Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekly Menu Planning – It's in the Bag

Whenever I think about putting a meal in a bag, I think lunch. School lunch, work lunch ... either way. Who knew that bagging dinner might be a good idea, too?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to a special fireside put on by the High Priest Group in our ward. As part of the presidency of that group, naturally I had to go. I'm glad I did. A woman from the upper echelons of the LDS Church welfare and food storage programs came and spoke to us about getting our food storage together. At the bequest of the First Presidency, she was called to do some major studying on food storage and food storage recipes. The whole thing was very enlightening.

One thing we took away was the idea of a “bagged meal.” In this case, you get everything you need to make a single meal and put it in a bag. Canned goods, packets, dried stuff, whatever, along with direction on how to make the meal. That way, when it comes time to cook, you just go grab the bag from your panty and start cooking.

The bagged meals also come in handy if someone in the ward is ill or, for whatever other reason, needs to have meals brought into them. No problem. Just grab a bag and hand it over to the Relief Society President.

My wife and I have started implementing that idea, along with the meal planner at KitchenMonki, to make meal preparation faster and easier. Our goal for some time has been to have better, more regular family meals prepared by the family, not just me. The fact that I want my kids to learn to cook is no secret. The fact that my wife hates to cook from scratch is no secret, either.

Weekly Meal Planning with Bagged Dinners

Here's what we've been doing to create a week of bagged meals. On Friday night, we create a dinner plan for the week using the meal planning tool at KitchenMonki. Any tool would do, even a piece of paper. We just happen to like this one. Each of my children has been assigned to one day of the week to cook, with help from either Mom or Dad depending on the day, leaving the other days for my wife and me.

When making the plan, we only plan for dinners. Breakfasts and lunches during the week are still pretty much up for grabs, either by default or necessity. It gives us a chance to eat any leftovers and it just works better for us, given everyone's schedules. When planning those dinners, we get the kids involved. Whoever is cooking gets a say in what they want to make that day, with a little guidance when needed from yours truly. That way, they are invested in the process of planning full, mostly balanced meals. They get to learn a bit about nutrition menu planning because they are doing the planning. They are also more invested in the idea of making their dinner, and are more happy to actually do it when the time comes.

Printing the Menu Plan

Once the plan is made we print out the weekly menu as one document and put it up on the bulletin board. That way everyone knows what's coming up for dinner that week, and can remind themselves of what they're cooking on their days.

Next, I print out the recipes for each day as a single document. I staple the pages together, write the day of the week on it, and make other notes based on any modifications or clarifications needed for that day. Then we put a number on each day's packet: 1 through 7, depending on the day. For us, the week starts on Monday not Sunday so, Monday is #1, Tuesday is #2, and so on.

Next, we check the menus and create a grocery list for the week. If there's anything we already have on hand, great. If not, we add it to the list. Saturday morning, or late Friday night, I go to the grocery store and pick up the items we need, along with any staples we may need for breakfast and lunch.

After the chores and grocery shopping are done, we get the kids together and prepare the meal bags, each person prepping their own meal.

But I'll tell you more about how we do that, next time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Power of Zucchini

Food Joke Friday is being temporarily interrupted by this not-so-breaking news story. A Huson Montana woman has discovered the true power of zucchini. Not only can it be used in various culinary creations, or given away as fellowshipping, it makes for pretty powerful bear repellent.

From the Missoulian:

A woman in the Huson area warded off a charging black bear with a garden fresh zucchini early Thursday after the 200-pound bruin attacked her dog and swiped at the woman's leg.

… The woman was clutching the door jamb and trying to keep the bear out of her house when she reached inside and grabbed the only object on the counter - an 18-inch zucchini that she harvested from her garden.
She threw the vegetable at the bear's head and the animal retreated, running back up the the hill and into the darkness.

And so, what could have been a grisly scene of nature gone wild was turned into a triumph of woman-kind over great adversity, due to tenacity and the power of the mighty zucchini!

I really wish I could make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guest Blog - Black Bean and Mango Salad

Here's a great entry from my friend M. Ryan Taylor. He started a diet and exercise plan a few months ago and has found amazing success. He's really looking great. I asked him to share his story with us and he graciously gave us a wonderful salad recipe as well.

When John offered to let me come on Mormon Foodie and do a guest post, I almost instantly had an idea for a new recipe that I wanted to try. Since then I've tested it and refined it a little. For me, the perfect recipe is one that is simple, healthy and delicious; I'll talk more about that in a minute, but first the unveiling:

Black Bean and Mango Salad with Lime Dressing

I Can Organic Black Beans, well-rinsed and drained
I Large Mango (or 2 Small), cubed
1/4 C Red Onion, diced

3 T Olive Oil
2 T Organic Lime Juice
1/2 tsp Salt

Place salad fixings in a medium bowl. Whisk together dressing and then toss into the salad. Spinkle with a GENEROUS amount of freshly ground pepper (oo la la) and serve. Add additional salt to taste.

