Comfort food for these cooler fall days

Fall is officially here, hard as that is to accept. This summer felt like it passed far too quickly; typically, by August I begin to long for football, soup, sweaters, and jeans. This year, however, those days seemed to arrive before I even had a chance to miss them.

The sudden change in seasons still has me reeling; I never finished my fall cleaning, we just closed the pool, the sweaters made a reluctant appearance last week, and I am struggling with what to put on the dinner table these days because I’m not ready to be finished with grilling season, but a) my propane tank is empty and I keep forgetting to get it refilled, and b) it’s too cold to walk out on the deck in my flip-flops to actually do the grilling.

I’ve had a harder time than usual this year making the transition between warm weather food and comfort food. My family seems to be on the same page; my presentation of comfort foods on the dinner table over the past few weeks was met with far more grumbling than usual. I’ve struggled with ideas and patience and ambition. My annual rush to use all of the pumpkin in all of the things seems to be missing. (Not to worry, friends: I’ve still consumed a healthy amount of PSL’s. Gotta keep Starbucks in business!)

Perhaps it’s because of my lack of enthusiasm for the change in seasons, my enthusiasm for dinner preparations has been lacking in much the same way. I’ve used my tried-and-true comfort food recipes, hoping to be lured into the season by stick-to-your-ribs, hearty meals, but so far it’s been to no avail. I’ve served meatloaf, roast beef and potatoes, cheeseburger soup, chili, chicken noodle soup, cream of mushroom soup, pork chops, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and more. But it seems my boys were not interested in my attempts to ease us into fall gracefully. And, honestly, nor was I, until just this past weekend, when we finally settled in and welcomed fall with a friend’s delicious pot pie, a batch of clam chowder, and some chili on Saturday; and on Sunday, leftover soup for lunch and a “game day spread” for dinner, consisting of crispy oven-baked chicken wings and a roast beef crescent roll ring with some raw veggies.

Cooking for five, you’re always guaranteed to have one person who’s unsatisfied with what’s on the table. It’s a law of parenthood. But most of these meals are typically the tried-and-true in our house, so the general lack of interest has led me to believe it’s more seasonal adjustment than rejection of my meal plans. I’m hoping to get my dinner prep mojo back soon, and get ahead with freezer meals that allow me to have a backup plan on hand for those nights when I really don’t have any idea what to cook.

I love making new meals from the leftovers of another meal. For instance, roast beef presents a couple of options: roast beef is a great addition to vegetable soup- just dump in a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies, your leftover beef, and some beef stock. Or, my personal favorite was the recipe of a friend of my grandmother’s: shred the beef in a food processor and add a bit of chopped onion and mayo. And, BAM! sandwich spread. (I love to toast my bread, top with some swiss cheese, and pop in the toaster oven for a minute).

Last weekend we smoked a whole chicken on Ryan’s electric smoker. On a night last week when we were rushing out the door to make it to Sesame Street Live, I pulled some of the leftover chicken off the bone and sauteed it with cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. I sprinkled cheese over flour tortillas, added the chicken, and served chicken quesadillas with sour cream and salsa. After the show, when everyone needed a little extra something, I sauteed sweet peppers and onions with the same seasonings, added in the chicken, and gave Ryan fajitas for dinner.

The last time we made the same smoked chicken, I pulled the leftovers and put them on a flour tortilla with Buffalo Wild Wings Parm Garlic sauce and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese to make a wrap.

We aren’t big leftovers fans in this house, so being creative with what is leftover and making new meals from it is one of my most fun challenges. I don’t love throwing food away.

When we get close to the end of our produce (either it’s getting close to its life expectancy, or there’s just not enough left to use for much of anything,) Ryan and I are huge fans of a stir-fry. Broccoli, carrots, zucchini, peas, peppers…whatever. And of course a bag of frozen stir fry veggies works just as well, or even better on a time crunch. Toss it in a pan with some chicken or beef, (you could definitely use shrimp or pork if you have it, or go totally meatless) and drizzle with a stir fry sauce (either store bought or homemade with soy sauce, water, garlic, and ginger and a tablespoon of cornstarch). Serve over rice- or cooked pasta- and you have a quick and easy meal. Of course, that plan crashed and burned terribly at our house tonight when all three kids refused to eat it, but most nights they will at least pick at it.

Send help and your best recipes, friends.





I Don’t Want Your Leftovers!

Last week, I was on a pretty good roll, dinner-wise.  It’s sort of a no-brainer some weeks: just cook Hubby’s favorites for 5 or 6 or 7 days in a row and he’s a happy guy: meatloaf, crispy ranch chicken, pork tenderloin on the grill, scrambled steak over mashed potatoes.  Now that I’ve run through all his best dinners though, I’m out of new ideas.  And I have a fridge-full of leftovers.  Hubby is not a leftovers guy.  Now what?

For the most part, my time off is affording me the ability to devour last night’s leftovers while I lounge in front of the TV all day, so I have been able to control things a bit that way.  And strategically planning the meals that will afford the most leftovers for the weekends has helped a bit also.  For instance, Saturday Nicole and I hit the outlets all day, and Andrea was hosting a party at her house in the evening.  Since I knew dinnertime would be a really big rush, I had put a roast together on Friday afternoon for the crock pot.  When we got our first crock pot several years ago, my mom bought me Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook as a gift, and I found this recipe inside that’s now my go-to for a quick and easy roast dinner:

1 pound medium red potatoes, cut into fouths
1 cup baby-cut carrots
3- pound beef boneless chuck roast
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cup beef broth
Arrange potatoes and carrots in a 3-1/2-to 6 quart slow cooker.  Trim excess fat from beef.  Mix mustard, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper; spread evenly over beef.  Place beef in slow cooker.  Sprinkle onion over beef.  Pour broth evenly over beef and vegetables.  Cover and cook on low hear setting 8-10 hours or until beef and vegetables are tender.  
Remove beef and vegetables from cooker; using slotted spoon.  Place 0n serving platter.  Skim fat from beef juices in cooker if desired.  Serve beef with juices.

For just the two of us, a roast is way too much for one meal.  This is where planning it for the weekend was, well, kinda genius.  See, what we did then on Sunday was to make that leftover roast into hot beef sandwiches.  When we ate Saturday night we were in a real rush so we just kind of fished around in the pot for what we wanted.  Then when I put it away, I separated everything into different containers: one for the meat, one for the ‘taters and carrots, and one for the juices.  Sunday at lunchtime, I just emptied the juice into a pan and heated it, then whisked in a smooth paste of water and flour to make fresh, homemade gravy and shredded some beef on bread and spread the gravy over it.  My husband says it’s restaurant-worthy.

This evening, Janelle and her daughter came over for dinner.  The fare was spaghetti and meatballs, which leaves opportunity for meatball subs later in the week.  That sounds like an awful lot of sandwiches for one household, and I guess it kind of is.  But for weeks when we have lots going on, it works out pretty well to be able to create brand-new meals- even if they’re just quick’n’easy- from what I’ve already cooked.  Tomorrow night, Ryan starts back into Tuesday night RC racing, so he’ll be out late.  Also, his work schedule is getting kind of crazy right now, so being able to have something on hand that’ll be easy to throw together makes both our lives much easier.  Once some of the stuff in the fridge gets cleared out, I’ll be able to start over again with some fresh meals and a clean slate.


Till then,