Meal Plan: Week of 9/29/13 (and other things)

I am crazy busy this week, with a glut of papers to grade and freelance deadlines and meetings and whatnot. This weekend was incredibly busy with family and birthday stuff, so I kind of threw together a meal plan on the fly. I say all this because I really want to process the Breaking Bad series finale here, but I just don’t know if I have the time. I’ll see if I can dump something at the bottom of this post.

OH! And Barb K has still not claimed her prize, so if I haven’t heard from her by the end of the week, I’ll draw another winner.


Sunday: My birthday party, so chips and salsa, charcuterie, cheese, crackers, green bean pate brought by a friend, wine, and the amazing cake pictured above. That cake, made by Kendall Melton (pastry chef at Contigo), was a total fetish object at the party. It consisted of supermoist chocolate cake, perfect peanut butter buttercream, and was topped with candied cashews. Incredible. I may have the one remaining slice for lunch. 🙂
Monday: Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, broccoli. (I’m the only one in the house who likes sweet potato fries, so I’ll probably throw some regular potato fries in there.)
Tuesday: Coconut curry with rice noodles and tofu.
Wednesday: Leftovers (we’re still miserable at leftovers, and I’m throwing away too much food).
Thursday: The BK has baseball, so I will charge The Husband with feeding himself and the boy. LK and I will dine out with friends.
Friday-Sunday:  I’ll be covering ACL fest, so I’m not sure what the meal plan is for the weekend.

Ok, here is what I will say about the Breaking Bad finale [SPOILER ALERT]: My heart was in my stomach the first time I watched it, and I was so anxious that it didn’t really sink in. And then I watched it again, listening very closely to the closing song (“Baby Blue” by Badfinger), and I’m devastated. Yes, much of it was inevitable and unsurprising — just like we knew Hank wasn’t going to make it to the end, it was also clear that neither would Walt walk off into the sunset. But that final scene was so profoundly devastating, to think that after everything and everyone who was sacrificed in Heisenberg’s wake, Walt died alone with his one true love: an unfinished batch of his blue meth. He forfeited his right to say farewell to his son, his baby daughter would never know him, his genial boor of a brother-in-law paid with his life, and his protegee spent months as a meth slave (and I really hope that Jesse made it to Alaska or Portland or whatever and is making a fortune with his artisanal wooden boxes). So much ruin and misery and in the end we see that he always loved the meth and making more than he loved his family, friends, and community. And that, to me, is deeply, deeply sad. So I don’t see it as a victory that Walt went out on his own terms because, on balance, his terms were crappy. And that is why Breaking Bad is such a devastating morality tale.

(And now I’m crying again. Which means it’s time to grade papers.)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Here I am, finally jumping back into the Baked Sunday Mornings sandbox, and there’s no better time to do so than a.) on my birthday and b.) with some of my favorite cookies.

I love goodies with brown butter in them. I think brown butter can elevate even the most mundane dessert. I also love snickerdoodles. So, this recipe from Baked Elements should be a no-brainer, right?


You would think so, right? But these are … not my favorite. They’re not BAD — in fact, they’re pretty tasty and pleasantly chewy. However, I had some problems with the cook time that I feel compromised the final product. The recipe says to bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they were set (but to give them a couple of extra minutes for less chewyness, but don’t overbake them!).

My oven, I think, runs a bit cool, as things tend to take longer to cook than most recipes indicate (except when they don’t). I didn’t want to overbake these, but they were vey much not ready to take out at 10 minutes. I let them go for 13-14 minutes before pulling them and … they had raw spots in them yet. UGH. (See the pocket in the top cookie in the photo? Raw spot.) I wonder, too, whether I should have brought the dough close to room temperature before baking off the cookies; it was quite firm after a few hours’ chilling.

Again, these aren’t terrible, but they don’t have the consistency that I look for in a snickerdoodle. I have adopted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as my go-to when I want snickerdoodles. They’re crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside and, well, perfect.

Be sure to check out all the other participants’ thoughts on the brown butter snickerdoodles here.

We have a winner!

The winner of the Cake Boss flower cakelette pan is …. 


Congratulations, Barb! I will email you for your mailing address so that you can receive your prize. 

Thanks, everyone, for participating! I hope to be able to offer another giveaway soon. 

Have a great weekend!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/22/13

This week is the crazy. I can’t even begin to tell you how busy it will be; shall try to do so by glossing each night’s meal entries.

