Thursday, September 18, 2014

Menu Plan Week 4: Rosh Hashanah Approaches!

Rosh Hashanah starts next Wednesday evening and I have only just clocked precisely how much needs to be done before then. As usual, we'll be hosting the lovely cantor from Berlin who is coming to take the High Holy Days services here, which means that upstairs needs to be made reasonably civilised, and we are following DH's family's tradition of having family round on Erev Rosh Hashanah for a big meal. The dining room usually functions as an office for the two of us, which makes it a fairly big job to turn it back into a space where 10 people can eat in relative comfort. 

I'm definitely a list person, and having spent some time today with a paper and pen I'm feeling less overwhelmed by the jobs to be done. I've come up with a menu that should be manageable because a lot of it is done in advance. 

Menu for the week, first of all. The goal for this week is to clear stuff out of the freezer to make room for some things I have planned. 

By the way, if you've noticed (probably not!) that Thursday is always missing, that's because we get individual pies or quiche or similar from a stall at the Farmers' Market every week and reheat them to go with salad or veg. It's not that exciting, so doesn't go onto the menu.

Spaghetti bolognaise using beef mince from the freezer.

Homemade chicken schnitzel, chips, green beans or similar.

My parents' as usual but I'm making a chocolate beetroot cake to take for my uncle's birthday.

Cottage pie and assorted veg (pie from the freezer)

Baked beetroot, fried halloumi, couscous, salad. 

Because DH's familiy are Sephardi, the Erev Rosh Hashanah meal has traditionally been a full-blown seder. Last year my father-in-law was visiting from Israel and was keen for us to do the whole thing, so he translated his service sheet for us from Persian and we did some internet research, and we came up with a seder of our own that everyone was really happy with. 

This year, Daniel is that much older and less patient, and the guest list is slightly different. We (DH, Daniel and I) are going to be the only practising Jews there, so it seems silly do the whole thing. Instead, we'll do the basics of the prayers to start with, including lighting candles, and then the traditional foods (specifically dates, pomegranate, apple and honey) are incorporated into the menu. DH says that as long as pomegranates are involved, he'll be happy! I hope we can bring back the seder in the future when we have older kids, but it seems more sensible to park it for now.

We'll be having:

Round challah, possibly with apple and raisins in it

Slow-roasted Persian lamb (uses pomegranate molasses)
Adas polow (rice dish involving dates)
Pomegranate salad
Salad-e shirazi (finely chopped salad of onion, tomato, cucumber, mint and lemon juice)

Apple cake and honey cake, served with tea.

This feels fairly manageable. The cakes are best made a couple of days in advance and left to mature, so I can do them on Monday. I'll start the challah on Tuesday evening and finish it early Wednesday morning, when I'll also do the salads. The lamb will go into the oven at around 3.30pm and the rice will need around an hour and twenty minutes, which gives me plenty of time to lay the table and talk to people as they arrive, rather than being stuck in the kitchen the entire time. 

Our nice cantor lady is vegetarian, so when she comes back from shul (or before she goes, if she prefers) she'll have pumpkin curry from the freezer with some couscous and salad - also nice and easy on the night.

The cleaning and tidying is a bit more daunting, but I'm trying to prioritise so that if I find I'm getting too tired or achey to do it all, some things can just be left. I'd like to get as much as possible done because it will be easier to maintain from then on as I get more pregnant and would rather not be doing deep cleaning or major sorting out. However, I'm trying to remain realistic. 

We shall see how it all goes! 

Menu Plan Week 3 and Vegetarian Ghormeh Sabzi

Once again I have failed to get the menu up on here until the week is over! Some good stuff, though, so it might still be worth it... Next week's menu may or may not make it up here this evening - I'm promising nothing!

Vegetarian ghormeh sabzi (see below) and rice; strawberries and cream

Gnocchi with roasted squash, goat's cheese and spinach. This was my first time cooking gnocchi (bought, not hand-made) and it was lovely. One to repeat. 

At my parents'.

Aubergine and chickpea pasta. This was amazing - the spices make it a bit tagine-y and the harissa is a good addition. The best thing is that you add the harissa at the table, so can leave it out for small people if they're not keen. We found about a teaspoon was right for an adult portion to give it just enough kick. 

It was a long day. We got fish and chips. 

Went completely off-piste and invented a vegetable pasta dish that is going straight into my book of recipes, and onto here in case the book ever gets lost! See below :-)

Here are the two best recipes:

Vegetarian/Vegan Ghormeh Sabzi (serves 4)
Ghormeh sabzi is a Persian stew usually made with lamb. My mother-in-law taught me how to make it and I do occasionally but it does take hours. I made up this version a couple of years ago and it has the character of the original but takes a fraction of the time. Plus, obviously, it's vegetarian (and vegan, come to that)!

