Weekly Menu – 2/1/2010

Okay, so this is five days late. I’m blaming it on being sick this past week and not having the energy to do anything but curl up into the ball at the end of each day this past week. So, without further ado…

Monday – Paninis
Now that Sean’s back in school, he’s got class on Monday nights until late. The idea is to plan dinners on Monday that allow Sean to eat early and me to eat when I get home from yoga classes. Enter the quickly grilled sandwich. Add some quickly sauteed green beans and you’ve got a quickly prepared and well-balanced meal.

Tuesday – Pasta with Sausage, Mustard and Basil
I pulled this recipe from Food & Wine’s website. Since I’ve already made this recipe, I can give a quick review of the recipe. The sauce and sausage is a good combo, but the recipe calls for a full pound of pasta which thinned the sauce out too much. I would recommend using a half pound of pasta (usually half of a box of pasta). That will still serve a family of four (or two leftover meals for a family of two).

Wednesday – Dinner Salad with Grilled Chicken
The ever present weekly dinner salad. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining on Wednesday, so Sean was able to grill the chicken out on the grill instead of on our grill pan inside. We used Savory’s All-Purpose seasoning on the chicken. The greens and vegetables for the salad came from the Ahwatukee Farmers’ Market.

Thursday – Herb Broiled Fish with Lemon Aioli
Another recipe from Food & Wine. This was served along side a side salad with snap peas and cucumbers. The recipe turned out very nicely and the aioli is incredibly quick to make up (you fix it while the fish is broiling).

Friday – Pork and Shrimp Potstickers
Okay, so maybe this week I went a little heavy on the Food & Wine recipes. I’ve been craving potstickers since a friend of ours made awesome homemade egg rolls for his housewarming party. This is a Ming Tsai recipe, which leaves me hoping for very tasty potstickers tonight.

Saturday – Salsa Verde Braised Pork
I found this recipe in a Sunset magazine in 2008. This recipe is wonderfully easy and the resulting pork is amazing. Serve this with some fresh tortillas and you’ve got a delicious meal.

Sunday – SuperBowl Party!
Some people go to SuperBowl parties to watch the football. I go to the parties to watch the ads. A friend is throwing the party and Sean and I will be going over for some socializing and (hopefully) amusing ads.

Weekly Menu – 1/17/10

Now that Sean and I are back in town it’s time to resume our weekly meal planning. In celebration of being back from eating indulgently while on vacation, this week’s got some healthier meals.

Monday – Seared Tuna with Vegetable Stir-Fry
For the seared tuna, we take ahi tuna, press sesame seeds (black and white) and then sear the tuna on all sides in a tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat.

We’ll add lo mein noodles to the vegetable stir-fry to make the dish a little more filling.

Tuesday – Baked Ziti
Pretty standard baked ziti. It’s nice because it’s quick to toss together and it creates leftovers for the rest of the week.

Wednesday – Smoked Ham & Corn Chowder
This is a new recipe from Food & Wine magazine.
Link: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/smoky-ham-and-corn-chowder

Thursday – Flank Steak Dinner Salad
We usually grill up a flank steak with either Savory Spice Shop’s Mt Massive Steak Seasoning or Pikes Peak Butchers Rub. Lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato and some sourdough croutons top off a nice meal.

Friday – Potato Leek Soup
A few years ago, we received a collection of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, one of which is all about soups. Our favorite recipe for potato leek soup comes from this book. Epicurious.com, though, has several tasty ones if you’re looking for something to try.

Saturday – Fried Chicken & Biscuits
I’m southern. No matter how many years I live away from the south, my favorite dish will always be fried chicken and homemade biscuits. The chicken gets soaked overnight in buttermilk. For frying, it gets coated in flour, egg wash and then more flour and fried up in our dutch oven, to keep oil from splattering everywhere.

I have half a dozen recipes that I use for different types of biscuits. Three alone come from The Bread Bible. One of my favorites, though, is the one I grew up with and that’s the recipe for rolled biscuits in the Joy of Cooking. My grandmother used this book, my mom uses this book and now I use this book, so it’s got some heritage to it, which makes this one specific recipe all the more special for me to use.

Sunday – Roast Lamb with Polenta and Roasted Vegetables
Roast lamb is quickly becoming a standby favorite for Sean and me, especially with how much more accessible it is in the grocery stores now. Take a rack of lamb, coat the outside with a good deli-style mustard (please don’t use yellow mustard!) and then roll it in panko bread crumbs. Sear the outside over medium high heat in a tablespoon of oil and then finish in a 400 degree oven until cooked to your liking. We like lamb medium-rare, which is the traditional temperature to serve it at.

Soft polenta and some roasted vegetables (whatever looks good at the grocery store when you’re shopping) rounds out this nice and simple meal.

Weekly Menu – 1/3/2010

This week is a short menu since Kat and I are headed out on travel this coming Friday. This also means trying to plan for meals that will not create leftovers, we do try to not deliberately create waste.

Greek Chicken Salad
Salad greens with cherry tomatoes, cucumber feta cheese and a vinegrette dressing. Grilled chicken with Greek Seasonings from Savory Spices.

