More menu planning…might be habit-forming?

 

Happy Monday evening…OK, technically it is Tuesday morning.

I just had to post that I was actually able to plan out another week and get to the store before Sunday night. It’s so very nice to have the little chalkboard in the kitchen with all the meals for the week on it.  Let’s see how this week goes…

Monday – Italian sausage with linguine and left-over Sunday Gravy from the freezer (mercy…it even freezes beautifully…there’s just nothing that Sunday Gravy can’t do!) and a Caesar salad

Tuesday – Turkey Tacos and fruit salad

Wednesday – Pork roast with rice and gravy and butter beans

Thursday – Breakfast for dinner

Friday – Chicken nachos and/or chicken taco salad

And don’t forget to check out the Organizing Junkies latest post for literally hundreds of other weekly menu plans from the blogosphere’s Menu Planning Monday ritual.

Cheers!!

Whew! We did it.

It’s Friday.

And I stuck to the meal plan. I did. Can you believe it?

We’ll see what happens next week…

There were a couple of things on the plan that I haven’t ever shared before, so I thought I’d add them.

This is one of my husband’s favorite dinners: pot roast. Lucky for me it’s pretty simple.

Because it is still 1000° here in Texas, I can’t bring myself to turn on the oven. So this pot roast was done on the stovetop in a 12″ skillet, which is just as good as tossing it in the oven for several hours.

The veggies get browned a little to start. Then the roast. Then everything gets put back in, herbs and beef stock get added. Cover and let it get happy for 3 hours or so. That’s it.

The meat will fall apart when you put it on a platter…surround with carrots and onions, drench in pan juices…set it in the middle of the table and enjoy the mmmmmmms and aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhs.  We had left over mashed potatoes from the garlic chicken night, so I didn’t even have to cook potatoes to go with it. Which, I’m pretty sure, is required.

The other dishes…coming soon.

Pot Roast, on the stovetop

adapted from The Pioneer Woman

olive oil

salt/pepper

2 medium onions, in sections halved or quartered

6-8 medium carrots, roughly cut into 2-3″ sections

3-pound chuck roast

a few springs of fresh rosemary and thyme

2 cups beef stock

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat (this should be a large pot or skillet with a lid. You can also start this on the stovetop and move it to the oven… if turning on your oven doesn’t make you break out into hives.) Add the onions and carrots and cook until they just take on a little color  – several minutes. Remove veggies from pan and set aside. Let the oil reheat – add a little more if needed. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper. Brown the roast – a minute or two on each side. Remove to plate as well. Do you see all the little brown bits in the pan? You want those. Add about a 1/2 cup of the stock to the pan, on high heat, and deglaze with a whisk or spoon.  Add the roast back to the pan, then the carrots, then the onions, then the fresh herbs, the rest of the beef stock. Bring the stock to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a slow, easy simmer for 3 hours…or until the meat is falling all over the place. Be sure to use the pan juices when you serve it…lots of great flavor there.

 

Meal Planning…and my love-hate for it

Are you a meal planner? Is your grocery list organized by store aisle? Do you even make a grocery list? Do you already know what you are going to have for dinner this Thursday night?

I have dreams in which breakfast, lunch and dinner are all planned for 7 days at a time. In which everything I need for all of those meals – 21 of them…more like 30 if you include kids’ snacks and a dessert in there somewhere – is all neatly organized in my kitchen and waiting to be turned into a Rockwellesque dinner around our table.  You heard the part about “dreams,” right?

In that dream I also have a pantry that looks like this.

And a freezer that looks like this.

In reality, I feel like I go to the grocery store every other day and still manage to stand in my kitchen and not have the things I need to make whatever it is I’m throwing together at the last minute. And these are meals that will most likely be eaten by the boys at the senior-citizen dinner hour while they watch Phineas & Ferb, and then something else I come up with eaten by me and my husband when he gets home from work much later. There’s nothing Norman Rockwell about it. Well, except for how cute my boys are, of course. 😉

And in reality my freezer looks like this:

And my pantry looks like this:

But every once in awhile I say, “OK, I’m going to actually put together a full menu plan for the week and only buy those things at the store and not go to the store again for the week and not order out.” I did that today. The impending start-of-school tends to send me into a panicked flurry of wishful organizational dreams. There’s just something about clean, crisp, empty composition notebooks that make me so optimistic about the possibilities.

And today I was once again reminded of one of the many reasons I always feel compelled to be more disciplined about meal planning. I left the store having spent almost exactly the same amount of money I normally spend, but instead of coming home and wondering what we were going to eat for dinner for the week, I have multiple full meal options. I even managed to plan reasonable dinners for the three nights of the week I won’t be home. Why don’t I always do this?