A programming note regarding last week’s meals: We REALLY LIKED the chicken tamale casserole. The Husband even asked for leftovers of it for his lunch the next day, which is unheard of. I might make a thinner “tamal” layer or double the enchilada sauce, though, because it wasn’t as saturated as I would have liked/was expecting. The slow cooker bolognese was a little too runny and greasy. The runny part was probably my part because I was in a hurry and I didn’t let the liquids reduce as much as I should have in the prep process. It was greasy because the recipe didn’t include a “drain fat from hamburger meat” step and, while I paused and thought, “hm, maybe I should drain this fat … but the recipe doesn’t say to do that so maybe it’s incorporated into the flavor.” Pro tip: if you make that recipe, drain the fat from the beef. The slow cooker balsamic chicken was a failure in that while the instructions said to cook the breasts on low for 3-3.5 hours, but because I had two extra kids in my house and was distracted I cooked them on HIGH for 2.5 hours and they were dusty, nasty chicken jerky. Gross. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. You’d think I’d have a grasp on that by now.


Why not bookend a week with pizza every now and again?

Sunday: Dinner at Bufalina with friends. VERY GOOD PIZZA.
Monday: Beef daube provencal with egg noodles (I teach, BK has baseball practice)
Tuesday: Sandwiches/leftovers/cereal (BRING ON THE CRAZY. BK has baseball, LK has swim, then dance, then soccer.)
Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with sauerkraut from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook (actually maybe a quiet night)
Thursday: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets or Mandarin chicken (We finally got a Trader Joe’s in Austin!!! And there was much rejoicing. BK has baseball, LK has swim, plus we have a big PTA thing at school, which we may or may not attend.)
Friday: Dinner with friends at Umami Mia. (#pizzaresearch)
Saturday: We are hoping to have a babysitter so that Husband and I can go out on a date for my birthday (I’m thinking dinner at Arro, maybe a movie, hopefully some browsing time at BookPeople). The kids will have … something.

Individual Roasted Apple Spice Cakes (Review + GIVEAWAY)

Fall has always been my favorite season. I’m sure it has something to do with having a fall birthday, plus all the best holidays happen in the final quarter of the year. But I also love the cooler weather, the crispness of the air, the crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot, and the earlier sunsets. I like how the earth seems more still, quieter, more revealing of its secrets.

Another thing I love about fall is its flavors: apple, pear, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, spiced chocolate, earthy greens, and warming stews rich with root vegetables.


I tend to do a lot more baking in the fall and winter than during the rest of the year, and try out lots of new recipes. (Tis the season for putting on one’s winter coat, yes? I have probably aided hundreds of people in the winter-layer department over the course of the past few years.)

So, when I was approached by the folks at Cake Boss asked me to review one of their new products, I agreed, since not only would I have an excuse to try something new, I would also be able to share one with one of my readers.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

I chose the molded Flower Cakelette Pan because I have a little lady who LOVES all things flowers. And I chose to make this apple cake because it’s the first day of fall and it’s high time I made something with apples.

ImageI’ve got to say that I am extremely happy with both the recipe and the cake pan. (Recipe follows below.) The cake pan, which makes six individual cakes at a time, performed beautifully. Because I am a paranoid baker, I used cooking spray AND flour in the molds to prevent sticking (even though the pan is nonstick). I didn’t really need to do that, because the cakes released beautifully and had cooked evenly. My only complaint (and I think this is user error, really — it will just take more trial and error) is that my cakes puffed up like muffins and I had to trim about half an inch off the bottom of each so that they would lie flat on a plate. (The Husband gladly batted cleanup on the cake bottoms, though.)

What’s more, the LK was so enchanted by the flower cakes that she has already asked that I make some for her birthday next month. SCORE.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new Cake Boss line of products, you can check out the launch event at your nearest Michael’s store on Saturday, September 28 from 10am-noon. (There’s more information on Twitter and Facebook, too.) You’ll get a chance to spin the Cake Roulette, maybe win some prizes, and pick up a few recipes and baking tips.

If you’d like a chance to win a flower cakelette pan of your own, leave a comment describing your favorite fall flavor/food/meal by 5pm Thursday, September 26. I’ll select a winner at random on Friday, September 27.

Roasted Apple Spice Cakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen
Yields 12 individual cakes

3 apples, peeled, cored and halved
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 t salt
3/4 t baking soda
1 T baking powder
1 T cinnamon
3/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 c honey
2 1/4 c applesauce
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
3/4 c packed brown sugar
3 large eggs

