Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Market Inspired Alternative Meal Plan to Let's Move's Let's Cook

Photo credit, Chicago Tribune, from an article about Monday's Chefs in the Classroom Event

Since my critique of the Let's Cook series on the White House's Let's Move website, I've posted several delicious meal plans from guest bloggers. It's now my turn.

In the past, to create a meal plan, I would scour through magazines and cookbooks on a Friday night searching for inspiration. Saturday, I would shop, both at farmers’ markets (during the season) and the grocery store for the staples not available at the market. This year changed all that. As a member of two CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), my menu is defined by what arrives in my produce box from Harvest Moon Organics and what meat is in the freezer from my monthly pick up from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, a meat CSA. We still go to the market and the grocery store, but that’s just to fill in around what’s already here. As I’ve written before, it’s a very comforting way to plan a menu.

I served the following meals late in September, a particularly good week for my kitchen. With few evening meetings, we were home for dinner every night that week – a rare occurrence. I think it’s a terrific set of dinners for early autumn.

You'll likely notice that there’s something missing from my meal plan that you may want to reincorporate for your family: bread, pasta, and potatoes. My husband adheres to a low carb diet after his doctor strongly recommended it for the health of his heart. He has a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol and a severely bad back prevents him from vigorous exercise. We don’t go crazy, so you’ll see breadcrumbs, legumes and other starchy ingredients here, but we have tried to excise all of the simple carbs from our daily routine. Well, except one, nobody’s given up wine around here.

I suggest setting aside a few hours on Sunday, whatever time is good for you, to prep for the rest of the week’s meals. Much of this Sunday time is unattended, so you could read a book, help your kid with their homework, play a game, or watch television while you’re getting ready for a week full of delicious, nutritious meals.


1. In the morning, soak a pound dried chickpeas by covering them with water in a large bowl.
2. At any point at least an hour before dinner, start making your meat mixture to stuff in the peppers for Sunday’s supper. You’ll use the remaining mix to make Meat Loaf for a meal later in the week.
3. Cook the hollowed out green peppers in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove with tongs and drain. Add ½ pound of trimmed green beans. Cook for 2 minutes and then remove to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking immediately. Set the peppers in a pan ready for stuffing. Wrap the green beans in paper towels then package in a container and refrigerate.
4. While the Stuffed Peppers and Meat Loaf are baking, prepare the Moussaka up until the point at which it goes in the oven.
5. Cook the chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a large saucepan. Cover with about 1 ½ inches of water and add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, skimming any foam that rises to the top (you don’t have to be obsessive about this). Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Let cool then package the chickpeas in their cooking liquid and refrigerate.

Stuffed Peppers/Meat Loaf
Makes 1 loaf and 4 stuffed peppers

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 ½ pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 large eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
Freshly ground pepper
4 large green peppers, blanched
6 slices bacon

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened approximately 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Whisk the eggs slightly in a large bowl. Mix in the sautéed vegetables. Add the pork, beef, salt, parsley, ketchup, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper. Combine with your hands, being careful not to overmix.

Slice off the first ¼-inch top of the stem of each pepper. Remove the ribs and seeds. Slice off a small bit of the bottom so that it will sit flat. Sit the peppers into a 9-inch round baking pan. Press half of the mixture into a standard metal, glass or ceramic loaf pan. Lay two slices of bacon on top of the meat. Scoop the remaining meat loaf into the green peppers. Halve each of the remaining slices of bacon and lay on top of the peppers.Set each pan onto the center rack.

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the meat reaches 165° F. Let it sit for 10 minutes while the cauliflower is roasting. Serve the peppers on Sunday. Let the meat loaf cool and then wrap in aluminum foil. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze. You can serve the leftovers either at room temperature or reheated.

Roast Cauliflower
Serves 4

1 large cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Increase the oven temperature to 400° F. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on a 9 by 13 baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.

Braised Green Beans with Tomato and Onion
Serves 4

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
1/2 tomato, chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet with a cover. Add onion and cook until slightly softened, approximately 3 minutes. Dump in green beans, tomato, and 1 tablespoon water. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the green beans have softened. Season with salt to taste.


