Three Fall Dinners

I love roasted vegetables. Love, love, love them. It’s not quite cool enough for that yet (although we did have a delightfully fall-like First Day of Fall). With temperatures in the 90s this week, I think I’d rather hold off.

But I do have a few fall dinner dishes that are easy to cook and don’t make me feel like I’ve heated up the entire house. Some of them are soups. There’s very little measuring in these recipes.

One of my standbys is black bean soup. I once had a co-worker who ate black bean soup every day. I’m not at that point, but I do like to have the ingredients for this one around: diced onion, diced carrots, a can of black beans, vegetable broth, and a variety of spices. I saute the onions and the carrots in olive oil, rinse and drain the black beans, saute them with the onion-carrot mixture, add the broth and some water, season, and simmer for at least an hour. Then I blend it with the immersion blender.

It’s not very photogenic, so there’s no photo. It is delicious, though.

A new introduction is corn chowder. This may sound like it should be a standby, but I haven’t made it regularly in the past. This month, though, I came up with a recipe that I love and can easily make after I get home from work. Saute onions and then carrots in olive oil, dice a couple of small potatoes and mix them in, add vegetable broth and water, simmer until the potatoes are done, lower the heat a bit and add frozen corn and some half-and-half, and continue cooking until those ingredients are heated through. Somehow this winds up tasting buttery. I don’t know exactly why, but it does, and I’m happy about it.

Blue bowl with corn chowder

This next one I cook year-round. It makes me think of fall in the fall, but it is also a great summer recipe, so whatever. There is no sauce easier than Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce. If you haven’t made it, you may be skeptical about it: A can of whole, peeled tomatoes; half a stick of butter; an onion sliced in half; a bit of salt. Remove the onion and blend the remainder. That’s it. You think it needs basil and oregano and pepper and more. It doesn’t. You just put this on top of pasta and eat. I’m not saying you’re going to replace your regular recipe with this one–but, actually, I did.
Oh, and one more thing. Read labels and buy the low-sodium version of everything. You can add your own salt.

Bowl of rotini with Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce and parmesan

Beyond these? I’ve got a whole Pinterest board of recipes I hope to actually try, whether or not it’s fall. Maybe someday.

Leaf Bag List – Fall 2014

Illustration of bag full of autumn leaves

This summer my goals were to go to the beach (we made it two or three times), go to the pool (we went a lot), and learn to make a really good hamburger (turns out the answer is fry, don’t grill).

So what’s on my Leaf Bag List for this fall?

1) Use the slow-cooker more.

2) Set aside weekend time for batch cooking–I may start with this breakfast recipe.

3) Inventory the kitchen freezer and chest freezer so that I can effectively store what I prepare while pursuing goal #2.

4) Learn to make a good pot roast. (Any recipes to recommend?)

That’s a food-heavy list, but, hey, I like food. And I want to come up with more Mom-Friendly Meals. So let’s see what happens.

Mom-Friendly Meals: Ramen

Ramen with spinach and poached egg

  • Bring two cups of vegetable broth to a boil.
  • Open a packet of ramen noodles. Throw away the flavor packet. Boil the noodles for three minutes.
  • Add a handful of rinsed spinach leaves, a splash of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and a few drops of sriracha.
  • Pour ramen, broth, and spinach into bowl.
  • Boil another pot of water. Stir into a whirlpool and drop in a cold, cracked egg. Turn off the heat and cover for five minutes.
  • Remove the egg from the pot with a slotted spoon. Add to bowl.

Seriously, this could not be easier, or tastier. And just for the record, this is the first time I ever poached an egg this way.

Mom-Friendly Meals: Strawberry Spinach Salad

I went to the farmers’ market on Sunday morning and found some unbelievable strawberries and fresh spinach. My first thought was “Smoothies!” But then I came up with another option.

The big question was dressing. We don’t eat a lot of salads, so we don’t have dressing just sitting around waiting to be eaten. and I have never really gotten into vinaigrettes. But a quick search turned up a recipe that sounded good, and I remembered that I do have balsamic vinegar.

