bundle up

march

March! In like a lion, indeed. There’s been work stuff and health stuff and life stuff going on, and travel planned (San Francisco! Baltimore!) in relation to SHRUBS – it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in the Hess-Dietsch household of late.

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I’ve made this Crispy Thai Pork With Cucumber Salad twice now in recent weeks, and it is incredibly delicious. It is also incredibly easy, which I desperately need these days. Just crisp up some pork and a handful of garlic in a skillet, douse it with fish sauce and soy sauce and chilies and stock, a spritz of lime and a little brown sugar, and let it all cook down to sweet-spicy-sticky goodness.

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If you don’t eat pork, I suspect this would be equally delicious with ground chicken or turkey or even my new love, tempeh. And if you, like me, are absolutely over this cold, snowy weather, the fresh, bright flavors in this dish should be just what you need to pull you out of your winter funk.

The recipe is here, at Bon Appétit.

veggie tales

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For those of you who are wondering, our meat-lite(r) regimen is going pretty well so far.

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This week was a little challenging, what with Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a two-day loss of heat in our apartment building, but we still managed to find a good balance of foods that were hearty and comforting, while heavy on plant matter.

veg pizzas

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I made pizzas for the first time in ages using dough that Mike prepared in advance. One pie featured roasted broccoli, red onions, and fresh ricotta that Julian helped me make; the other a simple tomato sauce, stracchiatella (from Brucie, via Good Eggs), and piles of peppery arugula.

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Lunches have mostly been bean & grain bowls, brightened up with pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and crowned with an egg or avocado or both.

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Mike was inspired to warm our cold apartment by baking bread, these 4-hour baguettes, to be exact.

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They were perfect with a smear of butter, as well as alongside this zippy Lemony Gumbo Z’Herbes – a light and lovely dish to celebrate Fat Tuesday (and to warm my belly at lunchtime on Wednesday).

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I tried my hand at a Beet, Greens & Cheddar Crumble, which while tasty, could use some tweaking. We liked the dish enough to want to repeat it, though, and soon.

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The highlight of this past week, however, was making Marcella’s lasagne for our Valentine’s Day dinner, and preparing it with my little kitchen helper.

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I love that Julian is showing more and more interest in cooking with us, and I was delighted that he was so into helping me put together this meal in particular. Making a classic lasagne bolognese – from mixing and rolling out the fresh spinach pasta, to building the bolognese and bechamel sauces – is truly a labor of love, and I was so happy to share the experience with him.

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He couldn’t wait for the finished dish, so I cut up a couple of our pasta sheets for him and tossed them with a little butter and cheese. He ate two bowls (!), giving me hope that this age 3 finickiness may be temporary after all. Here’s to the green stuff!

toward the light

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January is the month when most people who are inclined to, try to jump-start lifestyle changes by way of New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships, “dry January,” or any number of other regimens. But for us, January is a month still jam-packed with celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, and the accompanying (over)indulgence. By the time February rolls around, we are definitely ready to lighten things up a bit, to take stock of the past 12 (or 13!) months and to think about things we’d like to change or improve in the months ahead.

For the last four Februaries, I have been either pregnant or nursing a baby, and my main dietary focus was on giving those little creatures what they needed to grow healthy and strong. Prior to that… well, let’s just say that at times, I enjoyed my child-free lifestyle a bit too much. Now, at 43 years old, with two small children and a demanding job outside of the home, I’m really feeling the weight of it all.

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When Mike and I first met, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. By the time we started dating a few months later, I had already begun to lose what would be a fairly substantial amount of weight, by making a few simple changes to my diet and activity level. Twelve years and two kids later, I’ve gained almost all of it back. It was a slow creep at first, but I’ve put on nearly 20 more pounds just since Mira’s birth.

I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and while I have some underlying health issues to work on too, this week, after coming up with a game plan, I kicked off a new regimen of my own. I’m only a few days in, and while the numbers on the scale haven’t budged, I’ve already noticed a marked improvement in the way I feel.

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Like many people, I’ve never done well on a deprivation diet. What has worked for me in the past (and what I hope will work again) is to focus on adding things – whether more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oily fish, or fermented foods – and replacing the bad or questionable stuff in my diet with better, more nutrient-dense items.

planning

One of the best and worst things about living in New York is that you can get anything delivered to you. I’ve relied far too heavily on delivery services for breakfast and lunch at the office, and I think we can all agree that eating takeout at your desk while working is not an ideal way to work or to eat a meal.

So one of my goals when planning dinners for the week is to do so in such a way that leftovers can be incorporated into breakfast or lunches later in the week. (This is in no way revolutionary, but we aren’t great about working through leftovers, so having a plan for them is going to be key.) This week, Monday’s dinner was Martha Rose Schulman’s Polenta with Beans and Chard. The bean stew was delicious over polenta, and I used some of the leftover beans and chard to top a grain bowl for my lunch on Tuesday.

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Mornings are just plain hectic at our house, no matter how we try to plan ahead for them. (Have you ever tried to pack a lunch the night before for a 3-year old?) Our current routine is that Mike wakes first, showers and gets ready for the day, and while I shower and dress, he fixes the kids (and himself) breakfast. Then he gets them dressed and ready while I sip something warm and get our lunches together.

