Thursday, February 21, 2008


You're in the wrong spot!

Menu Planning 101 is now part of Tummy!

Check your bookmarks- the correct address should be Menu Planning 101.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Week At A Glance

Well, the last week or so it seems I have been entirely unable to stick to my designated meal plans. This is okay when we're eating out of the pantry and fridge anyway, but my little forays to the store have got to stop! Here is the next weekly meal plan I have. Hopefully I can do better this week.

Wednesday: Sloppy Joes

Thursday: Braised Chicken Legs in Mustard Sauce, Egg Noodles, Fresh Fruit

Friday: Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry, Basmati Rice

Saturday: Deep-Dish Pizza

Sunday: Lexington Chicken Spaghetti, Garlic bread, salad

Monday: French Toast Sticks, Bacon, Fresh fruit

Tuesday: Leftover chicken spaghetti

Wednesday: Yellow Broth, homemade bread, pear butter

I don't really have many notes for this week... most of this is using things from the pantry this week. The Lexington Chicken spaghetti is a new recipe for me- the recipe makes servings for 50, so I'll be cutting that in half for our crowd. I expect there will be leftovers, so we'll be eating that again on Tuesday. If there aren't leftovers, then we'll have some Mexican stuffed shells from the freezer.

The Yellow Broth is a new recipe that really intrigues me. It's an Irish soup made with root vegetables and oatmeal- the oatmeal in the soup totally intrigued me, so I hope it turns out okay. If not, if I make it earlier in the day and it just isn't working out, I have a package of frozen cheezy chicken noodle soup that will go in the crock-pot instead of the Yellow Broth. But I have high hopes for the yellow broth.

There are very few things I need to purchase this week. Let's see, I need egg noodles, hoisin sauce for the stir-fry, bacon, 2 whole chickens, and some fresh fruit. In addition I'll need milk, creamer, and butter this week. Oh, and some rolled oats so that I can make a batch of granola for breakfasts and snacks. Easy and short shopping list this week- hooray!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

About Cookbooks

When you have a cookbook collection like mine, it can be daunting to try and think of a way to organize the books themselves, let alone the recipes within. My method is far from perfect, but so far it seems to suit me okay, and maybe it could be helpful to someone who is just too overwhelmed.

First, I need to break down my cookbooks into categories. Basically, there are three types of cookbooks for me. There's the "reference cookbooks" like Joy of Cooking or my Cooking Light Annuals which have recipes for everything within. Then there's the more specific "niche cookbooks" like my Vegetarian cookbooks, or the books by one author like Giada, which all the recipes have an Italian twist. I would consider any of my ethnic cookbooks part of the niche segment. The third type of cookbook is the non-negotiable books. These are antiques or old church cookbooks or cookbooks that belonged to a grandparent, and while I do cook from them occasionally, these are mostly around for sentimental reasons, and are not part of my organizational attempts- there's only a small handful of these.

For the niche cookbooks, I don't really organize them much, or the recipes within. Those are the cookbooks that I like to pull a random one off the shelf and just flip through and find something to cook from time to time. I keep them somewhat organized on the shelf-keeping similar cookbooks together, but don't take them much further than that.

It's the reference cookbooks that I take an organizational tactic to. Take my Cooking Light Annuals for instance. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of recipes in one cookbook. And when I have seven of them...that would be literally impossible to figure out a way to leep track of the recipes within. Imagine THAT database! So what I do is simply to take an evening and sit down with the book shortly after I've received it. With me, I have a stack of index cards and a pen. Then as I'm flipping through the book, I write on an index card when a recipe intrigues me- as well as what page it's on. When I fill up an index card, I use another one. And once I've gone through the whole book, I tape the index cards to the inside of the front cover. Now I have a quick easy reference point. When I've made a recipe, I also notate on the card whether it was a repeater. If it was a dud, I cross it off the card, as well as make a note on the actual recipe. Some of my books have many index cards, some only a few, but it makes it quick and easy to pick up a book and try to find a recipe from inside. Here's a picture to show what I am talking about:So how do I know if a cookbook is worth keeping? Well, to me that's a personal question! Someone recently asked me about my favorite magazines, and I feel the same about my cookbooks, I'd just as soon pick a favorite child than pick a favorite cookbook. But last year I started a "Cookbook Challenge" on Tummy Treasure. I challenged myself to cook out of each and every cookbook I have, and it's really helped me to cull out my collection a bit. When I was flipping through a book having a hard time finding a recipe I wanted to cook, that was a red flag to me. And then when the one recipe I would try from that book was a dud- well, that cookbook was a candidate for tossing. I'm still doing the Cookbook Challenge, although it's been a while since I've updated it, and I really need to get back into it.

