This Week’s Menu: Almost There

Locally-caught monchong, a deep-sea pomfret has been appearing at Costco. It's got a delicious, moderately fishy flavor.
Locally-caught monchong, a deep-sea Pomfret, has been appearing lately at Costco. It’s affordable, and has a delicious flavor.

Brett and I have decided that no matter what, we need to defrost the freezer next weekend. We will be finishing up the last of our food shopping for the month the week after, and need to have the freezer cleaned out and ready to go for that haul. I think by the end of this week we’ll have everything down to where what’s leftover can fit into the inside freezer or the cooler while the defrost takes place.

A big goal this coming month is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in our diet. I think we do a pretty good job already, but know we can kick it up a bit. YaYu consumes most of the fruit we buy, and eats a lot of vegetables, but we’ve stocked up on vegetables for snacking, and I am going to work at having at least two servings of fruit each day. Citrus season is starting here, and I’m looking forward to enjoying local mandarin oranges and tangelos, as well as making fresh orange juice.

Although this month I’m going to start eating meat again in small amounts, if desired, this week I’m still pretty much sticking to a vegetarian/vegan diet.

Appearing on this week’s menu:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Spaghetti with greens; meatballs; garlic bread (vegan meatballs for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled chicken; vegetable lo mein (‘chickenless’ nuggets for me) – bumped from last week
  • Thursday: Grilled monchong; steamed broccoli; whole grain bread
  • Friday: Panzanella with beans (without cheese)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Yakisoba with chicken (no chicken for me)
  • Monday: Potstickers; steamed rice; Asian coleslaw (vegetable potstickers for me)

We won’t need a whole lot from the farmers’ market this week as we’re going to be using up what we have on hand as well as the last of some frozen vegetables. We will need to get some tomatoes and cucumbers though for the panzanella salad, as well as some citrus fruits and bananas.


This Week’s Menu: The Freezer Purge Continues

Getting better - at least we can easily see what we have now.
Getting better – at least we can easily see what we have now. The frost is getting worse though.

We are starting to make a dent in our freezer stash, but we still have a ways to go. I organized everything (or at least tried to) in our garage freezer this past weekend so I have a better of idea what’s out there, and I think we’re looking at maybe another three weeks before it can be turned off for defrosting.

One of YaYu’s classes this term is a culinary course. The class focuses on cooking, both preparation and technique, and students, working in teams, prepare a different dish each week. They are also tested along the way on their developing skills – YaYu has become quite proficient with a knife! I took home economics back in high school, but the course she’s taking goes much deeper than anything we ever did in the kitchen. Students who finish the entire culinary pathway leave school with the skills to work in a restaurant kitchen, or continue on to culinary school to develop their skills even further. We have been letting her do more in the kitchen here, and this week she’ll take over for a couple of the meals.

One item didn’t get fixed last week (butternut squash ravioli) because we ended up with a ton of leftovers that needed to be eaten, so it will appear first on this week’s menu. Otherwise, we are having:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Butternut squash ravioli with Alfredo sauce; garlic bread, grilled asparagus
  • Wednesday: Pad Thai with chicken; cucumber salad
  • Thursday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (tofu for me)
  • Friday: Breakfast for dinner (some kind of pancakes)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches; coleslaw (vegan barbecued ‘pork’ for me)
  • Monday: Grilled fish tacos with mango salsa; saffron rice

We’ll need bananas, mung bean sprouts, cucumbers, bok choy, and zucchini from the farmers’ market this week. Otherwise, everything else is what’s on hand in the freezer, pantry and fridge.

For YaYu: Allez cuisine!

This Week’s Menu: It’s That Time Again

There's approximately 1 1/2" of frost coating the inside of the freezer, growing thicker by the day. And yes, that is a big bottle of rum back in the corner, keeping nice and cold for our mojitos!
There’s approximately 1 1/2″ of frost coating the inside of the freezer, growing thicker by the day. And yes, that is a big bottle of rum back in the corner, staying nice and cold for our mojitos!

It’s once again time for our small chest freezer to be defrosted, which means several weeks of using up everything that’s already in there as well as trying not to put more into it. Right now it’s pretty full so it’s going to be an interesting and challenging few weeks, menu-wise. It also means we won’t be buying much food either for a while, which hopefully means more for our travel savings.

