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After I finished this weekend’s cooking marathon, I flopped into my favorite chair, iPad in hand, for a little internet browsing. As I filled my mind with inane fodder from all corners of the World Wide Web, I happened on the discovery of the century: Mason Jar Salads. I love salad of all kinds, but this once a week cooking business has all but eliminated salad from our menu, after all, who wants to eat a limp, soggy, week old salad? I never would have dreamt that I could make salad on the weekend that would taste fresh days later.

I was so excited. Probably more excited than I should have been. I woke up early Sunday morning, searching feverishly for the perfect salad recipe. Not only did it need to sound tasty, but it needed to use up the veggies that were left over after making Pad Thai the day before and as many ingredients that I already had on hand as possible. By the time the sun came up, I realized that the perfect recipe didn’t exist, but, I hope, I had figured out how to properly layer an Asian themed salad which could use leftover romaine, mushrooms, and carrots, from the Pad Thai and edamame from the freezer.

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After a trip to get more mason jars, I was excited to get started building my salads in a jar. Carefully layering the ingredients in the jars was kind of fun, in large part because they looked so pretty when they were finished.

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On day two, I can confirm that my first salad tasted freshly made. I will try to remember to update on Friday to report back on how the salads hold up through the week. From what I’ve read, they will hold up just fine for up to five days. The key is that the wet ingredients are separated from the more delicate ones by the height of the container. In theory, this means that the lettuce does not turn into a pile of slime after a few days.

I look forward to a success story later in the week, as it will certainly be quicker and easier to only cut and wash salad veggies once per week!

Ingredients:

  • 10 tbsp sesame ginger dressing
  • 1.5 cups shredded carrot
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 cups edamame pods, shelled
  • 1 head romaine, cut into bite sized pieces

Directions:

  • Layer ingredients in five mason jars in the order listed above.
  • Do not shake or turn upside down until you are ready to enjoy!

At the end of last year, I decided to be a marginally responsible adult; I downloaded all of our credit and debit card transactions for the year, sorted them into categories, and made a huge pivot table so I could figure out what was going on. My initial reaction was, I’m hoping, a normal one, when I stared at the numbers in disbelief.

After the initial shock wore off, I decided that it was time to take charge of two of our highest spend categories: Eating Out and Groceries/Toiletries/Other Household Goods, aka ‘The Walmart Bucket’. It turns out that Duke’s House is single-handedly keeping both Walmart and our local restaurants in business. It was time to make a change. In that vein, I have started doing this crazy thing that other people have reportedly been doing for years. I have been meal planning.

So far meal planning has been working. For the most part my grocery lists have been quite accurate. I can only think of one instance where we needed to go back out to the store for one more item and we have been avoiding weekly trips to Sam’s Club, which we all know can get expensive in a hurry. In short, not only is meal planning working, but it is going really well.

When I plan our meals for the week, there are a few critical factors that I keep in mind:

  • We usually get home from work, more or less, at 6pm. Dinner must be on the table by 6:20.
  • The meal must be Kai-friendly.
  • Bonus points if it can be frozen. (I can make a double batch and have less work to do during a future week.)
  • Dinners that can, in large part, be cooked or prepped on the weekend are a plus.
  • All meals must be “from scratch”. No processed foods allowed, with the exception of “good” lunch meats three times per week.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I didn’t think so at first, but it is going really well so far. Most weeks, I have been able to cook double batches of about four of our dinners for the week on Sunday then freeze them in two portions, one for later that week and one for the future. Kai has been much more open to eating foods than I expected her to be. She has tried and loved all kinds of things from Chicken Curry to Tofu Pad Thai to, Chris’ all time favorite, Fish Tacos. There has only been one night so far that I just could not get dinner on the table before Kai went to bed (don’t worry, we fed her something else) and that was a result of me being at work too late, not the meal I chose for that night.

(If you are super curious, click to enlarge.)

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I am still working to expand our breakfast and lunch items, but I think I have the dinners solidly in place. You’ll notice that not all of the lunches are populated, the basic plan is to have turkey, chicken, roast beef, veggie (usually mashed white bean), and peanut butter (except for Kai) sandwiches with fruit (and veggies for Kai) each week for lunch. Our breakfasts are super boring, Green Monsters for me, bagels for Chris, and either a bagel with sunbutter or a bagel with ricotta cheese for Kai. As I get more adept at planning, I think I can expand the breakfast and lunch menus some, for now, I think we’re doing pretty well with it.

For the first time in years, I finally feel like we are able to eat “real” foods without me sacrificing entire evenings to making dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch. It has been pretty amazing so far. I will do another post to get into the how, for now, here is a peek at our menu from the past two weeks.

I have never been a huge fan of carrot cake. In fact, I am solidly against any baked good that contains fruit, vegetables, or nuts. White cake with white buttercream frosting for this girl. Chris, on the other hand, has a major weakness for carrot cake. Especially the kind with cream cheese frosting.

