Make Dinner Happen Friday #1: Use It Up Edition

Make Dinner Happen Friday #1Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week is all about “using it up.”  We are blessed this week with a full pantry and freezer, so I built my meal plan this week around what we already have.  I start my meal plans on Friday because that is the day that I go to the grocery store (although that might be changing soon as we are getting into the school year).
Friday
Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes with Salsa, Chipotle Mashed Potato Cakes, and Salad
I am trying out a couple of new recipes here with the griddle cakes and mashed potato cakes based off of recipes from How to Cook Everything – I’ll let you know how they turned out!  I will be using my favorite salsa recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  I already have these ingredients from the meal plan last week (we ended up with more leftovers than I was planning, so we had an extra “leftovers day”).
Saturday
Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped PotatoesRosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
This will be a basic rosemary marinated pork loin (which I already have in the freezer) that is oven roasted (do be honest, I don’t have something specific in mind – I’ll just throw some marinade together that day), served with these delicious-looking scalloped potatoes (I will just be using red potatoes and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses because that is what I already have).
Sunday
Brunch: Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast with Cheesy Hash Brown Cups
On Sunday, brunch is our big meal, and I have been on a kick of trying new recipes lately.  This Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast looked tasty, plus I already have apples!  I have made these really tasty Baked Hash Brown Cups (with cheese!), though!  I’ll be using the red potatoes that I already have and grating them myself.
Dinner: Spaghetti with Garlic Knots and Salad
Basic spaghetti with our homemade spaghetti sauce served with homemade garlic knots using the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  This sounds really elaborate, but really this is so easy and delicious!
Monday
Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Camembert Stuffed Figs
I have some camembert cheese left over from last week (we had a French-inspired meal that, of course, had to include some “fancy” cheese), so we are going to try this macaroni and cheese and these cheese stuffed figs to use it up.  Figs are in-season here now, so I will be able to pick some up at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
Tuesday
Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai with Bean Sprouts and Peppers
Spaghetti squash and peppers are also in season, so I am going to attempt this Pad Thai recipe using chicken thighs that I have in the freezer.  I have never made homemade Pad Thai, so this is going to be an adventure.  Since I try to make most of my food from scratch, I am going to use this pad Thai sauce recipe.  This is going to be tricky since I am not sure if I can find tamarind paste here in central Arkansas.  I am adding bean sprouts and bell peppers because I am apparently incapable of making any recipe exactly as written :).
Wednesday
Buffalo Tacos with Chipotle Corn Casserole
We will be having these tacos seasoned with buffalo sauce (I will be using my homemade buffalo sauce).  I thought this corn casserole would go with this well with a little bit of chipotle seasoning added to it.
Thursday
Sausage and Potatoes with Salad
Pan fried kielbasa and red potatoes (which – you guessed it – I already have) with a side salad (btw, a “salad” in our house mostly means lettuce with sunflower seeds, but we will also add any kind of extra vegetables that we have around).
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I challenge you – what are you going to put on your meal plan this week to “use it up?”  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

Why I Meal Plan

Why I Meal PlanSometimes meal planning feels like something that we “should” do because it’s what the mom who has it all together does (I talked about those types of reasons here). You meal plan because you are supposed to, but that will only get you so far. Until you have a conviction about why YOU want to meal plan, you will never stick with it.
So today, I wanted to share why I meal plan, and as we go along, I hope that you think about why you want to meal plan and what it means for you and your family.

