Archive for the ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Category

I miss a WHOLE LOT about living in Chicago, but one of the top three things is having easy access to a broad array of markets & stores catering to all kinds of nationalities besides white bread American. You can keep your Trader Joe’s & your Whole Paycheck – give me a decent Korean/Polish/Caribbean supermarket & I will cook you under the table on half the money. I’d been making trips to Maryland to get my squishy tea bun fix, but last year, a new Asian market opened across the river in Lancaster. We are now less than half an hour away from house made tofu, fifteen varieties of soy sauce, & every other ingredient I’ve been missing. To be fair, this level of shopping really doesn’t fall under the #eatlocal banner when just about everything is shipped in from overseas, so I don’t rely on it, but it is a delicious & economical indulgence that I am taking full advantage of.


Chinese Chive & Faux Pork Dumplings

Yields about 3 dozen

36+ frozen dumpling skins/wonton skins/gyoza wrappers, defrosted

1/2 c cold water

2 t corn starch

Keep your dumpling skins wrapped, but put them out to bring to room temperature. Mix cold water & corn starch until fully combined & set aside. Have ready a sheet pan, a few damp paper towels, & a small, clean paintbrush.

Appx 1/2 pound Chinese chives

Rinse chives & chop into 1/2 inch lengths, discarding the thick root ends. Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil, add 1 t salt & the chives & stir. Cook 1 minute, just to blanch the greens, & strain, rinsing the chives under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain thoroughly, squeezing out as much moisture as you can to prevent a soggy filling.

1/2 c dried TVP

1/2 c boiling water (use the chive water if you’re organized enough to save some)

1 T hoisin sauce

2 T soy sauce

1 t sugar

2 t toasted sesame oil

A few dashes of rice vinegar

A squirt of sriracha

Combine TVP, boiling water, & seasonings in a heat proof bowl, stir to combine, & cover with a plate to keep the steam in while the TVP rehydrates. After 6-8 minutes, stir & add the chives. Taste for seasoning – you want a nice tasty filling, so add a bit of salt & more sriracha if it tastes a little flat.

1 t corn starch, more as needed

Add 1 t corn starch to your filling & combine. If your filling is really juicy, add a second teaspoon to help thicken things up.


To fill & shape dumplings (right handers):

Stir up your corn starch water with your brush, & put it to your right on your work surface. Unwrap your dumpling skins, cover them lightly with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out as you work, & put them to your left. Place your bowl of filling in front of you, & your clean sheet pan in easy reach.

Cup a dumpling skin in your left hand & paint a little corn starch water around the edge to help your dumpling seal. Put about 2 t filling in the center of your dumpling skin – the amount will vary depending on the size of your wrapper. Fold your wrapper over into a half moon shape & press to seal, easing out any trapped air. Fold & firmly pinch the edges into 4-5 pleats, & place your happy little dumpling on the sheet tray under another damp paper towel. Repeat until you run out of either filling or dumpling skins!

Here’s a quick IG video that SB took while I was making dumplings last night that should help you visualize the process.

At this point, you can cook your dumplings right away, wrap & chill them for a few hours until you’re ready, or freeze them for later – slide the whole pan in the freezer until your dumplings are frozen solid, then transfer them to a ziploc bag or freezer-safe container.

To cook your dumplings, you can boil them in a wide saute pan until tender, steam them over boiling water, or do potstickers, which is my favorite:

Heat 3 T oil in a wide saute pan over medium high heat until the oil shimmers, then carefully place 10-12 dumplings into the pan. Fry undisturbed until the bottoms are golden brown, then carefully add about 1/4 c cold water to the pan & quickly cover with a lid. Let the dumplings cook undisturbed until the water has steamed off. Flip the dumplings & let them brown slightly on the other side before transferring to a plate.

Eat dumplings hot with friends & some good dumpling sauce! (Eat the sauce, not your friends. Unless your friends are into that, I don’t know.)

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Yeah. I know. I’m reviving a four-years-latent blog. Shut up.