It’s a mystery.

Well, it’s not entirely a mystery. It takes a nice little chunk of uninterrupted time to sit down and plan out the week, the meals, gather the recipes, make the shopping list. I realize it is an investment of time and, in the long run, a huge time-saver, money-saver, stress-saver. But this is the biggest reason I get lazy about meal planning, says the world-class procrastinator. It’s a really lame excuse.

So in an attempt to hold myself accountable to my menu plan…and maybe inspire some planning support out there (hello?) ….here’s the weekly dinner plan:

MondayPan “fried” catfish fillets with jalapeño tarter sauce, roasted corn and candied-bacon green beans

Tuesday40 Garlic Chicken with mashed potatoes, a green salad and baguette (a crock pot meal because it is a support group night)

WednesdayShrimp Étouffée with orange-ginger green beans (something I can quickly cook and leave for the boys before I’m off to see evening clients)

ThursdayPot Roast with roasted carrots/potatoes and a salad (a dinner that can cook all afternoon and be ready when we all get home from “Meet the Teacher” night)

Also enough stuff for a carpet picnic or two, Noodley and the makings for spring rolls with peanut sauce for the weekend.

Of course I’ll be doing my best to post recipes  for the dishes that aren’t here yet. I must admit I was surprised to see that I have never posted a pot roast…it’s only one of my husband’s very favorite things in the world to eat. (UPDATE) In fact, it is in the menu plan at his request (along with the crock pot chicken and the Noodley.) Isn’t that nice of me to let him have a say?

Here’s two fun resources for menu planning assistance:

Eat Your Books – a truly genius website that lets you search YOUR OWN COOKBOOKS!! How many times have you thought, “Hmmm, I think I have a recipe for that….in one of my cookbooks. I wonder which one?” I love this site and have recently added most of my library to my account. In fact, just today I bookmarked several recipes from one of my cookbooks (that I haven’t looked at in years) as possibilities for next week’s menu plan. Isn’t that optimistic of me? And when I did a quick search for “shrimp” I was surprised to learn I had more than 200 shrimp recipes in my very own shelves. I am definitely not utilizing my own library of culinary resources – I hope this site will help me change that because I LOVE my cookbooks!  (And if you are like my Facebook friends you are currently formulating a Forrest Gump joke at my disbelief that one could do so many things to a shrimp!)

Menu Planning Monday – from I’m An Organizing Junkie.  This is a great place to start and get on-going inspiration for incorporating menu planning into your routine. She swears it changed her life and can change yours, too. (I’m saying this to myself right now. Looking right into the mirror. Wondering why I never listen to me.)

Signing out and launching into my fully meal-planned week. Wish me luck!  (And please share tips, tidbits and resources if you are an experienced meal planner…or would like to become one!)

UPDATED:

From Facebook friends and others…some meal planning resources:

I forgot to mention this previous service which I used and liked a lot –  Relish!Relish!  Another friend uses this service from The Six O’clock Scramble. And Amy from Living Locurto has 24 weekly meal plans with grocery lists in free printable form.

Not Your Average Cheese Burger

We like burgers in our house, although we hardly ever make them.  It’s just too easy to get a pretty good burger at any number of local joints…we like these burgers and these, too.  But, recently, my husband came home from a business trip singing the praises of a burger he’d had…and then a similar recipe showed up on my weekly menu planning web service.  I took it as a sign that I needed to make this burger.

“I thought she said cheeseburger?” I can hear you pondering. “And why the funny shape?”  “And what’s up with the fries?”

Well, those are sweet potato fries – and we’ll talk about them later.

The funny shape is due to the buns I chose – ciabatta rolls, lightly grilled.

We were split on these – he thought they were the perfect roll and I thought they were too, well, too something.  Thick maybe?  Chewy?  I don’t know.  They were delicious, but the texture seemed like it could have been improved for me.

And the cheese…well, it’s brie…and

…it’s on the inside.

First, let’s get those fries out of the way.  Frankly, if there was an easy way to take them out of the photo so I wouldn’t have to talk about them, I would. They were only so-so.

They should have been cut thinner.  They probably should have been fried rather than baked, but I was trying to be good. Maybe they should have been baked longer.  I’m not exactly sure. I’ve had some really yummy sweet potato fries, so I know it’s possible.

These were spritzed with olive oil and generously dusted with kosher salt. They were certainly edible, but I’ve had better. If you have a genius recipe for sweet potato fries, please share.

On to the burgers.