Why I Meal Plan

I never set out to learn “how to meal plan.” Rather, I just wanted to feed my family real, home cooked food while balancing a part-time job and going back to school – all while my oldest was just a few months old (did I mention I might be a little crazy) :).  At the time, I had only one goal: to make healthy meals for my family.  I wanted to make sure that they had wholesome food as my son was growing.  At the time, I used once a month cooking (which I will tell you about in another post), and I discovered a couple more ways that meal planning helped my family.
My home finally started to get organized.  I am not an organized person by nature, and in the postpartum haze, our household really got chaotic.  While meal planning doesn’t keep my counters clean (quite the opposite when I actually am cooking), it does free up mental space and time to work towards getting those other chores done to keep our household running smoothly.  There was structure to our daily meals, which was the beginning of structure for our family.  The once a month cooking, in particular, was a huge blessing to my family through student teaching and after each of our two other children were born, making these times significantly less chaotic for our family.
It actually saved me money.  This one came as a surprise to me at the time.  I had always heard that people buy junk food because it is cheaper, but in reality, cooking from scratch is much cheaper.  At the time, my husband was in graduate school and I was working part-time, so you can tell we had a ton of money just lying around (total sarcasm – we were so broke, we didn’t know how broke we were).  But meal planning helped me save money by wasting less food and by allowing me to cook from scratch.
Years later, I am still meal planning, although I rarely do once a month cooking.  Now, I am working to incorporate more locally produced food into our family’s diet (especially after reading Joel Salatin’s book).  Meal planning allows me to use up the local produce that I buy so that it doesn’t let it go to waste.  And, this winter I will be able to more fully use the food that I have frozen and dehydrated.
Finally, the big reason that I meal plan is that food is my love language.  I show people that I love them with food that I cook for them.  When I see my little one-year-old toddle across the floor on those chunky legs with a big smile across those chubby cheeks, I remember why it is that I get out my pencil and paper every week and plan our meals.  I do it for my family because I love them and this is the best way that I know to show my love for them.

Why Do You Meal Plan

So now that I have shared why I meal plan, I invite you to think about why you meal plan (or why you would want to start).  Meal planning is not about what you are “supposed” to do.  It’s not about what that totally put-together mom does (who I am pretty sure doesn’t really exist).  It’s about you and your family.  So whether you too need to get organized and save money, or you want to change something about the food your family eats, meal planning can help you achieve those goals.
Share with us on Facebook or Twitter why you meal plan!

Back to School: 3 Tips to Get Meal Planning Now

SMLXL

Here in the Meredith household, we started our first real homeschooling year this past week with my oldest son’s first day of kindergarten (here in Arkansas, it is too hot to be outside much now anyway, so we will take some time off in the fall when the weather is beautiful!).  It is a transition to be sure with two little ones along for the ride.
SXLLMFirst Day of Kindergarten for My Big Guy
Fortunately, I have my meal planning to rely on to help my household run more smoothly and make our homeschooling days that much easier.  Whether you are also homeschoolers or have kids in school (or just have all littles!), meal planning is a must-have time- and energy-saving practice.
But what if you have never meal planned before?  How do you start?  Here are some tips to keep from getting overwhelmed!

1.     Start Now

Summer is a great time to get your feet wet with meal planning.  Since schedules tend to be somewhat chaotic, knowing what you are going to cook on a particular day can be especially helpful to.  By getting started now before the hectic back-to-school days, you can learn the basics and confidently approach that first week back.

2.     Start Small

Meal plans that you see online range from a week to a month (I have even done some that were longer than that), but you need not start that way.  We are all growing into the people that God calls us to become, so none of those people (most definitely including myself) started with those elaborate meal plans.  Start with 1-2 days a week.  If you are starting this summer, pick the day or two each week when you are most likely to pick up fast food or take out and decide what you are going to have for supper instead.  Slow cooker pulled chicken sandwiches work great for busy summer days!

3.     Just Start

Jump right in and meal plan!The first time that you do this, it will not be perfect and that’s ok.  You might forget to get something at the store, you might even forget to get something started in time for supper.  The important thing is to get started.  With time and practice you will become better and better at meal planning.  If you need help getting started, check out How to Meal Plan in 1-2-3.
So now you are ready to get started with meal planning.  Will you take the meal planning challenge?  Share what you are planning on making for your 1-2 days quick get-started meal plan!
If you need more help getting started with meal planning, check out our meal planning coaching sessionsAlso, I am starting a new series of videos and worksheets for Culinary Science.  The first video is up now and the worksheet will be coming soon.  More information and videos will be coming soon!

What’s Your Quick Meal? Contest + Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Spaghetti SauceQuick meals – meals on the table in a flash – can save dinner when life gets hectic.  Our family’s go-to quick meal is pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce that we always keep stocked in the freezer, but I want to know, what is your family’s quick meal?  I’m looking for the best and the worst quick meals – those that your family loves and those that you are maybe a little embarrassed to admit that you actually eat.  Check out our family’s recipe then scroll to the bottom to find out how you can win one of 5 one week meal planning coaching sessions!

