{Insert Meal Here} Meal Planning Board Origins

The {Insert Meal Here} Meal Planning Board was conceived around midnight in the middle of June 2014.  I was up late, and had been looking for a better solution to keep track of the week’s meal plan than an old white board hung on the kitchen wall.  It worked, but there were problems.  I had to be at home to check it; I had to remember what cook book the recipe came from (or sometimes what a dish even was!); and, while it was easy to change things around, it wasn’t as easy to look and see how long it was going to take to make a dish, and, maybe we didn’t want to make home made pulled pork sliders on fresh baked brioche buns on a day that my young child and I were out running a bunch of errands.

whiteboard-11292014So around midnight, I started writing out a list of features that I wanted in a program that would help me in all of this.  The heart, and the origin of the whole thing, was a flexible meal planner that worked just as easily as a white board.  Something that I could drag recipes into and into their selected time and day, and if I wanted to change the day, just drag it and drop it into its new place.  I also wanted to be able to adjust the number of people that it was serving, to scale up a recipe to a party of twenty, or down to an intimate two.  I then wanted the program to be able to generate my shopping list for me, to make sure that I didn’t forget anything from the grocery store, ever again (the number of weeks I made a third trip to the grocery store because I forgot olive oil on the first two was getting ridiculous).

Insert meal here alpha shopping list.
{IMH} Shopping List Alpha Display

Of course a shopping list isn’t very useful if I can’t add things to it, but once I started using the  program, I quickly realized that there were certain things that I was adding to the program every week: eggs, milk, yogurt, etc.  So, a little bit more coding and I could make a list of things that I wanted to get every week.

Around this time I had started talking to some other people about this.  And there were four questions that I kept being asked, “Can I use it?”, “When will it be ready?”, and “How much?”. The fourth question was always in the form of, “Will it be able to ____”, and my answer was always one of three. Either “Yes, that’s in the plan!”, “It already does!”, or as happened earlier today, “It will now!” when someone asked about something that I hadn’t thought of, but was a wonderful idea!

Now, when I turn the search features on, it will not only be able to search by ingredient, style of cuisine, and prep time, but also by dietary restriction.  And, if you turn it on, it can warn you if you are adding a recipe that might violate any diet that you might be following!

But I still wanted more.  I kept adding features to the list, like a wizard to build unique recipes from common components (a pizza with choices of a dozen different doughs, sauces and any topping and sides you can imagine!) A budgeting tool so I could keep track of what I was spending before I get to the checkout line (without doing all the math myself). Or a glossary with common cooking terms appears as tool tips in recipes.

There is all of this, and more (so much more) on my list of features to add. There’s not a day since I started that I haven’t worked on this program in an effort to bring it to life.  It’s alive, and it works, and all of the core functions are in place.

glossary example
An Example of the {Insert Meal Here} glossary

Turkey and Eggs and Cheese

Who isn’t flooded with turkey after Thanksgiving? What do you do with all that turkey? Sure, there’s turkey sandwiches, and turkey pot pie, turkey soup (which also becomes turkey pot pie, which, technically, is a leftover of a leftover), and turkey salad. What do you do when you’ve run out of turkey leftover recipes and there’s still leftover turkey?

Get creative. Make an omelette.TDay Breakfast 6

We’re a big fan of brinner – breakfast for dinner – in this house. This one takes turkey and cranberry sauce and makes it new with sweet, tangy, creamy Jarlsberg cheese and fresh scallions. Serve it with some sweet potato hashbrowns and B’Fast Apple Pie for a rounded meal that includes a treat.

The following recipe will make one omelette. Scale it up to as many people as you’re serving (the Meal Planning Board will do this for you automatically).

 

 

Turkey Omelette

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • turkey, cubed
  • scallions, sliced
  • Jarlsberg Cheese, shredded
  • cranberry sauce
  • pinch paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make It!

Beat the eggs with the cream (half and half, milk, or water will do nicely as well). Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and paprika. Pour into skillet on medium-high eat with melted butter or olive oil. Allow the eggs to start to set. Pull eggs from the edge back so egg in the middle can set as well.

Add the turkey, cheese, and some scallions to the omelette.Fold over when the eggs have nearly set, and allow to cook another 30 seconds or so so the cheese melts.

Slide on to a plate and garnish with additional cheese, cranberry sauce, and a few scallions.TDay Breakfast 9

Apples and Cream Cheese and Walnuts and Egg

Have you had enough of apple pie? I don’t think it’s possible to have too much, but, sometimes it’s hard to justify pie for breakfast. It’s sweet, sticky, sugar laden, and strongly associated with being a dessert only.

