Birthday Week Menu

Okay, I sadly don’t have time to write an in-depth post about every meal in Scott’s birthday week.  But I do have time to tell you what recipes we used.  Not one was a loser.

And who gets the credit for this tasty menu?  Scott.  Birthday boy picks birthday food.  His birthday week always includes more fun recipes than mine does, but I have no one to blame but myself.  Now I just have to figure out what our kiddo wants for his first birthday week.  Cheerios covered in avocado?  Hmm.

  1. Nicoise Salad (The Kitchn)
  2. Fried Chicken (Pioneer Woman) with Buttermilk Biscuits and Salad
  3. Pesto-ish Chicken with Farfalle (inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis)… this is the only one that I did very much off-recipe.  I used a Southern Italian Herbed Chicken recipe from Giada and was going to use a Pesto Farfalle recipe as well.  Turns out the sauces were very similar, so I pieced them together into one recipe.  Made the chicken, made the uncooked sauce (much like pesto), made the pasta, combined into a heaping pile of deliciousness.  It saved lots of time, and we still had all of the tasty elements.  But I can vouch for the flavors of the Southern Italian Herbed Chicken.  You can find that recipe here or in Giada’s Feel Good Food.
  4. Green Chile Chicken (Pioneer Woman)… I used to swear by her Tequila Lime Chicken recipe, but I think there’s a chance that this is even better.  Maybe I would have to make them both in the same week so I could properly compare.  It’s a tough life.
  5. Bucatini All’Amatriciana with Spicy Smoked Mozzarella Meatballs (Giada De Laurentiis)… This one was not for the faint of heart.  There are multiple kinds of meat and cheese in the recipe.  Not a ton of veggies.  But.  It’s delicious.  So if you’re feeling like a bit of hearty Italian fare, you’ve found your recipe.  The flavors are rich and layered.  The pasta is a nice back-drop of simplicity for all of the richness.  It’s a winner.
  6. Thai-style Steak Salad (Serious Eats)… the only heresy I committed here was adding edamame to the salad.  It was nice to have the extra veggies in addition to all of those delicious herbs.  Lots of light, fresh flavor here.  Plus some steak so it isn’t too herby and light.  You would hate for it to be too light, you know? 🙂
  7. Cake!  The cake is important.  Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate (Giada again, because we like her).

fullsizerender-6The cake was probably my favorite food of the week.  Big surprise, right?  The chocolate cake base was simple to make (thanks to the use of a box mix as recommended), and then it got fancy after that.  I’m terrible at making caramel anything, but the caramelized hazelnut crunch element wasn’t a killer.  And then everything together was just amazing.  Mascarpone whipped cream?  WITH CRUNCHY CARAMELIZED HAZELNUTS?  Yes, I’m screaming because it was so good.  But the kicker was the orange-chocolate crumble on top.  It was so unexpected and wonderful.  Thank you, Giada!

Happy birthday, Scott.  I’m glad you have such fun food taste.  Now it’s time to eat some lentils and spinach and 15-minute meals.  Whew.

Niçoise Salad

At our house, we try to buy birthday gifts without going hog wild (read: we don’t to spend our life savings on birthday presents, not even for ourselves).  But there are still good things to be had for your birthday.  During birthday week, you get to pick the menu for dinner every night, you get to pick what we watch on tv, etc.  Any small life decisions for the week are yours.  It makes for a week that feels a little bit special and personal.

We started Scott’s birthday week last night with my first attempt at Niçoise Salad.  I didn’t quite use a recipe, which is the beauty of this salad.  There’s a traditional list of ingredients, but it’s pretty darn simple: hard-boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, small potatoes, and tuna with capers and olives sprinkled on top and a nice, strong viniagrette dressing (my favorite kind of dressing–heavy on the vinegar).

So you could read about what I did, but I like this post from Food52 a whole lot.  It’s what I used as a guide.  It gives you a bit of history about the dish, tells you what traditionally goes into it, and lets you figure out the details.

Asparagus looked better than green beans at our store, so that was the only real substitution I made.  And I guess I roasted the taters instead of boiling them.  I just really like roasted potatoes.

Here’s the official version from Food52:


photo taken by Linda Xiao for Food52

Here’s what mine looked like the next day in Tupperware (because this is real life):


The scary dark spots are either nice roasty parts of the potato or salad dressing.  I promise.