A great deal of what’s taking up space in there right now seems to be bread in one form or another – both Brett and I are puzzled about how we ended up with so much. I’d also like to think there’s not a whole lot of meat, but there’s probably more than I imagine. We have several frozen treats, like ice cream and a big tub of mini cream puffs (which are for election night next week), but all of that should disappear fairly quickly. Our goal in the coming weeks will be to use much as possible so we can fit what’s remaining into our small-ish refrigerator freezer and our big cooler while the defrost and re-chill happen. I always convince myself that it will only take us two to three weeks to get to this point, when in reality it usually takes more like four or five before we’re ready to shut the freezer off.

As it’s a new month I’m going to ‘officially’ add dairy, including milk and ice cream, back into my diet, although in limited amounts. I will continue to use soy milk whenever I can though because I enjoy it. I still have no interest in eating any kind of meat other than fish.

Here’s this week’s menu:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Quinoa, kale and butternut squash ravioli with pesto; steamed artichokes; garlic bread;
  • Wednesday: Thai curry chicken (chickenless nuggets with curry for me); steamed rice; cucumber salad
  • Thursday: Grilled hamburgers (Boca Burger for me); leftover 3-bean salad; potato chips
  • Friday: Vegetarian lasagna; garlic bread; grilled zucchini
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker kalua pork; rice; macaroni salad; cucumbers (no pork for me)
  • Monday: Homemade fish cake sandwiches; cole slaw

We’ll need zucchini, cucumbers, mint and limes from the farmers’ market this week, so that will mean savings as well.

Let the games begin!

This Week’s Menu: Macaroni & Cheese, Round 2

Paula Deen's slow cooker macaroni & cheese
Paula Deen’s slow cooker macaroni & cheese

Last week’s macaroni & cheese recipe was outstanding, and all three of us here loved it. It was creamy, intensely cheesy, and insanely easy to prepare. I’m pretty sure I will be making this again when Meiling and WenYu are home at Christmas.

Creamy macaroni & cheese from the New York Times. It was amazing.
Creamy macaroni & cheese from the New York Times. It was amazing!

My children all think Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese is the best, and what I should aim for when I make mac & cheese at home. For them, Stouffer’s has always been a treat, something I picked up when it was on special, but they rave over its creaminess and the sauce. I have no idea why though – I think it’s too ‘soupy’ and I can taste too much flour in the sauce rather than cheese.

The recipe I am trying this week comes from Paula Deen and is prepared in the slow cooker, which automatically gives it points in my book even if I am not a big fan of Deen’s (and never have been). Recipe reviews give it five stars though, and from appearances it seems it’s close or closer to the Stouffer’s recipe. One ingredient I will not be using is the can of cheddar cheese soup. I try to avoid canned soups if possible, so will be making my own bechamel sauce with cheese and adding that instead. It’s a kind of moot point anyway because I don’t think cheddar cheese soup is available in any of our local grocery stores.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week at Casa Aloha:

Last week’s menu came off without a hitch, and I was able to stand long enough to prepare a few of the meals, including the macaroni & cheese. I was going to try another trip to the farmers’ market again this week, but my back is acting up again so Brett will once again be on his own. We need eggplant, cucumbers, carrots and bananas, and he’ll pick up anything else that catches his eye.

This Week’s Menu: Back In the Kitchen?

I think we can still find all these vegetables at the farmers' market
I think we can still find all these vegetables at the farmers’ market

I am going to make my way back into the kitchen this week even though I’m still on “light duty.” Brett has done a fantastic job preparing our meals these past couple of weeks, as well as making sure that leftovers get used up and there’s no food waste, but I think he’s ready now to let me pick up the cooking again, or at least parts of it. According to the physical therapist, it’s OK for me to start resuming activities, but not anything that requires prolonged standing, or any bending.

Since it’s the beginning of a new month, I’ve decided to try adding limited amounts of cheese back into my diet. I’ve done alright with small amounts of Parmesan, and want to try out small amount of softer cheeses and see how it goes. That means no grilled cheese sandwiches yet, or macaroni and cheese, but I will add a small amount of cheese to my serving of the enchiladas that are planned for this week. I continue to have no interest in adding meat back into my diet for the time being.

This week we’re having:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled cheeseburgers (Boca Burger for me and no cheese); garlic fries. YaYu made the fries in her culinary class last week, said they were delicious, and wants to make them for us!
  • Wednesday: Vegetable yakisoba
  • Thursday: Green chili seafood enchiladas; refried beans; Spanish-style yellow rice
  • Friday: Pizza for Brett and I (YaYu has another cross country spaghetti dinner)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Mango-mustard tofu; steamed rice; cucumber salad (the recipe calls for chicken but I’m substituting cubed tofu)
  • Monday: Grilled chicken kebabs; vegetable kebabs; bulgur pilaf (no chicken for me)

We’ll be looking out for vegetables that we can use for the kebabs this week at the farmers’ market (cherry tomatoes, zucchini, etc.) as well as some more mint for our mojitos, but otherwise we’ve got everything we need on hand.