I guess what I'm saying here today is that you need to find a system that works best for you. I happen to have 70+ cookbooks right now, so to organize the recipes within completely...that just seems like madness to me. The best I can do is to give the whole collection a once-over every few months and see if there are any that just aren't cutting it for me.

And finally, a note to not be afraid to mark up your books. There is nothing better than flipping through my grandmother's old cookbooks and seeing her notations to add a little of this or leave out a bit of that in a recipe. I also love finding the pages that are full of splatters and food stains. This shows me that the cookbook was loved and was used, and makes it even more of a treasure to me. And even before my kids were two years old, they would sit on the floor and flip through Mommy's cookbooks, looking at the pictures. I imagine them doing so someday with their children and grandchildren, and that's fun to think about.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Revamping The Menu

See, this is what I mean by flexibility.

Today Zander and I were at the store to pick up milk and I happened to glance in the direction of the hams. I found a fantastic deal on a great brand of ham, and right away, Zander lit up when I mentioned buying a ham. My whole family loves ham. So I picked it up, and while I thought briefly about tucking the ham into the freezer, it's been awhile since we've had ham, so I'm putting it on the menu. So here is the revised Friday and Saturday for this week, and the remaining ham will be frozen for later use. The bone will also be used to make stock, as I'm down to 1 package of ham stock. I love multi-purpose meat!

Friday: Mustard Baked Ham, Potato Pancakes, Homemade Applesauce, Lettuce Salad

Saturday: Rotini and Cheese with Broccoli and Ham

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quick Tip: Flexibility!

One of the things about menu planning is that sometimes you do need to have some flexibility available. Today is the perfect example of that for me. Tonight's planned meal, Southwestern Pork with Sweet Potatoes was totally dependant on me doing my weekly grocery shopping today. Since we're in the middle of a snow warning, with about 4 inches on the ground and potentially more on the way, I'm not going anywhere today.

So instead I'll be pulling some chicken pieces from the freezer and cooking that up for dinner. So tonight instead we'll be having Oven Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes, and a green salad.

There are other things that I could make of course, using on-hand ingredients. Some things I keep on hand just for such purposes would be Bottled Marinara and Pasta, or Pancake Mix for quick waffles or pancakes. Eggs for a quick frittata, ground beef and chicken are almost always in the freezer. Even frozen pizzas are great to have on hand for just such days.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Week At A Glance

Since I've been sick for oh, 5 days now, last week's menu plan really went out the window. It happens, and the beauty of it is that some of the things I'd planned for this week just get bumped to next week- and since I shopped for that last week, everything's already here for those dishes. Today's menu plan is also going to be a bit longer, as I'll include a few days from this week, just to have down what I've made so I can keep track.

I'm also going to do my best to link to all the recipes I use. Occasionally there will be something that doesn't use a recipe- but I've been working on getting my basic "toss-in-a-pot" meals down on paper.

So here is my meal plan for this past Monday through next Wednesday. I'm still on the fence about tomorrow's pork dish, so that may change, but this is the plan anyways.

Monday: Chicken Noodle Soup

Tuesday: Frittata, Apple Pancakes

Wednesday: Cheezy Chicken Noodle Soup

Thursday: Southwestern Pork and Sweet Potatoes, Garden Salad, Fruit

Friday: Fish-N-Chips

Saturday: Pioneer Woman's Chicken Spaghetti, Salad, Homemade Bread

Sunday: Sloppy Joes, Pickles, Cheese Slices, Homemade Rolls

Monday: French Toast Sticks, Bacon, Fresh Fruit

Tuesday: Broccoli Chicken Supreme, Salad

Wednesday: Repeat of Sloppy Joes

Just a few notes about this week's menu. You'll see fish is on the menu, this is the time of year to buy fish if you usually don't because of price. With the lenten season, fish comes down to a very reasonable price, and I like to stock up this time of year. Frozen fish is excellent in my part of the country, and it keeps in the freezer for several months. You'll likely see fish on the menu a few times in the weeks ahead. Fish-n-chips is one of our family's favorite things to go out for, and since we aren't dining out as of late, I've managed to find a batter that we love here at home.
The chicken dishes on Saturday and Tuesday are new for me this week- I've not made them before. I have high hopes for both, as I would love to find casserole dishes that we enjoy eating. (We're just not big casserole people.) I'll be buying a large roasting chicken this week, and then using that one chicken for both dishes- it will provide plenty of chicken for both days, and I'll only have to cook it once. I'll probably roast the chicken so that I have the carcass for a roasted chicken stock as well, but I'm still not sure about that. This is where I am flexible though, because I know a good roasting hen will be about 8 or 9 dollars, and if I see a sale on frozen chicken breast this week while I'm out, I may just go that route instead. Either way, both dishes should work out great.

