family dinner

Monday: Pasta Primavera. We wanted something light so I tossed some campanelle pasta with sautéed asparagus, yellow peppers, and grape tomatoes with a little parmesan, olive oil and lemon juice

Tuesday: Honey Mango Balsamic Glazed Salmon with Lime-Ginger Carrot Salad (salad only). The only flaw with this meal was I didn’t buy a large enough pice of salmon, because everyone wanted more. I used a mango balsamic vinegar and substituted the Dijon for some mango orange juice. I also used lime olive oil for the salad.

Wednesday: Carnitas Extravaganza. My sister was over for dinner so I guess I could use that as an excuse for making an absurd amount of food, buuuuuuuut…. that’s not really the case. We had carnitas, rice, skillet corn, pico de gallo, and scorched peppers & onions.

Friday: Sliders with Potato Salad. Idk why I keep trying to foist my potato salad off on my family because ALL the kids hate it but HONESTLY their loss! It’s just potatoes, sour cream, bacon and chives (so like… a baked potato). I also made a salad? slaw of red cabbage, radish, and carrot a lemon-ginger-garlic dressing (similar to the one from Tuesday, I was just out of limes).

family dinner

Taylor and I still haven’t gotten fully back into the swing of meal planning, but after A LOT of takeout & delivery + one meltdown (from me) about not having the time I needed to cook a poorly-planned meal that resulted in carrots being thrown down the hallway (also by me) we were like… we need to do this!! I also need to REALLY embrace the slow cooker more as sunnier days mean I’d rather spend the afternoons outside with the kids playing and gardening rather than slaving over the oven while they was too much Paw Patrol. Our current cooker is great but only holds 2 quarts so I think it’s time to get a bigger one. I’m leaning towards this model (good reviews and v v cheap, the larger model of our current one is OVER TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS wth) but if you have any recs I’d love to hear them!

Friday: okay this was last last Friday but I made chicken & pepper tacos for the family & my sister and they were GREAT. The only problem was not having enough so next time I’m going to ramp up the quantity! I used this recipe for the chicken and this recipe for the peppers, and topped them just with some fresh cilantro and cheese.

Sunday: rosemary garlic roast beef with Hasselback potatoes and grilled asparagus with lemon & parmesan. I bought a Hasselback potato frame? mold? thing to put the potatoes in while you cut them so these may happen more.

Monday: chicken with bacon & white wine sauce, served with fresh bread and spicy honey glazed carrots. This chicken takes FIVEEVER to make but it’s so good it’s worth it! The kids all liked the bread best though, which is like… quite the compliment because they DO NOT like any “weird breads.”

Wednesday: sweet & sour pork with rice. I left the carrots out of this dish because Nicky has… digestional issues if he eats to many, and was already suffering after Monday’s carrots. Overall it was good, the pork was DELICIOUS but the sauce was a little too sour and not quite enough sweet. I think if I made this again I’d decrease the amount of vinegar in the sauce and increase the sugar.

Friday: Pizza is back! I made two pizzas (pepperoni and goat cheese & basil) and they both turned out well in spite of a few snafus: I divided the dough too evenly (one of my cast iron pans makes a large and the other makes a medium but I cut the dough right in half without thinking), and I forgot to put sauce on one until AFTER I put on the cheese and the toppings! This is particularly embarrassing because I have clear rules about making pizza and the order in which to top them: sauce-cheese-toppings-cheese. However in spite of this they both turned out delicious.

family dinner

Sunday: farfalle primavera Another of Gwen’s picks, I swear that kid would eat noodles for every meal if she could. She actually requested NO SAUCE but I was like… nope. I threw together a quick primavera with all the assorted leftover tomato sauces in my fridge & freezer, adding garlic, yellow & orange peppers, snow peas, broccoli and some Italian seasoning.