1-2 potatoes, diced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1tsp turmeric (approx)
1/2 cup puy lentils (or any dark green variety)
1 tin chickpeas
Ghormeh sabzi herbs (available as a dried herb mix in lots of Middle Eastern/Indian shops). If you can't get them or prefer to use fresh, use a mix of parsley, coriander, chives and fenugreek - around 1/4 cup of each if possible. You might want to add some chopped spinach and some finely chopped spring onions too.
1l vegetable stock
1/2 cup pearl barley
2-3 dried limes or dried lemons (get these in shops selling Indian spices)

Fry the potatoes in vegetable oil until golden brown. Set aside.
Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil and turmeric until soft, then add the potatoes.
Add the lentils, chickpeas and herbs and cook for 2 mins.
Add the stock and pearl barley. Simmer for 10 mins, then add the dried limes. Simmer for a further 20mins, adding more water if needed (it shouldn't be sloppy, but add more liquid if needed to stop it burning on the bottom).
Season well and serve with rice.

Summery Vegetable Pasta
Leeks, sliced
Chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Courgette, grated
Peas (optional)
Thyme (dried or fresh)
Cream cheese

While the pasta is cooking, gently cook the leeks and mushrooms in a little oil (any kind; I used coconut). 
After a few minutes, add the grated courgette, peas and thyme and continue to cook down. 
Just before the pasta is ready, add a few spoonfuls of cream cheese and season well. 
Mix the pasta into the vegetable mixture and serve. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Menu Plan Week 2 and a general round-up

An action-packed week over here and I've still managed to find time to write this! Feeling rather proud of myself :-)

For the first time in ages we've had a busy week that has been almost entirely social rather than working. I'm hoping we can have more of those, as it's not fair on Daniel for him to be constantly playing second fiddle to my various jobs. 

On Saturday the three of us went to Crealy as we had a free adult pass that expired that day. It was the first time I'd been in years, and definitely the last. The place is my idea of hell! Plastic, crowded, noisy, over-stimulating, artificial... yuk. It's moved a long way since my childhood when they had a play park with great slides (you had to sit in hessian sacks to go down them!), a few animals and the opportunity to have a go at milking a cow. I don't think it's an improvement.

Sunday was a vast improvement as Daniel requested a trip to Escot, which is everything Crealy isn't! Sadly, I couldn't go because I needed to spend the day working, but DH took him and they came back knackered, happy and smelling faintly of woodsmoke from the Anglo-Saxon village :)

On Monday we had our very first Not Back To School Picnic in a tiny (and very nice) park I didn't know existed! There were lots of families, including several we knew, and Daniel tired himself out nicely on the climbing frames in the sun. 

We had spent the morning cooking together for the first time in months and I managed to butt out and let Daniel get on with things, which I think is where I went wrong before. We had a chat the day before about things we could make for the picnic and I made a list with pictures so he could see what was coming next. We made hummous, cucumber and sweet pepper batons for dunking, spicy popcorn, fishcakes and carrot cake. I've been inspired by reading a friend's blog to try some different things when I cook, as I feel like I've got into a rut. We see her at Forest School and are friends with another vegan family who were at the picnic, so I had a go at vegan carrot cake. It was seriously yummy - moist and spicy! Very easy and tasted virtually indistinguishable from my usual non-vegan version. I didn't do any frosting as I tend to feel that's too much of a good thing on carrot cake.

Tuesday was Forest School, and then teaching a bar mitzvah student in the afternoon (Daniel loves going there because they have three younger kids, a massive dog and a big garden!). In the evening we went to the first Homebirth Group of this pregnancy and saw at least 3 couples who we used to see there when we were pregnant with Daniel! Lovely to be back and meeting people who don't gasp in horror at the thought of a home VBAC. I think the baby enjoyed it too as I really felt it on Tuesday evening - very active this week!

Wednesday we had our very first Monkey Music class. Daniel was a little bemused at first - he's not really used to organised groups where you copy everyone else - but soon got into it and is clearly going to absolutely love it. He also fell desperately in love with the plush pink monkeys that are part of the merchandise, so we bought one (more expensive than I like but virtually all the other kids had them and he was getting upset that he didn't have one to cuddle too). I'm glad I did, actually - he's besotted with it! 

Today was the usual round of Farmers' Market followed by lunch with my mum. She usually looks after Dan the afternoon so I can go to an appointment; today the appointment was cancelled but she had him anyway and I had an almost-unheard-of opportunity to go maternity clothes shopping on my own! The Tour of Britain bike race was going through town this afternoon so I had a bit of time in a cafe on the route sipping a drink and giggling at the man who was supposed to be stopping pedestrians crossing the road in the path of the bikes. Someone had given him a whistle and he was clearly working out some deep, unresolved issues with a former P.E. teacher as he blew the thing to say people could cross the road, to say they couldn't, and sometimes, seemingly, just because he had it. I imagine it was pretty irritating if you were standing next to him, but from the distance of the cafe it was actually quite funny. 

Tomorrow we're meeting friends in a nearby park for a play, fitting in a supermarket shop and then having a leisurely afternoon getting ready for Shabbat. I'm trying to put more time into preparing so the evening/day itself can be more restful and it's gone well the last two weeks. I'm also trying to plan meals for Friday night that can be finished before we do kiddush; that way, I can sit down and enjoy the challah and the company without worrying about still having to cook. Last week we even managed havdalah on Saturday evening, though the mood was broken slightly by the smoke alarm going off (set off by the havdalah candle) and having to decamp to the kitchen halfway through! The week before I had shown Daniel the havdalah things and talked a bit about them, and last week he was very proudly showing DH what to do with the spice box, so it's clearly going in. Hope we can keep this up when the university term starts next week and a lot of our Fridays are taken up with chaplaincy.

