[Editor's Note: At the beginning of 2012, Chris of Cook The Story decided to embark on a new challenge: She would create a menu plan for each month of the year, and try to follow it. She builds the plan in an Excel spreadsheet, and is reporting back about how well she sticks to the chosen menus, plus other tips and techniques for making meal preparation easier. Since she's the mother of a three-month-old, this challenge is helping her stay on top of her game. Read on to find out what's on Chris' February menu. --Genie]
My baby girl is almost 3 months old. I can’t believe it. I also can’t believe that I survived my first month on a Monthly Meal Plan. Actually, it went pretty well.Monthly Meal-Planning So Far
I have to admit that we DID NOT follow the plan exactly. See how far off we went in the first week here. But I quickly came to realize that that’s not the point. The point was simply to be armed with a plan. That way, when things are going smoothly, it’s easy to make up a grocery list, to resist falling back on old standbys and to know that I’m getting some of my own recipe-testing in. And then, on days when everything goes to hell, well, I can make a quick omelet and console myself that there’s a better plan ready for tomorrow.February’s Plan: The Highlights
February is a liberating month for cooks everywhere. February doesn’t require fall’s heart-warming stews and braises nor December’s festive (but heavy) lusciousness, January’s New-Year’s-resolution-infused lightness, Spring’s brightness nor July’s al-fresco-grill obsession. In fact, February doesn’t seem to have any rules, requirements or expectations at all.
(Except for Valentine’s Day, where I’m suggesting a simple mid-week meal that is ideal for sharing while sipping on red wine: Cheese for Dinner à la Amateur Gourmet followed by some truly decadent Molten Chocolate Cakes by Nicole Reese, Fine Cooking Magazine. See pic at top of post).
I therefore decided to fill February with a bit of everything. There’s Asian (Sriracha Tofu Stir Fry from Cooking My Way Happy), Moroccan (Chicken, Olive and Preserved Lemon Tagine from Closet Cooking), Greek (Leftover braised lamb served with pitas, roasted veggies, feta and a quick homemade Tzatziki sauce from Astro) and even Costa Rican (Seasonal and Savory’s Gallo Pinto from last month was so good that it’s re-appearing this month).
There are hearty meals (Spaghetti alla Carbonara from Nook & Pantry) and light ones (Chicken Tostados with Black Beans and Cilantro-Lime Cream by Jeanne Kelly, Fine Cooking Mag), healthy ones (Healthy and Hearty Chicken Quinoa Stew from Picky Palate) and not-so-healthy ones (Steak with Roasted Veg and Roasted Potatoes accompanied by my sour cream based Killer Horsey Sauce, recipe below).
And there are quick and simple mid-week dinners (My Butter-Browned Penne Frittata, instructions below) as well as some slightly more involved recipes (Meyer Lemon Chicken from Never Enough Thyme).
As with last month, there’s an emphasis on using up the weekend’s leftovers during the week. I take a suggestion from Fine Cooking Mag and roast two chickens on Sunday so that there will be plenty for two additional mid-week meals. Sundays’ Guiness Braised Beef, Lemon Braised Lamb with Rosemary and Turkey Breast Roulade also do double (or triple!) duty.
There are recipes from a slew of bloggers, from TV cooks Ina Garten and Rachel Ray, from Fine Cooking Mag and one claimed in Lucky Peach to be the ultimate booze sucker-upper (the Hot Brown slotted for Feb 29, if I make it through the month this WILL be the perfect meal to end with). Finally, I also have two featured ingredients. Read on to find out all about them.Featured Ingredients: Preserved Lemons and Quick-Cooking Barley
I’m ridiculously excited about the two featured ingredients this month.
Ingredient #1: Preserved Lemons will be featured the week of February 20th. That means you NEED to make up a jar of them NOW to have them ready in time.
Ingredient #2: Quick-Cooking Barley. What’s so exciting about Quick-Cooking Barley, you ask? Well, it’s seriously tasty, it’s seriously healthy and it’s SERIOUSLY ready in 10 minutes. The problem is that I always do the same things with it. I either toss it into a quick soup or I sauté mushrooms and garlic and mix them with the cooked barley for a side dish. The results are tasty but I’m starting to get a bit bored.
Therefore, this month I’m doing a Quick-Cooking Barley Challenge. I’ll be trying out the barley in three different dishes:
- Instead of rice in a sriracha-marinated tofu stir fry;
- As a pilaf with currants and toasted pine nuts;
- As a risotto.
