I was inspired today to make a 4 course meal for dinner. I bet you're wondering how I did that with a 17mo shackled to my ankle. Well basically have all her favorite toys and books closeby the kitchen and make sure she had a good snack. Of course she fussed, but when everything was simmering or roasting in the oven, I was able to spend some big chunks of time with her and that's what matters most. She knew I was cooking and when everything was done she wanted to sit in her high chair to sample the goods.
What I made...
carrot soup (from Saved by Soup),
tomato, cucumber, avocado salad, homemade dressing of evo & fig balsamic vinegar and some seasonings,
roasted garlic rosemary chicken with whole garlic cloves and steamed broccoli,
strawberries dipped in sour cream & brown sugar
I haven't been this inspired in many years, but I felt like I'm at a point where I can make these really nice dinners. So as usual I make sure that there is enough for 2 nights so I don't have to cook so often. Salads are a breeze so will just toss something different for tomorrow night. I usually cook about 3-4 dinners a week. I have a routine where I scour my recipes and cookbooks for about 5 minutes and then jot down possible menus for the week. One side of my shopping list has basic needs for breakfast, snacks and lunches. The other side are my entrees for the week with specific ingredients. I try to select entrees that share similar ingredients. For example onions or a bottle of white wine.
I figure out how complicated an entree and when I should make my meals based on my schedule for the week. So if I know I have late PM playdates, I make sure I sequence the cook/no-cook nights based on knowing the times.
Doing all of this has saved us lots of $ and you know of course in this down economy what we spend should matter. I generally shop at farmer's market, TJs or Sigona's and so have certain standards for quality of produce and meats. I guess it's all about priorities but you know I think spending $30 for a night out on mediocre(unhealthy) food just floors me when I know I can make a kick ass organic & healthy dinner including wine for that price.
Having this system in place has also given me more time to cook meals for folks in need(church, new baby, illness, etc.). So I'm looking forward to helping out and lastly I have so much more free time when I don't have to cook as often.
I've saved about several months worth of these shopping lists since they document meals we've had in the past year. There are clearly some favorite recipes and favorite cookbooks and at some point will probably do a spinoff blog maybe documenting my meal planning and preparation. I'm definitely having a fun time rediscovering old cookbooks and hoping to try out some really "old skool" ones published by the Menonite community. Talk about efficiency and being more health/earth friendly, those menonites have been practicing this as a faith and lifestyle.
My next adventure that I'm considering is a dinner coop. I've heard a friend do this and sounds quite fun. You only have to cook once a week. Several families cook for the others once a week and deliver the food(usually in the same neighborhood). Of course its hit or miss since everyone has various levels of culinary experience but just imagine only cooking once a week and trying out new stuff.
The other adventure I"m considering is the cook once a month. You cook one months worth of food in one day and just freeze everything. I think if my time becomes that limited that I can't cook a fresh meal every other day then I really need to rethink my priorities.