Dreaming About Dinner

A few months ago a friend mentioned that she was going to an assemble-your-own-dinner tasting party. I jumped right in and invited myself. I had heard of this concept before…you walk in to the kitchen and all the shopping and chopping have been done for you; all you have to do is assemble your dinners and take them home to your freezer. Later, you need only thaw in the fridge for a day and follow some easy cooking instructions and voila! It’s dinner.

That first night, I assembled 3 3-serving meals. We ate them the next three nights for dinner and the kids liked all of them. I signed up for a date later in the month to make the minimum order of 36 servings. I chose to make 12 3-serving meals. You can also make 6-serving meals, but I like the flexibility to make just 3 servings or double-up and make 6 depending on how many I have home for dinner.

There are always lots of choices, which is a good thing because I don’t order anything with potatoes, which is usually around half the choices. My kids love potatoes, but I’m allergic. I also try to avoid dishes with rice because I do have a slight allergy to rice as well. Fortunately there are lots of other choices.

At the first session, my friend and I went together, but we were quite busy assembling all our meals in an hour. At the end, I signed up for the next month on my own…my friend comes every other month. I picked my meals and payed for them (although you only need to make a deposit) and chose the date and time that worked for me. When I got home, the kids wanted to know all about the meals I’d made and chose one for that very night.

I’m becoming a regular, having gone three months in a row and signed up for the next. My only real complaint is that the meals are a bit high in calories. One thing I cannot fault is the taste…all the meals are delicious. The ingredients are quite fresh and you know everything that goes into the meal; there are no preservatives or mystery ingredients.

I’ve kept on with the meals because I find value in them. I cannot do everything for my family by myself; I need help, especially with time-consuming tasks. In this case, I spend a certain amount of money on groceries and some of those purchases end up in the trash. Having meals with no wasted left-over ingredients is more efficient. Making just the right amount of food for my family with no left-overs (or discrete left-overs that work for lunch or another dinner) is also more efficient. The meals are more expensive than if I made them in my own kitchen, but off-setting that with less waste, I think I’m ahead of the game. I’ve also found that we eat out less often if I have an easy to assemble meal at hand.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and discover the joy in selective out-sourcing!

Pesto Presto!–Preserved Sunshine For A Winter’s Day

The other day I used up the last of my frozen pesto…it was from two summers ago and, well, it was sun-dried tomato pesto which my kids have thought was less than desirable. The traditional pesto has been gone for a few months. But out in the garden are several basil plants which despite severe neglect and a long summer drought, are ready to give up their leaves for as many batches as I can get out of them.

Over the course of my life, I’ve tried on multiple occasions to practice the arts of home economics and preserve the largesse of my garden (or, more usually, the local U-Pick farms). In my attempts at Martha Stewart-ship, I’ve canned preserves and jellies, I’ve frozen properly-blanched vegetables, and properly un-washed fruits…I’ve also bought sugar-pumpkins and cooked them down and prepared freezable quick breads.

These days, though, we don’t use much jelly. We don’t eat quick breads for breakfast very often…but we do try to create innovative and tasty dinners every night. Pesto is often a key ingredient and homemade is a thousand times better than anything I’ve ever had from a jar. I use a very simple recipe with just basil, olive oil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, salt and pepper. We eat it on pasta and fish, and as a pizza topping. I’m partial to the recipes in Giada De Laurentiis’ Book Everyday Italian. Here are the links for her Basil Pesto recipe as included in this recipe for Grilled Tuna with Basil Pesto and her Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto included in this recipe for Penne with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.

The idea of sun-dried tomato pesto wasn’t very popular when I made a batch…so I didn’t make more and it had been in the freezer for a long time. The other night, however, I was fresh out of ideas of what to have with chicken and the sun-dried tomato pesto called out to be tossed with penne and served with grilled chicken. It was delicious, and even my ever-so-picky youngest child had two servings.

