Category Archives: Dinners

A Standard Weekly Menu

Planning a menu for the week helps me keep my shopping and cooking on track, and also helps me meet my goal to have a home-cooked, healthy meal most nights. By planning ahead, I can also ensure that I’ve got prepared ingredients and leftovers to make cooking easier as the week gets more hectic. I’ve experimented a lot with different menus and dishes, and at least for weeknight cooking, I keep coming back to the same roster of dishes. They cook easily using ingredients I can easily find, but they can be changed up each week for variety.

Here is my basic menu for a week’s worth of cooking, developed with these principles in mind. I do try to remain flexible to take advantage of special occasions, requests from family members or the availability of a seasonal ingredient.

Sunday: baked casserole or hearty soup served with a big salad. Because my Sundays are usually open, this is a good day to do a lot of prep work and make things easier for weeknight cooking. A family dinner calls for hearty comfort food that results in leftovers for lunch or dinner. Macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, chili, ratatouille, potato soup–there are endless possibilities. If I get started early enough, I can even break out the slow cooker. To accompany it, I make a salad using seasonal ingredients, including a salad dressing of the week that I can repurpose for lunches. This gives me the opportunity to prep all the vegetables from my weekly shopping trip.

Monday: sauteed or roasted boneless chicken breasts, potatoes and vegetable. This is a hearty meal that is also quick to prepare. I can vary it with different quick sauces or by adding some cheese or prosciutto, and there are about a million ways to make potatoes. For the vegetable, I stick to what’s in season and look for simple preparation methods. All leftovers can be repurposed for other dishes as the week goes on.

Tuesday: pasta with tomato sauce or broccoli, or stir-fried noodles. All of these pasta dishes are quick to prepare and kid-friendly. This meal can easily be made vegetarian, or adapted depending on what is in the fridge and pantry.

Wednesday: tacos or wraps. This is the perfect night to use up any leftover vegetables or cooked meat, but if no leftovers are available, I can quickly whip up beans or ground meat for a taco filling. Leftover salad and sauces can often be repurposed as toppings.

Thursday: frittata. By this point in the week, the cupboard is getting a little bare, but we always have eggs. Any bits of meat or vegetables remaining can be quickly cooked for the frittata filling, while shredded cheese from the tacos goes on top. Leftovers make a good breakfast or lunch for the weekend. If we don’t feel like frittata, scrambled eggs and bacon or baked eggs are a great substitute.

Friday and Saturday: pizza, sandwiches, grill or special requests. If we don’t go out to dinner, the weekend is a good time to make something fun that everyone enjoys.

Sunday breakfast: I usually try to make a hearty breakfast on Sundays of bacon and eggs, bagels or some other baked treat.

Shopping list: Keeping the pantry stocked is the key to cooking at home. If you open the fridge and see nothing tasty there, you’ll be tempted to order out. Here’s a standard list of ingredients to keep on hand to make an entire week’s worth of meals:

  • Produce: fresh fruit for snacking and breakfast; salad greens and vegetables; seasonal vegetable; broccoli; potatoes or sweet potatoes; onions; garlic
  • Meat: boneless chicken breasts; bacon, ground meat and sausage for the freezer; other meat that you like for stir-fries or grilling
  • Eggs: I buy cartons of 18 to make sure I always have enough eggs on hand for a quick meal
  • Dairy: yogurt for snacking and breakfast; one or two kinds of cheese; butter
  • Bread: small, soft flour tortillas; breakfast breads; sandwich rolls and pizza dough for the freezer
  • Pantry: various dried pastas; canned beans and tomatoes; tomato puree; chicken stock; olive oil and vinegar; salsas, sauces and condiments that you enjoy (or make your own); nuts and dried fruit
Advertisements

Potato Cake with Fried Eggs

I have gotten out of the habit of posting here lately, mostly because my cooking has not inspired any post ideas. Either I’ve been making tried-and-true recipes that I’ve practically memorized and that I’ve already posted on the blog, or I’ve been trying out new recipes from cookbooks, which I’m not likely to share until I’ve cooked them enough times to make them my own.

I’m going to try to get back in the habit of posting simple dishes as I make them, especially if they are easy enough that they don’t require a formal recipe. This potato cake is one of those dishes. This is more of a technique than an actual recipe, and once you learn it, you can fancy it up all kinds of ways. I topped it with a fried egg for a breakfast-for-dinner dish. A simple green salad would make a good accompaniment.

I used 1 medium Yukon Gold potato per person. Peel the potatoes and shred them using the shredding disk of a food processor. Rinse the potatoes to remove excess starch, then wrap them in a dishcloth and squeeze well to get rid of the excess moisture. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium with a couple of pats of butter in it. For 2 potatoes, a 10-inch skillet is a good size. Once the butter has melted, add the potatoes and smooth them out to fill the skillet. Cover the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet and let cook another 5 minutes or so, until the potatoes are browned on the bottom.

