Wednesday, July 11, 2007

meal planning

This article in today's NY Times has some great tips, tricks and suggestions for quick and easy meal planning. Of course, most of them are completely inapplicable to me as a single, childless work-a-holic who rarely makes it home in time for dinner (except for nights when I'm willing to wait until 9 because I have leftover mushroom risotto waiting, like the last two nights!). However, it did remind me of a couple of periods in my past when I lived and cooked with/for other occupants of my home and I have to say the meal planning thing is the best. Below are a few of my stand-by meals that can be thrown together quickly.

Mexican Salad
kidney beans
black beans
red beans (really any beans, I love chick peas too)
shredded cheese
salsa or Catalina dressing
tortilla chips
fresh baby spinach or romaine lettuce

Toss together and enjoy! You can switch this up a bit by adding meat - chicken (or I'm guessing hamburger, although I don't like it) seasoned with taco mix but I generally don't bother. You can make it less fattening (and less Mexican) by omitting the cheese or avocado and using only salsa or a non-fat Italian dressing.

When I lived with my brother and sister, they loved this one - I would make a huge batch of it and if there was any leftover it would disappear immediately the next day after someone pulled it out of the fridge and we would all be lured into the kitchen to scoop it all up with tortilla chips.

I've already shared one of my panini concoctions. I get creative with this one all the time - whatever is in the fridge, I toss between a couple of slices of bread with some hummus and/or cheese, usually with a fried egg as well. Generally, it turns out to be a glorified grilled cheese. Always satisfying.

Speaking of eggs, I have discovered that instead of reheating pasta or rice dishes in the microwave, it is like a whole new meal if you reheat it on the stove and toss in a fresh egg or two. Some fresh sauce aids this process as well. Try it, you will look at leftover pasta in a whole new light!

Bean Crisps (don't call it a quesadilla)
I owe this one to Michele. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

tortilla - buttered on one side
refried beans

place the beans and cheese on half of unbuttered side of the tortilla
fold tortilla in half over the beans and cheese
toss in a skillet to melt the cheese and turn the tortilla a nice crispy golden brown

Although I generally stick with the basic bean crisp, sometimes I will toss in other ingredients like tomatoes, lettuce or chicken but then it is more a quesadilla than a bean crisp.

I haven't done this in a long time but once upon a time when I was diligent at this sort of thing and never ate out. I would buy chicken breasts, cut them up and cook them in a little olive oil and pepper (possibly with other seasonings like an onion or garlic if I had them), then divide the cooked chicken into single meal portions in ziplock baggies and store in the freezer. Then, when I wanted stir-fry or some other meat concoction, I already had the meat pre-cooked and all I had to do was dethaw and toss it in with the sauce or meal I was making.

Speaking of stir-fry, I have a couple of favorites. The first is a very simple mushroom teriyaki. I don't have the teriyaki recipe with me at the moment but it is very simple and only requires soy sauce, sugar, garlic and corn starch (maybe something else, I know the recipe states the MSG is optional - who has MSG??). While you cook the rice, start the sauce. Then saute some mushrooms with a little butter or olive oil and garlic. When the rice is almost finished, steam some broccoli and carrots (or other veggies, these are my favorites). Then mix it all together! Sometimes I also add peapods, bamboo shoots or waterchestnuts or the chicken from the freezer. Total time is about 30 minutes.

My second stir-fry dish uses a Thai peanut sauce. I buy the packet of dry mix at the store (at most grocery stores in the asian food section near the soy sauce, it is an orange packet with a picture of an elephant on it), all you do is add coconut milk for the sauce. While the sauce is cooking, start the rice. Then pick your vegetables. For this one red potatoes and carrots are delicious! I also love to add broccoli, pea pods, fresh peanuts and onions or whatever vegetable looks enticing in the produce section. Steam the veggies and then add them to the sauce in a large frying pan or wok (I don't have one) until they are soft - the potatoes can be boiled separately to speed things up. Again, serve over rice with a total cook time of about 30 minutes.

That is all I can think of without my battered blue binder of recipes nearby. I guess I used to be ambitious and pre-make sauces as well. I loved the suggestion in the article about freezing pesto sauce in icecube trays!! I think that would work well with marinara and maybe even my teriyaki sauce.

Oh and Michele's mom has a fantastic enchilada recipe that freezes really well. The summer I was studying for the bar I made a large batch at the beginning of the summer, then froze two or three at a time in small tupperware containers and I had a fridge full of homemade frozen dinners! That would probably work for a family too - just make ahead and pop in the oven on enchilada night.

So now my question is, what do you do for quick and easy meal planning?


lizzie said...

wow. i can't wait to try these, since i will be cooking more often soon. i love the salad--yum! and my quick and easy ideas are pancakes and scrambled or fried eggs and toast. not that exciting.

tiff said...

I'm salivating over the Thai stir-fry. That's going on my list for next week.

As for me and my house, we eat out a LOT. I have a couple of old stand-bys: chicken breasts in the crock pot all day with a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce. the chicken falls apart after about five hours and the tomato sauce gets a nice, roasted flavor. Another favorite is bean and cheese burritos grilled in a pan to make a crispy outside. I like them with enchilada sauce on top or even dipped in ketchup. (Gross, I know, but it's a memory of childhood.)

Over the years, I have used the menu-planning service found at I really like it for the most part. When I let my subscription run out, I usually take some months off. Call it control issues.

Anyhoo, can't wait to try that Thai recipe!

autumn said...

Funny you should mention meal planning, as I've been trying it recently and its saved my family a TON of money. We weren't eating out, we were just going to the grocery every day for this or that.

I love the new ideas. I'm excited to try the bean crisp. A great idea on an old standby.

Since it's summer, we are grilling a lot, which is nice and healthy. When it gets cooler I'm thinking about making a lot of soups and keeping them in the fridge to heat up whenever the mood strikes.

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