Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February)
March 4, 2014 6 Comments
I’m not using the term “pesco-vegetarian” in the title like I have for many of my other multi-week meal plans because I think “meatless” is the more common word people are searching for in Lent. My family eats no meat at home except occasional fish–which does not count as “meat” in many fasting plans, for some reason–so our menus are ideal for Lenten fasting or any time you want to avoid eating red meat and poultry. Recently, I have been eating meat in restaurants a bit more often than usual because I’m seven months pregnant and have developed anemia, and the iron from turkey and beef is supposed to be the most absorbable…but in general, I still prefer a low-meat diet.
This menu features two new gadgets we got for Christmas: a slow cooker and a Vidalia Chop Wizard. We’re finding both of them to be pretty useful. [UPDATE: Here’s why we gave up on the Chop Wizard a year later.]
Here’s what we ate for dinners in February. Our weekday lunches are leftovers and occasional restaurant meals for the adults and a lunchbox meal (using leftovers where feasible) for third-grader Nicholas. Weekend lunches tend to be leftovers, too; the ones that weren’t, or that made some notable use of the leftovers, are listed here. I plan the menu, but my partner Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so they’re ready when I get home from work, while I cook on the weekends and sometimes prepare ingredients during the week.
- Lunch: Pizza and salad left over from the previous night, when we had friends over for dinner. They brought a “salad bar” (greens, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and beets in separate containers) and we bought the pizza at Mineo’s. I made Italian salad dressing–I don’t really have a recipe, but my method goes something like this: In a glass jar, put 2 parts olive oil and 1 part apple cider vinegar; sprinkle in plenty of sea salt, black pepper, dried minced onion, and granulated garlic and smaller amounts of dried red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley; close jar tightly and shake it; taste it and adjust as needed; set jar inside a shallow dish to protect the tablecloth from oily drips. This dressing can be stored at room temperature for a couple weeks.
- Dinner: Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens. I used frozen kale for the greens and heated up leftover rice for my carbohydrate and leftover whole-wheat couscous for the guys. Now we had a second jar of homemade salad dressing, a different flavor; I put them side by side in a small oval dish.
- Monday: Improved Pasta Salad with mushrooms and frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Nicholas chose to put Italian dressing on his pasta and veggies instead of using the seasoned olive oil made for this meal.
- Tuesday: Out to dinner at Denny’s on our way home from an errand in the suburbs. We had various egg and fish dishes.
- Wednesday: Sweet Potato Lentils in the slow cooker, plus plain yogurt and whole-wheat toast. This recipe is a winner! It makes a delicious, soft food that’s very warming and filling. We did wish we had a different but compatibly flavored food, like Loubie, or at least some more interesting bread to eat alongside it for a more varied textural experience. The recipe makes a large batch, and although one of the jars of leftovers got neglected, I found that it was still good 16 days later–coconut milk doesn’t spoil easily! Daniel’s one complaint about this recipe was that it took him 45 minutes to assemble because of scrubbing and dicing the sweet potatoes. We had already established that sweet potatoes are one vegetable the Chop Wizard cannot cut–they’re much harder than white potatoes. I suggested that he slice them in the food processor next time.
- Thursday: Bean Burritos made with thawed black beans and red peppers. The beans were from a giant GFS can. The red peppers were among the haul we’d brought home from Thanksgiving–relatives had over-bought vegetables for appetizers, and since we were among the few who traveled by car rather than airplane, we brought home a lot of odds and ends to stock our freezer!
- Friday: Nicholas didn’t want to eat leftover Sweet Potato Lentils, so Daniel made him mac&cheese from a box and cooked some frozen peas. Peas were pretty good with the lentils.
- Saturday: Baked fish (pollock) topped with garlicky sauteed mushrooms. I was very tired and didn’t make a vegetable side dish, but by the time we finished eating our fish, our super-nutritious muffins were ready! I finally got around to trying the recipe for Morning Glory Kale Muffins that Daniel’s mother had clipped from the Philadelphia newspaper for me about six months earlier–when it was too hot to bake anything until I was stricken by pregnancy nausea and couldn’t cope with raw dough. We made this recipe using cow’s milk instead of almond milk, sorghum syrup instead of agave, and raisins as the fruit. I’m puzzled by the name of the recipe, since it contains no morning glories (are they even safe to eat?) and only 1/2 cup of kale per 12 muffins, but it certainly succeeds in packing a lot of healthy foods into very yummy muffins! Nicholas ate 4 of them right away! We decided that we’d make a larger batch next time because we couldn’t get our food processor to puree that small an amount of kale–it just passed under the blade–and anyway, when we go to the trouble of baking we like to make a nice big supply of food!