Monday: chicken with scalloped potato casserole I got this recipe from a cookbook I bought for my sister, here it is with my ~adaptations

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 chicken breasts
1 cup chopped bacon
2 lbs potatoes, cut into 1/4″ slices
2 large onions, sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken stock, hot
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
green onions for garnish

1. Heat oven to 300°F. Heat half the butter and the oil in a large skillet and fry the chicken and bacon for 5 minutes, or until lightly brown.
2 Layer half the potato slices, the half the onion slices in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Season with salt, pepper and half the thyme, and dot with 1/3 tbsp of butter.
3. Add the chicken and bacon, season with salt and pepper to taste, and dot with 1/3 tbsp of butter. Cover with the remaining onions and finally a layer of potatoes, season with salt, pepper and the remaining thyme and dot with the remaining butter. Pour the hot chicken stock on top.
4. Cover and cook in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked, adding more hot stock if necessary.
5. Just before serving, sprinkle with freshly snipped green onions.

Tuesday: leftover chicken and scalloped potatoes Tonight’s meal was SUPPOSED to be chili with cornbread, but when I started cooking the meat it seemed… off. I’m very paranoid after maybe food poisoning us the other week so I scrapped it in favour of leftovers. There was actually a TON of Monday’s dinner left; the recipe made a huge amount of food and as it turned out, Taylor wasn’t home that night so it was just me & the little kids.

Wednesday: chili After getting new meat, I finally made the chili. We typically use this recipe, and it’s DELICIOUS. I was too lazy to make the cornbread though.

Thursday: scrambled eggs & toast This was just for the little kids as Taylor and I took Symphony to see Black Panther that night. Our dinner was movie theatre popcorn.

Friday: pizza I did NOT make this, Taylor ordered it while I went out for a Fun Mom Dinner with my friend Jill and some of the moms I see at the school everyday. So really I only cooked three meals last week? This week I am going to try to make all the dinners using just what I already have in the house (except for one main dish), so wish me luck!

family dinner

I thought I took a pic of at least one of these meals but… I did not.

Sunday: garlic parmesan chicken with potatoes and salad This was Gwen’s request. When Taylor and I were meal planning she asked for “the chicken we always have,” which is true because I make this OFTEN. I make a couple changes to this recipe, as follows:
-I leave out the spinach, as no one likes it but Taylor and myself and it’s easier just to skip it as I don’t find that it really adds much to the dish.
-I pre-boil the potatoes because otherwise I find that they don’t cook enough in the time it takes the chicken to cook. Nothing more disappointing than hard, uncooked potatoes.
-I leave out SO much butter. The recipe calls for 7 tablespoons and this week I used… one. I cooked the chicken in just one and found that when it was time to make the sauce in the same pan, between the leftover butter and the chicken fat there was enough fat in the pan to sauté the garlic and make the roux. I could have MAYBE added like… 1/2 a tablespoon, but that’s it.

Monday: NOTHING We had a very late drive-thru lunch on our way home from snow tubing so no one was really hungry at dinner time. We gave the little kids some veggies just so they wouldn’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night but no one else wanted to eat.

Tuesday: spaghetti with garlic toast I made the garlic toast using bread I baked myself! I tried making some bread the other week but it came out… weird. There were a couple of problems with it, not all entirely my own fault, but this second attempt (using a different recipe) came out so much better!

Wednesday: slow cooker sweet & sour pork over rice This was a new recipe for me; I tried another one last year when Gwen was doing gymnastics but I didn’t like it. This one was a little better but I feel like it had too much apple cider vinegar in it, which made it a little TOO sour. I added 2 extra tbsp of brown sugar to combat that but I think it would have been better solved by halving the amount of ACV in the first place.

Thursday: macaroni and cheese for the girls, leftover chicken & potatoes for me. Usually Taylor and I have takeout later after the kids ar ein bed but I was TOO HUNGRY to wait, haha.

Friday: pizza night This week’s pizzas: yellow pepper and basil, and pepperoni. I wanted to put the leftover mac & cheese on the pepperoni one but my unadventurous family was like NO, ugh how rude!

family dinner

Sunday: rainbow tortellini with 3 1/2 pepper sauce and oakleaf lettuce salad This dinner was a bit of a goof. When we were at the grocery store I was like “WOW I CAN’T BELIEVE I DON’T NEED TO BUY ANY ONIONS THIS WEEK” but I did need one, for the pasta sauce I was planning on making that night. Oops! Luckily I had some of the previous week’s seven pepper sauce in the freezer so I added it for a little extra flavour. It was just ok though, so next time I really need to do better!