Serves 4 with leftovers

I prepare the Moussaka and prebake it on Sunday night so that all I have to do on Monday, usually a busy day, is heat the oven, brown the Moussaka, and make a green salad.

1 large eggplant
1 pound ground lamb
Approximately ¼-cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 teaspoon dried oregano
12 ounces tomato puree
½ cup red wine
½ stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm milk
pinch nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 large eggs
5 grinds freshly ground pepper
1/3 pound grated goat cheddar or mozzarella (substitute cows milk mozzarella, if you can't find the goat variety)

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Set them in a colander and sprinkle with approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let the eggplant drain for 1/2 hour.

Cook the ground lamb in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium high heat until it just loses its pink color. Add onions and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, tomato puree, red wine and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 1/2 hour. Remove from the heat.

Wipe the eggplant slices dry. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add a single layer of eggplant slices and cook until they are just browned on the exterior. Repeat with additional oil and eggplant slices.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the warm milk and cook until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. This will take between 1 and 3 minutes. Let it cool slightly, then whisk in the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

In a medium sized oval casserole or a 9 by 9-inch baking pan, layer half of the eggplant slices. Spread all of the lamb sauce on top. Sprinkle the meat with half of the cheese. Top with remaining eggplant. Smooth on the white sauce over the top and then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 1 hour. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350° F and bake until browned.

Yogurt-Scallion Dressing
The recipe makes dressing for 2 salads.

This is delicious with romaine or green leaf lettuce. I like to cut up a cucumber or radish to toss with the lettuce.

3 tablespoons plain low fat yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons finely chopped scallion
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.


I do admit that there’s a little irony in the ingredient list. One of the biggest critiques that I had for Let’s Move Let’s Cook series was that it called for hard to find ingredients like smoked paprika. That being said, when I looked back at what I used to make this soup – one of the seasonings was smoked paprika, which I use frequently given its versatility. If you can find it, it’s a good spice to have. If you cannot, substitute sweet paprika, chipotle chili powder or chili spice mix. The resulting soup will taste a little differently, but it will still be delicious.

This is a terrific almost vegetarian soup. You could round this out with some whole wheat pita bread and a green salad.


Chickpea and Tomato Soup
Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
pinch coriander (optional)
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika, sweet paprika, or ground chipotle
3 red beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (you could substitute canned)
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 small bunch kale or Swiss chard, ribs removed

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan or a soup pot over medium heat. Cook until the leeks give off moisture and are softened about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika or chipotle. Stir and cook until fragrant about 30 seconds. Scrape in tomatoes, pour in the chicken stock, and add half of the chickpeas. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. While cooking, thinly slice the kale. After 15 minutes, remove the soup from the heat. Let cool slightly. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, food mill or with a stick blender. Return the soup to the pan. Add the remaining chickpeas and the greens and cook until the greens are wilted, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.


The chicken with peppers and a touch of arugula, another way to serve it.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups

On our low carb diet, we often substitute hummus for mashed potatoes. If you don’t have time to make it, there are certainly many delicious commercially prepared versions.

1 15-ounce can chickpeas
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice or more to taste
¼-½ teaspoon kosher salt

Strain the chickpeas over a small bowl. Put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and kosher salt then process until smooth. Add liquid from chickpeas through the feeding tube until the hummus reaches the desired consistency.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Breasts
Serves 4

Of course, you could always buy bone-in chicken breasts for this recipe and remove the bone to use for stock. Since this is a regular dish in my after work repertoire, I often take the easy way out with pre-pounded chicken cutlets. I like to pair it with roasted, marinated, multi-colored peppers.

4 chicken cutlets or chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, and pounded between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
½ cup whole wheat crumbs (I use panko-style)
½ cup grated parmesan style cheese (I use a Midwestern cheese called Sarvecchio)
2 tablespoons snipped chives, optional
Zest from half of a lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 grinds of pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place two shallow bowls side by side. Put the flour in one bowl. Mix together the water and egg in the second and then the bread crumbs, cheese, chives, lemon zest, salt and pepper in the third. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Dredge the chicken first in the flour, then the egg mixture and finally the bread crumb mixture. Add each piece of meat into the pan and immediately turn the heat to medium. Sauté for approximately 4 minutes on one side, 3 minutes on the other. Serve warm with the following recipe for marinated peppers.

