05 March 2014

What's for Dinner?

Two years ago, Matt and I gave up meat for Lent. We did not intend to give it up completely, just to cut back on what we ate during the 40 days (minus Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  But eating meat only a couple of times a week became eating no meat at all.  It had been something we had wanted to try for a long time and we were both surprised at how easy the transition happened.

Then Easter came along and we hosted our annual lunch for which I prepared a ham, and we both decided to continue to refrain from eating meat.  We were not missing it so we saw no reason to start eating it again just yet.  For the next seven or eight months, we managed to find ways to eat that did not include beef, poultry or pork products, though we did decide we were going to eat fish.

I have never considered myself a good cook.  Utilitarian is the term I have used to describe my culinary skills -- I cook well enough to keep my family fed.  I would never have said that I liked cooking, either.  It was something I did because I had to.  A survival skill.

After almost a year of subsisting on a meatless diet, I knew that if we really wanted to continue then we needed more variety.  Even when I was cooking meat, we ate similar menus every week.  It was boring.  I sometimes tried new recipes, but was particular about how many ingredients and steps they contained.  More than five of either and I skipped it.

Isaac was doing okay with no meat.  He actually kind of likes the meatless substitutes for ground beef and chicken.  And when we went out, he could choose to have chicken or beef if he wasn't in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.  But he is almost always in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.  He was rather a picky eater, but I was, too, and so are many kids.  But I felt like I should be trying harder to expand his options and broaden his palate, and mine.

So, at the beginning of 2013 I did something unusual for me -- I made a New Year's Resolution.  I resolved to find and try one new recipe each week to vary our diet and keep this meatless lifestyle we were trying interesting.  Matt and Isaac were supportive.  They bought me a cookbook for Christmas and our journey began.

It was an interesting year.  Some of it was a struggle, but for the most part my challenge was rewarding.  I did not become a great cook -- as evidenced by the puddle of egg and milk that ended up running down the cabinets yesterday afternoon when the quiche I was preparing overflowed.  I am a more confident one, though. I have learned how to look at a recipe and see beyond the ingredient list and multiple steps.  Honestly, I rarely follow a recipe step by step, taking shortcuts or making substitutions along the way.  I have used ingredients I never would have tried before and even discovered that maybe I do like food that is a little bit spicy.

My resolution was probably hardest on Isaac.  Matt will eat anything, so he never worried about what showed up on his plate.  But there were nights that dinner was a tense, teary affair.  I have never been willing to make Isaac a separate dinner -- our rule is that he eats what is put on his plate, then if he is still hungry he can choose an alternative.  I tried hard to never give him a large portion and there were a few nights I relaxed the rule because I knew that he would hate what we were having.  I mean, I wouldn't have eaten brussel sprouts just two years ago no matter how much cheese they were smothered in, so how could I force Isaac to eat them?

But we finally seemed to turn a corner late last year.  Isaac tries things much more willingly, now.  He is either discovering that food with color isn't that bad or that it's not worth the fight.  Either way, dinner has been much more pleasant recently.  I have also started buying him chicken and ham occasionally because I know that his dietary needs as a growing boy are different than mine and Matt's.  I even make him bacon many mornings before school.  There have even been nights, however, when he declared that whatever it was that I made was the "best" thing he had ever had.  And he asked for seconds!

It was a bit of a relief to come to the end of 2013 and be able to relax my weekly recipe search.  I have not given it up completely, though.  I still spend most of my time on Pinterest hunting for recipes to try.  My resolution kept us at home for dinner more often, which is something we definitely want to continue.  I have found that I really like knowing what goes into my food, so I have stopped buying items like salad dressings, hummus and guacamole and started making my own.  Last summer I finally managed to grow some herbs on our back porch and used them in my cooking.  I am already eager to begin this year's herb garden (if only the weather would cooperate).

I kept a list of all of the recipes I tried last year.  Most were main courses or side dishes for our dinner, but some were desserts or snacks.  Some were variations of a meal that we used to eat with meat, but many were new foods or contained an ingredient I had never used before.  But none of the recipes were hard -- I still mainly keep to my five ingredients and five steps rule.  I may have surpassed the basic survival skill level of cooking, but I am still a working mom with about 30 minutes to get dinner ready each night.  The act of cooking, though, no longer causes me stress.  I have actually come to like the time I spend getting dinner ready, puddles of egg and all.  I never thought I would have said that at the end of 2012.

