Friday, September 14, 2012

Menu Planning and Effective Grocery Shopping

One of the biggest excuses I hear from my fellow workaholics is that they cannot cook gourmet-ish food and must eat sad little lean cuisines because grocery shopping takes too much time and they never have the right things in their houses to make what they want when they get home from work. 

I have the solution. It will revolutionize the way that you grocery shop. It's called...the Plan and Plot method. It takes a little bit of time on a Sunday, but trust me, it will make your life so much easier, and coincidentally, will lower your grocery bill.

The first thing you must do is you must take one sheet of paper and plan out your menus for the week. I typically restrict planning in such detail to dinners, as I either eat lunch out or eat leftovers or scavenge. This method is also good for planning a big holiday meal, such as Thanksgiving (or in my example, Rosh Hashanah lunch). 

So here we have a menu that I have created for a lunch I am hosting on Rosh Hashanah. Typically, my menu plan would just have "M, T, W, R & F" listed in the spots where 1-5 are listed on this menu. Put down every thing you plan on having for dinner--from sides to veggies to sauces/condiments and main dishes.

If you do not know your recipes (or your pantry) well, I would suggest you take a second piece of paper and list every single ingredient you're going to need for each dish, including the quantity. It doesn't matter what order you're putting it in yet, just list everything. Then, take that list and go into your kitchen and cross off the ingredients that you already have in your house. If you have any doubt whatsoever about whether you have it, go check. I'm serious, you'll thank me later. And make sure you have sufficient quantities (for Thanksgiving, this typically means I have to buy several extra pounds of butter). I didn't do it with this round of menu planning because I know my pantry well and I know these recipes like the back of my hand. I'll let you know next week whether this omission will backfire.

Then, take a third/second piece of paper, and divide it into four quadrants. At the top of each quadrant, you will list the following headings:

  • Meat/Seafood
  • Dry Goods
  • Produce
  • Freezer/Dairy
In most grocery stores, these are your major geographic areas. You will want to transcribe the list of ingredients that you still need to purchase into these quadrants. If the quantities are specific, list the amount you need of each thing as well.

(My list includes items I need for other meals, not just the one specifically shown above)

Then, take your shopping list with you to the store, and enjoy a very directed shopping trip that does not leave you running from one end of the grocery store to the other, back and forth!!!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Mexican" Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers

I'll be honest. There was no way to plate this one prettily. And I bet that any person of Mexican heritage would probably hate me for calling this a Mexican dish, hence the quotation marks. But I will tell you that it's good, and when your vegetable delivery includes several large cubanelle peppers, it's time to get creative. This is a surprisingly filling dish, and pairs nicely with either a tomato, avocado & feta saladblack bean and corn salad, or some tortilla chips and guacamole.

Total Prep Time: 30-40 minutes

Total Cook Time: 10-20 minutes

What you will need:

3/4 lb of ground turkey meat (in my grocery store, this only comes in packages of approximately 1.3 lbs--I used the remainder of the meat to make a small batch of spaghetti sauce at the same time I cooked this dish)
3-4 cubanelle peppers (if you are in a part of the country where they have them fresh, poblanos work too)
1/2 cup uncooked rice (you can use brown or white)
1/4 white or yellow onion
1/2 tbsp of olive oil (not pictured)
garlic salt
Enchilada Sauce (I used a packaged sauce that was very low cal/low sodium and it wasn't bad)
Four cheese mexican blend shredded cheese
1 lime
a handful of chopped cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400.

First step: start cooking your rice. The general rule of thumb with rice is that you want to add two parts water for 1 part rice. So if you have 1/2 cup rice, then you will cook it with 1 cup of water. Make sure you rinse the rice first in cold water--it makes a world of difference in the texture of your rice after it's done cooking. I throw some margarine in with my rice as well, just a small bit, which helps prevent it from sticking. Rice is low maintenance--pretty much put it in the pot and leave it well enough alone.

Next up, dice your onion. You will only want to use about 1/4 of a yellow or white onion. Then, heat your olive oil in a medium skillet (10 or 12 inches) on a medium high heat. Sautee your onions for a few minutes, until they become translucent.

Next step will be to cook up your ground meat. I buy the 43% fat ground turkey meat. Put it in the same skillet as your onions are cooking, and use a wooden spatula to break it up into very small pieces as it cooks. You do not want huge chunks of meat here. Add in a few good shakes of cumin and garlic salt to season the meat as it cooks.

While the meat is cooking, turn your attention back to the peppers. You will want to halve them length-wise, and de-seed/vein them.

Turn your attention back to the stove. By now your meat should have cooked, and there may be some fat which has liquefied in the pan. Drain off the excess fat in the sink, but do not dump all of the meat into a colander to do so, as we are going to continue to use the skillet. Just tip it if possible and try and get as much of the fat out of the pan as possible.

Reduce the heat on the stove to medium, and add in your rice. Mix the rice, meat and onions together, adding additional seasoning if you find it needs a bit more taste. Let these flavors meld together on a low heat. Add in a small bunch of chopped cilantro if you like the taste of cilantro. You can also add a pinch of your cheese blend here to make the rice a bit ooey gooey.

Place the halved cubanelles into a glass baking dish. They should be snug.

Spoon the meat and rice mixture into the cubanelles. Try and fill them as much as possible, using a spoon to press down a bit to get the mixture down into the deeper parts of the pepper. 

Pour your enchilada sauce over the peppers, and top generously with mexican blend cheese.

Place in your 400 degree oven, and let it bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and the sauce is slightly bubbling. Then, flip the broiler on and watch it until the cheese starts to brown. Then, serve and enjoy!!!