I washed a couple of handfuls of spinach and used the recipe I’d found to make a quick dressing: I splashed balsamic vinegar, a little honey, and some olive oil into a bowl and microwaved it quickly to make it easier to blend. Then I tossed the spinach in the dressing and microwaved it again to wilt the spinach.

After that, I sliced a few strawberries on top of the spinach and added some goat cheese and walnut pieces. And voila!

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Mom-Friendly Meals: Maple and Brown Sugar Pumpkin Pancakes

We bought a giant thing of Bisquick at Costco, because Baguette was loving pancakes and we weren’t loving the frozen ones.

I know, Bisquick doesn’t really save time. Except that yes, it does. So I’m using it (after all, we have so very much of it). Their regular recipe is fine, and their “Ultimate Pancake” recipe is better, but I’ve been wanting to make pumpkin bread for ages. Since that takes too long, I made pumpkin pancakes. (No pictures, because I didn’t take any–but they did look pretty.)

A lot of the recipes seem pretty similar; I started with this one from and changed it up, to get the following:

2 cups Bisquick
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/4 cups milk
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, egg, pumpkin, and maple syrup and add to dry ingredients. Be careful not to over-mix.

Cook ’em like they’re pancakes. Eat them. Also like they are pancakes.

Mom-Friendly Meals: Fake Minestrone

What is fake minestrone? Well, for starters, it’s not made from scratch.

I like soup, but I don’t like canned soup. So I try to make my own, but I don’t always have time to make it from scratch. In fact, I rarely have time.

Fortunately, there’s middle ground.

Bring a box and a half of low-sodium chicken broth to a boil. Add a couple of handfuls of elbow macaroni and cook for six minutes. Lower heat to a simmer.

Add frozen meatballs and cook until heated through.

Add frozen vegetables and cook until heated through.

Strain a can of diced tomatoes and mix in. Cook (can you guess?) until heated through.

Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan.

So there are meatballs, and no beans, and no leafy greens. And yes, I know that minestrone recipes vary widely across Italy–but I’m pretty sure Italian cooks aren’t making it from boxes and cans and the freezer. But on a night when you want something tasty and nutritious and easy, this gets the job done on all counts.

No pictures. Too tired. But well-fed.

Mom-Friendly Meals: Stone Soup

Remember the story of “Stone Soup“?

I’ve always been a little conflicted about that story. Sure, the villagers were miserly with their food stores. So you can read it as the story of how a traveler convinced them to open up and be a community.

But can’t you also read it as the story of someone who entered a town, tricked everyone into eating the last of their food, and then left a starving village behind?

Fortunately, one of the main points of the story doesn’t involve trickery at all. It simply involves using what you have available.

The other night, I wanted to make soup. In the freezer, I found chicken stock and a variety of frozen vegetables–peas, corn, and spinach, in this case. And in a jar on the counter, I found what I think was linguini (I’m not sure why we had it, since we tend to buy capellini, and since I am not terribly well-versed in pasta varieties, it might have been something other than linguini).

Now, if I’m shopping to make vegetable soup, I might include carrots and bell peppers. But I didn’t have time to go to the store, so I used what I had on hand.

I put the stock in a pot and added some water (I hadn’t thawed enough stock, I realized after the fact). When it came to a boil, I added the vegetables and broke the linguini into smaller pieces. Once everything was hot and the pasta had softened, I added some salt and pepper–you could, of course, add any other spices you want, but I kept it simple this time.

Stone Soup

What have you got on hand? And what can you do with it?

Mom-Friendly Meals: Farro and Yogurt Parfait

I bought a bag of 10-minute farro at Trader Joe’s. Preparing it is super easy: You boil it for 10 minutes, and drain. That is all. And then you have a big bowl of farro, which you can use in a host of ways (substitute it for rice, for example).

