Adventures of an unfussy foodie.

April 09, 2015

How to Make Your Menu Plan Work For You

I'm not as organized as I would like to be. I will freely admit to that. But one thing I do have down pretty well is planning our weekly menu. My mom used to sit down on Saturdays and plan the meals for the week. She explained to me how important it was in helping our home run more smoothly. In my experience in my own home, this has proven true for me as well. I've also learned a lot over the years about how to make up a menu that will work for real life with a real family and changing schedules.

So if you struggle with meal planning, here are my tips. Hope they help you, too!

1. Ask for input. They're the ones eating it, so your family would probably love some input on what you make. Get them in on the plan so they can get excited about what's coming up. I feel free to ignore my preschooler's plea for pasta every night. Not gonna happen, buddy.

2. Pull out your planner. Take a look at the week ahead. A super busy week? Plan things you can pull together quickly and save that risotto for times when you have a little more leeway to spend time at the stove. Don't plan to try a new recipe on a day you know will be stressful. It never ends well. (Can't imagine how I know that...)

3. Prep ahead. Is there a day when you could get some prep done for the rest of the week? Can you chop veggies during nap time? (My current most-employed strategy.) Think of what you could prepare in advance so you don't end up giving up on dinner prep when the time comes around. Pay a little attention to the next night's meal on the night before, and you can stay on track. Pull things out of the freezer to thaw, check produce and other ingredients the night before and you will have a lot less stress the day of.

4. Use what you have. If your pantry is anything like mine, you have no real need for 72 hour emergency food supplies. We could survive quite nicely for several days on what we have stocked already. I like to take inventory of what we have lingering and use it up.

5. Plan around what's on sale and in season. Planning around sale items helps your budget immensely, and planning around what's in-season will mean more delicious produce at a better price. It takes a little research on your part, but can really way off.

6. Plan a variety of meals. Apart from the obvious notion that no one really wants to eat the same thing over and over, what I mean by this is to be sure to plan some meals which rely on the pantry and other meals that rely on fresh produce. Plan meals early in the week that rely on your fresh produce, and pad the rest of the week with pantry meals. That way you'll make use of your fresh fruits and veggies before they have a chance to spoil.

7. Be flexible! Just because you thought Saturday might be a good night for that chicken noodle soup doesn't mean that you have to have in on Saturday. If it sounds yummy on Thursday instead, or Saturday looks like it will be too hot for soup, just swap them! No big deal. Same applies if you have produce that is going south and needs to be used sooner than anticipated. (Or how about those pesky avocados? I can never guess when they will be just right for my recipe.) Know which meals to skip. Those pantry meals I was talking about? Those are the first ones I look at when something changes in the week. Maybe I just don't have the energy to cook at all one night, or we get invited out somewhere. No problem. We'll order in and I'll pick a meal from the menu to bump -- one that has ingredients that will keep into the next week. Then I put that meal early in the next week's plan to use up what I've already bought (see tip #4).

8. Consider having "theme days". I don't mean taco night every Thursday, though if that floats your boat, go for it. I mean general categories. Plan one night a week for leftovers, unless you never have any (for example, my husband generally takes our leftover portion for his lunch the next day, so we rarely have leftovers hanging around). In the past I've done something like this:
Monday - soup, salad, or sandwiches
Tuesday - meat free or seafood
Wednesday - ethnic/international food
Thursday - something super easy, probably from the freezer (or the freezer section of the grocery store)
Friday - breakfast for dinner
Saturday - pasta!
Sunday - crock pot or make-ahead meal

Do you have any tips that help you plan menus for your family? I'd love to hear them, so leave a comment.

Happy Meal Planning!

March 09, 2015

Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits

What is it about biscuits that makes them so irresistible? Well... good biscuits, that is. I have no problem resisting canned biscuits of any variety.
Seriously. Get those things away from me.

But no, good biscuits are so... just so.... Yum.

