A Spanish tortilla, & making a case for meal planning!

In-between putting up yard sale signs, sorting closets and packing boxes, I take a much needed breather with you here to share a Spanish tortilla recipe we’ve been making often during these hectic weeks, and some thoughts on meal planning.

I was sharing with a friend that even in these hectic times, we’re still eating real food and having delicious, albeit easily put together, meals. For me, it’s just as quick to make a Greek salad, and pan-fry a lamp chop with eggplant, as it is to prepare processed foods or getting take-out. And so much better. She admitted this was true, but for her, the issue was the planning, the logistics of knowing what to cook, having it on hand etc. In short, it’s all about the meal planning.

I can certainly understand this, because it used to be our case before we had Pablo. Trying to decide what to eat at the last minute when it’s already late and we’re already starving, not feeling like looking up recipes and not having a lot of things on hand… too tired to improvise. We never did a lot of processed or prepared foods, but certainly would go for rice, pasta or potatoes more than we should have. The amount and variety of vegetable was fairly dim (mostly tomatoes and cucumber, really), and the overall variety of our meals was seriously lacking. I would cook new recipes mostly for special occasions. On a daily basis during the week, cooking felt overwhelming, there just seemed to be no time for it.

Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you. If so, let me tell you that the antidote to this cooking rut for me was meal planning. 

When I started consistent meal planning when Pablo was 12 months, it all changed.

It’s ironic that I write about it this week, because I actually have not had the time to really make our formal weekly meal plan as I usually do. But these past couple of weeks have made me realize how much I have learned from meal planning after doing it for almost 1 year and half now.

When you meal plan month after month, slowly, cooking on a daily basis and cooking and eating meals made of real foods, becomes a habit, you can start doing it somewhat on auto-pilot. What used to feel like a huge endeavor, has become easy, a task almost done as a matter of courseImprovising such a meal feels natural and no longer daunting. Because you’ve tried so many different recipes, seen the ones you really like, your meal “palette”, so to speak, is much wider. Opening up a recipe book and deciding to make something last minute feels fun rather than complicated. Some things keep coming back from week to week, tried and true, easy recipes your family enjoys. After months of meal planning, you start to have a “pool” of your family’s favorites, and even on a week where you haven’t had a chance to do the weekly plan, you can always count on making those staples (for us, it’s things like French-style grated carrots or lentil salad, pan-fried Dover sole, pea salad, chicken basquaise, among others…) Like in everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

So it basically comes down to two things: Why do it? And how to do it?

10 reasons to make a meal plan

  1. It makes it a lot easier to have consistently balanced and delicious meals with a lot of variety
  2. It takes away the “what are we having tonight?” anxiety 
  3. It gives an opportunity to try new recipes, new ingredients
  4. Planning time for cooking helps experiencing cooking as a time to recharge, to be in the present moment, to slow down, be grounded within ourselves
  5. It helps waste less food
  6. It saves money on shopping
  7. It makes the grocery shopping more straightforward
  8. It helps take advantage of all the seasonal produce
  9. It creates opportunities of connection for the family (in the planning, cooking and eating part)
  10. It works! It’s one of those things that you will not regret once you try it. I promise you it will make your life easier and less stressful, and your meals tastier. The process will feel so much easier once you start, too. 

How to go about it

Getting started
First, I would say start with trying it once or twice a week. Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend, grab 1 or 2 cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelf. Maybe browse Pinterest or your favorite food blogs for some ideas that spark your tastebuds.  And make the menu for one or two dinners for the following week. Print out the recipes, make your shopping list. Then set aside the day and time you will go shopping for it. Post the menus on the fridge, that way, the whole family can look forward to it! If you like it, slowly work your way up to weekly meal planning. (I’ve created a simple weekly menu template you can download here.)

Gather recipes
Start a list of recipes you want to make in the future. When you have a couple of spare minutes, browse through papers/magazines, food blogs (cut out / print recipes, make a folder to keep on hand), Pinterest (create a board with images of recipes you want to make), bookmark recipes in your own cookbook that make you salivate or intrigue you. I’ve created a very simple document for you to download to list recipes (this one is very basic, would love your feedback on whether it is helpful, as I’ll be working on creating more documents of the kind in the coming weeks).  When you sit down to make a meal plan, you’ll have a great list of ideas to work with.

Go with the seasons
Think seasonal. Keep a list on your fridge of common seasonal produce in your area. Look up recipes with those seasonal ingredients (I found a pretty good list here). See what’s currently available by visiting your local farmer’s market.

Schedule it in

Make it part of your schedule : decide what time you need to start cooking to get dinner ready at the desired time, and put it on your calendar. Plan on it the same way some plan to sit down to watch a TV program.

