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A little help from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and Bardi, Carbone, and Lanza’s Antipasti: Appetizers the Italian Way. I could feed myself completely from just these two books.

The day is nearly upon us – the day when you will be able to fill that empty space in your pantry and fridge with food that can feed a multitude. Specifically, that day is tomorrow. Hopefully this week has given you some ideas for meal staples if you didn’t have them already. Remember: a meal staple is one used to make a meal that you eat at least twice a month. Keep the recipes in an easily accessible place, even if you could make them in your sleep, because we’re going to be using them again soon.

Today, you will make your second grocery list. To compile this list, you will need the staples lists that you have compiled – basics, meal staples, and saving graces. Until you get used to your particular staples list, it might be helpful to type up a checklist to help you keep track of when you are running low. Although most of my meal planning is handwritten, my staples checklist is a typed document, because then I can check things off as I run low, use that list for shopping, and print a new one after I get back from the store.

The process for this step is pretty straightforward:

  1. Type (or write – you do you) your checklist.
  2. Go through your kitchen and put a check mark next to the items you need.

Voila! You have your second grocery list. This will stock your kitchen and get you ready to build a meal planning system that works specifically for you.

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Delicious frittata; shameless Equal Exchange tea plug.

When I tell people that I don’t eat a lot of meat, they are suddenly very concerned about my protein, particularly since I’ve been running more. I assure them that I get plenty of protein. In addition to the fact that one can get adequate, complete protein simply by eating a variety of plant sources (which I do), I also eat eggs quite often. And cheese in small-ish doses. But mostly from eggs.

I love eggs. I love them just about any way you can prepare them. My favorite three ways to prepare eggs are over easy, poached, and fried crispy. I also like to bake eggs in a frittata (when I have random vegetables in the fridge that I need to find a use for) or in a quiche (when I have random vegetables and also an inexplicable surplus of real milk and/or cream). Those two basic dishes can solve any problem of leftovers you have. I once made a spaghetti carbonara frittata, and it was awesome. Throw a slice of toast on the side of that, and you have a meal that will make me happy any time of the day.

At least twice a week, I will have breakfast for dinner. Breakfast foods are on my meal staples list all year long, and they might just be my favorite Pinterest board. In addition to the egg recipes above, I make sure that I am always ready to make:

  1. Biscuits – the goat cheese and chive aspect may change (although I cannot imagine a situation where I would not be open to a goat cheese and chive biscuit), but this is close to the basic biscuit recipe that I use.
  2. Monkey bread – better than donuts. Use homemade biscuit dough to a) free up storage for canned biscuits in the refrigerator and b) make it taste better than canned biscuits. Really – if you take nothing else from this month, find a biscuit dough recipe that you love and never use canned biscuits again. I will consider that a success.
  3. Muesli (aka refrigerator oatmeal) – you can eat it cold if you’re into that sort of thing, but I prefer it warm.
  4. Shauna Niequist’s blueberry crisp – this was my favorite thing in Bread and Wine. I take rampant liberty with the fruit used (favorite – nectarines and apples) but otherwise this is one of the rare recipes I follow exactly. It’s perfect.
  5. Mark Bittman’s waffles – I use (read: tweak slightly) his basic recipe found in How to Cook Everything, but I am intrigued by the bacon maple syrup. I believe I would enjoy that.

What is your favorite breakfast?

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Summertime, and the livin’s easy.

Oh, the produce! I have so many summer favorites. And I mostly eat plants, because it’s too hot to eat anything else.

  1. Peach Caprese Salad – a little spin on the traditional. Bonus points if you fire up the grill just to grill the peaches first.
  2. Vegetable pancakes – good for any meal of the day.
  3. Whether you want to call it the Inner Goddess Detox Salad or are willing to admit that you’re eating a large pile of fruit to avoid turning on anything heated, this is delicious.
  4. Send someone out to the grill with veggies on skewers. Stay inside and eat ice cream while you wait.
  5. Okay, fine. While you’re grilling, throw on some burgers and top with caramelized onions that you made in the crockpot.

I think Tamar Adler and I would cook well together (allow me my fantasies). Also, I would love to have worked at Chez Panisse.  An Everlasting Meal is a book I wish I’d written. In it, she talks about the importance of building a cooking practice and minimizing waste.

The Art of Simple Food is another of my favorites from Alice Waters. She teaches her readers about stocking their kitchens for success in cooking simple, flavorful meals.

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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This is my springiest teapot. I love tea parties. Mostly for the hats.

My meal plan in the spring is driven by the farmers market. Whatever is fresh out of the ground or off the vine is what I want to eat. This leads to all kinds of experimentation as I try to figure out what I’m going to do with this weird vegetable, fruit, or herb I just bought. I occasionally eat something that I don’t care for, but more often, this is my favorite season to cook, because I find so many new things to love.

