EAT! Week day two

Day Two of EAT! week was supposed to be a skate–nothing on the menu that I hadn’t cooked and eaten a dozen times. But . . .

Breakfast

How can a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries go wrong? As I stirred the bubbling pot of cereal, I found myself noticing that the familiar old cardboard cylinder it came in looked a little . . . tired. When did I buy it? I turned it over: “Best before Jul 10 ’09.” Ack!–Was I breaking Mindful Munching Rule #2? (“Don’t eat Pharaoh Food–food so thoroughly preserved that it lasts millenia.”) The ingredient list on the carton was reassuring: “Ingredient: 100% Natural Whole Grain Quaker Quality Rolled Oats.” So if it was well-preserved, it came by it honestly.

I’m currently reading Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland (see “What I’m Reading” soon for a review), so I decided to get his take on “best before” dates. He has much to say on the subject, but for dry cereal,  here’s the nut (p. 166): “Shelf-stable groceries such as cereal . . . are tossed  . . . even though [they] wouldn’t go bad for years.” (He blames a “cult of freshness.”) So, I’m not sure I’ll take two years (!) to eat my next box of cereal, but at least it appears that I won’t drop dead from finishing this one.

Now about those blueberries. Beautiful! But I’m a skeptic now, so I take a closer look at the clam-shell label: “Product of Chile.”–So much for “eat local!” I have to confess, however, to a lack of zealousness on this point. As I said in an earlier post, I eat bananas. I drink tea. Also, I’ve visited several countries in Latin America (Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, Mexico always and often) and in the course of a couple of those trips I’ve met farmers, coffee growers, and dairy operators. Many run sophisticated family operations and most of the rest are hustling to get there. Can’t we eat some of their berries in winter, and offer them some of ours in summer? Can we prefer local, but make room for global? I understand the issues around energy and transportation, but I’m also sympathetic to people working hard to produce beautiful food and make a better life for their family. What do you think?–Let’s discuss.

Lunch

Just a simple salad! Okay, the grape tomatoes and green onions were from California, but after my breakfast blueberries, that seems like just down the street. I’m golden on the greens, mushrooms, and cottage cheese–local as in my own county! The grapes?–Well, Whole Foods, but now that I think about it, beyond that I have no idea. The walnuts?–From . . . Costco. My friend Kathy bought a bale of them and gave me a big bag. And actually, the vinaigrette used vinegar from California and olive oil from Portugal. Its Dijon mustard? Grey Poupon, now owned (I see) by Kraft, so probably from anywhere/everywhere. And does anybody actually know where salt and pepper come from? Oh my.

Who knew that it would be so hard to know what you are eating! Stay tuned; I’m going to dig around on this and see what I can find out.

Dinner

Let’s start off strong–I know exactly where the lamb shank came from: it came from a lamb raised by Paulette Lefever in Goldendale, Washington. And the carrots and broccoli are as far as I can tell local. The butternut squash, not so much; my first clue was the brand on the little label stuck on it: Si Senor. Product of Mexico.

But at least I know! The orzo I used, on the other hand, was a national brand, so once again, probably made anywhere/everywhere. The lemon I squeezed on the broccoli didn’t have a sticker, but let’s face it, it sure didn’t come from here; maybe California? maybe Mexico? The ton of spices in the braise–definitely from around the globe.

I’m beginning to feel a certain lack of clarity about what I’m trying to do here! So let’s review:  I want to eat well. I want to use fresh, local ingredients when I can. I want to waste as little as possible. I want to know where my food comes from and how it was produced. And I want the same for everybody else, whether or not their income matches mine.  Are some of these goals mutually exclusive?

Overall score for Day Two:  C. Just muddling through.

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EAT! Week day one

Day One of EAT! Week and I’m already in the weeds.

Breakfast came off almost to spec: two poached eggs on Grand Central Bakery’s chewy Como bread. Instead of buttering it, I drizzled it with olive oil and rubbed it lightly with a garlic clove. Delicious.

(Digression: If you’ve taken three minutes to watch my first micro-movie (I know–I’m a beginner; my next one will be better), you may remember Herdade do Esporao Winery. I forgot to mention that they also make a fantastic fruity olive oil, which is what I used on my toast. http://www.esporao.com.)

