If there isn’t something on there that sounds good, maybe you aren’t hungry enough to think about dinner. Give it an hour and come back. Or maybe it should be a pizza delivery night at your place.
Last night when we were talking about the snow that was expected today, Daniel told me he didn’t want snow. “Now we won’t be able to go to the beach!”
After I reassured him that snow will not stand in the way of our beach vacation, which is months away, he decided maybe he wanted it to snow. At bedtime he and his brother were bouncing around their bedroom. I went in to lay down the law. Time to sleep. Now.
“But I can’t sleep, Mama,” Daniel said. “It’s Christmas Eve!”
One day I may win an argument with him, but it won't be any time soon.
Update: It snowed! I've been saying that I want spring to come, but somehow I thought it would look a little different. But Daniel tells me it's beautiful. And he's right.
We baked an apple pie for Pi Day! I even had some help rolling out the crust.
Even though the boys told me we should make an “air pie,” because Leo says the crust is better than the filling, I sliced up apples, threw them inside, and we filled the house with that irresistible apple pie scent.
I was excited because when the pie came out of the oven, the juice from the apples had made a shape almost like pi on the crust. I used a knife to spread one leg of the pi a bit, but it was mostly there.
I'm not calling it a Pi Day miracle, but that is still fun, right?
I felt so proud of myself for making a Pi Day pie. Then my sister Treasa sent me a photo of her pie.
She and her husband have a 5-month-old infant and still managed to create this pie, which they ate at the most mathematically appropriate moment of the evening.
Little sisters. They have this way of upstaging you. But you have to love them, of course. I mean, how can you resent someone who is so creative and bakes homemade pie?
Hers was also an apple pie. Both pies were delicious, but very different. I can’t write an objective comparison, so you’ll have to ask my mother or brother-in-law for their evaluations.
But if you’re paying attention, you can see that the one mathematical constant in all of this is that my sister Treasa rocks.
It's a well-known fact that while you might be able to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas and Easter, you can’t over-celebrate Chinese New Year or St. Patrick’s Day. So we had two St. Patrick’s Day parties, one with corned beef and cabbage and one with lamb stew. Both, of course, featured Irish soda bread and Irish music.
I put together a shamrock-shaped veggie tray.
My sister, who may have upstaged me yet again, made homemade Shamrock shakes. They were a little different from the ones you find under the “yellow M” as Leo used to call it when he was a toddler. They weren’t green, and they were more refreshing. And I didn't feel as if I'd never be able to eat again afterward.
Here is the recipe Treasa used while I held my little niece.
Homemade Shamrock shakes
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup milk
1/4 - 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Throw all ingredients in blender. Make sure your 5-month-old daughter who hates loud noises is out of the room. Blend until milkshake-like consistency. Top with whipped cream if you want. Drink.
Yesterday morning I really wanted to go to Mass for St. Joseph's Day. I was worried, though, because there was some technical glitch, and my work emails weren't coming through. We had a pressing project at work, and I didn't know what to do. Could I afford to be a little late for work? I was leaning toward just missing Mass and going to the office when my colleague sent me this text.
Suddenly I found that my work emails had started coming through and everything was under control. A half-hour at Mass would make a world of difference in how I approached the day and my colleagues wouldn't miss me. I'm so very happy I went. And I'm happy to work where I do.
They say Transformers are more than meets the eye. That must explain why our Optimus Prime was wearing a few different hats this week.
Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog. Have a wonderful weekend! Happy Spring! If we say it, maybe it will come true!
March 19, 2015 11:32
By Rita Buettner
Cooking isn't nearly as difficult as deciding what to cook. Somehow, maybe because they come at the end of a long week, meatless Fridays often throw me for a loop. So when Beth Anne at Beth Anne’s Best invited me to share some meatless recipe ideas, I was excited to put together a few of our favorites—and find a few that I'd like to try.
So, in no particular order, here are seven recipes, some I have tried, some I created, and some that come highly recommended.
Old Bay-and-Panko-Encrusted Tilapia
Last Friday I cooked Old-Bay-and panko-encrusted tilapia. I used frozen tilapia, which I almost always have on hand, dipped it in egg and then an Old Bay and panko mixture, and baked it for 12 minutes at 375. Then I pulled it out and threw it in a pan on the stovetop with some olive oil and cooked it until it was crispy and cooked through. It was easy, quick, and delicious. Our boys also love salmon, which is wonderful since it is so easy to bake in the oven.
Sundried Tomato Mozzarella Quinoa Burgers
A friend recommended these, and they sound so good! She serves them as a sandwich with hummus or guacamole. Here is the recipe.