Fortunately, our cake preferences don’t matter very often. You see, I have zero willpower when it comes to baked goods, so I make every effort not to ever keep them in our house. Chris seems to be mostly ok with this, his willpower is better than mine, but it doesn’t matter because he wouldn’t have a chance to eat the cake anyway.

Chris likes to joke with people that he never gets to eat ice cream because I don’t like to have it in the house and when he does buy it, I eat it all before he gets to have any. Same goes for cake, cookies, or anything else sweet.His obeservation is completely accurate. I have a history of housing half gallon containers of ice cream in one night. Sad but true.

Needless to say, Chris did a double take last weekend when I suggested that we bake a cake. Knowing my disdain for mixing veggies and baked goods, he was probably extra surprised when I suggested a carrot cake. I began gathering his cake requirements, which, much to my chagrin, included fruit, vegetables, and nuts, and set out to find a recipe.

I’m still not sure how he decided on carrots, mango, dried cranberries, and pecans to be included in this cake, because there does not seem to be a single reputable carrot cake recipe on all of the internet that includes all of these ingredients. I almost backed down from his challenge, instead going for a more simple recipe, but, finally, I decided to go for it.

I started with Bridget’s recipe because I trust her above all others for any kind of baked goods and made modifications from there. In the end, my finished product is probably nothing like hers was, but that’s ok. It was a phenomenal carrot cake, in spite of the fruits, veggies, and nuts, and it definitely won Chris’ approval!

For the record, this cake lasted more than one night; we did not finish it until the third night and no, we did not share any.

Adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup oil (I used vegetable oil)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups grated carrot
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried mango
  • Recommended frosting: Cream Cheese Frosting

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans.
  • In a bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the carrots, dried cranberries, pecans, and mango.
  • Beat together the oil and brown sugar in bowl of a mixer. Slowly add in the eggs, one by one.
  • After beating in the eggs, slowly add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl, mixing only until the flour has fully combined.
  • By hand, fold in the carrot mixture, then divide evenly between the prepared cake pans.
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.
  • When the cake is removed from the oven, allow to cool for five minutes before removing the cakes from the pans and transferring to a wire cooling rack.

I first saw a recipe for Cookie Dough Hummus on Branny’s blog last fall while I was in India with my under equipped kitchen and I was so intrigued by it that, months later, I still remembered that I wanted to try it, but, instead of serving it as a dip, I wanted to try it in my favorite cookie dough form: frozen, raw, and as a mix-in for other foods.

I’m sure that a lot of people would be sketched out by the idea of chickpeas in “cookie dough”, but, like with her Black Bean and Avocado Brownie recipe, I was completely onboard with again substituting beans (in this case legumes) for flour and giving it a go. In an uninformed taste test, Chris admitted that these dough bites did quite closely resemble peanut butter cookie dough. I must add the disclaimer that he knew there was a catch just because of the fact that he came home to a freezer full of cookie dough. He knows me too well to be fooled into thinking that I would actually do anything that awesome.

Adapted from/inspired by The Wannabe Chef via Branny Boils Over.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  • For best results, peel chickpeas to ensure a smooth end product.
  • Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy and smooth.
  • Using a small spoon, I used an iced tea spoon, drop quarter sized bits of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet. (I made about 72 drops on two baking sheets.)
  • Place in freezer for 30 minutes or until firm.
  • Use to top ice cream, yogurt, pudding, oatmeal or anything else.

Per recipe:
Calories ~ 1287, Fat ~ 38.5 g, Carbohydrates ~ 208.5 g, Protein ~ 40.1 g

Per 1/12 recipe:
Calories ~ 107, Fat ~ 3.2 g, Carbohydrates ~ 17.4 g, Protein ~ 3.3 g

My cooking, and baking (?!?!), over the past few weeks has been decidedly un-Brittany. Who is this girl in my kitchen making cupcakes and cookies? Chris sure likes having her around. I do too, but maybe only until my bathroom scale arrives from India. Until then, I’ll bake with reckless abandon.

So about that bathroom scale arriving from India. Someday it is going to arrive, along with our other possessions, via an air freight shipment from Chennai. Twenty eight days ago, Chris watched as an Indian moving crew packed up our apartment. Just this week we received reassurance that our shipment was in fact at the airport in Chennai. I can’t even imagine how long it would take to get out stuff if it had been shipped on the water!

On some level, I am happy not to have the scale. I am content knowing that my pre-pregnancy jeans all zip. That makes me feel good about myself and content with my lack of exercise and above average sweets consumption. Hopefully I am not in for a rude awakening when it finally gets here.

Another item that I am not really missing yet is my bicycle. Although I feel normal enough to run now, I am definitely not up for sitting on a bike saddle yet. Surprising, I know. Who would have guessed?

Overall, I do not have too many things stuck in transit that I am worried about, and, in retrospect, I am glad that I packed the third suitcase that I got charged for. Chris, on the other hand, took the opposite packing approach from me and shipped most of his clothes. I am still not sure what possessed him to do that. It will make for some interesting work outfits for him. Not that it matters if he has dress shirts or not; our iron is at the Chennai airport. Go figure.