Leek & Feta Bourek

Yields one 12-inch bourek, enough for a modest dinner/healthy lunch for 4

8 ounces phyllo pastry sheets, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator & brought to room temperature

2 T unsalted butter

2 T olive oil

1 pound leeks, washed & sliced thinly

1/2 t salt

1 T dried oregano

2 t smoked paprika

2 cloves garlic, crushed

4 c baby spinach leaves, chopped roughly

Ground pepper to taste

8 ounces feta, crumbled (use full fat if you can, it’s absolutely worth it)

For assembly:

3 T unsalted butter, melted

3 T olive oil


Preheat oven to 375F, & oil a 12-inch round pan – I used a cake pan, but you can use anything oven-safe with a solid bottom (no springforms/tart pans) at least 1 inch deep.

Heat the butter & oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, & add the leeks & salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until the leeks are very soft & starting to gently brown, about 10 minutes. Add the seasonings & spinach, lower the heat a little, & stir & cook until the spinach is wilted. The mixture should be moist, but not wet – if there’s a lot of moisture in the pan, raise the heat again & cook off some of it for a minute or two. Transfer leek mixture to a bowl & let cool 10 minutes before adding the feta & stirring gently just to combine. Add pepper to taste.

Unwrap & unroll the defrosted phyllo & cover it immediately with a layer of moist paper towels or a damp tea towel – keep it covered at all times or it will dry out & split & be a complete pain in the butt. Combine the melted butter & oil & have ready a large soft pastry brush. Arrange the prepared baking pan in easy reach, with the phyllo, oil/butter, & filling at the ready.

Place one sheet of phyllo horizontally on your work surface & quickly brush with oil & butter – it doesn’t have to be sopping, just a few generous swipes with the brush. Spread about 3 T of filling in a rough line along the bottom of the phyllo – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Add another sheet of phyllo to cover the first, & brush this one with oil & butter as well.

Working gently & quickly, start at the bottom edge & roll the phyllo into a cylinder, enclosing the filling. Coil it into a spiral & place it in the center of your prepared pan. Continue with more phyllo & filling, continuing the spiral to fill the pan – you should use all the phyllo & filling, so pack things in firmly.

When you’ve filled the pan & run out of phyllo & filling, gently brush the remaining oil over the top of your bourek & slide it in the oven. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until very golden brown with no pale doughy spots left in the phyllo. Cool on a rack for ten minutes or so before serving, cut into wedges. Bourek is super good with a fresh crunchy salad & some olives.

You can totally experiment with other fillings – finely chopped mushrooms, ground meat/TVP, fresh herbs, harissa paste, leftover mashed potatoes, go nuts!



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OK, you know what? I’m not even going to apologize for the months it’s been since an update, nor for the crappy phone pictures on this post. This hummus is THAT GOOD.

Hot damn!

I’ve had this idea for a sweet potato-based hummus rolling around in my head for a while, but nothing came of it til this afternoon. I’ve been making jam all day, the kitchen is destroyed, it’s hot as balls, & oh hey, what’s for dinner?

We do a lot of what I call pick-a-nibble dinners in the summer – sort of a poor man’s mezze, salad & steamed veggies & a bit of cheese & whatever else I can throw together with a minimum of cooking. Tonight, J’s making guacamole, because he is amazing. We’ll have greens, steamed cold potatoes with parsley, a tin of oil-packed sardines, & this gorgeous hummus.

If you have pre-cooked chickpeas & a microwave, this goes together in a snap, with virtually no heat. Winning!

Sweet & steamy

Ethiopian Style Hummus

Makes about 3 cups

1 large sweet potato

1-3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 t salt

1 16-oz can/about 1 1/2 c cooked chick peas

1/2 c hummus (Soom brand is my absolute favorite)

3 T lemon juice

1 T Berbere seasoning (find it at The Spice House, along with lots of other amazing spices)

1 t ground ginger

1 roasted red pepper from a jar

Water as needed

Using a sharp knife, stab your sweet potato a few times, nice & deep, & microwave according to your machine’s instructions for a standard baked potato – mine cooked for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, grind the garlic & salt until finely chopped. Add the rest of the ingredients save the water.

