Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thoughts on menu planning

I've never really been into planning dinners in advance and especially now that we get our fruit and veggies delivered weekly, it's been easier to just decide each night or the night before based on what we have in the fridge or cupboard and maybe can collect on the way home from work. But today I've been looking into menu planning because next week I'm working the full five days (the first time since I went back to work three days a week after my maternity leave) and I want to make sure I am nice and organised with dinners so there's less to stress about.

I found a few websites that had lots and lots of recipes and ideas for planning menus weekly or monthly (can't even fathom that!). I love the ones that come with a mobile app where you can choose your meals for the week and add the ingredients to the list. Then when you go shopping you can cross them off as you get them. At the moment my husband and I use a website for our calendar and shopping lists. That way, either of us can add items to shopping list and whoever is shopping can cross them off as they go. Of course, you have to have mobile service in your supermarket otherwise it doesn't work very well, as we've found out on several occasions!

The most interesting website was one called Planning With Kids. There are lots of recipes that seem to be easy to do and are great for both mid-week and kids. I even got the app to go with it although it seemed a bit restrictive in what you could do with it. It's a good start though, if you just want to think about organising your dinners and planning the week's meals. I made a list of the meals I'd chosen, both from the website and my own, and then added the ingredients I needed to my shopping list. It's the first time I've done a whole week's worth of shopping in one go and it felt good. My fridge is now laden with lots of goodies and as long as I can control myself and not change things too much, the week should be stress-free when it comes to cooking!

Feel free to tell me if you've ever planned your meals weekly or monthly before and how it worked out. Or if you still do, and how it's going!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Dinner 30 - lamb cutlets and vegies

Well, here it is, the last of my 30 Dinners. It's been quite a challenge remembering to get a photo of every dinner and apart from a couple of leftover dinners I think I did it!

Tonight we marinated half the cutlets in worstershire sauce, cider vinegar, olive oil and rosemary then cooked them on the barbie.

When I went to the fridge to see what we could have with the lamb, I found that all we had were lots of potatoes and onions and some broccoli! My problem is always what to do with potatoes. Tonight I decided on potato bake and what a good decision. They always say about 45 minutes to cook but I left these in for about an hour and they were great!

Now it's time to reflect on the photos we've taken of our dinners over the past month and see if there's something going on that can be improved or varied. One thing I've noticed is that I'm more aware of what I'm having for lunch! Maybe that's the next step - 30 Lunches!

Dinner 29 - parsnip soup, pork schnitzel and roasted vegies

You know, I've always thought parsnip were just tough old things good for nothing but being roasted to smithereens. Tonight I discovered cream of parsnip soup and it is heavenly! So sweet and thick and yum. I definitely recommend giving it a go next time you don't know what to do with your parsnips!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dinner 28 - pasta with chorizo and homemade red sauce

There were pork schnitzels in the fridge ready for tonight's dinner but this afternoon I decided to go for a walk with Austin and consequently got home late so I reverted to an old favourite: pasta and red sauce. To dress it up a bit I fried some chorizo and made a carrot salad and a lettuce and fennel salad.

We always have some containers of red sauce in the freezer for just these kind of nights. Michael cooks up a dozen tins of tomatoes with an assortment of other ingredients and then whizzes it all up. Over the years he's perfected the recipe so that we always have great tasting red sauce at our fingertips. As a consequence, I have lost the taste for jarred pasta sauces. Maybe that's a bit snobbish but there you go. I know what's in my red sauce (well, Michael does) and I know that there's nothing bad hidden in it.

I don't know if I've mentioned the sauce we put on our salads? We make a few variations of a vinaigrette. Growing up we had vinaigrette on everything, from lettuce and tomato salads to cold leftover vegies and meat. In our house everything had a sauce and most of the time it was vinaigrette. So I've taken on some of that tradition and always have vinaigrette on our lettuce and garden salads. In fact, I really don't like the Australian tradition of serving a big bowl of mixed salad vegetables dry as a bone. I need a sauce!!

One of my mum's favorites was carrot salad, which was just grated carrots, vinaigrette and parsley. That's what I made tonight as well as the lettuce and fennel salad. There are countless ways of making vinaigrette and of course it should be made to your taste, but here's how I make it:

In the bottom of your salad bowl put some salt and pepper, finely chopped garlic and hot English mustard. This is very important for us as we love the flavour it gives. Using a different type of mustard like Dijon or American changes the taste of the sauce dramatically. Add some cider vinegar and mix together well. Finally add olive oil to taste. The usual proportions of vinegar to oil are 1:4 or 1:3 but we like it vinegar strong so tend to put about 1:2!

What did you have for dinner tonight?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Dinner 27 - chicken and chips

I think in an ideal world I'd have cooked the chicken and chips myself but alas work was chaos today and this is our fallback dinner. Everyone has a dinner they do/buy when they've run out of time or can't be bothered. What's yours? I'd love to hear your ideas so post them in the comments below.

You'll see in the photo a nice glass of beer. It's Michael's home brew and it's really good. He started home brewing years ago with the cheap and nasty supermarket brands. Then gradually over the years he's got more into it, culturing his own yeast and trying more fancy beers. This one is an amber ale and happens to be one of my favorites.
I haven't always been into beer. It took me a lot of trying and eventually while living in Europe I developed a taste for Belgian and Dutch beers. The town where we lived in Holland had a local brewery and restaurant where you could order the local beers with your food. We don't have much of that here in Oz but I guess we're younger and don't have as big a history of beer making. Luckily I have a husband who likes making beer so I can have my own little taste of Europe here!

What did you have for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dinner 26 - wraps ups

My little boy always asks for 'wraps ups' these days. In the beginning when he had never tried them before, he couldn't manage to keep the wrap together and all the salad and chicken would fall out so he'd just end up eating them like a normal dinner of things on his plate. Then a little while back he got the hang of it and now he's a real pro at holding them and not having too much spillage (unlike with every other dinner he has!).

The reason I like this dinner is there's minimal cooking involved and you can vary the fillings with whatever you've got at the time. Sometimes I do chicken, sometimes kidney beans, sometimes beef mince.

I usually buy the large fajita wraps but today for some reason I bought some soft round corn taco shells that you fry up and curl over into the taco shape - major flop! Austin refused to eat them and both my husband and I preferred the usual wraps. It could be that I'm not a good fryer but whatever, we don't like them!

What did you have for dinner tonight?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Dinner 25 - leftovers

The other night we made three pizzas and only ate two. So tonight's easy dinner was leftover pizza with salad. We'd made two pepperoni and one ham and pineapple (Austin's favourites) and had the pepperoni left. We were a bit worried that Austin wouldn't eat it again, since the other night he decided he didn't like the pepperoni one even though he'd eaten lots of slices of pepperoni as I was preparing the toppings! Anyway, turns out he loved it and wanted more than we had!

What did you have for dinner tonight?