- Sunday: Whole-wheat spaghetti. Sauce from a jar. Frozen broccoli, steamed.
- Monday: I went to my prenatal checkup after work, so I directed the guys to have tuna melts (using some of the bag of frozen grated cheddar cheese I had thawed) because I don’t really like tuna, but they do. They also cooked frozen corn. I ate leftovers when I got home.
- Tuesday: Bean Burritos using more of the grated cheddar.
- Wednesday: Daniel and Nicholas were supposed to bake another (triple) batch of the muffins after school–I had taken appropriate amounts of kale and walnuts out of the freezer to thaw the night before–but Nicholas had too much homework. I met them at Uncle Sam’s Subs on my way home from work so I could eat the steak sandwich prescribed by my midwife! It was the first red meat I’d eaten since my parents took us to Dink’s Pit BBQ in December. Daniel also had a steak sandwich, but Nicholas chose a veggie burger.
- Thursday: The guys baked the muffins, and we ate some with Corn Chowder made in the slow cooker. This healthified version of a church-cookbook recipe is very tasty! Our cooker is big enough that we’ll make a double batch next time and see if that makes it dry out and stick to the sides less–this was the hardest scrubbing job we’ve had with the crock so far. Nicholas and I had cut up the potatoes, onion, and red pepper for this recipe in the Chop Wizard and stashed them in jars in the refrigerator the night before, so all Daniel had to do during his morning coffee break (he works at home) was put ingredients into the cooker and turn it on.
- Friday: Trader Joe’s Masala Burgers (soy-free Indian-flavored frozen veggie burgers) over rice. Apples. I didn’t realize when I planned this meal that Nicholas had been eating these burgers for after-school snacks (he loves them!) so there were only two left in the box. Luckily, Daniel had eaten a large, late lunch, so he didn’t mind frying up the two burgers for Nicholas and me and eating just some rice and apple himself.
- Weekend: I left after dinner on Friday for a little vacation, hanging out with an old friend at a hotel in Maryland, and didn’t get home until after dinner on Sunday. Daniel and Nicholas had a couple of meals out and some easy-to-make foods from the list I’d left them: leftover burrito beans, leftover Corn Chowder, fish sticks, tortilla pizzas, fruit smoothie. Meanwhile, my friend brought a salad from home, I brought some of the healthy muffins and apples and bananas, and we picked up some frozen meals and little yogurts at the food co-op near our hotel–and with all that in a room equipped with fridge and microwave, plus the free hotel breakfast, we were well fed at a fraction of the cost of four restaurant meals! I did enjoy eating at Waffle House on my way home.
- Monday: Spinach ravioli and Brussels sprouts, cooked from frozen. Sauce from a jar.
- Tuesday: Masoor Dal over rice. I had set the lentils to soak the night before. This night, I thawed blueberries and walnuts for Daniel’s birthday cake.
- Wednesday: Baked fish (pollock) with olive oil and rosemary. Frozen broccoli and cauliflower coated with olive oil, garlic, and salt and roasted alongside the fish. Whole-wheat couscous. After dinner, Nicholas and I baked a Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake so that Daniel could have his favorite cake starting at breakfast on his birthday!
- Thursday: We further celebrated Daniel’s birthday with dinner at the New Dumpling House, a Chinese and Japanese restaurant. He chose steamed vegetable dumplings, hot and sour soup, California rolls, an assortment of vegetable maki rolls, and General Tso’s chicken. (I appreciated not being tempted by raw-fish sushi, which I’m not supposed to eat while pregnant.) By the time the General Tso’s was ready, we were all so full that we had just a taste and then filled our take-out containers with more than enough leftovers for Daniel’s lunch the next day.
- Friday: Leftovers. This was when I realized we still had some Sweet Potato Lentils, and they were still good! (I did scrape off the top surface into the compost, just in case of invisible mold.)