Spaghetti Sauce

Needs Met: Quick Meal, Prep Ahead, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Makes 12 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 – 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 4 tsp basil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp oregano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a stock pot. Partly cover, heat over medium low heat (avoid the urge to turn the heat higher, just let it be), and simmer for 2 hours, stirring regularly (if not, it will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
  2. Freeze in 1½ cup portions for 3 servings of spaghetti or 1 cup portions for 1 pizza.I use freezer-safe Mason jars (some people say you can use the regular Mason jars for freezing, but they are prone to breaking), but you can also use freezer zip-top bags.  Try it with the quick cooking pasta recipe.
So now it’s your turn!  What is your family’s quick meal?  Share your family’s favorite (or most embarrassing) quick meal by sending me an e-mail at ameredith(at)sparkmeals(dot)com or by sharing on Facebook or Twitter.  I will choose 2 of the best sounding recipes to share and 3 of the worst quick meal disasters – each winner will get a free one week meal planning coaching session for themselves or a friend or family member.  Entries must be received by May 1, 2017.  Don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list to get the winning recipes!

Matzo Ball Soup for the Gentile Soul – A Good Friday Meal

Matzo Ball SoupIn our family, we commemorate Good Friday with Matzo Ball Soup – a traditional Passover dish – and homemade pretzels – a symbol for the Trinity.  Join us in remembering the Passion of the Lord in preparation for Easter through food!  This meal would also be appropriate for Holy Saturday.
The homemade pretzels are based off of the recipe in The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  If you do not have this book, you need it!  It will change the way that you cook in your home, not to mention save you a TON of money on bread and rolls.  Speaking of rolls, we will definitely be having some with our Lamb Stew on Easter, so be sure to check out that recipe as well!

Matzo Ball Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Prep Ahead, Holiday
Serve With: Pretzels (see below)
Prep: 15 minutes   Inactive: 2 hours   Cook: 30 minutes   Time to Table: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan with lid
Serves: 6
You need to make the matzo ball mixture up ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.  Please note, this is not a kosher version of this recipe; if you need a kosher version, try this one here.  You can find matzo meal in the kosher food or seasonal (with the Easter candy) sections of most grocery stores.  If you can only find matzo crackers, you can process 1-2 sheets in a food processor until fine crumbs to make the matzo meal.  If you cannot find either, I am pretty sure that you can substitute saltine crackers.

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup matzo meal
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a bowl, combine the eggs, matzo meal, oil, water, and salt (it should be like wet sand).  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2-24 hours.
  2. Bring the chicken stock to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to simmer.  While that is heating, form your matzo balls: With damp hands, gently roll 2 Tbsp of matzo mixture into balls (being carefully not to squash it down too much) and put on a plate.  Once the stock is simmering, add all the balls at once, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes until the balls are cooked through (if you cut one open, it will be the same color throughout when they are done).
  3. Serve the soup garnished with the dill and season with salt and pepper as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add 1 cup cooked diced chicken when cooking the matzo balls
  • Add 4 sliced carrots or 3 sliced parsnips

Pretzels

Prep: 10 minutes   Inactive: 2 hours   Cook: 30 minutes   Bake: 15 minutes
Time to Table: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Large saucepan, baking sheet
Serves: 6

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Mix up dough as described below

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 ¼ cups (1 lb) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ Tbsp salt
  • ½ Tbsp yeast
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add in the water and stir together – do not knead, but you may need to use your hands to get all the flour mixed in (you can also apparently use a dough hook on a mixer, but I have not tried that).  Cover with plastic wrap (not a towel – it will stick) and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  2. After the dough has risen, fill the large saucepan about ¾ of the way full of water and add the baking soda and sugar.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Preheat the oven to 450F.
  3. While that is heating, shape your pretzels: Cut your dough into about 10 equal pieces.  Dust each piece with flour, then form it into a ball by pulling down and under (check out this video for a better description).  On a floured surface, roll the dough into a long thin snake – the longer and more consistently thick the better.  Form into a traditional pretzel shape (don’t worry if they don’t turn out quite right – they will still taste delicious!).
  4. Let the pretzels rest for about 20 minutes (it is going to take some time to form the pretzels, so your first batch will probably be ready to go into the pot when you are done).  Place a towel on the counter near the stove and dust with a little flour.  Add about half of the pretzels to the water.  After about 10 seconds flip them; let them go another 10 seconds then remove (if you leave them in too long, they get all poofy and waterlogged, but will still taste all right).  Place the pretzels on the towel.Repeat with the second batch (after they have rested).
  5. Place the pretzels on baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes (20-25 minutes for crispy pretzels).  Enjoy while still warm (if possible).  Save any leftovers in the freezer and reheat in the oven to keep the crispy crust!
This recipe is adapted from The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