I hope you’ll get creative too. Cook along with me and innovate your own barley risotto, pilaf or stir fry, or, go ahead and suggest something completely different. I’ll post my barley recipes (if they work!) at the beginning of March so stay tuned. (Note: I buy the Mother’s brand of Quick-Cooking Barley but have also tried the Quaker and it’s good too.)The February Meal Plan
Thinking Ahead: The week of Feb 19th has a whole lot of preserved lemon. Make up a jar NOW so they’ll be ready in time.
1 – Wednesday: Barley Experiment
Sriracha Tofu Stir Fry (Cooking My Way Happy) but with Barley Instead of Rice
2 – Thursday: Surfing The Blogs
Healthy and Hearty Chicken Quinoa Stew (Picky Palate), Grainy Bread
3 – Friday: Easy Fridays
Steak, Roasted Veg, Potato and Killer Horsey Sauce
Bake or roast the potatoes, choose whatever veg you’d like, cook the steak however you cook a steak, but whatever you do, DO NOT skip my killer horsey sauce. It’s perfect for dipping steak, fries or roasted potatoes and is a real improvement over plain sour cream for a baked potato. You can even warm it up a bit and drizzle it over wilted spinach or asparagus for the perfect accompaniment to beef. Here’s what you do: Combine ½ cup chopped green onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 tbsp strong horseradish, 1 tsp lemon juice, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp coarse black pepper and ½ cup sour cream. Taste. It should be potent. But if your eyes are really watering, mellow it out with up to an additional ½ cup sour cream (seriously, are your really that much of a wuss?!?!).
4 – Saturday: Leavin’ It Blank
I leave one day blank every week so meals can shift over if a day is missed. We usually miss at least one day.
5 – Sunday: Making Leftovers
Citrus-Marinated Roast Chickens (Jeanne Kelley, Fine Cooking Magazine), Mashed Potato & Celeriac, Veg
6 – Monday: Using Leftovers
7 – Tuesday: Meal I Developed in January
Shrimp, Caper and Red Onion Topped Penne on Arugula (Recipe to appear on www.cookthestory.com on February 2nd). Be sure to make enough pasta to have leftovers ready for Thursday’s dinner.
8 – Wednesday: Using Leftovers
Chicken and Mushroom Risotto (Jeanne Kelley, Fine Cooking Magazine), Salad of Romaine, Radish & Cucumber
9 – Thursday: Using Leftovers
Butter-Browned Penne Frittata, Arugula Salad
For the frittata, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet. Add leftover cooked penne pasta (1-2 handfuls per person). Cook stirring occasionally until much of the pasta has turned golden brown, 4-6 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs (2 per person) with a bit of milk. You can also add to the eggs any other bits of leftover cooked veg or meat that you have on hand at this point. Reduce heat to low and stir the pasta once more before pouring in the eggs. Swirl to coat all the noodles. Cover and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle on some shredded cheese (about ¼ cup per person, I prefer a sharp cheddar). Cover and cook until the egg is fully set and the cheese has melted. Cut into wedges to serve.
10 – Friday: Easy Fridays
Pork Tenderloin Fajitas with Toasted Corn Salsa
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Rub a pork tenderloin with chili powder, salt and pepper. Bake until temperature on an instant read thermometer reads 150ºF (23-28 minutes). Tent with foil and allow to rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups defrosted frozen corn. Cook stirring occasionally until corn begins to brown in spots, 4-6 minutes. Remove corn to a medium sized bowl. Add 1 can drained diced tomatoes. Using scissors (kitchen shears), snip in two spring onions. Slice the tenderloin. Take the pork to the table along with the bowl of corn salsa, a pint of sour cream and some warm flour tortillas (and, if you have the time and energy, some shredded lettuce and cheddar cheese would work. Oh, and some diced avocado. Oh, and some cilantro leaves….)