When your sweet potato is nice & soft, cut it in half & scoop out the flesh into your food processor, using a large spoon. Hold your potato in a dish towel so you don’t burn your fingers!

Process just to combine, then add about 1/4 c of water. Process continually for about 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides & add more water as needed so the mixture moves smoothly in the bowl. Look for a nice smooth, gently fluffy texture & a gorgeous orange color. Add a pinch more salt if you like, then serve warm, or chill until needed.

Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips, or warm naan.

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I’m going to be honest here – as much as I love the produce that comes with summer in the garden, the heat can go take a flying leap. It saps my energy, my appetite, & my creativity. All I want to do is sit in the A/C & watch Firefly…

But, life goes on & boys need to be fed, so after much whining on my part & the promise of a beer when I finish this post, here’s this week’s lineup:

We’ll be doing the Okonomiyaki tomorrow, by the looks of things – it was just too hot to fuss with the stove for the past few days. Thankfully a storm system’s rolling in, & we should have our appetites back by Saturday night.

I’ve got half a bag of quinoa leering at me from the pantry, so I’ll do Baked Haddock with Corny Quinoa & sauteed greens for our fish meal.

Avocadoes are gorgeous right now, & while I can eat them right out of the shell, Avocado, Tofu, Lettuce & Tomato Sandwiches sound even better. I’ll do the tofu along the same lines as last week’s, but cut thinner & baked longer for a bacony type texture.

Time for another round of Zucchini Feta Pancakes!

J is out of town for a few nights later in the week, & I’m thinking C & I will have a special dinner out – sushi, if he has his way. Not that I’m inclined to argue… C & I also need to get more quick lunch ideas rolling around – I normally eat leftovers when I’m home by myself, but a certain growing boy likes something a bit more interesting. Thinking of keeping some hummus, flatbreads, hardboiled eggs & different finger veggies on hand to supplement our standard cheese sticks, yoghurts, fruit, bagels & peanut butter snacking…

Keepers of Small Persons, what do your kids like to eat for lunch?


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Alright, let’s fire it up! Some classics & some crazy new stuff this week…

We’ll do another round of home made pizza (last week’s impromptu pie with fresh mozzarella & basil was awesome), & our ubiquitous baked fish/oven fries/steamed veg dinner (mahi mahi this week). I didn’t do Too Hot to Cook Salad last week, so we’ll try it again, but over corn chips with avocadoes diced over the top by request.

New stuff:

Greek Faux Meatballs with Roasted/Grilled Veg & Orzo  (We use a great soy meat substitute for the times we really want that taste & texture, bolstered with fresh onions & spinach & herbs & pan fried into tasty meatballs. I’ll grab a few squash & peppers at market & throw them under the broiler or on the grill as the weather dictates.)

Coronation Tofu Salad on crusty rolls with salad (Coronation chicken is one of those classic English/Indian hybrid dishes that gets trotted out for posh dinner parties & whatnot. I’ve revamped it to go easier on the mayo, bigger on the spices, & sub extra firm tofu for the chicken. Makes a delicious cold salad for sandwiches, or stuffed in vol au vents…)

Okonomiyaki with brown rice & fried eggs (Technically winter ingredients, but I stumbled across this recipe & now can’t think of anything else.)

C & I have some fun & tasty treats planned for J for Father’s Day – if it all turns out, I’ll take pictures. Provided it lasts that long…

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I hesitated to even write this entry, as my dinner plan for this coming week is comprised of a ton of stuff from last week. Sometimes our house runs like a well-oiled if slightly cluttered machine… and other weeks it comes off the rails ever so slightly. This has been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible to report, just… well, life

C graduated from kindergarten this morning, which means summer vacation has officially arrived. We’re purposely not scheduling him for a ton of stuff this summer, being firm believers in boredom as a catalyst for really awesome moments of self discovery & imagination. Ask me a month from now how that’s going, having him underfoot 24/7…

It does mean that I’ll have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, so I’m starting to brainstorm some dinners that C can help put together. For Christmas, I got him a nylon chef’s knife & one of Mollie Katzen’s excellent cookbooks written especially for children, so we’ll start there. He’s also a pretty dab hand at putting pizzas together & chopping veg, so I’m sure we’ll find lots of cool stuff to make as the summer heats up.

