The Hail Mary Dinner

 

The “Hail Mary” Dinner. You know the one I speak of.

When you get home from your kids’ activities at 6:30pm and realize you don’t really have the time or the ingredients to make a substantial dinner.

I used to feel so smug because when everyone else was posting and complaining about Mondays, I was this stay-at-home / work-at-home mom and Monday was just another day for me. But now all 3 of our kids have dance on Monday nights which means our Monday afternoon schedule looks like this:
2:30pm – Get B&C changed into dance clothes, double-check A’s bag to ensure she has everything she needs; pack snacks for everyone and water or coffee for myself.
3:00pm – Leave and pick up A from school
3:30pm – Arrive at dance studio and help A change; do her hair up in a bun
4:00pm – A’s Tap & Jazz class; C usually naps so B & I sit in the car for awhile
4:30pm – Go inside and have snack
5:00pm – A has Ballet; B&C have Pre-Ballet; I work, read, or chat with parents
5:45pm – B&C finish class; go downstairs & get everyone into outdoor clothes; possibly read a book; collect all bags and miscellaneous STUFF
6:00pm – A finishes class & changes; we all head out to car
6:25pm – Arrive at home; make & eat dinner; homework
7:15pm – Start bedtime routine
7:30pm – Tuck-in Time
8:00pm – BED! A will sometimes stay up to read quietly in bed until 8:30

You can see why it takes ALL MY ENERGY to get through Monday afternoons. This past Monday I used some peppermint & wild orange oil aromatically and it actually gave me an energy boost better than the coffee ever does. (Yes, there’s an oil for that!!)

Which brings me to… The Hail Mary Dinner I whipped up yesterday.

I opened up the cabinets & fridge to see….
Nothing.
Nada.
Zip.
Zilch.
…at least that would be quick and nutritious.

But what did I have?!? Some egg noodles, some leftover chicken, some leftover veggies, and a cookbook. I figured I could whip up a simple sauce/gravy and throw all the stuff together. Kind of a deconstructed casserole, if you will. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So I got the water going for the noodles, pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook, and opened it to the Sauces section. “Basic White Sauce.” PERFECT! Here’s how to make it:
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the lumps are gone.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups milk, stirring all the while.
Season with salt & pepper, and heat over medium high heat until it starts bubbling.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Because it was so bland, I added some garlic and onion powder to taste.

While the sauce thickened, I reheated and cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, and reheated the leftover veggies in the microwave. I cooked the noodles and added a pat or two of butter, stirring until melted & mixed.

I added the chicken into the sauce.
I spooned the noodles into bowls.
I sprinkled some veggies over the noodles.
I scooped the chicken sauce over the noodles, and….
BAM! DINNER!

 

HailMary dinner

It was actually pretty good! Thankfully, the chicken was well-seasoned, so when I mixed it with the bland sauce, it was perfect. The kids gobbled it right up. To be fair, they probably would’ve eaten anything at that point, since they were so hungry.

Regardless, it boosted my confidence that I could create a real meal in a pinch without too much trouble. (PS. Leftovers make an excellent lunch the next day.)

HAIL MARY

 

When have you made a delicious dinner in a pinch? What did you make?

Double Pork Chili (Second Meal)

By now, most of you probably know my concept of Second Meals: planning a different, second meal using leftovers from a separate meal earlier in the week. Usually, when I make a spice-rubbed pork loin, I make my default Second Meal with the leftovers: Pork Pozole Soup. But today was unseasonably cold, and I wanted something a little heartier. Soup just wasn’t going to cut it tonight! I remembered I had some previously-cooked ground sausage in the fridge from earlier in the week, and suddenly I knew what I would make instead! So here’s what I did (list of ingredients at end of post). Keep in mind I was just using up leftover portions of much of this produce from earlier meals, so you can adjust your quantities to taste.