So now I am finally ready to pick that basil, get out the toasted pine nuts and other ingredients and whip up a few batches. I usually do only 2 batches at a time, since it takes so many leaves. I wait for the smaller leaves to grow larger and then start all over again. This makes it a multi-week process, but given the time of year, I need to get on it right away before there is a frost. The leaves do grow back, but there are only so many growing days left. In the end, we’ll try to pull up at least one plant before the first frost and keep it in a pot in the kitchen.

My older daughter saved a plant from two years ago (last year, a sudden frost hit and killed all of the basil overnight) and she kept it alive for almost two years. Then while we were all away, it died. My son was home, but I made the fatal mistake not to write down on his list of things to do, “water house plants”. Therefore, the cacti all survived as did a couple of three-year-old poinsettias. But the basil perished.

So, I pulled enough leaves off of the plants to make two batches of pesto and got them in the freezer. I waited a few more days and could only get enough leaves for one more batch. It got pretty cold the night before, freezing only 30 miles away from us, so it’s a chicken-game to see how much more I can get, and if I can save a plant, before the first real frost.

Next year, I’ll have to start earlier!

Find the Joy in the Journey …and the taste of sunshine on a winter’s day from a fresh-frozen batch of pesto!

Manna…I Mean Mayonnaise, From Heaven

Before leaving on his most recent business trip, my husband tantalized us by frying up a mess of bacon…but he didn’t tell me what it was for. The kids insisted it was for BLT’s, but we didn’t have any fresh lettuce, so the bacon minded its business in the fridge for a few days. Then one day after work, I stopped at the grocery and bought some lettuce and a couple of tomatoes for good measure. It wasn’t until I was pulling into the driveway that I wondered if we had any mayonnaise…

Lettuce torn off of the head and washed, tomatoes sliced, bacon out of the fridge, bread in the toaster…and a search of the fridge revealed no mayonnaise! No problem, I thought, I can make my own. I pulled out our small food processor and pulled out my go-to cookbook for the basics, The New Basics Cookbook by the Silver Palate creators, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens. After a brief cooking lesson on mayonnaise, I found a basic recipe and set to work. Now, my little food processor and I are no novices to the making of emulsions…we’ve made dozens of recipes of pesto in our time.

I dropped an egg plus two yolks into the processor, lemon juice and spices followed. I whirred them all together then started dripping olive oil into the mixture as I ran the processor non-stop…until it stopped of its own accord after only a fraction of oil had been emulsified. Perhaps the circuit had blown…but I was pretty sure that I’d worn out the motor. I had few alternatives at this point…my blender jar leaks like a sieve and I haven’t found the time to replace it. Instead I’d bought what my husband refers to as a “boat motor”, a hand blender. I was worried about splatter, so I got out the bowl to the mixer and dumped the watery mixture of eggs, lemon juice, and oil into the bowl. Hand blender ready, I prepared to drip oil in with one hand while blending with the other…when my phone rang.

My husband was on the line, having been told to stay on a tough negotiation call and miss his flight home. He had eventually booked another flight and was in a rental car to another airport to catch a red-eye home, but still on call for additional negotiations. For Pete’s Sake…can this man not get a break and get home to his family? I distracted him for a few minutes with my own bizarre situation today being told to negotiate a decidedly bad deal…a short-term win at heavy cost long term…a real Dilbert moment. He was much amused!

Oh, so back to the mayonnaise…meanwhile I’d given the complex hand-signals to my older daughter to use the hand blender with one hand and drip the olive oil with the other to make the mayonnaise…when I got off of the call, she was all amazed at the magic that happened. In the bowl, instead of a sad mixture of eggs and oil was a mayonnaise of a lovely shade of yellow.

And that is how we had our BLT’s…whole wheat toast, fresh iceberg lettuce from (not sure, maybe California, maybe Mexico), hot-house tomatoes from Canada (no more of those baseball hard, tasteless Florida tomatoes after reading Tomatoland…), bacon strips, and…well mayonnaise seemingly from heaven. Mayonnaise of a lemony/mustardy hue, full of wholesome (if raw) egg yolks, virgin olive oil, Coleman’s mustard powder, salt and black pepper, organic lemon juice from Italy…and emulsified in a magical process.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes it surprises you in strange, lemony-mustardy-mayonnaisey ways!