Yum! I'm for sure keeping this in the rotation.

So why simple, delicious and healthy? I've been on personal health safari for the last six months. I've managed to drop a little over 50 of 200 unwanted pounds in that time (yes, I'm a really big guy). I've also discovered a few things along the path that make it seem like I'll be able to stick with it for the long haul.

First of all, let's start with healthy, because that's where everything starts. If you aren't healthy, the only way you are going to want to live is vicariously - though the TV, through spectator sports, through games, pointless online time fiddling . . . we could craft an entire list of ways (I'm guilty as anyone) to avoid living our lives. Making your health a priority is not only going to help you, it will make you a better more interactive family member, more useful and alert in your career, and more in tune with your God because your more capable of serving your fellowmen. So, health first. Make it number one and everything else in your life will benefit.

Why delicious? Sorry, it doesn't matter how good it is for you, you just aren't going to eat it over the long-haul if you don't enjoy it. Enough said.

Simple . . . let's face it; once in a while we have time to really pull out the 'big guns' and craft some recipe that takes four or more hours of prep (once I made a manicotti creation that took all day). For special occasions that is fine, but for the every day . . . learn how to be a minimalist in your cooking. Recipes that focus on real food that tastes good because it is fresh; recipes that can be made in less than a half an hour . . . these are the ones worth having a celebration over because they are going to make it easy for you to eat right.

John asked me to share a little about what else has worked for me. Other than eating no more than I need every four hours or so, and only whole, nutrient-rich foods (organically grown when I can get them), I've added a whole lot of movement to my life. I started off with some stationary biking and then did a bunch of hiking over the summer (over 37 hikes). I've done some weights and calisthenics. I'm gearing up to start a biking/Pilates cross-training program (writing about it on assignment from Classical Singer Magazine). It doesn't matter what you choose to do though, as long as you move, the more the better. You will find the time if you make it your first priority. Get your loved ones involved. This was the best Summer ever, because my wife Dixie was hiking every step of the way with me.

Final thought, John and I are both composers (that's how I met him) and making a recipe is a lot like composing music. You do have to know your ingredients, but once you do you can throw them together in unexpected ways and often the results are amazing. So go ahead; you know your apples from your oranges. Start throwing things together, try new things; every now and then you'll have a keeper and it will make it that much easier to keep eating simple, healthy and delicious.

For specifics on the eating plan Ryan is following, check out Isabel's Diet Solution.

Thanks Ryan!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food Joke Friday - Toddler Diet

There are many, many diets on the market, and all have potential concerns. Your diet, for example, may cause, or even celebrate, the following

Now we have a new diet, for you. Noticing that most two year old children are fit and trim, as well as full of energy, some researchers have come up the Toddler diet.  As with all diets, please consult your doctor before beginning this one.

Here is a sample, four day, menu:

Day One
Breakfast: One scrambled egg, one piece of toast with grape jelly. Eat 2 bites of egg, using your fingers; dump the rest on the floor. Take 1 bite of toast, then smear the jelly over your face and clothes.

Lunch: Four crayons (any color), a handful of potato chips, and a glass of milk (3 sips only, then pour the rest on the floor).

Dinner: A dry stick, two pennies and a nickel, 4 sips of flat soda pop.

Bedtime snack: Throw a piece of toast on the kitchen floor.

Day Two
Breakfast: Pick up stale toast from kitchen floor and eat it. Drink half bottle of vanilla extract or one vial of vegetable dye.

Lunch: Half tube of flavored lip gloss and a handful of dog kibble, any brand. One ice cube, if desired.

Afternoon snack: Lick an all-day sucker until sticky, take outside, drop in dirt. Retrieve and continue slurping until it is clean again. Bring sucker back inside and drop on rug.

Dinner: One uncooked bean, which should be stuck up your left nostril. Pour grape punch over mashed potatoes; eat with spoon.

Day Three
Breakfast: Two pancakes with plenty of syrup, eat one with fingers, rub some in hair. Glass of milk; drink half, stuff the other pancake in glass with remaining milk. After breakfast, pick up yesterdays sucker from rug, lick off fuzz, put it on the cushion of best chair.

Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Spit several bites of crust onto the floor. Pour glass of milk on table and slurp up while making sounds like a kitty cat.

Dinner: Dish of ice cream, handful of potato chips, and red punch. Try to laugh hard enough to spew some punch through your nose, if possible.

Final Day
Breakfast: A quarter tube of toothpaste (any flavor) and an olive. Spit olive on floor after chewing. Pour a glass of milk over bowl of cornflakes, add half a cup of sugar. Once cereal is soggy, drink milk and feed cereal to the dog.