You mix some garlic and onions with lemon zest and juice, then top with slices of brie before finishing the patties.

The recipe called for green onions and garlic and lemon juice/zest, but I had some of those beautiful red spring onions from the Greenling box, so I substituted. You know how hard it is for me to follow a recipe exactly.

Red spring onions, pressed garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice

Grill them up until nice and browned and melty on the inside.

About half of the onion/garlic mixture gets stirred up with some mayonnaise and slathered on the buns…add some tomatoes and lettuce and whatever else you have to have on a burger…and it’s a good, good thing.

I do feel compelled to confess that, while these burgers were scrumptious, I did say at some point while eating them, “If the cheese wasn’t on the inside, there could be more of it.”  And this is true. So, for the cheese-aholics who read this (Erica, you know who you are) you might want to opt for the traditional cheese-on-top variation. But I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

Brie Stuffed Burgers

adapted from relishrelish!

1-1.5 pounds ground beef (or turkey)

4 red spring onions, divided and sliced (can substitute green onions or regular onions)

2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1 TB lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 TB olive oil

4 ounces Brie, sliced

4-6 TB mayonnaise

4 ciabatta buns, or bread of your choice

tomato slices

butter lettuce leaves

salt and pepper

Combine the onions, garlic, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small bowl. Mash together slightly until mixed.  Stir in olive oil and a dash of salt.  Set aside.

Season the ground meat with salt and pepper and form a ball for each of the four patties. Divide the onion/garlic mixture in half and reserve one half. Press an indentation into each ball large enough for a spoonful of the onion/garlic mixture and 1 oz of the brie. Cover over the cheese and flatten to make a patty.  Grill over high heat until cooked through – about 10 – 12 minutes.

Mix remaining half of onion/garlic mixture with mayonnaise.  Grill the buns and assemble the burgers. Those of you not in cheese recovery, add more cheese to the top!

A great way to jazz up burger night…and don’t forget to send me those sweet potato fries recipes. Really.  I need them.

Simplifying

Since I’m getting down to just a few weeks left to cram, er, prepare myself for the state board exam in early June, I’m looking for additional ways to save time and be more efficient at home.

We are completely out of food right now.  Seriously.  There are two slices of angelfood cake on the counter – that’s the closest thing to bread in the house.  I really have to go the grocery store tomorrow…I know, I know, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend…it’ll be crazy.  Anyway, I didn’t want to spend a ton of time tonight planning the menu for the week and making the list…so I thought this would be the perfect time to finally try out one of those meal planning services I’ve looked at in the past.

I signed up tonight at Relish and within moments had access to a weekly menu and grocery list and a ton of other “extras” like dessert menus, party appetizer menus, school lunchbox ideas, freezer menus and even fun movie-themed dinner menus that would jazz up any family movie night…and all complete with a well-organized grocery list.   It was exactly what I was looking for.  Added bonus: they offer a nice variety of kid friendly, vegetarian and simple gourmet recipes so you aren’t stuck with the sloppy casseroles I’ve seen on some of the other menu planning site.

Time saved on menu planning – CHECK

Grocery budget safe due to comprehensive list – CHECK

Yummy, easy meals for the week ahead – to be continued…

Experiments: Part I

So recently we had some experiments going in our household…and they each pertain to The Table in their own way.

First, we had a week that was kind of busy and I couldn’t seem to get myself organized enough to get to the store with any kind of meaningful grocery list.  It made me think about all those times I’ve heard people talk about having their routine weekly menu to fall back on.  Those of you who know about my culinary ADD know that a “weekly routine” when it comes to food is something that rarely happens around here!  But I thought I’d give some of those ideas a try.

I’m talking about the families who have “Pizza Night” and “Taco Night” and other various kinds of nights.  I love the idea for lots of reasons and am toying with the notion of implementing some of them in our house.  For one thing, the routine aspect of it makes menu planning much simpler…and another thing, kids love a predictable routine.  I smile when I hear people talk about their childhood and can reference this kind of family tradition. (Not to mention all these other important benefits.)

Maria Shriver once told a story about how they had Cereal Night once a week in her house growing up.  It was supposed to teach the kids a lesson about doing without or doing with less so they could give to others (they sponsored starving children in foreign countries.)  So, on Cereal Night they would talk about one of the countries in which one of their sponsorees lived and have cereal for dinner – the money they would have normally spent on meat and potatoes was sacrificed to help others.  Great idea – and the cute part of the story was that Maria said they never had the heart to tell their mother that they LOVED Cereal Night – it always felt like a treat instead of a sacrifice!  And, even better, she was telling the story in answer to a question about how her parents had instilled the notion of service into their children throughout their lives.

