Sunday, February 28, 2010

Meal plan for 2/28-3/7 and beyond

I didn't make much of a meal plan for the last two weeks -- it wasn't too much of a disaster, since we have all these nice freezer meals to eat -- but we also didn't really end up eating dinner for several of those nights... Time to plan again. This time around is pretty low-key because I'm planning another cook-a-thon. We still have most of the meals from the last cook-a-thon, but I'm planning ahead for baby time.

  • pork chops
  • turkey taco rollups
  • country beef stew (crockpot)
  • steak and potatoes
  • turkey meatballs, sauce, noodles
  • two freezer meals
  • Bread! We are all out of flour, which really put a crimp in my breadmaking habits these past few weeks
  • The OAMM February menu (and really, that's enough!)
This will leave me with a freezer full of meals, plus ribs, bacon, pork sausage, and a split chicken for whatever comes next. The next CSA meat delivery is March 16th, which might mean other than getting what I need for the freezer cooking, we are pretty nicely stocked on that front for a while. With all the necessities so well-covered and the good deals coming so regularly at Jewel, I might actually brave the budget-killing paradise known as Trader Joe's......

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cook-a-thon Round One

In the course of my mommy blog travels, I ran across Once A Month Mom. The main feature that drew me to this site is a monthly cooking plan and menu for a cooking extravaganza -- one big effort, and you've got meals in the freezer for half the month or so. The menus are designed around a two-family, day-long event -- but besides being a single family sort of gal, I don't really feel as if I have a full weekend day to devote to this. Since we both work outside the home, weekdays are also difficult. I made a series of alterations to their overall plan and broke the work into a couple of phases, which I think worked out fairly well.

  • Step 0: Read through the plan and get a sense of what's involved.
  • Step 1: Sort through the google doc documents from the site -- there's a general plan, a shopping list, and a recipe list. Save a copy of the google docs for your own editing. Remove any recipes (and the corresponding ingredients) you don't intend to include. Edit down the shopping list to remove any ingredients you already have, won't use, etc.
  • Step 2: Watch for sales on the items in the list that you're missing, and stock up as you can.
  • Step 3: When the gap between what you have and what you need is fairly short -- or there are good sales on perishables -- it's time to trigger the final shopping trip to bridge that gap.
  • Step 4: Defrost meat, if needed.
  • Step 5: Follow the 'day before' instructions to cover anything that needs to be simmered/soaked overnight. Prepare any items that are raw meat + ingredients.
  • Step 6: Chopping time -- cut up vegetables and such, and put them into plastic bags.
  • Step 7: Cooking time! My first time around, I trimmed 3 items from my recipe list due to lack of time and lack of interest (should have read the recipes more carefully....), and held one until the following day.
  • Step 8: Leftovers time -- see what you can assemble from whatever is left in your stock of cooked meat, chopped veggies, etc., or freeze it for the future.
My modified version of the OAMM January plan yielded me:
  • 8 eggwiches
  • 2 chicken/broccoli/cheese casseroles
  • 2 bags of buffalo chicken pasta
  • 2 bags of chicken quesadillas
  • 2 bags of taquitos
  • 3 casserole dishes of cannelloni
  • 2 casserole dishes of mexican unstuffed shells
  • 2 bags of mandarin orange chicken
  • 2 bags of roast beef
  • 2 bags of beef fajita starter (actually just raw beef in marinade)
Leftovers: scrambled egg, celery, onion, cheese, chicken. Besides yielding a baby/hubby breakfast from the leftovers, I also cooked up a big pot of chicken chili and set the rest aside for other meals.

All in all, this put at least 21 meals into my freezer (although a couple of them, like the taquitos, are a little on the junk food side and will need to be supplemented by some veggies or salad), for about 12 total hours of effort. Planned out this way, it probably represents at least 20 hours of saved effort -- less time grocery shopping, less time cooking each night, etc. I don't yet know if this will also save us money -- it seems like it fits in nicely with the stockpiling/buy-on-sale mentality, though. Plus we are even less likely to feel the pull of an unplanned restaurant meal if we have zero-effort food ready to go in less time than it takes a delivery person to get to our house. My favorite anticipated benefit, thought, is stress reduction. There is something rather nice about contemplating a freezer full of dinners when you are a 35 weeks pregnant, mother of a toddler, outside the home working kinda gal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Real Weeknight Dinners: Pineapple Shrimp Stirfry

This is another easy one for busy days & post-work dinners!

Serves "us" -- i.e. two hungry adults and a toddler :)

1 c uncooked rice (we used white long-grain rice)
1 lb pre-cooked shrimp
1 red onion
8oz pre-sliced mushrooms
3 stalks of celery
1/2 can crushed pineapple (or use more....the other half can goes to toddler food in our house)
1/2 cup peanuts (I used roasted, lightly salted because that's what we had -- add them to the pan earlier if yours aren't roasted already)
ground ginger
soy sauce
sesame seeds
peanut oil
rice wine vinegar (optional)

1. Get the rice started according to the directions on the package -- mine said to simmer it for 15 minutes in boiling water and then let it sit for 5 minutes.