Meanwhile, this week’s list includes the Hoisin Tofu & Broccoli & Tuna with Nori Rice from last week, plus a re-heat on the excellent Black Bean Chili – I might do it casserole-style with a layer of cornbread baked over the top, if I can stand firing up the oven.

I won’t make it to the farmers’ market tomorrow (final soccer game of the season, if you must know), so the rest of the week will be light on new produce… I found a tub of home-made faux bolognese sauce in the freezer, so we’ll do Baked Polenta, Lasagne-Style, with some leftover spinach sauteed & layered with the sauce & cheese. There are lots of odds & ends in the crisper drawer that will make their way into a variation on Too-Hot-to-Cook Salad, & I suspect we’ll fire up the grill for not-dogs & burgers if we can dodge the scattered thunderstorms forecast for much of the week.

Not exactly a sexy installment of What’s for Dinner, but really, this is what it’s all about – not having exotic new dishes every night, but cooking with purpose. Sometimes the purpose is to have fun & try crazy new things. Sometimes it’s just to get through the week without resorting to dry cereal & peanut butter out of the jar.


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A little late this week, as we had a ton of leftover Indian food to eat. Oh drag…  The weather’s gone nice & clear & cool again, so I’m firing up the oven & indulging in some heavier dishes while we can…

Tonight: Curried Toasted Orzo with Summer Squash & Chick Peas. A room temperature kind of dish, using up the squash ends from last week & miscellaneous roasted peppers/sauteed spinach/onions/feta. I toast the orzo in a wide dry skillet before cooking it, a trick I picked up from my line cooks back in the day.

Later in the week, in no particular order:

Panko-Crusted Tuna with Nori Rice (never did make this last week, so it gets bumped back in rotation)

Black Bean Chili with warm tortillas, cheese & avocados. Leftovers get frozen for future lazy nights…

Breakfast for Dinner, featuring eggs any style, oven fried potatoes, faux sausage links & my famous Roasted Mushrooms & Tomatoes (so easy, so amazingly good)

Mushroom & Herb Tart with salad & crusty bread, a quiche-type thing that leaves enough for lunch the next day

Tofu in Hoisin Sauce with Basmati Rice (better than take-out!)

Have a great week, everyone!


PS: Last week’s Purple Fried Rice with Tofu & Vegetables was AMAZING. I promise pictures & a blog post next time I make it.

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Alright, kids, here’s the first official installment of What’s for Dinner! The weather’s turned hot & humid, so all my warm-weather standards suddenly sound a lot more appetizing than they did last week.

Tonight: Zucchini & Feta Pancakes, using summer squash from last week’s trip to market. Serving them with steamed potatoes & leftover spaghetti sauce from the other night. This is an awesome summer supper, & I’ll blog the recipe soon.

Tomorrow: Home-made Pizza.

Sunday: Veggie dogs & burgers on the grill, with red potato salad. Because hey, it’s Memorial Day weekend.

The rest of the week’s dinners, in no particular order:

Purple Fried Rice with Tofu & Vegetables. Penderbrook’s at market has started carrying some hard-to-find dry goods, including an awesome purple short grain rice. I bought a bag on impulse a few weeks ago, so it’s time to make it happen. The vegetables will be the odds & ends from the crisper drawer…

Felafel with Cucumber & Tomato Salad, warm pita bread & tahini yoghurt sauce. It’s still a little early for local cucumbers & tomatoes, but I’m willing to make an exception thanks to a sudden & severe craving for felafel.

Panko-Crusted Tuna with Nori Rice & steamed asparagus. I’ve got tuna in the freezer from last week, & the local asparagus has been gorgeous. Nori Rice is just cooked brown rice tossed with a crumbled sheet of toasted nori seaweed & a few shakes of soy sauce.

