Weeknight Dinner Recap: Volume XV
Welcome to the fifteenth edition of Weeknight Dinner Recap! The colder air seems to have settled in, just in time, and that meant that this week included several warm, cozy dinners full of great flavor and a hearty effect (read: filling!). I have to admit I’m happy the chillier days have arrived, even though I’m not psyched for snow. Thankfully, we’ve got some time (maybe?) before that arrives in Boston.
In other blog-worthy news of the week, I volunteered on Tuesday at a women’s shelter preparing and serving lunch to the guests as well as learning a lot about myself in the process. I have always enjoyed volunteering, especially in hospitals growing up, as my dreams of being a doctor were pretty much set until college. Little did I know (or secretly I did know?) how much studying truly goes into “becoming a doctor,” and that my passion for caregiving leans far more toward the volunteer role than the traditional doctor/patient setup. I’d rather be the person to simply brighten a patient’s day than be the one giving the medical instruction. Good news for you! I am not a doctor, but do love sharing my knowledge about food, enjoy brightening your day, and my initials (thankfully) are MD. :)
Volunteering was a wonderful exercise in helping others and those less fortunate, and also a great experience to make you realize how lucky you are to live the life you lead. No more complaining! When delivering the lunch plates to the guests, their eyes lit up and everyone was so appreciative to have a healthy, delicious, and hot meal. It felt so good to be able to have a hand in providing a daily necessity (food!) to a group who cannot always count on having a place to sleep, or regular meals. Those are life necessities I believe everyone deserves.
Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m feeling grateful for my health, family, and friends, but know that not everyone is as fortunate and I do not take this life for granted. I look forward to continuing this volunteerism in the new year as well. Let me know if you’d like the details and would like to join!
This week’s Recap is after the jump!
Sunday: For the most part, our dinners usually favor the savory foods, flavors, and ingredients, but then there’s waffles. Sweet potato waffles are a sweet dish that we turn into dinner when we can’t be bothered to plan something more intricate and for some reason crave the sweet blend of potatoes, maple syrup, and fresh berries. This time around, I got the idea for this meal when we’d been hitting the “salt world” a bit more than usual and I really wanted a detox/refresh with the opposite flavor palate.
I find that eating these waffles has a mild cleansing effect wherein I find myself happy to taste the sweet joy of syrup of sweet potatoes, but also clears my body of the mostly savory-focused fuel I provide it on a regular basis. Now, one could argue that these waffles aren’t the healthiest, which given my love for maple syrup and a little butter on top (sue me!) might be true, but I love that they aren’t quite as heavy as traditional buttermilk ones that are far heartier on the carb-side of things. Sweet potatoes are good for you and sweet toppings or not, I do find them to be a lighter dinner option. Plus, with the fresh berries, you’re really having a heart-healthy meal! Haha.
In all seriousness, balance is key and that’s of utmost importance to me when planning dinners and my daily food intake. I firmly believe that depriving oneself of certain foods for too long will result in an epic potato chip party (it has happened), or whatever your true favorites are that you know you’ll devour immediately once they are in sight. Sweet potato waffles, for me, are a great balance between something I crave (waffles), with the benefit of a healthy substitute (sweet potatoes) that don’t lack for flavor or quality of end product. Plus, there’s maple syrup, which makes everything taste (even) better. :)
Monday: Reaching for one of my older cookbooks, I found this delicious-sounding recipe for Thai turkey lettuce wraps by the infamous, and famous, Giada de Laurentiis of Food Network fame. Her recipes are simple, easy, and great for weeknights, but I could definitely see some of these being dressed up for guests. I liked the mix of ingredients for these wraps and since we had never “lettuce-wrapped” anything in our home before, it was time to give it a go!
Essentially, we cooked turkey and a handful of other ingredients together in a pan, including lemon grass, jalapeños, honey, and ginger, for a little while before deeming it done. Then we stirred in a bunch of chopped mint, spooned it into large lettuce leaves, and voilà! Dinner was served. Extremely flavorful, bright, fresh, and pretty healthy, I had to admit the dish felt more summery than I anticipated. But! It was a welcome addition to the dinner repertoire and I would love to make it again.
Next time around, I would reduce the amount of honey because I prefer to keep savory flavors the focus at mealtime, and I would consider chilling the mixture before serving. It was heavenly the next night as I had a few bites of it cold while cooking dinner. Eating leftovers as appetizers while standing in the kitchen is honestly one of my favorite activities lately. Try it! I find it weirdly calming, and a good way to unwind from the day, all while having a little fuel during the preparing of the evening’s meal.
