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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: salad

All right, last night was a first. My 9 year old twins planned, cooked and cleaned up the entire meal!

Because they are on spring break they were forced to do the grocery shopping with me this week and when I asked if they had any ideas for the “surprise” meal, they volunteered to make it themselves. Here’s the menu they came up with: pasta with chicken apple sausage and garlic broccoli in red sauce & a salad with romaine, red peppers, sliced mushrooms & cherry tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette.

Here’s what they have to say about making dinner:

Clem: “It was really fun, but it was hard to get the tomato paste out of the tomato can and Finn thought it was disgusting when he cleaned out the can.”

Finn: “I can’t believe you have to do that much work every night.”

The food was delicious and the Unnatural Cook is looking forward to many, many meals cooked (and dishes cleaned) by her very natural little cooks.

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Meal Plan day; I delegated to the children. They came up with an all-mexican plan and I obliged because I am a firm believer that when you delegate you must also abdicate some fair measure of control or you’re not really delegating at all. So that explains why tonight’s Tortilla Soup will be followed later in the week by Chili Pizza (their idea), Chilaquiles and Burritos.

But the real beauty came when I brought them along for the shopping. They decided that they would come up with the “surprise” meal and went off in search of ingredients together. That gave me enough time to invent a salad to go with tonight’s soup: mixed greens, radishes, corn, cherry tomato, grilled red onion and avocado. It was a good combination (and I got the pleasure of using the mandolin successfully on the radishes) but I didn’t like the dressing I made. I’m not sure if it’s because I mixed lime and vinegar or because I shouldn’t have used lime at all. But I quibble; it was deeply satisfying to watch the kids (who didn’t eat any salad when I started the blog) eat a salad which contained that many vegetables.

Every time I begin to question whether or not the blog is a worthwhile endeavor, something always pushes me to continue. Today it was the kids; I can’t help thinking that if I wasn’t paying quite so much attention to how I cook and what I cook, they wouldn’t be quite so interested themselves.

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I almost did something crazy today. I almost renamed all the posts. I noticed something on WordPress’s website about the importance of a good title and it occurred to me that titling each post by the week and day of the meal was the least interesting way to look at the blog. When I think about the posts I like best, I like them because they’re not just about the food they’re about obsession or creativity or love or failure.

But the editor in me likes structure. The need for structure, the beauty of structure, is part of what keeps me meal planning in the first place. I know the benefits of an organizing principle. And so I balked.

Then it occurred to me, what about the tags? The cloud could include the ideas that interest me along with the food. I will remember that I once wrote something about Adam Gopnik, but will I remember we also had pasta for dinner that night? Why not put his name in there? Or how about divergent thinking? The cloud is a non-linear form of representation. I’m growing! So I went back an obsessively re-tagged everything.

Because I was obsessively re-tagging everything dinner was late. But I did manage to pass another salad off on the children. I thought it might be the vinegar that was causing the salad problem so I used a new vinegar that my friend Iana introduced me to this summer, White Balsamic Vinegar from Trader Joe’s. It’s very mild. Dinner was white bean soup from the freezer. I knew making the beef stew last night would be labor intensive so I purposely followed it with something easy. The little joys of meal planning – for someone who doesn’t like to cook, that constitutes the benefit of structure.

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Try New Things. It’s one of the core values at my kids school. When they started in kindergarten they applied it mostly to food and we were grateful. But this year they are in third grade and their taste buds are truly expanding. It makes cooking a lot more rewarding. Tonight was our very first salad as a meal! Up until now they’ve pretty much ignored lettuce as a viable food. But recently they’ve been trying different kinds of lettuce from our plate and they agreed to try a salad for dinner. It involved steak of course; I’m no fool. The recipe was for Asian Steak Salad from Real Simple. They listed it as a weeknight meal with a 30 minute prep time; very ambitious. We had two people in the kitchen and it took much longer than that. Of course, I complicated things by deciding I was so hungry that salad was not going to be enough and at the last minute I decided to make Sesame Noodles. The sesame noodles come from a great recipe that I found in, of all places, Family Fun, Disney’s surprisingly good DIY crafts and cooking magazine. The meal was a huge hit. “It’s my new favorite dinner,” was Finn’s review. And even the sesame noodles fell under tonight’s try new things theme. Clementine came to the table thinking she didn’t like them and left a fan.

I read somewhere (when it was already too late to matter) that babies can be exposed to a new food ten times before they decide they like it. I never gave them that much of a chance because it was exhausting to prepare food that nobody ate. Even if it was just cutting up cheese cubes. If I’d known that it can take so long to acquire a taste for something, and that taste could be acquired so young, I’d have done it differently. Once I read that though, I did apply it to the way I cooked for the family. When the kids said, “I don’t like that,” I replied, “You just haven’t acquired a taste for it yet.” I left the door open. When I started meal planning, I had to adjust the dinners to fit everyone’s taste. Often the cooked vegetable would be just for John and I and the kids would get carrots or cucumber on the side. Sometimes the sauce, or parts of the sauce stayed out of the kids pasta. But the longer I’m at it, the more developed their palate has become and now I rarely have to make different versions. I think the corollary to ‘try new things,’ should be ‘over and over.’ Once is not always enough.

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Kids first day of school after break. Thought soup would help us recover from the holiday gluttony. I was kind of proud of this meal because I used leftovers from the fridge. Plus, there’s mushrooms in the salad. I always mean to check the fridge before I make my meal plan but in the five years I’ve been making weekly meal plans, I rarely manage it. Maybe this year’s the year. This meal I managed to use up a stray pepper, a lone carrot and six pieces of leftover garlic bread from last night’s meal.

The tomato soup is a recipe from O magazine that I’ve always been meaning to try. It was easy & great. Put the garlic bread under the broiler with some mozzarella cheese and since there wasn’t enough for everybody I got myself some pecan walnut bread instead.

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