  1. Roasted red pepper and asparagus quiche – Asparagus has a small window of time when it is actually fresh and seasonal (at least in Texas). There are about three weeks in March/April when asparagus grows like a weed. Then you just have a pretty plant. Dishes like this help me take full advantage of those weeks.
  2. Pasta primavera – A dish so made for seasonal produce that it’s even in the name.
  3. Salad – when you bought so many things at the market that you basically have to eat nothing but vegetables so that they don’t go bad before you get to them.
  4. Maple dijon roasted carrots – I love a roasted vegetable and honey mustard. Double win.
  5. And before it gets too hot to use the oven, I like to squeeze in some last-minute pie. Blueberry is my favorite.

Spring is when I most often want to read about food, too. Ruth Reichl is one of my favorite food people. Check out My Kitchen Year for a nice read with some amazing recipes. You know what? Go ahead and check out all the things she’s written and contributed to.

I cannot wait to get my hands on Padma Lakshmi’s The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs. I may just spend all of next spring covering veggies in different spices. Love, Loss, and What We Ate is also beautiful.

What is your favorite spring vegetable? How do you like it prepared?

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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I’m excited for my baking staples to make an appearance in my house soon. I’m also excited for candy-making time.

Winter recipes are designed to create warmth. Winter recipes make me think of Carla Hall and her insistence that food should hug you.

I eat a lot of casseroles in the winter. They are easy to make, and they feed a lot of people. Your mind may be going to memories of weird potlucks of the past, but let me share a few delicious things that will make casseroles some of your go-to favorites, too.

  1. Stuffed shells – so easy to make; so tasty to eat.
  2. Cauliflower pepperoni pizza casserole – this is a sneaky way to get a lot of vegetables in a dish, for those of you who either a) have a hard time getting all your vegetables in or b) are responsible for feeding people who love pizza but not so much vegetables.
  3. Lazy Sunday casserole – this makes an appearance in my house almost as often as roast in the winter.
  4. Stacked chicken enchiladas – stacked enchiladas are pretty much the only enchiladas I ever make. All the flavor of regular enchiladas with none of that rolling nonsense.
  5. Fancy green bean casserole (with goat cheese) – I love a green bean casserole with the salty cream-of-whatever soups and the canned fried onions on top, but this version is glorious. I leave out the mushrooms because life is too short to eat fungus on purpose, but I can vouch heartily for the rest.

In the winter, I also love to bake bread. I am excited right now, because the countdown has begun – I have a loaf of bread in the fridge and half a loaf in the freezer, and by the time those are eaten, it will be cool enough for bread-baking. One of my favorite bread resources (and the one I recommend if baking your own is daunting to you) is The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg, Francois, and Gross.

What foods do you look forward to eating this winter?

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Proof from The Weather Channel that it was fall-ish earlier in the day. I need to come up with a breakfast stew so that I can usher in the autumn as soon as the mornings start feeling like it.

This week gives you some time to catch up– to finish your snowed-in meal days or finish your pantry lists. While we’re still working on those steps, I’ll be linking you to some of my favorite recipes (arranged by season, of course) and some of my favorite books on building different parts of your pantry, planning meals, and building a recipe repertoire.

 As we are currently in fall (allegedly), that’s the season we will start with. Fall means comfort food to me. And this year, during this particular election season, being bombarded with the terrible human Trump has always been and continues to show no real remorse for being, I’ll take all the comfort I can get.

 If you are looking to change things up, here are some recipes that I have tried and love especially in the fall.

  1. Pumpkin bean soup – I cook the cannellini beans from dry and substitute rosemary for the sage, but otherwise, this is a simple soup that will both fill and warm you.
  2. Roasted butternut squash – With everything. On everything. Side dish or main dish over rice or in a tortilla. This particular recipe calls for paprika and turmeric, but you can use any spice or spice blend, and it will be awesome. I even used a mole rub one time, and it was still delicious. I don’t even like mole all that much, but I liked that.
  3. Ditto for roasted Brussels sprouts.
  4. Or put those two ideas together and make a salad. Or a skillet meal.
  5. And I love everything Joy the Baker does – including this delicious tart to eat up the last of the tomatoes that are still hanging on from summer.

 Speaking of Joy the Baker, her Homemade Decadence is full of ideas that I can’t wait to try out on people at parties. And because fall often finds me clinging to fresh local vegetables, Martha Stewart’s Vegetables and Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Vegetables often have my attention more at this time of the year.

What are some of your fall favorites?

I am sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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This is what a perfect Saturday morning looks like.

