what’s for dinner?

December 3, 2009 |  Category:   cooking life


Maybe it’s ironic, maybe it’s not, but back when Mark worked a regular old day job as a Pastry Chef, we used to eat like Kings. Yes, he’d leave at the ungodly hour of 4:45am in the morning every day, but that also meant that even after putting in a full day’s work he’d get home in the afternoon around 3. Back then, there wasn’t much to do after work except cook a nice dinner and play with the kids. Once dinner and bedtime routines were done, he’d be in bed himself by 9:30. So in his spare time, he’d plan meals, go to the store and cook these really great dinners and desserts pretty much every single night.

I think even you can see that we’ve been posting recipes less and less since we started this blog. One of the main reasons we set up sweet fine day was to post and archive recipes. It was meant to be a sort of collecting place and a first pass at recipe documentation for a future (waaay in the future) project like a cookbook. If you’ve ever known a chef, then you may know that many chefs don’t write recipes down in a manner that most normal people would be able to follow. At least in Mark’s case, it’s just measurements and maybe a bit of chicken scratched notes. There might also be a tiny drawing of what the dessert might plate like – I mean, like really little, a drawing smaller than a postage stamp – but often nothing else written down. But there have been fewer recipes on the blog and it most definitely is a reflection of what’s going on in our house.

So what are we eating these days? Sadly it’s been a lot of thrown together fare or stuff pulled from the freezer. There just isn’t as much time anymore, especially these days when we are at our busiest of the year. A few times a week if we’re lucky, there might be a roast chicken or pork, a pasta, and maybe some kind of easy build-it-yourself Mexican Food night, but we’ve been in a food rut and we’re getting tired of the same old same old. We’re often left craving satisfying food. Because of our finely tuned food budget, we only buy what’s on a grocery list which prevents us from buying a lot of crap at the store. The upside? Our monthly food costs are fairly low for a family of 4 and we rarely waste food ever (yay). The downside? Our fridge almost always looks empty and we never really seem to have any extra “stuff” to snack on (boo). Ironic, yes? So, dear readers, what are you making for dinners these days? ‘Cause as you can see from above, tonight we had Chinese take-out (hot and sour soup for my newly sore throat, oh no!). It’s something we rarely do so it was definitely a treat, especially for the girls who love wonton soup, but it’s not a habit we can take on no matter how busy we get.

So…I’m guessing many of you can relate?

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  • mrs boo radley December 3, 2009 at 1:39 am

    Potatoes in 49 fresh new ways…
    Kale salad…
    Beef burgers a la beans and mache and olives…
    We eat lots of leftovers. And millions of eggs. Sometimes for dinner. And soaked overnight pancakes. Which, technically, are soaked “overday” pancakes.
    And we’re happy because we eat gobs of butter.
    But I feel like I’m always rushing lately, and that meal time comes and goes and seems disjointed. Ugh.
    I think I need to sit and reflect more. And push the laptop away while chewing. 😉

  • Anna December 3, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Oh yeah. When my son was The Most Difficult Newborn Ever I pretty much survived on yogurt and power bars. My husband ate a lot of frozen pizza.

  • chrisi December 3, 2009 at 8:00 am

    try this! it’s roasted chicken, baked apples and leeks! just throw it in a baking dish, cook it for about an hour, and it’s DELICIOUS!
    hope you enjoy :]

  • tina December 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I made this. http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/main-dish/dinner-for-a-crowd-recipe-slowcooked-hoisin-pork-wraps-with-peanut-slaw-079670

    My whole family loved it! My husband still raves about it.

  • Mary-Ellen December 3, 2009 at 9:28 am

    My weeknight consists of Monday hot dogs and beans, Tuesday cheeseburgers with salad, Wednesday marinated london broil with a veggie and salad, Thursday is Chinese food takeout, Friday is grilled chicken with home made taziki sauce. Saturday we eat out and Sunday I make pizza. I would love if you shared your grocery shopping list. This works for me since I work 10 hours a day and I am exhausted. Just like you, I am on a strict budget, with family of four. My frustration is I go over budget every week and wind up having to use a credit card to pick up the slack. Each week, I swear I have budgeted enough and never do. It would be interesting to me to see how you budget. I have to budget for two weeks because i get paid bi-weekly. It’s always the second week I run into trouble.

  • paule Trudel Bellemare December 3, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Hey, i’ve dicovered rice pudding lately…i make it with brown rice so i dont feel as guilty..
    i let the rice soak over night. and then rince and cook it in milk. (with vanilla and cinnamon, and a bit of left over coffee when there is. but i thrust you would flavor it so much better then me…)

    it takes a little while to cook so i do the dishes and stuff like that while its doing it’s thing.
    and since its really filling, sometimes i end up snaking on the left over pudding for dinner, or late nights hunger.

    good luck with your rut.