Pork Chops with homemade applesauce and grilled asparagus
Fairly simple, just grilling up the pork shops with some seasoning, probably from Savory again. Asparagus gets grilled as well with olive oil, salt and pepper. The applesauce we make by peeling and cutting up granny smith apples, then simmering on the stove in a combination of mead (honey wine) and water, if you do not have mead then water by itself is fine, just use enough to cover the apples. Add sugar and cinnamon as necessary at the end, use a stick blender to puree’ it up or you can use a regular blender just be careful.

Salmon BLT
We stole this from one of our favorite local breweries- Four Peaks.
Grilled or sauteed salmon filet with bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese and pesto on whole grain bread. Their recipe calls for jalepeno jack cheese and Cajun seasoning on the salmon, but we have substituted out other flavors with no problem, this is a nice tasty dinner.

Chef Dinner Salad
Yep, another Salad, we decided that with all the rich food lately a second salad for the week would not be a bad idea. This one will be salad greens with had boiled eggs, bacon, ham, cucumber, tomato, green pepper and cheese on top. I like jalepeno ranch to go on top, Kat generally goes for a chipolte cheddar dressing we found.

That is it for this week since we are headed out of town.

Weekly Menu – 12/29/09

Since I posted earlier today about weekly menus, here’s the weekly menu that I drew up for this week:

Monday – Red Beans & Rice
Served with fresh French bread.

We had ham for Christmas and pretty much if we have a ham, that means Sean requests red beans and rice for the following week. This time, we tried Cooks Illustrated’s recipe (Jan/Feb 2010 issue). Since this is a staple Cajun dish, I have my family recipe, but I’m always willing to check a different version out.

Tuesday – Chicken Dinner Salad
Sean and I are big salad fans. This is pretty much a staple in our menu. Almost every week, we have some sort of dinner salad. We usually choose between chicken breast, salmon, shrimp, tuna or flank steak for the protein and then toss in whatever veggies we feel like. Add salad dressing and you have dinner in usually under 15 minutes (the meat does have to cook, unless you pick up a roasted chicken from the store on your way home).

Wednesday – Paninis
Yet another staple in our weekly menu (sorry, my creativity was gone when coming up with my menu this week). The best part about this meal is that you don’t need a panini press to make paninis. All you need is two cast iron pans and you’re good (if one of them is a cast iron griddle, you can even get the grill lines on your sandwich).

For bread, we usually use the artisan sourdough bread from the grocery. Mainly, though, you’re just looking for a firm, large piece of bread. We usually stick with a couple types of meat, one type of cheese and then a couple of veggie fillings to round out the flavor. For meats, we go with ham, salami, prosciutto or any other Italian meat that we’re fancying when we get to the deli. For cheese, we normally go with provolone because it melts really nicely but has a small bite to it. For veggie fillings, we’ll use anything from olive salad to roasted red peppers or artichoke hearts.

Preheat one of the cast iron pans (this should be the griddle if you have one) over medium heat. It shouldn’t be smoking, but it should be pretty warm. Take two slices of bread, brush one side of each slice with a little bit of olive oil. Place one of these slices on the cast iron, olive oil side down. Put whatever fillings you want in your sandwich onto the bread. I would recommend starting and ending with cheese, as this will hold the sandwich together really well. Place the second slice of bread on the sandwich, olive oil side up and put the second cast iron on top, weighing the sandwich down. Flip the sandwich when the first side is golden brown. Take off the pan once both sides are nice and golden brown. Let sit for a minute and then slice in half. Serve with a small side salad or just chips for something quick.

Thursday – New Year’s Eve Dinner!
Three-Ingredient Prime Rib Roast (Food & Wine, December 2009)
Butternut Squash Gratin – This is a recipe from Sean’s aunt Patty that is great as a side or works well as a main dish (which is great since two of the people we’re having over for dinner are vegetarians)
Green Beans – nice and simple saute with garlic
Roasted Parsnips – olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven with the rib roast (also works well to do this with potatoes)

Dessert: Hot Chocolate & Fresh Chocolate Chip Cookies
To keep the dessert easy, I’ll make up the cookies the day before and then prep the hot chocolate so that all I have to do is combine the dry ingredients with the milk.

Friday – Black-eyed Pea Stew with Sausage (Food & Wine, January 2010)
I’ll serve this up with another small side salad to keep it nice and simple for a good start to the new year.

Saturday – Leftovers
Whenever I do stews and soups during the week, we usually have lots of leftovers at the end of the week (even with us taking in leftovers for lunch). This means that I’ve got time to do chores on this day and still provide a good dinner at night.

Sunday – Cacio e Pepe (Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 2010)
This is way simpler than it sounds. It’s essentially pasta with cheese and pepper. Should be a nice meal to start off the next week with and provide some tasty leftovers for lunch.