Pasta al Cavolfiore
My mother started exploring vegetarian cooking when we were growing up, and this quickly became a family favorite. Here is the recipe.
Shrimp (or Tuna) and Pasta Sauté
Cook pasta according to directions on the box. Set aside.
Over medium heat sauté in a generous amount of olive oil one chopped onion and whatever dried herbs you like—I love rosemary, but I have also made it with parsley and Old Bay.
Add garlic and ground black pepper and sauté briefly.
Add vegetables of your choice (frozen veggies are fine) and peeled shrimp. You can also use canned tuna or salmon in lieu of the shrimp.
When the shrimp is cooked through, add the cooked pasta and stir.
Remove from heat and stir in grated Parmesan cheese to taste. I tend to be overly generous with Parmesan cheese.
A friend recommended these, and I am really excited to try them with our boys. Our friend makes them with mushrooms instead of shrimp because her daughter is not a shrimp lover, and she says they are delicious. Here is the recipe.
Sauce: 4 medium carrots diced and peeled
2 medium onions chopped
1/2 lb. broccoli chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
20 fresh mushrooms, sliced and with stems removed
Juice from tomatoes
20 oz. frozen spinach
4 cups cottage cheese, drained (or ricotta)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
One box lasagna noodles
1. Cook lasagna noodles, rinse in cool water, and drain on towel.
2. Saute carrots, onions, broccoli, and garlic in oil.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices.
4. Boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Add mushrooms and cook 15 minutes more.
6. Put a little sauce on the bottom of the pan.
7. Layer noodles, spinach, cottage cheese, sauce, and mozzarella.
8. Repeat layering 2-3 times.
9. Cover and bake at 375 for 40 minutes.
10. Let sit for 10 minutes to cool.
(I wish I knew the person who created this recipe!)
Savory Shrimp Pasta
I pound shrimp peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tsp minced onion
Ground black pepper to taste
½ cup apple juice
½ pound cooked spaghetti
Sauté the shrimp in the oil with the parsley until the shrimp curls up and turns pink. Add the garlic powder, minced garlic, minced onion, and pepper and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the apple juice and cook for another 5 minutes.
What are some of your favorite meatless meals? I hope you’ll join us and link up a favorite recipe—or click around and visit some of the other people sharing recipes below!
March 15, 2015 11:12
By Rita Buettner
Last week I tried a new crockpot recipe, and it was a terrible disappointment. The next day I was determined to redeem myself with a decent meal.
John had suggested that we try making stuffed peppers with ground chicken instead of beef. My search came up with some interesting recipes, but nothing seemed quite right. This one came closest, and I used it as my inspiration.
The peppers were a hit. We had leftovers, and the flavor seemed to get even better each day.
Colored Peppers Stuffed with Chicken
2 lbs. ground chicken
Olive oil for cooking
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
15-ounce can of tomato sauce
2 cups of chicken broth (divided)
1 ½ cups cooked rice
Shredded cheese (we used Colby Jack)
6 peppers, any color
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and stems. Set them aside.
Over medium heat, saute the chopped onion in olive oil until soft, adding garlic and parsley. Add chicken and saute it together. When the chicken is cooked through, drain the oil from the pan. Add the garlic powder, the whole can of tomato sauce, and 1 cup of chicken broth. Stir in the cooked rice. Cook the mixture for 20 minutes until it isn't soupy anymore. I cooked it until it was more the consistency of chili.
Place the pepper halves in the baking dish and fill them with the chicken mixture.
Pour the other cup of chicken broth into the base of the pan. You may not need the full cup, but I used two pans to fit all the peppers.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for 35 minutes. When you take them out of the oven, sprinkle the cheese over the top of the peppers. Lightly place the foil over them for a couple minutes to melt the cheese.
This recipe makes 12 half-peppers, so you might want to cut it in half—unless you like leftovers or have a larger or hungrier family than mine. But I wanted to cook enough to enjoy over the long weekend, and we did.
If you try these, please let me know how you like them!
November 29, 2014 11:27
By Rita Buettner
Back when my parents were newlyweds, my mother baked a batch of cookies.
“These are good,” my father said, “but not as good as the ones my mother makes.”
“That’s fine,” she told him. “You can make all the cookies from now on.”
So, when I was growing up, my father baked all the cookies. At some point he found this recipe for pumpkin cookies, and they became a family favorite. If you like pumpkin anything, you will love these.
I made these the other night after the boys were asleep, and the next morning I said to them, “Who wants a pumpkin cookie?”