You should have a comprehensive staples list by this point in the process, and that will be the groundwork of a meal planning system that is easy and organized (and thus effective).

But we all have our weaknesses, and most of us particularly have weaknesses when it comes to food.

My weakness is Whataburger, specifically the patty melt meal with onion rings. And a Dr. Pepper.

I could have a delicious meal on the calendar that would not only satisfy my hunger but also energize me and nourish my body (word on the street is that food is supposed to be fuel and actually make your body feel good instead of bloated, exhausted, and generally gross). I could even have it made – where all I’d have to do when I got home is put some on a plate and pop it in the microwave.

But then I hear the burger’s siren call, and I’m turning into the drive-through.

There is no shame in doing this occasionally. I don’t even want to live in a world where this patty melt doesn’t exist. Three times a week is probably (read: definitely) too much, though. Three times a week might be (read: definitely is) why my blood pressure got high in March.

So I need a saving grace.

Saving graces are comfort foods that will keep me out of the drive-through. Just knowing that I have them at home, readily available for me to eat, offer me the tiny nudge of help that it takes at the end of a long work day to keep my wheels on the path to home and keep them from turning into the parking lot of the Whataburger.

My saving graces are frozen tator tots, popcorn, and frozen pizza. I love all these things at least as much as I love that patty melt.

I’m sure you will notice that these foods are not super healthy. They don’t have to be. The beauty of a saving grace is not that you always choose it but knowing that you could choose it. The purpose of a saving grace staple is to satisfy an emotional need, not a physical one. And the benefit of recognizing it and naming it as an emotional need (i.e., putting it on this list) is that recognition alone often satisfies it. When I am driving and think, “Ohhh…I could have eggs on tator tots instead…” and then continue merrily on my way, I seldom actually end up having eggs on tator tots. I will usually get home, see that vegetable stew in the fridge, and decide to have that instead.

Knowing the saving grace is a possibility puts the Pavlovian* impulse to rest long enough that I end up making better choices.

Also, it ensures that I occasionally get pizza (and also that I will probably eat it with a huge side of veggies). And that I have popcorn to snack on instead of candy.

If you have saving graces, add them to your staples list. For the next few days, we’re going to be looking at recipes and meal ideas. This will help those of you just starting out or those who want to change things up a little. This will also give you a few days to tweak your staples list before your next shopping trip.

*Thanks for the assist, Maggie.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Cheese covers a multitude of faults. It also covers a multitude of glories. Let’s all just agree that cheese is a good cover.

Yesterday, we listed basic staples for the kitchen. Today, we’re expanding the staples ever so slightly to include specific meals. I like to do this because, no matter how specific my basic list is, there are meals that I know I love, and I don’t want to have to go to the grocery store every time I want to enjoy them. Your list from yesterday will make a variety of meals; your list from today will make your specific family favorites.

When I say specific, I really mean specific. Like, kale and goat cheese lasagna specific.

Making this list is simple:

1. Choose a few meals (I suggest 5-10) that you and your people particularly love.

2. Write down all the ingredients you need to make that meal and add it to your staples list from yesterday.

My meal staples vary seasonally. I have three or four meals that I make during a certain time of the year, and I try a new meal or two every season just to keep things interesting. For example, my meal staples for every winter are the aforementioned lasagna, split pea soup, and roast. I make them all at least once a month when it’s cold outside (sometimes twice), so I go ahead and keep what I need to make them on hand. Last winter, though, I went through a serious warm salad phase. One of my favorites was this roasted broccoli and peanut salad. So instead of going to the store every time I wanted it, I just made a little room to stock the few ingredients that weren’t already on my basic staples list.

Dividing my meals seasonally also gives me a built-in schedule for re-evaluating my staples. If, while I’m making my list of specific meal ingredients, I notice that there’s a basic staple that has been hanging out in the pantry for months without being used, I retire it for that season and see how that goes. It keeps me from perpetually adding things that will eventually spill over to my counter tops and table.

You, of course, don’t have to divide your meal staples out seasonally. Maybe you love tacos (and really? Who doesn’t? People with bad taste?) and know that it’s something your family will eat all the year long. That makes it a great meal staple. Or maybe you have family recipes that have been passed down that encompass all that is comfort and home to you. You get to choose what meals work for you.

So list your favorite meals and everything you need to make them, and add that to your list of staples.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Coffee – my most important basic staple

Congratulations! You made it! Whether it’s actually Day 7 for you or Day 72, you have gotten your kitchen and life ready for Epic Meal Planning. Take a little moment to celebrate.

For the next three days, we will be talking about staples for your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Today we’ll cover basics, and this weekend we’ll talk about the special staple lists that will give your plan the fluidity to keep it interesting.