I’m still a bit sore (the PT kicked things up a bit) but am looking forward to easing back in cooking again. We’ll see how it goes this week, and how much I can do. I’ve got the best back-up help though!

This Week’s Menu: KP Duty

Slow cooker Thai-style pork stew
Slow cooker Thai-style pork stew

Brett will officially be on KP (“kitchen patrol”) duty this week. I saw my doctor yesterday and have been put on bed rest with heat applied to my back, given pain medication, and I’ll start a round of physical therapy next week to get rid of what apparently is a nasty knot of nerves and muscle in my lower back. What I won’t be doing is standing in the kitchen to cook (or wash dishes), at least not for the next few days.

Brett has been doing a great job getting dinner on the table, and made a delicious balsamic pork roast on Sunday and chicken adobo yesterday. He and I put our heads together yesterday afternoon and came up with a menu that he feels comfortable tackling this coming week (with some help from YaYu). None of the recipes are too complicated, and we included an extra night of leftovers because they seem to have been accumulating faster than usual.

Hopefully I’ll be back on my feet and back in the kitchen soon. The new pain medication is already making a difference, and I know the therapy will help as well. In the meantime, Brett’s got the KP duty.

This week we’re having:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Leftovers
  • Wednesday: Grilled lemon chicken thighs; quinoa salad; grilled zucchini (‘chickenless’ nuggets for me)
  • Thursday: Pizza for Brett and me; YaYu has her cross country spaghetti dinner tonight
  • Friday: Leftovers again (not sure when the cross country meet will be over)
  • Saturday: Tuna noodle casserole
  • Sunday: Slow cooker Thai-style pork stew; steamed jasmine rice; cucumber salad (not sure yet what I’ll have)
  • Monday: Spaghetti with marinara and meatballs (vegan meatballs for me); garlic bread; steamed broccoli

We’ll need to get parsley, limes, zucchini, cucumbers and broccoli from the farmers’ market this week but otherwise we have everything we need on hand.

Keeping my fingers crossed and thinking good thoughts that I’ll be cooking again next week!

This Week’s Menu: Happy In the Kitchen

Definitely NOT my mood most evenings after fixing dinner!
Definitely NOT my mood most evenings after fixing dinner!

Last week Brett and I received a lovely letter from WenYu, thanking us for all we had done for her over the years to help her get where she is now. She particularly thanked Brett for teaching her how to drive, and then continuing to drive her around because she disliked driving so much. She thanked me for “sacrificing my happiness” in the kitchen in order to make sure she always had a good, healthy dinner every night.

Sacrificing my happiness?

I enjoy cooking. I’m a good cook and take pride in the meals I prepare. I’ve always enjoyed creating menus and preparing healthy, tasty food for my family, who thankfully, with few exceptions, eat everything I make without complaint. WenYu’s letter made me realize however that I have apparently not been a happy cook for a while.

It’s hot and humid here, and just when it’s time to get started with fixing dinner that’s when the sun is beating on the house from the west (and both kitchens have been/are on the west side of the house) AND the trade winds die off for a couple of hours, killing any breezes that typically flow through the house. The combination of afternoon sun and no air moving has made working in the kitchen nearly intolerable at times, for me anyway. Our current kitchen has a ceiling fan, which helps quite a bit, but it has to be turned off if we’re cooking on the stove. I can honestly say that cooking dinner for the past two years has been an effort of trying to stay cool long enough that I can get things to the table and enjoy eating with my family, and I apparently failed at this more than I realized. It didn’t help my mood either that my former place at the table in this house sits in a “dead zone” between two ceiling fans – I had no idea how truly uncomfortable it was there until I moved week before last to the opposite side of the table, where WenYu used to sit, and experienced the cool breeze coming from the living room fan while I dined.

I have vowed to be a happier cook once again. I will use my slow cooker more, we will grill more, and I will try to keep the ceiling fan going in the kitchen whenever possible, for as long as possible. I will call YaYu in to help with stovetop cooking rather than being a stoic and sweating it out; she doesn’t heat up like I do. No more “sacrificing my happiness” in the kitchen!

Here’s this week’s menu – not as many “cool” meals as I would like, but YaYu and I will get it done. She’s excited we’re making a meatloaf!

