Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dinner planning on the Scramble

For a couple weeks now I’ve been trying out dinner planning, Six O’Clock Scramble style (the healthy, family-friendly dinner planning service and cookbook I first mentioned on January 7). First I tried out a week’s worth of menus from the online service for free. And once I realized how much I was enjoying this new approach for simple but healthy cooking, organized grocery shopping and the opportunity to let my family’s tired taste buds try out a new meal every single night, I decided to do a story for the Ledger-Enquirer’s Taste section, which you can read here. It includes an interview with Scramble mastermind Aviva Goldfarb, who’s made it her mission in life to discover recipes that are healthy, kid-palatable and relatively simple to execute.

I’m no artist in the kitchen, and since I rely on recipes anyway, the Scramble has been a nice way to mix things up and try out a lot of new meals without worrying that Will might snub the stuff. So far, we’ve all eaten hearty portions of every Scramble meal I’ve made. (I’ll admit here that Will is probably a less finicky eater than your average toddler.) Rob says he might not want to have the New Year’s Gumbo again but it was fine once. And I’ll admit that I didn’t like Chips Ole’ quite as much as Will (he was THRILLED to get to dip blue corn tortilla chips into meat sauce – we used ground turkey -- and call it dinner). But for the most part, everything’s getting rave reviews. Many of the recipes do rely on canned beans or canned tomatoes to keep things manageable in terms of time and cost, but there’s also a lot of fresh produce and whole grains in the mix. Most of the time, I made the suggested sides too (or my own variation on them), and we wound up eating a wider variety of vegetables for that reason. Here’s some of the Scramble menus (minus all the side dishes) that we’ve eaten over the past couple weeks:

From the sample online newsletter (you can view these five recipes here):

Goddess Chicken with Artichokes
Ginger Shrimp (Chicken or Tofu) and Broccoli Stir-fry (We chose tofu, even though we try not to eat very much of it these days),
Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes
Chips Ole
New Years Good Luck Gumbo

From the winter section of the cookbook:
Chicken Diablo
Flounder with Lemony Bread Crumb Topping
Quesadillas with spinach and onions
Split Pea Soup with a Touch of Curry
Lentil and Cheese Casserole (Vegetarian meatloaf)
Pumpkin black bean soup

Tonight we’ll be trying a honey-baked salmon (stolen from the summer section of the cookbook, when I realized I’d forgotten to get lime for the “Wild Salmon or Arctic Char with Chili-Lime Spice Rub” in the winter section).

You can view a couple of Aviva’s favorite Scramble recipes at the end of the online story. And she gave me permission to share a couple of my favorites so far from the cookbook. I’m not going to include recipes for the suggested side dishes, but they are in the cookbook.

Chicken Diablo (Prep 15 minutes; Cook 50 minutes)

4 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup honey
1 tsp curry powder
1 whole chicken, cut up (or 8-12 chicken pieces of your choice) (I cut up a whole chicken and made chicken stock with the left-over carcass and wings to use in later meals. Obviously this turns it into less of a quick scramble recipe, but the payoff of a batch of homemade chicken stock was worth it for me.)

Preheat the oven to 350. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the mustard, honey, and curry powder and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce is well mixed, about 2 minutes.

Arrange the chicken pieces in a large baking pan. Pour the sauce over the chicken. (At this point you can refrigerate the chicken and sauce for up to 24 hours or bake it right away.)

Bake the chicken for 50 minutes. Halfway through, turn the chicken over and baste it with the sauce. For browner tops, put the chicken under the boriler for the final 5 minutes of cooking.

Recommended side dish: Lemon-pepper asparagus

Flounder with Lemony Bread Crumb Topping (Even Rob, who just doesn’t like fish much, admitted he enjoyed this meal. The fresh lemon and fresh parsley are a must, I think.)
2 flounder fillets (about 1 to 1½ pounds total)
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsely
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon), plus additional for serving
½ teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 clove)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray the top of the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the fish fillets on the baking sheet. In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, oil, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt and mustard and mix them together well with a fork. Press an equal amount of the bread crumb mixture onto the top of each fillet.
Bake the fish until it is white and flakes easily in the center, about 10 minutes. For a browner topping, broil it for the final 2 minutes of cooking. Sprinkle the fish with additional lemon juice before serving if desired.

Recommended side dish: Asian Rice Pilaf

I haven’t been a Scramble purist quite. When one week’s menu called for a Greek penne pasta with kalamata olives, for example, (one of the few things Rob just plain refuses to eat is olives) I substituted with a chickpea pasta recipe that my friend Ginny recently shared with me. It was easy and delicious, so I’ll share it soon when it won’t get confused with the Scramble fare.

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