On Meal Planning

“Ugh,”  is my gut reaction to the term meal planning. It’s a pain. It requires a lot of time. It’s not very French (and aren’t we all supposed to be, so, so, French?).  It is usually accompanied by pictures of tater tot casserole and “freezer meals” that are very beige.

But of course, if you are a person who does not leisurely stroll through the markets in the evening, picking the freshest produce and fromage, you probably need to meal plan.

(Also, hello! I have not blogged in over two years. I have been working, had a baby, moved to Florida. I spent about 13 months primarily subsisting on meals I could make from Trader Joe’s frozen and prepared section.)

I tragically do not have the same levels of time I used to, where meal planning meant a few hours leisurely reading Food and Wine magazine and stopping to make a snack because the pictures made me hungry. Now it’s a meal planning race.

I considered a subscription to a meal planning website that promised me for $10 a month my life would “look like instragram.” That did not sell me. I would like my life to look like Instragram. But I want it to do it organically, casually. I want to have just happened to put a fried egg on my seasonal veggies, roasted in the wood stove in my remodeled farmhouse and served in the middle of a moss tablescape with whimsical string lights that appeared in the trees, probably hung by fairies. There are gourds. The “this old thing?” of dinner parties. Paying for my life to look like Instragram is too much pressure. “Is my life Instagram now?”

Also, the website in question’s idea of making your life “instagram” was a morning smoothie and homemade granola. Really! A smoothie and granola! What’s next, scrambled eggs and muffins?

I DIGRESS.

My current meal planning system is a very boring, so-not-Instagram spreadsheet. This way I can copy and paste recipe links into a days of the week chart. My “Baking” tab has the most recipes, which is not practical. I recently bought the Rifle Paper Company Meal Planning Notepad because I assumed if my meal planning felt more whimsical I  would be inclined to do it. This turned out to be correct. But now I meal plan on my spreadsheet and my notebook. At least one of those things looks better on Instagram.

 

 

 

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On New Year’s Resolutions

Last year I sat down and made new year’s resolutions, as one does. I had just read an article about the silliness of setting goals that are not quantifiable, so I avoided the usual “work hard at stuff” “lose weight” “be more like a dragon” resolutions that take over most lists. Instead, I ended up with a list of around 20 foods I wanted to make in 2014 and “go kayaking.” Although I don’t think this list resulted in self-actualization, it did lead to bagels, macarons, lemon tarts, two kinds of homemade ravioli, roasted chicken, a knife skills class, a six-layer cake, and a treacherous canoe trip around a lake in which the phrase “THIS IS WHY I BELONG INDOORS”  was uttered as we were almost swept out to sea. Since I am apparently entirely uninterested in setting non-food goals for myself, here are some foods I would like to make in 2015. Friends, this is your opportunity to invite yourselves over for dinner or dessert.

  1. CHEESECAKE. New York Style. In a springform pan. Perhaps in a waterbath, if I am brave.
  2. Lasagna, made all by myself. I’ve made it before but never on my own.
  3. This Lemon Crepe Cake. 
  4. Tiramisu
  5. Jalapeno Poppers, bacon wrapped, because I’ve never made or had them and I think I’d love them. Coming soon to a party near you.
  6. This Everything Bagel Spiced Cheese Ball
  7.  Tacos Al Pastor with the crispy cheese on one side like at Puesto (I just spent ten minutes reading through their menu and now I’m homesick for tacos)
  8. I want to make a croquembouche for no reason whatsoever

    Look at all that fine croquembouching

  9. Croissants
  10. Panna cotta because every season of Master Chef someone has to cook it and when I’m selected I do NOT want to be caught unprepared
  11. Lemon Meringue Pie
  12. I want this to be an even dozen, one a month, but I can’t think of anything else so TBD.

Any other suggestions? Anything that will change my life if I make it in 2015?

Adobo Pork Chops – Food and Wine, June 2014

Grilling in action

Grilling of pork in action

For the first time, Christopher and I have access to a grill. Our new development has communal gas grills throughout, which means that I no longer chuck my “BEST GRILLING RECIPES!!!” food magazines in the trashcan bitterly. Instead, I’ve flipped through the Food and Wine June Grilling issue more times than I ever flipped through my school textbooks.

This is a fairly quick recipe to prepare – grilled bone-in pork chops slathered in a smokey, spicey stovetop sauce. I was excited by the opportunity to use up of more of this giant bag of peppers, some of which I will probably be able to hand down to my grandchildren.  The sauce is straightforward – saute an onion, then the garlic and chilies, add broth, puree.

The recipe’s directions, unfortunately, are not straightforward. “1 and 1/2 ounces dried guajillo chiles,” it says. I looked at my bag of chiles. “17 ounces!” it proclaimed. Having no desire to count each chili in the bag and divide by 17, I pulled out five chiles and hoped for the best. It worked just fine, so I think you’d be safe with 4-7 chiles, based on your willingness to experiment with spicy danger.