Dinner Planning

We live in a busy world. Sean and I lead pretty busy lives. Sean works full-time and is trying to finish his bachelor’s degree almost full-time (3 classes each semester). I work full-time (although this usually equates to way more hours than your standard 40-hour work week) and I study yoga 4 days a week. With our busy schedules, Sean and I usually get home late with few brain cells left to process prepping and eating dinner. When we first got into our routines, we would stand around the freezer and fridge (or one of us would stand there with the other on the phone) and we would squabble over what to have for dinner. This invariably led to lots of grilled cheese and soup nights not to mention the amount of take-out we ate. We knew this habit had to change for two reasons. One, making dinner each night started becoming an argument because we were both tired of dealing with it. Two, we knew we both needed to eat healthier than we had been if either of us had any hope of losing the weight our doctors were telling us we needed to lose.

Here’s the plan that someone very smart suggested to us and we’ve spent the past 6 months following with great success. Every Saturday, we plan out our menu for the following week (Monday through Sunday). This gets recorded down somewhere. For us, that means it gets put into a Google Calendar that Sean and I share (it’s called Weekly Menu). In order to keep just one of us planning the menus, we swap this chore of planning the menu. So, each one of us only has to do this every other week.

Sunday morning, we make out a grocery list of everything we need to buy to get us through the week of dinners. Here’s where we deviate slightly from the plan. We eat a lot of fresh foods in our house (fresh vegetables, fresh meats, etc) which precludes us from completely shopping for the week, so we split our list into two. We’ll shop on Sunday for Monday through Thursday and then on Friday for Friday through Sunday. Fridays are usually the least hectic of our week days (Sean rarely has classes on Fridays and they haven’t extended beyond noon yet and I don’t have any yoga classes after work on this day), so this works out pretty well.

Okay, so that takes care of making sure that a menu has been planned for the entire week and that groceries are bought in a timely manner (instead of in a rush on the night of dinner making). That leaves making sure that the weekly menu is posted somewhere so that everyone in the household is aware of the plan and whoever gets home first can start working on dinner. Before Sean and I had iPhones (and thus constant access to our Google Calendar), we used a paper weekly menu stuck to our fridge.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering how we manage to come up with a weekly menu without running out of ideas on a regular basis. We have a lot of different resources we use, some online, some are cookbooks that we constantly refer back to and some are food magazines that we subscribe to. Here’s the rundown:

epicurious.com – This is the online form of Bon Appetit which is a great food magazine. This website’s got several useful tools to help you plan menus. First, the search function allows you to search under a large variety of options, one of which is “quick & easy”. This option has found me some great ideas for week day dinners. The other tool is an iPhone app that you can download for free. This app gives you access to the database of recipes and allows you to create a shopping list from recipes that you add to your cart.

Sunset.com – Once more the online form of one of my favorite magazines in the world (thanks Lisa!). The magazine is meant for the western half of the United States and covers everything from traveling to gardening, but the online Food and Wine section can be used anywhere in the country. There’s a Fast and Fresh area where one can find easy and healthy recipes.

Food & Wine – Yeah, yeah, so I like food magazine websites. They’re rich resources of past magazine recipes. This magazine tags each of their recipes so that at a quick glance you can tell if it’s Fast, Healthy, Vegetarian, Make Ahead, etc. The website allows you to search under these tags, which is yet another way of finding just the type of recipe you’re looking for.

Any of the above three magazines are great ways to start finding recipes. Why would I recommend spending money on the magazines when you can just download the recipes? It’s because these magazines offer more than just recipes to find. They offer techniques and advice that I find invaluable as someone who is trying to learn to cook better and healthier.

Cooks Illustrated – This magazine is beyond words for anyone who likes to cook. It offers a Quick Tips section where readers can contribute ways they’ve found to save time or resources in the kitchen (For instance, one reader suggests freezing leftover chicken broth in ice cube trays so that when you need some again you can defrost small amounts. I love this suggestion. In fact, when I make my own chicken stock, I do the same thing). The recipes in this magazine are also well thought out and written down. Each recipe comes with an article describing why they’re doing the recipe the way they are (why use small red beans over kidney beans in a Red Beans & Rice recipe). This helps expand your knowledge as a cook at the same time as getting a vault of great recipes to use. The one thing I’ll caution you on is that they don’t frequently do “quick” recipes, so if that’s all you’re looking for, you’ve been forewarned.

30-Minute Meals – I’m not a huge fan of Rachael Ray, but I have to admit her cookbooks (I’ve got two of them) have saved my bacon a few times when I’ve needed to toss together a quick meal. She’ll give you recipes that will create a full meal and they really are ready in 30-minutes or less (including prep time).

My Personal Recipe Book – Sorry, no link for this one and that’s because this is quite literally a personal recipe book that was given to me as a wedding gift from awesome friends and family and has been expanded upon over the past 6 years (and counting) of marriage. Any time I find a recipe that I like online or in some of my magazines, it gets cut out and put into this 3-inch ring binder. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured over this book looking for ideas and I’ve rarely come away empty handed. The best part about putting together a book like this is that as the years go by, these recipes start getting stories put to them and they become personal.

So, here’s what I’m going to try to do. Each Sunday, I’m going to try to post our weekly menu so that other people can see how we’re planning. If the menu item has an online recipe, I’ll link to it so that everyone else can find it. I promise that planning healthy and quick meals ahead of time is worth it and it’s doable.