Meal Planning and Steel Cut Oats

Today is a little departure from the usual. My column in the Yakima Herald today is about basic meal planning. Do you meal plan? My version is fairly informal but it’s a system that works pretty well for us. At the bottom of the post is a recipe for our favorite steel cut oats. I make a big batch on Sundays and keep it in the fridge all week for easy breakfasts. We’re almost to the weekend friends.


I have a friend who is an excellent meal planner. She sits down every week with her husband and they decide on dinners for the week. They make a grocery list of the items they need and one of them goes to the store. They assign dinners to each night based on their weekly schedule and then cook their meals according to the schedule. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But for so many of us, it’s not that simple at all.

For the left-brained creative-types and the flustered, busy, over-tired parents, for those that aren’t sure they even like to cook, and everyone in between, planning an entire week’s worth of meals is more than a little intimidating; it’s downright daunting. At least that’s how I feel most weeks.

But I also know that to make healthy fresh food for my family, I need a plan. Daily trips to the grocery store with three young kids is out of the question and I don’t want to rely too heavily on take-out and frozen pizzas.

What works for me is to spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods I want my family to eat during the week. I’ve found that having produce readily available, washed, cut-up and in plain view ensures we all have an easier time reaching for a fruit or vegetable first.

Each week I hit my local fruit stand. Right now I’m buying bags of plums and nectarines, peaches, bell peppers, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and green beans. This is where I start with planning meals for the week. After I’ve made my haul in the produce department, I head to the grocery store, list in hand with the remaining items I need.

On Sundays, when I typically have more time to putter in the kitchen, I do the bulk of my prep for the week. I wash and chop fruits and vegetables. I usually make some kind of salad for easy lunches and muffins or a quick bread for easy breakfast for my kids. Sometimes I make an egg dish and roast a pan of vegetables but mostly it depends on what looked good at the store and what I’m in the mood to cook.

Breakfasts and lunches get exponentially easier on busy weekday mornings. The kids choose between cereal and whatever I’ve prepped for the week and they help themselves. It’s the same for packing lunches; they choose from the fruits and vegetables I’ve already prepared, we throw a sandwich together and they fill their water bottles.

This week I made a loaf of pumpkin bread and a big pot of steel cut oats. I also made tuna salad and chicken salad and some whole-wheat couscous. I cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers and washed and trimmed grapes. When I open my fridge, these are the items I see first and what I build meals around all week.

Everyone in my family loves oatmeal, so I thought I would share my recipe for steel cut oats. Hearty and delicious, the only downside to steel-cut oats is the time it takes to make them. I get around this by making a big pot on the weekend and storing it in the fridge. On weekday mornings, we spoon portions into individual bowls and pop them in the microwave. We top ours with a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of frozen blueberries but raisins and cinnamon or a fresh sliced peach and a drizzle of honey is lovely too.


Creamy Steel-Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

In a pot combine water, milk, salt and oats. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat to low. Cook oats at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes stirring frequently. When oats are finished cooking, gently stir in maple syrup, cinnamon and chia seeds. Spoon oats into individual bowls and top with favorite toppings. Save remaining oats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

 

Pretty Great Pumpkin Bread

I want to call this the best-ever pumpkin bread or maybe easy and perfect pumpkin bread but the reality is there are approximately 27,432 recipes for pumpkin bread out there and I would wager a bet that 90 percent of the recipes you stumble onto are pretty great.

So here’s another pretty great recipe to add to your list when you’re in the mood for something pumpkin and feeling all those fall vibes.

Me? I’m not feeling fall-ish yet, but I’m going for it anyway. I live in a town absolutely enveloped in smoke from wild fires surrounding us on all sides. It’s been hot (brutally hot actually) and the smoke is thick and choking. It makes your throat sore and your eyes burn and sometimes you see ash falling from the sky. The kids can’t go outside for recess and outdoor practices and games have been cancelled going on two weeks.

It doesn’t particularly feel like fall where I live but doesn’t feel like summer either…or any season really. Obviously all of this pales in comparison to very real tragedies and natural disasters happening all over the country/world in the last little bit. I was texting with my mother-in-law today and as she was telling me about a school shooting that happened today in the town I grew up in, we both agreed we feel helpless and defeated by so much hurt all around us. It’s a heavy, worrying, hard hard time for so many.