Monday: brown butter, garlic & sage porkchops with roasted broccoli and mashed potatoes Nicky really likes broccoli but it’s so messy for a baby to eat (all those little flower buds!) so my trick is this: I peel the stems and cut them into sticks to make broccoli “fries” for him! It works like a charm and reduces food waste as well. I use this recipe for pork chops that my whole family LOVES.

Tuesday: almond chicken with roasted purple cauliflower and honey glazed carrots I realized partway through that I’d used this chicken recipe before, with LIMITED success. I just don’t understand how… to stop all the breadcrumbs from sloughing off when you do the second dip into the egg mixture? Anyway this was redemption night for roasted cauliflower, I reduced the cooking temp AND time and it turned out perfectly. I also made cauliflower fries for Nicky that were another hit.

Wednesday: Slow cooker Mongolian beef over rice I’ve made this a few times and the first time it was perfect but each subsequent time the sauce hasn’t thickened up enough! I need to figure out what I am doing wrong because when this turns out well, it turns out REALLY well. This time I also left out the shredded carrots because I was worried they were giving Nicky tummy distress*

Thursday: leftovers extravaganza! We had a lot of leftovers from dinners I made earlier in the week so I let the little kids each pick what they wanted. Ok, I picked for Nicky but I know what he’s into, so he had some porkchops, Mongolian beef, cauliflower and rice, and Gwen had chicken, mashed potatoes and carrots.

Friday: pizza night This week I made two pizzas, both with cocoa tomatoes, bell pepper and basil, but the second one I also added some cream cheese (leftover from making cream cheese icing for the cinnamon rolls). I know that sounds weird, and Sym was appalled, but it worked! I cut it into little slices but I feel like I should have rolled the slices into balls and smushed them for a better ~look~. Anyway both pizzas were good but I didn’t make enough dough to make two larges so the thin crusts were a little TOO thin. We also had a microgreen salad.

*Nicky had some gnarly diapers last week after we had a meal with carrots, and again after the glazed carrots on Tuesday. However Taylor and I also felt a little sick this week so I’m not sure if carrots don’t agree with Nicky or if we were a little food poisoned and it just hit Nicky harder because he’s little and also he could have eaten whatever made us sick twice due to the leftovers extravaganza. I’m not sure though, because neither Sym or Gwen was sick at all. In any case we composted all the leftover leftovers and I’m going to hold off on giving Nicky carrots for a while.

family dinner

It’s back!

I think every year I decide to try and make a conscious effort to make meal plans and grocery shop for those meal plans and make the meals I’ve planned and not waste food. It’s something that I hate doing and usually I’ll do an alright job for a few months and then everything will fall off the rails because I’m tired or busy or depressed and then it’s back to eating pasta three times a week. It also doesn’t help that kids are so weirdly picky and it can be discouraging to slave over some meal only to be confronted by several variations of “Calvin-face.” And I never know what will be a hit; for example this week Nicky went wild for the white chicken chili but Gwen wouldn’t even try it, and the next night Gwen devoured her entire serving of bacon & cheddar quiche and Nicky threw all of his on the floor.

But you soldier on, and over the past year or so (lol this has taken a long time ok) I’ve started to get better at cooking and DARE I SAY even found satisfaction and enjoyment in it. And I think that is reflected in the quality and variety of the meals I’m making, which in turn leads to my kids actually eating and enjoying them. I’ve had some real flops and missteps along the way but I feel good about the progress I’ve made and continue to make.

Historically I’ve posted my meal plans in advance but for some reason when I did that I never actually made what I’d planned out? I don’t know why. So going forward I’m going to share what I made the week previous so I can discuss what worked, what flopped and what was an unmitigated disaster.

Sunday: grilled steak, baked potatoes and roasted purple cauliflower What can I say, I’m a sucker for purple vegetables! I basically used this recipe (I was short on time and thyme so I left out the latter and skipped the onion) BUT I feel like this cooking time was WAY too long? After 35 minutes my cauliflower was definitely overdone, like I think 20 minutes before adding the parmesan would have been more than sufficient. I never seem to have very good luck with recipes from Epicurious, but I think I would try this one agin, with all the ingredients and just a shorter cooking time.

