|In the past, I didn't label these containers, and just had to guess what the contents were. Now I know. Freezer tape rules!|
Reading blogs and online kitchen advice inspired me to examine the way I figure out what we're having for meals. Mostly I prepare food from scratch using what's on hand -- but starting at the last minute. Meals include breakfast, almost daily lunch, and dinner every night: we eat in most of the time. Sure, I sometimes identify recipes that I've been meaning to try, and buy the ingredients and get my act together for experiments. But not every day. Mostly I don't know what we are going to eat until we are almost ready to set the table. I'm beginning to think this is eccentric.
|Elaborate meal-planning advice like this abounds on sites like this example at thekitchn.com and lots of blogs,|
but I never do anything like a weekly plan.
|Screen shot of iPhone|
Milk low? Oatmeal used up? Cereal boxes mostly down to dust? (Yes, we eat boxed cereal -- sorry, not sorry.) Only one stick of butter left in the freezer? Peanut butter or jam jars almost scraped clean? Spice jars emptied? Exotic recipe requires chicken, eggplant, okra, and small hot peppers, as in the exotic stew I made earlier this week? Craving cookies or ice cream? When we need things, they go on the iPhone Reminder app.
The iPhone list is shared, so when my husband uses up an item he can add it to the very same list with his iPhone. And if he does the shopping, he can automatically check off the items and my iPhone knows it too. I guess it's in the cloud. Over time this list has also come to include specifications of unusual light bulb types, furnace filter size, battery requirements, and other stuff that's so easy to lose track of -- when things run out, they just get checked back on the list. True, there's no way to sort the list, which rearranges itself mysteriously as things are checked off and put back on, but I've gotten used to this challenge. However, I digress.
Let's get back to the original question, What's for dinner? Around 5 PM most days, I ask myself what I feel like eating, and what I feel like cooking. (Obviously if we have invited guests, I'll already have things well in hand by 5 PM -- I mean days when it's just the two of us.)
Dinner depends on these questions and answers:
- Is anything approaching its final use-up-by-now date on the store packaging? Obviously, the presence of 2-day-old meat or ready-to-wilt lettuce is an overwhelming factor in what we'll eat.
- No urgent choices? Well, what's in the freezer? When I cook meatballs or stew I usually make extra for the freezer. I buy frozen salmon in packages from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. I foil wrap Costco lamb chops or steaks in dinner-sized quantities and freeze them. I rely on frozen peas and corn or canned red, white, or black beans to add to many dishes. Recently, as I noted, I've been doing better with labels so there aren't quite as many mystery dinners.
- Another question: did we have a large or a small lunch? What was it? If we had egg salad for lunch, we aren't having omelets for dinner. If we had hot dogs or chili for lunch maybe a lighter salad would be good for dinner. And so on. Other side of the coin: if I do know what's for dinner, that helps me decide about lunch.
- Above all: do I feel lazy or ambitious? Always a good question, which is a reason to keep nice bread in the freezer and sliced cheese, deli meat, or leftover roast in the fridge, ingredients for a quick soup or tuna for salad in the pantry, and salad vegetables ready to use. Yes, I keep boxed soup on the shelf, but usually add veggies when I make it. Yes, I use salsa out of a jar. No, I don't make my own tortillas. I'm not a fanatic about from-scratch cooking, just prefer it.
|My lettuce storage box: empty right now because I'm|
waiting for the lettuce supply to be safer.
I don't use bagged lettuce, but I understand why busier people do use it. I detest bottled salad dressings, but don't mind if I'm offered a salad where someone else used them -- I love using oil, vinegar, and mustard or making a yogurt-based salad dressing. So having ingredients ready to make a salad is one of my best planning devices.
A few more new toys in my January kitchen
|My new kitchen torch -- which I've documented in two posts|
this month -- has now been joined by ramekins for crème brûlée.
The torch (upper right) is shown the caramelizing sugar topping.
|Shiny flakes of caramelized sugar on top of smooth crème pâtissière!|
Why am I interested in meal planning?Two groups of food bloggers gave me the idea to write about meal planning and organization, and I will be sharing this post with them:
Sherry at the blog Sherry's Pickings hosts a monthly blogging event called "In My Kitchen." Bloggers from around the world write posts about new food products and gadgets in their kitchens, and link their posts on Sherry's blog. A number of these bloggers have been participating in this event for a long time. Meal planning is an occasional topic of their posts, as well as related subjects like how to preserve what's growing in their gardens. It's fun to see what these bloggers are cooking each month because some of them are in the Northern Hemisphere like me, and others are in Australia and other places and thus using fruits and vegetables of a totally different season.
"Beth Fish" is the pseudonym of an editor and writer who blogs at Beth Fish Reads. Each Saturday she reviews cookbooks or writes about her own food-related activities and also hosts "Weekend Cooking" where a group of bloggers link to their posts about food or about anything they consider related to food. She's written quite a few reviews of books that discuss how to plan meals, shop, and organize your cooking life, and the bloggers in the group also return to the subject from time to time. They've thus made me aware of a number of questions on how to organize.