This, however, this is a pie that’s designed for breakfast. A layer of cream cheese is topped with apples and walnuts and floated with egg. I’ts an apple pie that remembers being a quiche. Or perhaps a quiche that remembers being an apple pie. Regardless, these come out of the oven poofed up a bit and creamy and slightly sweet. Omit the crust (or use a sprouted grain) and be sure to soak the nuts to make it GAPS friendly.

B’Fast Apple PieBreakfast Apple Pie

IngredientsBreakfast Apple Pie Ingredients

  • 3 apples
  • .5 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 4 tbsp cream cheese, separated
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp cream or milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2tbsp butter
  • pie dough

Make It!

Chop the apples to pieces approximately 1/2″ square in size. Melt butter in a large skillet on medium to medium high heat and add the apples. Cook until softened. Add the cinnamon and sugar and stir well. Continue to cook until the pectin from the apples begins to thicken. Stir in the walnuts, salt to taste, and pull off the heat.

Beat the eggs with the cream or milk.

Roll out the pie dough to 1/4″ thick. Press in to four large ramekins. Spread 1 tablespoon of cream cheese into the bottom of each crust (use more cream cheese for a creamier pie; this can also be omitted). Fill the ramekins with the apple and walnut mix. Top each ramekin with 1/4 of the egg and cream or milk mixture. Place in a 400 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until the egg has formed a dome and has browned slightly.

Bread and Custard and Bananas

Good planning leaves a bit of room for spontaneity, especially with a little bit of ingenuity in the kitchen. More often than not, breakfast in our house involves baked oatmeal and yoghurt or good old bacon and eggs. Sometimes though, we go a little crazy, especially when there’s a bit of bread in the house, and we make French Toast. It’s incredibly simple, and makes use mostly of ingredients we’d have for breakfast anyway (yes, I’ve replaced the milk traditionally used in French Toast with yoghurt with success). Besides being something of a treat, it’s nice to slow down and enjoy something that takes a little more thought and planning: French Toast is best if the bread is a bit stale (or has been allowed to sit out and dry up a bit), and then soaked in the custard (egg + milk = custard).  I like to cook up the leftover custard that the bread doesn’t absorb and top the toast with that as well as walnuts and bananas or other fruit.

 

French Toast

French Toast

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4.0 slices bread
  • 2.0 eggs
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • .33 cup sugar
  • 1.0 tsp salt
  • 0.5 tsp cinnamon
  • butter
  • 0.25 cup walnuts
  • 1.0 banana

Make It!

Allow the bread slices to sit out over night to dry out a bit. Alternatively, dry in a warm oven for 5 – 10 minutes.

Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Place the (slightly) dried bread in a pan and cover with the eggs and milk mix. Allow the bread to soak in the mix for at least five minutes on both sides.

In a pan on medium-high heat, melt enough butter to coat the pan. Place the bread slices in the pan and leave until cooked through, about 3 minutes each side. Pull out and set on plates.

Add more butter to the pan. Pour the remainder of the custard into the pan with the walnuts. Cook as if preparing scrambled eggs. Top the French Toast with the additional custard and walnuts as well as the fresh banana slices

Updates!

The Meal Planning Board is well under development, and is starting to take shape. I thought I’d share some updated screenshots. Some of these look much the same, some of these are brand new. The entire program has increased functionality, and is moving along right on schedule.

Sample view of the heart of the program: the Schedule

Schedule FeaturedAn unsorted shopping list in two shots to show the full list as well as the bottom of the list and the tool that sorts and organizes the individual items on the list. Clicking on the “Sort by Section” link will sort items  by customized store sections.Shopping List topShopping List bottom

Sample view of a recipe. Recipes with multiple components show those components in one view.Recipe View

Sample of the Recipe List. Right now, recipes are sorted by meal. When the full version is released, they will be able to be sorted by tag, source, and other options.

Recipe List

View of adding recipes to the collection. This has some user interface improvements to go.Recipe Entry

Shrimp and Coconut and Green Beans

Part of meal planning is watching and taking advantage of sales. This last week, one of our local grocery stores had a coupon to buy one pound of shrimp and get a second pound free. Considering most meals we have with shrimp we only use a half a pound, this was a huge savings. I’ll admit, we decided to splurge and focus an entire meal around one of the pounds of shrimp.

Most of the rest of our meal plan was already done when we started considering the shrimp. We didn’t need to produce any leftovers either for a meal or to re-purpose. So, we looked backwards at what we had remaining from the week prior and considered our options.  We had green beans that needed consumed and hadn’t been spoken for yet. And we almost always have a bit of coconut milk in the pantry. So, we cleaned the shrimp, tossed the shells into a stockpot with an onion, covered with water, and simmered for an hour. We strained out the shells, returned the stock to the pot, and added the coconut milk to make a base for the soup. Shrimp, green beans, ginger, and garlic when into a cast iron skillet just until the shrimp were cooked, and then everything in to the pot. If you’re short on time, you could easily use a stock that’s already prepared and save the shells for a later stock (trust me on making a seafood stock –  it’s super simple and is incredibly decadent for the time and effort investment).

