Menu Plan Monday – 11/21

Menu Plan MondayAnd here it is – Thanksgiving week. How are you feeling?

I think I’m ready. Well, as ready as I can be without having done my shopping yet! But my menu is planned and my shopping list is prepared. I’ll be shopping this evening and doing a lot of pre-cooking on Wednesday. My boyfriend Bill, his son and I will be going to Bill’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so I need to have everything ready by Thursday morning, ready for transport and a quick re-heat.

When I was growing up, all of my extended family was in other parts of the country – it was just my parents, my sister and I. We called ourselves orphans. There were a couple of other families in our little town with the same problem, so all of our families would get together and share our holidays every year. We would rotate from one house to the next for each holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas), and each family would bring dishes to contribute. It worked out really well.

As a child, I didn’t really participate with any of the planning or execution – just the eating and some of the cleanup. But looking back now, I can see how well it worked. No one person had to do everything – the hosting family would make the turkey and a couple of sides, and the visiting families would bring everything else. The work was divided, saving anyone from *too* much stress (don’t think that stopped my mother from staying up way too late the night before and getting up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving day, anyway, to make sure that everything was done. I’m a lot like my mom.).

My family is very small but the same can’t be said for Bill’s family. In addition to his parents, two siblings, and their kids, there are numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. Every time we go to another family party, I meet yet more people I’ve never heard of before! Yowza! It’s a little overwhelming for someone like me. Fortunately, they are all really nice, warm people who have welcomed me with open arms. For Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we almost always go to Bill’s parents’ house. Sometimes it’s just a small gathering with his parents, us and maybe one or two others, but this year the whole clan will be there – parents, the siblings, spouses and kids, plus some neighbors! It’s gonna be a loud, crazy day, I expect. Good thing it’s not as my house, huh?

In order to help out, I’ll be bringing several side dishes and two pies. Plus, my boyfriend has decided he’s going to make a pie (so I guess my house will be a little loud and crazy, too), as well! With all of that to do, I have to be organized and get a lot of work done on Wednesday.

Consequently, the rest of this week is a fairly light cooking week. Thank goodness for that freezer meal I’ve got, just waiting to be baked!

Menu Plan for week beginning 11/21/11:

  • Monday - Leftovers
  • Tuesday - Lemon-spiced Chicken with Chickpeas (quick, easy & delicious healthy meal.  Check it out!)
  • Wednesday - Thanksgiving pre-cooking (mashed potatoes, sweet potato gratin, stuffed mushrooms, pie crusts).  Layered taco bake from the freezer for dinner
  • Thursday - HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I’ll be baking off my pies that morning, but should be quick and easy since all the prep will be done Wed.
  • Friday - Banana bread scones for breakfast, leftovers for dinner
  • Saturday - Apple, Butternut & Sausage casserole (perfecting this recipe so I can share with you!)
  • Sunday - open

(Click image to enlarge)
Menu created with Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

So, what about you? Are you ready? Do you have a big celebration with crazy relatives to look forward to, a small family get-together or do you skip Thanksgiving altogether?

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust

Cake Slice BakersThis month’s Cake Slice Bakers recipe was a perfect choice for November! Rich with Fall flavors like pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon and pecans, this is a creamy and very rich dessert, perfect for a Thanksgiving (or any other) celebration.

I mentioned before that one of the reasons I joined the Cake Slice group is because I haven’t made a lot of cakes. That isn’t true for me for cheesecake, though. I’ve actually made a bunch of those and they’re a hit every time. I love making cheesecake! Everyone is so impressed and I do love myself a good slice o’ creamy cheesecake.

I’m told a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of making cheesecake.  Really – you can do it! They are actually very easy to make – just allow yourself plenty of time to make, bake and cool the cake, then chill overnight. Other than that little issue of thinking ahead, the procedure itself is a snap. And once it’s made, it will last a good while. Being rich and decadent, a little slice’ll do ya.

Although pumpkin isn’t a favorite flavor at my house, this is still a great recipe and one I highly recommend to anyone who *does* love pumpkin and wants to impress the in-laws (or whomever). I especially liked the garnish on this recipe – the candied pumpkin seeds are my favorite part! These, alone, would make a great snack to have around the house during the holidays, and they are quick and simple to make (just go easy on the egg white – only put the minimum amount needed to coat the seeds).

This was fun and easy to make and the end result is beautiful and has great texture. So if you’re still looking for a gorgeous dessert to wow your guests at Thanksgiving, look no further! I present for your enjoyment, Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust.


Peanut Butter, Pretzel & Toffee Bonbons

WHAT IS MONTHLY MUNCHIES? Each month, I take cookies or other goodies to my office staff meeting. They all get to enjoy some homemade treats and I get to use them as my guinea pigs to try out new recipes. I’ve been doing this every month since May, 2005.