This salad is legit, guys.  It tastes awesome, it’s as good cold as warm (we ate it with potatoes right out of the oven last night, but everything else was room temperature), and it’s healthy.  I mean, you aren’t going to get all worried about those five tiny potatoes, are you?  Everything else is really super duper healthy.  There are so many good flavors.  Yum!  Oh, and don’t be intimidated by the suggestion that you could throw some anchovies on top.  I had some anchovy paste that I mixed into the dressing, but I could have left that out.

The super awesome thing about this?  The “composing” of the stripes makes it feel fancy.  And while the ingredients aren’t all kid-friendly, you could easily turn it into something kids would love.  Who doesn’t want striped dinner?  You could also do lots of these things ahead of time and then just put it together at the last minute.  Last but not least, I’m honestly kind of excited that I’ve found a way to use canned tuna that feels fresh and fancy.

Birthday week is off to a good start.

In unrelated news, at the ripe old age of 10 months, our kiddo likes kalamata olives, feta cheese, and roasted butternut squash.  I’m A) proud of him for his fancy preferences and B) concerned that I’m raising a child who will one day say something like, “I don’t think I can eat those mustard greens unless they’re locally sourced and organic.”  I hope I’m wrong.  I’m hoping I’ll raise a kid who loves good old peanut butter and jelly AND roasted butternut squash.  And maybe once in a while enjoys some locally sourced organic mustard green.

Zucchini Corn Fritters (A.K.A. Summer and Childhood and Nice Things)

In addition to chasing around a now-crawling baby, we’ve done some cooking this summer.  My (very local) farmer did some corn-growing, and we combined our efforts to cook some corn from the yard.  Lots of it.

One of my favorite recipes for this summer’s corn bounty was for zucchini corn fritters.  When I was a kid, we went to my grandma’s house for a few weeks  in the summer.  There were always a ton of fresh veggies at her house–corn and peas and tomatoes and cucumbers, oh my!

My very favorite of all the food was her drop cornbread, thus named because you drop it into the pan and cook it in blobs of tastiness.  It’s crispy and delicious in a way that other cornbread will never be.  It’s really the only cornbread that I love.

For some reason, I don’t ever make that cornbread.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a recipe for it.  It was just this grandma thing that existed in my childhood.

Until now.  [Cue happy music.]

These zucchini corn fritters are A) delicious, B) simple, and C) healthier than your typical pan-fried bread due to the addition of fresh corn and zucchini.  The zucchini wasn’t super obvious when mixed with all of the other ingredients, but I felt slightly virtuous as I ate the tasty bread.  I knew it had an extra dose of veggies inside, even if it tasted almost just like my grandma’s cornbread.  Winning all around, right?

img_4138Go get yourself some zucchini corn fritter recipe goodness here: recipe!

Don’t forget to get some spicy ketchup to go with it.  Spicy ketchup is perfect with these.  And with sweet potato fries.  And lots of other things.  You’ll like it.

Giada’s Green (and GOOD) Carbonara and Some Olive Oil Adventures

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First, I’m going to torture you with stories of my day.  Then I’ll point you towards super delicious food.  It looks like this: But before I get to the food… It was a nice day today.  I had a short … Continue reading

Toasted Quinoa and Peach Baby Food? Heck Yes!!

Okay, this is going to be quick between finishing a batch of delicious baby food and doing the next step of homemade yogurt (and doing all of the katrillion dishes that I created last night and this morning… sigh).

I had a problem.  Babies eat baby food, right?  Baby food in the store is all fruits and veggies, unless you buy the super ridiculously expensive stuff that includes oats or quinoa or rice and some protein (mung beans and chicken???).  My baby doesn’t need food that fancy.

But he does need protein and grains.  Our kid will eat everything, which is awesome.  The only thing he has turned down is baby rice cereal, and I can’t really blame him.  It’s pretty darn bland.  That means he just eats fruit and veggies by the pound these days.  I wanted to help him meet the awesome world of other food so maybe he won’t get so hungry between meals.

I tried pureed chicken and pureed salmon with peas.  Both sound gross to me, but he’s game.  But I hadn’t really found a way to sneak in grains.  Enter a baby food cookbook and today’s super successful experiment.

Generally, I feel awesome about this.  I like the way it tastes, and little man has a healthy grain option that won’t eat into his college savings (sale quinoa).

(I promise this blog won’t henceforth be a baby food cookbook.  Just this once.  Or maybe a few times.  I also made Korean barbecue burritos and a super delicious corn and poblano taco filling recently.  Don’t worry.)

