Tag Archives: Meal Planning

Recipes: Butternut Squash

6 Sep

One of the issues with meal planning that I run into over and over again is that of leftovers. Sometimes the problem isn’t even with the prepared food itself but with the uncooked portions I have leftover in the fridge. In this case, the food in question is butternut squash.

My friend Jake has been helping us with our garden and thanks to him we have both pumpkin and butternut squash plants in our yard. Gardening is way harder than I believed it to be, particularly so because we’re not using pesticides and all the local garden centers stopped carrying ladybugs months ago. Aphids are really kicking our ass over here, and Jacob finally came up with a solution involving spraying each goddamn bug with a magical, organic substance that will shred the critter and knock him to the ground, thereby preventing anymore identical bastards to pop out of his pooper, and, as Anthony put it, “ruin Halloween.”

All that aside, Jake’s plants have managed to produce butternuts, and they are awesome. He gave one to me and I immediately set about the task of slicing it into rounds and baking it. I was originally trying to make steamed disks of butternut so that I could slather them with goat cheese, honey and toasted pecans and feast thusly until my husband returned home from sword practice.

Of course I forgot about them in the oven so that didn’t happen.

I ate them anyway and realized that as divine as steamed squash could be, these were chips, and they were even better. I really think that Jake raised a superior squash because I’ve recreated this experiment a few times since then and while the results of have been delicious, that first squash I used was far and away superior. Perhaps the defining factor was the way that squash was made: it was small, had a very small globe end and a very long cylinder end. When I sliced it the squash divided into perfect disks. Squash I bought from the farmer’s market was too large, so I had to resort to slicing it into half-moon shapes.

After they were sliced I brushed them with olive oil and set them on a foil-lined baking tray. This is about the thickness I was going for.

As you can see from the photo, they weren’t all perfect and some were thinner and some were thicker. I divided up my squash moons into a thinner and a thicker pile so I could cook them in batches. This really wasn’t extra work because I couldn’t fit them all in at once anyway.

Some received a dusting of spices, including cinnamon, cumin, curry, and five spice powder. These were all very good, especially the cinnamon and curry powder, and just by adding the slight addition of powdered spice you could completely change the character of the chip. My favorite is still probably a sprinkling of sea salt, but don’t bother adding that until the chips are out of the oven. If you add it before baking the salt will pull the moisture from the chips and they will steam instead of bake.

I threw leftover chips in a large zippy bag and toasted them throughout the week. They suffered no ill effects from this treatment and could probably survive five or six days like that. Squash are hardy.

They come out like this, though I had quite a few burn and quite a few remain soft and stick. The handy thing about cutting them into rounds is that the skin helps the squash retain its shape and there’s less burning and steaming because you don’t have that bit of squash flesh at one end.

I roasted them for about 35 minutes at 400, but you really have to watch these guys carefully and will almost certainly have to adjust the time and temperature of your oven for their temperament. Mistakes will still be delicious, even if they aren’t chips. The burnt parts are almost completely caramelized plant sugars and they taste like toasted marshmallows.

If they end up too soft, break out the honey and the goat cheese or feta and enjoy them that way.

Chips aside, you are going to have leftover squash. The globe-like ends are not fit for chips, but scoop out the seeds, rub with oil and roast all the same.

After roasting these I mashed them with a fork, discarded the peel, and added them to shiitake risotto (made by adding dried shiitake mushrooms to the stock while it heats, then adding the sliced mushrooms and butternut puree to the plain risotto at the end) and Oh. My.

It was so good I nearly cried when I ate the last bowl. I served it to Anthony in these wooden bowls I salvaged from my bestie’s yard sale. The color of the squash mellows in the creamy whiteness of the risotto and Anthony thought the color came from cheddar cheese, but the pale orange is actually the squash. I threw a squash chip on top for garnish and added a dusting of cheese and for the next ten minutes my life was complete.

Other things I made with the leftover squash include a butternut squash puree which I later realized would have made a perfect baby food. I roasted and mashed the squash then added butter and crumbled feta along with salt and pepper. I decided then and there that all babies should eat so well.