Since the holiday season is sneaking screaming up on us, I thought I’d bring some slightly more indulgent than usual treats to the office. We hadn’t had a staff meeting for the past two months due to other events going on in the office, so I knew everyone was jonesing for some sweets.

When I saw this Peanut Butter, Pretzel & Toffee Bonbons recipe show up in my feed reader, I knew I had to make them – and staff meeting was the perfect time to try them out. The recipe originator, Mel, did a beautiful job with the recipe on her site, so I’m not going to repeat it. You can get the recipe here.

The filling for these was quick and simple to make and would be easy to customize with add-ins of your choice. Mel says she crushed up the pretzels – I was too lazy for that, so I just used my food processor. Took me an entire bag of pretzel sticks to get 2 cups of crumbs, but it worked out perfectly. The end result was a nicely smooth peanut butter mixture, just waiting for the toffee bits to be mixed in.

I dipped half of the bonbons in dark chocolate and half in milk, so that everyone in the office could have their favorite. By the way – I’ve never understood why everyone wants to add butter or shortening to chocolate in these types of recipes – all that does is make it softer. I tempered my chocolate, but even if I didn’t, I think it tastes better and just performs better without the additions. If you’re a butter/shortening adder – tell me why? What does it do for you? Am I totally missing the boat here?

In any case, dipping is where my skills totally fall down. I’m a *terrible* dipper. My little balls kept falling into the chocolate, getting totally loaded with more chocolate. Trying to them off the fork, I ended up with ugly marks in the coating, etc. Thank goodness I had some finely chopped peanuts to sprinkle over the top! Made everything look all pretty again.

I portioned mine with a very small truffle scoop, so I got TONS of bonbons out of this. Next time, I would halve this recipe, but if you need a recipe for a crowd, this is it! Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the dippin’.

These were a huge hit at my office. One person thought they were too sweet, but pretty much everyone else raved. Not a single one came back home with me at the end of the day.

Thanks, Mel! You made me look like a star.

Menu Plan Monday – 11/14

Menu Plan Monday

You may notice a couple of dishes that have been appearing week after week. That isn’t because we love it so much we eat it every seven days. No, it’s because I still haven’t managed to get them made! Schedules change, things come up, and next thing I know, it’s end of the week. Hopefully, this will be the week for enchiladas and mini-meatloaves!

At the Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, I picked up a whole bunch of mushrooms – oysters and cremini. Yum! So I have to use those up soon (oh, darn!). We do love the fungus at my house, so it shouldn’t be a problem. One thing I’ve noticed – everybody says to shop the Farmer’s Market for better prices on the freshest veggies, but so far, my experience has been that the FM is MORE expensive than the store. What about you? Does your local Farmer’s Market have good prices or are they sky-high like mine?

As usual, I have left a couple of days open. Wednesday is my usual grocery shopping day, and after working all day, then spending a couple of hours running around town, then putting everything away, I’m too pooped to do any real cooking. So, leftovers or a freezer meal are the usual suspects. And then, I typically leave one day open just for wiggle room.

Here’s this week’s plan:

  • Monday – Lemon Spiced Chicken with Chickpeas
  • TuesdayCheese Enchiladas (gonna make these this time, doggone it!)
  • Wednesday – shopping day
  • Thursday – Mini Meatloaves (third time’s the charm, right?)
  • Friday – Open day
  • Saturday – we’ll be attending a family party in the middle of the day,  and will probably end up eating with the fam in the evening, too.  If not, we’ll wing it.
  • Sunday – Apple, Butternut & Squash Casserole – working out the kinks on this delicious fall recipe that I’ll be sharing with you as soon as I’ve got it perfected!

(Click image to enlarge)
Menu - 11/14
Menu created with Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Stay tuned this week for a Monthly Munchies post, plus I’ll be posting for the Cake Slice Baker’s group on Sunday 11/20. It’s a recipe that would be a great addition to your holiday table, so be sure to check it out! Next week, of course, we’ll all be gearing up for Thanksgiving. I’m attending a big family gathering and am supposed to bring at least one side plus a dessert. And I still haven’t heard how many people will be there (argh!).

What’s your plan? Are you hosting or attending a big family feast, or having a small intimate dinner instead? Are you ready for the holidays or feeling stressed as it comes creeping (screaming?) up on us?
Don't Forget Delicious!

Menu Plan Monday – 11/7

Menu Plan MondayIt’s Menu Plan Monday again!

As I mentioned sometimes happens, my plan from last week got mostly preempted. Visits with in-laws and working overtime meant a lot less cooking than I had planned, so you’ll see that several items originally scheduled for last week got moved to this week.