And pumpkin bread won’t change any of that terrible hurt but it might put a smile on your kid’s faces when they come home from a hard day at school. Or you could double this recipe and drop a loaf off for a friend as a surprise. And you could absolutely slice it thick and slather it in butter and enjoy it slowly with a cup of coffee and maybe those five minutes will recharge you in some small way.


This is one of those easy one-bowl recipes that are great for little people to jump in and ‘help’ with. The other great thing is that the recipe calls for one whole can of pumpkin, which is perfect since I hate wasting the last bit of pumpkin out of the can but I also never have any ideas how to use it up except to make more treats. One can. One loaf. Done.


Pretty Great Pumpkin Bread (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix
  • Two pinches of ground cloves
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a LARGE loaf pan, grease with butter and flour or a piece of parchment paper. 

In the bowl of a large mixing bowl beat pumpkin, coconut oil, eggs, vanilla and sugar until well-combined with no lumps. Using a wooden spoon or spatula stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all spices. When batter is just combined, scoop into loaf pan. 

In a small bowl combine one tablespoon raw sugar (regular white sugar is fine too) with one teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle over the top of the bread. Bake for approximately one hour or until a toothpick  poked in the center of the bread comes out clean.

Peanut Butter Granola

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For some reason I was in a funk last week. I’m not quite sure why but if I had to take a guess it probably had something to do with 100 plus degree temps, tired, bored, antsy kids and thick smoke from forest fires to the north of us descending on the Valley leaving us in a foggy soupy mess. Or maybe I was just grumpy. Who knows.

And just when I thought I might legitimately pull my hair out, a friend invited the kids and I to head up into the mountains for a hike along the Tieton River. We even got a patch of blue sky for a bit and the kids splashed and played in the river for hours. We explored a cave and a waterfall and even found a little natural water slide. It was good to get out of our usual routine and just play and have fun together. You would think after eight years of parenting I would recognize that when we get out of sync as a family, nine times out of ten, we just need to get out of the house and go for an adventure. A little change to the routine makes EVERYONE happier.

I went into the weekend feeling settled and eager for more adventures before the summer is over. Way too soon we are going to be back into our busy routines and I don’t want to miss this last month with the kids home.

With the smoke still settled heavily over our town, we spent a lot of time inside this weekend which left me time to putter and play in the kitchen. I’ve been testing out my new instant pot which I was initially a little skeptical of but I think I’m turning into a believer. I made Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork yesterday and that alone made the purchase worth it. I’ve also made a couple of roast chickens and some bone broth. This week I’m going to make some grains and beans. I’ll keep you posted with how it all goes.

Once I got on a roll in the kitchen, I was kind of a mad woman. I started going through my pantry and decided that I had too many half open bags of coconut, almonds, oats and raisins. I used to make granola all the time and thought the kids would like it on their yogurt. I started whipping up a batch and at the last second decided to stir a little peanut butter into the mixture. The result was a nutty, sweet (but not too sweet) granola with a hint of peanut butter taste. I made the kids parfaits with vanilla yogurt, granola and fresh blueberries and they gobbled them right up.

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Peanut Butter Granola

  • 5 cups rolled oats (NOT instant)
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a large bowl mix oat, coconut, almonds, cinnamon and salt together. In a small sauce pan, melt butter, coconut oil, peanut butter and brown sugar together until melted and mixed well. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture and stir well until well combined. Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through so the granola gets golden brown on all sides. When the oats are toasty brown and fragrant, remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

To make a yogurt parfait, layer yogurt and granola in a cup and top with blueberries or favorite fruit. Peaches and raspberries are a personal favorite!

Raspberry and Almond Scones

IMG_8707.JPGJuly is my favorite month of the entire year. Growing up, July meant a few very specific things: berry picking, strawberry shortcake for dinner, boat rides and camping at the lake. To this day, I look forward to July all year. I’m sure having a birthday in July has something to do with it, especially considering my husband coined me the ‘birthday princess’ years ago.

Can I be honest? We’ve had a rocky start to the summer. Sickness has slowed us down and forced us to miss out on a lot of fun things in the last couple weeks. We came home from a weekend away and our precious kitty is missing. Living in the country you kind of have to expect this kind of thing from time to time but it doesn’t make it any easier.

