I served it with whole wheat couscous. I plan on stir frying bell peppers soon and serving that with the meat and tortillas. I imagine this would be great for a party, but if you’re serving a group and want to cut costs you might want to use chuck roast instead.

Ribs with onions, jalapeno and garlic
Beer braised beef ribs

I had this recipe in the notes app on my phone from October 29, 2016. It was labeled as beef stew. I remember making this beef stew and it being good, so I decided to try it again.

The recipe in the note wasn’t what you will read down below, though. It wasn’t as complete and didn’t quite make sense, so I had to re-write it and test it out twice. I’m fairly certain I didn’t have a dutch oven back in 2016, so I’m not even quite sure how I made this. I must have just used my large oven-safe stock pot and put that in the oven.

When I made this last month, the first time I tested the updated recipe, I used a package labeled beef back ribs by accident. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between back ribs and short ribs, except the back ribs were definitely longer and it seemed as if they were less fatty. The beef still tasted great and the meat was less expensive than short ribs.

Short ribs used to be inexpensive but they have become such a popular cut that they increased in price. The good thing about short ribs is that they’re not as long so they fit easier in the dutch oven. I had to cook the back ribs in batches.

Beer braised short ribs in dutch-oven

Adapted from The Kitchn with inspiration from the pioneer woman.

Beer braised beef short ribs in a Dutch oven

2 pound ribs, bone in
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Flour (about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
Salt, preferably Kosher
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 jalapeño, chopped
1/4 onion, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic OR 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups beer
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven, remove the racks above it, and heat to 325°F. Brush each short rib with the oil, then sprinkle generously with flour, salt and pepper.

On medium high heat, sear the beef on all sides for several minutes each. This should take about 15 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan. If the meat doesn’t all fit in the pan, cook in batches. Sear the ends as well as the sides.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the jalapeño, onion and garlic around the browned short ribs. Let the onions cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the beer and water to the pot and bring to a simmer.

After the liquid comes to a simmer, add the rosemary. Cover and place in the oven. Braise in the oven until the meat is very tender and pulling away from the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Notes:
Add more onion if you want. As you may know, my husband is picky about onions.

Use your favorite beer. In my case, an IPA beer every time but a different one each time. I don’t recommend using a beer that has a strong fruit flavor, even if you like that normally. It could conflict with the jalapeño and other flavors too much.

The liquid should thicken and cook down. Check on it halfway through cooking and add additional liquid if necessary. There should be no less than 1/4 of an inch of liquid.

Beyond basic banana bread

Cool the banana bread

Everyone has their own favorite banana bread recipe, it seems, and the Internet has plenty so what am I doing adding another? Well, when I looked for a recipe to make banana bread a few weeks ago, I didn’t find one that I loved. Either they called for ingredients I didn’t have on hand, or they seemed too simple and I wanted to add a bit more flavor to them.

I ended up turning to a basic recipe. I added almond flour and almond extract as well as a few spices, and substituted brown sugar for about 75% of the white sugar. I’m still getting the hang of recipe development, and don’t trust myself to create a baking recipe without some sort of framework. But I wish I knew how bakers do that. Some of the home bakers on Great British Baking Show don’t even seem to measure their ingredients. It’s incredible.

Spices and flourLiquid batter

I thought about calling this nutty no-nut banana bread but that would be confusing and slightly inaccurate. You see, it has a nutty taste from the almond flour and almond extract but it doesn’t have any crushed or chopped nuts like some banana breads.

I came up with that “nutty tasting, yet without big pieces of nuts” idea a few weeks ago and then saw that one of my favorite food bloggers had the same train of thought. Robyn of Sweetish.co made cinnamon buns with GRAIN flour and said something similar about the flavor of them on Instagram. I guess great minds think alike.Beyond basic banana bread

Adapted from Julia’s Best Banana Bread on Bon Appetit

Beyond basic banana bread

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x5x3” loaf pan with nonstick spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, oil and almond extract in a large bowl until smooth.

Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center of bread comes out clean, 60–70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan to release the bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.

Banana bread can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Kale “Funyun” chips

Kale Funyun chips baked

One day earlier this year when I was in the break room at the child care center I was working at, I was snacking on a leftover container of kale chips. Another teacher looked at it and said, “What is that? Weed chips?” She seemed genuinely weirded out. I was a bit put off by her question. It must have been a joke, but we weren’t friends and din’t work in the same room, so I felt embarrassed. I guess baked kale looks like weed. But of course that wasn’t what I was eating while on break at a school where I took care of infants and toddlers.

I didn’t eat kale chips at work again after that. I didn’t try that brand of store bought kale chips again because they weren’t that good any way and it’s so easy to make them from scratch. I don’t even remember the name of that brand because I only bought it a few times. It made me want to try to make them at home, and better.

Kale Funyun chips

Kale Funyun chips ingredients

Usually when I make kale chips or when I saute kale on the stove, I just coat the leaves in a bit of olive oil and season them with salt and black pepper. That’s easy and good. But I switched things up on a whim a few weeks ago when I sauted kale for dinner and loved it. Only difference? I replaced the black pepper with onion powder.

My husband has feelings about onions. Maybe you know someone like that. I know quite a few people like that. Unlike some people, though, he doesn’t hate the flavor of onions, more so just the texture. If they’re cut up small enough, say in a taco, he will still eat them.

I didn’t tell him what was different about the kale and had him guess. He guessed onion powder and said he liked it. What a win. Paul said it reminded him of the taste of Frito-Lays Funyun chips.

As far as kale chips go, these are very easy to make and taste great. The onion flavoring is apparent without being overwhelming.

Baked kale Funyun chips

Kale “Funyun” chips

1 10-ounce package kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Wash kale and remove leaves from stems. Discard stems. Dry kale as much as possible. You can use a salad spinner, put dry with paper towels, or dab with a clean tea towel.

Place kale in mixing bowl. Combine with olive oil, kosher salt, and onion powder. Toss until kale is evenly coated.

Heat in 325 oven for 10 minutes. Turn leaves over and bake for another 15 minutes.

Fried rice

Fried rice with pork

As promised, I’m sharing my mom’s fried rice recipe with you. It goes great with the orange chicken I posted on Monday.

Fried rice is a great way to use up leftover white rice. This recipe is one that my mom used when I was growing up.

I made this for my husband Paul and me for dinner and he said, “This tastes like takeout. Better than takeout!”

Fried rice with space for egg

Fried rice egg cooking

Easy fried rice

According to the recipe, it serves 5 to 6 people.

When I made this on Tuesday and followed the recipe for 3 cups cooked rice, I served it with two pork chops. As a main dish with the meat added, it was 3 servings for us. I think 5 to 6 servings is if it is a side dish.

Sometimes I want to make fried but only 2 servings, or about 1 cup cooked rice. I’m just cooking for myself and my husband and don’t always intend for leftovers. In that case, I still look to this recipe as a basic template.

Fried rice

Fried rice

2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons oil
3 cups cooked rice
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tablespoons dry parsley
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In medium skillet, cook onion in oil until tender. Add rice and soy sauce. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a fork.

Move the rice to the sides of the pan and put the eggs in the center. Cook over low heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the egg is cooked, stir the rice into it. Add the parsley and pepper.

If desired, serve with additional soy sauce. Add chicken or other meat to make it a main dish. Or, serve with weeknight orange chicken. It also goes great with stir-fry vegetables. It’s easy to add in frozen mixed vegetables and have them heat up along with the rice, before adding the eggs. Or, you can keep it traditional and add fresh, diced carrots and peas.

Note: Parsley, as suggested in the recipe, makes a good decorative topping. I had cilantro on hand, so I used that instead. It’s what’s in the photos. It has a different taste, but similar look.

Weeknight orange chicken

Orange chicken

It took me about 45 minutes to make the orange chicken from start to finish, and that includes stopping to take photos here and there. You may be able to have it done in 30 minutes or less.