Slide the potatoes out onto a plate and add another couple of pats of butter to the skillet to melt. Place another plate upside down on top of the first one with the potatoes, and then invert the plates. Slide the potatoes, uncooked side down, back into the pan, and cook another 5 minutes or until the bottom has browned. Let the potatoes cool off the heat for a minute or two, and then slice into wedges to serve.

Easy Weeknight Chicken Ideas

I suspect that most families (those who aren’t vegetarian, anyway) opt for chicken at least twice a week. We often fall into the chicken rut because my husband doesn’t like fish and is allergic to shellfish, and I don’t like to eat pork or beef. So when we eat at home, we eat eggs, vegetarian dishes and chicken. I get my seafood and he gets his steak on the outside.

I probably don’t need to tell you that chicken every other night can get boring fast. Not too long ago, I could barely face the prospect of eating chicken again. When we get bored, we tend to go out to eat, which is not healthy for the wallet or the waistline. So I had to find some way to jazz up plain old chicken while still getting dinner on the table in a half-hour or so.

I mined my cookbooks for ideas for quick chicken dishes that I could easily vary from week to week. Here are five very simple chicken dishes I found that were a hit with everyone else at the table. All of these recipes make use of that staple of weeknight cooking: boneless chicken breasts. If you find yourself getting bored, try varying the seasoning or vegetables to create entirely new dishes.

Honey baked chicken: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix ½ cup honey, ¼ cup mustard and 1 tablespoon seasoning mix of your choice. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray and arrange 6 boneless chicken breasts in the dish. Brush both sides of the chicken with the honey-mustard mixture and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. This homey meal goes great with a big salad and baked or mashed potatoes. Slice leftover chicken breasts for sandwiches.

Cheesy chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 minced garlic clove, salt and a dash of cayenne to taste. Toss 4 boneless chicken breasts in this mixture and place them in a baking dish lined with foil. Toss each breast with a mixture of diced bell pepper, onion and tomatoes. Roast until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Top each chicken breast with shredded colby-jack cheese and return to the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve with plain rice for a full meal.

Braised chicken: In a large skillet over medium, add 2 cups chicken stock, 2 sliced onions and 2 tablespoons butter. Simmer uncovered until the onions are tender and the liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Season 4 chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place them on top of the onions. Place a couple of rosemary sprigs on top. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and onions to a platter, raise the heat, and add 2 more tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to a boil and pour the sauce over the chicken to serve. This dish goes well with a green salad and French bread.

Chicken tacos: Poach the chicken in barely simmering water until cooked through. Let cool and then shred (or substitute ground chicken). Season the chicken with taco seasoning mix, and warm with jarred salsa for a few minutes. Wrap soft tortillas in foil and warm them in a low oven. Let everyone fix their own tacos with plenty of shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and guacamole for fixings.

Grilled chicken and bacon: For this recipe, you need a hinged grill basket. Season boneless chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place sliced onions on top. Wrap each chicken breast with 2 slices of bacon and place in the grill basket. Close the basket and grill, turning once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through and the bacon is crispy, 10-12 minutes. Serve with a big dish of grilled vegetables and some crusty bread.

Five Meals

If you want to cook and eat more at home, and take advantage of ingredients that are in season or on special, here is a simple idea. It takes a little bit of work and research up front, but once implemented, you won’t have to plan weekly menus again.

Come up with 4-5 meals that you really like, can be made without a recipe, can incorporate whatever meats and vegetables you have on hand, and can be made in one pot. When you get home from work, you can look in the fridge to see what’s there and throw together one of your meals. It will be quick and tasty, and there won’t be too much washing up to do.

Here are the 5 meals I make regularly (4 of these can be made completely vegetarian):

  • roasted chicken breasts and vegetables
  • pasta with vegetables
  • frittata (an egg dish)
  • vegetable/potato soup
  • chicken or bean tacos

I’ll be posting the recipes for all of these soon. But don’t let these suggestions limit you. Many dishes would work, such as stir-fry, curry, chicken soup, baked pasta or sausage stew. The key is that you like all of the dishes and won’t get tired of them.

Learn what the basic components of your key meals are and always keep those stocked. When you go grocery shopping, buy proteins and vegetables that are on sale or in season. These will give your weekly meals some variety and will also save you money.

Over time, you can learn some additional cooking techniques so you can take advantage of special offers. For example, figure out your favorite way to cook a piece of fish or a steak and memorize it. Memorize a variety of simple side dishes that you can easily throw together, such as salad with vinaigrette, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, steamed broccoli with garlic, etc. Or do as I do and keep a notebook in the kitchen with a selection of quick, simple dishes written down. You can turn to these ideas when you get bored with your weekly rotation.