  • kin December 3, 2009 at 10:40 am

    hey jenna, i’m a recentley graduated art student working two jobs and living with my boyfriend who’s still in school and working. we have so little time or money for meals, but i try to make good nutritious things despite it all. (i am a vegetarian too, so it’s more difficult to make meat-free meals that will still satisfy the boy!) lately we’ve had a lot of stir-fry/pasta combinations (broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, shallots, etc. with tofu and chow mein or some whole wheat pasta). & home-made lasagna takes a while to cook but relatively little time to prepare, and leaves us with leftovers for work. (i layer “meat” sauce with layers of ricotta cheese and broccoli).have also recently discovered polenta, and salads with lots of seeds and nuts. but you might have a harder time getting picky miss C to eat something like that!

  • kin December 3, 2009 at 10:43 am

    p.s. for “stuff” on hand to snack on that won’t quickly spoil we always have cheese, crackers and pickles. they’ll all last forever and taste awesome combined when you want something to munch on. also granny smith apples, because i love them, but you might not.

  • ptouche December 3, 2009 at 10:57 am

    oh jenna ~ i hear you! my husband and i own/run a small recording studio in the midwest and right now is our busy time too – while we certainly enjoy/depend on the income, it doesn’t make for a very balanced lifestyle. we both love to cook which is really ironic because this is the time of year to pull out all the stops and all i want to pull out is the bed and my pillow! so we resort to eggs, yogurt w/granola, soup, etc. not very exciting or satisfying i’m afraid, plus we aren’t lucky enough to live in an area with great takeout – boo! hang in there!!

  • k_darling December 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I’m a vegetarian but my husband is not, so since I do all of the cooking I try to keep it a little more interesting that pasta every night (though I’m not going to lie, we do eat a LOT of pasta). Lately one of my favorite things has been warm farro salads with roasted vegetables and some sort of vinaigrette – either lemon or a balsamic reduction.

  • Mery December 3, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I do the same regarding groceries, I plan the meals, make a list and stick to it. But the other day Alex was complaining that there’s no extra food for when you have a craving for something else…. sheesh! So this is what I’ve been eating lately, lots of different kale based salads, hearty soups that are hearty enough to be a meal (black bean soup with chorizo, chowders etc), and make a lot so I freeze the left overs for when there’s no time to cook (I know, it doesn’t taste the same but it is oh so convenient!) and stews. Basically anything that can be cooked in one pot and that contains a protein, a veg and a carb.

  • mixette December 3, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Definitely hear ya! When I get in a rut and am totally bored with the usual stuff I cook, I have been popping over to thepioneerwoman’s cooking section for easy inspiration. Not really my style as-is (nothing against her at all) but browsing there often gets me going again.

    I’ve been making her old-school comfort food BBQ Meatballs, but changing it up a bit: using turkey, adding grated vegetables to the mix, making them tiny and serving in broth, or with rice instead of the mashed potatoes, using sriracha and cider vinegar in the “sauce”, etc. It’s easy, makes a lot, keeps well for leftovers, and the girls might like to roll out the meatballs too.

    Original recipe here: http://tinyurl.com/dlvgmf

  • Aimee December 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    My boyfriend and I cook at home almost exclusively because right now we don’t have the extra cash to spend eating out. It’s great reading everyone else’s meals, I’m going to have to use some of those ideas!

    Here are a few of our go to meals –
    – pasta mixed with ragu and then put into a backing dish with mozzarella on top and broiled in the oven – inexpensive, quick and easy!
    – homemade (or frozen) pizza
    – tacos with refried black beans, lettuce, cheese, and green onions
    – lasagna (and then lots of leftovers)
    – beef stew with potatoes, peas, carrots and onions (and then lots of leftovers)
    – potato and leek soup
    – white bean and garlic soup
    – cooked chicken breast with a sprinkling of lemon pepper, steamed broccoli and a baked yam

  • Alicia December 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Errr.. I eat a lot of Amy’s canned food. Is that awful? It’s all whole and organic, though. The black bean soup is great, also the chili. Homemade chili is a great recipe this time of year, have you tried Anna of Door Sixteen’s recipe? So good, and not spicy. I also love to slice sweet potatoes about 1/4″ thick, toss with oil, salt and pepper, and bake on 425 for 25 minutes. Last, there was a great recipe in one of my cookbooks for the best broth for udon noodles. It’s basically dashi stock (homemade), soy sauce, salt and sugar, but it’s amazing. I need to make that again soon.