Make it a family project
Get your family involved in this if they’re interested, have them pick a recipe, or an ingredient to work with. Have the kids help with preparations. Look at cookbooks together. Go to the Farmer’s Market together. Make it a family project, a way to connect.

Trust you can work with the (little) time you have
Be realistic in the amount of time and help you will need to grocery shop and prepare the meals. You don’t necessarily need a lot of time to prepare a great meal. Start with determining the time you’ll have for a given meal, and select recipe accordingly.

Be colorful
Think rainbow, when looking for ideas and creating your meal plan, try to include vegetables and fruits of the different colors of the rainbow within a day, this way you will be sure to eat a lot of the vitamins and nutrients you and your family need. Rule of thumb: the brighter the color of a vegetable or fruit, the more vitamins.

Be savvy
Think leftovers. For example, the tortilla recipe I’m sharing here, we served it as an appetizer one night, so there was half left over, the perfect quantity for a picnic lunch the next day. Be on the lookout for recipes that lend themselves to this. The days you have a little extra time, plan on recipes that can be kept a few days and eaten later in the week, like hot or cold soups (which also be frozen for later use), stews, cooked vegetables eaten cold with simple vinaigrette (cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, potatoes, leeks are perfect examples, you can boil or steam them one night, and with easy raw vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber and some fresh herbs on hand, you will have a wide variety of combinations  for the next few days: potato-cauliflower-green beans chives, green beans tomato cucumber-parsley, zucchini-mint vinaigrette, leeks vinaigrette, tomato-potato, etc…)

Meal planners out there, do you have more tips to share?


(Your feedback is most welcome on those!)

Now, about this Spanish tortilla recipe (basically a kind of omelet or fritatta), it’s delicious, fairly quick to prepare, and you can get very creative with it without fearing the result to go awry. We had a parsnip in our veggie basket that was getting soft, so I used it here. You can add any greens that might be getting bored in your crisper. Also a great opportunity to experiment with different herbs, adding them chopped and raw to the eggs brings out their flavor. In short, it’s a very malleable dish which you can make your own easily. The wonderful directions and tips from Aran Goyoaga in Small Plates & Sweet Treats made this a sure-fire success.

I can remember having a simple potato tortilla at our Spanish relatives in Northern Spain some years ago… to this day, it just feels like the flavor of Spain. A little mind and tastebud traveling in these hectic times, is most welcome…

Spanish Tortilla with parsnip, zucchini, chards & dill

Adapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves 4 as an entree

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months (depending on your child’s tolerance of egg white).

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 onion
1 large + 1 small Russet potato
1 parsnip (or you can just use 2 large Russet potatoes)
2 leaves of rainbow chards
2 small zucchinis
3/4 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
4 eggs
2 sprigs of dill

Prep the vegetables: mince the onion, peel and dice the potato and parsnip into bite size pieces. Remove the ribs of the chard leaves and chop grossly. Peel the zucchinis and dice them. Chop the dill.

In an 8 inch diameter frying pan (this is important, it’s just the right size to flip the tortilla and cook it just right. I actually got my measuring tape to check this! It paid off), heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes until softened (not brown.). Then add the potatoes and parsnip with 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Then add the zucchinis and chards and cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 tsp salt, some pepper, and the dill.

When the potato mixture is done, using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato/vegetables (letting out the excess olive oil, but reserving it) onto an absorbent towel on a plate. Pour the extra olive oil out of the pan, except for 1 tbsp (I was only left with about 2-3 tbsp when all was said and done).

Then add the vegetables to the eggs and stir.

Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and pour the tortilla mixture in. With a wooden spoon, stir in a circular motion at the center of the pan, until the eggs start to cook. Then let it be for 2-3 minutes. Run your spatula along the edges.

Get as flat a plate as you can find. Place the plate over the frying pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Then gently slide it back into the frying pan to cook the other side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on how runny you like it inside. (It took me about 3 times to really perfect this move! If you miss the “flip” or it falls apart a little, oh well, still going to taste great! :-))

Then you can leave it in the pan or slide it onto a plate to serve. Let it cool a bit, it’s best eaten just warm or even cold. (It keeps 2-3 days in the fridge, and can be reheated in the microwave.)

We have served it with a butter lettuce or endive salad, or with a side of cantaloupe and prosciutto. Delicious!