Lunch: Eat bread crumbs off kitchen floor and dining room carpet. Find sucker from previous day and finish eating it.

Dinner: Put spaghetti into a glass of chocolate milk, after drinking half the milk. You may now eat the spaghetti. Leave meatballs on plate. Steal a piece of candy from you mom's dresser for dessert.
You will either lose weight, kill yourself, of quit before the fifth day.

Photo by the Horton Group

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuna with Garlic and Spaghetti

Canned Tuna and I are not the best of friends. I've come to respect it more, over the last year, but it's one of those things that I'll eat because I should, not because I want to. We've been encouraged by various health officials to eat more fish, because of the Omega-3 content. Canned tuna is inexpensive, and readily available at most supermarkets, so I'm using it as part of my “weekly fish dish” at home.

My wife and kids like canned tuna. It's completely weird.

Because I've decided that the benefits outweigh my personal feelings in this case, I'm always on the lookout for new ways of preparing tuna. Here's one that helps smother the flavor of the tuna in garlic. I originally posted this as Kitchen Monki, but here it is for my gentle readers who haven't made it over there, yet.

When preparing canned tuna, I always soak the tuna in a little milk, after draining it. Soaking in milk pulls out the unpleasant “fishiness” so often found in canned tuna, making it much more palatable. Just make sure to drain off the milk before adding the tuna to the dish.

Equipment Needed
Can opener
Mixing bowls
Large skillet
Measuring cups and spoons
Large sauce pot

14 ounces of tuna (two small cans will do)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 pound dried spaghetti noodles (or linguine)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lemon Pepper Seasoning as desired.

Completely drain the liquid from the tuna and put in a small bowl. Add just enough milk to cover. This will take away some of the unpleasant "fishiness" so often found with canned tuna.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts and stops foaming. Add the garlic and allow it to soften, about two minutes. Do not let it brown.

Drain the milk off the tuna. Add the tuna to the skillet and stir it in. Add the wine and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the alcohol to cook off. Add the lemon juice. Cook until a slightly think, fairly smooth sauce forms. Season liberally with the pepper and then stir in the parsley. Add salt and additional pepper as needed.

While the sauce is cooking, fill a pot with water (about 4 quarts) and bring to a boil. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and then add the pasta. Cook until 'al dente.'

Drain most of the water from the pasta, toss with the sauce, and serve. Sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning for an extra kick, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Photo by Stasys Eidiejus

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food Joke Friday - Dangerous Food

A dietitian was once addressing a large audience in Chicago.

"The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here, years ago.

"Red meat is awful. Soft drinks erode your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. Vegetables can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused by the germs in our drinking water.

"But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all and we all have, or will, eat it. Can anyone here tell me what food it is that causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?"

A 75-year-old man in the front row stood up and said, "Wedding cake."

Photo by Asif Akbar

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mustard (Seed) Faith

“... If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” - Matthew 17:20

Mustard seeds are small, hard and delicious. Faith can be the same way. Both can be expressed in a many different flavors, colors, and textures. Everyone has their favorite. When I was ten, my favorite was, “Colonel Mustard, in the Pantry, with the Candlestick.

All forms of mustard, except the last one mentioned, can be used in cooking or as a condiment. The three main varieties, featured here, show off a range of contrasting flavors and textures.

Yellow Mustard: The good old standby, it is moderately spicy and slightly vinegary. It's used most often as a condiment adorning hot dogs or soft pretzels. It can also be found in some dressings, such as the dressing for American potato salad.

Dijon Mustard: More sophisticated in flavor, this strong mustard is made from the hottest of mustard seeds and a bit of white wine. It is often used in sauces, dips, dressings, mayonnaise, and marinades.

Course-grain Mustard: One of my favorites, the flavor is usually mild, but some varieties are quite hot. Some are a bit vinegary as well. It is often used as a substitute for Dijon, giving a milder flavor and crunchier texture.

Horseradish Mustard: Usually a course-grain mustard mixed with a little horseradish, this mustard has a pungent kick. Another favorite in my house, it's used mostly on bratwurst and other sausages, as well as beef.

Dry Mustard: Very hot and pungent, mustard powder is often added to sauces, dips, dressings, and marinades. It can also be mixed with cold water or white wine and used as a paste in lieu of Dijon mustard.

There are plenty more varieties of mustard, of course. Trying different brands and mixtures can be quite an adventure. Just have a little faith.

Photo by Magda S.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Guest Blogging at Kitchen Monki

Hey everyone! I want to apologize for not putting anything up this week. I've been pretty busy writing in a few other places this week. One of which I'm really excited about, and you might enjoy, too. I've been guest-blogging at Kitchen Monki!

Being the opinionated little so and so that I am (I'm an expert on my own opinions), I decided to share a few thoughts on teach children to cook.