Wednesday, February 03, 2016

What's New and Different - January 2016

New Routines

It doesn’t bother me that I am sometimes quirky, kooky, or downright different than others. From an early age, I tried to think for myself, trust my gut, and embrace my own sometimes-goofy personality. Whether it’s the 5-year-old who tried to walk home from school after lingering, unchecked, on the playground (why the hell didn't my teacher notice my absence?!), or the teenager who toyed with spiky hair and non-traditional uses for eyeliner, or the woman who literally ran off a cliff over the Pacific Ocean just for fun, I am not only OK with being different or adventurous. I embrace it.

I am always looking for new experiences—even if it’s just a brief step out of my comfort zone—but this year I decided to document them. So I’m posting monthly with the notable things that are new and different. Maybe other people will do the same.

Bacon, Pea, Goat Cheese Frittata
from Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking.
The year started with a modest new routine that ended up having a huge impact on my family. Without really intending to, my husband and I decided to get out of our rut of eating out so frequently (multiple times a week, whether it was a sit-down or takeaway or even fast food). Instead, we started poring through the dozens of cookbooks I’ve collected over the years in search of new recipes, new ingredients, or simply new twists on dishes we’ve already had. By doing everything together—choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, prepping and cooking, and cleaning up—the prospect of cooking at home wasn’t so exhausting after a 14-hour workday. 

Thus began our updated love affair with food. In our first month, we made updated classics such as Southwestern Salmon Cakes with Spicy Remoulade, Chicken Parm Roll-Ups, Mongolian Beef with Handmade Fettuccini, and a Gordon Ramsay frittata that really hit the spot. But most of our favorite dishes were ones that incorporated a totally new ingredient, such as sambal oelek chili paste, which we used in the Indonesian Shrimp Fried Rice dish (see picture below).

Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts
from Everyone Loves Chicken.
Our favorite new dishes of the month were:
Wild Mushroom and Goat-Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts (my husband’s favorite) and
Halibut a la Provençal (my favorite).

Halibut a la Provençal from
3-Step Express Meals.

The rewards were pretty substantial. Not only were we enjoying some new ingredients and flavor combinations, but we were saving a lot of money. Our weekly grocery store bill was about the same as one meal for the three of us at a steak house. We’d found that the quality at some of our favorite restaurants had declined, so we limited our dining out to one restaurant per week, where the quality was always good and the value was also high. All told, we estimate that we saved at least $500 in January alone.

We were also shopping together as a family, which gave my husband and me a great opportunity to teach our son more about selecting good meats and produce. This was something I had to learn as an adult. During our first trip to the market, my son followed me to the produce section so I could show him how to select a broccoli crown.

Indonesian Shrimp Fried Rice
from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012.
“Really, Mom?” he said, incredulous. “You had to pick broccoli? I hate broccoli, and I’m not likely to buy it.”

“But if you ever do, you’ll know what to look for,” I insisted, then showed him a crown that had tight, evenly topped florets with a purplish tinge. Back at the house, we got him involved in the prep and cooking too, and in the process we learned that his favorite task is to operate the hand-cranked pasta machine. He was trying new things too, something he’d resisted for some time. And we enjoyed learning more about each other’s day. One night, after learning from our son’s astronomy class that three planets were visible in the night sky, we headed outdoors for some stargazing together.

Each night after we shared in the clean-up, we’d do something together, whether it was stargazing, talking, or watching an hour of television. As I looked at their profiles, my heart felt full with the love that comes from overcoming obstacles, surviving challenges and setbacks, and the contentedness of a good life made together.

“I love you two,” I blurted out one night as we were watching an episode of Sleepy Hollow. “You just mean everything.”

Cookbooks we used:

AmericaFarm to Table by Mario Batali
A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry
Everyone Loves Chicken by Weight Watchers
Tyler Florence Family Meal by Tyler Florence
The Greek Yogurt Kitchen by Toby Amidor
3-Step Express Meals by the editors of Cooking Light

Our favorite cookbook, hands down: 3-Step Express Meals


Shirley Jump said...

Aw, that made me tear up :-) I love you guys, too! And wish I was there for dinner every night, LOL.

Staci Laico said...

What a great entry! You've inspired me to try this. Now to figure out HOW to get a 14-year old to spend more than 10 minutes with her folks ... hot dog! There's MY challenge!