Towards the end of my fall/winter capsule, I started dabbling in preparing a larger dish specifically for lunches during the week. Previously, having to prepare another food just seemed overwhelming on top of my dinner responsibilities. However, with a capsule meal plan I am spending much less time thinking and planning for cooking, so I have more time to actually cook. Funny how that works out sometimes.
Anyways, having a lunch dish adds some variety to the usual leftovers from the previous night, allows us to have cook-free (leftover) nights, and people (John) are less likely to forget lunch because it is already packed. Today I am spotlighting a great recipe that is one of our old favorites: chickpea avocado spread.
I find this spread is a great way to liven up sandwiches, or eat on it’s own as a dip. It is fresh, chunky, and flavorful. John has an aversion to mayo-based food, so this spread is a definite winner for him, plus we don’t miss out on all of the protein from traditional meat-based salads. It is also a great vegan or vegetarian lunch choice. The flavors are perfect for spring and summer, especially served with cucumbers and tomatoes. I love that it does not require a food processor; you can quickly smash the ingredients with a potato masher, and be on your way to a picnic. The avocado does oxidize quickly, but I have found that it keeps for about three days in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
This Greek Tortellini salad is everything I love about summer vegetables, mixed with heartier tortellini to keep us full. Summer is the perfect time for juicy tomatoes, hydrating cucumbers, and crisp red onions…. do onions ever go out of season?
In addition to the awesome textures, the colors of this salad are beautiful. This is look like summer is a bowl to me. I kept envisioning weekend lunches outside on the patio when I took the photos, but it’s still a bit cool (and so very windy) for that right now.
If we were the type of people to bring utensils to a picnic, this pasta salad would totally be on our picnic list. But as it is, we are not yet fancy enough for a forked picnic, so we bring this for lunch – perfect straight from the fridge. I whip this recipe up in the evening after making dinner (but before cleaning up), to save on cleaning a few dishes. I think the ingredients meld overnight and really taste better the next day.
The original recipe calls for feta, but John tries to stay away from most soft cheeses so I made it without the cheese. In some dishes, feta can carry most of the flavor, but I thought that the cheesiness from the pasta compensated for the feta and we didn’t feel like it was missing anything. The first time I made this with basil pesto angnolotti from the refrigerated section of Aldi. I did not care for the pasta: it was a little too big to be bite-sized and had a weird, processed aftertaste. I later tried their dried cheese tortellini, which was what I was looking for originally, and it was much better. It is perfect with some freshly ground pepper just before serving.
The Kitchn hosts a “Cure” every year to inspire readers to give their kitchen a thoughtful cleaning, purge, and reorganizing over the course of 20 days. I have never followed along for one of their cures,and am really enjoying this one. I think of it as a revitalization of the kitchen, consisting of little chores I avoid (in hopes that John will become annoyed with the situation before me and clean) as well as larger tasks like purging bakeware and appliances. Historically, my yearly deep kitchen cleaning takes place right before I move out but we are hoping to stay in this apartment another year. Also, there are a lot of things that have kind of settled in our kitchen since moving that really should be reorganized or gotten rid of.
This year’s focus on mindfulness, is particularly meaningful as I am personally working on increasing mindfulness in other aspects of life. The first post in the series encourages time experiencing your kitchen and then writing down your likes and dislikes. I enjoyed this exercise as it was a way to put my feelings into words, and hopefully change some of the negatives aspects down the line.
I am a few days behind at this point, but you can catch up at any time here – although for me, having a time limit makes me more likely to actually follow through. The most visible transformation thus far has been the fridge and freezer. Little changes like removing the annoying built-in drink carrying tray, have yielded huge benefits in the optimization of space.
I took these photos on Friday and we do the week’s shopping on Saturday, which is why there is practically nothing in the fridge – don’t worry, we are not starving!! I love having the cartons of strawberries and cherry tomatoes on the side of the door, it is an easy reminder to eat more fruits and vegetables when I am looking for a snack. The freezer could use some further organization, but I’m not sure what would be most helpful in such a small space. Maybe some bins to separate out different food groups?