Deviation From Plan #1: I didn’t eat my breakfast orange.

But my real menu troubles had already started yesterday. I had invited several people over for dinner, but two of them couldn’t make it. I ended up with three defrosted but uncooked chicken breasts.

So after breakfast I decided to cook the raw chicken. While I was at it, I also sauted the little filet pieces that I’d pulled off of all six breasts. I packaged, labeled, and froze the breasts, and then I just munched my way through all of my homemade “chicken tenders!”

Deviation from Plan #2:  In my defense, I got up late!–So the chicken counted for lunch. I froze the panini bread I was supposed to use for my veggie sandwich and promised  myself to eat the salad with my soup tonight.

On the plus side, in the middle of the afternoon I snacked on a nice handful of grapes. (We won’t discuss the diet coke.)

So let’s move on to dinner. I love the flavor of roasted vegetables in soup, so to get started, I oiled a sheet-pan; cut up a couple of carrots and onions, tossed them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread them out nicely; and roasted them at 400 degrees for almost an hour. (But stir them when you hit about the half-way mark.) (If you’ve looked at EAT! week for Sunday, you know I was supposed to roast a red pepper too; but I had some left from dinner last night.)  Roast the veg until they get some crusty caramelized patches and edges!–Your soup will thank you for it.

Dump a couple of boxes of broth into your soup pot (I used chicken; to make this a vegetarian soup, you can use vegetable). Sometimes I make homemade broth; usually I don’t. But now that I’ve raised the issue of cutting corners, let’s go back into the confessional.

Deviation from Plan #3:  My half-pound of dried cannellini beans that I was supposed to soak overnight?–Sitting in the pantry, dry as a bone. But!  As luck would have it, tucked in not so far from them was a can of the very same beans. I used them.

So now we are ready to assemble this soup. First I mince a clove of garlic and add it to the broth with a chopped-up tomato. I let that simmer while the vegetables finish roasting. Then I add the carrots, onions, red peppers, and beans and let the pot simmer for a while. Finally, I add some herbs (this time I went with thyme, summer savory, and oregano) and salt and pepper, and let that all simmer some more. Now the finishing touch–I throw in the spinach just until it wilts (say two minutes).

I love this soup! It’s just a hearty, homemade “fridge cleaner” of a soup, but it has a nice sweet/savory flavor from the onions and carrots. I added a green salad with a simple vinaigrette and a slice of toast. (And a glass of wine.) Nice meal!

Then I ate my orange that was left over from breakfast.

Overall score for Day One:  I’d give myself a C+. I ate more meat than I meant to, and basically skipped a meal, but I made a pretty good soup!

EAT! Week meal planning: seven days of menus

Here’s the plan for EAT! Week, my own meal-planning reality show. (Not that I actually will! pull it off!–check the daily posts to see what actually happens.).

Sunday March 20th:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk & sugar
2 poached eggs on buttered toast, salt & pepper
Half of an orange

Lunch

Veggie panini sandwich: mushrooms sauted in olive oil, fresh spinach, 1/2 roasted red pepper,
sliced tomato, chopped fresh rosemary, mayo, salt & pepper
green grapes

Dinner

Bean & vegetable soup: dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight; chicken stock, spinach, tomato, roasted red pepper, roasted onion & carrot,garlic, thyme, summer savory, salt & pepper
Toasted baguette slices brushed with olive oil and rubbed with raw garlic clove

Notes:
This week’s plan assumes that yesterday (Saturday) you bought Monday dinner’s lamb shanks unfrozen. If (like me) you are working with frozen meat, you need to pull the shanks out to defrost a couple of days ahead of time (say, last Friday)!  Breads:  I’m starting off three different breads today. The toast is from a loaf of Grand Central Bakery Como bread; the rest of the loaf goes in the freezer. The panini bread comes in packages of four; use one today, put one in the fridge for later in the week, and freeze two for future use. The baguette: slice it and freeze all but the slices you have with dinner today. Then, the vegetables:  Almost all of these vegetables will appear later in the week as well. Save some mushrooms and spinach for your Monday lunch and next Saturday’s frittata! And the soup:  No recipe on this one–check the blog for the day for details. But basically, soak the beans and simmer them in chicken stock. Roast the onion, red pepper, and carrot. Add veg and spices to the soup. Eat! Put enough of the soup in the fridge for Thursday lunch; freeze the rest in serving-size containers. Label and date!

