Adventures in Meal Planning #001

I have never been great at meal planning. I tend to have big ambitions and am swayed by shiny new recipes. I am also easily bored of what is in my fridge. I find that sturdy green vegetable that has been hanging out in the back of my crisper for a week totally uninspiring. Yet I’m salivating over that chicken dish I saw on Instagram and, even though it calls for five ingredients I don’t currently have, I MUST make it. Sometimes, I end up working until 7p and then really do NOT want to cook. Takeout Thai it is.

Each week, I meal-plan using a program called Notion that allows you to have different databases that are connected to one another. So I have my recipe database and my meal planning database. Throughout the week, I find recipes and save them in the recipe database and then, on Thursday or Friday, I plan meals for Saturday through the next Friday. My plan is usually a mix of new recipes and old favorites, online recipes and cookbook recipes. Sometimes I also write my meal plan up with colorful markers and post it on the fridge so Andrew knows what’s coming.

I always plan for at least one takeout or date night because I am only human, but even with those easier nights planned for, I have never successfully made it through all my meal plan meals. Sometimes it’s due to working late. Sometimes I haven’t had time to do all the grocery shopping. Sometimes I or Andrew just crave something that is not on the plan, and life is too short to be militant about it.

Every two weeks I get a CSA box from Hitchcock Restaurant Group. It has all the ingredients for a complete meal for 4 people, including a protein, some prepared items from the restaurant like hot sauces and dressings, some sort of starch, and of course produce. It was started to help support the restaurant staff and suppliers during the pandemic, and it is something that I really look forward to. This obviously takes care of one meal for the week, and the veggies can be worked into other planned meals.

When it comes to “cooking from my pantry” though, I have a less than stellar track record. I’ve definitely had to throw away some boxes of stock and enchilada sauce recently that were the results of early pandemic panic buying. This is mostly because my “pantry” is actually far away from my kitchen so it can be an out of sight, out of mind situation. I started a spreadsheet at one point to try to keep track of what I actually have, but I haven’t really been motivated to build it out. I am better at cooking from my freezer, especially since we recently got a chest freezer and  I can see what the hell I actually have. Recently, I discovered some duck legs in there that I’d kind of forgotten about and turned two of them into a tasty one-pan roast duck dish with potatoes. I did duck confit with the other three (don’t ask me why I had five duck legs…ha). I also used some duck fat from the pantry for the confit, which made me feel pretty accomplished. 

So, despite the unexpected curveballs everyday life throws at me, here’s how the meal plan panned out:

Day 1:

Duck confit happened to be the first meal of my plan, which was definitely ambitious. I served it with potatoes cooked in duck fat and a french butter lettuce salad. Delish!

Day 2:

Day two is CSA meal day (Credit Hitchcock Restaurant Group for the recipe as well as the CSA goodies). The CSA included some manila clams and all the ingredients for a little clambake. “Clambake” is a bit of a misnomer as it is not baked in an oven. It is more of a moules frites situation, but with clams and fingerling potatoes. Sauté some leek and garlic with chili flake, then half a bottle of decent white wine goes in (the rest is chef’s treat, of course) along with the clams and the fingerlings that were previously steamed. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally so the clams open, release their juices and mingle with the wine. When the alcohol flavor has dissipated, taste for seasoning, “mount” with a good dollop of butter and stir so it is incorporated. Squeeze some lemon; toss in a handful of roughly chopped parsley, and have crusty bread for dipping.

Day 3:

I had a bag of Rancho Gordo Cranberry Beans and read that they could be substituted for pinto beans in Frijoles Charros. I sauteed onion and serrano chilis with some chunky bacon that my Mom’s boyfriend Steve had smoked, homemade chicken stock, and fire-roasted canned tomatoes, along with the pre-soaked beans. All that goodness bubbled away in a dutch oven for about an hour. Then I served it with a dollop of sour cream and cheesy, pickled jalapeno nachos on the side.

Day 4:

I was feeling like something a little different midway through my meal plan so I went vegetarian with this saucy tofu number over noodles. I also can’t say no to a dish that includes pickles. The “meat” of the dish was extra firm tofu, wringed out in a clean dish towel to get rid of as much liquid as possible and tossed in salt and pepper and cornstarch before frying in oil. When cooked, it really did have the consistency of ground meat! Add to that finely diced mushrooms and an unctuous sauce made of tahini, soy sauce, black vinegar, and chili crisp and you really do get an umami bomb of a “gravy” that clings to the ramen noodles. The whole dish is topped with a quick pickled cucumber and more chili crisp. This will definitely be on regular rotation. Note: The noodles are green because they are hippie Jasmine rice noodles from PCC.

Day 5:

Day 5 was supposed to be Mission-style Burritos using some of the leftover beans from Day 3, but I forgot I had pre-ordered Moto Pizza a while back, so burritos would have to wait. If you are in West Seattle and have not tried Moto, I highly recommend it. They opened in 2020 and, at first, you had to order months in advance, but now they release order slots (they are takeout only) on a monthly basis. So follow them on socials to find out when the next month opens. The pizza is detroit-style and made with a 100 year-old sourdough starter called Betty. I’d say it is the platonic ideal of pizza.

Day 6:

This day  was meant to be Chicken Piccata and Lemon Feta Orzo, but that had to be moved to next week’s meal plan because I am being extra and reusing the beans from the Frijoles Charros for those Mission-style Burritos. “Mission-style” means no rice, so I loaded them up with leftover beans and top sirloin cooked in bacon fat along with, pico, salsa verde, cheese, and sour cream. Then I rolled everything up and fried it in more bacon fat before wrapping up in foil. So good, and I had enough ingredients to make two extra and freeze them!

Day 7:

Date night was takeout from our local big-plate Mexican joint, Viva Mexico, complete with extra large margaritas. Andrew says that trough and bucket are the proper units for this kind of food, and I agree.

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