- Lunch: I came home from shopping at Costco, bringing a bag of frozen pierogies and 5 pounds of clementines, among other things–so I got right to work frying up some of the pierogies with carrots and onions, and we ate clementines on the side.
- Dinner: I made a new batch of Less Acid Spaghetti Sauce, using frozen kale and fresh garlic this time, including oregano, and adding a daringly huge amount of dulse seaweed (almost half a cup) to increase the iron, B vitamins, protein, and trace minerals. The onion I diced in the Chop Wizard seemed unusually pungent (Nicholas was helping at first, but ran out of the kitchen with eyes streaming!) so I cooked it an especially long time, over lowish heat, before adding the other ingredients. We ate some of the sauce over whole-wheat rotini. It’s got a great flavor–you’d never guess it was full of weird seaweed–and I feel really good after eating it.
- Sunday: Nicholas wanted to cook frozen corn The Way He Usually Does It, which I had not yet observed. I pondered what to eat with it–fish? Some kind of beans? Nicholas asked for baked beans. I didn’t have the time or energy to make the relatively elaborate baked bean recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook, so we just opened a can of dark red kidney beans, rinsed them thoroughly (this helps prevent gas), and improvised a sauce from ketchup, mustard, sorghum syrup, apple cider vinegar, dried minced onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, and dried parsley. Then we gave the beans about 20 minutes in the oven while Nicholas was cooking the corn. His technique is to put the frozen corn in a pot with a glob of butter–no water–and stir until hot, then put it into a serving dish in which he has melted additional butter. Yum, yum! We all liked the beans a lot, too, and Nicholas ate an additional large portion as his after-school snack the next day.
- Monday: I really wanted Red & Green Pockets, but Nicholas had been putting up a fuss every time I suggested them for many months. (I try to include him in the menu planning so that he’s more cooperative about eating what we cook.) At this point I decided that I wanted Red & Green Pockets and Nicholas would just have to cope! After initial grumbling–including grumbling about having regular whole-wheat toast instead of pita bread, although last time he was shopping with me he prevented me from buying pitas by arguing that they taste just like regular bread!!–he ended up happily eating a big bowl of Red, smaller portions of Green and yogurt, and three slices of toast. I think the allure of having so many separate dishes for his toast-dipping pleasure won him over.
- Tuesday: We were in suburbia again and went out to dinner at Noodles & Company. Although almost all their noodle bowls start out vegetarian, and you can even get tofu added, this time I decided to try the “steak” for the good of my anemia. It had exactly the taste and texture I associate with red meat–bleah!! I made myself eat all of it anyway, for nutrition and so that the cow would not have died in vain; I got it over with first and then enjoyed the rest of my Bangkok Curry.
- Wednesday: Daniel cooked up some thawed kidney beans with Mexican seasonings while I made a big batch of guacamole. I had assumed when I decided to buy avocados at Costco that we had corn chips at home because they weren’t on the shopping list, and we consider them a staple item–but apparently someone forgot to put them on the list! Nicholas became very nasty and accusatory about this. Normally we only buy organic corn chips (which are much more affordable at Costco than anywhere else, and there was no way we were going to drive out to Costco before dinner) but I decided to make an exception in order to take a step toward training Nicholas to go to the store. Although he is allowed to walk in a large area on his own, he has resisted being sent on errands because he’s nervous of interacting with cashiers. We made the purchase of corn chips a training mission: I walked with him around the corner to the convenience store and hovered outside (ten feet from the NO LOITERING sign) while Nicholas went into the store with $5 to purchase the largest available bag of plain corn chips. It turned out that this tiny store did not have any large bags of plain (only nacho cheese flavor) so he bought two small bags of Fritos, figuring that one would not be enough for the whole family, and brought back the change. I congratulated him on a job well done. I’m hoping that by the time the baby comes, I’ll be able to send him to the big supermarket by himself.