Also, you can do this:

Put farro in a bowl.
farro and yogurt with honey
Top with plain Greek-style yogurt and drizzle with honey.
farro with yogurt, honey, and berries
Add berries.

Farro, yogurt, honey, and berry parfait. Tons of nutrition, incredibly easy, and delicious.

Also very portable (although I’d probably put the farro in a separate container to keep it from getting soggy, and then assemble this at work).

Eat hearty!

Mom-Friendly Meals: Grilled Sausage and Potatoes, with Broccoli

We seem to be having an Endless Summer in California right now, even if you’re not a surfer. But that doesn’t even matter, because in California, grilled food is a year-round option.

What’s easier than grilling? Grilling using foil packs.

Two layers of foil. Potatoes sliced into 1/4-inch rounds (no need to peel them–just scrub well). Minced garlic and a mixture of butter and olive oil. Oh, and fresh rosemary, because our house came with a rosemary bush so enormous that there’s no using it up. But the dried stuff will work, too.

Wrap up that foil tightly and put the pack (or packs) on the grill for 25 minutes over a medium-high heat. Toward the end, put some sausages on the grill and cook for 5 minutes (these were pre-cooked sausages), turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, put broccoli florets and some salt and pepper into a steamer, and steam for six minutes.

Sausage and potatoes with broccoli


Oh, and set some aside for leftovers. Instant lunch.

Mom-Friendly Meals: Ingredients

I’ve shared a few entries in my Mom-Friendly Meals series (you can also follow #MomFriendlyMeals on Twitter, and please feel free to join in the hashtag fun). One of the things that makes these meals easy is having ingredients available.

That sounds obvious, but it’s not necessarily. I like a lot of different kinds of food, but that doesn’t mean I can stock all of the ingredients required for a particular recipe, much less cuisine.

It’s not that we don’t have storage. We have a regular refrigerator and freezer in the kitchen, along with dedicated pantry space nearby. In the garage, we have a chest freezer.

All of this space is full. The problem is that it’s full of things I bought a while ago and forgot about, or random bits of leftovers. So one of my goals is to eat what we have in the freezer, and in doing so, determine what we want to make more of going forward.

I’m sure I’ll share those meals as they emerge from the icy depths. But what I want to talk about right now is staples.

As you may have guessed, one of my staples is steel-cut oats. After all, I eat them at least five times a week. Eggs, clearly another staple. But what else?

Macaroni, for Baguette’s Macmomee Cheese (technically not mom-friendly, but come on, of course it is). Egg noodles. Flour tortillas. Capellini.

Dried beans, for when I have time to soak them the night before. Low-sodium canned beans, for when I don’t.

Coconut milk. Walnuts. Reduced-fat milk. Plain, unsweetened, whole milk yogurt.

Every other week, we get a box of fresh fruit grown on local farms; I also visit our nearby farmers’ market on Sunday mornings, where I get lemons, tomatoes, eggs, and berries.

I buy just about all of my spices from Penzeys. I recently cleaned out my spice rack, because it was overflowing, and there were too many impulse buys that I just wasn’t using. I like it so much better now; I can find what I need, and I’m using what I have.

Penzeys spices
This was the “before” shot.

And I make my own chicken and vegetable broth. Stock. What have you. This is so much easier than it sounds.

For vegetable broth, I buy a bunch of vegetables, scrub them, cut them up, cover them with water, and simmer for an hour. Do not peel! It takes too much time, and you lose the nutrients that are in the peel. After an hour, just strain it.

Chicken broth is just as easy; it takes more time, but it’s all slow-cooker time. I use a carcass, chop up an onion, throw in a few garlic cloves and celery and carrots, cover everything with water, and add some peppercorns. Then I cook on low for at least 12 hours and strain.

Having stock in the freezer means I can make soups at a moment’s notice (well, maybe a little more than a moment). And I can pick the ingredients, which means it has more flavor than packaged broth, and a lot less sodium.

I may have just used the last of my stock. This is why I need to clean out the freezer.

So it can look no worse than this again.
So it can look no worse than this again.