We’ve got soccer practice this week, so Wednesday night will be sandwiches & bananas & whatever else we can shove in our mouths in the 20 minutes we have before running out the door. I’ll make sure to get more fruit & yoghurt tomorrow so we can do smoothies on the fly, too.

So, what are you making for dinner?

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You know you’re getting really old when you start meal planning, right? In my mind, that’s something old age pensioners did, a habit picked up during The War & never discarded. Fish on Fridays, lamb on Tuesdays, each meal carefully choreographed to make every last penny of groceries count. My mum did it, too, mapping out the week’s menu in her steno book in what seemed to 15-year-old me the ultimate expression of middle-age stodginess.

When I moved out on my own, I cooked what I felt like eating, when I felt like eating it. Meringues for supper at 9 o’clock at night? Sure! Pasta with butter & pepper for the third dinner in a row? What the hell! Daikon radishes & cheese for lunch, because that’s all that’s left in the fridge? Um, yay?…

Needless to say, 20 years later, with a son & husband relying on me for regular sustenance, I’ve come around to the whole idea of meal planning. For a long time, I’d take the whatever-looks-good approach when I went shopping, & figure out what to do with it when I got home. This was fine at the height of summer, when beautiful produce piles in hand over fist & there’s a veritable rainbow from which to choose.

But by the middle of winter, I’d find myself cooking the same few meals over & over again. Dinnertime would come & I’d have no idea what to make & we’d be so hungry, we’d just order out. And inevitably I’d find a bag of furry green beans/block of questionable tofu/semi-liquefied zucchini buried in the back of the fridge that I’d bought on a whim & totally forgotten. For our sanity & for the sake of our food budget, something had to change. With a shred of reluctance, I decided to start planning out our meals each week.

My goal was to make a list of 5-6 dinners that used as many ingredients that we already had in-house as possible, that took into account seasonal produce above nearly all else, & that got us a wide variety of tasty, healthy dishes we’d all eat. This meant finding something to do with that big bag of couscous in the back of the pantry, not making bell pepper-laden chili in the middle of November, & no more weekly fish stick dinners.

Did I feel like a doddering old lady when I first started? Oh yes. Did I feel like a bit of a prat at the grocery store, my shopping list in hand, passing over gorgeous but out-of-season strawberries for sensible cauliflower & sweet potatoes? You bet I did. Did we notice a difference in how well we were eating, & how much less it was costing us? Can I get a hell yes?!

My first step was to make a list of all the dinners that I knew I could make with my eyes closed, that fit the above criteria. Then I hauled out my favorite cookbooks & added things that I’d been meaning to make more often but that usually slipped under the radar. This became my Master List, & it lives on the fridge.

Each Friday evening, I grab a Post-It & rifle through the fridge & pantry & take stock of what we already have in the house. Then I see what I can make with it, drawing from The List & from my trusty cookbooks. Once I have my menu for the week planned out, I make my shopping lists – one for the farmers’ market, one for the grocery store. On a good day, the whole process takes 15-20 minutes.

I’m not so far gone as to plot the actual days we’ll eat certain things, but I make a point to arrange some fast dinners for soccer nights, longer-cooking dishes for when I know I’ll be able to get a head-start before the boys get home. I plan one fish-based meal & one tofu-based meal a week, & aim for something green every night. Home-made pizza is usually a given, & I try to make a soup or stew that can be frozen for emergency/lazy nights later in the month.

I can honestly say that we are eating much, much better than we were a year ago. We’re spending a lot less on groceries, with a lot less waste, & aren’t doing the desperation-dinner-out dance nearly as much as we used to. Yes, I still sometimes find wrinkly old carrots hiding in the back of the crisper drawer, & the Thai place round the corner still knows us by name. But I made vegetarian shepherd’s pie for the first time in ages the other week, with rough-mashed red potatoes. It was pretty damn tasty…

So, in the spirit of community & sharing the minutiae of our lives, I’ll be posting our What’s for Dinner list each week. Feel free to post your own lists, too – never too many good ideas…

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