So here is what we ate last year -- some months I cooked more than others, but I averaged about 2 new recipes a week.  Isaac's favorites are the desserts.

Butternut squash apple gratin
Meatballs with apricot almond couscous
Baked gnocchi
Slow cooker vegetarian lasagna 
Italian mushroom polenta bake
Spicy polenta black bean casserole
Roasted stuffed peppers
Mediterranean flatbread
Bell Pepper and ricotta calzones
Shrimp fried rice
Polenta with sautéed vegetables and spaghetti sauce
Creamy mushroom quinoa with asparagus and olives
Vegetable enchilada casserole
Pecan honey crusted grilled shrimp 
Asparagus "delight"
Penne fresca pasta salad
Garlic dill baked salmon
Hummus cups
Roasted veggie tacos
Lentil sloppy joes
Black bean quinoa casserole 
Lemony red potatoes and green beans
Smashed potato lettuce wraps 

Spring vegetable risotto
Summer squash tartine with ricotta rosemary and lemon
Zucchini rounds with tomato and feta
Crispy polenta with sautéed vegetables
Eggplant, tomato and feta stacks
Leek and asparagus quiche
Cheesy vegetable crescent rolls
Cast-iron charred corn
Tomato corn quiche
Zuchini fritters
Onion dipping sauce
Bell pepper salad

Potato kale enchiladas
Open face feta omelets
Pumpkin pecan dessert bars
Pineapple cheesecake dessert bars
Shrimp couscous
Crunchy baked taco casserole
Acorn squash soup
Harvest cheddar soup
Pumpkin blossoms- chocolate and vanilla
Parmesan crusted tilapia
Corn potato gratin
Mexican style eggs in a nest

Black bean and rice skillet with roasted carrots
Veggie pita pizzas
Spaghetti with homemade lemon pesto
Mujaddara with quinoa fatoush salad
Veggie gyros with lemon dill couscous
Tomato tart
Veggie Korean pancakes 

Buttery garlic spaghetti with herbs
Strawberry tomato bruschetta 
5 layer Greek dip with toasted pita chips
Spaghetti squash with apples, pecans and goat cheese
Crockpot tortellini
Roasted veggie hummus wrap
Red pepper goat cheese frittata
Black bean mango quinoa salad
Spaghetti squash bake
Edamame rice bowl (quinoa instead of rice)
Creamy shrimp rigatoni
Frying pan donuts 
Baked eggplant parmesan
Baked zuchini sticks
Roasted eggplant penne with basil pine nut crumble
Eggplant rollups
Salmon with sriracha sauce
Roasted eggplant with potatoes
Calabacitas with zuchini and corn
Peach salsa
Siracha hummus

Broccoli cheese soup
Quinoa omelette breakfast cups
Ranch dressing
Skillet hash browns 
Tatsoi cheese spread
Banana egg pancakes
Mama samberg's cranberry relish
Pecan bars

Lemon broccoli pilaf 
Lentil scallion fritters with feta 
Meatball mozarella biscuits
Stuffed portobellos 
Spaghetti squash quinoa bake
Potato Brussels sprout frittata 
Brussels sprout gratin
Roasted broccoli chick pea orzo salad
Pea ricotta spread
Phyllo bird nests

Cilantro lime fried egg on sourdough bread
Quinoa burgers
Tofu pineapple stir fry 
Honey lime slaw with salmon tacos 
Cheesy chile quilles with fried egg 
Broccoli pesto braid
Creamy polenta with poached eggs and olive-herb pesto
Breakfast potatoes
Butternut squash penne
Spinach mushroom cups
Parmesan baked tomatoes
Crestless spinach zucchini mushroom feta quiche
Angel hair with roasted eggplant and yellow squash
Black bean yellow squash boats
Spaghetti squash caprese
Grilled peaches with margarita cream
Eggplant pizzas
Pumpkin spice white chocolate chip cookies
Jamaican patties
Greek yogurt Mac and cheese with spinach
Kale goat cheese frittata
Polenta cheese bars
Corn cheddar quiche
Coconut candies
Two ingredient oatmeal cookies
Creamy hash brown frittata


  1. This is so inspiring! I really need to look at making more dishes at home and love the 5 ingredients/5 steps rules. The one dish we have tried and really love is stuffed bell peppers in the slow cooker. I found the recipe on pinterest, but the original source is here: http://www.everydaydutchoven.com/2011/11/greek-stuffed-peppers.html

    You may like it, too!!

  2. Thanks Karla. I need more slow cooker recipes.