  • Tuesday (this evening): Sunset Magazine’s Family Meatloaf (from 1969); mashed potatoes & gravy; steamed green beans. I make the meatloaf with 1# ground beef and 1# ground turkey, oats instead of breadcrumbs, and only 2/3 cup milk. (I’ll be having lentil soup though.)
  • Wednesday: Caprese Skillet Eggs; garlic toast; salad
  • Thursday: Sautéed Italian sausages, peppers and onion (on the grill) for sandwiches; chips (vegan sausage for me)
  • Friday: Mabo nasu with tofu; steamed rice; sliced cucumbers
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker chicken & rice soup; cornbread (lentil soup again for me).
  • Monday: Homemade fish cake sandwiches; honeydew melon

Fingers crossed that all goes as planned!

This Week’s Menu: I’ll Drink To That!

Mmmm – mojitos!

The humidity here demands that we all take in a LOT of fluid every day. Water, iced tea, and coffee are our usual staples, but we also like to mix things up with other beverages and cocktails.

None of us are big soft drink fans, but we do enjoy a ginger ale now and again, and I still love Diet Coke big time. I gave them up at the beginning of the year, but the other day Safeway had 20-packs on sale for $5, a price too good to pass up. Hopefully the box will last for a while, but I haven’t been craving them this time around and have had just a couple so far, on hot afternoon last weekend. They were very refreshing, but I don’t want to get hooked again.

Brett and I also decided to add some different cocktails to our evening rotation. We’ve always enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening, and occasionally a gin & tonic, but before I went on my trip last month I was feeling bored with the wine and suggested we try something new after I got back. The gin & tonics are still our favorite cocktail, but we’ve also been enjoying POG (passion fruit, orange and guava juice) mimosas and tonight we’re having mojitos. I had a complementary (and delicious!) POG mimosa in First Class on the way home, which gave me the idea for those, and we’ve always liked mojitos more than other rum drinks, including mai tais and piña coladas. We’re not ready to set up a full bar yet, but like having something different in the evening. And, eventually we’ll go back to enjoying a glass of wine.

Also, I ate quite a bit of cheese during my trip, mainly because there weren’t often a whole lot of other vegetarian options. The cheese was delicious, but my digestive system didn’t like it, so I’m back to primarily vegan dining once again. I have missed pizza though, and am going to try a small amount of mozzarella once in a while and see how that goes as well as sticking to the occasional sprinkle of Parmesan on pasta dishes.

Here’s what we’re eating this week at Chez Aloha:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled teriyaki chicken thighs; zaru soba; cucumber salad (chilled tofu for me instead of chicken)
  • Wednesday: Slow cooker chicken risotto; grilled zucchini (pasta with vegan ‘butter’ and Parmesan for me)
  • Thursday: California Roll Salad
  • Friday: Pizza: one half will be salami & cheese, for Brett; the other half just cheese, for me. We’ll also add some vegetables – not sure yet what those will be (YaYu will be dining at her first cross country team spaghetti dinner).
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Potstickers; steamed rice; ‘Asian’ coleslaw (I found vegan potstickers at Costco last week – yeah!)
  • Monday: Pasta with marinara; grilled Italian sausages; grilled zucchini; garlic bread

That’s it for this week – I think it’s doable, and I’m looking forward to being back in the kitchen. YaYu is taking a culinary course this term, and will be helping out more with dinner prep as well.

This Week’s Menu: Almost Vegan

Falafel in pita bread - yum!
Falafel in pita bread – yum!

I’m in my eighth month now of not eating dairy, except for some sprinkles of Parmesan cheese, maybe once or twice a month. I’ve gone eight months with no beef, chicken or pork but still enjoy seafood occasionally. And, I eat eggs, but maybe only a couple of times a week, or in an otherwise vegan baked good. I guess I’m an “almost vegan,” or a “not quite” vegan. Or maybe I’m a “flexitarian,” the term Mark Bittman came up with for those that mainly follow a vegan diet.

I occasionally eat some commercial vegan products these days, such as Gardein’s Meatless Crispy Chicken nuggets and Meatless Classic Meatballs (I can find both at Costco), vegan Italian sausages and hot dogs from Field Roast, Morningstar Farm’s breakfast sausage patties, Amy’s vegetarian chili, and Boca’s All American veggie burgers. I use them mainly so I can eat the same meal as the family, rather than having to fix myself something different, although that still happens from time to time. But, often I just skip the meat or a substitute altogether, and serve myself before the meat is added to a dish. I’ve so far not used vegan “cheeses” mainly because I think they taste awful, or other vegan meat substitutes like the “meatless beef tips,” “meatless chicken strips,” or “meatless bacon” I’ve seen at Safeway and other natural food stores (or products like Tofurky sliced “meat” for sandwiches). I just don’t miss meat or cheese so much that I’m clamoring to find substitutes for everything. I understand that many others like, enjoy and use these vegan products, but they just don’t do anything for me. I’d rather focus on whole grains, vegetables and fruit than finding a substitute for meat.

