EAT! Week in the rear view mirror

My one-week, 21-meal “plan-prepare-&-eat-a-thon” hit me with some big realities. First, eating this way is work; I couldn’t have done it (at least, the way I did it) had I not been on spring break. My respect has zoomed off the charts for the millions of parents out there who put food on the table every day for their families!

Also, cooking for one person has its challenges, and across the whole week, I constantly found that my planning/preparing eyes were bigger than my stomach. Most of the overage ended up in the freezer (in fact, I just had another bowl of that tasty squash soup). Some of it ended up in a second serving that I didn’t really need. (I suspect that I gained a few pounds across this little venture.) Some of it went straight from pan to freezer when I got a better offer from a friend. And some (too much!) of it ended up as worm food.

But let’s look at the up side. I definitely ate more fruits, nuts, and vegetables and less meat than usual. I had a very nice bit of fish. And the leftovers fed me almost every meal this week too, and will still be going strong next week.

Notes for next time:  Scale it down!–Plan most of your meals, not all of them. I’ll focus mainly on dinner, so that I pull things out of the freezer soon enough to defrost. And I’ll target amounts that will give me a couple of extra servings for lunch during the week, so that I don’t keep blowing my money at the taco truck–but not too much more. Beyond that, I’ll rely on my usual habits: keep some breakfast stuff around, and pantry staples like broth, pasta, grains, and canned tomatoes that let you improvise the rest. The strategy for fruits and vegetables?–Buy small amounts and then use them!–No more compost farming in the fridge.

So we arrive at the end of EAT!week! Two open questions that I continue to chew on: How local and how fresh? And where does it comes from and what’s in it? Stay tuned for more on these topics!

EAT! Week day seven

The last day of my reality show!

Breakfast

I had planned on a Saturday frittata, but opted instead to go with an omelette (after last night’s marathon with the moussaka, fewer steps is good!) I sliced up and sauted my last mushrooms, then moved them to a paper towel. I threw some spinach leaves into the pan for a couple of minutes, then added them to the paper towel. Then, in the same pan, I made a two-egg omelette, with some filling inside and the rest on top. (No toast and jam; too much food!) Very nice.

Lunch

I made a panini sandwich for (a very late!) lunch: a meat patty made out of the rest of the Lefever Holbrook ground lamb that I had defrosted for the moussaka, a Grand Central Bakery hamburger bun, some spinach leaves and tomato slices, and a horseradish/mayo dressing. Somewhere along the way I’ve actually acquired a panini press; it’s fun to use and gives you those cool ridges in the bread.

Dinner

The twenty-first meal of EAT! week! Most of my groceries are cooked (if not actually consumed), my fridge and freezer are full of leftovers that will take me through next week (and, for the now-frozen moussaka, much longer!), and I am stuffed, sated, and  . . . overfed.  So this is what I am going to have for dinner tonight. If I can eat it all.

Overall Score for Day Seven:  A-. Points for finishing with restraint.

EAT! Week day six

We are heading into the home stretch!

Breakfast

No news here–just cereal with my last banana sliced on top. (My last banana for now; I’ve resolved my banana issue. The votes are in and the verdict is, eat them whenever you want. Bueno apetito.)

Lunch

Remember the stir-fry earlier in the week that didn’t happen? It happened for lunch today. The recipe is: see what’s in the fridge and throw it in. Not an elegant dish, but crunchy-good! Here’s what I did this time.

Make rice. I use my trusty rice cooker.

Get everything that’s going in the stir-fry totally ready ahead of time because once you fire up the wok, things go FAST. Prep all the veg by cutting them into pieces about the same size. (This time I used an onion, two stalks of celery, two carrots, and a red bell pepper. In a different bowl, I sliced up almost all my mushrooms–regular white ones as well as a couple of portobellos–and tore up the rest of the Thai basil.) Slice some garlic. Measure out your sauce: for this amount of veg, one tablespoon of soy sauce and two tablespoons of fish sauce with a dash of sugar will do.

Then heat the wok on high. When it starts to smoke, add about a tablespoon of peanut oil, swirl it, and let it get super-hot. (If I’m not  scared, I know my wok isn’t hot enough.) Then throw in the garlic, followed instantly by the cut-up vegetables. (This is so that you don’t incinerate your garlic.) Toss the whole time; I use two spatulas to do it. Once the veg start to glisten and maybe show a little color, add the sauce, toss again, and finally add the mushrooms and basil. If the heat isn’t turned up as high as it will go, do it now. (This is so that you don’t end up with mushroom soup.) Toss like crazy. (It feels like you are playing the cymbals.)

Now dump it into a serving bowl. I sprinkled it with some sriracha (do you know this hot sauce? I LOVE it.) It looks more carroty in the photo than it was; actually the mushrooms were the big deal. But go ahead and EAT!

Dinner

I decided to go ambitious for dinner: moussaka, which I have never made.