This week is Staff Meeting at my office, and I always bring “Monthly Munchies” to keep the mood sweet. Since the holidays are coming soon, I figured I’d do something a little out of the ordinary, yet totally seasonal – caramel dipped apples. These actually make great party food because one apple can get sliced into many pieces. And even though it’s got some caramel (and probably chocolate and other topping) on it, it’s still a slice of fresh apple, which means it feels just a little less guilty than some other treats. Caramel apples are actually really easy to make, even when you make the caramel from scratch, and everyone is always so impressed!

The only trick to serving sliced caramel apples to a crowd is to remember to brush the slices with something to keep them from browning. You can use lemon juice or, I just discovered, ginger ale! I’m going to test out the ginger ale the night before to make sure it works (what a shame, we’ll have to slice and eat one of those apples…. oh darn!), and I hope it does because that sounds like a delicious choice.

I’m also planning on making some of these fun and tasty-looking Peanut Butter, Pretzel and Toffee Bonbons. Don’t they look awesome? I love making candy and these are just a little different and sound really easy to make. Plus, they also have that slightly more indulgent “holiday” feel I’m going for with this month’s Monthly Munchies.

Otherwise, it’s just business as usual. Trying to get fresh meals on the table every night. A couple of the items on this week’s plan will provide some freezer meals for future dates when cooking just isn’t in the cards. I love those!

This week’s plan:

  • Monday – Leftover Night – I’ll be grocery shopping tonight, then making some meatballs to go into the freezer, so we’ll finish off some leftovers so I don’t have to add another task to today’s busy schedule.
  • Tuesday – Quick and easy Meatball Subs (using Monday’s frozen meatballs) so that I can get right to work on those caramel apples and bonbons.  My boyfriend loves “cookie night” (when I make Monthly Munchies for staff meeting) as we call them, because he gets to be my taste-tester.
  • Wednesday - Now that the craziness of Monday and Tuesday are over, I can spend a little more time on dinner, so going to experiment with an Apple, Butternut Squash and Sausage casserole.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If I have time, I’d like to make a batch of Breakfast Cookies for the freezer.
  • Thursday - Trying to get into the Fall spirit (even though it’s still 80 degrees here most days) with an Autumn Salad paired with some quick, easy and delicious Mini-Meatloaves (another one that makes extra for the freezer).
  • Friday – The Boyfriend and I both love cheese enchiladas, so we’re going to splurge on Friday and make these delicious-looking Cheese Enchiladas from
  • Weekend  - I haven’t figured out what we’re going to do for dinner on Saturday and Sunday yet.  I expect we’ll have some leftovers to finish off, and I may come across a new recipe by then I’d like to try.  The weekend is my time to do a bunch of stuff for the freezer (breakfast burritos, lunch strombolis, etc.), so we’ll see what I manage to fit in.
Here’s the full schedule (click to enlarge):

11/7 Menu Plan
Menu created with Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

What’s your plan for this week? Are you gearing up for the holidays? Do you find your schedule getting busier already, or is it business as usual?

Menu Plan Monday – 10/31

Menu Plan MondayGetting back on the menu planning horse!  I’ve menu planned semi-regularly for the last few years.  Whenever I start getting lazy and stop planning, my cooking activity also starts to drop.  I find that planning is essential to actually getting fresh, from scratch meals on the table.

Thank goodness for Menu Plan Mondays to keep me honest.  I’ve only listed the dinners here, as that’s currently the most challenging meal. But I have a goal to improve our breakfasts and lunches, so you may see some of those on my plans going forward.

I find that my actual activity often changes during the week, but it’s still helpful to have planned it out so that I can make sure I have ingredients on hand and can plan ahead as much as possible. I try to plan for at least one or two meals that makes extra for the freezer, so that on a future day when I’m wiped out and don’t want to cook, I’ve got something ready to go.

Click to enlarge the image and see more details.

Menu created with Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Here’s the basic plan, in case the image doesn’t work for you:

  • Monday – Jambalaya (from freezer) and rice
  • Tuesday – Layered Taco Bake (plus an extra for freezer)
  • Wednesday – Tortellini with Garlic Cream Sauce
  • Thursday – Mini Meatloaves with Honey Garlic Sauce (plus some extras for the freezer)
  • Friday – Open
  • Saturday – Cheese Enchiladas
  • Sunday – Meatball Subs (plus extra meatballs for freezer)

What’s your style? Do you plan your menus ahead of time or fly by the seat of your pants? When you plan, do you stick to it or do you end up changing it all?