I stirred the leftovers of the puree into a black bean  and bell pepper hash that I had in the fridge and it was so very good. If Jake gives me anymore I’m going to make soup. Do you have a favorite way to prepare butternut or other winter squash? I’d love to hear it. As the summer winds down I expect I’ll get a few thrown at my car when people are at a loss to deal with them.  I’ll point them this way for ideas.

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The Summer Market

22 Jun

One of my goals for this summer is to do as much of our weekly shopping as locally as possible, either at fruit stands, the Tuesday Remate, or the downtown Farmer’s Market. Last Friday Isobel and I stopped by the Farmer’s Market because Anthony’s vacation had ended and Isobel wanted to see “the people.” You can see our glorious bounty in the photo above. In fact, if you click on the photo it will take you to my flickr where I’ve labeled everything for the curious.

I only brought one large tote with me but I could have used two. Toward the end of the trip I managed to pick up Isobel with one arm and hoist her onto my hip while holding an armload of produce in the other hand. I was so impressed I would have wifed myself right there if it were legal.

Going to the farmer’s market has really jump-started my menu planning for the summer. I’m really getting into it again and I think it’s because it’s so inspiring to see everything laid out and to talk with the people who grew it. Most of the stuff on the counter came from 30 miles away. I pick up stuff that looks interesting and plan my protein and meals around that. The combination of spontaneous and interesting, in-season and fresh really speaks to my desire to eat well and plan for my family.

That Friday I used the eggs, the garlic, and the portobello mushroom to make a killer omelet for dinner. Anthony has been making classic Greek salads for about a month now so I bought him a cucumber and those unusual-looking Italian torpedo red onions. They are really sweet and delicate and I like that in an onion that I’m going to eat raw. I think it makes it more appealing for children, too, as I’ve yet to find a kid that adores raw onions (though I’m sure they’re out there). When Isobel was about six months old she delighted in chewing on raw onion rings, but she liked many unusual things at that age. Staring at ceiling fans, for example.

I’ve eaten most of the cherry tomatoes pictures already.They were like tiny bits of candy. The larger ones I’m saving to split in half for salads. I hesitantly bought two smallish zucchini. Hesitantly because it seems like zucchini is the White Elephant gift of summer. It explodes in backyard gardens until strangers are throwing them at your car as you drive by in an effort to rid themselves of the overabundance. I’m going to try shaving them thin and drizzling them with oil and feta, but if I don’t care for that, there’s always zucchini fritters.

I’ve never eaten wax beans, aside from those regrettable canned three-bean salads everyone in America has had forced on them at some point. But this is the kind of thing I like about going to the market: I see something unusual and it inspires me to try it. My favorite instance of this ever occurred when I happened upon some zucchini blossoms. It was also the first (and sadly, only) time I’ve ever deep-fried something. As much as I love fried food, it intimidates me.

The fruit is nearly gone, now, too, and it hasn’t even been a week. I’ll probably be hitting a fruit stand soon.

I even bought an Anaheim chili pepper to pusue my goal of increasing my tolerance to spicy food this summer.

I also instantly bonded with another mother when I went to sit down and eat some soup and I heard her toddler shout a familiar “NO!” my way. Her son was mere weeks apart from Isobel and we commiserated over the stranger danger and the subsequent unsociable behavior it brings. While we ate and talked our kids took turns waving and shouting, “NO!” at each other.

Isobel looks really serious in this photo, and that’s because she is serious–about her food. If you get between her and her hummus she will cut a bitch. Actually, she will just throw a tantrum, a fact I found out when I tried to dip my carrot in her hummus. No, Mama, no. That’s my Isobel’s hummus. Also, she insists I call pita bread tortillas. We’ve been having hummus and ‘tias every day for breakfast since.


A Year of Planning Meals

25 May

It’s been over a year since I posted about my commitment to menu planning and family dinners and I wanted to post an update. In my Life List I wanted to be able to successfully plan and cook family meals for an entire year. I’d like to be able to do that, but I’ve been thinking about it. Say I do it. What next? Do I stop? I realized my ultimate goal wasn’t to be able to do it for a year. It was to be able to do it. Forever. For always. For realsies.

Not that I had to always do it. I just wanted the option. To be able to do it, if I so chose.

Our life circumstances have changed dramatically since I first wrote about this. Anthony’s (fortunately) down to one job now and has graduated school so he’s around pretty much every evening that doesn’t involve D&D. Isobel is older and doesn’t need constant attention (just, you know, near constant attention). These things have helped the family dinner situation dramatically. We eat at the table together every night that we can, even if we’re eating pizza or takeout. I love that we get to do that.

I’ve been consumed with finishing my job at the library and I haven’t done much menu planning. I’m really just trying to get through the last month of this with my sanity in tact. I’ve given up on menu planning for the most part. I’m not going to have any more time when I’m home–I don’t have any illusions about that–but since I’ll be home menu planning will be more of a priority for me. I’ve already made an outline of our daily schedule for when I do stay home, and I’ve devoted lots of that time to the making of, eating, and cleaning up after food.

One thing I’ve noticed that really helps me stay inspired is scrolling through the food blog section of my blog roll daily. I don’t always have time to read, but I find that even if I just scroll through it I get inspiration and motivation and it really helps me cook more. One look at my browser history and you’ll find it’s full of porn–food porn.

Isobel has become very involved in our kitchen life and she likes to help by “washing the dishes” (read: getting enough water everywhere to fill a small pool), “feeding the cats” (read: filling one of their bowls with scoop after scoop of food until it’s overflowing, while simultaneously not letting the cats actually eat anything),  and “cooking” (read: standing next to us on a small stool, eating the ingredients and watching us cook).

She’s even beginning to take note of our food preferences and habits. A couple weeks ago when I was sick and laying on the couch in abject misery she patted me on the arm and said, “Poor Mama. Mama sick.” She then went to the pantry and gathered up my tin of coffee and some emergenC packets and piled them on my lap.

Isobel is also honing her palate. Sometimes she rejects food for no apparent reason. The other day she decided she didn’t want to eat the half a banana she had asked for just a few minutes ago. Anthony ate it in front of her, to her absolute horror, and as he did she shrieked, with ever-rising pitch of disgust, “ew ew ew ew EW EW EW EW EW YUCK YUCK YUCKY! GARBAGE! GARBAGE! GARBAGE!”

How many times does she have to tell you, banana? When she said that you were garbage she meant that you were garbage.

Right now Isobel’s favorite thing to eat is cooked chicken. She still has days where she’s just not that interested in solid food. She’ll ask for a bottle and when I suggest something to eat instead she’ll say, “No Mama, I’m full.” The girl really loves meat in any form, but chicken is her number one favorite, so I like to always keep some around to tempt her. If anyone has ideas for using up vast amounts of leftover cooked chicken, I’d love to hear it. Isobel will eat it day after day, but Mama needs variety.

Lunch, Menu Planning, and Eating Healthily

17 Mar

Before I make good on the promise I made few days ago, I wanted to point you in the direction of this post by MK. It is an excellent resource to ways you can donate to various charities assisting in the relief effort in Japan. As days go by and the situation becomes even more grim and horrible, all I can do is sniff my daughter’s head as I sadly watch the news. Of course, it feels that way, but it’s not true: I can help by donating. And you can, too.

It’s been nearly a year now since I first discussed my meal planning goal, and meal planning in general is something I still work on and think about several days a week. As a family we are much closer to my ideal of eating a home cooked meal together every night, but we’re not quite there yet.

Weekly meal planning  got me through that time when I was fighting to come out of post-partum depression. I needed a set menu plan to tell me exactly, precisely what to do without any thought on my part. When you’re depressed you need help putting one foot in front of the other to soldier on. While I didn’t stick to the set weekly menu plan for very long, I use ideas and meals from it frequently as a backup plan. When we get busy, or when our plans fall through, it is always there, reliable and easy and comforting.

So I thought, maybe I’m going about this backward? I like variety at dinner, I like to improvise and cook based on mood and energy level. But I eat the same breakfast everyday (oatmeal, coffee) and am content. Lunch is more difficult, since I tend to rely on either leftovers or a soup and a salad.  I’m one of those people who work through lunch unless I have to stop. I enjoy food immensely, obviously, but if my head’s all wrapped up in a project I tend to ignore things like eating or sleeping—you know, the details. I seldom care about variety at lunch; I just want to get fed so I can go back to what I’m doing.  I also noticed that when I go out to eat at lunch I don’t try new things on a menu—I stick to my favorites, what I know I like.

The past few weeks I’ve been making variations on a turkey sandwich, inspired by the delicious sandwiches at Leland Tea Company. My current fave is a turkey and Swiss cheese on whole wheat bread with mayo, honey mustard, arugula greens, alfalfa sprouts, scallions, and thinly sliced tomatoes and pickles.

I realized I could eat essentially the same (with room for variation) breakfast and lunch everyday, and this fit in perfectly with my desire to monitor my calories. I could calculate the calories for lunch and breakfast once and be done with it, giving myself flexibility—and a calorie reserve—at dinner.  The next step is planning four or so different lunch and breakfast items that I love and working out the caloric intake for each so I always have healthy options for the first two meals of the day.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

More Meal Planning Apps and Resources

8 Nov

Here are some random apps that I love. No company has ever given me money for… well, anything at this point really, but especially not to promote their iphone apps. I just like these. “I’m Carrie Anne, and I approve this message!”

Now that Thanksgiving approaches and I’ve been back at work for a few months now, my struggle to get something healthy, delicious, and easy on the table is making me long for summer vacation when I had energy to cook and plan. Now that autumn rolls around I feel like I need help. Enter, technology.

You can find a whole lot of posts about my struggles with meal planning here. You can find the first post about which meal planning apps I use here.

Getting dinner on the table every night is a work in progress, but I’m happy to say I’m doing better at it now than I ever have before, ever. I think some of that has to do with how hard I used to make the process for myself—how complicated, how many steps, how unnecessarily detailed it was. Using my apps at the grocery store, or during the last five minutes of work to plan dinner, or browsing recipes stoveside has changed my life. Technology flawlessly fits in with my philosophy for meal planning: make it easy, make it convenient, and make it simple.

1. Simply Recipes / 101 Cookbooks: these aren’t apps per se, but the writers of these websites have created mobile-friendly versions of their sites for recipe-browsing via smart phone. Going here will show you how to add their icon to your home screen, just like a real app. I cook from Simply Recipes all the freaking time, so I was elated to find this.

2. Go Meals: every once in a while I like to log my meals to look at my nutrition objectively. I always think to myself that I will chart my food particularly when I have a Crohn’s flare up so I can see if something is setting it off, but invariably when I have a Crohn’s flare up I nearly stop eating altogether. The point is, you can track your meals with this app, and if you counting calories is your thing (I could never be bothered) it has the ability to do that, too.

3. English Muffin: I nearly swooned when I found out Nigella has an app! I normally don’t like to pay more than 99 cents for my apps and this one cost a pretty penny at $8. But it’s worth it because it streams all sorts of videos of her cooking and demonstrating recipes and such. Plus she is my girl crush and in a perfect world I’d be married to Anthony, Picard, and Nigella. What?

4. Rules, man: Have you read Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio? For me it was groundbreaking. From the app: “Ratios are the starting point from which a thousand variations begin. A culinary ratio is simply a proportion of one ingredient relative to another. [This app] puts 28 key ratios in your pocket… The app does all the calculating and converting for you. Just enter the amount of the ingredient, and all the ingredients will appear in their exact proportions.” Squee, I say. Squee.

5. Chow Thanksgiving: Just in time for the holidays, Chow has released a free app that does only one thing–it helps you plan and track what needs to be done the week before Thanksgiving to get your meal on the table while minimizing stress and loss of limbs. I’m honestly not sure if this will be very helpful or not so much, but it’s free so I thought I’d give it a go.

WEB RESOURCES

I have relied heavily on certain websites for recipes and inspiration for continuing the nightly family meal. The sites I’ve used the most are:

1. Dinner: a Love Story – one family’s committment to instilling a tradition of family mealtimes. This is my goal for my family.

2. Angerburger – some of the best writing out there. Period. Oh, and also food. And a Viking.

3. Outpost 505 – a couple post their delicious dinners on the web.

4. Lunch in a box – Biggie doesn’t update this site so much anymore, but it’s a treasure trove of information for people who want delicious, homemade food for work. This site is designed for bento enthusiasts, but the information is invaluable even if you use a humble brown bag. I live near enough to SF that I stock up on imported bento items from Japan when I can, but I also invested in a Mr. Bento. I bought one for my husband, too, who was initially exasperated with me but ultimately delighted. He loves his Mr. Bento and the last time he brought his to work a coworker asked him all about it and ordered one for himself on his phone before lunch was over.

5. Simply Recipes – This is my go-to site when I’m looking for a recipe for something. Well, this, Everyday Food, and Epicurious.

ALSO OF NOTE

November is the month where some people commit to posting every day on their blog. Some people commit to growing facial hair. And some people commit to writing a novel. All honorable, noble pursuits, but my friend Sarcasmically didn’t feel particularly called to do any of these things. And yet she felt left out. So she’s taking on a challenge of another kind: National Deep-fry a New Food Month. I look to her with a mixture admiration and fear as I am personally very intimidated by deep-frying. I check her blog with great anticipation as she’s made some wonderful, heart-stopping (literally) discoveries. My favorite so far? Probably her deep-fried pickle-wrapped-in-bacon experiment. I have a feeling that pregnant ladies everywhere have developed a strange new craving.

Meal Planning Update: The Soup

17 Oct

Now that I’m back at work I’ve been relying on my meal planning more than ever to make sure I get a decent lunch. Money’s so tight that eating out isn’t an option I’m comfortable with so making sure I have the components for salad, soups, eggs and sandwiches is a necessity.

When I first started making this meal plan I assumed my default soup would be minestrone. It’s delicious and easy to throw together without much thought on my part—a crucial detail. But as I started planning meals I became focused on using up extras to save money and prevent waste. My husband turned any fruit surplus in danger of becoming overripe into delicious smoothies. I’ve been using up any leftovers in the vegetable bin to make soup.

It’s not an original idea, I know, but it saves money and gets the job done. I discovered a secret to quick soups, the kind that are thrown together with canned broth, that sometimes need a boost in the flavor department: dried mushrooms. Not the most glamorous of ingredients, but if you love mushrooms it gives any soup a delicious flavor boost.

The first leftover soup I made happened when we had a surplus of celery and onions. Celery soup, not exactly the most enticing. I cooked it up with caramelized onions, potatoes for heft, and a generous addition of dried wild mushrooms. It was especially good the second day, after the mushrooms had imparted all of their savory goodness.

I had so much leftover cooked chicken for the next go-around I made a chicken noodle with dried porcini mushrooms and it was excellent. I froze a bunch to pull out later in the winter when cold season is in its full, miserable force.

Last weekend I had a surplus of cauliflower and the first soup that came up when I googled ‘cauliflower soup’ was the Ree’s velvety vegetable version. Score. This recipe had enough going on with the richness of the roux to not need a mushroom booster and it came out perfect. Isobel is positively addicted to it. (Call CPS! My toddler is addicted to cauliflower!)

Keeping good bread on hand, cheese or other salad garnishes, and hard boiled eggs for salads if I need a protein boost has really helped keep me on track. I feel like after all this time I’m finally succeeding.

Since it’s Sunday I wanted to share a home movie with you.

Since it’s my birthday weekend I also wanted to share a video with you that pnkrcklibrarian shared with me:

“Mr. Darcy has been a freestyle disco champion these last dozen years.”

Dinner Update II

28 Sep

Since I first discussed my meal planning woes here on Little Big I’ve been plugging away at dinner each night, trying to get something delicious and healthy on the table in a timely fashion. I feel that dinner is a task of Sisyphusian proportions. Do it well or do it wrong, either way that boulder is rolling right back down the mountain to be pushed back up the next day. For all my complaining you might assume that I hate cooking, or find working in the kitchen a chore, but it’s just the opposite: when I have free time cooking and meal planning are what I enjoy. The problem is, I don’t always have the time, and I have my limited budget of time and energy to contend with. Like a Top Chef quickfire challenge, home cooks have to produce a wonderful meal within a narrow scope of limitations.