Start with a tablespoon or two of butter and a tablespoon of EVOO in a large stock pot. Once the butter is melted, add about half a red onion, chopped. After a minute or two of sauteeing, add 2 diced cloves of garlic. I then roughly chopped a few mini-bella mushrooms and added them. Next, half of a jalapeno, finely diced. I also had a bag of those tiny cocktail bell peppers, so I added 1 orange and 1 red, finely chopped. Stir and saute for a minute or two. I added 1/2 a beefsteak tomato, roughly chopped. Then I peeled, quartered, and finely chopped about 1 1/2 carrots. (Use 2 whole ones if they’re smaller – mine were quite large!) Then I sprinkled saltcumin and paprika once around the pot. Stir again! Next I squeezed the juice from half a lime in with the veggies and, of course, stirred. Next I used up the rest of my pesto tomato paste (regular is fine too) – it was probably about 1 1/2 tablespoons. Stir in until it is almost a veggie paste. You don’t want big clumps of the tomato paste. Let that cook for a good 2-3 minutes, then deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup of red wine (I used merlot, because that’s what I drink these days!). Stir and cook for a few more minutes until fully incorporated.

Delicious veggies and sausage... You will become CHILI soon!

Delicious veggies and sausage… You will become CHILI soon!

Now that the veggies are finished, we can add our meat! First I added that previously cooked ground sausage leftover from an earlier dinner. It didn’t take too long for that to incorporate once I stirred it up a bit. Then I pulled out my spice-rubbed pork loin from last night and chopped it up. (Recipe to come!) **Because this pork is highly seasoned, I don’t need a lot of seasonings in the chili itself.** I added about a cup to the chili mixture. Let that sit for a few, then added a can of petite diced tomatoes. Stir and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until it starts to boil again. Then add your beef stock – again I had this in the fridge from another recipe. I probably used less than a cup. I suggest adding it gradually, because you can always add more, but as the chili cooks, it will reduce to less liquid. Lastly you can add about 1/4 cup of frozen corn and stir.

Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for approximately 4 hours, or however long you want. Again remember the longer it cooks the more it will reduce! If you let it go too long and it’s thick or almost burned, you can add a little more beef stock and let it simmer for awhile longer (20-30 minutes should do it).

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend) and sour cream! Yummy!

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Double-pork Chili

Double-pork Chili

*If you want a little more spice, add one or a few of the following after the veggies but before the deglazing: red pepper flakes, cayenne, or chili powder. I left these out so it wouldn’t be overly spicy for the kids – but my choice would be 2 dashes of chili powder and 1 or 2 shakes of red pepper flakes!

You will need:
Butter & EVOO
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4-5 mini Portobello mushrooms
1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 small cocktail bell peppers (1 orange, 1 red), finely chopped
1/2 Beefsteak tomato, roughly chopped
1 1/2 – 2 carrots, peeled, quartered, and finely chopped
Cumin, Paprika, Salt, Pepper
Optional: Chili powder, red pepper flakes, cayenne
Juice from half a lime
1 1/2 TBLspn tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 chub previously cooked ground sausage
1/2-1 cup chopped leftover spice-rubbed pork loin
1 can petite diced tomatoes
Beef Stock (about 1/2 cup, maybe)
1/4 cup frozen corn
Cheddar Cheese, Sour cream, any other garnishes you wish
*Beans of your choice are optional – I didn’t have any to add, but it was delicious without!

Remember that I usually cook with OHI – whatever I have in my kitchen at the moment. Mix it up to use whatever you have – it’ll be delicious, and you’ll feel resourceful! 🙂

Pantry organization, Meal planning, and OHI pars

Dream pantry?!