All that to say, I’m ready to shake off the last few weeks and start fresh with our summer. We are finally (fingers crossed) healthy and ready to work through our summer-fun list.

At the top of the list is a Sunday stroll through the Yakima Farmers Market. I love slowly walking booth to booth, looking at everything. We buy a giant strawberry lemonade for our kids which they inevitably fight over and someone spills but somehow that’s part of the charm. We buy a loaf of bread from Buhrmaster Bakery and a plate of pad thai. We load up on fruits and vegetables for the week, whenever possible choosing something we wouldn’t typically find at the grocery store; a new variety of tomato, a purple bell pepper, sweet yellow carrots, or a big globe of daikon. If berries are in season, I buy a few pints, which my kids eat most of before we even get home. My last stop before we head home is the flower booth. I take my time choosing a bouquet knowing I’ll get to enjoy them all week on my kitchen island.

This week’s recipe is for fresh raspberry and almond scones. The tender sweet raspberries melt into the dough making pockets of perfectly sweet jammy bites. The hint of almond and crunch of raw sugar on top make these easy scones decadent and special. Perfect for a lazy Saturday morning or to bring to a party as a treat, you could easily turn these into dessert with a spoonful of fresh fruit and a dollop of whip cream.

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Raspberry Almond Cream Scones

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using clean hands or two forks, mix the butter (breaking it up) into the dough until there are no butter lumps bigger than the size of a pea. Gently stir the raspberries into the flour mixture. In a small bowl whisk together the heavy whipping cream, egg and almond extract. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and gently stir together with a spatula. Using your hands press the dough into a ball. Sprinkle flour on your countertop and knead the dough until it has just barely come together. Shape the dough into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges. Places the wedges on the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush or a spoon, brush the tops of the scones with melted butter. Sprinkle raw sugar over the top of each scone. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until a pale golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Best served warm from the oven, preferably with hot coffee and the early morning sun warming your back as you enjoy Yakima’s perfect summer weather.

Easy Breakfast

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We inherited nine chickens a few weeks ago. The new ladies settled in quickly making peace with the five chickens already living on the McCoy ranch. I think the new girls inspired the old chickens to lay a few more eggs because we went from getting one maybe two eggs a day to 11 or 12 sometimes 13 eggs in a day.

Needless to say, we give eggs away, we eat a lot of scrambled eggs for breakfast and I am constantly looking for ways to use eggs. Can you put an egg on it? Doesn’t matter, we’re going to try!

After two weeks straight of scrambled or fried eggs on toast, I couldn’t eat them one more day. I needed a change. Like right that very moment. I’m always looking for ways to add vegetables into my diet and breakfast is one place I really struggle. I throw handfuls of spinach into smoothies but that’s about it. I wanted something quick and easy, healthyish and to use up some of the eggs collecting on my kitchen counter. For this recipe, I used a little breakfast sausage and a bunch of vegetables dug out from my refrigerator. I skipped the cheese but that would be a delicious addition to this recipe. I sprinkled mine with a little hot sauce and a slice of avocado. Crisis averted. Still eating those eggs but funny how a small change can make such a big difference.

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Egg Casserole Muffins

  • 12 eggs
  • 1/2 pound breakfast sausage (you could also do ham or bacon instead), crumbled and browned, drained well of grease
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin well with cooking spray or line with muffin papers. In a large sauté pan, cook breakfast sausage until cooked through. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Using the same pan, sauté the zucchini, onion and pepper over medium-low heat until the vegetables are golden brown. Stir in the spinach and cook for 2 more minutes or until the spinach wilts. Salt and pepper. Turn the heat off and stir the sausage back into the vegetables.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together until well-combined. Salt and pepper eggs. To prepare the ‘muffins’ scoop the vegetable mixture into each muffin tin so that it’s about 1/3 to 1/2 way filled. Pour the eggs over the vegetables until each muffin tin is filled to the top. If you want to, sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until the eggs are firm and slightly brown around the edges. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a sharp  knife around the edges of the muffins before flipping them out of the tin. Allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. To eat later, simply microwave the eggs for 30 seconds until they are warmed all the way through.