Daniel came running to the kitchen to get one.
“Maybe I’ll have one,” Leo said. He’s not a baked goods fan, so I was a little surprised. Then he came into the kitchen and peered at the cookies.
“Mama,” he said, “are they really made out of dumplings?”
Ah. Not dumpling cookies, I said. Pumpkin cookies.
“They don’t look like pumpkins,” he said.
So just so you aren't disappointed, these cookies will not be shaped like pumpkins. They are made of pumpkin. And they are quite good—unless you’re looking for cookies made of Chinese dumplings. Then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
½ cup butter
1 cup canned pumpkin (if you double the recipe, you can just use a standard 15 oz. can)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
The dough may not look like much, but the cookies are worth it.
Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg, pumpkin, and vanilla. Stir in all dry ingredients except flour. Then add flour and mix well. Add chocolate chips, if you'd like. Drop by teaspoonsful onto well-greased cookie sheet. (I use parchment paper and it works beautifully.)
Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or a little longer if they are larger. You want to take them out of the oven before they are fully firm, but not gooey. Cool on wire rack.
Eat them hot or eat them after they cool. Just eat them. Or inhale them. The aroma while they are baking is incredible.
October 21, 2014 10:38
By Rita Buettner
You’d really have to be a meanie
Not to like this sweet zucchini.
When, with a bow, our friend arrived,
Our interest in the squash revived.
It was so large, so vast, so ripe,
We leapt into zucchini hype.
How should we cook it? Quick sauté?
In cake or brownies? In flambé?
Diced or sliced or grilled to brown?
Stuffed and baked, then served around?
A Pinterest search just made us drool
And wonder how to use our jewel.
But someone had another thought
And soon enough the deed was wrought.
Two eyes and glue gave him a face
And we danced ’round this crazy place.
When all the silliness was through,
Our sons said, “Now let’s have fondue!”
And so we dined with our green friend
But that’s not quite the story’s end
Since summer’s young and gardens grow,
And there will be still more, we know!
What is your favorite way to enjoy zucchini?
July 21, 2014 10:58
By Rita Buettner
Our 4-year-old son is considering a career as a construction worker or “a science,” but he's also thinking of being a chef. I am always happy to have company in the kitchen, so he and I have been doing a lot of baking together this spring.
And, although Daniel and I enjoy making pies, my husband really loves cake.
For butter or for worse, you know.
Besides, my mother has a blueberry cake recipe that my grandmother got from a friend decades ago. I’m not sure where she found it, but it’s simple and delicious and the berries are ripe and on sale.
When Daniel and I started stirring the batter the other day, however, we couldn’t find our tube pan. Apparently I had left it at my parents’ house. So we made our cake in two round pans.
I actually think I might like making it that way even better--partly because then we had a second cake to share with my sister and brother-in-law.
It occurred to me that you could also cut the recipe in half and make it in one 8-inch round, but then you only have one cake.
½ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
1 pt. blueberries
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan. You can also make the recipe in two 8-inch round pans.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add eggs. Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl sift flour with baking powder. Add to butter mixture alternately with milk. (I usually do it in three portions, stirring each in completely before adding the next.)
Roll blueberries in flour and add to the batter.
Bake 1 hour for tube pan, or 45-50 minutes for the 8-inch round pans.
Let the cake(s) cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and flip onto a plate.
The cake is perfectly delicious after it cools, but you won’t wait that long to try it. You’ll slice a warm, crumbly piece right away, perhaps burning your fingers in the process, and you’ll inhale it.
Maybe you'll even eat it this quickly.
Oh, and Daniel will tell you that a slice of this cake is better with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. But I’m betting you could have guessed that.
July 15, 2014 10:56
By Rita Buettner
This weekend when John’s parents came to visit, his mother helped me make a strawberry pie. We were talking while we baked, and somehow I forgot to take a single picture of it.
Once it came out of the oven and we cut it, it vanished.
It was that good.
So the next day Daniel and I set out to make another pie. I wanted to make another strawberry pie, but Daniel had other ideas. He wanted to use both strawberries and blueberries.
So we made our dough.
We rolled it out. (I usually roll it between pieces wax paper, but all I had was parchment paper, so that’s what we used.)
Daniel pressed the crust into the pie plate.
Then we cored and sliced our strawberries, added a few handfuls of blueberries, and sugared them.
I slipped a little vanilla into the bowl, and Daniel argued for adding lemonade over lemon juice. Again I found myself agreeing to his request.
We are such risk takers.
Isn't it lovely?
The crust always looks like a state or a country. This one reminded us of China before we put it into the pan.