Toasted Quinoa and Peach Puree


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 peach, peeled and cut into large chunks

How To

  1.  Rinse the quinoa under cold water, then drain well.  Transfer to a medium pan and toast over high heat 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until any excess water evaporates and the quinoa is slightly brown and begins to pop.  Slowly add 2 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer 30 minutes, or until tender.  If using a blender with a plastic container, let the quinoa cool before blending.*
  2. When the quinoa is cool (or hot, if your blender has a non-plastic container), put about half of it in the blender container.  Add peach and blend until smooth.  Add water until the mixture is your desired consistency (thicker if I was planning to feed it to little guy with a spoon, slightly thinner to go into a resealable food pouch).
  3. Put the delicious food into a serving/storage container and let your little person enjoy.
  4. Store the extra cooked quinoa for at-home dining (maybe with another veggie or a pureed meat option for baby).  I basically didn’t want to make a small serving, since this is a bit of a time commitment.  It’s like making awesome leftovers.  Why wouldn’t you?

*This step of the recipe is word for word (until the very last sentence) from page 47 of Healthy Eating for your Baby & Toddler by Renee Elliott.  Thank you, public library.  Thank you, Renee Elliott.  It seems like a good baby cookbook, although the ingredients are a bit exotic.  It’s a good starting point for figuring out how to create a balanced diet for a new person.  I’m planning to make the recipes a bit more low-key.  This recipe was originally mung beans with toasted quinoa.  I don’t have mung beans in my pantry.


Chalkboard Countertops

We recently had our master bathroom professionally remodeled, which was amazing.  Really amazing.  When someone says the demo in your bathroom was the worst they’ve seen in 15+ years of construction, you say, “Thanks for being here!” and count your lucky stars you weren’t doing the demo yourself.  Someday soon, when I master the use of a camera in tight spaces, I’ll share the pretty new bathroom with you.

The side-effect of that remodel is that I needed to repaint our main guest bathroom (lost a closet to make the master shower bigger, gained some new wallboard to replace the old closet door).  In the end, the need to repaint lit a fire under me.  I really wanted to do a few small, inexpensive things to finish the main guest bathroom.

If we live here for 20 more years, there’s a chance we’ll replace the green sink, toilet, and shower/bathtub.  But for the intervening years, we’ll be sticking with the existing fixtures (and matching tile around the sink area).  Lucky for me, I feel like I can work with avocado green.  It’s kind of nice once you take away the rust brown/purple/orange/green paisley that used to be all over the bathroom.

So a quick, almost free facelift for the bathroom was my goal.  In the end, I spent $27 and very little time.  Success!  I did a few small things you probably don’t care about (painted a few things, switched out the brass towel bar for four small silver hooks).  But the big switcheroo was the countertop.

The countertop used to look like this:


Honestly, I didn’t hate it.  I just thought that we could do better (for free).  I was looking for something that would look a little bit less 70’s next to the green tile/sink.  My dream project was thin layers of concrete on top of the linoleum.  It looks like a really cool project, and I’d like to try it sometime.  But I couldn’t do that without uninstalling and reinstalling the trim and sink.  I was pretty sure that would cause significant damage to something (since I’m not a pro by any means).  Which would cost money.  So that was out.

Enter the leftover primer from our other bathroom.  And some painter’s tape.  And sandpaper.  And last but not least, some spare chalkboard paint.  Maybe it’s bad that we had all of those things around the house.  I think it’s great though.  We can do projects any old time.  No money was actually spent on this project.

First the sanding happened.


It was such a small space that it only took 20-ish minutes.

Then there was taping.


It looks less “sanded” there because I washed it off.  It’s just slightly less shiny than the original surface.

The taping around the sink wasn’t perfect, because I’m not really a meticulous prepper.  Oops.  I had a plan for the aftermath of that.

So sanded, check.  Taped, check.  Then came priming.


And finally, the fun part–actual painting with chalkboard paint.  I picked a nice, normal paintbrush instead of a roller.  Mostly, I picked the paintbrush because I was cheap.  I knew I would have to paint the layers over a few days, I’m terrible at washing out rollers, and I didn’t want to pay for more than one roller for such a small project.  Paintbrush to the rescue.

