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WE HAVE MOVED!

Dear Readers,

I have tried to get comfortable with the wordpress format, but I must return to my first blog hosting home, Blogger.  Please follow this link and visit my blog at the new location (I’ve imported the entire blog, so you will not miss anything).

(If you need the link to the new bloghome, here it is: http://menu-planningmama.blogspot.com/)

 

Thank you for reading and following and please come by my new home!

Menu-Planning Mama

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Confused by some cooking terms?

When I first started cooking, an unfamiliar cooking term in a recipe was enough to turn me off from it.  As I’ve gotten more confident in the kitchen, I started feeling confident enough to tackle unfamiliar prep techniques as well.  Below are a few easy techniques that will add in understanding a recipe and getting the correct result from your food.

Chiffonade (chiff-uh-NOD) – cut into small ribbons.  For instance, I chiffonade fresh basil to top our pizzas every now and then.  You take your washed and dried basil leaves and stack them together.  Starting from one side, roll the stack up; placing the seam side down on your cutting board, start slicing through the roll of leaves.  You will have perfectly ribbonned herbs in a fraction of the time. Mediterranean stuffed chicken breasts

Lardon (lar-DOHn) – cut into small strips, usually refers to meats like bacon.  This is easiest to do with some kitchen shears – just take your slices of bacon and cut thin pieces across the strips.  If using a knife, this works best on very cold bacon.

Temper – to slightly warm an ingredient before adding it to a hot pan, reducing the risk of an undesirable texture, taste, or flavor.  This usually deals with eggs.  If you add eggs to a hot pan, you are going to start scrambling them.  Adding a bit of the cooking liquid slowly while stirring quickly will help to bring your cold eggs up to your cooking temperature without scrambling them. Bacon and eggs pasta

These are the three that come to the forefront in my mind because I just typed up some recipes using them.  If there are any more terms you’d like to have clarified, feel free to let me know!!

Easy and tasty vegetables

I watch a lot of Food Network.  It is family friendly (no swearing, no violence), educational (if you can’t watch an hour of Food Network and learn something, you weren’t really paying attention), and inspirational (they make some things, like souffle look so easy!).  As a self-confessed picky eater, I have to say that Food Network has definitely inspired me to be more adventurous when it comes to my vegetables.

The biggest tip I’ve learned from those tv chefs: roasting concentrates the sugars in the vegetables and brings out the natural flavors.  Roasting is easy and requires very little skill or prep and virtually no active cooking.  The only skill point you need to make sure you pay attention to is that you must make sure when chopping up the vegetables that the pieces are the same size, or else you will have some pieces underdone and some pieces burnt.

This is one of those technique things, so I’m not going to label it as a recipe.

Start by washing and peeling (if desired) your vegetables.  If it is something large, like potatoes, squash, or eggplant, break it down into 1/2 cubes.  In a medium mixing bowl, lightly drizzle your veggies with olive oil*, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and any other seasonings.  The key to this is to remember that the vegetable is going to be the star, so you don’t want to over season it; if you pick anything other than just the salt and pepper, thyme is a great choice.

Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for 20-45 minutes, depending on your vegetable; at the least, check them at 20 minutes and shake them around some.  You will know they are done when they smell fragrant, are browned around the edges, and begin to look a little wrinkly.

*Extra Virgin Olive oil has a burn point of 350 degrees.  If you want to roast at a higher temperature, you will need to use a different oil.

My relationship with food

I told you that I would write some more about my experiences with food.  In my family (namely my mother’s family, my father’s side isn’t really all that close), food was a big part of our familial celebrations – holidays, birthdays, etc.  Each household would bring a dish every time we got together.  We typically had ham (my grandmother was a big fan of ham, I don’t know why, that’s just the way it usually worked out) if it was a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving or burgers or hot dogs on the grill if it was a summer holiday.  Someone would almost always bring cheesy potatoes (I’ll have to post that a little later) and there would inevitably be some kind of crackers and dip.  But the big focus was almost always dessert.

Who doesn’t love dessert?  We’d usually have at least two desserts, sometimes more.  And if we were at my aunt’s house, we’d usually congregate around the food.  Much easier for snacking, but much harder on maintaining healthy eating habits.  When I got to college, my eating habits did not improve, that was for sure.  Through the course of my undergrad studies, I gained about 50 pounds over 5 years.  I ate very few vegetables because frankly, in my experience, they were never prepared in a manner that made them tasty and I have issues with food textures.  In fact, when I was growing up, the only cooked vegetables I would willingly eat were potatoes and corn – not even the healthiest vegetables.  I’m proud to say that I eat many more vegetables now, but I’m still a pretty picky eater.

I would have to say that my biggest issue with food is that I eat my feelings.  Stressed?  Eat something (usually something sweet, ergo unhealthy).  Sad?  Eat something.  Bored?  Eat.  Happy?  Eat.  So you can understand how moving across the country by myself for a job and to be closer to my then-boyfriend-now-husband when he returned from deployment must have impacted my weight.  (If you didn’t put it together, the weight went up.  By about 25 pounds.)  Now, my husband can pretty much eat whatever he wants, but as long as he is working out, he will lose weight.  Me, I struggle with weight loss.  I’ve tried portion control, calorie counting, increasing water intake, exercise, cooking more healthfully.  I still have trouble losing weight.  But I feel better about myself when I work out and then eat a balanced meal afterward.  Having a toddler and an infant, I need to be much more conscientious about my diet.  I want to be able to be active with my boys.  So I continue to work hard at losing weight and eating healthfully.