The French Toast Sticks will be made from an extra loaf of homemade bread from Saturday, and you see last week's Sloppy Joe's bumped to this week. My shopping list should be very reasonable this week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Quick Tip!

Here's a quick little tidbit for anyone just starting out with menu planning.

Don't get all fancy-schmancy your first few times out there. Start with recipes or meals that you already make well. Maybe make a list of your standby tried-and-trues to refer to. Then as you get more comfortable making a plan, then start incorporating some new recipes.

Remember- menu planning is all about saving you TIME and MONEY. It's not supposed to cause stress and anxiety.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Organize Those Recipes: Part One

Wait! Don't run away! I promise, it's totally do-able. But first, I need to warn you and let you know that it's an on-going process. Seriously, if I sat down and decided to organize all the recipes in my posession...well, let's just say that I would probably be in the same chair for two weeks straight, and I'd have just begun to make a dent. So we're going to do this one step at a time, and this is the first post dedicated to recipe organization. I'm sure there will be many, and as always, I would LOVE tips, hints, suggestions, questions, or anything you do to try and maintain some semblance of organization.

So let's start today with my worst offender: Magazines. Let me start by saying I.Love.Food.Magazines. Love them. I love flipping through them, reading the articles, reading the recipes, imagining myself making them, and imagining my family enjoying said recipes. But I have a serious problem hoarding those magazines. So what's a girl to do? It's easy to say I'll purge and just throw them out, but to actually do never know when an older recipe is going to all the sudden speak to you. (Please tell me I'm not alone with that feeling...!)

Currently, I subscribe to and receive these magazines:

Cooking Light
Eating Well
Home Cooking
Vegetarian Times
Better Homes and Gardens

I also sometimes pick up Bon Appetit, Everyday Food, Rachael Ray, and Taste of Home. That's a lot of magazines floating around my home! So here's what I do. First, I got myself a basket, it looks like this:

In that basket I keep up to 3 issues of each magazine- just the most current ones. This gives me a place to automatically put magazines as they come in the mail, and anytime I have a few minutes to flip through one, I know where they all are, and can find them here. As I flip through each magazine I circle, star, or otherwise notate the recipes that interest me, as well as write them down in my To-Try notebook. (You do have one of those- don't you?) All that goes in my notebook is the name of the recipe, and what magazine it is in. Here's an example of that list:

This way, when I'm making my menu for the week, I can glance at this page if I want a new recipe. By writing down the issue and page number, I've totally streamlined the process, and I can find that recipe in a matter of seconds when I want to give it a closer look. This list is an excellent resource when I'm making a recipe that uses something like leeks or fennel, and I want to find another recipe to use up that bulb of fennel.

After the basket, magazines get bumped to the shelf. I have one shelf with a small space devoted to putting my magazines. Here's a picture of that:

By having a small space, I have to be picky and choosy about what I keep. My Cooking Light magazines I always keep for one full year, and then I pass them on after I've received the annual. This way, I can go through the annual and mark recipes I've made and enjoyed, as well as recipes I wanted to try, but never got around to. You can see too many CL's on this shelf, and I really need to sort through them and pass them on now. I keep my Eating Well magazines as well because they are a wealth of information and recipes. Although now that I've been receiving it for over two years, I should probably think about culling them.

All the rest of the magazines get shelf space until I find the time to purge. Gourmet is an excellent example of that. Usually when I have about 6 months worth of issues, I sit down and flip through them. I tear out the recipes that I am interested in and toss the magazines themselves. Then I take those torn out recipes to the computer and find them online. Then I either print them off, or save them to my computer, and throw out the torn recipes as well. I do the same for the Vegetarian Times magazines. In the case of a recipe that I can't find online, I look carefully at the recipe and decide if I think it's worth the time to type it into the computer. I've tossed many a recipe because it was very long and daunting and I didn't want to take the time to type it in. It's also interesting how sometimes a recipe will speak to me, and after a few months have passed I'm no longer interested- or something else will strike my fancy that wouldn't have before.

