Last week I realized that I've been consistently making my kids chicken as the staple protein of every meal. The reason is pretty simple: I'm afraid of attempting anything with red meat and, thus far, chicken has seemed like my safest bet in that my kids will eat it and there's a lot of "easy" recipes I can [attempt] to make with it. So, this week I decided it was time to give the poultry a rest. I thought my kids might enjoy pork so I did a quick search on Pinterest for an easy Pork Chop recipe and I came up with One Pan Parmesan Pork Chops & Veggies.
At first I thought that would make my cooking portion of the meal easier. But that wasn't the case. The recipe called for the pork, veggies, and potatoes to be prepared with the same ingredients on the same baking sheet, so really my prep was all still the same. The actual bonus to removing the pork was that the veggies wouldn't cook soaking in meat juices, so I would be able to prepare them all together as opposed to cooking some in a separate dish for myself! Prep of the veggies was really easy and came together in about 10 minutes. The corn bread couldn't have been easier. I grabbed the Marie Calendar's mix in the bag so i just had to add water and mix. Once I had the veggies and corn bread in the oven, I was feeling pretty good.
With the preparation of the pork off my plate, I was feeling REALLY brave and decided to cook myself some tofu to go with dinner. I'm a vegetarian but I've never made tofu. I know. I was a little apprehensive but chopped up the brick of tofu nonetheless. I added a little olive oil in a pan, heated the oil, and then proceeded to fry up the tofu. Once it was starting to get golden brown, I added some teriyaki marinade that I had in my fridge to the pan. It turned out delicious and went perfectly with my veggies!
Once it was time to put it all together, I had the kids set the table. They were SO excited to have a big family dinner. The spread consisted of: warm fluffy corn bread, BBQ grilled pork chops (thanks, Dad!), mixed greens salad, parmesan and garlic roasted green beans and potatoes, and my tofu. Wow! It was all SO good!! The best part was that the preparation was totally stress free, since my Mom was keeping the kids occupied while my Dad and I cooked. We all so thoroughly enjoyed the good meal and good company that we agreed we should try and make this a weekly get together. This was a major 20% WIN!
(PS-no pics of the kid noshing this week. We were all so busy enjoying that I forgot to snap a few shots!)
After last weeks crushing defeat, I was a little weary of this week's big meal. Nonetheless, I marched forward with head held high and pulled together some recipes. Not just one recipe. Not two recipes. But THREE. Recipe number one: I decided to revisit the sautéed asparagus/mushroom side dish combo that I made in week one since it was such a big hit with the kids. Recipe number two: garlic roasted potatoes. Recipe number three: Shake & Bake chicken!
Let's pause for a moment to reflect. Last week I managed to fail on "the world's easiest crock pot recipe", and this week I tasked myself with cooking three separate dishes simultaneously. In other words, I don't do well with defeat. Nor do I do well at making things easy on myself. Here were this week's main ingredients:
There was one major factor working in my favor this week when cooking dinner: the kids were at karate, and my Stepdad was picking them up and bringing them home. So it was just me and baby, and he was content snacking on Puffs in his highchair watching me dart back and forth in the kitchen like a madwoman.
Now, for the prep: I started with the potatoes, since they were going to take the longest to make. I washed, sliced, and diced. And then it came to the mincing of the garlic. Uh oh. I've never cooked using garlic in my life (don't judge me). How do I get all these flaky layers off to get to the actual clove? They're not peeling off very easily...time to phone a friend. No, I'm not kidding. I had to call my Stepdad to ask him how to get the outer stuff off of the garlic. He advised me to get a can and smash the base of it directly onto the clove. I did that and, boom! The layers magically all came away in one piece. Put it all together, put it in the oven. I'm really cooking now!
Next up: chicken. Mince parsley and mix with the Shake 'n Bake on a plate. Take the chicken, cover in Mayo, dip in the mix on a plate, covering the chicken with the mix. Ok, I've got this! This is going great so far! But I do take issue with the fact that there appears to be NO actual shaking prior to this baking. I get it, shake is essential for the catchy name, but there was no indication in the prep directions that I should actually shake. It seemed more to be like dip and bake. But it just doesn't have the same ring to it. So, I successfully prepped the chicken and added to a baking sheet in the oven above the potatoes. Miraculously, the cook time on the chicken was just over 20 minutes, and when I put it in the oven with the potatoes, there was 20 minutes left of cook time on the potatoes!!!! I didn't even plan it that way, but it totally worked out!
(*Note to self: study cook times before starting each dish moving forward, so that this happy accident becomes routine)
With 20 minutes on the clock: veggies. Wash, slice, repeat. Onions and butter first. Add mushrooms when onions start to caramelize, add asparagus when mushrooms start to brown. Cook until asparagus is soft but not too soft and still a vibrant green.