Your basic staples list will be the guiding force of your meal planning. You can search all over for a basic list to get you started, but the truth is that, unless you are also willing to follow someone else’s meal plan and eating patterns to a T, your list will be different from theirs. I recommend making your own list because you are more likely to commit and follow a plan that works specifically for you than if you are constantly trying to make someone else’s love of walnuts your own.

The purpose of your basic staples are to give you a myriad of options for meals. They need to be foods that you can combine to make several different things, which will infuse your meal planning with endless variety, the lack of which is probably the greatest reason people give up on plans they’ve had in the past.

An easy way to start your list is to choose categories. My categories are pretty standard:

  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Dairy/dairy substitutes
  • Meat
  • Vegetables (frozen)
  • Produce (fresh)
  • Canned goods
  • Condiments
  • Spice rack
  • Beverages
  • Baking

But that’s where the standard ends. To illustrate, I have listed some (not all – my spice and tea collections are massive – another reason to buy the book /shameless plug) of my basic staples for each category below:

  • Grains – long grain rice, arborio (risotto) rice, brown rice, corn tortillas, oatmeal
  • Beans – cannellini, black, pinto
  • Dairy/dairy substitutes – almond milk, coconut milk (canned and refrigerated), goat cheese, butter
  • Meat – ground beef, canned chicken
  • Vegetables (frozen) – spinach, broccoli, peas, lima beans
  • Produce (fresh) – onions, celery, carrots, seasonal fruit
  • Canned goods – roasted red peppers, black olives, veggie broth, chicken broth, applesauce
  • Condiments – brown mustard, yellow mustard, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, homemade pesto (frozen), olive oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, grade B maple syrup
  • Spice rack – curry, my custom Italian blend, cayenne pepper, vanilla beans
  • Beverages – coffee, at least one black tea (current obsession – Irish Breakfast), peppermint tea, green tea, Emergen-C, red wine
  • Baking – bread flour, AP flour, self-rising flour, eggs, yeast, baking chocolate, baking cocoa, baking powder, baking soda

Just looking at that truncated list makes me hungry for the hundreds of meals I could make from these items alone. And, because it is specific to my tastes and preferences, I would actually be excited about eating them. Alone, not many of them are very invigorating, but with their powers combined, the choices are gloriously endless. Because I have limited storage space, I have to limit variety of most items (although clearly rice is not one of those items – I love all the rices), but across categories, I’ve chosen items that mix and match nicely so that I don’t have to limit the variety of my meals.

The beauty of having a good plan for cooking for yourself is that you are never at the mercy of something you only sort-of like. You don’t have to keep mayonnaise if you don’t want to. So your task today is to think of the things you like to eat most often and use that to form a list of staples that you will be able to keep in your house in the space you have available. Start with some basic categories and see where that leads you.

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Some of my overflow. I love bread flour for pizza crust. Not oranges, though. That would be weird.

Today is the last prep day before we begin setting up your meal planning system. Until now, we have been preparing your kitchen (and possibly your heart) for implementation. If this process were a painting, we would be finishing the canvas-stretching and gesso portion of the work. Tomorrow, we start the brush strokes.

This blog series will run 31 days, but keep in mind that the time needed to complete the process varies greatly from person to person, and most of that variation depends on these first few preparation steps. If you were able to map out several weeks of meals with the ingredients you already have, then it will delay the time when you will need to make your first grocery trip. You will still be able to plan your system this month, but implementation will take a little longer. So don’t worry if you see that happening. That’s part of why it was easy to expand this series into a book – not everyone starts at the same place, and that changes the timing of the process a little. Well, that and I think you’re really going to want my slow cooked tomato sauce recipe.

This first trip to the grocery store will happen toward the end of the meals you have planned for your snowed-in period, whether that’s two days or two weeks.  This is the trip where you take the list designed to help you use up random strange ingredients and buy as close to the amounts needed as possible.

In talking to people about this project, I discovered three main groups of grocery shoppers – those who stick to their lists, those who use the list more as suggestions rather than rules, and those who shop without any list at all. Obviously for this step you don’t need to fall in that third category (and frankly, if meal planning is something that interests you, you probably don’t fall in that category anyway). But I want to address those who tend to fall in the middle category. I consider myself to be one of you. I have a list for things I absolutely must get, but I budget for more, knowing that I will run into something extra that I want (usually of the cheese or bread variety, both of which always find a home in my kitchen).

For this particular step, however, it is vital that you stick exactly to your list. The whole purpose of this trip to the store is to help you prepare for the next step, and extra bread doesn’t help you (scandalous statement – I know). Extra anything doesn’t help you. Resist! There will be room for extra bread soon enough.

Tomorrow we will start building your fridge, pantry, and calendar to make them work better for you.

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list. 

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