Monday, October 28, 2013

Menu Planning and Quick Bites

While I've been posting a bunch of pictures and recipe links of recent meals on Facebook, I realized it's been some time since I did a food-related post here on our blog. But before we get to the Quick Bites portion of our program, I want to take a short detour to talk about my menu planning.

I have a compulsion about making lists. Whether it's planning for a move, a trip, a house project, whatever, if a list or a project plan is needed, I'm your girl. Back in the day, I even used to make a list for what outfits I would wear during my work week. And even if a list isn't needed, I'll make one. This list obsession carries over to our dinners and weekly shopping. We do our shopping on Tuesdays, so starting about Sunday, I begin to think about what I want to make for the coming week. I peruse my online recipes (scanned a boatload before we moved here), troll my favorite food sites, and come up with a menu. Then I figure out what we need to buy at the fruit/veggie markets, grocery stores, butcher, chicken purveyor, and wherever else we need to stop. 

When I first mentioned this obsession/compulsion with lists to friends we've made here, they looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers. Turns out that most of them shop on the fly. But here's the thing: while I can figure out how to improvise if I can't find an ingredient or two, I need my structure. I need my menu. I need my list. I really, really don't like surprises, and prefer planned spontaneity. I know, I am one twisted sister. But be that as it may, I have found that making a weekly menu and shopping list eliminates lots of last minute runs to the stores and markets. 

And because some folks here just can't believe I do this, here is my menu & shopping list for this past week:

Now in days of yore (like when we lived in the States), I would have the grocery list compiled by aisle. I. Am. Not. Kidding. But because we never know what store will carry what items on any given week here in Corozal, and none of the stores seem to have a rhyme or reason as to how they organize things, I've had to let that list making element go, sorta'.

And in case you're curious, for those of you who might be used to one-stop shopping, it ended up taking seven stops to source most of everything on the list. Struck out finding radishes and celery seed/salt.

Now one might presume that my organizational skills would carry over to other areas of my life and, as such, my home would be the epitome of everything in its proper place. Think again. 

While I do tend to keep my kitchen area tidy, that's about as far as it goes. One peek inside my closet would tell a completely different story. For instance, people near and dear to me over the years have tried every possible method to get me to organize my shoes. Shoe trees, those bags you hang over the door, you name it, I've tried 'em all to no avail. Somehow the shoes always end up in a big heap on the floor. As I don't own anywhere near the shoes I did before moving here (but there are still quite a few), I have at least corralled them into a big, plastic bin...except for the ones that you'll find on the porch, or the living room, or next to my side of the bed. In short, I can be a real slob when I want to be. But when my stuff starts veering out of control, I just make a list of what needs to get done and get things back in place...until I fall off the organizational wagon again. 

At this point, you're probably hoping I'm making a list for where I can get some serious therapy. So to temporarily distract you from that thought, here are some meals I've recently made. For all but the sauce for the pasta dish, all the meal titles are links that will take you to the recipes:

Quick Bites

Beer Braised Chicken Thighs

This was a very tasty dish and the sauce was amazing. I didn't have any andouille, but substituted spicy Italian sausage. I ended up serving it over some boiled potatoes to sop up the juices, but the dish could easily be served on its own if starch isn't your thing. And if it isn't, I'm sorry to hear that.

Oh. My. Goodness. Do try this one. It's sooooo much better than whatever take-out you've had. I mean it. And don't get wigged out by the short cooking time for the shrimp. So many times they get left on the heat way too long and come out rubbery. This quick sear is perfection.

French Apple Cake

I decided to make this to satisfy a sweet craving my dearly beloved was having and to take half of it to our weekly Happy Hour gathering. Having both cake and custard elements, the texture is a nice alternative to a regular pie. I don't have a microwave, so instead of nuking the apple slices I steamed them in two batches for about a minute. Worked out great! After testing out a small slice of the cake, said dearly beloved made it very clear he wasn't interested in sharing the cake with others. Yeah well, half a cake is better than no cake, and I packed some slices for the Friday crowd. Must have been decent, 'cause there wasn't a crumb left to bring home. This might be a nice alternative to an apple pie for the holidays. 

Ciambotta (Italian Vegetable Stew)

Okay, even though I am totally ambivalent when it comes to veggies, even I recognized the potential yummy factor with this recipe. And we weren't disappointed. There were a couple of things I did differently though. As I just mentioned, we don't have a microwave, so using it for the eggplant wasn't going to work. Instead, I tossed the eggplant cubes with salt and let them sit and drain for about 45 minutes to extract the moisture. I also decided to roast the eggplant and zucchini (425 degrees for 20-25 minutes) before adding it to the pot. That really gave a nice layer of flavor and next time I'll roast off the potatoes as well. With the number of rainy days we've been having, this was a great comfort dish.

Pasta with Vodka, Tomato Cream Sauce

While living in the States, there was always a pint container of heavy cream or at least half-and-half in our fridge. Always. I mean next to bacon and butter, cream is an essential life ingredient. But when we moved here, finding cream was a challenge. As a result, I went through withdrawal, gnashed my teeth, shed tears, and got used to cooking without it. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a tad. But it was an adjustment. 

And then the most wonderful, amazing thing happened. A friend of ours, by the name of Cathie Kelly, happened to mention that there was a Mennonite farmer selling cream in town on Friday mornings. As she was going to pick some up anyway, I asked her to snag me some as well.

To pay tribute to this unexpected windfall, I decided to make some homemade pasta and bathe it in a vodka tomato cream sauce. When it came time to pour the cream into the pan, I was ready for it to do just that...pour. But this cream, this cream was thick and rich and plopped into the sauce. It also has more of a pale yellow color and a slight tang. It's the real deal. It's what cream is supposed to be in its natural state. It is my new best friend. 

The sauce turned out ridiculously good, so much so that I'll make it again and again. And just this past week, I discovered that one of the veggie places we frequent carries this very same cream on a fairly regular basis. Time to dig out all those cream sauce recipes that I thought were doomed for all time. YEAH!

Vietnamese "Banh Mi" Chicken Burgers

There were a couple of really excellent elements to this burger dish. For starters, the pickled carrots and cucumbers. Super easy to do, with a great sweet/sour taste. They also added a wonderful crunch to the sandwich. The soy sauce/sesame oil sauce was also nice, and one I could easily see being used over fish fillets and shrimp. Now as to the burgers. I wasn't thrilled with them. I mean, they were okay, but very bland. I have two in the freezer and when I make them, I plan to incorporate some of the sesame/soy sauce into them to see if that helps give them some kick. Another option would be to make the Asian Chicken Burgers I've done before.

As far as the potato salad, well, this is probably one of my favorite recipes. The sour cream element gives a great tang and is a nice alternative to mayo. I had way more dressing than I needed for the potatoes, and am thinking about incorporating it into omelets. 

Now I'm off to work on this week's aisle at a time.

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