2. Heat some peanut oil in a frying pan while you chop the onion. Allow the onion to soften in the oil while you chop the celery. Add the celery and then the mushrooms and then the peanuts.

3. If the shrimp is tail-on, pull the tails off as you add it to the pan. Sprinkle in the ginger, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. If the shrimp seems a little too strong, add a dash of the rice wine vinegar.

4. Add the pineapple in the last five minutes or so, allowing the juices to release from the fruit and thicken. If it seems like there is too much liquid, a pinch or two of cornstarch will help.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Real Weeknight Dinners: Pork Chops with Orange Sauce, Smashed Potatoes, Salad

So many quick dinner cookbooks cheat! They have ingredients lists which assume at least a half hour of prep or an army of sous chefs at your beck and call. I thought it might be useful to post a collection of what works for us as a true walk in the door, cook for 30 minutes, sit down and eat kind of meal.

I'm going to tag this one as two-handed -- four-handed tags will mark recipes written up for two people to work on, and six-handed for three people. Someday I'll probably also have a "plus toddler" when my girl is old enough to pitch in :).

- 3 oranges
- 2 good-sized pork chops
- chop seasoning (we like Urban Accents' "Chicago Steak and Chop" mix) -- or some salt and pepper and such
- 4 good-sized potatoes
- salad & your favorite dressing (marzetti poppyseed works nicely)
- olive oil
- rosemary
- honey
- cornstarch
- 1/4 cup of milk


1. On your way in the door, flip on the broiler. We have a gas oven, so it is quick to pre-heat -- your results here may vary, but mine is always ready to use by the time I finish getting jackets and shoes squared away. Put the chops on a broiler-safe pan, drizzle it with olive oil, and sprinkle it with the chop seasoning. Put the chops in the broiler, and set your timer for 8 minutes.

2. Cut the potatoes into eighths or smaller if they're particularly large. Put them in a microwave-safe bowl with hot water out of the tap and microwave it on high for 20 minutes or until soft enough to smash. We like our potatoes chunky and unpeeled, so that's what this recipe will give you.

3. Squeeze the juice from two oranges into a small saucepan and allow to simmer. Cut the orange pulp from the peel of the third orange and dice. If you like pulpy orange juice, you might like pulpy orange sauce, so feel free to add some of this diced pulp to the sauce.

4. Flip the chops when the timer goes off, and give them another dose of chop seasoning before returning them to the broiler. Set the timer for another 8 minutes, or to your preferred level of doneness.

5. Squeeze a little honey and add some rosemary to the orange sauce. Stir in a pinch of cornstarch. Check it every now and then -- when it starts to thicken, turn the heat down to low.

6. Toss your salad with the orange bits (to taste...anything unused is a snack :D). We have been particularly fixed on the refrigerated/produce aisle types of dressing lately, rather than the shelf-stable kind. You can use whatever, of course, but we had ours with poppyseed, and that matched nicely with the orange.

7. When the potatoes are done, smash them up and add the milk with a little dash of chop seasoning and/or rosemary to help tie the flavors together. Mix thoroughly and sit down to dinner!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Meal Plan for 2/7/10-2/13/10

Edited to mark things as 'eaten' or 'done', as applicable
** means it's a quick meal, meant to be served M/Tu/Fri
  • rack of lamb, from French cookbook
  • chicken cordon bleu from p251 in make it fast book**
  • jerk chicken - p 289 in make-ahead book for marinade recipe**
  • crispy asian-flavored chicken thighs with sweet-and-sour sauce, cold sesame noodles - p 97 & 98, make-ahead cookbook

  • pork loin chops something??

  • teriyaki shrimp skewers
  • beans

  • chicken enchiladas, p 255 in make-ahead cookbook**

  • bbq chicken buns
  • bread (3 loaves)
  • cupcakes
  • muffins

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cara Cara Chicken, Homemade Bread, and Salad

Dinner tonight was easy and delicious -- a roasted chicken covered in herbs and slices of cara cara oranges, some slices of homemade bread with honey or butter, and some salad right from the box with poppyseed dressing and crumbled blue cheese. I actually ended up cooking with two oranges and slicing two of them up for eating. Maybe it is just my mood or diet right now, or maybe Cara Cara oranges are something special....whatever it is, they really hit the spot tonight. Who needs dessert when you can eat these fab oranges?

I had considered making something a little more complex (an orange sauce, some smashed potatoes) but the napless wonder turned into a late napping, please-don't-put-me-down snuggler and I just let it all go....and I can't say I regret it a bit. She is not normally clingy, but tonight she had some needs and that's ok. I have days like that myself. And, hey, dinner was fab anyway. We ate it all up, and the baby loved the chicken, the oranges, and the bread -- I had to go back for seconds because she ate so much of my first helping. Sometimes she is a little funny about eating meat that isn't ground up or cut very small, but she ate quite a bit of chicken right from my plate with no problems.