Birthday Dinner


My daughter wanted chicken pot pie and red velvet cupcakes for her birthday dinner.  No problem.  Or so I thought.

First, I had to find recipes.  I’ve made red velvet cupcakes many times — you can read an amusing account of one of my past attempts here — but I’m not wild about my usual recipe and wanted to find another.  And I haven’t made chicken pot pie often enough to have a regular recipe.

After scouring the food blogosphere and making my shopping list, it was time to shop.  By the time I got home, I was already tired.  Between shopping and navigating the Trader Joe’s parking lot on a Sunday afternoon, I had little energy for cooking.  Check out how close this guy parked to me in the Trader Joe’s lot:

But I digress.  Here is one of the chicken pot pies:

I’m not even going to link to the recipe because it was whacked.  Suffice it to say that it was from a trusted food blog and it was an adaptation of an Ina Garten recipe.  It was supposed to make 4 individual pot pies, but with the recipe calling for 1 1/2 sticks of butter (I couldn’t do it — I just used one stick) and 5 cups of chicken broth, that’s a lot of filling.  It ended up making 5 individual and1 large pot pie.  As you can see, I got sloppy with the dough, and I didn’t even bother with the egg wash.  Although in my defense, I took this picture after we had already eaten the good-looking pot pies — this was the lonely fifth pie.  Even though this pie kind of looks like crap and even with the high liquid to solid ratio in the filling, the pot pies were delicious and my daughter was happy.  Although we didn’t eat until about 9:30 p.m.

And then there were the cupcakes.  I hate making cupcakes because after you’ve baked them and cleaned the dishes and counters and you’re tired and your back hurts, you still have to make frosting.  And frost the dang things.  Here is my daughter frosting her own birthday cupcakes.  To be fair, she asked whether she could do it, and she only got a third of the way done before she abandoned the task.

The recipe I used is supposedly from the Magnolia Bakery in New York.  I’ve never been there, but am hipster enough to have heard of it.  The frosting was a vanilla frosting, which appealed to me.  I don’t get why red velvet cupcakes usually have cream cheese frosting, which in my mind is reserved for carrot cake.  However, this frosting recipe involved cooking flour and milk, creaming butter and sugar, and then beating the cooled milk mixture into the butter mixture until it’s light both in color and texture.  Flour in frosting, really?  But if it’s really the Magnolia recipe, it’s worth a try.  It came out surprisingly good, although I did something wrong and there were small tapioca-like bits that didn’t mix in.  But if you could overlook that, the frosting was pretty tasty.  By this time of night, I was tired and forgot to refrigerate the frosting before using (exactly 15 minutes, said the recipe), and I did a pretty sloppy frosting job, as you can see.

Next time I have to start cooking earlier in the day so I don’t peter out.  But no matter — everything tasted good.  And my daughter was happy.

Meal Planning

Getting dinner on the table is about more than just cooking.  Meal planning is essential, so you know what you’re cooking and have ingredients on hand without nightly trips to the supermarket.  I’ve got meal planning down to a science.  But it took a long time to get there.  Here were my phases of meal planning:

Phase 1: The No Planning Phase.  I just went to the supermarket and planned my meals on the fly, based on what was on sale or what looked good.  This usually resulted in maybe three meals a week, often with no side dishes.  The rest of the week, I was left wondering what was for dinner.

Phase 2: The Looking Through Cookbooks Phase.  On Sundays, I would paw through my cookbooks and magazines looking for recipes.  This was time-consuming and often resulted in overly complicated recipes and very late dinners.

Phase 3: The Online Menu Planning Phase.  I subscribed to an online menu planning service, which for a small subscription fee (about $7/month) you get your weekly menu and  your shopping list.  This was a godsend for the working mother!  I tried a few services, but my favorite was the Six o’Clock Scramble.  I have recommended it to many friends and family members.

Phase 4:  The Paper Phase.  After a few years of online menu planning, I accumulated quite a few favorite recipes, which I organized in an accordion folder.  Every Sunday, I chose five recipes and made my shopping list.  Ok, I admit it, I’m a nerd and developed a spreadsheet with my frequently purchased items so I could check off what I needed.

Phase 5: The Computer and iPhone Phase.  Now I scour the food blogosphere for recipes and save the recipes I want to make for the week into my Evernote, which I can access on the computer or my iPhone.  Then I make my shopping list using Ziplist, also which I can access on the computer or iPhone.  During the week, if I see I’m out of something, I add it to my Ziplist shopping list.  No more scraps of paper with fragments of shopping lists.  My list is in one place and as I’m shopping, I check the item off the list (on my iPhone) so it’s easy to see what’s left to buy.

Now if only I could be as organized in the other areas of my life!

Passover Dinners

I haven’t been posting lately because my dinners have just been ok.  Good Enough for dinner, but not Good Enough to share with you.  This is probably because it’s been Passover.  In addition to bread products, rice, legumes, and pasta are all off limits.   There go all my usual suspects.

Here’s what we’ve been eating:

1) Lamb chops and fingerling potatoes.  Lamb chops broiled and potatoes boiled.

2) Chicken meatballs and roasted red peppers.  Substituted matzo meal for the breadcrumbs in the meatball mixture.  Since matzo meal is not a staple in most households, I’ll make it again sometime with bread crumbs and post about it.  It was yummy.

3) Creamy broccoli soup and salad.  I’ll make this again when I can make croutons to put in the soup.  It was good, but something was lacking.  Oh yeah, it was croutons.

4) Chicken cutlets breaded (you should excuse the expression) in matzo meal, with an escarole salad.  The salad was a little weird (chopped parsley, macadamia nuts and romano cheese were involved) and my daughter said the escarole was bitter, but I think I can adapt the recipe.  Don’t be surprised if you see a version of this dish in the future.  And look how lovely:

5) Hamburgers with sauteed onions and mushrooms, like the patty melts I previously posted about, minus the bread and the cheese.  Still good.  Side dish was sweet potato and regular potato fries.

6) Matzah pizzas, made on the night that we went to our daughter’s concert and didn’t have time to make dinner.

7) Planned to make but never got around to it: tilapia with green olives and roasted asparagus.  Something to look forward to this week.  But maybe we’ll have a baguette on the side, now that Passover is done!