  • Mariana December 3, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Hi! I really don’t remember how I have “discovered” your blog…But since that happened I’m always seeing your beautiful photos. I’m brazilian and I love to see different people talking about their ‘day-by-day’ life – exactly what you do here and you really know how to do it in a delicate and artistic way . Congratulations! Now, talking about the dinner : I’m only going to describe it as a curiosity but I really don’t think you’ ll be able (or excited ) to do it in your home, because it’s a regional dish: our couscous it’s a little bit different of the ones that are made in the USA or England and are very common in the northeast of Brazil. We eat them with fried eggs , butter, meat… In this link you can see a photo: http://marcelokatsuki.folha.blog.uol.com.br/images/floc9-cuscuz350.jpg. Bye!

  • gizella December 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    yup, we’re a one income household, we eat out once a week, and its a $4 burrito. So: We roast a chicken on the weekend, then we’ll make either: enchiladas, or pot pies, which we freeze, so we can have next week too. Chili, its easy. Soup, which we also freeze portions of for the week. HomemadePizza (see chicken mentioned above) for our “treat”. We buy some trader joes dried and freeze dried fruits for snacks.

  • emeline December 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    hugs on the food front! we have two ridiculously picky eaters, one dad who work 16 hour days and comes home at 7pm and a mama in her first trimester. AND a business plan to finish up after the kids go down? BOO.

    So food front:
    + sometimes it’s pancakes for dinner! I throw in some ground flax seed and mashed sweet potatoes and don’t feel too quilty.
    + sweet potato quesadillas (roast sweet potato, make rice, shred cheese) Combine it all in a quesadilla with tomatillo salsa. Tendancy to throw that one in too many nights a week.
    +soup and croque Mr. type sandwhiches.
    +chicken drumsticks brushed w/ tomato sauce and honey. Baked in oven

    it’s not much, but I hope it helps! Love those sheets by the way…

  • CER December 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    We’re big believers in making soups & things on Sunday or Monday evenings to last through the week. Most recently, we’ve been making one soup a week (always easy & healthy) and portioning it off — and on Monday evening, we put together a big pot of chili. I brown bag all of my lunches & so our cooking ahead of time helps a lot during the week: tupperware of chili, some fruit & a yogurt and I’m good to go. We also have the leftovers for dinners, but may roast some potatoes & veggies to go along with whatever we warm up. When I’m ravenous post-work, breakfast for dinner is my go-to. I love a good egg scramble with lots of veggies, or wheat/flax pancakes with yogurt & fruit. I’m also going to make an effort to look for some slow cooker recipes — we’ve had one for ages & I feel like it’d help to put a heftier meal on the table despite our busy schedules.

  • Jenna December 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    wow, thanks for all the suggestions so far. It’s making me hungry now that I feel like eating again.

    Mary Ellen, we don’t really have a formula for our grocery list – it’s whatever we need to make the meals that we’ve planned. Mark also goes a few times a week – we rarely do a huge once a week grocery trip. We keep our budget down because we don’t usually buy prepackaged foods, or really anything extra like snacks. We never buy drinks, that includes wine or beer and even juice. We buy as much bulk as we can at costco.

  • cvjn December 3, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    hmm… I was a little worried about commenting since your foodies, but the comments are very reassuring. You know what I”m loving these days? Martha Stewart’s Bean and Bacon soup. I use the good Nyman Ranch bacon so it’s really tasty and canned beans so it’s easy. Both the soup, and crumbled bacon bits freeze really well, so I always make a double recipe and freeze plenty for lunches and/or busy week nights.


  • Dianne Nelson December 4, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I can SO relate! I get tired of the same old foods all the time. I love interesting tastes but my family doesn’t. We seem to rotate the same 40 dishes or so. For quick things, we do something I call “Mom-golian grill”–I saute a bunch of vegetables in a sesame oil, throw in some leftover chicken, add some ramen noodles and some teriyaki sauce, garlic, and other seasonings and presto! dinner everyone enjoys. It’s also a good way to use up leftovers.


  • ray December 4, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I’m know I’m late getting into this one… but I got a slow cooker fairly recently, and it’s a game changers. I usually for the throw it all in a pot and come back in 6 hours and it’s done recipes. Soups, stews, chili, roasts… YEAH!

  • Annemarie December 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    If it wasn’t for my aunt who cooks for my family once a week, we wouldn’t have very many home cooked meals. Some of my favorite go to meals are chicken noodle soup, chili and that’s about it. For some reason I stopped cooking and never really picked it back up, even with some serious trying. Good to see you do.