For the Love of: Asparagus

Asparagus has arrived at our grocery store, which means it’s spring!  Here are some tips and recipes to help you get the most out of your asparagus!
The thing that is so wonderful about asparagus is that it is one of those vegetables that truly is seasonal still.  While you can get canned asparagus (or perhaps frozen), it just is not the same as those crisp bright green stalks that are so delightfully fleeting.  So, to start off with, here are some basic tips for cooking your asparagus:
  • Keep the cooking time short to keep the crispness (cook it too long and it will get soggy)
  • If the bottom of the asparagus is woody (the bottom of it will look like wood), snap it off – where it snaps off will be at the top of the woody part
  • Keep your asparagus fresh longer by standing it up in a glass with a little water; cover with a sandwich bag, tie on with a rubber band, and put it in the refrigerator!
  • Boil your asparagus for about 4 minutes or steam for 6-8 minutes on the stove until crisp-tender.
  • Microwave your asparagus with about 1 Tbsp of water in a microwave safe container covered in plastic wrap for about 4 minutes.  Let stand covered for 2 more minutes and drain before serving.
  • Keep your asparagus bright green by putting the cooked stalks in cold water before serving.
  • Serve asparagus cold on salads or warm in sautes, soups, or side dishes.

Spring Vegetable Soup Spring Vegetable Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Prep Ahead, Allergy Friendly (with sub), Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Saltine or oyster crackers
Prep: 15 minutes   Cook: 20 minutes   Time to Table: 35 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4
Because spring vegetables (like peas and asparagus) don’t take long to cook, this soup is ready relatively quickly – you can get the meal on the table even more quickly by doing the prep ahead of time!  This soup also made surprisingly good leftovers – even the potatoes and the asparagus stayed flavorful and crisp (I don’t recommend trying to freeze this one, though!).

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut carrots, onion, and celery according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store together in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 lb new (or fingerling) potatoes, in 1” chunks (some I left whole, some I cut in half, and some I cut into quarters depending on the size – I bought mine at the grocery store but they were like these)
  • ½ bunch asparagus, cut into 1 ½” pieces
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or fresh if you can find them!)
  • 15 oz Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat.Add the carrots, onion, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.While that is cooking, prepare the potatoes.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and basil and cook for another minute.Add the bay leaf, water, and potatoes.Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes start to soften.
  3. Add the asparagus, peas, and beans, return to a simmer, and cook for about 4 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute 1 lb browned ground meat for the beans
  • Substitute cannellini or small red beans for the Great Northern beans
  • Add 2 cups fresh spinach or kale with the asparagus

Asparagus-Artichoke Vegetable Sauté

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Allergy Friendly (with sub), Vegetarian/Vegan, Grain-Free (with sub)
Serve With: Quinoa and a side salad
Prep: 5 minutes  Cook: 15 minutes   Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 3
This is an Italian-spiced version of a vegetable sauté – one of the first recipes that I ever invented when I was first cooking for myself, so it holds a dear place in my heart.  If you prefer a meat option, check out the “Make It Your Own” section below.

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut up asparagus and artichokes (you can leave the artichokes in fairly large pieces, but remove any harder outside pieces – they stay hard even after you finish the saute).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 12 spears asparagus, cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 6 oz artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 ½ cup frozen okra
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
  • ¾ tsp dried minced onion
  • ½ tsp basil
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat.Add the garlic and asparagus and cook for about 1 minute.Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender and everything else is heated through.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Brown ¾ lb chicken, diced, first in the oil in the skillet (cook, stirring occasionally until it appears brown – about 5-8 minutes).Drain most of the excess fat and continue with adding the garlic and asparagus.
  • Add in 15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or kidney beans for a vegetarian protein option
  • Substitute in ½ lb of other vegetables, such as diced carrots, peas, kale, spinach, zucchini, broccoli, or cauliflower.
  • Boost the vegetables by about a 1/3 each and serve without the quinoa for a grain-free, low carb meal!

Cook Once – Eat Twice: Ratatouille and Rice and Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup

Ratatouille and RiceThis easy slow cooker ratatouille pairs with a simple garlic risotto for one dinner, and easily transforms into a delicious, spiced soup the second night.  These two recipes work well together by easily creating different flavors and textures in the second meal for a whole new dish!  You will be making a double batch of the ratatouille (stewed eggplant, squash, and tomatoes) and risotto (a creamy, but dairy-free rice dish) and using half of it for the Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup.  It is important that you have the second meal the next day, as rice that has been kept longer than one day can make you sick even after being thoroughly reheated.

