Have Fun, Try Something New, and Set the Table

One Pot Sticky ChickenSometimes life gets busy and we don’t always eat at the table, but I find that if I set the table early during the cooking process, when I say “dinner’s ready” everyone sits down.  Nice! They have been trained and you can train yours.  These are the best nights, the nights when we get a better look into each others lives and connect again.  I love it.  It is family, connection, depth, it is good.


I love to get up on Saturday mornings while the house is still quiet and sit down with a nice cup of coffee.  It is during this time that I search cookbooks, magazines, and the internet for meal ideas.  I settle on 5 possible meals and then make my grocery list based on this.   You can adjust the number to fit your family.  We usually eat leftovers once or twice or go out once. I don’t assign meals to certain days because time can be an issue on any given day and sometimes I’m not in the mood for one dish, but maybe I am for another.  Flexibility.  The real help for me is knowing that I have some ideas to pull from and that I have everything I need to make them.  I also take a mental inventory of my pantry and fridge to see what I already have on hand so that I can be as economical as possible.  It is worth the time taken once a week to plan.  Or, just stop by this blog and pick a week.  It is why I’m hear after all.  The grocery list is an important part of this, it helps cut down costs and makes sure you have what you need.  Don’t go to the store without it.  Ready?  Let’s get started.

The Meals:

1.  Sweet Potato Soup w/ Blue Corn Tortillas by Bobby Flay/foodnetwork:  Note, the chipotles in adobo sauce can be very warm and you may need to make adjustments up or down based on your family/guests.

Time: 1 1/2 hour

Ease: Simple to moderate

Result: Most everyone loved this, not everyone.  It has combination of spicy, sweet, and smokey.  I will make this again. Serve with cornbread and a nice green vegetable.

2.  Fajitas: I sort of threw this one together using Stonewall Kitchen’s Maple Chipotle sauce about 3 tablespoons (you can find this at Kohl’s, Fresh Market or online), left over london broil, a couple tablespoons of tequila, a few squeezes of lime, garlic, a variety of bell peppers, and yellow onion.  Tip: to make sour cream easy to dress with try mixing with buttermilk and pouring from a squeeze bottle.  Be creative. Another Tip: freeze things like the chipotle sauce in single use amounts in ziplockbags to have on hand for future dishes.

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ease: simple

Result: family favorite. Serve with a simple salad and guacamole

3.  Skillet Lasagna:  Use the link as a guide, but feel creative with this one.  I used Newman’s own spaghetti sauce because I had it on hand, I also used spinach pasta in place of lasagna noodles for the same reason.  No reason for things just to sit in the pantry.

Time: 30 minutes

Ease: simple

Result: Turned out nicely, tasted about like you would expect.  We enjoyed it. Serve with steamed green beans or a salad.

4. Quiche: NOTE:MAKE DAY AHEAD FOR BEST TEXTURE. (we didn’t, but I recommend it.)This was a base for me and it takes a lot of work and hopefully Thomas Keller will never read this blog, because I am sure he will cringe repeatedly.  Apologies to great chefs for all that I am about to say for the sake of the basic home cook. First I used a store bought pastry; not the one in the tin, but the Pillsbury one you roll out. Next instead of mushrooms I used broccoli and caramelized onions. Don’t be afraid of caramelized onions, if you start it before anything else you will have sweet, browned, delicious onions by the time you are ready to use them. Lastly, for some reason I do not own a blender and had to make do with the magic bullet, soooo It could have gone a little better. But, even unskilled, ill-prepared this was so yummy!

Time:  2 hours prep & cooking and overnight resting

Ease: complicated

Result: Worth every minute of time.  This quiche is taller than most and great flavor and texture.

5.  One-Pot Sticky Chicken Wings and Udon Soup.  I already had chicken breasts that I had frozen when they were on sale, so instead of wings I used chicken cut into nugget sizes.  I also had run out of star anise and used some anise seeds and it worked fine.  Mirin, oyster sauce, Thai pepper paste and Sake can be found in the ethnic section of many grocery stores. Udon noodles may be found a Whole Foods or ethnic groceries-spaghetti can be substituted.  As I look at this recipe for the blog I realize I forgot the oyster sauce and it was still great.  The Udon soup was thrown together with chicken broth, soy sauce, scallions, mushrooms, carrot slivers, and Thai pepper paste,  then topped with mung beans.

Time: 40 minutes

Ease: simple-moderate

Result:  My husband and I loved this meal and will eat it again.  I think this will become a family favorite.  To make it fun I served it with chopsticks on china.

A few more things: I buys spices from places like Whole Foods and Savory Spice Shop and find that I can have fun with exotic spices without spending a fortune.  I usually spend less that $2.00.  If this week sound intimidating keep checking back.  Some weeks I go crazy on the experimental side and other weeks its just the basics.  After a month or so you should see a variety of recipes ranging in difficulty, price, and time.  There will be something just your speed. Lastly, this blog is fluid and with your feedback I will add or remove things that I think will make it more helpful and easier to follow.

Have fun, try something new and set the table.


8 thoughts on “Have Fun, Try Something New, and Set the Table

  1. Love your ideas. You are so smart and talented. You make me proud. Even when it’s just the two of us, I always set the table. I like to use his grandmother’s dishes and I also use my mother’s dishes when I cook recipes she made. It makes a comfort food truly special. (ie..potato salad always goes in her special bowl) I like having spices and herbs on hand. I was buying them fresh at our community market and she advised me to freeze them and they would stay fresh and last two or three years, at least. So, I only put a small amount in my spice rack and freeze the rest. This works for whole nutmeg too.

  2. Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
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    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
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  3. This is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very precise info… Many thanks for
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