Monday: fettuccine with seven pepper sauce I hadn’t made any fresh pasta since last summer and I couldn’t remember what recipe I used then so I tried a new one but it didn’t really work for me. I think the proportions were off somehow, so the dough was too soft or something? When I rolled it out as thin as I wanted it the noodles wouldn’t cut all the way through in my machine. I had to re-roll it more thickly and even then I had to hand-cut a lot of these. The sauce was amazing though; just the simple Marcela Hazan tomato sauce with seven roasted peppers added. You could use fewer roasted peppers but like… why would you want to???

Tuesday: white chicken chili I actually made this from a soup mix that had the white beans and a very generously sized seasoning packet. The instructions called for 5 cups of water, a diced onion, 1 1/2lbs of chicken breast, and 7oz of mild green chilies but I was worried it would be a little boring so I made a couple changes. I replaced 1 cup of water with low-sodium chicken stock and added 1 cup of corn, a handful of frozen greens (it’s a mix of kale, chard and spinach I keep for smoothies and I MOSTLY added it for visual interest), and a teaspoon of smoked salt. I wish I’d had some green bell peppers to add as well but overall this was great!

Wednesday: bacon & cheddar quiche this was good but I didn’t make enough! I’d wanted to make my own crust from scratch but the grocery store by my house had delivery issues this week and ran out of butter! So I had to use a premade crust that was too small. I also meant to pick up some microgreens to make a side salad to go with this but I was out with all the little kids and it was pouring with rain and I was so focussed on getting home that I… forgot. TERRIBLE. But yeah, this was just a basic quiche with cooked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and a lil green onion. With the salad it would have been a perfect meal.

Thursday: Annie’s bunny pasta with cheese On Thursdays Taylor and I eat takeout later, without the kids, so we usually let Gwen pick what she wants for dinner, which is usually some kinda macaroni and cheese.

Friday: pizza night! Making homemade pizza from scratch on Friday nights is something I started doing a few months ago. I use this recipe for the crust and bake it in a cast iron pan as per these instructions, and it always turns out great! This time I actually made three different sized pizzas in three different cast irons:
• large with carmellized shallots, yellow pepper, cocoa tomatoes and fresh basil
• medium with carmellized shallots and pepperoni
• small with carmellized shallots, pepperoni and cocoa tomatoes
These were all good but imo the vegetarian one was the best! I’m still on the hunt for a good sauce recipe (right now I’m using a bottled one) so if you have any recommendations let me know!

let them eat cake

Gwen has Lego club after school on Thursdays, and since I can’t pick her up (I need to be home for the daycare kids’ pick ups) Symphony walks her up the hill. Sym goes to her dad’s on Thursdays so it’s not exactly convenient for her, and after such a long day Gwen is pretty tired and grumpy. Because I don’t have to go to the school it leaves me more time to do things around the house, and what better way to spend it than baking a treat for the girls when they get here? I’m hoping to make something every week but I’m notoriously flaky so we’ll see how it goes.

This week I made a peach sour cream coffee cake, adapted from this recipe. I just substituted the cup of raspberries with a cup of peaches cut into raspberry-sized pieces. I added 1 tbsp of whole milk to the batter because it was SO dry and thick I knew I wouldn’t be able to spread it out in the pan properly, and 3 drops of white food colouring to the icing because the vanilla made it a little too similar to the colour of the cake & almonds and I wanted some contrast!

I chose this cake because it is topped with sliced almonds I’m on a quest to use them in as many ways as possible. A few months ago I was at the grocery store and for some reason I needed sliced almonds. They happened to be on sale but some of them were marked incorrectly and it took three different store employees to figure out which almonds were what price. As a thank you to me for not being rude about it they insisted I take a large-size bag of almonds for free, so now I’ve got almost half a kilogram of them. I never made whatever it was I’d wanted them for in the first place, and now I’ve completely forgotten what it was, so every time I open the cupboard this unopened bag of sliced almonds was just sitting there taunting me. This cake only used 1/4 cup so any suggestions for sliced almond heavy recipes would be much appreciated!