If you have the time or inclination, cook more elaborate meals on the weekends, or go out. But this has helped me stick to my goal of cooking on weeknights, even when I’m tired, without resorting to take-out or going out.

Panzanella, or Bread Salad

I’m sorry things have been so quiet around here. (Can you hear the crickets?) Life has left little time for blogging this summer, and I haven’t done a whole lot of creative cooking either. But I have completed a couple of challenges that I have yet to blog about. I’m hoping to get all caught up and then start a new round of challenges in the fall.

One recent challenge was seasonally appropriate: to make a cold dinner that was also satisfying. For this challenge, I wanted to use something from our garden, which means tomatoes. Naturally, I thought of one of my favorite salads: panzanella, or bread salad. Not only is this a great dish for enjoying dead ripe tomatoes, but it’s also handy for using up stale bread. The juices from the tomatoes soak into the bread and give it new life.

IMG_3205

To make this dish an entree, I added leftover grilled chicken and cannellini beans, along with an assortment of vegetables. They combined to create a satisfying, hearty dish for a hot summer night. The inspiration for the basic recipe comes from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

Main-Course Panzanella

Yields: 4 servings

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the bread of its crust and cut into smallish squares to make approximately 2 cups bread cubes. Toast the cubes in the oven until browned and dried out, about 10 minutes. Put the cubes in a large bowl. Puree 1 ripe tomato in a food mill over the bowl. Toss the tomato puree with the bread, add some salt, and let it sit for 15 minutes or more.

In a food processor, combine 1 peeled garlic clove, 1 teaspoon anchovy paste* and 1 tablespoon capers,drained. Puree. Combine thoroughly with ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the salad ingredients:

  • Dice 2 ripe tomatoes.
  • Dice 1 yellow or red bell pepper.
  • Peel and dice 1 cucumber.
  • Thinly slice ½ red or sweet onion.
  • Thinly slice 1 breast leftover cooked chicken (preferably roasted or grilled).
  • Drain and rinse 1 cup cooked cannellini beans.

Combine everything in the serving bowl with plenty of freshly ground pepper, and toss thoroughly.

*I prefer anchovy paste (it comes in a little tube) to actual anchovies because I don’t cook with anchovies often, and then I only use a little at a time. A tube of anchovy paste seems to last me a good long while. You may substitute 2-3 anchovy fillets, if you like.

Some Old Favorites: Grilling Out on the New Deck

A recent cooking challenge that I haven’t gotten a chance to post about yet was to resurrect some old favorites. I chose backyard barbecue favorites in honor of our new, expanded, gorgeous deck, and to give my husband a chance to cook for a change.

The menu was: grilled turkey burgers, mini baked potatoes and quick pickles. I have posted the turkey burger recipe before. This is the only turkey burger recipe I have found that results in juicy, tasty burgers rather than dried-out hockey pucks. Giving credit where credit is due, the original recipe came from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking.

IMG_2551

That cookbook was also the source for the mini baked potatoes idea. You don’t even need a recipe for these. Just substitute medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes for russets. Poke holes in the top and bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Load them up with all your favorite fixings. Despite being so simple, this is a genius idea, because often a full-sized baked potato is just too much.

Finally, the quick pickles came from another Sara Foster book that I’ve been featuring a lot on this blog lately: Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen. (Expect a full-fledged review very soon.) Even though this was a new recipe I was trying, it qualifies as an old favorite because I’ve been making some variant of these pickles for years. It’s a great way to eat garden cucumbers, and it also works for zucchini.

IMG_2547

Here’s my version of a quick recipe for quick pickles. For 1 pound of cucumber slices, combine 2 cups water and 1 cup white wine vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus fresh dill, red pepper flakes and/or sliced garlic, as desired. You can also throw in diced red onion, if you like. Let the pickles marinate at least 1 hour. These pickles keep about 1 week in the fridge.

Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: The First Recipes

As I promised, I’m cooking from my brand-new Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen over the next month and sharing the results here. At the end of the month, I’ll post a full-fledged review, but until then, you’ll just have to ogle the pictures. Try not to drool!

Last night, our theme was a warm-weather barbecue. From the cookbook, I made this gorgeous and delicious Salt and Pepper Skillet Cornbread. Honestly, this is going to be my main cornbread recipe from now on, it’s that good.

IMG_2005

To accompany, my husband grilled chicken slathered with West Tennessee Thick and Sticky BBQ Sauce. This sauce was so easy to make, and it tasted delicious. We had simply grilled eggplant slices to accompany.

IMG_2028

I also made Sara Foster’s Pimiento Cheese. Pimiento cheese is not my favorite thing, but it tastes miles better when it’s homemade, as opposed that florescent orange stuff they sell in the grocery store. No photo, but the recipe is online, and you can serve it on toasts made from the cornbread, which here’s my little one very much enjoyed.IMG_2014

Thanks to my husband for doing the grilling and taking the photos!

%d bloggers like this: