Saturday, September 19, 2015

smoothie: chocolate-banana

This has become our go-to after school snack. A sweet treat full of nourishing ingredients to power the kids until dinnertime.

Chocolate-Banana Shake
(make about 4 cups)

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2-4 pitted Medjool dates (to sweeten)
  • 2-4 heaping Tablespoons nut butter (I tend to use almond)
  • 3-4 cups almond milk (or other non-dairy or dairy milk, of choice; our favorite is Calafia coconut-almond milk)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (or you could use a scoop of chocolate protein powder, if you have one you like)
Combine everything in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Store any leftovers in the fridge and simply shake or whisk before serving if the smoothie separates. 

smoothie: probiotic berry-banana

A favorite before school breakfast, or after school snack. 

Probiotic Berry-Banana Smoothie
(makes about 4 cups)

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 cups kefir (sweetened or unsweetened, plain or flavored, your choice)
  • 1 cup non-dairy or dairy milk (I usually use hemp or almond milk)
  • 1 cup organic strawberries (or mixed berries)
  • optional - 2-4 pitted dates to sweeten

Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth. Store any leftovers in the fridge, and simply shake or whisk before serving if the smoothie separates. 

smoothie: "peanut butter and jelly"

Packed with protein to fuel my kiddos through sports, playing in the yard, and homework.

"Peanut Butter and Jelly" Smoothie
(makes about 6 cups)

  • 2 cups non-dairy or dairy milk (our favorite for smoothies is vanilla hemp or almond milk)
  • 2 cups whole milk kefir (we like these ones from Lifeway)
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (I use almond butter)
  • 2 cups frozen organic mixed berries
  • optional - you can add maple syrup, honey or a few pitted dates for sweetness, though this probably won't be necessary

Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. My kids like their smoothies thick, but you may add water if you want to thin the smoothie out. Store any leftovers in the fridge and give them a shake or whisk before serving if the smoothie separates. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

the easiest dinner after a day of apple crisp making: hearty chimichurri rice and bean soup

I needed a dinner option last night that was easy. And vegetarian. And that everyone would enjoy. And that could be made with minimal effort...

Now on the tenth (!) year as a back-to-school tradition, we'd spent the morning making apple crisp for the boys' teachers, the afternoon swimming at a friend's, and the early evening chauffeuring to physical therapy for one, cross-training for the other. By the time we rolled home-- at dinnertime-- I really wanted/needed someone else to tackle dinner.

Trader Joe's to the rescue. The boys sampled this while we were picking up our (zillion pounds) of apples and both claimed it was really good. Three ingredients into a pot? Sounds good to me too.

Special bonus that all the ingredients can be kept on hand in the pantry and freezer. So, whether you find yourself in need of a night off of cooking because you made apple crisp for 20 families, or just because you're a fan of the quick and easy, this one's a keeper.

Trader Joe's Chimichurri Rice and Black Bean Soup
recipe credit going to the nice lady giving out samples in the Darien, CT store
(4-6 servings; can double)

one 32-oz carton Roasted Tomato-Red Pepper Soup
one or two 14-oz can(s) black beans, rinsed and drained
one 16-oz bag Chimichurri Rice (freezer section)
optional - sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
optional - avocado

Place soup, black beans and rice in a pot. Heat over medium-low until warm. Serve with sour cream, Greek yogurt, and/or chunks of fresh avocado. Leftovers can be frozen.

For posterity's sake, I'm including a few photos from the apple crisp making as well. Each year I think, "should we do it again?" And each year, it's the one cooking project the kids really look forward to. So, I embraced the happy chaos again, and hope that this token of thanks for all their hard work in the year ahead is enjoyed by each teacher's family.

I know it drives some of you crazy that we don't use a recipe for our apple crisp. I linked a few apple crisp recipes here in this post from 2009. This pic from later in 2009 always brings a smile. And I recall that back in 2013 we attempted to apple pick before embarking on the project. Lesson learned that apples aren't really in season when school starts here in CT.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back-To-School Week 1 Dinner and Freezer Recap

I am often asked to explain how I cook ahead/how often I cook, etc. I have a lot of friends who really want to figure this whole dinner gig out, but feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start. So, I thought sharing my (honest) method to the madness might be helpful. This will be the first post in a monthlong series so my friends can see the way I create a stash of homemade meals in the freezer, so I can feed my family well--even on the busiest of days.

Some weeks are smoother than others. This past week ended up looking nothing as I envisioned it would. I had these pipe dreams of the kids heading back to school, and me getting this big jump start on stocking the freezer, spending all of this time working out, catching up with friends, yadda yadda yadda. Well, that didn't happen. My children didn't even start school til Wednesday, and then the bulk of my free time ended up being spent in surprise medical appointments for myself, and playing catch-up with office piles, meetings, etc. Better luck next week. In the meantime:

I started the week with three tubs of Bolognese in the freezer. 

Monday (Labor Day): That afternoon I took a few minutes-- like 15-- to make a big batch of Kale-Almond Pesto, not to eat that night, just to have on hand in the freezer. Dinner was grilled sausages/veggie burger and a bunch of prepared salads picked up from Mrs. Green's (Moroccan carrot slaw, a quinoa salad, potato salad, green beans with shallots, and smashed lima beans from Kibberia, which they carry in their prepared food case).

Tuesday (by kids' request): Cheese tortellini topped with kale-almond pesto (for our vegetarian child + me) and Bolognese (for our 'meatatarian' child + my husband). I didn't actually do any cooking beyond boiling water, and cutting up a few pieces of fruit to have on the side, because I was able to dip into our freezer stash, still ending up with 2 more tubs of Bolognese and a bunch of pesto on hand in the freezer.

Wednesday: Tween book club at our local library means my older child gets pizza and treats at the library and three of us go out simultaneously to the local sushi place. (Monthly tradition that we all enjoy.)

Thursday: All I could think was, "holy moly I am *not* in my back-to-school groove yet...and who knew that I'd be spending all this time this week at MD appts for me. Ugh, annoying." So, I got by with a little help from my friend, Trader Joe's. We had an Indian feast from their frozen section: chicken tikka masala + vegetable biryani + lamb kofta + saag paneer + naan (heat everything in the oven while the kids are bathing) + I cooked up a bag of frozen peas + chopped an apple + sat and relaxed.

Friday: I found/made *just a few minutes* to prep family dinner before we went swimming at a friend's:
  • Picked up a marinated kale salad from Green and Tonic earlier in the day (when I was treating myself to a smoothie)
  • Picked up lamb chops and a white bean-pasta salad at Whole Foods (grilled the lamb chops when we got home from swimming; white bean-pasta for our vegetarian child's entree)
  • Peeled, chopped and roasted a butternut squash (tossed in olive oil + cumin + cinnamon + chili powder + turmeric + salt and pepper at 425 until fork tender before we went swimming, then turned the oven off to keep it warm/room temp til we got home)
  • Chopped up cucumbers and tomatoes (a nice neighbor with a green thumb had given us) and dressed them in olive oil + lemon juice + salt and pepper
Saturday: kids and a sitter had a vegetarian baked pasta dish and salad I picked up at Whole Foods (when I ran in for the lamb on Friday)

Sunday: I found myself with time to cook, so decided to make something I could freeze:
  • Popped a 4.5lb pork shoulder into the crockpot with 2 cups of white wine + 1/4 cup cider vinegar+ 10 cloves of garlic + 4T ground sage + 2 T ground mustard seed + salt & pepper for 8 hours on low. We had 1/3 of the shredded pork for dinner tonight, slathered in BBQ sauce, and I froze two tubs of pork for future dinners. I purposefully let the braising liquid be rather neutral so I can season the pork, depending upon the future meal (BBQ, Mexican, Asian….)
  • Made some quick pickled onions (1 red onion, thinly sliced + 1/2 cup red wine vinegar + salt and pepper in a saucepan over low heat until liquid evaporates)
  • Roasted new potatoes
  • Tossed arugula in lemon juice and olive oil

Going into next week, here's what I have on hand in the freezer:
  • 2 tubs of Shredded Pork (that can become tacos, sliders, stir-fry, quesadillas, salad, hash, soup, etc.)
  • 7 tubs of Kale-Almond Pesto (that can go over pasta, get stirred into soup or risotto, become a pizza/flatbread topping, can make a gooey, protein-packed grilled cheese, etc.)
  • 2 tubs of Bolognese (that I use as a pasta topping or lasagna layer)
  • I'm also long on Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese and Indian entrees, and a variety of frozen raviolis, which I can pull out in a pinch until our homemade stash builds up. 
Going forward, my hope is to whip up 1-2 freezer-friendly recipes/ week. Most of them will come from my Stock Your Freezer in a Snap ebooks, because those are tried and true favorites. If you want to join me, you're welcome to download your own set of done-for-you shopping lists, recipes, and packaging recommendations. You can either follow along with recipes I mention, or choose your own freezer-friendly recipes to tackle:
Hopefully this post helps you see how I keep ahead of the dinner curve (most nights!). Here's to bonus hours, and family dinners, even on the busiest of days!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

back to school = back to swell

After the best summer ever, my kiddos are heading back to school. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know what means-- it's time to start stocking the fridge and freezer with homemade goodness. But there's one difference this year…

I spent the plane ride home laying out how I was going to achieve my own goals in the time that they're in school. {Surely I am not the only one who thinks back-to-school rivals New Years in terms of fresh starts!} Yep, I tallied the hours they'll be in school, and then I started {totally anally} subtracting hours for all the things I need to do, and all the things I want to do. And the truth is, it didn't allow a lot of time to be running to the supermarket and playing Happy Homemaker each day.

Hmm… by now you know that family dinners are important to me. So, next, I laid out each day's afternoon chauffeuring schedule. Whoa. As much as I try to be thoughtful about after school stuff, that was all over the place-- some days family dinner could only happen at 5:00 {which means dad wouldn't be there}, some days it's at 7:30+ {which is dangerously close to my little one's bedtime}, and some days it's virtually impossible to get four people to the table even close the same time. And the real eye-opener was that there are very few days when I am home around dinner time {whatever time that may be} to do the cooking. Thankfully, I have some tools up my sleeve. {Exhibit A: The First Batch; Exhibit B: The Second Batch}

My plan to make this work starts slow. I've gone through both Meals in a Snap booklets, as well as some oldie but goodies from the blog and picked out 1-2 recipes to make each week. A stash of homemade meals doesn't happen overnight… but pretty soon our freezer will be well stocked.

The first two recipes I whipped up: a big {slow-cooked} batch of Bolognese for my 'meatarian' son, and a super quick and easy stash of Kale-Almond Pesto that my vegetarian son-- and all of us-- love.

I also have a few of the Veggie Calzones on hand in the freezer {made last May, from the Stock Your Freezer in a Snap - The Second Batch ebook} which make great "front seat to backseat" snacks or meals, if I'm in a pinch.

For those who want to follow along, I'll check back in and let you know what's getting tucked in the freezer next.

Here's to a great school year ahead, and to all of us busy moms getting fabulous homemade dinners on the table, while getting back to swell!