I haven't done this coming week's menu yet (will do it over breakfast tomorrow, I expect!) but here's the one we've just had:

Friday: Ghormeh sabzi with rice and salad-e Shirazi; ripe figs for dessert. This is an Iranian stew my mother-in-law taught me to cook years ago. I haven't made it in forever but it's definitely worth the effort!

Saturday: Pumpkin & feta risotto with kale and asparagus. Came out a bit sloppy but still edible.

Sunday: Leftover ghormeh sabzi for lunch for me while the boys were out. Dinner at my parents' (curry night!)

Monday: Squash curry with chickpeas & rainbow chard and couscous. We didn't feel like curry two nights in a row so I did Wednesday's quiche instead. It wasn't particularly nice, surprisingly (I don't think I've ever found a Mary Berry recipe we didn't like before) so won't be repeating it.

Tuesday: Mushroom soup with savoury wholemeal scones and cheese. We were late back from tutoring and had to go back out to the homebirth group so scrapped this and got fish and chips.

Wednesday: Salmon & leek quiche with asparagus. See Monday. On Wednesday I started making the mushroom soup planned for Tuesday only to find that the mushrooms had gone furry! Threw in a baking potato and some thyme and nutmeg and produced a very acceptable leek and potato soup :-)

So that's our week! Next week's menu will no doubt appear at some point :-)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Menu Plan Week 1

What is with the formatting issues on here?! Massive paragraph breaks, random changes to different fonts... I have stared at the HTML page until my brain gave up and walked out, so it'll have to wait until DH can have a look at it. In the meantime, I'll just plough on!

I've just got back into meal planning in an attempt to try and get our household finances back under control and stop wasting so much food. As before, that means going to the Farmers' Market each Thursday with a set amount of cash and seeing what there is. I go to the stalls in order of priority so I don't run out of money before getting the important stuff, and vice versa only get certain luxury things if there's money left over at the end. Then I go home and plan a week's meals around what I've bought, write a shopping list for any extra supermarket things that are needed, and do a bit Tesco/Waitrose run on the Friday to get those things, again trying to stay within a certain budget. We have an overall budget for the week, and the plan is that even with extra things that might need to be got during the week (milk and bananas, mainly), we should stay within that. By Wednesday, we're usually down to just a couple of quid! 

That's the plan, anyway. There are weeks when lots of household things need replenishing (loo roll, cooking oil, laundry liquid, etc) and then it's very hard to stay within budget. This week I got back to doing the meal plan and the big shop, but a lot of the meals didn't actually get made, for a variety of reasons. Still, nice to get back into the habit. So here's the original plan, annotated to show what actually happened.

Friday: Corn-on-the-cob, aubergine and pine nut pasta (with courgettes and mushrooms and various other nice veggie things), strawberries and cream. All of this happened! It was seriously yummy. More on the rest of our Shabbat this week in a different post :-)

Saturday: Pumpkin and feta risotto with kale and asparagus (make extra for Monday). Didn't happen. We had sandwiches for lunch (fairly late) and ended up with so many that we couldn't face the thought of food in the evening.

Sunday: At my parents' house. Yup. 

Monday: Oven-baked risotto balls (arancini) with courgettes and asparagus. No again. I was teaching 6-7 and then suddenly realised that our local monthly Cue Club was on, so DH made fish fingers, chips and peas while I taught, and I bolted them as soon as I finished and raced out of the door. I spent most of the evening yawning but it was still nice to be out socialising for an hour without the small person.

Tuesday: Baked beetroot, halloumi, couscous fritters, salad, crème fraîche. No again!! I got back from tutoring at 6.30 with a pounding headache, which rapidly turned into a migraine. DH was out playing tennis but came home when he got my phone call and brought pizza and garlic bread from Waitrose. Needs must!

Wednesday: Tuna flan with salad. Again no, but this was more of an I've-run-out-of-ideas thing anyway. I did the menu for yesterday and it was thoroughly approved of by all. Even Daniel ate a bit of everything! The fritters were a bit overcooked and I thought they were too dense, but DH raved about them, so might just be me. I'll put more salt in next time to bring out the other flavours (lemon zest, pine nuts, ground almonds, fresh parsley, garlic, spring onions). 

With all the deviation from the plan I'd have expected to be over budget, but we just made it with about £3 to spare. Having said that, we were lucky not to have any big staple stuff to get this week. 

Market day again tomorrow. I've promised DH I'll make ghormeh sabzi (Iranian stew) on Friday night, so at least that's one meal sorted. His mum taught me how to make it years ago but I haven't made it for aaaages.  I might as well make the most of our chilled-out Fridays before uni starts and I'm back in the Chaplaincy for most of the day (at least for this term); like a lot of Iranian cuisine it assumes you're at home and able to keep an eye on a pan as it simmers for several hours - but so worth it!