Apple Cake with Maple Frosting

My boyfriend, as I may have mentioned before, loves him some sweets. Particularly baked goods – cookies, cakes, brownies – that sort of thing. He’ll eat a piece of cheesecake or occasionally a bowl of ice cream, but they aren’t his favorite. No, it’s all about baking for him.

Cake Slice BakersI’ve baked lots and lots of cookies and bars, but for whatever reason, just haven’t collected a lot of good cake recipes. In an attempt to change that, I joined the Cake Slice Bakers! The Cake Slice group chooses one book to cook through the year, votes on a recipe each month, and everyone bakes and reveals their post on the same day (the 20th of each month).

Today’s the day for my first Cake Slice cake!

This year’s book is The Cake Book by Tish Boyle. This is a beautiful book, filled to the brim with delicious cake recipes – everything from simple, homestyle cakes to decadent layer cakes. I’m really glad that I had the excuse of this blogging event to buy it. I’m going to enjoy trying out these recipes over the next year! And let me just say that my boyfriend is pretty happy about it, too.

The recipe for October is Apple Cake with Maple Frosting. This is a rustic, homestyle cake filled with chunks of apple, lovely fall spices and bits of crunchy walnuts. We usually prefer to leave nuts out of baked recipes at my house, but I’m really glad we left them in this time. Those little bits of crunch – not too much, just enough – are perfect in this cake. A square of this cake has been a delicious way to end our meals all this week.

I was unable to find any maple flavoring for the frosting, so just substituted some maple syrup. Of course, that’s not nearly concentrated enough, so our frosting isn’t very maple-y, but it’s delicious nonetheless.  I also used Honeycrisp apples instead of Granny Smith, since that’s what the store had available, and they worked out great.  This recipe, including the frosting, is easy to make and can stand up to a little tinkering, but is perfectly delicious, as written.  This was a very easy cake to make.

The Apple Cake with Maple Frosting is a winner at my house!


Be sure to check back next month to see the next Cake Slice recipe!


Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons

WHAT IS MONTHLY MUNCHIES?Each month, I take cookies or other goodies to my office staff meeting. They all get to enjoy some homemade treats and I get to use them as my guinea pigs to try out new recipes. I’ve been doing this for over 4 years now.Also see this month’s second Monthly Munchies recipe – Chai Shortbread.

You may have noticed there’s always a big blank spot in posting around July and August every year. That’s because I live in Houston, where it’s not just hot – it’s HOT!. Add to that an old home with less than optimum air conditioning and, well, let’s just saying that cooking of any kind takes a break in the hottest part of the summer.

A couple of weeks ago, we were having 98 degree days every day, with high humidity, resulting in a heat index of 105-110 or higher. Ugh. Baking couldn’t have been further from my mind. But then some slightly cooler weather came through, Tropical Storm Hermine gave us a few days of much nicer temperatures, and suddenly Fall was on my mind! Time to bake again, baby!

Okay, so it’s still pretty hot (low to mid-90’s today), but I’m determined it’s going to be Fall soon, no matter what the thermostat says. So I’m gonna get back into the kitchen if it kills me! (and it just might!)

My poor co-workers, so spoiled after 4 years of getting home baked goodies every month for staff meeting – last month, they got donuts from the local bakery with a “too hot to bake!” note stuck to the box. There were some sad faces around the office (I notice they still ate the donuts, though). But this month, I showed up with these Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons and suddenly everyone was happy again.

These were super easy to make and delicious. One guy said they reminded him of Almond Joy (his favorite candy). Nobody else made that comparison, but there was definitely a consensus – these are winners.

Words that feel good in your mouth

WordsIt’s been very hot here lately.

VERY hot.

And my air conditioner really doesn’t work well, so my house is extra-hot.

Let’s just say that cooking has been minimal of late.

So for today, all I’ve got to offer you is whimsy.

I was just sitting here at my desk at work today and all of a sudden the word “mirin” popped into my head. Isn’t that a fun word? Mirin. I love it. It just feels good in my mouth.

This is the kind of thing that makes my boyfriend shake his head and smile as he tells me how weird I am. Another example: the time I made a comparison between Doberman Pinschers and green grapes.

What can I say? My mind works in circuitous, convoluted ways. Apparently it’s different than the way other people’s brains work.

Back to the words.

Thinking about how nice mirin feels in my mouth, got me thinking of other fun culinary words. Here’s my list of culinary words that are fun to say:

  • Mirin
  • Osso bucco
  • Spatchcock
  • Semifreddo
  • Absinthe
  • Acidopholous
  • Baba ghanoush
  • Dacquoise
  • Ganache
  • Umami
  • Jagermeister
  • Langostino
  • Paillard
  • Quinoa

What words do you love to say?

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