Making Meal Plans: What I Cook

I've talked about why I meal plan and how I meal plan and now it's time to talk about what I cook.

Food Blogs: I have a folder in my Google Reader just for food blogs. Sometimes I get a chance to check it during the week but more often than not I only hit it on the weekends. I'll go through it and pin anything I think I might want to make in the future to my Pinterest boards. If I'm looking for a specific recipe or trying to figure out what to do with an ingredient I'll plop the search terms into Food Blog Search, a customized Google Search maintained by veteran food bloggers Elise Bauer, Kalyn Denny, and Lydia Walshin. I also have a binder that holds printed copies of food blog recipes we use a lot, such as Annie's Eats Favourite Salsa or Simply Fresh Ottawa's Caramilk Sugar Cookies. After I print the recipe I tuck them into plastic sleeves, which can be wiped off when food splatters on them (that often happens when I cook -- I'm messy).

Pinterest: Since we've upped the number of meatless meals we're making, I just started an Eats Without Meat board. Most of my recipes are in the Good Eats board. If we've made something I try to transfer it to my In My Belly board and sometimes add notes. If Lee is getting together with his friends to watch sports or something, I may put something from Fake Husband Food on the menu.

Cookbooks: I own quite a few cookbooks but I also grab cookbooks from the library on a regular basis. And yes, I will sit down and read a cookbook from cover to cover. I used to buy a lot more cookbooks but now I preview most cookbooks through the library. If I don't find myself wanting to flag lots of recipes to make while I'm reading it, it doesn't go on my buy list. Few of those library cookbooks will get added to my wishlist. Shelf space is a valuable commodity in my house so it needs to be a cookbook I'll actually use. Cookbooks I own are littered with lots of small Post-its marking recipes we've made or recipes we want to make.

Here are some cookbooks we love right now:

- Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach: Lee keeps telling me this is the best cookbook we've ever purchased and I keep reminding him that I got it at Harper Collins party so technically we didn't buy it. (Thank you, Harper Collins.) It's the cookbook I most want to buy for friends and the one we currently use the most. Our favourite recipe is the Chicken Pot Pie with Sweet Potatoes (which Lee has taken ownership of making - SCORE!) and their No-Knead Pizza Dough is now our default pizza dough recipe. For adults, their Dark and Stormy recipe made me a convert and I was convinced I did not like rum in any form. Anyone who has been following my meal plans will have noticed that this book pops up a lot. It's also a memoir and honestly, it's one of the best memoir meets cookbook mashups I've read and I've read a lot them. It was my favourite book of 2012 -- yes not just favourite cookbook, favourite book.

- Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: We use these a lot as reference books. We cook recipes out of them but we frequently use them as a jumping off point for ideas. If we've got a squash on the counter and we're not sure what we want to do with it we can pick up one of these books, flip to the index and get some possibilities. I also have the How To Cook Everything app on my phone (I nabbed it when it was on sale a few years ago) and that's been handy in the grocery store a few times.

- The Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition by Irma Rombauer: We use this a lot for reference, particularly for cooking times, though I am a devotee to the giblet gravy recipe. It's just part of a Christmas at this point.

- Cooking for Two by James Barber: I'm sure Canadians are no stranger to James thanks to his The Urban Peasant cooking show, but he'll be less known to my American friends. The book is available on Amazon.com (I checked) but can be slightly harder to find in the US. Most of these recipes don't take a long time and he encourages working with your partner in the kitchen while making them. He says, "Cooking, like sex and dancing, is a pleasure best shared." The recipe I use most often out this book is for raspberry coffee cake and my friends are always happy when I bring this to their houses as my contribution to dinner.

- The Looneyspoons Collection by Janet and Greta Podleski: Like James, Janet and Greta are probably best known to Canadians but their collection is available on Amazon.com. This is a collection of the best recipes from their previous cookbooks. Prior to this, I used their Crazy Plates cookbook the most often. We especially love their chickpea salad recipe (Red, White and Yahoo) and this is where I got the chicken enchilada casserole (A Lotta Enchilada) recipe that Denise loves so much.

- Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver: I know not everyone is a fan of Jamie Oliver, and I don't always love how his recipes are written, but we use this cookbook quite a bit. Not every recipe has worked for us (I'm looking at YOU meatloaf and chickpeas) but we've had more successes than failures. His recipe for Beef Stew (which I fudge a bit and use red wine instead of ale) and Roast Chicken are ones we've made dozens of times. During the summer his Evolution Potato Salad, which involves a lemon vinaigrette and plain yogurt, appears on our table regularly -- it's light, refreshing and pairs fabulously will grilled meat.

- Family Feasts for $75 Dollars a Week by Mary Ostyn: Some of you might know Mary better from her blog Owlhaven. This is my favourite frugal cookbook. She doesn't rely on a can of this or convenience items. She offers suggestions for how to cut your food bill and yes, she talks about meal planning. We use her Chicken Pot Pie recipe sometimes -- it has a biscuit crust making it different from the one from Dinner: A Love Story -- though we often cut this one in half and make it in an 8x8 dish making it more practical for our family of two. When I get stumped on what to do with leftovers I reach for this book.

- The Pioneer Woman by Ree Drummond: This is the first cookbook Lee really got excited about. Thank you Ree. He makes her jalapeno poppers many times during football season and they are great thing to take to summer BBQs. I usually make her cinnamon rolls every Christmas and pop containers in the freezer or give them to friends.

There are times when a particular cookbook will feature heavily in my meal plan for the week. There are others where I go on a food blog bonanza. We try a lot of new recipes. Most weeks there's one new recipe in our plan, even if it's just a new marinade for meat or a new salad dressing. We like to try new things. They don't always turn out well. In fact, sometimes they are spectacular failures and we end up having nachos for dinner.

We don't do a lot of bulk cooking. Occasionally I'll cook up a big batch of dried beans in the slow cooker and freeze them in quantities comparable to cans. Ditto tomatoes if I see a good deal during the summer. If I'm making marinara or bolognese sauce, it's just as easy for me to make a big batch of it and freeze it as it is to make enough for one meal. If a recipe makes 4 servings, we frequently don't scale it back. Four serving meals work well for us since that means there will be leftovers, which Lee will take in his lunch. If something makes a lot leftovers, like pulled pork, we'll freeze some of those and pull them out at a later date. We find we freeze a lot of soup as well and that's nice to pull out for lunches or quick dinners.

So that's it. That's how I meal plan and what I cook. It really doesn't take me long to make the meal plan on the weekend and then I'm set up for the week.

Any questions?