Mike and I reflected a bit over the last two weeks on our two years of cooking challenges - in year 1, I selected a cookbook each month and we cooked recipes from that cookbook; in year 2, I gathered together all the recipes that I had been given, picked up, or cut out and started to work through them. While the process for both years required some planning and meal shopping, it really didn't add too much time or expense to the weekly grocery trip. The benefits we have gotten from the challenges have been great - lots of new ingredients tried, much more variety in our meals, better ability to make do when we don't have a real plan for dinner, and more adventurous palates for all of us, but especially the kids. We instituted a measurement system for the menus where everyone gave a thumbs up, thumbs down, or sideways thumb. When Jack really likes something, he gives it a double thumbs up with an explosion! It has been a good way to measure how much we like the recipes and the likelihood that we'll make them again. Four thumbs up or even three up and one sideways is a winner recipe for us.
I don't think we will have a specific focus this year, because we have really incorporated this approach into how we plan our meals - we will continue to introduce a couple new recipes each month from a variety of sources. Plus, we have two years worth of recipes, many of which we want to revisit, so the menu will become a mix of old standbys, revisited recipes, and new offerings. I am not sure if I will blog about them, so let me know if you enjoy reading these posts - I might wind up continuing them just to keep a record for me so that I can go back and remember what we liked :)
Anywho...here are the recipes we made in December, in no particular order.
Campbell's Slow Cooker Tuscan Beef Stew - we all liked this (adults liked it a little better than kids) and it was a great crock pot recipe. Once home, we just made some egg noodles and added the beans to the stew and dinner was ready. We love those nights!
Southwest White Chili - This one was a hit for three of us - Jenna wasn't much of a fan, but she routinely tells me that she just doesn't care for soups that much. I keep feeding them to her until she finds one she likes!
Bulgur-and-Chickpea Salad - When I pulled out the ingredients to make this, I found that I had barley instead of bulgur. I was going to scrap the whole thing until I decided to substitute couscous. I took this to work for a pitch-in and it went pretty well - I liked the flavors all mixed together, especially the feta cheese. I would make a half-recipe if I made it again for our family, as it made a lot.
Pepperoni Pizza Rolls - Anything with that title has got to be good, right? Well, it was - and there was enough for leftovers the next day! All four of us liked this one. It was quite a few steps, so will probably be reserved for a weekend recipe, but we will definitely have this again. (This recipe was in a booklet from Hormel, but I couldn't find it on their website)
Turkey Meatball Subs - This one was a pretty typical meatball sandwich (they were really big!. We liked them, and it was nice to have fresh bread, but I am not sure that we'll make the effort to make them again - lots of ingredients in the meatballs, plus several steps to make, cook, broil made for a long recipe, and I think we can do almost as well with turkey meatballs from Trader Joe's!
Parmesan and Pine Nut-Crusted Oven-Fried Chicken - This was another variety of breaded and baked chicken. The flavor was good, and all around the table liked this one.
Rigatoni with Broccoli and Sausage - Another hit from the Everyday Food magazine. We all enjoyed this one and it was a pretty quick weeknight meal, so this might even go into our normal rotation. (forgot to get a picture of this one, but ours looked just about like the picture at the link)
Bacon and Butternut Pasta - This was the biggie for the month - special ingredients and a full page of instructions, including careful directions on how to not overcook the cream sauce. I spent a long afternoon on this one, and the whole time I was making it, I just wasn't sure that I would like it not being a huge fan of the squash or kale. It turned out great! The flavors all worked together really well. The kids didn't like the squash and Jenna thought it was too spicy, so I was glad to have some plain pasta for her to eat. While I won't make this one regularly, I would be willing to make it again.
Snowball Cookies - These are a variation on Mexican Wedding Cakes, made with almonds rather than pecans. They were good, but I think I prefer the traditional variety with pecans. I forgot to get a picture of this one, but they look just like the wedding cake cookies! (The recipe I linked to isn't the exact one I used, but it is very close)
Maple-Oatmeal Cookies - Lest you think everything I make turns out mostly like the picture, I share my fail on these cookies. It turns out that I used the wrong size measuring cup for the flour, so the batter was way too runny! This first batch became crumbles for ice cream. I figured out the issue before making batch number two, so added flour and they started cooking correctly. In the end, no one in my house really ate these cookies. I would mix chocolate or butterscotch chips with oatmeal before I made these again!