Tuesday: Sometimes I believe that our “pasta Tuesday” really saves the week. Tuesday’s are tough because it’s still early in the week, you can’t get excited for the weekend yet, and I’ve personally been having tough workouts on Tuesdays which make me starving and exhausted by the time I get home. So pasta really is the trick, for us at least, to brighten this otherwise unexciting day. The other theme of “taco Tuesday” is a strong one, too. ;)
We decided on our new standard for pasta dishes (of the quick and easy variety) to be this delicious turkey meatsauce that used jarred tomato sauce from Rao’s (tomato basil) plus artichokes, onion, and a bunch of garlic, in addition to turkey and gluten free pasta. This all comes together to make a really awesome bowl of pasta joy, but the sweet secret of success for this dinner is the splash of cream we add to the sauce in the end, right before serving. Yes, it’s decadent and not really necessary (hello cream, you’re not exactly healthy), but to me it’s a splash of special after a really busy day. And that makes it absolutely fabulous.
An extra note about this meal: we make it with only one box ( 12 ounces) of GF pasta which yields an immense amount of food once it’s mixed with the hearty sauce. I think this meal could easily serve 4-6 people. We were left with a generous amount of leftovers that Seth took to work which he reported were amazing, but left him in a post-lunch food haze the remainder of the day. Ha! This dinner should come with a warning: deliciously decadent, best to eat in the evening when all of your responsibilities are done for the day. :)
Wednesday: We tend to cook what we love to eat. Isn’t that a good policy? So for this night, we had planned on Brussels sprouts, first of the season, and knew that it was going to go with chicken. I had a few ideas for this chicken, but at some point during the day I knew it: we had to have chicken Parmesan. Not entirely sure why, but those flavors were calling out to me, I love it, and thankfully we had everything we needed for it in the fridge. Brussels sprouts and chicken parm. Sounds like the Odd Couple to me! But it was the right move.
Brussels sprouts are delicious and I used to avoid them for fear of the unknown. My husband had me try them a few years ago, cooked with onions and butter, and I’ve never looked back. Flavor city! For the ones in these photos, we cooked them stovetop in cast iron with olive oil, purple onion, and full cloves of garlic. The result was amazing and made me so glad this veggie’s “time” has arrived.
For the chicken Parmesan, we cooked them in a nonstick pan with Italian GF breadcrumbs from Aleia’s Artisan Foods, then topped each piece with homemade tomato sauce and a blend of Parmesan, fontina, and robusto. That was also an excellent idea. We had leftover cheese from that insane dip of last weekend so I tried to be clever in how we used up the remaining chunks. The key to best-ever chicken Parmesan, in my opinion, is to put the pan of chicken (with sauce and cheese on top) under the broiler for a few minutes to get everything melted and perfect. It blends all of the flavors and you get a really delicious bite every time. Once again, I’m drooling as I type... :)
Thursday: Goodness gracious, soup really does warm you from head to toe! And this soup did exactly that and more due to its rich flavor and extra-spiciness from jalapeños and Serrano peppers! I found the recipe for Chicken and coconut milk curry soup in Alex Guarnaschelli’s latest, The Home Cook, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Her book includes a wide variety of Italian classics, new dishes, as well as a handful of Asian-style offerings which was a nice surprise! I love the variety in the book and the photos are amazing. We used her recipe for that gargantuan and amazing eggplant Parmesan (drooling over here) so we had a feeling that this soup was going to be a winner as well.
I was so glad it was an entirely gluten free set of ingredients and the soup itself came out rich and delicious without being heavy whatsoever. The soup is simply chicken stock and coconut milk and it’s simmered together; then chicken, hot peppers, a little honey, ginger, and lime are added during the process and before you know it, it’s done! A very easy weeknight meal and while I thought it wouldn’t be enough of a full dinner, it turned out to be just right. Despite it being a light dish, it’s actually very filling and we had quite a good amount leftover! I instantly wanted to include it as an appetizer for our next dinner party as it would be a great way to begin the evening. However, guests be warned: this soup packs a spicy punch! 😎🌶
Friday: TGIF! What a delicious week it turned out to be, but I’m pretty excited for the weekend and to put the meal plans on hold for a day or two. Activities will include getting my haircut (hooray!), possibly consuming some tacos (Seth’s request!), and a host of other odds and ends that have come up. Once November hits, it’s full speed from now to January, but I love it. I embrace busy weekends, plans with friends, and all sorts of holiday fun throughout these months. Not to mention so much awesome food!! Throughout this week I randomly announced dinners (out loud, at home) I want to make for next week, so on Sunday I’ll be putting those thoughts together into a more comprehensive plan. I have a feeling I can’t ignore taco Tuesday this time around. ;)
Have a delicious weekend!