Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Current Favorite Recipes and Getting Out of a Rut

The only way to get out of a writing rut is to crawl my way to the edge and up and out, I suppose.

In an effort to save money and to stop going to the amazing, beautiful, fabulous restaurants that surround me where I live, I've started actively cooking again. Before this "I'm cooking, look at me go!" moment, my husband mostly was the family cook. He is amazing for doing this, first of all. Second, his skill is opening a pantry of ingredients and throwing things together - often within a short period of time - to produce a dinner that the entire family will eat. That way of cooking impacts how we grocery shop to a large degree - we buy ingredients without thinking exactly of how they'll fit together. They just will.

Plus I am a Lifetime Weight Watchers member. I don't track anymore (oh I have the best of intentions some mornings - and by midday I've given up again) but I have maintained my weight for well over two years and don't want to screw that up. I am very mindful of ingredients, portions, calories, and so on. I don't skimp, necessarily, but I am careful. And I like to eat as little processed foods as possible and there are some ingredients that I avoid as much as I possibly can.

What we usually have for dinner when he cooks: A grain (whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice), a protein (we keep a vegetarian house even though now my husband is not vegetarian and my daughter is not when she's out and about - he's not a fan of tofu but I am, we also use seitan, beans/chickpeas, and the occasional faux meat - usually Gardein, sometimes other brands depending on what's on sale). Vegetables of all kinds - usually fresh but sometimes frozen, almost always organic but sometimes not. A sauce - he's a big fan of all kinds of sauces and spices and will make/mix/create with them. And we almost always have a "salad," whether that's a bag of greens rinsed and put into bowls or something fancier. (I used to eat my salad first but now he's taught me to have it after my main course. It's just what we do.)

But sometimes I am just tired of that combination of things. Of course all I want to do is say "let's go out to eat!" but our financial situation is, as a household of two freelancers at the moment, precarious on a good day. Our local restaurants are just amazing. Just....amazing. But we cut back to maybe once or twice a month, and we order carefully.

Cut to me realizing I need to cook more. I've always loved to cook, I even did cook every so often, but it's easier to just let my husband take over. My way of cooking is more often than not to find a recipe I like (blogs, friends' recommendations, cookbooks...) and follow it as closely as I possibly can. When I realized "Hey, I need to cook more because that produces the more complex kinds of dinners I like - the ones I'm craving in restaurants," I started seeking out recipes that could become part of a routine.

I am lucky to be friends with a woman who plans her meals very, very carefully and who already had this sort of stable of recipes established for her family. They eat very little meat, so most of her favorites are either already vegetarian or easily adapted. She recommended a few blogs to me, and I added them to my repertoire.

So here is a list of recipes that I make on the regular for my family. Most are from Budget Bytes and Skinny Taste. My daughter eats the things on this list sometimes. I will make notes as to how I modify them for her. This list, this entire post, is just to climb out of the rut. Sorrynotsorry if it's not complete or exciting or helpful. It just is what it is.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/05/mediterranean-quesadillas/ - When I make this, I make 8-10 at once and freeze most of them, each individually wrapped in foil and placed into a large plastic bag. They cook from frozen beautifully and I love that I have many lunches already made ahead of time. But I save a plain tortilla for my kid and I make her a quesadilla with cheese, black beans, and spinach instead.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/05/italian-wonderpot/ - Fast and easy and the kid eats it with no modifications except that I give her Parmesan instead of feta.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2014/03/portobello-polenta-bowls/ - I make these for my lunch all. the. time. I make a batch of polenta ahead of time and just scoop some out every day and cook up some fast mushrooms/spinach and throw on the feta and sauce. Divine.

http://www.cooks.com/recipe/b93hx9nf/easy-homemade-flour-tortillas.html - I have learned how to make tortillas, but I haven't learned how to make them round. Suggestions on this problem are welcome. I halve this recipe and use a blend of 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup of regular flour. (I also like to use Trader Joe's whole wheat tortillas because they don't have any crazy ingredients and are inexpensive. I have yet to find a regular grocery store brand of tortillas that has such a short ingredient list.) (Next up: Try to make corn tortillas.)

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/06/quinoa-and-spinach-patties.html - These feel like they take forever to make/cook but they are delicious and are excellent hot or cold the next day too. The kid eats these though she whines while doing so.

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2012/10/spaghetti-with-creamy-butternut-leek.html - The kid eats this and really that's the end of that. It's so easy.

Two pickle recipes that I've made:
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/07/easiest-fridge-dill-pickles/ - I love staring at Smitten Kitchen's recipes a lot but have yet to make anything beyond this.

http://www.laaloosh.com/2014/06/17/spicy-cucumber-salad-recipe - I ate this daily for all of June and much of July. 

http://www.laaloosh.com/2014/01/15/kidney-bean-salad-recipe/ - Super easy and absolutely gorgeous.

http://mydarlingvegan.com/2013/09/baked-apple-cider-donuts -  It's fall! It's time to make these apple cider donuts over and over and over...

http://www.snack-girl.com/snack/homemade-donut-recipe/ - More donuts!

Also I have been making pizza once a week using premade dough from either YDFM (usually) or Trader Joe's. I'm learning new ways to make that better but have yet to leap to a pizza stone and peel. I know, I know. I use a Dollar Tree pan. It works. I have my eye on this simple dough recipe but haven't done it yet - premade dough is only $1.20 or so: http://moneysavingmom.com/2009/02/homemade-pizza-in-less-than-30-minutes.html Last night I actually made pizza using TJs dough and I tried making it on the *back* of the Dollar Tree pan and...that worked very well.

So there are some of my latest tricks. I have a clipboard hanging on the wall onto which I clip any recipes that I've printed out, so I have sort of a makeshift and ever-growing cookbook there. I probably should use my actual cookbooks more often. Maybe that's a post for another day.

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