Ratatouille and RiceRatatouille and Rice

Needs Fulfilled: Slow Cooker, Prep Ahead, Cook Once-Eat Twice, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Fruit Salad
Prep: 10 minutes   Inactive Cook: 3-8   hours   Active Cook: 40 minutes
Time to Table: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker, 2 saucepans
Serves: 3
Arborio rice is a particular kind of short grain rice that you can find with the grains and beans at the grocery store.  It is essential for making the risotto that you use this type of rice as long grain rice does not form the right kind of starch when it cooks to give the risotto is creamy texture.  Eggplant is a very tricky vegetable to get right.  You can tell it is done when it starts to taste good – if it is chewy and bitter, it is not done yet.  If you would prefer to avoid this finicky food, you can substitute 2 yellow squash.

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut eggplant and zucchini according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store together in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days – the eggplant will turn brown but it doesn’t affect the taste or texture and you cannot tell once it is cooked).

INGREDIENTS:

Ratatouille:
  • 1 small eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes (peeled if preferred)
  • 3 zucchini, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 30 oz canned diced tomatoes (I prefer the petite diced tomatoes with no salt added)
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 ½ tsp basil
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and stems removed and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic Risotto:
  • 5 cups broth
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • ¾ tsp oregano
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place all the ingredients for the ratatouille except the pepper into the slow cooker.Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.
  2. Place the broth for the risotto in the smaller saucepan (if you have two sizes) on a back burner of the stove on medium-low heat (you are just going to warm it – you don’t want it to be boiling).Place the second saucepan on a front burner, add the oil and heat over medium heat.Add the peppers for the ratatouille to the slow cooker, cover, and place on high to continue cooking while you make the risotto.
  3. Add the garlic and oregano to the oil in the larger saucepan (front burner) and saute 1-2 minutes.Add the rice and saute another minute until the edge of the rice starts to be translucent.
  4. Add about a quarter of the broth to the rice.All the rice to cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently but gently (this helps to develop the texture). As the liquid is absorbed, add in another quarter of the broth, again allowing it to be absorbed while stirring frequently but gently. Once all of the broth has been absorbed, taste the rice and add the salt and pepper as desired. (If you need to, you can cover and let the risotto sit off of a burner until you are ready to serve.)
  5. Serve the ratatouille over the rice, remembering to save half for the soup the next day, storing them covered in the refrigerator in separate containers.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You could add 15 oz Great Northern beans (drained and rinsed) or 1 lb ground meat, browned to the ratatouille with the peppers for a punch of protein.
Credits: The ratatouille and rice recipe is adapted from the “Provencal Vegetables and Rice” recipe in One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson.

 Middle Eastern Vegetable SoupMiddle Eastern Vegetable Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Cook Once-Eat Twice, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (there are also gluten-free breads in there!)
Prep: 0 minutes  Cook: 15 minutes   Time to Table: 15 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 3

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • Leftover Ratatouille
  • Leftover Garlic Risotto
  • 1/2-1 cup water
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the leftover ratatouille and risotto with the water, coriander, and cinnamon in the saucepan over medium high heat.Heat through, stirring occasionally.Taste and add additional seasonings (salt, pepper, or more coriander or cinnamon) and serve!

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You could use other seasonings such as ½ tsp ginger for the coriander for a slightly sweeter flavor or ½ tsp rosemary with 1 stalk celery, chopped for both for a more Italian flavor.

Meat-Free St. Patrick’s Day Meals

As St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Lent this year, here are some delicious meat-free options so that you can celebrate the day when we are all Irish (not to mention a great saint)!
St. Patrick's Day Cabbage and Potato Soup

St. Patrick’s Day Cabbage and Potato Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Holiday, Allergy Friendly (with modification), Vegetarian (Vegan with modification)
Serve With: Saltine or Oyster Crackers
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Time to Table: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut potatoes according to directions (you can do this up to 1 day ahead of time and store in a bowl covered with water in the refrigerator – drain before using)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (1 clove)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 ½ lb potatoes, chopped (peeled if desired)
  • ½ small head cabbage (about ¼ large head), chopped
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • Dash salt and pepper (more to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp feta cheese, crumbled

