One of my goals for this blog in the new year is to expand into new subject areas and explore topics that might be useful to other moms. As a very new parent, I’m not yet brimming with wisdom and sage tips, but I have figured out how to do a couple of things pretty well and one of those is meal planning. Equally important to meal planning is being able to cook on what I call a "double budget” (short on time/low on cash) - when I know I won’t have a lot of time and I don’t want to spend a lot of money. I am excited to start sharing with you some of my meal plans and my favorite recipes.
I ask myself a few key questions when I select a recipe:
Are the primary ingredients lean protein and produce?
Is it relatively inexpensive?
Will this take 45 minutes or less to make?
Usually, my weekly meal plan includes two to three new recipes each week. If we really love a new dish, it makes it into circulation for the following week and we make it until we no longer need to consult the recipe and it becomes a staple in our repertoire - then, it makes it into the famous Recipe Binder**.
Once I’ve figured out my dinners for the week, I try to estimate how many will generate leftovers and how many call for ingredients that would work well in a lunch and I plan those. I take into consideration where we are with Daisy and what new foods we’re trying to introduce, then I’ll come up with a recipe for homemade baby food (borrowing from my friend Jess’ favorite homemade baby cookbook or via the internet). Then I build out my shopping list, breaking things into categories to make shopping quick and easy. I keep all of my shopping lists in the same notebook so I can refer back to old weeks when I don’t have time to make a new meal plan.
This is what my shopping list usually looks like:
Since Daisy was born, Nick and I have started dividing the actual cooking in half, so he cooks a few nights, and I cook a few nights. It is so, so, so nice to have a home-cooked meal made by someone else, now we both get to enjoy that luxury a few times a week.
Going forward, I plan to start sharing some of my favorite recipes with all of you - ones we’ve come up with here at home and variations from our favorite cookbooks, magazines and blogs.
Taken from Bon Appetit
What we’ve been cooking lately is this FANTASTIC crispy thai chicken salad from Bon Appetit. It’s pretty healthy but super hearty and packs a ton of flavor. I personally LOVE any recipe that uses shredded rotisserie chicken and this one is no exception. I would never have thought to throw it in the frying pan and crisp it up but boy is it delicious. Once you make this dish, it’s guaranteed to become a staple in your household.
After we have prepared a new dish we love, I write up a one-pager for my recipe binder that includes the actual recipe, a little description of the dish, when we made it and for whom, what alterations we made to the original recipe and a photo of the dish we prepared. I realize this sounds like a lot of work but it’s a breeze to copy and paste a recipe from the internet (even if you’re working from a cookbook, you can almost always find the recipe online), takes two seconds to snap a photo and just a few minutes to write out the details.
I love flipping through my recipe binder. I started it when Nick and I first moved in together five years ago and each recipe is like a piece of our love story. The dishes chronicle our many moves, our job changes, promotions, raises, anniversaries and occasions like getting engaged. Our early recipes are fairly elementary and not terribly health-conscious and we always combined them with fancy cocktails or expensive wine. We usually shared the dishes we made with a number of people because in the early days, we lived with a houseful of roommates, then another couple, then we had our contractor living in his van outside our first flip project and eating with us at night. Nowadays, the flavors in our recipes are more elevated, the elements are significantly healthier and the time involved is minimal. We are usually sitting down to eat at 10 PM after a long workday and evening of post-work activities, at our long empty dining room table with our baby daughter in her little chair at the head.
After writing the above, I scanned through the Recipe Binder tonight and came across so many sweet entries. This one is the recipe for "Beef Bourginon over Whole Wheat Egg Noodles, Spinach Salad with Lightly-Fried Almond Crusted Gorgonzola, Muscato Grapes and Apple Cider Vinaigrette” (what a mouthful!) and my note says:
"Made by Emily and Nick on a stormy Sunday evening, October 28, 2012 after we’d spent much of the day moving things in from outside, tying things down on the roof and back porch, etc. in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. We needed something warm and rich – and there’s no better fall dish than this! The salad, interestingly, was the star of the show. I made that up on the spot based on what we had in the house but it turned out beautifully."
Another I found was for "Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Gooseberry Plum Chutney, Pureed Sweet Potatoes and Watermelon Radish & Beet Salad with Lemon Soy Vinaigrette" (again with the long titles!)
"Made Saturday, September 30, 2012 – for Emily, Jessica, Nick, Chuck & Andy - This Saturday morning, Jess, Nick, Rio and I went to the Braintree Farmers’ Market. It was wonderful – small but full of interesting little gems. We bought 3 pints of ice cream from Nick’s boss’ company (“Cream”) including apple crisp, fall harvest (cranberries, chocolate, walnut) and pumpkin. The produce we bought was spectacular – they had big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes of every color, giant dramatic looking fennel and spring onions, sparkling little microgreens, gooseberries (well, the farmers called them something else, actually but I can’t remember what they were called and they looked just like gooseberries so for now that’s what I’m calling them). I was also thrilled to find watermelon radishes, my all-time favorite (!), big bulbs of garlic and the most shiny, soft lettuces in different colors that I’d seen in a long time. We came home arms brimming with color, smells and flavor and couldn’t wait to start cooking!"
I love revisiting these memories years later, and seeing the names of our dear friends pop up too. If you don't keep track of your recipes, you ought to consider it. These days, it's easy not to make anything tangible - who needs a photo album when you have Instagram, or a Recipe Binder when you can have a folder on your computer? Yes, I keep a digital copy of all these recipes, but, there is something satisfying about printing them out and sliding them into a page protector then clipping the binder rings together that makes it feel more special. I like the idea of passing these recipes on to my kids and, hopefully, we will have a little history of our family, right here, through food. <3