Shrimp and Coconut Soup

 

Ingredients

  • 1.0 pound shrimp
  • 0.5 pound fresh green beans
  • 1.0 clove garlic
  • 8.0 oz coconut milk
  • 8.0 oz stock or broth
  • 2.0 limes
  • 1.0 tsp fresh ginger
  • coconut oil or butter
  • scallions
  • cilantro

Make It!

Peel and devien the shrimp. Take off the tails. Use the tails and shells to make a stock (or save them to make a stock later).

Bring the coconut milk and stock or broth to a simmer. Add the ginger, juice of 1 and 1/2 of the limes (save the last half of the second lime for serving), and smashed garlic. Keep warm.

Saute the shrimp in the butter or coconut oil until they just start to curl. Add the green beans and garlic and continue to saute until the shrimp just starts to turn pink. Pour the coconut milk over the shrimp and be sure to loosen any flavor that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with scallions, cilantro, and a lime wedge.

Ham and English Muffins and Cheese

Ham Pucks, my mother called them. In all reality, these are simply ham salad placed on an English Muffin, topped with cheese, and then broiled to melty goodness. It’s an old family recipe that brings me a sense of nostalgia and place in the world. I reach for this one when I’m tired, cold, or need reminded that I do indeed come from somewhere. There’s nothing complicated about these, and they’re open to a wide variety of changes and interpretations. Mayonaise could be replaced with yoghurt or cream cheese if mayo isn’t your thing (the kind from a jar isn’t mine: I make my own though I use a blender or food processor). Ham salad itself is happy to accept additional flavors and seasonings as well. Add in a bit of saffron and sesame seeds or some chipotle powder, oregano, and cumin. Or, if you’re like me and looking for a taste of Americana, keep it simple and enjoy what each element brings to the party on their own.

Ham Pucks

Ham PucksIngredients

  • 0.5 lb ham
  • 1.0 onion
  • 2.0 pickles
  • 0.5 cup mayo
  • 4.0 oz cheese
  • 4.0 English Muffins

Make It!

Add the ham, onion, pickles, and mayo to a food processor and process until well mixed. Place 1/8 of the mixture on a half of an English Muffin. Cover with cheese (I like a mix of Gryuere and cheddar) and place in the oven under the broiler for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika and serve.

Vegetables and Broth and Herbs

Sometimes, simple is best, especially when it comes to meal planning. We do so much of it sometimes I think we plan out every second of our lives. A quick peek at our own schedule will show a different story: we really just plan dinner. Sometimes we’ll plan lunch or breakfast, such as for a special occasion or if we’re craving a specific food. Usually though, it’s just dinner that gets the royal treatment.

What then, do we do for lunch?

Often, it’s nothing fancy: leftovers from a previous meal, or even many meals sort of cobbled together. Slices of fruit and vegetables and cheese or an egg, and maybe a bit of seaweed on the side.  Sometimes though, lunch is all about quickly putting a few things together into something new and perfect. A soup, for example, of almost entirely vegetables. Perhaps one that takes advantage of the ever-present bone broth, the extra veggies we buy every week, and a few bites of pasta for each bowl. And maybe a few fresh herbs as well.

Most people just call it Minestrone. I call it delicious.

If you already have a bit of broth (even cans or boxes or bullion cubes if that’s your thing), this comes together quickly and easily. A small onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, tomatoes, chard, and just about any other vegetable you have a bit of get chopped up and go in the pot. Serve it with a bit of fresh herb such as basil or tarragon on top.

MinestroneMinestrone

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, smashed (or diced according to your preference)
  • half dozen to a dozen broccoli or cauliflower floretes
  • 1 zucchini choped
  • Additional vegetables as desired
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pasta as desired

Make It!

Saute vegetables until softened. Add broth and bring to a simmer.  Add pasta and continue to simmer until pasta is cooked through. Serve in bowls with a piece of bread on the side and fresh herbs on top.

Living and Breathing Ingredients

I grew up cooking. I browned frozen ground meat with my mom at seven; Shredded cheese and helped pour pancake batter with my dad before that. In fact, if such a title can be bestowed, I was the official cheese shredder until I was about fourteen and didn’t spend so much time at home.

This early experience gave me a great start in the kitchen. It also let me build a strong sense of intuition surrounding food, which I put to good use right away in college. I took an abnormal route and worked for rent in a small trailer, with my own private stove. Instead of stuffing cafeteria food down my gullet between class and the next big social event, I came home, rode and fed horses, and cooked my meals. Between cookbooks, the Food TV Network, and having the courage to experiment, I expanded my capabilities and started making beautiful, delicious food.

