Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Menu Planning

When I started Sharon's Independence Challenge six months ago, she quoted someone talking about an annual cycle of three activities. You plant like crazy in the spring, you preserve like crazy all summer, and then you spend the winter getting the most out of the stored food. I can really feel that shift right now. I'm not focused on stocking up any more - I'm figuring out how to cook it all now. It's not as easy as I thought.

I was reading someone's blog (wish I could remember who) and she talked about her mother having a 6-week rotation of dinners, with certain things made special for holidays, and new recipes slotted in occasionally. She listed some things she considers go-to meals, the building blocks of her menu planning.

That got me to thinking that I have left behind a lot of my go-to meals, and I need to make a new list. One of DD15's old favorite meals was chicken and sauce over rice, made with canned Cream of Chicken Soup. But now, she knows how to make her own sauces from scratch. I used to love Kraft Mac-n-cheese, and now I make macaroni with pesto and parmesan, or DH makes his heirloom baked mac-n-cheese. Our old eating style had more prepared food and meat in it. Dinner went together fast, unless we wanted it slow on purpose. We bought meat each week, and then decided what to have with it. I went to the store at least twice a week, and we were usually out of something.

We eat better now, but we have new problems. When it's time for dinner, we often discover that nothing is thawed, or some key component isn't ready. More prepping ahead is required, and actual menu planning. Especially since I plan to do the Dark Days Challenge, which asks me to try to produce one all-local meal each week from November 15 to March 15. Whew!

We do have daytime go-to meals. Breakfast is oatmeal and fruit (me), or eggs with grits and gravy (DD15), or quick bread and spread. The kids still like cereal a lot. Lunch is homemade soup, or sandwiches made of leftovers, or DD15 makes stir-fry or curry.

We already decided to have meals planned around staples instead of meat. I took a stab at a basic list for each category, and I want to try that method of having a rotation of menus. I'm going for 6 simple dishes in each category (with the other two nights being leftovers or new recipes), and then I can vary the preparation of the basic dish.

Rice: Fried Rice, Cheese Rice, Curry, Dal and Rice, Paella, Jambalaya

Potatoes: Mashed, Latkes, Potato Filling, Baked Potatoes, Colcannon

Pasta: Lasagna, Pesto Mac, Pasta and Sauce, Filled Pasta, Baked Ziti, Asian Dumplings

Beans: Rice and Beans, Pork and Beans, Pea Soup, Refried Beans, Chili, Bean Soup

Bread: Pizza, Quiche, Waffles, Stromboli, Savory Bread Pudding

So, after looking at my fridge and freezer, this is next week's menu:
Mon - Shrimp Fried Rice (needs bacon, eggs, broccoli)
Tue - Bangers and Mash with DD15's White Pepper Gravy
Wed - Chicken and Spinach Lasagna (makes leftovers)
Thu - Red Beans & Rice with Chicken
Fri - Hawaiian Pizza

The all-local meal will be Tuesday - I got the apple sausage, potatoes, and milk locally, and grew the cabbage.

Dinner Prep: Thaw a whole chicken, a pound of sausage, a small bag of broccoli. Make sauce for lasagna, doctor up some for pizza. Roast chicken Tues at lunch, then pick carcass and peel potatoes. Make braised cabbage with sausage. Make lasagna in advance of baking. Make pizza dough.

Regular Weekly Prep: Make bread, yogurt, lebne, quick bread. Cut up pineapple. Brew herbal tea. Make soup (potato leek). Bake a dessert (Jewish Apple Cake).

Shopping: Replenish instant yeast, milk, chili powder, hominy, clementines, celeriac. Take advantage of Thanksgiving sales on turkey (.47/lb Weis). Buy dried apricots on sale, and turkey backs at market to freeze for stock later (.10/lb last year). Giant has BOGO pork roast, butter for $1.99, and 2/$1 tomato paste. Long-term storage: buy rice, salt, and 25# sugar. Look for local organic bulk potatoes.
Sounds tidy. But, can I stick with planning that is so detailed? We'll see, won't we?


fullfreezer said...

I started about a year ago making a weekly menu. It's posted on a dry erase board on the fridge with a space for notes. It has been such a help for keeping myself organized and knowing what I need to prep in advance such as soaking beans or thawing something. It also cuts down on the 'What's for Dinner?' questions. Now the kids just look at the board.

Matriarchy said...

Great idea. I have a big white board I need to move into the kitchen. I have a small one on the fridge, but it's full.

Hausfrau said...

I love my weekly menu! Actually I'm lost without it. Are you storing root veggies and winter squash this year? I am trying it out, but not confident in where I've got them.

Matriarchy said...

I do have local squash and sweet potatoes, some non-local white potatoes in the cellar. Not a huge amount, since I am also not very confident about the temperature and humidity down there. I check things pretty often. I have cabbage on stalks out in the garden, for now. I have local carrots in bags in the fridge drawer.

I do plan to look for local potatoes this coming week. I would like parsnips, too, but they always seem to start shriveling immediately.

I need to get better prepared to cellar things next year - I need straw, and sand, and appropriate containers. Right now, I have most things in baskets, and the taters in a single layer in a wide flat box. I have the Bubel book about Root Cellaring that everyone recommends, but I have not read it all yet.

Verde said...

I didn't get as organized as having a root cellar this year. I was able to buy local potatoes. Then again DH doesn't like them as well.

I did a grocery shopping for the first time in a month (mostly we've stopped in for fresh lettuce or something) and it wasn't that big - mostly cleaning and sale stuff.

I do find we are eating more meat because that is something that has stored well and the we have gotten in large quantities, getting and sharing an entire animal with neighbors.