I learned a lot from that initial post and the subsequent post made up of all of your wonderful advice. I made some decisions and went forward with a new plan: a set weekly menu. The concept of “themes” was touched upon in the comments but I really had to go through the process of trial and error for myself before I learned what worked with that and what doesn’t. I think a lot of my problem lies in that delicate balance between preparation and spontaneity. I’ve tried planning everything out to the letter and I’ve tried cobbling dinner together each night at the last minute. Both result in unsatisfying meals and wasted money.

Predictably I became bored serving the same thing week after week, but what is working a whole lot better for us is almost the same thing week after week. The freedom and flexibility make it work. I need the structure of themes but also the room to improvise.

CHICKEN: My favorite is baked chicken with caramelized shallots, but all sorts of variations of baked chicken fit here. I keep packages of chicken in the freezer and put them in the fridge a day or two before to thaw. I stock up on chicken when on sale or at Costco to save money. Variations on the chicken theme include marinades, barbecue sauce, herb and spice blends, and pan gravy.

PASTA: Default pasta night is spaghetti, but I can only eat so much spaghetti before I long for a change. Fortunately, pasta is the kind of dish with a multitude of variables: pasta shapes, sauces, meats and vegetables can be made ahead or mixed at the last second with wonderful results. I like researching pasta recipes and daydreaming about which one I’ll use this week. Variations: seriously limitless, although a favorite of mine is spinach pasta with Parmesan cheese and sautéed mushrooms, or creamy lemon pasta with prosciutto and peas.

EGGS: I like eggs, but the true reason I devote a whole evening to them is that they are cost-effective. We splurge and by the organic, free-range eggs and even then they are still cheaper than a lot of different kinds of meat. And sometimes that’s what counts. Fortunately, the eggs we buy are fresh and delicious so I don’t mind relying on them to get dinner on the table. I love baking eggs, also. There’s something very comforting about that. Anthony is a fan of scrambled eggs and omelets, and I always have hardboiled eggs around for adding to salads.

STIR-FRY: So far this is my weakest night. I admit it. I know more variations of a theme for the other nights so I usually end up making either teriyaki chicken bowl, stir-fried veggies with rice, or a noodle-dish from prepared Chinese noodles from the produce aisle. I need to build up more of a repertoire for this night. But, I’m sticking with this night because it’s a tasty way to serve veggies and Anthony and I are suckers for Asian flavors.

LEFTOVER REMIX: I like to plan dinners for 5ish meals a week. Anthony and I meet friends and family for dinner quite frequently, or often we’ll have one of those nights when he works and baby and I just kind of scrounge around for dinner. Either way I’ve learned it’s useful to have a day set aside for making smoothies from leftover fruit and soup from whatever’s in the veggie bin. If we have leftovers I’ll try to revamp them in a way that makes the most of what we have. Anthony is very good at this kind of dinner. I’m working on it. (Want to know a dirty secret? Sometimes this night just ends up being a big green salad with a baked potato with leftover roast chicken and bacon on the side.)

This revised menu works as a default plan and some weeks we deviate from it quite a lot. Maybe we’ll have chicken like usual but we’ll mix it up with Anthony volunteering for cooking duty (aside from smoothies he’s quite good at burgers and quesadillas), or perhaps I’ll volunteer to make something more elaborate. I refuse to stick to any meal plan slavishly but have learned from trial and error that no menu plan means I tend to surrender and grab dinner from a taco truck. The main thing is that I’ve planned to have the wherewithal to put any of these meals together any particular night. And that gives me freedom.

Meal Planning Apps

3 Jun

This post is the second in a series about iPhone apps I use and enjoy. This is less about being on the cutting edge of technology and more the equivalent of peeking in someone else’s medicine cabinet. Electronic voyeuristic curiosity! I’d love to hear what food-related apps you enjoy in the comments.