I’m lucky as well that my family enjoys vegetarian or vegan meals, and doesn’t complain when I do something like substituting crumbled tofu or a ground “meat” substitute in a recipe. They’ve been a fountain of support, and helped make it easier for me to stick with the dietary changes I’ve made this year.

Anyway, here’s this week’s menu, which turned out to be mostly vegan or easily adaptable:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Mabo nasu (eggplant) with steamed rice; sliced cucumbers. I’m substituting crumbled tofu for the ground pork in the mabo nasu.
  • Wednesday: Chicken pad thai (no chicken for me), and cucumbers again.
  • Thursday: Bubba’s Burgers (I’ll have a taro burger)
  • Friday: Baked ziti casserole; garlic bread; grilled zucchini (pasta with marinara for me)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Killer Noodle Salad with grilled chicken (no chicken for me)
  • Monday: Baked falafel in pita with cucumbers, tomatoes and yogurt sauce; tabouli salad (no yogurt sauce for me)

We’ll be shopping for tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, parsley, and mung bean sprouts at the farmers’ market tomorrow. For the first time we’re going to skip buying bananas because they’re been ripening faster than we can eat them (and it’s too hot to bake banana bread).

Last week’s menu came off without a hitch until we got to last night – it was too hot to fix tostadas and no one felt much like eating anyway. Fingers are still crossed that this week’s comes off as planned.

This Week’s Menu: Spicing Things Up

My latest order from Penzey's spices
My latest order from Penzey’s spices

One of the first and biggest price shocks I got after we moved to Kaua’i was when I went to buy spices for the first time. You could have scraped me off the floor at Safeway when I saw what the 1/2-ounce jar of McCormick whole cloves I needed cost – nearly $10.00!

Penzey’s to the rescue! I’d been buying their spices for several years as we’d been lucky enough to have a Penzey’s store less than a 10-minute drive from our home in Portland. Their prices and quality were nothing short of amazing, and every visit to their store a treat for the senses. When I checked their online catalog, I discovered the same size jar of whole cloves was just $3.35 or $3.45, depending on where they came from, Madagascar or Ceylon. Even with shipping fees added in it was obvious I would be paying a whole lot less with Penzey’s than I would buying locally (and getting better quality).

Penzey’s mail order service is fast – orders have arrived here on Kaua’i just two days after being placed! And, Penzey’s always includes a surprise or two in their packages. I’ve received free taco seasoning and other spice blends in the past, and my last order contained a jar of “sandwich sprinkle” which I’m looking forward to using to season homemade croutons. Shipping costs are very reasonable as well, and orders of $30 or more are shipped for free (except if you live in Hawai’i).

If this all sounds like an ad for Penzey’s spices, I guess it is because I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you are fortunate enough to have a store near you and haven’t been, you owe it to yourself to check it out. But, their mail order service is superb as well, with quick service and an almost overwhelming selection of spices, herbs, salts, peppers, flavorings and spice blends for every palate and budget.

There is nothing minimal about my spice cabinet!
There is nothing minimal about my spice cabinet! Costco has also been a good source for spices we use frequently or in large quantities.

Also, we’re continuing to immensely enjoy Costco’s fresh peaches, but once we get them home they have to be eaten fairly quickly as they ripen fast. We’ll be getting another box later this week!

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Breakfast for dinner: Belgian waffles with fresh peach topping; bacon
  • Wednesday: Grilled ahi with fresh peach salsa; cilantro rice
  • Thursday: Chili-lime chicken skewers; guacamole salad (‘chickenless’ nuggets for me)
  • Friday: Grilled vegetable, mozzarella & salami panini (just vegetables for me); roasted sweet potatoes
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker balsamic pork roast; mashed potatoes; vegetable from the farmers’ market (I have no idea what I’ll be having)
  • Monday: Bean tostadas with “the works”

Cilantro, cucumbers and tomatoes will be our “must buys” at the farmer’s market tomorrow; otherwise, we’ll see what catches our eye, especially for Sunday dinner.

Fingers crossed that we can pull the menu off yet another week! Last week went great with only one change of days.