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium high heat.Add the garlic and saute (cook, stirring occasionally) for about 1 minute.Add in the broth, onion, and potatoes.Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.
  2. Add in the cabbage, oregano, salt, and pepper.Cover and cook for 5 minutes.Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, cover and let sit about 10 minutes until the cabbage is soft but not overcooked.Serve topped with the feta cheese.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add 15 oz Great Northern beans or 1 cup cooked chicken for a boost of protein
  • Omit the cheese or use a dairy-free version
Shepherd's Pie

 Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Needs Fulfilled: Holiday, Vegetarian/Vegan, Allergy Friendly (with substitution)
Serve With: Side Salad
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 50 minutes Time to Table: 60 minutes
Needed Equipment: 2 saucepans, casserole dish
Serves: 4
You can make this casserole up ahead of time and store covered in the refrigerator for a day – just bake and serve to have the meal on the table in 30 minutes!

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut celery, carrots, and potatoes according to directions (you can store the celery and carrots in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and the potatoes in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for up to 1 day – drain before using)

INGREDIENTS:

Mashed Potatoes (Topping):
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
Filling:
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 ½ cups lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 30 oz diced tomatoes (I prefer petite diced with no salt added)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cover the potatoes with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and boil for 20-30 minutes until very tender. Drain the potatoes.
  2. While that is cooking, heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, and garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft and golden. Add the remaining filling ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are soft.
  3. Return the potatoes to the dry saucepan and put back on medium heat. Cook the potatoes, stirring often to dry them out a bit (2-3 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients and continuing stirring until the potatoes are mashed. You may need to add additional oil if it is not turning out creamy enough. If they are not mashing enough, use a potato masher or ricer to finish mashing them.
  4. Place the filling in the casserole dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes until topping is golden.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You can substitute 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks for the potatoes if desired
  • You can omit the celery or carrots if needed and substitute or add other vegetables as desired such as ½ cup corn, 2 small turnips, or ½ cup peas.
  • For an option without legumes, you can use 1 ½ lb browned ground meat (omit the water)
Need more help getting started with meal planning?  Our meal planning coaches would be happy to help!
Credits: The cabbage and potato soup recipe is adapted from the “Lemon Potato Soup with Feta” recipe in the October 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

How to Meal Plan in 1-2-3

 Meal Planning WorksheetAnything that you want to make possible requires a plan, and that includes having dinner with your family.  Dive into meal planning with these 3 simple steps!  You can use this form to help you plan and prepare your grocery list, and you should be able to create a menu of delicious, healthy meals for your family in less than an hour!

1. Needs Assessment

The first, and often overlooked step, in meal planning is to determine what your family is going to need in the coming week.  Write down in the “Needs Assessment” box to help you keep them in mind when choosing recipes.  Here are some questions that you might consider to help you determine what you need:
  • How many meals do we need to cook?  Think about if you would like be having dinner away from home at all in the coming week.
  • How many servings do we need at each meal?
  • What does our schedule look like?  Do we need meals that are ready quickly certain days, or even ready when we walk in the door?  Do we have more time to cook certain days during the week?
  • What types of foods?  Consider any strong dislikes, allergies, intolerances, or health issues that would affect what your family can eat each week.  Also, consider if there are any changes you would like to implement in your diet.
  • What food does your family already have?  Think about any meats, vegetables, or fruits that are left over from last week that you would like to use up in the coming week.

2. Select Recipes

Now that you know what you need, you are going to select recipes around those needs.  There are two big concepts to remember when choosing recipes: you are creating a meal (not just an entrée) and you want variety.  Let’s consider these one at a time.
A meal (as opposed to an entrée) includes a protein (meat, beans, tofu, nuts), a carbohydrate (grains, pasta, potatoes, starchy vegetables), and a vegetable or fruit.  This might mean an entrée with one or two sides (such as a broiled steak with mashed potatoes and peas) or it might mean an all-in-one meal (such as chicken soup with carrots and rice).
Throughout the week, you want a variety of those three components, as well as a variety of flavors.  Start with some family favorites, then select additional recipes (whether new recipes or ones that you have not had in a while) to get you that variety.
As you are selecting recipes, note all three elements (protein, carbohydrate, and vegetable or fruit) in the “Recipe” column, where you found the recipe in the “Source” column, and any notes for how you are planning to modify the recipe in the “Modifications” column.  You might choose to modify a recipe to suit your family’s taste or to account for an allergy.  Once you have selected your recipes, double check your list against your Needs Assessment.