Shroomies Produce Guide – I have no idea why this is called ‘shroomies’ but it does make me giggle. This app really isn’t as necessary as it claims but I love it none the less. It is supposed to help you choose produce that’s in season but really, you probably don’t need help with that. If you can use your valuable looking skills to see what the store is offering a lot of cheaply then you know what’s in season.

Shroomies does offer the valuable service in the form of providing nutritional information, seasonality (when will asparagus be cheap again?!), how to store and how long to keep it, preparation advice and almost 200 photos and descriptions of all sorts of produce. Have you ever read a recipe and thought, what the heck is kohlrabi? Look it up! I love browsing the photos for inspiration, but I’m weird like that.

RelishI’ve sung Relish’s praises before and I’ll do it again: the iPhone app lets me peruse my weekly shopping list and view the recipe right from my phone, no printouts necessary. You have to have a subscription to Relish’s menu service for this to be useful, however.

Everyday Food – I sort of hate to give Martha even more of my money when she has so much already, but there’s something to be said for not having to leaf through stacks of magazines to find a recipe.

Mise En PlaceI’ve mentioned this app before also and while it over complicates the week night dinner I can’t wait to use this for a big party or holiday such as Thanksgiving. It lets you schedule all the tasks that need to be accomplished for a big meal and can help you figure out what you need to do well in advance. My organization-loving heart swelled when I found this.

Epicurious – The same benefits of the recipe website in handheld form.

Grocery Gadget – I’ve mentioned this app before, too, but when I find something awesome I like to share. Angela originally found this app and I’m so glad she told me about it. It handles far more than just your grocery list and has all sorts of handy features, such as online editing, list sharing so other members of your household have access to them, and full control over list organization. It’s the priciest app I’ve ever purchased but, for me at least, it’s been so worth it.

Poll: Who Won the Avocado Blog-off?

2 Jun

(If you are wondering what the heck I am talking about, please see my previous posts as well as Palinode’s post and comments. Hopefully that should clear things up for you. No promises.)

Ideas for Avocados

2 Jun

I spend long winter nights dreaming of avocados. They are summer personified. Around here they are available in cheap abundance in farmer’s markets from June to September. Every year Anthony and I can’t wait to take full advantage.

RECIPE 1: LAUREL’S AVOCADO DRESSING

Besides guacamole, my favorite thing to do with avocados is to make salad dressing. Yes, that’s right, salad dressing. I first read about avocados in salad dressing in one of my most often-used cookbooks, 1970s-fave Laurel’s Kitchen. Both my mother and my grandmother used this cookbook. I also have an awesome friend named Laurel so the name is altogether dear to my heart.

This recipe in the book is called ‘avocado dressing’ or something boring, but given my connection to the name Laurel, I call it “Laurel’s Avocado Dressing.” It’s sharp and sour from the lemons yet smooth from the avocado. I like to add dill to this but I like to add dill to just about everything.

Laurel‘s Avocado Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs oil
  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • 3 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper
  • dash chili powder
  • dash garlic powder

1. Mash avocado and mix all ingredients together. Keeps about a week.

I’ve tried lots of different oils in this recipe and a plain one like safflower oil or even avocado oil is preferable to a strongly-flavored oil such as extra virgin olive oil. Experiment though, to see what you like. Avocado is yielding enough to mash up into a thick liquid and love it over plain greens with carrots and broccoli.

RECIPE 2: AVOCADO CITRUS DRESSING


Not too long ago I decided to deviate from my normal avocado dressing recipe when I stumbled upon another dressing recipe by the venerable Mollie Katzen. The first cook book I ever bought myself was Mollie’s seminal “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.”  I was in seventh grade, a vegetarian at the time, and I never knew food could be so exciting. This recipe actually comes from her more recent book “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less.”  I think it’s the most informative diet/healthy lifestyle book I’ve ever read, but it does sort of make me depressed that I don’t exercise. I can eat healthily all day long but let’s face it, I don’t get a whole lot of cardio.

This recipe is more complex than the first one and quite a different experience altogether. It’s very creamy and sweet and would make a fantastic dressing for a fruit salad, should you happen to have lots of ripe fruit lying around. It’s also delicious on greens.