Do I still struggle with emotional eating?  Yes.  Will I always struggle with it?  Probably so.  But by cooking at home instead of eating out or always making a boxed or frozen meal (which are very high in sodium and other preservatives), I can control the quality of our meals and make food that is going to provide quality nutrition instead of a bunch of empty calories.

What is menu planning?

Menu planning is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate just to satisfy your obvious curiosity.  A menu is a listing of offered meals.  A plan lays the steps proposed to complete a task.  So menu planning is laying out a listing of meals.

Simple, right?  But it can seem a little daunting to get started on menu planning for your family at first.  I originally started menu planning because I got sick of the meal rut we were in.  It seems like I made the same dishes week after week, and frankly, I was sick of it.  I scoured the internet for a program or site that would do this for me, but there was nothing that really worked for me.  And it is much easier for me to cook off of a paper in front of me, rather than running back and forth to a computer screen.  I’m also, like many Americans, overweight.  My doctor and the nutritionist I saw (once) told me that I need to add more vegetables into my diet.  Well, duh.  I know that.  But it’s hard to eat vegetables regularly when you don’t really like too many vegetables.  Add into that the fact that we have a toddler and I just had a baby two months ago and I am currently nursing, and it becomes even more important to add those vegetables into our diets.

Menu planning makes sure that I rotate through my vast store of recipes and that we eat a balanced diet.  It also cuts way back on our grocery spending because I know precisely which meals I am going to be cooking over the week.  That means that I make fewer trips to the store, which results in less impulse buying (which is a challenge for me).  I also can plan out how best to use my coupons in conjunction with the store sales and store coupons to maximize savings.

So, if menu planning sounds like something you’d like to capitalize on, keep reading.  Now that I’ve explained how I see menu planning, let me tell you my method.

First of all, I have a three-ring binder I use to hold my recipes.  I use page protectors so that I can remove the recipe from the binder and have it on the counter-top while cooking; I can wipe it clean when I’m finished and place it back in the binder.  I use a composition notebook (so the pages won’t fall out as easily as from a spiral bound book) to map out my weekly menu plan.  Along the left-hand side of the page, I list the days of the week (M, T, W, R (for Thursday), F, Sa, Sun), skipping two to three lines between days.  I list the entree and the side or sides, one on each line.  Some of the days I plan something that I’ve been craving (Mexican food, comfort food, etc.) and other days I plan based on what is on sale at my store that week or what I have coupons for (or better yet, something that is on sale that I also have a coupon for!).

I also plan meals for the week based on difficulty or time to prepare.  For instance, Mondays are usually bad days for my husband because it is the first day in his work week and he usually gets bogged down in meetings until fairly late, so I will usually plan a meal that is easy to prepare, takes a minimal amount of time to cook, and produces the least amount of prep-work dishes to wash.  Wednesdays I usually watch my friend’s daughter for her, so I plan meals that require very little active cooking on my part.  And Fridays we generally have pizza because, well, we really like pizza and it’s fairly simple to do.

When it comes time for me to go grocery shopping, I first evaluate my food situation.  I have specifics that I like to always have on hand just in case I get bogged down or some unforeseen eventuality happens which calls for a quick and easy dinner.  These staples for me are pretty standard in most cookbooks and simple recipes too, so it helps to keep them on hand.

  • bread
  • eggs
  • milk
  • chicken broth
  • pasta
  • pasta sauce (red and Alfredo)
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • butter
  • margarine spread
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • shredded cheese
  • bread crumbs
  • canned tomatoes (diced, pureed, sauce, paste)
  • frozen chicken breasts
  • tortillas
  • lunchmeat
  • rice
  • canned beans
Once I’ve evaluated my staples, then I consider the store ads to see what is on sale.  As I am making my menu, I try to plan a different protein each night for dinner, so we usually have chicken, beef, pork, and fish each week.  Sometimes I will have ground beef and then a pot roast or a steak in the same week, so if I do that, I try to space them apart.  I plan a vegetable to go along with each meal (sometimes I just do a simple steamed vegetable, sometimes I’ll do a gratin or something else that requires more prep and planning), or if I’m doing something like lasagna or tomato-based pasta, I’ll forgo the vegetable because of the sauce.  Once I plan the menu out, I consult the recipes to see if there are any special ingredients I might need or spices that I have run out of (my standard spice rack: basil, oregano, garlic salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, thyme, tarragon, chili powder, paprika, kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, steak seasoning, poultry seasoning).
I also generally plan one day for leftovers or re-purposing of one of the previous meals (i.e. if we have pork loin one night for dinner, I’ll plan on carnitas later in the week, or turn leftover meat loaf into a tasty and quick meat sauce for pasta).
I would say that since I’ve started menu planning, I’ve cut our grocery bills each month by about $100-$200, if not more.  So if you are interested in my menu-planning experiences, stick around.  I’ll be posting my menu plans, some of my favorite recipes, and even some of my favorite food memories.  I hope to see you around!