- Thursday: I planned a Tofu Soba Supper featuring Vietnamese pickled carrots from a super-easy recipe I found online. On Tuesday night I had cut up the carrots and mixed the brine and started them soaking. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with that recipe, or I did it wrong, or we just have different tastes from some people, but all three of us felt that what we had here were raw carrots that got wet in some ingredients whose flavors hadn’t quite combined and were then left around to get stale! We really just could not eat them and wound up composting the whole 2 cups. I felt terrible about it until I realized that was really only about 80 cents worth of food, and it’s not like I have these disasters often–that’s the first one in months. We enjoyed our baked tofu and sliced cucumbers over soba noodles. I had set up the tofu the night before (drained the water out of the tofu; mixed soy sauce, lime juice, honey, granulated garlic, and ginger in a glass lasagna pan; sliced the tofu 1/4″ thick; laid it in the sauce, then flipped it over; put the covered pan in the refrigerator) so that all Daniel had to do was take off the lid and bake at 375F for 15 minutes or until crisp at the edges.
- Friday: Spaghetti with more of the new sauce. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower steamed from frozen. Nicholas wanted Italian dressing on his pasta and no vegetables. I told him he had to eat either a good portion of the tomato sauce or at least 6 pieces of vegetables. Whining ensued, along with attempts to divide a bit of broccoli into microscopic “pieces”, until he realized that any of the 3 types of vegetables would count–he didn’t have to eat all 3–which I hadn’t thought to spell out because it seemed obvious to me. He did not mind eating 6 Brussels sprouts saturated in Italian dressing and extra salt.
- Lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches made with my spaghetti sauce. Clementines.
- Dinner: Vegetarian Split Pea Soup made in the slow cooker, with Triscuits, followed by banana bread. I’m not sure I had ever made banana bread before! Daniel had told me on Thursday that he was surprised to realize we had 3 pounds of bananas (which I’d bought at Costco the previous Saturday) because they were “hiding” behind the clementines and I had “never mentioned” having bought them. I’m pretty sure that I did mention it and that I left them lying around in plain sight for a while before I finished putting away all the groceries, but whatever; the point was that the bananas had not been eaten in breakfasts and lunches and afternoon snacks throughout the week as intended and were now “giraffe bananas,” as Nicholas put it, with large brown spots. We like ripe bananas and could eat a few, but not 3 pounds. So, banana bread! Saturday morning, I peeled the remaining bananas, Nicholas mashed them with the potato masher, and we measured the pulp: 3 cups. I found a recipe for banana bread in The Not Strictly Vegetarian Cookbook that calls for 1/4 pound of butter per loaf, but because Costco had been out of organic butter so I’d bought the cheap kind, this was less of an extravagance than it normally would be. I got out the butter to soften, but we didn’t have time to mix and bake the bread in the morning because we needed to start the soup and then have lunch so that Daniel and I could go to our “childbirth refresher” class all afternoon. I forgot to write down the source of the Split Pea Soup recipe, but it came out well; we substituted potato for celery since Nicholas and I hate celery and we needed to use up the rest of the bag of potatoes I had bought for Corn Chowder. Nicholas diced and measured the onion, carrot, and potato in the Chop Wizard and put them into the slow cooker. Then, while I measured the rest of the ingredients into the cooker, he chopped the rest of the potatoes. We’ve found that the Chop Wizard dices onion very well because it’s cutting across the layers that onions naturally have, but when you chop other foods, it makes neat squares in two dimensions while the third dimension is as long as the thickness of the original piece of food–so it was making strips of potatoes that looked like small French fries. Because I planned to freeze the extra potatoes for future soups, we were discussing whether to dice them the other direction with a knife or by lining up the strips on the Chop Wizard and trying to cut them again–when Nicholas decided he’d rather ask Daddy to make “baked fries” i.e. oven-roasted potatoes in the shape of French fries, coated in just olive oil and salt. We compromised by freezing 2 cups of diced potato for a future Corn Chowder and saving the remaining 3 cups in a big jar for “fries” on Monday. Anyway, after being out of the house all afternoon with the heat turned down, it was really nice to come home to the smell of cooking soup. It was still kind of watery, so I cooked it for another hour while mixing up the banana bread and starting it baking. Fresh, buttery banana bread was a delicious second course after the soup!
This month of meals worked for me! Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more articles about food! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ideas on avoiding food waste! Visit Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more money-saving strategies!
For even more Lenten meal ideas, check out these 50 vegan meals from Anna at Stuffed Veggies!