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.