If you’re part of my family on my mom’s side and reading this, you may recognize this recipe because it’s in the Carpenter Cookbook.

Chicken thighs and sauce
Chicken thighs cooking
Chicken simmering in sauce

The orange chicken goes great with vegetable fried rice. I served it with Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable fried rice. I would have made fried rice from scratch to go with this meal, but I didn’t have enough white rice in my pantry and when I went to the Trader Joe’s for more, they were sold out.

In the next few weeks, I’ll share a great recipe of my mom’s for homemade fried rice. If you’re a Carpenter, you can find that in the family cookbook too.

Update: Here is my mom’s orange chicken recipe.

I think Grandma saved this recipe from a food column in a local newspaper, perhaps the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, but I can’t remember for sure now.

Orange chicken two servings

Weeknight orange chicken

2/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the orange juice, marmalade, soy sauce, mustard, ginger, garlic, brown sugar and cornstarch. Stir or whisk to blend well. The marmalade will seem lumpy, but with enough stirring will combine well. Set aside.

Cut chicken breasts into nugget size pieces. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat oil in a 12-inch non stick skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour orange sauce into the pan, stir and bring to a boil. Boil chicken and sauce 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently; sauce will thicken. If it doesn’t seem thick enough, turn heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes more.

A few notes:

  1. The original recipe didn’t call for sugar but I added it because the marmalade and the sauce overall tasted a bit bitter. Adjust according to your tastes and how sweet your brand of marmalade is. For reference, I used Trader Joe’s orange marmalade.
  2. The original recipe said to use chicken breast halves, but I like using thighs for this recipe. Thighs are more fatty. They’re generally not as healthy, but they taste more tender and juicy than chicken breast meat.
  3. I left out the crushed garlic because I didn’t have any. If you have it, use it.

Variations: Add 1 (11 to 15-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained, to the pan once the chicken is done and the sauce is thickened. Add sliced carrots and celery into the pan to sauté with the chicken. Sprinkle salted cashews on top of the finished dish for added crunch. Sprinkle chopped green onion or chopped fresh parsley or cilantro on top of the finished dish for color and flavor. Add 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce if your family likes a spicy dish. Add 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil to the olive oil if you like that flavor.

Baked sweet carrot fries

Sweet carrot fries
Sweet carrot fries

Happy November, everyone! October seemed to go by fast, probably because I had so many events on my calendar from family gatherings like my aunt’s wedding to pregnancy related doctors appointments and tests.

The other day, my sister’s 4-year-old son asked “what’s next” after Halloween. He can be shy, but apparently he loves social events. It’s nice that he looks forward to those times and he may be thinking about when he will see his cousins next. Well, the day after Halloween is his uncle Paul’s birthday (my husband), then a baby shower, Thanksgiving, and another baby shower. Before we know it, Christmas Eve will be here. I’m very much excited for Christmas because my sister and brother who live out of the area will be visiting.

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Mom’s French apple pie

Mom's french apple pie

Today I was looking back through old blog posts and found this one from 2015 where I wrote that making apple pie with my mom’s recipes was one of my goals for before I turned 24. I totally forgot about that, but now I’m a few months away from 28 and I can say that I finally did it.

I made apple pie using my mom’s recipe for French apple pie this past Sunday for her birthday. We had a small gathering and it seemed that everyone loved it. I’m so glad it came out good, but how could it not?  Apple pie is the best. I’m sure using the amazing Jonagold apples my husband bought us in Oak Glen made it even more delicious.

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Teriyaki meatballs with udon noodles

Teriyaki meatballs with udon noodles

Hello, friends. I’ve been working on a few new recipes, but I want to test them out a few more times before sharing them with you. For today, I have an easy dinner idea that I have done a few different ways plenty of times over the past three years or so. It’s not really a recipe, but I hope you still get inspiration from it and try it out yourself.

I like having the ingredients on hand for an easy meal like this so I can have a healthy lunch or dinner on the table in under 30 minutes.

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