  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small perfectly ripe avocado
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) honey
  • Salt
  • Zest of lemon  & orange

1. Combine OJ  & lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Scoop out avocado and add to juice. Mash with a fork until very smooth.
3. Use a whisk to beat in honey &  yogurt
4. Add salt to taste &  zest. Chill before serving.

RECIPE 3: BLUE CHEESE GUACAMOLE

Now, I know you don’t really need me to wax poetic about guacamole. If you like avocados you’ve most certainly had it and probably have a recipe for it. But I think this transcends guacamole and could make a fantastic appetizer for a cocktail party or a gallery opening. The combination of blue cheese and avocados is heavenly. Deep, rich, and tangy. You don’t want to miss this.

This recipe from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook “Nigella Express.” 

Roquamole

As far as the blue cheese goes, Roquefort would be the obvious choice, and Nigella does have another kind of blue cheese that she suggests but let’s face it: the woman can afford to have a pig slaughtered and brought to her house whenever she wants to bake a ham. You don’t need to find the most expensive blue cheese out there to make this. Just find some delicious blue cheese that won’t break the bank.

She also suggests eating this concoction with blue corn tortilla chips. Tasty! But don’t limit yourself. I like this with the tortilla-like Mexican corn chips you find in restaurants. You can find them freshly made in small batches or you can find them mass-produced in 3 feet tall plastic bags. Hell, use any old corn chip, toasted bread, or pita wedges you prefer.

When I make this I don’t add the jalapeños even though I don’t doubt that would be awesome. My goal is to work my way up into adding them in, but I’m too much of a gringa to tolerate much heat. You could also try substituting red pepper flakes for the jalapeños if you don’t want to bother with them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/4 cup sliced jarred green pickled jalapenos
  • 2 tbs finely sliced scallions
  • 1/4 tbs paprika
  • blue corn tortilla chips
  1. Combine the cheese and sour cream.
  2. Mash the avocados and add to the cheese mixture.
  3. Roughly chop jalapenos and slice scallions. Add to the cheese mixture.
  4. Dust with paprika and serve.

RECIPE 4: CALIFORNIAN AVOCADO SAUCE

This last recipe comes from The California Cook by Diane R Worthington. I found this book at a second hand store years ago. I made this recipe just to try it and magic happened. Diane suggests using this sauce on fish but I’m squeamish about cooking fish at home. I think this would be exceptional on grilled prawns or scallops also.

An ‘English’ cucumber is simply the seedless, unwaxed variety sold encased in plastic. I’ve heard them sometimes referred to a ‘hothouse variety.’ Their skin is thin and they contain only small amounts of seeds, but regular cucumbers would be fine as well.

Californian Avocado Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 English cucumber, chopped fine
  • 2 tbs fresh dill
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tb rice vinegar
  • 1 tb fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ripe avocado, mashed

Mix all ingredients together and serve soon after.

SOME OTHER THINGS TO DO WITH AVOCADOS

  • Mash into a chunky paste and use as sandwich spread/mayo replacement. Particularly yummy with a bit of roasted garlic paste mixed in.
  • Add to an omelet for breakfast
  • Toss slices or chunks on top of a garden salad – delicious with vinaigrette and a friend of bacon
  • Garnish gazpacho with avocado cubes and a slice of lime
  • Add slices to grilled hamburgers
  • Mix chunks with chopped tomato and red onions and serve on top of refried beans
  • Add to quesadillas
  • Add to fruit smoothies
  • Add to jarred salsa

AVOCADO STORAGE TIPS

  • Avocados turn brown quickly after being exposed to air but this is a cosmetic issue more than something that affects flavor.
  • Sprinkle cut slices of avocado with lemon or lime juice to prevent browning.
  • When storing mashed avocados or guacamole, press plastic wrap onto the surface of the avocados. This will form an airtight seal to prevent browning. You’ll lose some of the avocados to the film when you remove it, but it’s worth it.
  • I’ve heard some people suggest storing avocados (whole fruit) in the fridge, but I’ve never done that. I leave them on the counter and in patches of sunlight to get as much ripening action possible before using.