Pannuts (Pancake Donuts)

Pancakes x mini donuts: I’ve had this idea in my head for about a million years, and tbh I don’t know why I didn’t try it out sooner! It’s so easy, all you need is boxed pancake mix and a waffle iron-style mini donut maker and you, too, can make delicious, bite-sized pannuts! My whole family loved these, the little kids especially. The basic “recipe” and instructions are below, with copious notes as well.

Pannuts (Pancake Donuts)
yield: 30 mini pannuts

– complete extra fluffy pancake mix
– water
– vegetable oil or non-stick cooking spray
– powdered sugar, maple syrup, fruit, chocolate, etc for serving

1. Mix your pancake batter according to the package directions (typically 1 cup of batter and 2/3 to 3/4 cups water). Using a whisk, stir until it is almost completely lump-free, then allow it to rest for five minutes while your mini donut machine heats up.

2. Oil the cavities of your donut machine. Pour approximately 1 tablespoon of batter into each cavity, filling to the top, and cook for 3-4 minutes.

3. Using a small wooden or silicone spoon remove pannuts from the machine, and repeat steps 2-3 until all your batter is used up. Serve each batch immediately with powdered sugar, maple syrup, fruit or chocolate.

Notes on Batter
You want a batter that produces a thick, fluffy pancake; if you use a flatter batter (ha ha) it won’t rise enough inside the machine and the top of your pannuts won’t touch the upper cooking surface to get that nice golden colour. I didn’t want to waste “real” ingredients on this experiment so rather than make a batter from scratch I used a boxed “extra fluffy” buttermilk pancake mix that I knew from experience would rise enough, but if you have a go-to recipe for fluffy pancakes feel free to use that.

Notes on Mini Donut Makers
The one I have is a six-cavity donut maker made by SmartPlanet (similar to this) but there are lots of different brands/models available with four, six, seven or even twelve cavities! I don’t have personal experience with any of these other models but I feel like they probably all work the same.

Notes on Oil
Some people don’t like to use non-stick spray on these machines because it is messy and hard to clean up. I am of the opinion that it is easier to use the spray, but vegetable oil wiped on with a paper towel works just as well. Use whichever product/method you prefer.

Notes on Cooking Time & Quantity
I first did a single test donut with 3 minutes cook time, which came out slightly underdone. I increased the time to 4 minutes and that was perfect with my machine and batter combination. I encourage you to test with your machine and batter as the time required may be different. It’s also a good idea to test how much batter you need to fill the donut cavities; a different machine might have larger or smaller cavities that require more or less batter. Depending on this your final pannut yield may vary.

one one two two

Those poor palmiers, I very very diligently halved the recipe and then grabbed the wrong size of measuring cup and used twice as much sugar as they needed! They were (mostly still edible) but pretty well encased in carmelized sugar. I need a do-over on them.

Last week Gwen had her first-ever Pajama Day at school and honestly you’ve never seen a more excited kid. Also: they were allowed to bring stuffies and two of her friends brought toys Gwen gave them for their birthdays.
Pork chops with apples & onions are a favourite family dinner, but I need to talk about those peas. I threw them together at the last minute, cooking them in butter with lemon zest and smoked salt and they were delicious. Even picky eater Gwen admitted she liked them “a lil bit,” and Nicky couldn’t get enough.

I spent a few evenings sewing a couple of rag rugs together using this DIY to make a new pouf. The rugs were $13 each and I stuffed it with old duvets and pillows I was planning on getting rid of so in addition to being easy it was very affordable! Initially I wanted more neutral-coloured rugs but the ones I found were much more expensive and I decided to go with the thrifty option. The kids and pets certainly think it’s great.

I have been working hard to slowly but surely refresh our living space and HONESTLY I am so happy with how it’s all turning out. The living room/playroom switch has opened up so much more space for playing, and just makes so much more sense than they way it was before. The simple act of repainting the (new) living room and dining room all the same colour makes those areas seem so much bigger as well. We shortened Taylor’s desk which got rid of even more wasted space and clutter, and opened up the office into the living room. And other than our new couch (which was sorely needed) I think the only purchases have been paint and a few small decor items. Other than that, it’s all been rearranging.

