Menu Planning

I am one of those folks who does menu planning. I think like home cooking it is a bit of a lost art.  Menu planning is something that takes time and if changing things up bothers you can become a bit of an albatross around your neck; creating more stress when its purpose is just the opposite.   I do menu planning for one of several reasons.

First I don’t work in town and hence don’t grocery shop but once a week.    If I plan to serve interesting well-balanced meals that I need to have everything I might need in my pantry.  My pantry is well stocked with staples: flour, sugar, can goods and a freezer with beef, pork and lamb.    Perishables like milk, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread constantly need to be restocked along with what we have used up since our last time at the grocery store.   Shopping with a plan helps to ensure not only do I have what I need, but  I don’t end up throwing things out because  they have spoiled from lack of use.   It also helps keep us from going crazy buying things we really don’t need or are likely to use just because there is a sale.

Second I hate leftovers.   I can’t imagine eating the same thing two days in a row.    This for me means planning how to repurpose a meal so it is not the same.   I often cut my meat in to two or three pieces before I cook it.  If we have pork roast one night,  the leftover will be split and we will have pulled pork  or Cuban sandwiches then the next possibly chili verde.   It is highly likely one night a week will be smorgasbord of leftovers.   No matter how well I try I do end up with leftovers.   Usually it is a little of this and a little of that.  Sometimes it enough for another meal and that goes into the freezer for a future no cook night.   With my leftover tidbits, not enough of anything to make a meal, but when it is all served at the same time with a new veggie for fruit salad thrown in makes a nice meal.

Lastly we like to eat a wide range of foods and have an adventuresome palate.   We are always looking for a new recipe to try.   After work if we don’t know what we are going to make with the recipe handy , we have a tendency to fall back on the same old things.  Also Montana is not the place to come if you are looking for restaurants to sneak out to feed your need for serious ethnic cuisine fix.  Good authentic ethic foods is made in the home with ingredients you horde from online shopping or trips to the cities where there are ethic neighborhoods with grocery stores that stock what you need.     Montana is the place where beef is king, but don’t be surprised to be fed elk, antelope and lamb.   Our season are too short and growing many veggies that the rest the US sees as normal is hard here , as a result it is carnivore heaven.   Meat and potatoes is the main fare here.   We enjoy a good piece of meat, but it just doesn’t have to be roasted or broiled.   It can be wrapped in the spices of the world and served in ways that meat  is a piece of the total menu, not the over running piece of whole meal. Some nights we even do a meatless meal.

Menu planning is a Sunday evening chore for us.   RangerSir and I sit around and talk about what we are hungry for.   Possibly what one us has an urge to make.   Once that is decided the plan mode kicks in,  where we suggest what we might do with the other parts of the cut of meat if we make x or y.   We spend some time on our Kindles surfing the net for something that looks good and printing off recipes.   Once done we stack them in to make order, make notes about sides.   Look at the ingredients list and compare it to what we have on hand.   Monday night is shopping night, and we eat one of those frozen meals we have on hand.   The rest of the week we work our way through the printed out recipes, sometimes shuffling them base on time and preference.   Occasionally things really change up and the roast that was supposed to make three meals only makes two then we move in to full comfort food mode, making a simple soup, burgers or dinner salad with what we have on hand.

Menu planning isn’t for everyone or every family, but if you have thought you might want to try it, I hope you will give it a shot.   Like  every other kind of planner, customize it up and get it to work for you, not the other way around.

Furlough: Dinners from the Freezer

One of my favorite oldies!

We are now in our third week of government furlough.    It has been a time for us to appreciate all that we have in our pantry and freezer.   We are lucky to have such a well stocked larder.   The challenge is we like to cook fresh and ethnic foods.    It means we often pull things from our stores and add things from the grocery to allow us to make exactly what we want.    We are now having to tap into out our creative side of making menus without going to the grocery to get items.  We are challenging ourselves to make do with what we have at home.   This generally means we are eating more traditional 50’s American menus.   I have been tapping into my old cookbooks.  It is interesting to explore some of the old favorites and discover some new ones.   One of the biggest challenges is to cut recipes down to size for just the two of us, because we are not big on leftovers, but this lack of a paycheck is reminding us to be more thrifty than normal.

Recently we had half a ham which should have been one family Sunday dinner.   Instead it was a traditional ham dinner, the next night we had scalloped potatoes and ham, followed by Senate Navy bean soup, lastly it made a great Indian lentil soup (dal).   There is a little ham left and we will be making a Quiche to finish it off next.    We were quite pleased with how we succeeded in making so much from that single piece of meat.    It did serve to remind us though that good menu planning is no accident.   It takes time and forethought to ensure that you are successful with menu planning.

Though there is an ongoing economic price to pay for us being a pawn in the government, it has reaffirmed that there is a reason we are frugal, and put food by.   We again thank our parents for teaching us to get by with what we have and plan for rainy days.   We have been reminded that we are survivors, because that is a choice we can make when it seems like there are no choices for us.   It has made us stronger as a couple because we are in this challenge together, stronger than we would be separately.