As I read the recipe, I got the beginnings of a bad feeling. Prepping the vegetables is going to take an hour? Well, you have to partly-peel, slice, salt, drain (this is where the hour comes in), rinse, and dry the eggplants, and boil the  potatoes. Okay, I’ll get all that going, then watch the news.

While the potatoes are cooling, you preheat the oven, line two (two??) sheet pans with foil, and oil them. Next, you separate your eggs, lightly beat the whites, and spread bread crumbs on a plate. So this is all leading up to Step One:  get your eggplant in the oven. You dip each slice in the egg whites, dredge it in the bread crumbs, and put it in one layer on the pans. This takes a while.

Now we are ready to make the meat sauce. Finely chop two onions (then hold your face under the cold-water faucet until you can see again), mince the garlic, and chop the parsley. Measure out everything else. Then saute the ground lamb, add the onion and garlic, and keep sauteing; add the wine and simmer a while; add your spices, tomato paste and puree, and sugar. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. All of this adds up to Step Two.

Pull the eggplant out of the oven and set it over there to cool. On to Step Three:  make the bechamel sauce. Lightly beat your egg yolks. Warm the milk. Now, melt the butter and whisk in the flour; let it cook for a bit. Add the warm milk in a steady stream, whisking away. Simmer until it thickens a bit. Take it off the heat, stir in the egg yolks and nutmeg, and put it back on the fire to thicken.

This is all just prep for the main event: Step Four, assemble the moussaka. Grease the biggest baking dish you own, sprinkle the bottom with (more!) bread crumbs, and cover it with a layer of sliced potatoes. (Leave a small moat around the edges.) Top that with a layer of eggplant slices, then the meat sauce. Sprinkle with a quarter of the grated cheese. Add another layer of eggplant splices and top that with another quarter of the cheese. Now, pour the bechamel sauce over the whole thing, making sure the sauce fills up that moat. Put the rest of the cheese on top. Now heave a sigh of relief and put it in the oven!

Okay, let’s assess our situation here. It’s 9:00 at night, I still haven’t eaten supper, and my kitchen is a horrendous effing mess. But on the up side (unless, when I ran out of breadcrumbs, it was a fatal mistake to sub in the panko breading), in about an hour I will have a nice piece of homemade moussaka.

And here it is!

Overall Score for Day Six:  B. Extra credit for effort. (What was I thinking??)

EAT! Week day three

Breakfast

Today I woke up pretty sullen about the whole question of tropical fruit. (Hey, coffee drinker, I’m eating the banana. You got a problem with that?) And I did have the banana, sliced on my LOCAL Cascadian Farm cereal.  A simple, tasty breakfast!

Lunch

Today’s plan for lunch was to make soup out of the rest of last night’s butternut squash. After dinner last night, to get a jump on today’s cooking, I went ahead and pureed the squash, and I’m glad I did, because I ended up making a fairly complicated soup. (I got the recipe from foodnetwork.com; it was posted by Michael Chiarello back in 2007.) I had to scale up the quantities to match my more than three cups of squash puree (this was a hefty linebacker of a squash!), so I doubled the recipe.

Tip #1: I went ahead and made the toasted-spice rub that he described. Very good! But I wouldn’t encourage tossing the toasting spices to keep them from burning; stirring does perfectly well. I’ll be vacuuming up coriander seeds for a week.

You get started by sauteing onion, celery, and carrot–AND cinnamon sticks!– in olive oil; salt and pepper the mixture, and add your broth (plus  spices–I added coriander, plus some sage and a tiny dollop of balsamic vinegar, since I didn’t roast the squash with them). Let it simmer, then add your squash puree and let it simmer some more. Take out the cinnamon sticks. I threw in some of the spice rub as well.

(All of this was taking a while, so I ate half the apple that I was supposed to have for dessert. A tart green Granny Smith. It went so well with the flavor of the soup that I cut up some for garnish!)

More simmering. Now puree the soup mixture.

Tip #2:  Do not, I repeat do NOT, over-fill your blender with hot soup. (Don’t ask.) About one serving at a time is good.

Dinner

Serendipity!–My friend Jan invited me out for a glass of wine and appetizers. (We always go to Bai Pai, a Thai place with a great happy hour.) Crab won-tons, spring rolls, calamari, and spicy green beans. Mmm good. Plus, of course, a couple of glasses of wine!

So no peanut butter pasta; all those ingredients are pantry staples and will keep. And I’m not hungry enough for a salad either. But I did whip up the eggplant and green onion side dish, just because I had the ingredients fresh on hand, it’s more or less a Thai dish, and I love it! (Roast the eggplant; stir-fry the green onions, add the lemon juice-garlic-sriracha-fish sauce, add the sliced eggplant and stir-fry briefly, dish it up and sprinkle with Thai basil!)  I’ll eat it over rice one of these days.

Overall score for Day Three:  B+, for attitude!

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.

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!