3. Make Your Schedule and Grocery List

The next step is to take your list of recipes and make it into a coherent schedule based on your Needs Assessment.  Be sure to assign meals to days when their preparation will not be a burden, with quicker cooking meals being served on busier days.  It is possible that you may need to go back and pick a different recipe if you cannot find a good day for a particular one (you can always have it next week!).
Once you have finalized your schedule, you will make your grocery list.  Start with your recipes and, reading through the ingredients lists, write down any ingredient you think that you might not have on the left column (don’t try to guess, if you aren’t absolutely certain you have it, write it down).  Then go to your pantry and refrigerator – go through your list and mark off any items that you actually do have.  Finally, transfer your grocery list over to the categories on the right, add on your family’s staples, and you are ready to make family meals happen!
Need more help getting started with meal planning?  Our Meal Planning Coaches would be happy to help!

The Story of the Falafel Phoenix: A 3 Step Troubleshooting Guide for any Recipe

Falafel PhoenixIt is not uncommon for a recipe to go terribly awry, so here are 3 simple troubleshooting steps to get dinner on the table that I used with this falafel recipe.  This is the meal that I used for the post about why to meal plan, and my good friend Emily said it looked really good, so I wanted to share it with you!
Falafel failWhile the final product turned out lovely, my first attempt at the recipe totally fell apart and was a mess.  I didn’t panic, though!  I just followed these 3 steps to save the meal!

3 Step Troubleshooting Guide for any Recipe

1. Stop and Think
 When you are cooking, it can feel like everything is an emergency that needs to be addressed THAT SECOND.  In reality, unless there is a fire, you can take a second to consider (and if there is a fire, use these fire safety steps!).  If something is cooking on a burner, take it off the heat to buy yourself some time to think – only very rarely would this ruin the dish.  In this case, I was able to stop and think between cooking batches of falafel.The first batch never turned out falafel-shaped, but still tasted good in a pita!
2. Determine the Problem and Think of Possible Solutions
Look at what you have and compare with what it should be.  Is the flavor off?  Is it too thick?  Or too thin?  Does it need to cook longer?  In this case, the falafels were falling apart, which means that it needed a binder – something that holds it all together. If you aren’t sure what you could use, you do a Google search or check a trusted website (Chowhound is usually a good place to get information).  The most common binders are a slightly beaten egg, mashed potatoes, crushed saltine or oyster crackers, puffed rice cereal, or more unconventional things like ground flax seed meal mixed in water (this makes a great egg substitute!).
3. Try a Solution (Repeat as Needed)
Once you have thought of some possible solutions, you choose the one that seems most likely to work (and/or that you have the ingredients for :)) and try it out.  If it works, great!You can now finish getting dinner on the table.  If it doesn’t work, go back to Step 2 and choose a different solution.In this case, I choose hummus as a binder, as falafels and hummus are both made of chickpeas, which worked great.

Falafels

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free (salad variation)
Serve With: Quinoa
Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Time to Table: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet, food processor
Serves: 3

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut vegetables according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store in separate sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed and sorted (remove any rocks – yes, you really can find rocks in dried beans)
  • 1 cup fresh parsley (about 1 bunch), stems removed
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (that would be about half a lemon, but I usually just use the juice that you buy in the juices section at the store)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Hummus
  • 3 pitas
Optional Toppings
  • 2 oz lettuce, chopped
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ red pepper, seeds and stem removed and sliced
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • Yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pulse the chickpeas, parsley, onion, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and 1 Tbsp olive oil in the food processor until finely ground (in case you are a newbie at the food processor, you turn the pulse setting on and off to keep things from liquefying). Stir in enough hummus to make it clump together (about 1-2 Tbsp). Form into patties about the diameter of a regular size coffee cup.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the patties and cook 3-5 minutes on each side, turning at least once for even browning (try to avoid turning too much as that makes it more likely it will fall apart), until crispy and golden.
  3. Serve the falafel in the pitas with vegetables, hummus, and/or yogurt as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • For a gluten-free version, up the lettuce to 6 oz (for 3 servings) and serve as a salad.
  • Make a quick yogurt dill sauce to top your falafels (makes enough for 3 servings):
    • 3 Tbsp yogurt
    • ¾ tsp lemon juice
    • ½ tsp dried dill
    • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
    • Dash salt and pepper
  1. Mix together in a bowl, taste and add more seasonings as needed.Serve as a topping on the falafels