Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Meal-Planning: Final Thoughts and Recipes to Share

One of the biggest risks I ran by writing this series was coming off as an all-knowing, got-it-all-figured-out expert.  It's completely untrue.  I go through peaks and valleys with my meal-planning abilities.  At the beginning on January I went through a big valley.  I think I was burned out from all my holiday cooking and baking.  My holiday meals and sweets are typically very involved.  They take a lot of time and a lot of money.  I don't ever regret any of it but it's hard to go back to a normal routine after all that rich-ness.

But shortly thereafter I got inspired by some awesome new recipe suggestions.  Once again I started cooking every single day.  Things were running like a well-oiled machine.  Brian came home from work one evening as I was working on my fourth new recipe.  The house smelled amazing.  "Wow," he exclaimed, "You're really knocking things out of the park lately."

It felt good that he said that to me.  That he recognized something I was doing well.  And it felt good that he said it before I even thought to ask for some recognition.

And that's when the lightbulb went off.  I knew I held some secrets to success.  Some secrets that come so naturally to me that might be a struggle for others.  So that's why I wanted to share.  Of course, knowing the secrets and actually using them are two totally different things.  Even if you know how to change, it doesn't always mean you will change.

Just to prove I am not supermom, here are some suggested topics I could use help with from you: how to make exercise less sporadic, how to read faster, how to be awake before 8 a.m. and how to be ready for the day before 10 a.m., how to turn off the television, how to pray more, how to come up with fun activities for the kids that won't bore me, how to be more hospitable, how to be more patient, how to keep a garden, how to take better pictures...

I also want to add in some regrets about my series.  I feel bad that there aren't a ton of tips for working-outside-the-home parents.  I wish I had better insight into this but I don't.  When both Brian and I were working we ate like crap.  Mashed potatoes from a box, Spaghetti-Os and lots of the Big Blue Box.  And we'd eat it all in the living room mostly with the TV turned on.  It wasn't pretty.  I only started to figure things out after my son began eating solids and I wanted to be more healthy for his sake.  But it turns out this change has benefited all of us in so many unexpected ways.

And now for some recipes!  These are some of our favorite meals that have been adapted by me from some original recipe that I've long forgotten where it's come from.

Pasta with Italian Sausage and Mushrooms

1 lb of your favorite pasta (We usually pick either rotini or penne, whole wheat or Barilla Plus version)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 container of fresh mushrooms
1 lb. Italian sweet sausage
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce
8 oz. package of fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
(Note: I usually add a veggie of my choice to this dish as well.  Think diced carrots or celery or chopped zucchini.  The veggie can be added in step #3.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook pasta according to box instructions.
3. Saute mushrooms and sausage in olive oil until the sausage is cooked through.
4. Add marinara sauce to mushroom and sausage mixture and heat through.
5. Combine cooked pasta, mushroom and sausage mixture and cubed mozzarella in a 9x13 baking dish.
6. Sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan cheese.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until Parmesan cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.

Beef Stir Fry1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 green bell peppers, sliced into strips
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb (give or take) stew meat (This is the beef that is sold already cut into cubes.  If the cubes are big, I will cut them in half.)
2/3 cup cold water
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges

1.  Cook rice according to package instructions.  Add in ground ginger.
2.  Saute green peppers, celery and olive oil until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove and set aside.
3.  Add meat to saute pan and brown.  (Remember that because it's not ground beef you don't have to cook it all the way through.  You can choose medium-rare, medium or well-done.)
4.  Whisk together water, soy sauce, cornstarch and sugar in a small mixing bowl. (I use my glass measuring cup.)
5.  Add water mixture to meat.  Cook and stir until mixture thickens and bubbles.
6.  Add celery, green peppers and tomatoes to heat through.
7.  Serve over rice.

Pan-Fried Tofu(I had never cooked with tofu before but my family now LOVES this recipe.  It's cheap, easy and is a great meat substitute.)

1 cup uncooked rice
1 pkg of extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs (You can make your own bread crumbs in the food processor but the end result won't be quite as crispy.)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
Crab meat or frozen cooked shrimp (optional)

1.  Cook rice according to package instructions.
2.  Cut tofu into bite-sized cubes
3.  Combine flour and bread crumbs in one bowl and eggs in a separate bowl.
4.  Coat tofu in egg then dredge in flour and bread crumbs.
5.  Add olive oil to frying pan.  Fry tofu in pan over medium heat.  (Tofu doesn't need to be cooked so your cooking time will depend on how crispy you want the outside of the tofu to be.)
6.  Combine soy sauce and chicken stock and microwave for a few seconds until warm.
7.  Serve fried tofu over rice and crab or shrimp, if desired.  Use soy and stock mixture as a dipping sauce.
(Note: I usually serve this with edamame to get a veggie in there.)

Other awesome recipes:Sausage and Kale Soup
Cashew Chicken Stir Fry
Four Cheese Spinach Manicotti
Vegetarian Fried Rice

Your turn!  Please add your favorite tried and true recipes in the comments below.
Previous Meal-Planning PostsBreakfast and Lunch Staples
Have a Plan, Make a List
Getting to the Grocery Store [with kids]
Cooking It, Eating it, and Cleaning it all up

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