This meal was a MAJOR success! Kingston loved the chicken, Charli loved the veggies and potatoes. The potatoes were seriously DELICIOUS. I cooked the leftovers up with my breakfast the next morning. Redeemed!! I'll definitely be sticking with the veggie and potato recipes. As for the chicken, I think I'll pass on the Shake n' Bake next time around and keep looking for an alternative that isn't quite so packaged and, well...orange.
I'd like to start out by saying that I felt REALLY good about my chances of making something fantastic this week. I carefully selected the recipe from the pool I've been collecting on Pinterest, and the image of this dish looked so mouthwatering I was sure it would be a hit. And it might have been. Except it didn't end well. Jeff Heil, I'm holding you responsible for this catastrophe. You see, Jeff teased me about my first go at this cooking business last week, alluding to the fact that my boxed pasta and sauce was perhaps not much of a cooking effort. So, this week I decided that I'd show him and swing for the fences, using only fresh ingredients and hand prepping everything.
Now, let's start at the beginning. I am a single mother of 3, the youngest of whom, as I've already mentioned, is only 8 months old. And he's a Mommy's boy, which means if I'm home, he wants to be in my arms. So, even getting to the grocery store to purchase fresh ingredients for specific meals is no easy feat. For this particular meal, I ran in quickly on my way home from school on Wednesday with recipe in hand (on my phone) and grabbed everything like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep before rushing home to pick up the baby and then rush to pick up the twins from preschool. So, I pulled off Step one: getting the ingredients...barely.
Here's the recipe that I found on Pinterest. Note that it emphasizes just how EASY this dish is to make. Clearly, it's easy for everyone except for the Mom's who think boiling pasta from a box is real cooking!:
"The easiest one pot recipe ever. Simply throw everything in and that’s it! No cooking, no sauteeing. SO EASY!"
PRINT RECIPEYIELD: 4 SERVINGS
PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 8 HOURS 5 MINUTES
TOTAL TIME: 8 HOURS 15 MINUTES
I spent all day thinking about how much my kids were going to love this dinner. I even convinced myself that the chicken was going to be so delicious that I should try a bite (reminder: I'm a vegetarian). I walked in to the house after school, and the house smelled delicious. And then I approached the Crockpot. I've included the images below to illustrate what happened next. The image on the left is the one from the recipe, the one that the meal was supposed to look like. The image on the right is what my masterpiece actually looked like.
Crash. And. BURN. I don't really know what went wrong. Obviously, it cooked too long. But I followed the recipe! Needless to say, I was heartbroken. And the kids went out for hamburgers with their Grandpa.
So you see, this is all Jeff's fault.
Here's the part where I throw my hands up in the air and declare that "I quit, I'm just not cut out for cooking!" But alas, a Mother is never allowed to quit. So I will persevere. Next week I'll have to recalibrate and find another "easy" recipe, hopefully one that is actually easy and doesn't result in take out.
I've decided that in order to be successful and not overwhelm myself on this adventure I'll focus on one meal a week. By the time I find a recipe, grocery shop, prep, and pull it off, one fully cooked meal from me a week is a good place to start.
So, this week I decided to start simple. I bought Barilla Veggie Pasta because it was recommended to me by a friend. It's great because the pasta itself is loaded with veggies so my kids are getting their veggie servings without even noticing it (although they aren't adverse to eating vegetables). I cooked the pasta according to the directions on the box. And then I busted out a jar of Prego pasta sauce and warmed it up. Put the two together and BAM! Pasta dinner.
I know, I know. Not every earth shattering. I told you, for my first go around I decided to keep it pretty simple. BUT, I'm not quite finished. I of course needed to offer my kids a side dish with their pasta, so I decided this was my moment to really try and cook something. So I pulled out some mushrooms, asparagus, and white onion. My kids are huge fans of mushrooms and I love asparagus, so I picked these up at the grocery store with the intent of figuring out how to prepare them. Naturally I turned to Google and searched "how to saute mushrooms and asparagus." I came up with a recipe that called for the ingredients I had to work with, and I did it! I sauteed mushrooms, asparagus and onions and it was delicious! My kids of course ate all the mushrooms first and then tackled the asparagus. They didn't go for the onions. Overall, the meal got two thumbs up!
I should note that the moment I started cooking my daughter jumped in to be my assistant "maker" as she calls it. I think the photos will serve as sufficient evidence of how we did as a cooking team our first time around.
One meal down, eighteen years worth left to go! Next up, I'm going to step away from the box and jar ingredients and challenge myself to cook with primarily fresh ingredients. Now that I've started this process, my kids are excited and totally on board to be my taste testers!