It was so quick to paint each layer despite not using the fastest tool.  Maybe 15 minutes per coat.  I tried to stick to brushstrokes in one direction at a time (all horizontal one time, all vertical the next), and it ended up creating this nice linen-ish texture in the end.  On top of the already quite thick texture of the countertops.  Plenty of texture on this counter, believe me.

What I didn’t factor in was the final untaping.  It ripped up some of the paint, and I had to do touch-ups with the world’s tiniest paintbrush.  You can see that fun part here:


After the painting (three layers) and the touch-up, there was A) a happy sigh, and B) a chance to admire the smooth black finish of the counter.  There was also a chance to use a razor blade to scrape paint off of the metal trim where the taping wasn’t perfect.  It worked pretty well.  Around the edges, the trim was curved and such, so I used sandpaper to get rid of the paint.  The sandpaper/razor combo did the trick really well.  It turns out there are nice things about metal trim around your sink and tile.  You can scrape and sand and still have good trim in the end.


Yay!  Better.

Which just left treating it like a chalkboard–rubbing a layer of chalk all over the countertop, washing it off, and going on with my merry life.


Sometimes I leave it blank, and it looks at least 5% like soapstone.


Sometimes I use it like an actual chalkboard.


It might be unusual, and it might not be the exact color scheme I would pick on my own.  But I like it.  And it was free.  And I think I could happily live with it for 20 years.  Maybe 25 years.  What more could you ask?

P.S.  I’ve read on other blogs that people have done this same thing in bathrooms and on kitchen countertops.  It is reported to hold up well, so I wasn’t too worried about trying it out.  This particular countertop doesn’t see a lot of hard use, so how bad could it be?  So far so good (a few weeks in).



Really Good Burritos + Too Many Options

Most days, I have a very clear plan between baby naps and errands and stuff that has to be done by the end of that day no matter what.  Today is not like that.

Today, I have a million projects that I could do, but there isn’t a single project that I really have to get done.  And thus, Peanut and I are feeling kind of the same.  Like this:


Like maybe the best thing to do is lie down in the middle of the floor and hope no one steps too close while you’re napping.  I get that this is an awesome problem, by the way.  I’m trying to fully enjoy the dilemma and the fact that it gives me time to blog today.

Before I join Peanut, I’m going to share a great recipe that I tried out last week.  It’s from The Kitchn, and it is officially called Baked Black Bean and Avocado Burritos.  Why is this recipe awesome?  Well, it tastes really good.  That’s the most important thing.  The second most important thing is that the prep is easy, and it can be mostly made ahead of time.


Photo by Kimberley Hasselbrink

That means I made dinner during noon baby nap, then it was magically ready at 7 the second Tuck’s head hit his crib mattress for bedtime.  Seriously, it was like magic.  Not everything is delicious when you put it together 7 hours early.

One more note.  I added meat.  I do that a lot–pick good vegetarian recipes and throw in some meat.  It means there’s a focus on non-meat elements of the meal, but my meat-hungry family is happy.  It’s a winning strategy lots of times.  With no further ado, enjoy!

Baked Black Bean and Avocado Burritos

Makes 8-10 burritos

  • 1 lb. ground chicken, turkey, or beef (I used beef, but I think I’ll branch out next time)
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely minced (more if you want heat, not just flavor… I used 4 and it had some decent bite)
  • 1 cup light or regular sour cream
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 medium avocados, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 8-10 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack
  • Optional: cumin, salt, and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Brown the meat in a pan until cooked through, crumbling with a wooden spoon along the way.  I threw in some cumin, salt, and pepper at this point.  I would guess it was about 1 teaspoon of cumin.  Do what feels right.  I like cumin a lot, so I might have used more than that.

Combine chipotle and sour cream in a bowl. Add the beans and corn to the sour cream mixture and stir until well combined.  Stir in the browned meat, then gently stir in the avocado.

Working one at a time, spoon the bean mixture down the center of each tortilla.  Roll the tortillas closed and place seam-side down in the prepared baking dish. You might find that your baking dish is too small (I did).  If that’s true, grab an 8×8″ pan, spray it with cooking spray, and finish the folding in that dish.  Spoon the salsa over the tortillas and top with the shredded cheese. Cover and bake 20 minutes until cheese is melted and burritos are warmed through.

If you’re making these ahead of time, just stop before you get to the salsa and add salsa and cheese later.  Presto.  We loved the leftovers from these, too.

And now, I will consider reorganizing our desperately messy cabinets or maybe the also desperately messy pantry.  Or I could actually join Peanut.