The next thing I need to tackle is oven cleaning – which I am dreading, but our oven is in need of a serious scrub.
Spring is finally upon us!
From September 2015 to March 2016, my family will be mostly eating from the below meal capsule. I cook from a meal capsule because it makes planning, shopping, and cooking meals much easier for me. However, I am often inspired by an ingredient, blog post, or craving so I take these opportunities to experiment with “off the list” recipes. You can read more about how I choose dishes for my capsule here and here.
A couple of notes on how to read my list: For the most part, these are templates or ideas for dishes – not specific recipes. For lunch, my husband and I eat leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, but occasionally I prepare lunch-specific dishes as well. Our dinners generally include one main dish (what you will see listed below) as well as fresh or sautéed vegetables depending on what looks good at the grocery store. Dessert is generally unplanned, but I will update the list as I bake/make popsicles.
- Chia Seed Pudding
- Bircher Muesli
- Overnight Oats
- Chickpea Avocado Sandwiches
- Spicy Tuna Cakes
- Crispy Quinoa Bites
- Quinoa Salads
- Cold Soba Salads
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Hearty Kale Salads
- Beans and Rice
- Eggplant Bake
- Polenta Bakes
- Chicken Breasts and Veg
- Sausage and Veg over Polenta
- Chicken and Charred Romaine
- Pasta and Meat Sauce
- Pork Lettuce Wraps
- Stir Fry
- Asian Rice Bowls
- Burrito Bowls
I cannot believe that I have been cooking off the same 18 meals for 2 months already! I am planning to transition to my spring/summer capsule at the end of September, although it is slightly weather dependent. My goal is that the heat should be off while I am cooking this set of meals, so we will see when that transition happens. But back to the current capsule: in the past few months, I have learned even more about what and how we eat since my original soul searching that resulted in the capsule. Below are some of my biggest takeaways and how I am including my findings into our next capsule.
Fall/Winter Meal Capsule Review
- We eat WAY more food than I previously thought. If the recipe serves 4, then it is not going to be enough food for dinner and lunch the next day. I knew that John was a big eater, but apparently Cecilia and I are too! This was a hard principle for me to accept, and I fought for a bit by trying to limit our portions of food. However, smaller portions just made us hungry and more likely to supplement meals with snacks. So I am embracing our huge appetites, and know that in order to cook meals that last us more than one day and having a leftover night only works when I make massive quantities of food.
- We still fell into meal ruts. One of my hopes in creating a meal capsule was that we would have lots of options for meals that were tasty and easy; and therefore we should not end up eating the same foods over and over. But in the beginning, I struggled with putting together the weekly plans and was not used to cooking so often. We defaulted to eating both breakfast for dinner (eggs and toast) and chicken breasts every week, which quickly became boring. However, as I became more accustom to the increased shopping, cooking, and cleaning the meals diversified. Brainstorming meal variations is another thing that helped me break out of our rut, and one that I hope to include in the next capsule.
- A little weekend prep goes a loonnnggg way. The weeks where I set aside a few hours on Sunday to cut vegetables, or make an extra dish were much easier to follow my plan for the remainder of the week. The prep provides some wiggle room so that if I am rushed or forget an ingredient, I can rely on a Plan B. Next meal plan I am going to include some suggestions of Saturday night prep work, so that this aspect becomes part of my routine and hopefully makes me more likely to follow through.
- Lunch for the week. Towards the end of the capsule, I started making one large dish to get us through a couple lunches during the week. Depending on how much time I had, this ran the gamut from simple recipes like quiche, polenta bakes, and chili as well as the more elaborate cauliflower cake. Having an extra lunch dish helped bridge the gap if we didn’t have quite enough leftovers for a full lunch, allowed some flexibility if we didn’t want to eat the same thing twice in a row, and made a leftover night possible.