11 – Saturday: Leavin’ It Blank
12 – Sunday: Guiness-Braised Beef with Mushrooms & Carrots, Egg Noodles
For the beef and vegetables: Preheat oven to 300ºF. Season a large chuck roast (4lbs, you need enough for three meals after all) liberally with salt and pepper. Warm 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef and sear on all sides. Remove the beef to a plate. Pour 1 bottle of Guiness into the Dutch Oven and stir to pick up any brownings from the bottom of the pan. Add 3 cups beef stock and 2 tbsp tomato paste (a bay leaf and whatever hearty herbs you happen to have would also be welcome here). Stir and then return the beef to the pot. Cover and put into the oven for 2 hours. Add whole mushrooms (button or crimini) and whole peeled small carrots (if only large carrots were on offer, slice them in half or quarters lengthwise). Cover and cook until beef is meltingly tender and the carrots are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove beef and vegetables from the pot. Keep warm. Simmer the remaining liquid on the stove over medium heat for 10 minutes. Taste. Add salt and pepper as required. Strain if necessary. Serve the jus with the beef and veg as is or stir together 1 tsp cornstarch and 2 tbsp water and add to the jus. Return it to the boil before serving.
13 – Monday: Using Leftovers
Spicy Noodle Soup using Leftover Braised Beef
Cook ramen noodles according to package instructions. Warm 1 tbsp vegetable oil over low heat in a medium pot. Add 2 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp mined ginger and 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 4 cups beef broth and ¼ cup soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat and allow the flavors to infuse the broth for 5 minutes. Add some raw veggies (broccoli florets, sliced cabbage, celery, mushrooms or whatever you like). Cook for 2 minutes. Add a sliced red pepper and thin slices of the leftover beef. Divide noodles between soup bowls and then ladle in the soup. Top with chopped green onion and or cilantro leaves.
14 – Tuesday: Valentine’s Day!!!
15 – Wednesday: Using Leftovers
Sliced Braised Beef, Smoked Gouda and Killer Horsey Sauce Sandwiches, Creamy Creamless White Bean and Spinach Soup
For the soup: Sweat half of a chopped medium onion over medium heat until translucent. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook for a minute. Add 2-15 ounce cans of drained white kidney beans, 2 cups of broth, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp coarse black pepper. Bring to a simmer and then cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Puree in a blender. Return puree to the pot and add a third can of drained white kidney beans and then wilt in several handfuls of baby spinach. Add more broth to thin soup to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Killer Horsey Sauce Recipe is given above on February 3rd.
16 – Thursday: Blogosphere
Meyer Lemon Chicken (Never Enough Thyme), Brown Rice, Green Beans (If meyer lemons are not available, use a combination of regular lemons and navel oranges)
17 – Friday: Easy Fridays
18 – Saturday: Leavin’ It Blank
19 – Sunday: Making Leftovers
Lemon Braised Lamb with Rosemary (Five and Spice) (triple the yogurst sauce if you don’t want to have to make Tzatziki on Monday), Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Peppers, Onions and Zucchini
Week #4 (a.k.a. Did somebody mention LEMONS?)
20 – Monday: Using Leftovers
Warm Leftover Lamb & Roasted Vegetables (from Sunday) in Pitas with Feta Cheese and Quick Tzatziki Sauce (Astro) (or use leftover yogurt sauce)
21 – Tuesday: Barley Experiment
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemon (Closet Cooking), Barley Pilaf with Dried Currents and Toasted Pine Nuts
22 – Wednesday: Blogosphere
23 – Thursday: Blogosphere
A little break from the lemon: Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Nook & Pantry), Green Salad
24 – Friday: Easy Fridays
Preserved Lemon, Cantaloupe and Feta Salad (Cook the Story) with Broiled Chicken Thighs and Grainy Bread
25 – Saturday: Leavin It Blank
26 – Sunday: Making Leftovers
27 – Monday: Using Leftovers
Linguine with Turkey, Spinach, Lemon and Walnuts
Cook the linguine according to package instructions, reserving some of the cooking liquid.. Toast walnut pieces (2 tbsp per person) in a dry pan over medium-low heat until just fragrant (5-7 minutes). Chop them up. In a medium pot warm sour cream (1/3 cup per person) over medium-low heat. Add chopped cooked turkey, leftover spinach, 1 tsp grated lemon rind and the walnuts. Heat through. Toss with the noodles and some of the pasta cooking water (if desired).
28 – Tuesday: Barley Experiment
Salt and Pepper Salmon with Green Beans (Cook the Story) and Barley Risotto
29 – Wednesday: Using Leftovers
Hot Browns (The Brown Hotel) and Creamy Creamless White Bean and Spinach Soup (see February 15th above)Happy February!
Chris from Cook the Story
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(c) 2012 Christine Pittman. All Rights Reserved.
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