Mama Lena’s Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers
Serves 4

6 bell peppers of various colors
6 garlic cloves
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Grill, broil or roast the peppers over an open flame. Put the peppers into bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap until cool to the touch. Remove the skins and the seeds from the peppers. Slice into ¼-inch slices. Very thinly slice garlic cloves. Mix together the peppers, sliced garlic cloves, olive oil, vinegar and salt in a medium-size bowl and marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Green Beans with Balsamic-Shallot Dressing
Serves 4

½ green beans, trimmed and blanched on Sunday
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot lobe, finely chopped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and cook until softened. Let cool slightly and whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Toss with the green beans and sprinkle with salt.


Whole Wheat Pasta with Broccoli-Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 with leftovers

1 large clove garlic (3 large if using tomato puree)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch broccoli
1/3 pound bulk Italian sausage (optional)
4 cups tomato puree or tomato sauce
pinch dried basil (if using puree)
½ teaspoon dried oregano (if using puree)
1 teaspoon salt (if using puree)
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
1 pound dried whole wheat pasta, such as shells or rotini
parmesan or romano cheese to top, optional

Chop the garlic very finely. Remove the broccoli tops from the stems and separate them into florets. Slice the stems to ½-inch thick. Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add the broccoli and stir to coat with the oil. Dump in the sausage (if using) and cook until no longer pink. Pour in tomato puree or sauce and sprinkle in red pepper flakes. If using puree, add the herbs. Cover and cook for 15 minutes to a half hour depending on how soft you like your broccoli. Taste for seasoning.

While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta according to the directions. Serve topped with cheese.

Raw Kale Salad with Tomato and Almonds
Serves 4

1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
A few dashes hot sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch kale, preferably dinosaur, sliced ¼-inch thick
½ medium tomato, diced
6 toasted whole almonds, chopped

Stir together the orange juice, vinegar, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk in olive oil until thickened. Stir in kale, tomato, and almonds. Let sit for about an hour or until the kale has softened.


It doesn’t have to be Friday, but on one of days of the week, we have a leftover night with Meat Loaf as our protein. You could serve the rest of the hummus and roast peppers with a green salad. You could also toss the peppers with pasta and a bit a cheese, goat or mozzarella.


You can start this in the morning and set into a slow cooker all day, perfuming the house with its meaty fragrance. By the time the dinner rolls around, you’ll have a plateful of tender meat slices to top pasta, polenta, or mashed potatoes. Serve with a green vegetable on the side either a salad, broccoli, or peas.

Beef Braised in Wine & Onions
Serves 4 with leftovers

1 chuck roast, approximately 3 pounds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup full bodied red wine
1 cup beef broth, preferably homemade
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Season the roast with salt and pepper. Brown it on all sides in a Dutch oven over set over medium-high heat. (I do this in the insert to my slow cooker). Remove the meat to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the olive oil. After about a minute, add the onion, stirring until softened and slightly browned, approximately 10 minutes – you may need to reduce the heat to medium-low. Add garlic and cook for approximately 2 minutes. Add red wine and bring to a boil. Reduce slightly. Add broth, tomatoes, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes, return to a boil. Add the chuck roast and any juices that have accumulated onto the plate. Reduce to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 3-5 hours until extremely tender, flipping the meat about half way through. This can be done in a slow cooker on low, which would take about 6 hours. Remove the meat from the pot and put onto a plate. Reduce the sauce by increasing the heat to medium high. Let the sauce reduce to your preference. Adjust the sauce seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve on top of the polenta.

No Stir Polenta
Serves 4

I found this recipe in the dearly departed Gourmet Magazine. It’s so easy that it makes polenta more plentiful in my household. If, however, you don’t have 45 minutes to wait, you can always use an instant polenta.

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese (optional

Heat the water and chicken stock in a large saucepan to a boil. Add salt and reduce the heat to low heat. Whisk in the polenta in a slow stream. Stir constantly for 2 minutes. Cover for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and stir continually for one more minute. Repeat this process 4 more times. Remove the cover and add butter and parmesan.

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