Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sous Chef

I'm starting a new regular feature here, called Sous Chef. This is because I am utterly and completely over a basket when it comes to menu planning, and I need some fresh ideas.

Here's how meal planning currently works:
On Saturday or Sunday, I sit down with Peanut and take a look at the calendar for the week. We figure out which days we need quick dinners or have other plans and which days he needs to take leftovers for lunch. I ask for any special requests, which he usually doesn't have, and then I fall back on the same tired recipes I've been making for MONTHS, reorganizing them so they are a little bit different from last week. And probably two nights a week, we have frozen pizza for dinner, which is a crying shame because we used to make the best pizza from scratch - scratch dough, scratch sauce, we even made the cheese! (Okay, that last bit might be a wee bit of exaggeration.) I just don't have time for that with a baby freaking out at 5 pm (why do they do that right when you need to make dinner?).

Meanwhile, I save a couple recipes to Pinterest or Evernote every single day, but I never use them!


I'm going to try a brand new recipe every week, and I will do a post here about it and also save it to the brand new Little Miss Moneybags Pinterest board. I would love your recommendations for recipes, either in the comments or over on the Pinterest page (once I figure out how to open it to other pinners...).

Here's what I've been falling back on:
Cheesy tomato risotto
Twice baked potato casserole
Fried rice
Black bean or tortellini soup
Breakfast for dinner
Mac and cheese from scratch

Here's what I'm looking for:
Quick or easy - Things can take a long time if they don't need my attention, or they can be very hands-on if it's just for 10 minutes or so.
Vegetarianish - I'm not opposed to using chicken stock or the like, but I don't like the taste or texture of meat and I don't like cooking it. We bake a piece of chicken if Peanut feels like he needs more protein with his meal, and I get plenty of protein from plant sources.
Makes leftovers - that way I don't have to plan lunches, too!

Wish me luck on this adventure - I hope you enjoy coming along!


  1. Here's one I found last year and use often. It reheats really well.

  2. I've been making a yummy lentil soup a lot (though the season for that is pretty much over) -

    chop & saute an onion (either in olive oil or coconut oil)
    add a couple of pinches of thyme, and some red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it, anything from 1/8 to 1/2 tsp)
    add 2 chopped carrots until they soften a bit
    add 4 cups of chicken broth
    add a half-pound of lentils
    simmer about a half-hour
    add some chopped-up kale if you want extra veggies.

    It's very easy, you don't need a precise recipe, and it tastes great. I think the broth has to be pretty good to make it really delicious.

  3. I have quite a few recipes that might work for you, although I'll have to look at them when I get home. But, my go-to is to make stir fry, which I think would be perfect for you because you can make it as easy or as from-scratch as you want. …

    Here's how I make it:
    1. Boil some water and prepare soba noodles according to package directions.
    2. Cut a chicken breast into small cubes, saute in a saute pan (or wok if you have one) about a Tbsp of olive oil until no longer pink. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
    3. Partially heat veggies in same pan. These can be either store-bought frozen stir-fry veggie mix or fresh veggies. If fresh veggies, throw them in with a little more oil and cook until preferred level of tenderness. If frozen, just throw them in without oil (the moisture from their frozen state will suffice). I often start with a bag of frozen veggies and mix in any fresh veggies we have that are about to go bad.
    4. About halfway through, pour store-bought stir-fry sauce in with the veggies and stir until everything is heated. Then toss with chicken and cooked soba noodles and serve.

    This is nice a flexible, and it takes no longer than 30 minutes when using protein. You can substitute rice or other kinds of noodles, whatever you've got. You can leave out the protein. You can double or triple it, and it saves well as leftovers.

    I'm going to assume you do this already, but just in case … a rule I follow when pinning or saving recipes is to read them all the way through first. If it's more involved than I care for, then I don't save it. Sometimes, I'm inspired by a complex recipe and then do a search for a simplified version.

    Also, definitely explore the world of soups! This one is hearty, filling, vegetarian, delicious and easy:

  4. If you haven't, check out the blog Budget Bytes! It appeals to the PF geek in me (with prices per serving and per recipe estimated), she has a lot of vegetarian options, and in most cases the recipes are pretty easy -- for example, she definitely has a bunch of slow cooker recipes, which would be something you could put together at sometime other than Baby M's freak outs at 5 PM and just take them out when you want to eat. :)

    My fiance has been doing the South Beach diet for the last few weeks, and I hadn't been cooking much at all, but I have been enjoying helping him put together his menu plans and prep some of the food. In the process of this, since the recipes use different ingredients than I usually would use and I find it a bit complicated, I found this website called Plan to Eat, which you can get a free trial for a month (and afterwards it's like $40ish for an entire year). It allows you to import recipes directly from other websites, where it can sometimes (depending on the website) automatically populate the ingredients list, and then you can plan your recipes for the week in a calendar, and have it create a shopping list for you that has all of the ingredients you need. Then you can go through and remove all the items you already have at home, and print it out in really convenient form (separated by type of food, and by store if you're into shopping at multiple places for different things). It might be a time saver for you, especially if you have recipes you repeat frequently, because you can store them in there. It's also very aesthetically pleasing when you put the website in "cooking view," which gives you the steps one at a time, in large font, so that you can put your laptop nearby and just work from that if you so choose.

    Hope these suggestions are at least somewhat useful. Happy cooking!


Thanks for commenting!