I think it's particularly difficult to find a whole wheat version that doesn't closely resemble a hockey puck in texture and a cardboard box in flavor. These are good wheat biscuits. I love them with a smear of butter and a dripping of honey, and they are the perfect complement to soup. I also suspect they would be delightful smothered in sausage gravy... My husband would probably approve.

While these include a mix of whole wheat and white flour, they are a great compromise between completely refined flour and completely whole grain, which gives them a great heartiness without compromising the fluffy texture one hopes for in a biscuit. But what really sets these apart from other wheat biscuits is the cream cheese. It brings a great flavor into the mix. I love, love, love these biscuits!

And my favorite thing is that I can whip up a big batch and freeze them after cutting into desired shapes to have fresh biscuits any time. Take THAT Pillsbury!

Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits
from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp.) light cream cheese
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour
4 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 c. cold buttermilk

Dice the butter and cream cheese into 1/2 inch pieces and place in the freezer for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
Put both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a food processor. Pulse 3 times to combine. Drop cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture and pulse until mixture looks like coarse meal.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add buttermilk. Stir with a spatula until the dough comes together. Put dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times. Form dough into a 9 inch disk and roll out (or pat down as I generally do) to 3/4 inch thickness. Be careful not to overwork.
Cut out 12 biscuits and place on baking sheet. If freezing for later use, stop here and freeze on baking sheet one hour before removing to a zip-top freezer bag for storage up to 3 months. If baking immediately, place baking sheet on middle rack in oven and bake at 450 for 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and turn oven down to 400 degrees. Bake for another 12 to 15 minutes. The bottom of the biscuits should be golden brown when done.
If baking from frozen, increase initial bake at 450 to 8 minutes, then proceed as above until biscuits are done.

March 04, 2015

Creamy Chicken Soup with Wild Rice

In the week after my baby was born this past fall, we were treated so kindly by friends who brought meals to keep us going while we adjusted to this new person in our lives. Ever since this soup was brought to us, I have been obsessing over it.

My husband and I kept shoveling it into our mouths and picking out ingredients. The usual suspects were there; carrots, onion, celery, chicken. Wild rice, which was obvious, since it was chicken and wild rice soup. Then there were so many scrumptious surprises. Corn! Mushrooms! Almonds! Was that a wheat berry? Nom nom nom.

Here it is, four months later -- wait, really? Yes. Four months. And I'm still geeking out about this soup. Spring is here in the Pacific Northwest. The blossoms are out, the temperatures are warming up, and I might be the only person here still making soup. This is THAT good.

When I begged asked for their recipe, I wasn't at all surprised to find that it was from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. That woman has a gift. Her recipe calls for just wild rice, which is lovely, but the friends who brought us soup had used a blend that had regular rice, wheat berries, AND wild rice and I have to say that it made a gigantic difference to me. So I found a rice blend at the store that had all of the yummy things I was looking for. You can obviously use regular wild rice if that's what you like or have available.

Since it's still bitterly cold in some places (like, hey Texas, what's up with the snow this year?) I think you need this soup. Snuggle up and enjoy it! I swear it's worth the effort.

Creamy Chicken Soup with Wild Rice
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1/2 c. butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. celery, sliced
1/2 c. carrots, sliced
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
3/4 c. flour
6 c. chicken broth
1 lb. cooked, cubed chicken
2 c. cooked wild rice blend or cooked wild rice
(we use the whole grain Royal Blend from Rice Selects)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 c. slivered or sliced almonds (I prefer slivered, but I've used sliced in a pinch and it was still great)
2 c. half & half

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until onions are translucent. Add corn and mushrooms, and sauté for a minute or two more. Stir in flour to coat veggies, continuing to stir until the flour has absorbed the moisture in the pan and no longer smells raw. Pour in chicken broth and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let thicken slightly. As the soup thickens, be sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
When mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of your spoon, add in chicken, rice, salt, curry powder, mustard powder, parsley, pepper, and almonds. Then add the half & half and let simmer (NOT boil) for about an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn't scorch on the bottom of the pot.

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