Sometimes I wish my pantry looked like the one in this picture. Alas, all I have is an abundance of cabinets! Thankfully I do have a lot of them. But at this point in my life, my ‘pantry’ organization is based on what I allow my kids to get into or not. Yes I put locks on cabinets, but not all of them, because it’s way too much of a hassle. I limited myself to locking the ones that have glass or harmful things like cleaning products in them. Part of the reason is, I didn’t want to have to bother opening it myself. However, the biggest reason is this: I do believe, although it’s more work, to use all opportunities possible to TEACH my kids. Also I purposely put their snacks and dishes in low cabinets where they can reach, so they are able to help themselves. (Think cereal, crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, fruit cups, etc.) Even if they can’t open the packaging themselves, they will bring it to me and ask if they can have it and if they can open it. Our youngest, at 14 months or maybe earlier, would go in the kids’ dishes cabinet and bring a cup over to the fridge if she was thirsty. I learned accidentally that kids are actually a lot more capable and at a lot earlier age than we give them credit for. Another example: when Aubrey (our eldest) was 2 and 3, she wanted to help me with everything: dishes, baking, laundry, cleaning, you name it. At first I kept saying no (which led to big-time disappointment on her end, and extravagant distraction methods on mine). Finally one day I figured, what the heck? I would wash the dishes and she would dry them. When she was 3 I learned she was actually quite good at folding her and her brother’s laundry – they were small enough for her to handle. Ah HA! I thought. A learning opportunity. I can teach her how to do these chores now, while she WANTS to, and I was getting help too. Why be a domestic martyr if it wasn’t necessary? I didn’t have to do everything myself, and she was learning valuable life skills she’d use the rest of her life. Win-Win.
Anyway, I am sure that once my kids learn to suppress their desire to dump my sugar all over the floor and play with it like sand, I will be again re-organizing categorically instead of according to what I can afford them get into or not 😉

That said, as I sit down to plan my weekly grocery trip, I wanted to share with you a list of my essential OHIs. Produce rotates seasonally, so they’re not listed specifically. These things are on the list because I know I can make meals spur of the moment from them if necessary. Here it is:
* 2 dozen eggs
* White and Whole Wheat bread
* Parmesan
* Shredded cheese of some variety
* Some lunch meat & cheese
* Milk, Half & Half, Sour cream
* Butter – sticks and spreadable
* Refrigerated rolls (Grands)
* Various Oils and vinegars
* Salad dressings and/or salad dressing mixes
* Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, low-fat mayo, peanut butter, grape jam, sriracha, BBQ sauce
* Cream of mushroom soup
* Spaghetti sauce (usually Hunts in the can or jarred Prego)
* Canned tomatoes  – various varieties
* Bananas – this is my yearly consistent fruit. We ALWAYS have bananas. Quick for snacks, and great for baking.
* Onion and garlic
* Dry snacks: crackers (wheat or Ritz usually), granola bars, fruit snacks
* Dry pasta (whole wheat when possible): angel hair and various shapes of boxed dry pasta
* Mac n Cheese
* “Cheater” sides: Instant mashed potatoes, Knorr rice and pasta sides
* Rice
* Cereal
* Waffles
* Frozen pizza, frozen chicken nuggets
* Frozen mixed veg, Frozen steamed microwavable veg (Green giant or Steamfresh)
* Hot dogs
* Baking supplies: whole wheat flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, semi-sweet chips, baking soda and powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, allspice
* Seasonings: kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, pepper, pepper grinder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, taco seasoning packet, country gravy packet
* Seasonal fruit for snacking: berries, grapes, etc.
* Seasonal fresh veg that I can build a meal around, or build into a meal
* Protein – generally chicken breasts or thighs, some kind of pork, ground sausage or beef, occasionally fish, red meat, or ham

Now I’m going to be straight up with you. I work 3 nights a week at a restaurant. On those nights I allow myself to make ‘cheater’ meals. I have to be there at 5, which means dinner should be finished by about 4:30.  This means a combination of the following items, usually following the ‘meat, veg, starch’ guideline: pizza, fries or tater tots, mashed potatoes, Knorr sides (rice or pasta), frozen steamed veg, raw veg, fruit, chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, hot dogs. I felt really bad about this for awhile, like I’m feeding my family crap. But you know what? Until I don’t have to work at dinner time any more, or we don’t need my income anymore, it’s a necessary part of our life, so I just learned to be okay with it. I don’t have to extend too much mental energy making these things, and they’re pretty much no-brainers. Sometimes if I do have extra time, I’ll make a casserole or maybe a chicken pot pie, something that can be in the oven while I’m getting ready for work. Every once in awhile I’ll do a crock pot meal, but generally I don’t have time to eat dinner before work, and I like to enjoy my crock pot meals, so that doesn’t happen often.

So before I make my grocery list, I take stock of my OHI. I figure out what I need to replenish and then do my meal planning based on what’s on sale that week. That plus coupons determines my list for the week. And that’s another post entirely 😉