- Working on the next capsule provided nice variety. I plan on a clean transition from our current meal plan to our spring/summer one, so I have been testing out recipes over the past few months. These dishes got me excited about the new capsule and provided us with some mini-breaks from the dishes that have been on repeat. I do plan on adding new dishes for the fall/winter 2016 capsule so I will be reusing this tactic in the summer, although making stews and soups in the summer heat might not produce equal levels of enthusiasm.
So there you have it, my thoughts about our first capsule. I am taking the rest of the week off to get my mind ready for the spring/summer capsule!
In Charlotte, I envied my cool hipster colleague who instituted homemade “Pizza Thursday” with his girlfriend every week. I tried to appear knowledgeable and nod pensively as he discussed slow rise dough, and shared the merits of the pizza stone material clay vs steel debate. Dough was both foreign and alluring to me, but I rarely made cookies from scratch so pizza seemed in another realm of possibility. After moving, cooking more, and subsequently having some success making bagels, I decided to find another outlet for the 10 kilo bag of bread flour sitting in the cabinet. Several attempts later, I have finally gained confidence with pizza dough.
Pizza making in our house is extremely low tech; no stand mixer or pizza stone required. We live in a small apartment and are very intentional when purchasing things, so a one-trick pony like a pizza stone or pizza peel do not make the list. I knead the dough by hand, and call it a workout for the day. As a pizza stone substitute, I preheat the oven with a cookie sheet in the bottom. If I get increasingly serious about pizza, a pizza stone might be in the cards but we will have to see how the trajectory goes. Usually I repeat tasks over and over until I feel competent, and then I move on to something else. No need to invest space in a passing fancy.
My current favorite dough recipe comes from Lark and Lola. It is a Mellow Mushroom copycat, and while it’s been so long since I have eaten Mellow Mushroom that I can’t speak to the authenticity, I do love the chew and crunch of this dough. Apparently the secret to Mellow Mushrooms’ dough is using molasses instead of sugar to feed the yeast. I love molasses on biscuits and think it gives to the pizza a subtle flavor as well. I also substitute a cup of whole wheat flour to give the crust more tooth. The toppings vary, as I try to use pizza as a fun way to get rid of the little bits of leftovers from the week: half a chicken breast, a couple handfuls of spinach, one lone tomato, a couple florets of broccoli. I prefer a sauce-less pizza, but have used olive tapenade as a flavorful substitute.
Now that I am confident with my current method, I would like to try a slow rise dough. The only problem is that it requires messy counter work on two consecutive days, which is not conducive to my clean a little/clean a lot alternating kitchen cleaning schedule. However, once I start working full time, I think it will be the only way we can have weekday pizza so the sacrifice will have to be made!
As I have been compiling and testing recipes for my spring meal capsule, I started reading through several cookbooks. Most of them did not fit my needs for quick, light, satisfying foods; however, I borrowed a copy of Ellie Krieger’s book Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less and am really enjoying it. I have made several dishes from the book, and each one was healthy, flavorful, and easy to cook.
I found that Krieger’s “Usually-Sometimes-Rarely” philosophy of healthy eating mirrors my own goals. In short, there are healthy foods that I usually (try to) eat, less healthy ones that I sometimes partake in, and more indulgent fare that is rarely on the menu. The recipes complement her philosophy, and on the whole, it is all very delicious. I think that Krieger’s dishes are very achievable for weeknight dinners. She provides clear instructions to multitask efficiently for each recipe, so that as one element is cooking, you can be chopping for the next part. I struggle with making more than one dish for dinner, so these instructions are very helpful for me. Simple suggestions like starting the grain first on the stove and then cutting vegetables, were efficiencies that I want to practice more often. She also offers suggestions of salad and side recipes to go with less filling, or meat-centered dishes.