We certainly didn’t do anything as grandiose as feeding starving children, but we did try out a couple of the standard theme night dinners last week.  Monday we did “Breakfast for Dinner Night” (which is one of my husband’s favorites) and mostly that one happened because I really, really needed to go to the grocery store…all we had in the kitchen was eggs, bagels, sausage and some hash browns in the freezer.  Wednesday night was “Taco Night” with super standard hard-shell tacos and all the fillings.  I made some quick quacamole and microwaved some Mexican rice…that was it!  Easy breezy.  Friday was “Let the Kids Choose Dinner Night” with a predictable menu of fish sticks, french fries and macaroni & cheese…guaranteed to make everyone feel like they are seven again!  (Although I did at least make the mac&cheese instead of going to the familiar blue box of my own childhood.)

What I discovered is this:

It’s a great idea to have items for these themed-dinner nights on-hand most of the time because they are great go-to meals when you are out of time, can’t get to the store, or simply don’t feel like thinking about what to make for dinner.

If I could get myself a little more organized, it would be fun to have these on a regular enough basis that, when grown, my children might say, “Ah Thursdays, yep, that was usually Spaghetti Night when I was a kid,” and then hopefully add, “My mom made the best meatballs!”  🙂

So, what about you?  Do you currently have some standard theme meals you depend upon?  Did you when you were growing up?  I’d love some ideas as I embark on putting some routines in place at our Table.

Weekend meal time examined…

So, I’m always kind of thinking about meal-time in one way or another.  Are we out of (fill in the blank)?  Did I remember to lay the chicken out to defrost?  If I Twitter for another 20 minutes, will I still have dinner ready when my husband gets home from work?

The weekends are usually a nice change from some of that.  Sometimes, we are out of town and meals are not my responsibility.  Sometimes, we have company or meet up with friends and go out to eat.  And sometimes, like this weekend, we do a nice job of taking advantage of convenience items while still maintaining high quality family time – the best of both worlds!

Yesterday my in-laws came for the day.  They live about 2 hours away and, since they are retired, can pretty much visit their grandson whenever the mood strikes.  They arrived just before lunch with brown paper sacks full of honest-to-goodness Texas BBQ.  We whipped up a quick sauce and some sweet tea, warmed up some corn and beans and lunch was had on the patio while we caught up and they basked in the presence of our three-year-old.  My mother-in-law had even brought a homemade chocolate cake to go with the necessary afternoon coffee…yum!

The conversation was simple and easy.  No new ideas on world peace or advances in stem cell research (although we did discuss AIG and the auto industry briefly!)  We talked about plans to rent beach houses for a weekend in May, got updated on mutual friends and family, discussed the progress with potty training and other mundane things which make up our lives.  But our presence there together created a container of sorts…one that certainly morphs and evolves from day-to-day…but it is the container of community, our family, our tribe of people.  And I’m not unaware that this container we build day-in and day-out creates a sense of belonging and safety for our son and for ourselves.  Sure, it might have looked like ribs and brisket were the objects of our attention…but they were just the centerpiece for something much more significant.

Many hours of lazy Saturday nothingness later, it was an almost-repeat-performance for dinner.  My husband ran to the store and grabbed some roasted chickens and potato salad.  We heated up some green beans and refreshed everyone’s tea…out on the patio again for a delightful finish to the day.  Best of all, our son decided to introduce us to his vast story-telling skills (something we suspected he had, but had not witnessed in full just yet.)

The four of us sat at rapt attention while he talked of trains and owls and the North Pole for nearly 20 minutes.  (Luckily, we even managed to sneak some video before he caught us.)  We were amazed and entertained.  Watching them watch him, I’ll admit, I got a little misty-eyed (no suprise to those of you who know I’m about half-way through this pregnancy – a sappy commercial can make me weepy!)  But, it was a little more than that.  It’s the reason we are here.  We moved from our beloved, gray Seattle…all the way to shiny, South Texas just to be near family…just to be able to sit around a table together on a random Saturday afternoon and listen to made-up stories about coyotes and steam engines with people who care the most.

I hope what I will remember is that it doesn’t have to be hard – I don’t have to be June Cleaver…the rolls don’t have to be from scratch and the chicken can come from the deli*…what is important is being around the table together.

*I really do prefer the home-cooked version of the roasted chicken because there is so, so much sodium injected into those store-bought ones…however, they are delicious and once in while won’t hurt too much, right?  More about the delights of oven-roasted chicken coming soon!