In the meantime, I will continue to bake, and eat, batch after batch of these tasty cookies.

Caramel-Toffee or White Chocolate Macaroons

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Either 1/2 cup Heath Bar chips + 1/2 cup caramel bits or 1 cup white chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Whip egg whites, vanilla extract, cream of tartar, and salt in a food processor with egg whip or in a mixer until soft peaks form.
  • Add sugar and continue to beat until stiff.
  • Fold in chips using a rubber scraper.
  • Using a spoon, drop batter onto the baking sheet leaving 1″ gaps between cookies to allow for spreading.
  • Bake for 25-28 minutes depending on the size of cookies.
  • Slide parchment from baking sheets and allow cookies to cool on the parchment.

Servings ~ 15 (1 cookie/serving)
Calories (White Chocolate) ~ 98, Fat ~ 3.5 g, Carbohydrates ~ 16.7 g, Protein ~ 1.4 g
Calories (Caramel-Toffee) ~ 144, Fat ~ 4.4 g, Carbohydrates ~ 25.9 g, Protein ~ 1.6 g

After nearly a week without blogging, I think I’m ready to tell you more about ‘Meatfest’. Naturally, the meats were the star of the show, but still, strangely, I felt the need to make dessert as well.

This is really odd for me as I almost never make real, unhealthy, unadulterated desserts. It may have been a sign of nesting and an indication of what was to come. In fact, as I prepared for this feast, my friend Beth commented, ‘Brit, I think you are nesting.’ I denied it, after all, it was far too early, but in retrospect she may have been right.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I’m glad that I made these cupcakes. They were amazing, so good, in fact, that this typically dessert-free girl is going to attempt a cake version of them later this week.

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Pumpkin Cupcakes
From David Leite via The Way the Cookie Crumbles.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup corn starch (or 2 cups cake flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line cupcake pans with 18 cupcake liners.
  • Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a mixer and cream together for about five minutes.
  • While the butter and sugars are mixing, whisk together the flour, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  • Add the eggs, individually, to the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl between eggs.
  • Slowly alternate mixing in dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between.
  • Add pumpkin and blend until smooth.
  • Spoon mixture into the 18 cupcake liners, filling each about 3/4 of the way.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.
  • Cool cupcakes on a rack.

Servings ~ 18
Calories ~ 176, Fat ~ 5.9 g, Carbohydrates ~ 33.6 g, Protein ~ 2.3 g

Cream Cheese Frosting
From Loves to Eat.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

  • Combine butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer, beating for about three minutes until smooth.
  • Add vanilla and continue to mix.
  • Slowly add powdered sugar to mixing bowl, occasionally scraping down the sides, until fully combined.

Servings ~ 18
Calories ~ 168, Fat ~ 9.5 g, Carbohydrates ~ 20.3 g, Protein ~ 1.0 g

When I started planning “Meatfest”, I immediately knew that pulled pork had to be on the menu. I also knew that I needed the perfect roll to serve it on. Having missed baking bread while in India, [Seriously, who builds an apartment without an oven?] I was pretty excited about a bread baking endeavor.

For much of 2010, I refused to buy bread insisting on baking my own. Somehow life got in the way, imagine that, and I eventually mostly returned to bread buying, but I think this baking endeavor has reignited my excitement about baking bread. After all, there is probably nothing tastier than warm bread, fresh out of the oven, especially on a cold day.

Anyway, when I decided to make rolls for my pulled pork, I knew that I should check out Bridget’s blog. She is an excellent baker and I had no doubt that I would find the perfect recipe there. As usual, she did not let me down. Incidentally, not only did she provide a great bread recipe, she was also the source for the awesome dry rub on the pulled pork.

The verdict: Not only is her rendition of pulled pork awesome, but these rolls are the perfect compliment to it. Thank you Bridget for making Meatfest a huge success!

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From Bridget at The Way the Cookie Crumbles.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water (approx 120 degrees F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons milk for brushing the rolls

Directions:

  • Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  • Slowly mix in warm water and olive oil.
  • Allow dough hook to kneed dough for about 8 minutes.
  • Place dough in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place to rise for about two hours or until doubled.
  • When dough has doubled, flatten and fold it over on itself twice.
  • Return dough to the oiled bowl, replace plastic wrap covering, and allow dough to rise again to double in size, about one more hour.
  • Divide dough into 12 equal pieces.
  • Working with the first piece of dough, pull the edges back to the center, pinching into a pouch. This will form the smooth face of your roll. Flatten the pinched edges and place, pinched edges down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  • Cover the baking sheet lightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise again for about 40 more minutes.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Brush the tops of the rolls with milk, then bake them for about 12 minutes until they are golden brown.

Servings ~ 12
Calories ~ 181, Fat ~ 2.7 g, Carbohydrates ~ 34.1 g, Protein ~ 4.4 g