Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What's on the Menu?? How Should I know!

I don't really feel ranty (unless, of course, you'd like to talk about the absolute LACK of driving ability I continue to find in this state), so I figured I'd just try to be helpful instead. We'll just see how that goes....

Anywho, I love to cook. LOOOOOOOOVE it. I will admit, it's definitely more difficult with a toddler underfoot, but still. What I have found, though, is that I'm not always that creative (thanks Pinterest, for pointing that out). I have my standard faves, but I do love variety, and since eating out for us doesn't happen much due to all of my scary reading, then blogging, topics, I have to spice things up. I figured I can't be the only one who has this issue, so I'm addressing it here. Here goes.

First.  I'm not going to bother typing out "organic" in front of every single thing. That's just obnoxious. So just know that every single thing we purchase is organic. And if it's meat/ cheese/ dairy, we try to make sure that it is also all free range and grass-fed. (Cheese is just not that easy. For the most part we stick with that, but it's quite limited, and we find that cheese imported from Europe is trustworthy, since they banned most, if not all of the crap that we put in our cows.)

Second. You need to have a well stocked pantry. For us, that means extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, dried beans, lentils, rice/ risotto, pasta, chia seeds, hemp seeds, nut butters, nuts, flour (unenriched, unbleached white flour, coconut flour, almond flour and quinoa flour), raw local honey, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red and white vinegar, an assortment of spices like red chili pepper flake, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, tubes of tomato paste, jars of crushed tomatoes, quinoa, tortilla chips, cornmeal, buckwheat, potatoes. I've been able to make every kind of food under the sun with just these items, and they don't go bad.  There *may* also always be chocolate chips and brown sugar in there. You know. In case people drop by and I have to make cookies.

Third. Well stocked fridge. We have a fabulous organic produce delivery service that gives us a box of seasonal, local produce every Monday. We've tried so many different veggies and fruits that we never would have because of this and I get so excited every week to see what I can make with that week's goodies. And, they allow you to go in and customize your order (of course, you can still only get seasonal produce), so if I'm not loving one thing, I can get something different. We also visit our local butcher (Bill the Butcher- FABULOUS!) to stock up on meat, usually a month's worth. Typically a whole chicken, some chicken breasts, ground pork, ground beef, bacon and sometimes sausage. We'll make seperate trips if we're wanting lamb or steak. Milk and butter are always on hand. maple syrup. I make yogurt every week so that's always in there. Eggs. Strauss Family Creamery Chocolate Ice Cream- we are officially addicted. And we get bags of organic frozen berries from costco that are always in the freezer. Cheese- always fresh mozzerella, cheddar/ dubliner, goat/ feta, parmesan, and usually one fancy pants cheese (brie is always a hit and gruyere is fabulous too). Siracha (that was actually my brother's doing, but I've used it so many times and it's always a good staple to have). The roasted garlic that I make about once every 3 months (SOOOOO much tastier than garlic powder- recipe is here. And of course, feta stuffed olives, because babygirl and I could eat our way out of a barrel of those.

And there you have it. You can basically find all of those things in my house at any time. And I swear, 99% of the meals that I make and post about on my Dear Dinner Diary page are made up of those ingredients.

You'll notice I don't list any condiments on there (minus dijon mustard- because apparently someone figured out how to make it using only mustard. amazing!) I started really studying the labels of everything, even the organic stuff, and I still was not loving what I saw. So we stopped buying them, and now I just make my own condiments. Sounds like a pain, but it is really easier than I thought, you can cater it to your taste, it's cheaper, and it's a million times yummier.

I lost track, but next number important step is to set up your kitchen the way it works best for you. Sounds simple enough, but I didn't really ever embrace that until fairly recently and HOLY CRAP what a difference! I would say the MOST important change I made was to ditch the grinders for salt and pepper. I got ceramic jars to hold loose sea salt and pepper in (you can really use anything that looks good on your counter and has a lid).


 My sea salt and pepper holders are in blue with a cork lid. Just watch a cooking show. Any one. And you'll notice that they all do pinches, or handfuls, of s&p. No grinders anywhere to be found. With good reason. I cannot explain to you how much easier my life got once I started using this trick. And all that other goodness on the counter? My must have tools. You NEED a zester in your life. It grates cheeses, lemon and orange peels, spices like cinnamon stick and nutmeg. Again, huge huge timesaver. and TONGS. They are magical. I will never ever ever flip meat or anything else over with anything else. Tongs are your friend. And of course, an easy pour container for your oil. Points if it's fancy pants.

Because my kitchen is my haven, I MUST HAVE COFFEE. And since the hubbs spent, arguably, too much time in Europe, an espresso machine was a need. So we invested in a Nespresso- without a doubt the best purchase of our marriage. Makes the perfect cappuccinos and lattes. And of course, I have my fave cookbooks out on the counter for easy access.

I will admit, I have an obscene amount of counter space. That was a must have when purchasing a house. But I used to waste it. I hid that kitchen aid mixer in my pantry for 5 years. In those years, I maybe used it a dozen times. Enter whole food movement. Mixer on counter, and I use it at least once a week. So when my in-laws bought me a Kitchen Aid Food Processor (yes, I am aware that I am beyond spoiled), that went right on the counter and is used almost daily (which is why there are no parts on the base- they're in the dishwasher).  And we decided to not use microwaves after reading a lot about them. First off, because they make food taste horrible. Admit it. And second, because who wants to radiate their food? So. We sold ours and bought a hood. Now my smoke alarm doesn't go off every. single. day. and there aren't lingering food stanks. It's bomb.

Now that your kitchen makes sense for you, you'll find it a lot more relaxing to be in there. I know it sounds stupid, but I promise you, it's truth. And you know, especially if you have kiddos running around, every little second of time that you can save is huge.

I roast a whole chicken (2-3 pounder) about once a week. It's nice to have chicken on hand for lunches since we don't do lunchmeats,  and I make stock, which is infinitely better than storebought stock, WAY cheaper, SO SO good for you, and I use in a ton of stuff I cook. I just freeze it in mason jars.

Now onto the meals!

I feel like it's kinda cheating. I feel like every day when I post my dinners, I'm taking credit for something that is not truly my own. But here's how it works.

While drinking our breakfast smoothies, babygirl fully absorbed in SuperWhy, I decide what protein we're going to eat for dinner. Either that or I see what fun produce we have and what I'd like to base my meal on. Then I go to www.thechew.com. I type in the protein or produce, and I scroll through the recipes. I read through a few until I find the one that sounds the yummiest. The Chew is a fairly new show, so sometimes it's a bit limited. If I don't find something there, I go to www.foodnetwork.com and type it in. Then scroll through. Sometimes, I combine a few different recipes of things that sound good. I typically have to tweek it for what we have in the house, or for our taste (we don't eat seafood, so I'll use seafood recipes and make chicken or pork). That's it. I take out the meat to defrost and about an hour before hubbs gets home I start cooking whatever it is I've decided on.

TOTALLY CHEATING. I don't rack my brain for new, creative recipes. I get inspired at times, but really, I'm just plagiarizing other chefs. Is that a thing? 

It typically takes me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to put dinner together...longer if I decide to make bread, tortillas, etc. Even making the dressings, condiments and other accouterments only takes a few minutes and a good whisk.

Then I take all sorts of pretty pictures, while the hubbs explains to babygirl that mama is nuts, and I brag on Pinterest. Because I suck at arts and crafts, but dammit I can cook so there!

Loves!








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