But what if you don't have the space to store all these magazines like I do! When we lived in a much smaller apartment, I had to be very careful about what I kept. I would keep the CL magazines, but everything else would be kept until a new issue showed up. Then before I flipped through the new one, I would flip through the old one and tear out any recipes that interested me. I kept a file folder near the computer, so these recipes would go into folder until I had time to either look them up online or type them in myself. I know plenty of people who organize their recipes this way so as not to have extra clutter hanging around. It works great. The only problem I can see with tearing out recipes is for if you like to pass your magazines on. If you're sharing with someone, then you should probably take the time to look them up online or type them in and not tear them out.

One final note about magazines. If you begin to notice that you tear less and less recipes out of a given magazine, you should probably think about not getting that one anymore- it just adds to the clutter if you're not using it and enjoying it. I stopped getting Bon Appetit after I realized I didn't try any recipes out of it except for the Thanksgiving issue. So now I buy only the Thanksgiving issue every year- and everything else I can look at while at the library. Home Cooking is my current dud. I don't know what posessed me to subscribe...but it's really not my cup of tea, and the recipes in it are nothing new in the least. At least not to me. I won't be renewing that one.

Questions? Comments? What do you do with your magazines?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Week At A Glance

I decided the best way to do a few meal plans here would be to show my week-at-a-glance, and explain a few things as I go along. I usually do my grocery shopping for the week on Thursday or Friday every week, so I make my plans go from Thursday to Wednesday. I do have a few constants each week to work around too. Sunday's are always Sunday Company Dinner nights, meaning we have about 20 people that I cook for regularly- so this needs to be a crowd pleaser each week. I also don't necessarily make the whole meal, so my meal planning involves only what I make, and may not reflect a balanced meal. Wednesday is crock-pot day due to my daughter's evening dance class. Usually I just use the crock to gently re-heat something, as I don't care too much for cooking in it.

Anyway, here is a weekly dinner meal plan. Later on, we'll work on adding lunch and breakfast's to the plan.

Thursday: Oven Baked Bison Stew, Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread, Carrot Cake

Friday: Pizza Night (topped with sausage, red bell pepper, pineapple, and cheese)

Saturday: Shepherd's Pie made with leftover stew, applesauce

Sunday: Sloppy Joe's, pickles, cheese slices

Monday: Roasted Chicken, Wild rice pilaf

Tuesday: Frittata using leftover pizza toppings, hashbrowns

Wednesday: Sloppy Joe repeat, fruit salad, chips

You can see most everything here is getting re-purposed a second day later on. The stew on Thursday will become an amazing shepherd's pie filling two nights later. I simply cannot make a small pot of stew, and I used to freeze the extras. Except that I really don't like the consistency of potatoes after they've been frozen- and I don't like stew without potatoes. So instead, I plan for a hearty stew, and two days later I top it with cheesy mashed potatoes and bake it for a heavenly take on shepherd's pie.

The sloppy joe's for a crowd on Sunday will undoubtably produce leftovers, which will reheat perfectly in the crock pot for Wednesday's dinner-in-a-hurry. If for some reason I decide against the sloppy joes a second time around, those do freeze wonderfully, so then they would be tucked in the freezer for another busy day to come along.

Monday's roasted chicken doesn't get re-purposed on this menu, but that doesn't mean there aren't plans for him too. The carcass will be simmered for a batch of chicken stock to put in the freezer for one. Extra chicken meat will become a filling for my husband for lunch sandwiches during the week. Anything beyond that will be frozen for use in chicken soup, enchiladas, or pot pie later on.

The frittata is a great way to use extra pizza toppings up- the kids love pizza, and they love frittata, so combining the two is a win-win situation.

By re-purposing ingredients from day to day I am cutting way down on waste. I admit freely that I used to plan menus with no regard to the leftovers. I would say that by recycling the "planned overs" and by using up the odds and ends, that I have easily cut my grocery bill in half. This week I'll need to buy most of the meat you see on the menu. Bison, ground beef, a roasting chicken, and pork sausage. Additionally, I'll need to pick up fresh fruit, bell peppers, milk, eggs, and potatoes. Add some breakfast cereal and the fixings for homemade granola, and my grocery list is short and sweet this week.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Basic Stocked Pantry

Since having a well-stocked pantry can be a major component of meal-planning, I thought I would devote an entire post to it. Stocking up a pantry and freezer doesn't happen overnight. While you could take this list and dash to the store and buy one of everything on it, I tend to be the one to stock over time. I keep a mental checklist of what we have on hand and replenish what needs it, when it needs it. Keep in mind that everyone's pantry staples are going to be slightly different. We all have our own tastes and our own needs, so tailor your list for what your family enjoys eating.