Monday March 21st:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk & sugar
oatmeal with blueberries

Lunch

cottage cheese
salad:
butter lettuce, field greens, mushrooms, parsley, cherry tomatoes, green onions, walnuts
dressing: simple vinaigrette
toasted baguette slices
red grapes

Dinner

braised lamb shank with carrots and roasted butternut squash on orzo
steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon, salt & pepper

Notes:
Almost all of these ingredients will show up once again later in the week. The recipe for the braised lamb shank is from Joy of Cooking. (There are other great recipes, many of them simpler, on the Web.)  Choose a biggish butternut squash and roast the whole thing; use about a third of it in this dish and save the rest to make tomorrow’s squash soup for lunch. Put some of the lamb dish in the fridge for Wednesday lunch; put the rest in single-serving containers and put them in the freezer. (You’ll have to pull the meat off the bone, of course; it’s easier to do when the dish is still warm.) Be sure to label and date the containers!

Tuesday March 22nd:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk and sugar
Cascadian Farms Multi-Grain Squares with sliced banana

Lunch

roasted squash soup
toasted baguette slices
apple slices with a nice cheese

Dinner

Judy’s “Thai” peanut butter pasta
Grilled eggplant with green onions
Green salad with rice vinegar/sesame oil dressing

Notes:
The recipe for the soup came from foodnetwork.com; instead of following their (pretty elaborate!) directions for roasting the squash, I just used the squash from yesterday, which had simply been cut up, tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then roasted. The recipe for the peanut butter pasta originally came from an old friend from North Carolina, but since I’ve been making it for 30 years or so, I’ve appropriated it! See the blog for the day for details. The grilled eggplant recipe came from Suzanne Hunter of Cuisine By Suzanne (http://www.cuisinebysuzanne.com/), but you can find a similar one at foodgawker.com and other sites. (Take Suzanne’s cooking classes!–She’s a fantastic, fun teacher!) I just made up the salad dressing. I mixed a tiny bit of the sesame oil with canola oil or another neutral oil.

Wednesday March 23rd:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk and sugar
cottage cheese with dried cranberries and apricots
toast with jam

Lunch

leftovers: lamb shank
served over rice
sauted spinach with a squeeze of lemon
blueberries

Dinner

Vegetable stir-fry:
broccoli, onion, carrot, tomato, celery, 1/2 red pepper, garlic)
rice

Notes:
Today we catch up!–Nothing is hard or complicated here. The only ingredients that are possibly unusual are the sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch needed to make a nice stir-fry sauce for the vegetables; see the blog for the day for details.

Thursday March 24th:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk and sugar
Oatmeal with blueberries

Lunch

leftovers:  bean and vegetable soup
toasted baguette slices
red grapes with a nice cheese

Dinner

halibut tacos
pico de gallo (tomato, onion, cilantro, lime, jalapenos)
shredded raw cabbage
2 flour tortillas
green salad with lime vinaigrette

Notes:
You may want to add a hot sauce on the tacos; I make the pico de gallo strong with lime and jalapeno. (I think it has a cleaner taste.) I just grill the halibut, but watch it!–it can get dry and/or tough. I take it off the grill when it just barely begins to flake (still a bit translucent); it mostly finishes cooking while I pull everything together, and then the lime finishes it off! Freeze the rest of the flour tortillas; be sure to label and date the bag. End of the blueberries today?

Friday March 25th:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk and sugar
Cascadian Farms Multi-Grain Squares cereal with banana

Lunch

leftovers:  vegetable stir-fry with rice
Half of an orange

Dinner

moussaka
green salad vinaigrette with green grapes

Notes:
I got the recipe for moussaka from http://www.greekfood.about.com/. Eat one serving and freeze the rest in individual servings. Label and date the containers. Of your 2 lbs. ground lamb, use 1 3/4 for this recipe. This should be just about the end of the grapes, bananas, and orange!