About this same time, I started chatting with a boy in Idaho from little trailer on the Northern Coast of California. Long before the days of Instagram and a societal obsession we have with taking pictures of the stuff that sustains and nourishes us, I described nearly all the meals I made to him from a computer terminal. Sauteed mushrooms with balsamic vinegar sauce. Fresh, homemade bread, pasta, and granola. Roasted chicken (yes, as a college student I regularly roasted a chicken). Each recipe was painstakenly typed between papers and projects and coffee to keep my hands warm and my eyes open.

He’s admitted he may have fallen for me before he met me as a result of my food.

Years later, I took all that intuition and knowledge and experimentation further with that same boy. We shared a small house in Boise, ID, and I cooked for him. I made him some of the same things I teased him with in college, and I ventured in to cooking game and limited myself to locally produced items. Nothing processed.

And he helped me in the kitchen.

“How do you know when it’s done?” he said.

“I just do,” I said. And I tried to show him what I look for; how chicken and steak and game all talk to me when I flip them in the pan. How a chicken leg can ge wriggled to test for doneness without poking into the bird. How dark greens will take on a sheen when they’ve cooked just enough to be softened, but not so much to lose their crunch, before they head toward the mush zone.

Twelve years after I started talking to him about food, I think he’s starting to understand.

And, I think Samuel Fromartz may have said it best: the food is alive.

No, it’s not wriggling and squirming on my counter or in the pan. But, it is talking to me. The color and shine change on onions as the cook down; they become translucent before they start to brown. The change in a steak’s texture is noticeable just from a poke. There’s no need to cut in to it to determine if it’s done to your liking.

And even more than doneness, each ingredient is different from one day to the next. Brussels sprouts are sometimes almost sweet; honey can have a sour quality; and of course not all apples are treated the same. Time spent in the kitchen builds a knowledge and intuition that allows a recipe to be adjusted on the fly: add a bit more milk to the pancakes in the winter, or a bit less in a humid environment to get to the right consistency; a mealy apple may be unpleasant to sink teeth into whole, but will bring an excellent sweet quality to a pan of braised greens. And sure, there are plenty of recipes out there that will make suggestions such as apples with greens, but, they can’t be made without time spent in the kitchen. The more time with an apron on and a cookbook open, the more the ingredients breathe on their own, and the more tantalizing the meals become.

This is How We Plan It

Anyone else have a flash back to the 90s? Anyone?

All jokes aside though, meal planning take a bit of work. We have a few steps we follow to help us be successful in setting up food we want to eat each week. Plans often start with a roast, which is the base for one meal. Leftovers are used for at least one other meal as well as lunches and snacks. Bones are tossed in to a stockpot with some vegetables that are sadder than they should be and turned in to stock. The stock becomes a base for sauces and soups, or is reduced down and concentrated to make instant soups. Step by step, this is how we plan it:

  1. Look at the schedule for the next week. As an example, next week, I would like to eat this cream cheese and winter vegetable galette. I’ve added a placeholder recipe with a link to the post as I’m not interested in entering a recipe to the collection right this minute. Later, I’ll edit the recipe so it’s all right there in the collection.Placeholder Recipe
  2. Review sales at the store(s) we plan on shopping at. This may influence staple purchases (like flour and rice; why not buy it on sale?) or change our meat usage (pork roast is on sale? guess what roasted meat we’re having on Sunday).
  3. Add meals to the plan. Sunday is usually a roasted meat of some sort, and is often based on what our favorite butchers have on sale (see above). We try to do at least two almost to fully vegetarian (I say almost because we may use a bit of bacon or chicken/beef/lamb/pork stock in an otherwise vegetarian dish) meals a week, two to three three low-meat meals, and two to three meatier meals.Recipe View
  4. Review the plan to ensure everything makes sense in its place.
  5. Build & sort a shopping list. (I’m told the Meal Planning Board should be auto-sorting this week).
  6. Go Shopping.
  7. Again, review the plan and make adjustments as necessary. As an example, this week, we have a meal that’s centered around winter greens on Thursday. However, the collared greens we purchased (I wasn’t happy with the Swiss Chart that was available at the store this weekend) for it may not be fresh by then. So, we’ll switch Monday with Thursday.Schedule

This is all very adaptable. I could start entirely with things I want to make. Or I could start just with what’s on sale, and only buy items that are on sale/have coupons. This makes being a substitute wizard helpful (though plans are to have the Meal Planning Board be able to do this for you). You could also start by looking in the fridge/freezer and building up meals from there. We sometimes freeze extra soup or sauce and use “what’s in the freezer” as our starting point.

How do you plan your meals?