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In the past, I’d drink coffee, but since caffeine doesn’t really agree with me anymore, these days it’s a mug of warm lemon water. As far as my own breakfast, I’ve been packing a travel mug of miso soup to heat and sip when I get to my desk. It sounds weird, but it’s actually quite satisfying, and the miso is good for my gut – which needs all the help it can get these days.

Once I arrive at the office, I’m setting reminders to do two things: get up and stretch/move regularly, and drink more water. I always thought I drank a lot of water during the day, but I recently realized that when I get super busy and involved in a project, hours can pass before I get out of my chair or refill my bottle.

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As for lunch, I still won’t always be able to get away from my desk to eat, but I want to work on at least eating better – whether it’s a meal that I brought from home (preferable), or better delivery choices (in a pinch). Those choices include the ubiquitous grain bowl, with beans or another lean protein, a ton of vegetables (I like a mix of fresh + roasted + fermented/pickled), and a zesty or spicy dressing; or a big crunchy salad (again, with lean protein). If we’re flush and I’m feeling splurgy, I’ll order my favorite sushi lunch from time to time.

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And that brings us back to dinner.

For eight years now, I’ve been blogging about our dinners here, and over those eight years, we’ve definitely seen some changes in both what we eat and how we cook. Having kids has made a huge difference; having less time and money to spend on shopping and preparing meals has certainly had an impact on our choices and menus. And while I think Mike and I have shown that we’re pretty adventurous cooks, and the kids fairly decent eaters, we have definitely fallen into a food rut of late.

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So my final food-related goal for this year is to move away from meat-focused fare, away from rich and starchy “comfort food” dishes, and to incorporate more plant-based foods into our dinners. There have been so many inspiring vegetarian and and “meat-lite” cookbooks released recently, and cuisines and ingredients I’ve been curious about – the time is ripe to explore them. After all, we love vegetables and beans and all sorts of grains – why not move them to the center of our plates?

about that chicken…

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{Last Wednesday’s chicken dinner got a ton of comments when I posted its photo online, and I had several people ask for a recipe. This was one of those dishes that I turned out on the fly, so I don’t have a “recipe” as such, but I can try to tell you how I put it all together.}

My parents came to town last week, both to visit with us and to help me with the kiddos while Mike was in San Antonio for a cocktail conference. I didn’t have a lot of time to do meal planning in advance of their arrival, so I when I did my shopping for the week, I got in a few simple proteins that were versatile and would cook quickly – among them, some skinless boneless chicken breasts.

I got home from work Wednesday night and assessed our fridge and pantry stocks. With an abundance of lemons, and some broth that needed to be used up, my meal plan began to take shape.

Now, skinless boneless chicken breasts aren’t terribly exciting on their own, but they do love a pan sauce. My thoughts turned to piccata, but I wasn’t sure my folks would go for the traditional capers. So I riffed on it, keeping the butter and lemon components of that dish, and adding peas at the end for a pop of color.

I seasoned the chicken breasts and dredged them lightly in flour, then browned them in a wide skillet in a mix of butter and olive oil. When all the chicken was deeply browned on both sides, I removed the pieces and set them aside, poured out most of the excess fat from the pan, then squeezed the juice of one lemon into it, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom.

I added a cup of chicken broth next, letting it reduce and thicken for a bit before adding the chicken breasts back to the pan to finish cooking through. I tasted the sauce for seasoning, adding a little more salt and pepper and a bit more fresh lemon juice for brightness, then I tipped in one 10 oz. bag of frozen peas. Once the peas were bright green and fully warmed through, I slipped in a few pats of cold butter to finish the sauce.

I served the chicken, peas, and buttery lemon sauce over a brown and wild rice blend, but it would have been just as good over wide egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or even with hunks of crusty baguette. Some chopped soft herbs (chives, dill, tarragon, parsley) stirred into the sauce wouldn’t be out of place, either.

not-quite-seven fishes

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And somehow, we are days away from another new year. 2014 has been a bit of a blur, with book stuff and work stuff and kid stuff all taking my attention away from cataloging meals, but this one, our Christmas Eve feast, was a meal I wanted to make note of.

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Though neither of us can claim Italian heritage, we love the tradition of “la vigila,” and we have had seafood dinner on 12/24 for many years now. This year, anticipating a full day at the office, I had to come up with something simple and relatively fast to ensure we’d have plenty of time to play Santa after dinner and getting the little ones to bed. So I made a healthy amount of herbed butter (chervil, though dill or tarragon or parsley would all work well), slathered it on the cut sides of two split lobster tails, and laid them on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Those went into the oven for a few minutes on their own, then I pulled the pan out and scattered some shaved fennel, thinly sliced Meyer lemon, blue shrimp and Nantucket bay scallops all around. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, and back into the oven briefly. I finished them under the broiler to get a little more color, then served our simple roasted seafood with garlicky toasts and a nice bottle of rosé. Proof that sometimes, the less you do to delicious ingredients, the better they taste.

Dinner: November 3, 2014

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There were two fat roast chickens, roasted rainbow carrots, and buttery brussels sprouts.

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There was a big bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes, a lemony pan sauce, and plenty of chilled rose’, to toast to our last first year.

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There was a cake with sprinkles and one red candle, and a little girl to blow it out (with the assistance of her big brother).

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I hope she takes on everything in life with such gusto.