Then we covered the berries with a top crust, sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on top, and our pie went into the oven.
But our work was not done. It was then that we started on our second pie, the one Leo had requested. He is not a berry fan, but he loves pie crust. So we made him what we called an “air pie.”
I rolled out the leftover crust, pressed it into a baking dish, brushed it with milk, dusted it with cinnamon sugar, and slid it into the oven.
I kept checking it, but it took as long to cook as the berry-filled pie. And soon enough we had both pies--berry and air--cooling in the kitchen.
The strawberry and blueberry blend is quite tasty--and even better than that with some whipped cream.
My favorite was the straight strawberry pie we had the day before, but our double-berry pie was a fun experiment, and it really did taste like summer.
As for the air pie, Leo said, “I sort of like it and I sort of don’t like it.”
He was disappointed that I made an open-faced version. He was hoping for two crusts with air in between.
Well, not every pie can be a dainty dish to set before the king.
Here's the recipe:
3 cups flour
¾ cup canola oil
2 tsp. vinegar (I use apple cider, but white also works fine)
5-6 Tbsp. iced water
Sift flour into bowl. Combine oil, vinegar, and water. Add to flour and quickly stir. You may need to mix it with your hands to form it into a ball. Divide dough into two balls. Place each ball between two sheets of waxed paper to roll out. Remove wax paper to place in the pan.
Add to 4 cups of berries (we used 3 cups of strawberries (which we sliced) and 1 cup of blueberries):
3 Tbsp. flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
(I skip the tablespoon of butter that the cookbook calls for.)
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 30 to 40 more minutes until the crust is browned.
June 23, 2014 10:39
By Rita Buettner
When the boys realize we are going to have a fondue dinner, they get excited. So do their parents.
I like it because even though there is a lot of prep work, everyone helps with the cooking. And we have to wait for the food to cook, so we have some good conversation around the table while the meat and vegetables simmer in the broth.
We’ve tried a few different recipes, but the one we like most is a broth based on a recipe I found online. We usually cook the same vegetables—mushrooms, zucchini, and broccoli—along with shrimp, Andouille sausage, and chicken.
Leo and Daniel used to watch, sitting strapped into seats at the table, but now they are old enough to place their fondue forks carefully in the broth.
The other night we were sitting and waiting for the next batch of meat and veggies to cook when Daniel slid out of his chair.
“All we have for dinner is fondue?” he said, throwing his hands up in despair. “Are we poor or what?”
John and I didn’t know what to say. I looked at the sea of dishes on the table and the shining pot full of steaming broth and struggled to find words.
Eventually we assured him that we are not poor, that we are blessed to have food to enjoy, and that fondue is actually a great dinner. My only guess was that he thought it was taking too long to cook.
The next day at Mass John handed Daniel the money for the collection, and he happily dropped it into the basket. Then he said in a whisper that echoed through the church, “Are we poor now?”
It makes me wonder whether we are talking too much or not enough about people who do not have enough food to eat. We want the boys to be aware that we are grateful for what we have and we need to share it with those who don’t have as much.
Daniel listened to his father. And he might have believed him—until that night when we had fondue again.
Well, you know what they say. It’s easier for a 4-year-old to fit through the eye of a needle than for him to have to wait a few minutes for a hot piece of sausage.
Coq au vin broth
1 box of vegetable broth
1 cup red wine
1 bunch scallions
3 mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat vegetable broth on stove to simmering. Add red wine, mushrooms, garlic, and pepper. When it boils, add the scallions, and pour the broth into the fondue pot.
The broth works with a variety of meats and vegetables. We have used potatoes, but they take longer to cook and our boys aren't potato eaters.
We typically sprinkle some salt-free Cajun seasoning on raw peeled shrimp and raw bite-size pieces of chicken. Always make sure the shrimp and chicken is fully cooked before you eat it. We serve blue cheese dressing for dipping the cooked meat and vegetables, but they're delicious on their own, too.
February 10, 2014 10:50
By Rita Buettner
As we prepare to celebrate the Year of the Horse, I have been craving Chinese food. Of course, I always love Chinese food, so that’s just an excuse.
It would be easy to order take-out, but there’s something fun about setting aside a few hours just to cook—especially if you aren’t cooking alone. My sister Treasa generously agreed to spend the afternoon with me making Chinese dumplings, Mongolian beef, and a shrimp stir fry.
If Treasa hadn't been there, we wouldn't have dozens of photos of scallions.
How did our dinner turn out? We're very modest, of course, but I will tell you that Daniel said, “Mama, this is the best dinner ever.”