 

Overnight Whole Wheat Waffles

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I got sidelined by a terrible cold over the weekend which worked to my advantage in that I spent the majority of the weekend moving from the couch to my bed, surfing Pinterest and reading through the giant stack of magazines I’d let stack up the last couple months.

As I worked my way through my reading material I came across at least three recipes for overnight yeasted waffles. They looked easy enough and I liked that five minutes of prep the night before meant almost no effort in the morning.

My boys beg me to make pancakes at least every other day and Luke in particular loves waffles. I pitched the waffle maker we got as a wedding present in our move last year so poor Luke only ever gets waffles of the frozen variety or the very occasional hotel continental breakfast.

In a cold-medicine induced stupor, I texted Aaron who was out running errands, to pick up a waffle maker on his way home. I can only imagine the amount of head shaking that went into reading that text, but what do you know, he showed up with a waffle maker. I love him.

I hobbled out of bed that night and threw together the batter. You mix the yeast in water until it bubbles and then stir in the flour, butter, milk and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter. Less than five minutes. In the morning you stir in eggs and baking soda and you’re ready to go. This batch made about a dozen waffles, so I saved the extra in the freezer and just toast them in the toaster when the kids want them. I tweaked a recipe I saw from the Kitchn to make them slightly healthier with whole wheat flour. The waffles are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. They are slightly sweet and the flavor from the yeast makes them so delicious.

Yeasted Whole Wheat Waffles

Night Before:

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 cups milk (2%)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

The Next Day:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine the yeast and water in a large mixing bowl and let stand for a few minutes. Stir to make sure the yeast dissolves. Melt the butter in the microwave. Combine the butter with the milk, salt, vanilla and sugar. Test with your finger to make sure the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, then stir it into the dissolved yeast mixture. Add the flour and stir until a thick, shaggy dough is formed and there is no more visible flour.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter overnight. The batter will double or triple in bulk as it rises.

The next morning, beat the eggs together and add them to the batter along with the baking soda. Using a whisk or hand blender, beat the eggs and baking soda into the batter until completely combined.

Make the waffles according to your waffle maker’s instructions, cooking until the waffles are golden-brown.

Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

When I love a certain song or album, I have the completely obnoxious habit of putting it on repeat until after a few days (weeks?) I finally get sick of it and move on to something new. I remember in high school rewinding a mixed tape a friend made me so I could listen to Third Eye Blind’s Motorcycle Drive By over and over again.

I have vivid memories from college, sitting at my very messy desk in my very small bedroom blasting Ryan Adams or Fiona Apple or Dave Matthews (you know, depending on my mood) trying to study or more accurately brooding over whatever problem was rolling around in my head.

Eventually one of my roommates would finally have enough, busting through the door demanding I turn the damn song off after 27 times because they were losing their minds.

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Oh to be 20 and have so many feelings. And yet, here I am, 34 and the mother of 3, still having so many feelings. Magnified by the weather, the news, shitty circumstances; it’s hard not to feel a little like I could use a really good song turned up loud to give a voice to all the noise in my head.

Instead of a song, (because my taste in music is questionable and I still play songs on repeat) I offer you baked steel cut oats instead. Not that I’m suggesting you eat your feelings, but if like me, you just need something a little comforting right now, this is it. It takes less than 10 minutes to prep and everyone in my house loves this breakfast (or in my case lunch too). I double the recipe to feed everyone and have a little leftover for the next day. I usually bake the oats the night before making the house smell like cinnamon and maple syrup before I go to bed and zap everyone’s individual portions in the microwave the next morning.

Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries and Almonds

  • ¾ cup steel cut oat
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¾ to 1 ½ cups frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups milk (you could easily swap for almond or coconut milk)
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix together the oats, the nuts, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, egg, butter, and vanilla. Pour the milk mixture over the oat mixture and stir to combine. Store mixture in fridge (if desired) overnight.  Preheat the oven to 375°. Give mixture a good stir. Scatter berries (if using) into an 8-inch square baking dish. Pour milk-oat mixture over the berries. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until the top is golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

This recipe is from the blog, Alexandra Cooks. I found it a couple years ago and it has become a go to in our house. I’ve sautéed apples and pecans in a little butter and brown sugar and swapped them for the blueberries. I’ve used almond milk instead of cows milk and one time I even forgot the butter. This is a forgiving and easy recipe. Swap with what you have and use what sounds good.