Two excellent resources I have found for helping plan out stocking the pantry and freezer are some unexpected books. Rachael Ray's Express Lane Meals has excellent information on planning out meals and stocking the pantry. As does Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals. While I seldom cook out of these books, and can't attest to the recipes, the other information is wonderful, and worth the addition to my cookbook library. Now for my list:

Canned tomatoes: diced, whole, crushed and stewed (fire roasted if I have extra $$)
Tomato Sauce: plain sauce, as well as bottled marinara
Tomato paste: I buy mine in the squeeze tube-well worth the added expense
Chipotle chilis in adobo sauce: Once opened, these freeze beautifully
Canned beans: Black beans, garbanzo beans, chili beans, kidney beans, cannelini beans
Dried beans: Any and all, including lentils in several colors
Rice: Plain white, plain brown, and basmati, occasionally arborio, wild rice
Pasta: Always spaghetti, gemelli, shells, and mini penne
Large pasta: lasagna sheets, mastacolli, stuffing shells
Sugar: white, brown (light or dark) raw sugar, powdered
Maple syrup: Both real syrup as well as Mrs. Butterworth's
Flour: All-purpose, Bread, White whole wheat, cake flour, and self-rising
Oats: steel-cut, Old fashioned rolled
Wheat Germ
Cornmeal: fine and coarse grain, also masa harina
Chocolate: chips, baking chocolate, unsweetened, sometimes white chips
Oil: Olive, vegetable, chili oil, sesame oil
Cooking Spray
Vinegar: white, cider, red wine, balsamic, rice wine
Soy sauce: low sodium, and tamari
Worcestershire sauce
Baking soda
Baking powder
Salt: table salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, pickling salt, grey salt, and fleur de sel, seasoning salt
Whole wheat couscous
Whole: cumin, coriander, mustard seed, celery seed, dill seed, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, bay leaves, fennel, red pepper flakes, black pepper
Ground: Chili powder, cumin, paprika (sweet and smoked) nutmeg, coriander, dill, oregano, thyme, rosemary, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, curry powder, Garam masala, sage, Mexican oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, mustard, lemon pepper
Tuna packed in water
Roasted red peppers
Olives: kalamata, black, stuffed
Pickles: An assortment at all times
Hot sauce: Sriracha (and Asian sauce), tabasco, Pickapeppa, Crystal Hot Sauce
Baking Mix: Heart healthy Bisquick, Krusteaz pancake mix
Bottled Pesto
Clams and clam juice during soup season
Chicken soup base
Beef soup base
Vegetarian vegetable soup base or bouillion cubes
Dried onions
Dried Fruit: Raisins, Craisins, blueberries, apricots
Canned corn
Canned artichoke hearts
Canned beets
Peanut butter: crunchy and creamy
Rice milk
Coconut milk
Evaporated Milk
Sweetened Condensed Milk
Powdered Milk
Potatoes: Baby red when in season, Russets, red skinned potatoes
Onions: yellow, sweet when in season, red
Citrus: Lemons, limes, oranges (sometimes these are in the fridge)
Nuts: Walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts (store in freezer if in a warm climate)
Asian sauces: Hoisin, oyster, duck, black bean
Drinks: Coffee, assorted teas, hot cider packets, kool-aid, hot cocoa, decaf coffee
Jam: Always strawberry, peach, raspberry

Things to store in the Freezer:
Espresso Powder
Frozen Peas
Frozen green beans
Frozen spinach
Frozen mixed vegetables
Stuffed pasta: Tortellini and ravioli

Refrigerator staples:
Nut butters (almond, cashew, natural PB)
Butter: salted, unsalted, and vegan margarine
Milk: either 1% or skim-organic if possible
Half & Half
Soy coffee creamer
Dijon mustard
Creole Mustard
Miracle Whip
Parmesan cheese (yes, the green can will do in a pinch)
Cheddar Cheese
Yogurt: Plain, Fruited
Bell peppers
Fresh Herbs
Tortillas: Flour and corn
Reduced fat sour cream
Lemon and Lime juices

Obiously, there is much more, but a lot of it revolves around the seasons. You'll find a lot more produce in my fridge in the summer, and a lot less in the winter. You also don't see meat on the list here, because that is always changing. As a general rule I always have bacon, sausage, chicken, pork, beef and fish in the freezer. The bacon I freeze in 4 strip portions for cooking with. I also didn't include bread, because that is ever-changing. Sometimes I go in streaks where I simply make all our bread- but sometimes I'll prefer to buy it.

The canned beans I've also been shying away from- I much prefer to buy them dried and cook my own as I need them. However, I have the time to cook them from scratch. There's nothing wrong with using the canned variety.

So did I miss anything? What's on your pantry list that's not on mine?