1. Place the apple halves face-down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast at 375 for about 20 minutes. When they are done roasting, set them aside to cool. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
2. While the apples are roasting, whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey and applesauce and set aside.
4. Using the paddle attachment on your electric mixer, blend the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition.
6. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and honey mixture into the mixing bowl. Blend until just incorporated.
7. Chop the apples into 1/2-inch chunks and fold them into the batter.
8. Spoon the batter (a little less than 2/3 cups per mold) into the cake pan.
9. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
10. When a tester comes out clean, remove the pan from the oven and let the cakes rest for about 10 minutes.
11. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack, wipe down the pan, and cook the second half of the batch.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1. Blend the butter and cream cheese in the mixer until smooth and fluffy (lumps are gross; make sure all the lumps are gone).
2. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated.
3. Add the powdered sugar gradually, taking care not to let it fly all over your counters and floors. Mix until fully incorporated and the frosting is nice and airy.
4. Place a generous dollop of frosting on top of each cakelette.
5. Eat and enjoy!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/15/13

I find myself enjoying — finally — some “down time” in that I have met all my immediate deadlines for both the book and freelance work for the time being. (That doesn’t mean I don’t have deadlines, it just means that, as of right now, I have a whole week ahead of me with NO DEADLINES.)

This weekend has been dedicated to baking, shopping, reading, watching the BK play baseball (Saturday), and finally dusting off my sewing machine. Today will be all about sewing. I’ve got tons of fabric for skirts (me) and dresses (LK), as well as napkins and aprons (which I plan to pop into my Etsy shop very soon).


I’ve also done a lot of research around lunchboxes and meal planning, trying to clean up the BK’s lunchbox (fewer chips and sweets, more fruit and veg!) and plan dinners that accommodate everyone’s extracurriculars (BK’s baseball, LK’s swim and dance, my Monday and Wednesday evening classes) as well as my newly reinstated Weight Watchers membership.

(Side note: I recently went in for my annual checkup with my GP and mentioned that I’m — still — not happy with my weight. She suggested I’d be a good candidate for Optifast, since I’m motivated and am good at maintaining my weight. I considered it for a little while, mentioned it to The Husband, who said, “Yeah, because living on a chemical slurry is SO MUCH HEALTHIER than eating real food.”)

So, I’ve been trolling Pinterest and Cooking Light magazine for recipes that meet all the criteria mentioned above, and I think I’ve struck a pretty fair balance with this week’s options. My biggest challenge so far is that sometimes we just end up making another plan for dinner (like when we ended up at the new Lucy’s Fried Chicken instead of having the homemade pizza I’d planned to make for dinner with the BK last Thursday). Most of the time, though, I can roll that over into the next day or week. Oh, and leftovers. We are and always have been MISERABLE at managing leftovers. I welcome any tips or suggestions y’all might have on how to reduce leftovers-related waste.

Sunday: Chicken tamale casserole, veg, fruit
Monday: Slow cooker bolognese, pasta, salad, fruit
Tuesday: Burrito bowls, fruit
Wednesday: Slow cooker balsamic chicken, veg, fruit
Thursday: Italian wonderpot, salad, fruit
Friday: TBD. (If we could have a standing Friday-night dinner at Torchy’s, I’d be a happy woman.)
Saturday: TBD. We’re going to see the new Forklift Danceworks show that evening, so it might just be sandwiches.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/8/13

I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I blame Breaking Bad. I stay up late on Sunday nights so that I can watch the DVR’ed episode after everyone else has gone to bed (can’t have the BK and LK wandering in to something horrifically violent or even marginally menacing, and the Husband finds the show boring). But last night’s episode was so deeply upsetting that I was extremely keyed up afterward and not even a comedown via a streaming episode of New Girl could help me simmer down. So, I lay in bed until well past one a.m., tossing and turning, and running over that final sequence in my mind, trying to figure out any possible way that my two favorite characters in the show could possibly make it out of that situation alive. I also found it to be a bit poetic that this showdown on the To’hajiilee reservation featured the four people who were present at Walt’s entree into the meth-cooking game: Hank, Gomie, Jesse, and Walt.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the many other things I need to be doing today, because I am short on sleep and also fabricating lots of theories for what will happen over the next three episodes (the series finale falls on my birthday — HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME).

Anyhoo, one of the things I don’t have to do today is prepare dinner. The BK has baseball practice and I’m teaching an evening class, so the Husband is in charge. This week is looking very much like a Week of Sandwiches (much like last week was inadvertently the Week of Rice).

Sunday: Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles (from Kin O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, recipe below)
Monday: baseball (but I have put together a picnic for the LK, who will enjoy a rare weeknight playdate while her big brother is at practice: popcorn tofu from Wheatsville, a poppyseed bagel from Rockstar bagels, mini-chocolate chip cookies, a string cheese, and some apple slices; I’m sure the menfolk will get something from Top Notch or Thundercloud or something similar)
Tuesday: Chicken salad sandwiches
Wednesday: Crockpot sausages and peppers + bolillos (I didn’t get to make this last week because laziness)
Thursday: homemade pizza, per the BK’s request. He will help make it. Probably also some steamed broccoli or salad
Friday: TBD. We usually grab tacos or something easy after a long week.
Saturday: TBD. I can’t plan that far in advance. I think we ordered pizza this past Saturday.



Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles
(adapted slightly from The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook)

When the BK was a newborn, we ordered a lot of takeout, especially from Pei Wei. The Husband’s preferred dish back then was Dan-Dan Noodles. That is, until I kicked him out of our bedroom (where we ate most of that takeout) one night in a hormonal rage because they sounded too squishy. So, when I told him last night what I was making, he asked, “Am I going to have to eat them in another room?” Poor guy.

Because I let the BK help me with the stirring near the end of the cooking process, he was more inclined to eat them EVEN THOUGH OMG ALL THE VEGETABLES. I might not be able to get away with packing the leftovers in his lunch, though. Which is fine with me, since I loved these a real lot. While I made this as a vegan main, you could easily toss in some tofu, chicken, or any other kind of protein.

16 ounces udon noodles
2/3 cup soy sauce (I recommend using low-sodium; I didn’t and the dish was a little on the salty side)
8 t rice wine or sherry/sake/vermouth (I used white wine)
1 T hoisin sauce (I didn’t have any on hand, so I subbed in a t each of sesame oil, chili oil, and peanut butter)
6 T vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
6 bunches baby bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup snow peas
1 T sesame seeds

Boil the noodles for about 8 minutes, drain and set aside.
Place the soy sauce (minus 2 T, which you will set aside for later use), wine, and hoisin sauce (or my crazy substitute) in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Cook the ginger and garlic gently for about 30 seconds.
Add the carrots and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the bok choy and snow peas and cook until all the vegetables are a little softer than al dente.
Add the reserved soy sauce and sesame seeds and stir to coat. Remove the veg from the wok and set aside.
Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and bring to a simmer. Add the noodles and coat them thoroughly with the sauce. Stir until the noodles are hot.
Return the veg to the wok and stir to combine.
Serve hot.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/1/13 (plus some other stuff)

It’s been a while, and much has changed. I finished my book, it is in page proofs, and it will come out in early October.

I got a new job, one that has taken me out of the 8-5 grind of state work and inserted me back into the world of teaching, with the added bonus of an extremely flexible schedule, and for that I am deeply grateful.

The BK started third grade, and he’s gotten so tall. He’s up to my shoulders and he’s only 8. He loves math and video games and is an unabashed extrovert. I see a lot of myself in him. The LK is in her last year of preschool. She turns 5 in October and she is blossoming into a fiery artiste.

I’ve started running again in hopes of maybe running the 3M half in January.

I purged my sewing room of six months’ worth of collected, neglected detritus and actually have room to sew again.

I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. Do I pick it up where I left off before I went into the book-writing cave, with the daily/weekly features I had planned out? Continue on with bakealongs and cookbook reviews and Foodie Field Trips and the cookbook project? Or do I focus entirely on all the “offline” writing projects I’ve got planned/percolating? I just don’t know. Who knows? Maybe I’ll work it out via writing here.

I’ve also been cooking a lot, partly because it helps generate ideas (and leftovers) for the BK’s school lunches, and also because I now have more time and mental energy to curate a meal plan that doesn’t rely on the same old boring stuff I’ve been making for the past six months. I’ve started trying new projects in the kitchen (including the failed attempt at Mile High Chocolate Cake this weekend), which has me excited to be in the kitchen again. It doesn’t feel like a chore anymore.

And so, without any further ado, here is this week’s meal plan, which is designed for assistance from the BK, whom I pick up from school these days and who needs something to do in the afternoon that doesn’t involve a screen.

Sunday: Cheesy pasta casserole (recipe below), steamed spinach

Monday: Beef & broccoli with rice

Tuesday: Asian turkey meatballs with carrot rice

Wednesday (a teaching night for me): crockpot sausage & peppers, pasta, salad

Thursday: BBQ chicken tenders, cheesy broccoli rice

Friday: Pizza/tacos/dining out

Saturday: TBD. Probably nothing with rice. 🙂

pasta casserole

Cheesy Pasta Casserole
(adapted slightly from the Mom 100 Cookbook)

1 package bowtie pasta
1 jar marinara sauce
7.5 ounces ricotta cheese
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
4-6 ounces shredded Parmesan or mozzarella or “quattro formaggi” blend

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Boil the pasta until almost al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain pasta, return to pot.
Add in marinara, ricotta, and mozzarella and stir until blended.
Pour into a 2.5-quart casserole dish and top with shredded cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until bubbling.
Serve with a vegetable, for goodness’ sake!