You must be wearing your lucky red shirt today because I am going to share the recipes with you. Now you, too, can have the best dinner ever.
We made this recipe last year and loved it. This year we tweaked it slightly, cooking the meat before stuffing the dumplings, and switching from the Chinese chives, which are harder to find if you don't have an Asian market nearby.
1 pound ground pork
1 cup of chopped scallions/spring onions
3 teaspoons rice wine
A few dashes of white pepper powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive/canola oil for sautéing
For the wrappers:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water
Saute the pork with the white pepper. When it is cooked through, add the scallions and sauces.
Chill in fridge for 30 minutes or more—at least as long as it takes you to work on the dough.
Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Mix the flour and water. Knead it for about 25 minutes. (This is when it’s especially helpful to have someone there to help.)
Separate the dough into four equal parts, and roll them into cylinders about 1-1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cover them with a wet towel so the dough stays moist while you’re assembling the dumplings.
Tear off pieces of dough into about 1-inch segments. The original instructions said to use a rolling pin, but we found it worked best just to hold the piece of dough in your fingers and work it, spreading it and stretching it until it became a circle or oval about 3 inches in diameter.
Place some filling in the center—don’t overfill it—and pinch it tightly closed.
You don’t have to do anything fancy, but make sure they are closed so the filling doesn’t leak out during boiling.
Drop the dumplings into the boiling water. When they start to float, scoop them out.
Serve them hot—and have some dipping sauce ready. I mixed some soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to make ours, but you can also buy bottled gyoza sauce in the store.
This is the one photo we took of the platter of cooked dumplings.
Apparently we were too busy eating to take photos.
Next time we make them, we may use ground chicken and more vegetables inside. You could stuff them with almost anything. And yes, I know you can buy wrappers at the store, but part of the fun is making our own—when we have the time.
We must have made 40 or 50 dumplings, and there were only six of us eating—including two hungry boys. At the end of the meal, the platter was looking rather empty.
Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef
Because I knew we would be focused on our dumpling assembly, I quickly threw a crockpot meal together before we moved into dumpling mode. The beef cooked in four hours, which was much longer than it took to make the dumplings, but just about right for us to sneak in watching part of Ever After and pick up both my sons from their schools.
I couldn’t find any large green onions so we used yellow onions and no one complained. I used a little too much brown sugar, which our sons loved—and they are not usually beef eaters—but next time maybe I’ll do a better job measuring.
Treasa is laughing as she reads this because she watched me and Daniel “measuring.” Daniel is more careful than his mother is.
Sizzling Shrimp Stir Fry
2 tablespoons canola/olive oil
2 yellow onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
You can use assorted vegetables, fresh or frozen, but we used:
1 yellow pepper
1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
1 bag fresh baby corn
1 bag yu choy (apparently a cousin of bok choy)
¾ cup of sugar snap peas
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup of sweet ginger chili sauce (we used this brand)
On medium-high heat saute onion in oil until translucent.
Add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
Add vegetables and cook, stirring frequently. When the vegetables have softened, add the shrimp.
Heat until the shrimp is pink/orange and cooked through.
Add sweet-ginger chili sauce, heat for 2-3 minutes, and serve with noodles or rice.
If that all sounds too complicated, there’s always take-out from your favorite local Chinese restaurant. Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite Chinese recipe you're willing to share? I'd love to hear about it in the comments or at email@example.com.
January 29, 2014 12:04
By Rita Buettner
One evening I started looking for recipes online and realized I had almost everything I needed to make chicken lettuce wraps like the ones we buy from our favorite Chinese restaurant.
I even had sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. And how important could that hoisin sauce be?
So I got to work—substituting a little teriyaki sauce for the hoisin sauce—and served chicken lettuce wraps for dinner. And my family licked the platter clean. Not everyone raved about the lettuce, but everyone liked the filling.
I have some good eaters in this house, but it’s still exciting to find a simple meal that works for all four of us. So we tried it again this week—this time with the hoisin sauce—and again it was a hit. We used romaine lettuce because it’s so crunchy and balances the filling well.
I also used ground ginger rather than fresh (I hope you’re not horrified) and skipped the water chestnuts, even though the person who created this recipe apparently adores them. For some reason, water chestnuts are the kind of thing I think I should like, and I want to like, but I don’t actually like all that much. I feel the same way about artichokes.
So I didn’t miss the water chestnuts. And, as far as I could tell from the clean plates, neither did anyone else.
What’s your favorite, go-to dinner when you don’t have anything planned?
July 09, 2013 09:52
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By Rita Buettner