So far, I have tried three of her dishes, with one more on the menu for later in the week. I bought a package of sausage to split between the Corn and Quinoa with Sausage, and Polenta with Escarole, Sausage and Tomatoes. Both turned out wonderful, and it was a great way to use small amount of sausage to flavor a lot of food. Cecilia and I lunched on the Pasta with Creamy Tuna Sauce with Arugula, although I finely chopped the arugula for her toothless enjoyment. Next on the menu is the Quinoa Vegetable Stew! Her website has some of the full recipes posted so you can get a feel for what is in the book.
My only negative comment is that I wish every recipe was photographed. I find that I am drawn to recipes that I can see the final result, probably the result of getting most of my recipes from blogs. As I read through the recipes a second time, I realized that I unconsciously did not choose any of the non-photographed ones. Another round through the poultry and meat sections with an equal emphasis on the recipes despite the pictures, provided me with a longer list of dishes to try.
One of my biggest concerns about switching to a capsule meal plan, is whether we would be happy eating off our 18 meal capsule for six months straight. It turns out that we love it! I have the capsule on a list in my phone and quickly browse through it to pick out the meals for the week. Additionally, I am so familiar with the recipes that I no longer have to pull up the list of ingredients while shopping, and can more easily see dinner possibilities by looking into the fridge or pantry.
However, we are also not eating the exact same dishes over and over. In many cases, I use spices and vegetables to mix up our standard dishes. Below are some of my favorite meal variations from this capsule:
- Bean Soup
- chorizo and kidney bean
- bacon and kidney bean
- kale, potato, and white bean
- ham and split pea
- Polenta Bake
- spinach and bacon
- spinach and chorizo
- kale, sweet potato, and smoked paprika
- Stir Fry
- chicken strips and bok choy
- snow peas, carrots and peppers
- beef and broccolini
- minced pork and cabbage
- Beans and Rice
- kidney beans with coconut milk
- kidney beans with spices and andouille sausage
- black beans with bell peppers and onions
- Pizza – do I really need a list for this one? Anything in the fridge is fair game
- olives, sundried tomatoes, chicken
- broccoli, chicken
- spinach, fresh tomatoes, basil
I saw these withering passionfruit on sale at the fruit market today and had to buy them. While studying abroad in Tanzania, they became a citrusy, sweet part of my life. I haven’t partaken in quite some time since then because I feared that the long journey to the States would dull the flavors and memories. I had a disappointing experience with papaya and now save tropical fruits for tropical holidays. However, passionfruit abounds in Australia, and is a favorite fruit for garnishing desserts. I decided to give them a try.
I greedily ate a few of the fruits as soon as I arrived home. Their bright flavor and sharp crunch remains as unique as I remember. I love the colors of the interior so much – such vibrance encased in a homely exterior.
I’m not sure what I will do with the rest of mine, maybe ice lollies with frozen mango?
Recently, I have started making lunch-specific dishes to break up the monotony of dinner leftovers. It can be challenging to summon up the extra effort to cook more than just dinner on a weeknight, but if I make a larger dish it allows us to have a cook-free leftover night later in the week. I am not in the habit of adding a lunch dish yet; however, it is something I will try to incorporate with more regularity in the spring/summer capsule. When I saw this savory cauliflower cake on The Kitchn, it was honestly just too beautiful not to make. I was interested in sampling a savory vegetable cake, but my true interest was in the photographs. The whole recipe process is a bit more fussy than something I would usually gravitate towards (boiling, sautéing AND baking), but with 6 lunch portions it seemed worth the time.
While time consuming to make and clean up, the cake is as beautiful as it is delicious. The thickness of the batter made me a bit nervous as I stuck it in the oven, but it came out with texture between a quiche and a cake. I appreciate the protein the eggs bring to the dish, and the flour seems to give it more staying power. I don’t think this recipe will be on my standard capsule, but it is a nice treat and is lovely for a potluck or party.