This weekend I’m going to repaint the wall where Taylor’s desk used to be (there were a couple of shelves above that we took down that left a major amount of holes behind), and next I’m going to focus on the playroom. I want to finish repainting, move the blackout blinds to make more space for naptime, create new book storage (shelves? a bookcase? boxes?) and invest in a new play kitchen. I got rid of Ol’ Bluey when we had the floors redone but I need a new one. I just feel like it’s something kids really love! I’m like 99% decided on this one, although I loathe the pink and would paint over it/replace it. It has a lot of space for play and I like the shape a lot. I have it planned out in my mind how I’m going to install it in this weird, awkward corner while still leaving space behind it to store the folded minicribs when they aren’t in use, with a shelf above it that has a framed poster mounted on the front to store the minicrib mattresses. It’s hard to explain but I’m very confident that it will work. I’m just hoping that the kitchen drops in price a lil more before I pull the trigger on it.

Also this weekend we’re going to start putting the tree up! Long-time readers will know I like to have it up, bare, for a while to let the kids get used to it, so we won’t decorating until December 1st. A little Christmas has already started sneaking in though: the new mushroom ornament and the felt Santa (made from a kit by Gwen) are already brightening up the room with holiday cheer.

The Perils of Scrimping on Butter

One night last week we were stumped on what to give Gwen & Nicky for dinner. On Thursday Sym is at her dad’s and Taylor and I eat later in the evening, so it’s just the two little kids to cook for. We decided on a lazy classic: breakfast for dinner. Just some fried eggs & toast. Easy-peasy.

We’d run out of butter to fry the eggs so after he got home from work Taylor popped back out to the store to pick some up. The grocery store by our house is way too busy at that time of day so I directed him to the drugstore instead. They only had the cheapest cheap no name butter, but butter is butter right? APPARENTLY NOT. Like I’m not some fancy label buying butter connoisseur; I buy store-brand butter for the most part, so I figured this would be fine. And when the house filled up with smoke and the egg whites were overdone while the yolks were barely warm I assumed it was just Taylor messing up somehow (SORRY TAYLOR).

Then on Sunday I wanted pancakes for brunch. We only recently stopped using pancake mix and making them from scratch (we use this recipe, which is pretty much perfect IF you half the amount of salt), but they’ve turned out great each time we’ve made them. So imagine my surprise and consternation when the house filled with smoke AGAIN and the first two pancakes were still raw on the inside when they were BURNT on the outside.

It was at this point when we realized the problem: THE BUTTER. That cheap-ass bargain basement butter with its ludicrously low smoke point was ruining the pancakes like it has almost ruined the eggs! We quickly wiped out the cast irons and tried using vegetable oil instead, which worked a little better (no smoke at least) but it did not impart a nice flavour to the pancakes, and we were still having trouble cooking them through: they were still turning out raw on the inside even when the outside was seriously overcooked. We tried reducing the temperature and flipping them a few more times, but then Taylor had a revelation: there was butter in the batter! Three whole tablespoons of melted trash butter, rendering our pancake batter uncookable and inedible.

In the end we had no choice but to send both the pancakes and the remaining butter to the food waste bin, while we went out for brunch instead (which was a whole other comedy of errors), but in the end we learned a valuable lesson: Don’t. Scrimp. On the butter!

In other news, Taylor and I have found a solution to Gwen’s kindergarten drop-off/pick-up problem. Turns out getting Gwen to and from school with both Nicky & the daycare kids was actually not… physically possible for me to do. So now Taylor drops Gwen off in the morning and I pick her up in the afternoon. I’d hoped to avoid this because I feel like going in to work so late won’t be good for Taylor’s job, but at the end of the day I just cannot do both drop off and pick up. It would be different if we’d gotten a space at the school LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM OUR APARTMENT, but we didn’t (something I will be forever bitter about) so we’re doing it this way instead.