A warm goat cheese salad, & 8 tips for an enjoyable restaurant meal with your kids

Life can be such a whirlwind, even if that whirlwind is made of lots of in-the-moment moments and exciting new collaborations. Such was this past week for me, with a few days camping in the wilderness completely offline (will share more on that soon). Also I was thrilled to have a couple of guest posts on two of my favorite (albeit completely different in theme!) blogs. If you haven’t already seen them and are inclined to do so, there’s one on parenting on Janet Lansbury’s blog, and another about writing on Shanna and Tim’s Food Loves Writing. Very grateful, for these posts brought in a lot of new followers, so if that’s you, welcome!

For this new installment of my Summer Goat Cheese Series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery’s Kids & Kids Campaign, I wanted to share a version of the French restaurant classic: the salade de chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese salad). Most restaurants, cafés and brasseries in France have it on their menu, it is what the French would consider a “run-of-the-mill” first course (or main course for lunch). This is also a dish Pablo LOVES, and which I would order for him in a heartbeat in a restaurant, as I think would a lot of French parents for their kids (or themselves for that matter.)

This is giving me an opportunity to write a somewhat practical post on taking kids (including infants and toddlers) to the restaurant.

One of my favorite connecting time with Pablo is when the both of us go out to lunch once in a while. We have taken him out to eat with us since he was a couple of months old, and continued to do so every so often since then. Between 6 and 12 months, I would bring his food with me (I would pack some vegetable finger food as a first course, a puree for the main course, some cheese and a yogurt for dessert) and give him a taste of what we were having depending on what it was. After 12 months, Pablo started to eat pretty much the same as us, I could easily just order for him from the menu.

Probably one of the greatest unspoken French rules of eating, is that a meal should be thoroughly enjoyable. If it is stressful or rushed, it feels like a waste. On recent trips, and as Pablo is at the height of toddlerhood (27 months now), I have been very grateful and so happy to see how great he is when we take him out to eat. He loves it, he stays at the table and is fairly well-mannered (the walls usually remain clean when we leave!), he eats heartily and with interest. I can relax and enjoy the meal with minor adjustments here and there.

A lot of people have witnessed this and expressed great surprise, and have asked me what my secret is. I never thought of it as a secret, but thinking back on it, that thoroughly enjoyable meal with our children has a few preconditions. Here are eight strategies and tips that have worked for us:

1 – We eat together as a family on a daily basis

So sitting down together for a meal, and eating the same (real) foods as us is nothing out of the ordinary for Pablo. It makes sense that children that are most often fed alone, before the grown-ups, wouldn’t do too well sitting at the table in a restaurant for a while. I’m really big on the family meal for many reasons, this one included. Plus, when children are fed separately, their meal is usually much faster than a family meal would be. (I’ve actually noticed on a couple of occasions where I ate a meal without Pablo, how much faster I eat then. Eating with him, encouraging him to eat slowly and mindfully, and being engaged with him during our family meals has helped me to slow down my eating greatly too.)

I should add also that thanks to a few strategies practised over time, our meals, at home or at the restaurant, are mostly sans power struggles or boundary testings, which is a blessing.

2 – We eat in courses at home

Just like at a restaurant. Pablo is used to eating a first course, then wait a little bit before the main course, then cheese and fruit or yogurt for dessert if desired. I’ve talked about the many benefits of eating in courses in this very popular post. This is definitely an added benefit. When we go out to eat, the waiting factor is a non-issue. While we wait for the food, we have a nice little conversation about what we ordered and how the chef in the kitchen is preparing it, that usually gets his imagination going. Or we people watch, Pablo loves that too 🙂

3 – We engage him as an integral member of the meal

If we go out with Pablo, it is to have a nice meal with him. Otherwise, we go out without him, which we sometimes need to do and that’s fine. So I always make sure he’s part of the conversation, like any person you would have dinner with. This is definitely a time to connect. (When you think of it, how rude would it be to go out with someone to then proceed to have private conversations that exclude them?)

4 – He’s used to real food, and a wide variety of it

Forget kids’ menus. In most restaurants I’ve been to, they are a crying shame (as is the idea of kids’ food, in my opinion…) So I always order on the regular menu for him, and we share some of our dishes with him. The portions are often so big anyway, it works out perfectly. For example, recently at The Black Cat in Cambria, I ordered the celery root cilantro soup (which inspired this post) to share with him along with a couple of appetizers for us, and we shared our entrees with him, so he could get a taste of everything (which he loves).

The fact that he eats just about everything is a big factor as well, due to the fact that he’s been exposed to a wide variety of foods (vegetables, meat, fish) since 5 months old and especially during that golden window 6-18 months roughly where infants are so willing to try new foods and put just about anything in their mouth (a crucial period to steer away from kids’ foods). Even if he were to reject anything new now (which is not the case), he’s already tried so many different things these past two years of life that I would be hard pressed to find a (real) food he hasn’t already had. So no matter where we eat, there will always be something he will enjoy eating.