Saturday March 26th:

Breakfast

glass of orange juice
tea with 1% milk and sugar
2-egg frittata with mushrooms & spinach
toast and jam

Lunch

Panini sandwich:
cooked 1/4-lb. ground lamb patty
lettuce, tomatoes, onions
small salad with chive vinaigrette
apple

Dinner

pork chop with roasted grape salsa
roasted carrots
steamed cabbage
green salad with dill vinaigrette
toasted baguette slices

Notes:
The roasted grape salsa was a find! The recipe (which I tore out of the New York Times a while back) says it is modified from Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold (Rodale Press), but I haven’t found the original. The idea is simple: divide the remaining green and red grapes in half. Roast half of them about an hour. Puree the other half in a blender, then strain out the skins. Sear the meat in butter in a skillet, then add the grape juice and simmer until the meat is cooked and the sauce is thicker. Remove the meat, whisk in some more butter, bring the liquid to a boil,  then add the roasted grapes. Pour some over the meat and save the rest for another meal!

Today we finish off the eggs, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, ground lamb, apple, grapes, carrots, chives–and possibly the baguette slices! A big finish!

Meal planning: My own reality show!

I’m good at thinking ahead in some areas of my life. But my meal planning usually amounts to one of two activities. Either I stare vaguely into the fridge until something that appears edible comes into focus. Or I find a recipe I want to try, rush out and buy all the ingredients, make a great meal, and then watch the leftover ingredients morph steadily into worm food.

But! In the spirit of Mindful Munching Rule Number One (do not throw out usable food), I am attempting my first-ever weekly meal plan.

My sister-in-law Marilyn has remarked several times over the years that when she was a single mom raising her daughter, she’d take time on weekends to plan out all the meals for the coming week. I was always impressed, but let’s say not exactly moved to action.

However, lately it’s gotten personal. I’ve now got a freezer full of the best meats in the world from Lefever Holbrook Ranch (I’ve been raving about them here for weeks)–but you can’t cook them if they are frozen solid! So it has dawned on me that some level of forethought is called for here.

And Paulette Levefer herself gave me a glimpse of the way meal planning works for her, in the context of helping me figure out how large my meat orders from her should be. (I am buying a share in her  community-supported agriculture–CSA–plan.)

She says: “Set your CSA orders based on your meat needs; look at your upcoming months ahead and what menu items you will have the time and the desire to work with. Think about the seasons… spring and summer.  One idea from a cook that  I knew long ago was his tips on prepping food items and refreezing to use while in the crazy of a dinner rush. We live a busy on the go life and I have two teenage kids that are hungry 24/7, so to keep healthy, fresh, good tasting food that can be user friendly, fast  and not have me in the kitchen 24/7 is a challenging but do able.  I will sit down once a week and plan out the meals/snacks/ soups/ salads/ desserts. Take your main two meat items- thaw them out and plan-prep your next 5 days’ meals. Refreeze only if you still have ice in the raw meat. I will refreeze my cooked pulled pork, beef and poultry into small pkgs for later use. I still struggle at times to find the time…. but after prep time, relish the satisfaction of looking to the refrigerator fully stocked for the upcoming week.”

Beautiful advice! Can I come even close to eating this mindfully? Let’s give it a try! I’ll start this Sunday! (Amendment!–Thanks to a gratifying uptick over the last couple of weeks in my roster of social events, “this Sunday” has marched across my calendar from the 6th to the 20th!–But I swear that I’ll start my “EAT! week” this weekend!)

EAT! Week meal planning: shopping lists, pantry lists

Never in my life have I planned meals for an entire week! But this year I spent my spring break doing just that.  What an eye-opener!–Come summer, I may do it again. Try it yourself!

The idea here is to account for the ingredients that are needed for the whole week of cooking. Each of us starts off with a pantry, a spice rack, and probably a freezer; we have to stock up, but we also have stuff on hand. This is how it looks like it will work for me. (Note!–I am cooking for one. You will need to scale up!) (Double-note: I have no idea if this is going to work!–Consult the daily EAT! Week blog posts for updates on how it is going.)

