Monday, March 9, 2015

Family meals 4: guest blogger Melanie

Wow! This family meals series keeps getting better and better. I'm not going to want to share my own meals any time soon, because our guest bloggers have some awesome ideas. They are so inspiring :)

Next up is my friend Melanie. She's from Alberta, Canada, and is living nearby while her husband is in graduate school. I have been so blessed by her friendship and am thrilled to let you hear from her today.

My name is Melanie and I'm currently on a maternity leave as a junior high humanities teacher from Western Canada. My husband and I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia seven months ago with our then five week old daughter. We moved so my husband could go back to school, now studying to be an optometrist. I love music (singing & playing the piano), reading, fitness, and caring for our beautiful daughter. It's been a crazy half year, but we're enjoying our 'quaint' American life here! 

I've never been huge into cooking, preferring to bake because it's less pressure than hungry tummies everyday. But sitting down at the beginning of the week before a grocery run with a calendar and grocery list makes it a whole lot less stressful and even enjoyable. I'm pretty formal with cooking, preferring to stick to a recipe rather than experiment (although I'm always looking up substitutions for spices/ingredients I don't have). I do cook with a few things in mind: my husband is sensitive to dairy and although my seven month old is eating most of our food, I try to keep large chunks for her to eat. I sometimes cook for my in-laws who also have a number of food sensitivities (including tomatoes, apples, MSG, corn) and also are gluten-free and semi-vegetarian).

For my husband I can basically sub out milk for a variety of alternatives (I prefer almond milk because I've been aware about some concerns with soy). I usually buy a 'fake' cheese, which I can find locally for a reasonable price (unfortunately this alternative is soy as there don't seem to be as many options). I avoid recipes with yogurt because I haven't found a good substitute. When preparing food for our daughter I cut a few large chunks of tomato or sweet potato for example, toss it in with the rest of the dish, and find it for her later when we serve the dish. This is no exact science... LOL

One aspect that has really gotten me more excited about cooking is finding really tasty & healthy recipes I know I'll use over and over again- this is one recipe book I swear by! I also have a binder with slip covers where I collect recipes that I rip out from magazines or print out from the computer. During the week I try to vary meats (chicken, beef etc), vary serving meat and meatless dishes, and I serve fish at least once a week. I've also tried to avoid the 'dirty dozen' by buying organic food from this list. I can find a lot of organic produce for an affordable price at Walmart and of course Trader Joe's (I struggle to pay the $ at Whole Foods). I can buy more organic food in bulk now because stores like Costco offer it (like tomatoes and applesauce). I'm also trying to do a better job at adding healthy fats etc. to our meals like flax and chia. 

Over the past year and a half I've started to buy dry beans, cook, and freeze them in can-size portions. Not only is it cheaper but it avoids the dangers of BPA in the lining of canned food. I don't do it all the time and for things like canned tomatoes and tuna I can't avoid it, but I try to do what I can. I find meat out here a lot more expensive (I come from a province known for its beef) and I'm also trying to find other ways to supplement protein (ie beans) so I usually reduce the meat portion a bit and trying to serve at least one or two meatless recipes a week. My husband looooves meat but I'm slowly finding more meatless recipes that he enjoys almost as much as dishes with meat- that's a success! He would also love to have pasta everyday... but that's a whole other endeavor.

I'm also a bit of a cheater: With just two adults in our house I can often cook one day and serve leftovers the next day, especially because the recipes I use often make large quantities. I really value having an 'off' day and frequently end up baking that day instead. I usually prefer one-dish recipes where I can toss everything together. If I do serve sides it's usually with fish or a whole chicken in the crock pot. I have been trying to include more varieties of plain vegetables (as opposed to in a dish, but still served with things like lemon, garlic etc) because we're trying to introduce to our daughter to them one at a time. 

Monday: Leftover jambalaya. This is an easy dish I usually just serve with shrimp. This time I also had kielbasa (extra happy husband!). It's got lots of kick. The recipe uses canned diced tomatoes, celery, bell pepper, onion, lots of herbs and is served with rice. You can make it in a crock pot but often I just toss it together and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Tuesday: Ate out with in-laws (a rare treat and success with our seven-month old!)

Wednesday: Roasted Vegetables with rice (I would usually serve it with whole wheat couscous but it's not gluten free. Also this recipe has no tomatoes). This is not the exact recipe I use but it's easy to mix and match veggies. The recipe I use includes zucchini, sweet potato, portabello mushroom, carrots, red onion, bell pepper, chickpeas all in a balsamic vinegar/olive oil with rosemary. Add feta cheese for me!

Thursday: Leftovers. I'm pretty predictable with leftovers. Heat on stove or microwave and serve. Easy as pie! 

Friday: Baked salmon with lemon juice, garlic powder, parsley, and a bit of butter. Cook for 20-25 at 400; Served with quinoa salad with red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, and feta cheese for me. 

Saturday: It was Valentine's Day so I made butternut squash (roasted and then served with butter), ribs (cooked in the crock-pot with an easy sauce from epicure saved for a special event), green beans (boiled) and rice (cook half white and half brown). My husband LOVES ribs, so it was a special treat.

Sunday: Leftovers

Monday: Moroccan Stew. This website (same as Roasted Veggies from Wed) is put together by the Canadian sisters who wrote the cookbook I love so much. This recipe is slightly different online than in my recipe book. The online version includes kale and coconut milk which I'll have to try next time! 

But don't be fooled- my easy meals when I haven't planned or I'm tired include shrimp stir-fry with frozen veggies from Costco, pasta with a veggie tomato sauce, or scrambled eggs & toast! If I have extra after a meal (or two with leftovers) I try to put some homemade chili or cooked meat in the freezer for a fast option later.

Thanks for letting me share some of my journey with cooking. I'm always trying to improve my approach and I'm inspired by others' stories. Bon appetite!

Thanks so much for sharing, Melanie! These are some yummy sounding meals!

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