5 – He’s used to mindful eating

I usually avoid distractions at the table, so the meal is an end in itself and a pleasurable experience deserving of our full attention. Same goes at the restaurant. I definitely avoid all screens across the board (I will admit seeing kids or adults focused on their phones or other screens at the table drives me crazy). If there are television screens in the restaurant, I try to ask for a table away from them (or better, choose screen-free restaurants!)  I might bring a small book or a crayon or two if the meal or the wait get a bit long.

6 – We go at the right time

I try to have realistic expectations, i.e. make sure Pablo’s not too tired, that he’s had a good afternoon nap or good night sleep if it’s lunch out. Also I try to make sure he’s had plenty of independent, self-directed play prior to the meal so he’s relaxed and ready to connect (but not overtired). And we go early enough so he doesn’t start to fade mid-meal. At home, we usually sit down for dinner between 6:45 and 7p, when we go out, we try for 6:30-6:45 to have plenty of time to enjoy the meal. I also make sure he’s bathed and in his pajamas when we go (or for a fancier meal, I bring his pajamas with me and change him at the restaurant after the meal). Thus the meal is the last, relaxing event of the day for everyone.

7 – We make sure he’s hungry

Snacking is very limited in our household, so the family meals are enjoyed fully and eaten with good appetite. Pablo has an afternoon snack (usually pretty light, he doesn’t seem to get that hungry) between 4:30 and 5pm. If we go out to dinner, I might offer it a bit earlier to insure he has a good appetite.

When we get to the restaurant, we also try to limit eating too much bread before the food arrives. (Bread is never served first in a French restaurant typically, but to accompany the meal in reasonable quantity, definitely not the thing to get full on when you’re most hungry.)

8 – Choosing the right restaurant

We don’t necessarily go for the typical “family-friendly”, as it can mean a loud environment. So first we choose a restaurant where we enjoy the food (seems obvious, but my point is that that takes priority over being “kid-friendly”.) We also try to go to restaurants that do have high-chairs or boosters: Toddlers tend to get fidgety and expecting them to sit still in a booth bench for example, is unrealistic, they’re bound to want to slide around, jump etc.

Also we choose restaurants that are not too loud. I found that Pablo gets tired and over-excited and stimulated fast with a very loud place (as we do.) So a place that lends itself to conversation is best (though since we usually go earlier than the crowds would, that often works out).

There you have it! I hope this is helpful. Would love to hear your tips and feedback!

In the meantime, enjoy this warm goat cheese salad, and if you want more information about Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids Campaign, check out their Facebook Page and Pinterest page too. As good as this salad was, their cheeses are so scrumptious I always enjoy them most pure, from the tip of my fingers 🙂

Golden Beet Warm Goat Cheese Salad, with Sorrel Almond Pesto

Serves 2/3

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the pieces of beet topped with warm goat cheese make a great finger food.

Lamb’s lettuce (mâche) (or other lettuce of choice, watercress would do nicely too)

2-3 golden beets

For the pesto dressing:

20-25 leaves of sorrel (or other herb of choice, or use the beet greens – see note below)

2-3 tbsp sliced almonds

Olive oil (I used 1/2 cup here)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 450°F. Cut the greens off the beets, give the beets a wash and wrap them individually in foil. Place in a baking pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender when you prick them with a knife. 

When done, remove the foil and let them cool. (You can do this a few days ahead and just have the cooked beets in the fridge, ready for salads etc.)

Make the pesto: Combine the sorrel leaves and almonds in a food processor, and add the olive oil progressively until you obtain a thick but pourable dressing. Then add the lemon juice and season to taste. (You will probably have leftover dressing, which can be used on any salad).

(*Note that you can make any other kind of pesto dressing of choice here, check out this awesome one from Food Loves Writing)

Peel the beets and cut medium thick slices lengthwise. 

Preheat your broiler at 500°F, and place the tray at the top position, close to the heat.

Prepare your plates: put some mâche in each plate, add a little dressing on top (alternatively, you can put all the mâche in a bowl and toss it with some dressing prior to plating).  Place a few slices of beet on top of the mâche.

Then take the cheese out of the fridge and cut thick slices lengthwise with a knife or cheese wire cutter if you have one (one Coupole makes 3 to 4 thick slices).

Place the slices of goat cheese on a non-stick baking pan, or on parchment paper in a baking pan, and broil for a few minutes, until it starts to get golden. (Watch this carefully, it melts fast! It should only take a couple of minutes).

Place the warm goat cheese slices on top of beet slices in each plate, top with a little pesto dressing, and serve immediately.