Provisioning for a week proves to be a formidable task! I decided that I’d better count on shopping twice (once on the Saturday before I got started and once on Thursday), to allow for mid-course corrections. I also wanted to give you a clear idea of what I was pulling off the shelf or out of the freezer. Here’s the picture at this point, a week before I start this venture!

Saturday’s shopping:

1/2 gallon of orange juice (use every day)
1 dozen eggs (use Sun, Fri, and Sat)
1 orange (use halves Sun and Fri)
1 lb. mushrooms (use Sun, Mon, and Sat; maybe in other salads)
1 loaf Grand Central Bakery Como sliced bread (Sun, Sat)
package of panini bread (Sun, Sat)
1 baguette (use all week)
1 bunch spinach (2X Sun, Wed, Sat; maybe in other salads)
2 red peppers (Sun, Wed)
4 fresh tomatoes (2X Sun, Wed, Thurs, Sat)
1 lb. green grapes (Sun, Fri, Sat)
1 lb. red grapes (Mon, Thurs, Sat)
1/2 lb. dried cannellini beans (Sun)
4 boxes (at least!) chicken stock (Sun, Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat)
6 onions (almost every day)
6 carrots (Sun, Mon, Wed, Sat; maybe grated in some salads)
1 bunch celery (Wed, and possibly salads)
1 sm pkg blueberries (Mon, Wed, Thurs)
1 pint cottage cheese (Mon, Wed)
1 head bibb lettuce (butter lettuce?) (almost every day)
3 lemons
2 limes
1 sm container cherry tomatoes (Mon, Thurs, possibly other salads)
2 bunches green onions (Mon, Tues)
2 heads broccoli (Mon, Wed)
1 large butternut squash (cook on Mon; use Mon and Tues)
1 bottle white wine (for cooking!–doesn’t include for drinking!)
1 can tomato puree (Mon, Fri)
1 tube tomato paste
2 bananas (Tues, Fri)
2 apples (Tues, Sat)
a nice cheese (Tues, Thurs)
1 Japanese eggplant (Tues)
1 sm. bunch fresh Thai basil (Tues; in other salads)

Thursday’s shopping:
1 sm. halibut steak
1 sm. bunch cilantro (Thurs; other salads)
2 jalapenos (Thurs)
1 sm. head cabbage (or 1/2 head) (Thurs)
1 pkg. flour tortillas
3-4 eggplants (about 4 lbs. total) (Fri)
1 lb. potatoes (Fri)
1 bottle red wine (for cooking!–doesn’t include for drinking!)

Out of my spice cabinet:
Summer savory
Thyme
Ground ginger
hot paprika
dried mint
ground coriander
ground cumin
ground cinnamon
ground allspice
cinnamon stick
Red pepper flakes
nutmeg
chives

Out of my garden, pantry, fridge, and freezer:

black tea
1% milk
sugar
Cascadian Farms Multi-Grain Squares cereal (Tues and Fri)
butter
olive oil
sesame oil
canola oil
vegetable oil
Soy sauce
Fish sauce
Chunky peanut butter
Parmesano-Reggiano parmesan cheese
misc. vinegars (mirin, rice vinegar, etc.)
dijon mustard (for vinaigrette, etc.)
flour
Harissa
Sriracha hot sauce
mayo
breadcrumbs (from previous drying-out bread)
kosher salt
peppercorns for fresh-ground pepper
pine nuts
strawberry/rhubarb jam
dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, currants)
fresh rosemary (from the garden)
fresh parsley (from the garden)
rice
orzo
fettucini
oatmeal (I’m currently finishing off some good old Quaker Oats!)
garlic (from last year’s garden)
2 Lefever Holbrook Ranch lamb shanks
2 lbs Lefever Holbrook Ranch ground lamb
1 Lefever Holbrook Ranch pork chop

What’s left over for next week and beyond:

2 pcs panini sandwich bread
rest of Como loaf
rest of flour tortillas
part of celery head
rest of cabbage
possibly some cottage cheese
frozen leftovers!–meals in the bank!