MY OTHER ISSUE WITH THIS RECIPE. The very end, it says “serve with corn salad.” There is no corn salad recipe on a single page in that entire issue of Food and Wine. The words “corn salad” are not, in fact, hyperlinked on the Food and Wine website. HELP ME OUT HERE, FOOD AND WINE.

So, in lieu of corn salad, I just made corn on the cob. It worked just fine.

PICTURED – MYSTERY CORN SALAD. Photo Credit: John Kernick

Adobo Pork Chops –  Recipe by Marcel Valladolid

(Food and Wine, June 2014)

My Notes:

  • I used my immersion blender for the sauce. If you do not own an immersion blender, this one  is the one I have. It’s $23 and two years old and still going strong. You can blend right in the saucepan, no messy and hot sauce transfers required. It also makes fabulous smoothies, and since you can move the wand around you don’t get fruit weirdly globbed up at the bottom of the blender.
  • I used five dried peppers, and used scissors to slice them down the side and shake out the seeds.
  • I am still bothered by this mystery corn salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Four 1-inch-thick, bone-in pork rib chops
  • Corn salad, for serving

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, until well toasted and fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer the sauce over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the chiles are softened, 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a blender, add the sugar and puree until smooth. Transfer the adobo sauce to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Light a grill and oil the grate. Season the chops with salt and pepper and rub with 3/4 cup of the adobo sauce. Grill over moderate heat, turning every 5 minutes and basting with the remaining 3/4 cup of sauce, until cooked through, 20 minutes. Transfer the chops to plates and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with corn salad.

Herbed Faux-tisserie Chicken

Image

(Photo by Gentl & Hyers for Bon Appétit)

Bon Appétit is a weird food magazine. I pick it up, read through it, and am generally uninspired. But if I see someone else making a recipe from their magazine, suddenly it looks magical and I must have it.

Case in point: this Herbed Faux-tisserie Chicken. I didn’t give it a second glance in the magazine, but after the fellows over at The Bitten Word raved about it I found myself hunting for marjoram at Harris Teeter.

This recipe uses a lower oven temperature and a longer cooking time than traditional roasted chicken to resemble the tenderness of a rotisserie chicken. Weirdly, I had never roasted a chicken before so this was full of all kinds of firsts for me. Unfortunately, I missed the writing on the chicken packaging that said “No giblets or livers!” until after I had gone fishing around in the cavity while muttering “ew, ew, ew, ew.”

The slow cooking of the chicken really did yield a more tender bird than the traditional roast chicken. The lemon and garlic stuffing stands out in the finished product, and the potatoes that you scatter haphazardly about the chicken are browned and tender.

The recipe is simple. You crush fennel and red pepper together, add chopped herbs, and mix it with olive oil. After rubbing that all over the chicken, you stuff it with more herbs, a lemon, and a head of garlic. Although the time in the recipe says 3 hours for a 3-4 pound chicken, mine was well above the correct temperature after 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Roasted brussel sprouts pair very well with this recipe. I scattered about a pound of brussel sprouts in with the potatoes after an hour of cooking. To brown the vegetables a little more, when I pulled the chicken out to rest I left the vegetables in the oven for another ten minutes, and increased the oven temp to 400.

Herbed Faux-tisserie Chicken and Potatoes

Bon Appetit (March 2014) – Recipe by Carla Lalli Music

Serves 4.

My Notes:

  • Is fresh marjoram a myth? I looked at Harris Teeter and Giant and couldn’t find it. I settled for oregano, which was fine.
  • I love that you can use a rimmed baking sheet for this, since I don’t own a roasting pan.
  • I managed to lose my kitchen twine and had to settle for purple embroidery floss to truss the legs. The chicken (Carl, I named him) looked like he was going to a fancy party.
  • The cooking time was 45 minutes less than stated on the recipe, so check the temperature of the chicken well before the cooking time is up.
  • I lost the cap to my spice/coffee grinder so just sort of smashed the fennel seeds and red pepper with the back of a spoon. I don’t think it was ideal. I found the cap to my spice grinder immediately upon putting the chicken in the oven.
  • Next time I will scatter extra cloves of garlic in with the potatoes since I really wanted to eat the cloves inside the chicken but I wasn’t sure if there was the food safety issue one has with turkey stuffing.

Ingredients: 

2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram; plus 4 sprigs, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme; plus 4 sprigs, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 3½–4 pound chicken
1 lemon, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, halved, or quartered if large

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300°. Coarsely grind fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Combine spice mixture, chopped marjoram, chopped thyme, 1 Tbsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper, and 3 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl. Rub chicken inside and out with spice mixture. Stuff chicken with lemon, garlic, 2 marjoram sprigs, and 2 thyme sprigs. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. (Editor’s Note – OR EMBROIDERY FLOSS FOR MAXIMUM FANCINESS).

Toss potatoes with remaining 3 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Push potatoes to edges of baking sheet and scatter remaining 2 marjoram and 2 thyme sprigs in center; place chicken on herbs. Roast, turning potatoes and basting chicken every hour, until skin is browned, meat is extremely tender, and potatoes are golden brown and very soft, about 3 hours. Let chicken rest at least 10 minutes before carving.