Recipes? Pfff… I don’t need no stinking recipes

I hate following recipes. That’s probably part of the reason that I’m not a huge fan of baking. I have to follow a recipe when baking. It’s annoying how chemistry works and I can’t just put in things as I see fit!

This is why I like to cook. I find it challenging to create good meals when I don’t have a plan and I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I did this twice this week. I made beef stew and something I like to call chicken goop.

The beef stew went well. I browned the beef in batches which left lovely browned bits on the bottom of my Le Creuset 7 1/4-Quart Dutch Oven. I then added onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. A splash of wine (I don’t measure when I’m cooking), a good bit of Worcestershire sauce and a couple good squeezes of Dijon mustard. I didn’t have any beef broth, so I used water and beef base. I didn’t cover everything entirely, which was a good thing because everything sunk down into the liquid and it wasn’t too much. I added bay leaves, granulated garlic and ground thyme. It was covered and simmered for 4 hours. I then cracked the cover and cooked it for another hour to let some of the liquid evaporate. Added some pepper and a cornstarch slurry and a few minutes later, we had stew. I had to hunt down all of the bay leaves (don’t eat those, not good eats), but it was great stew. I just threw in what I had and made due for things I didn’t.

The chicken goop has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s easy, it’s hearty and it’s different every time. I know the name doesn’t sound very appealing but I don’t know what else to call it. I throw some chicken breasts into a small crock pot. I take a can of cream of mushroom soup and some chicken broth, about equal parts I think (again, remember that I measure nothing). This time I added some chicken grill seasoning. I actually added a lot of grill seasoning, but I figured in the crock pot, it was probably needed. I even added a bunch of Parmesan cheese. Once that was all mixed together, I poured it over the chicken. Cook for about 5 hours on low (my crock pot cooks hot I think), until the chicken starts to fall apart if you try to pick it up with a fork. You can serve this over rice, mashed potatoes or noodles. It’s warm and hearty. If you wish you can even add veggies toward the end of cooking. I imagine broccoli would be good. Mixed veggies, too. I’m not allowed to put veggies in the chicken goop or there might be a husband revolt. I just serve green beans or corn on the side. This is also a good meal to serve with a salad.

I’m at the point in my cooking life where I know what flavors appear to work together and which ones do not. I’ve played around with spices enough to know that rosemary has no place in lasagna (trust me). I have made some errors in judgement before but for the most part, things turn out well. I encourage you to try different flavors and see what works for you.

Following a meal plan

I received a comment on Facebook from Robert yesterday after posting my meal plan. He said “I’ve found making a plan and actually following it come at different levels of difficulty.” I think he’s completely right. It’s easy to put things down on paper, but sometimes following through is a bit more difficult.

I try to keep that in mind when building my meal plan. First, I look at our schedules to see what we have planned for the month. Since Jeff and I are both involved in a lot of different things, I need to make sure our meal plan follows suit. Last Saturday, we went to a book signing around lunch time and went grocery shopping after that. So I planned for a big breakfast and a quick dinner, that way we wouldn’t be tempted to get food while we were out. I also teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I don’t get home until about 5:30. The last thing I want to do is spend an hour making dinner after getting home. I make sure all Tuesday and Thursday dinners can get on the table in 30 minutes or less.

When planning, I try to make sure I have a few dinners that don’t require any defrosting. In this week’s plan, none of my dinners require defrosting ahead of time. Even the tacos for Wednesday’s dinner are made with hamburger I cooked as soon as I got it home and froze in 3/4 pound servings. Wednesday night all I have to do is put the precooked hamburger in the microwave to defrost it. This saves a ton of time and requires very little planning.

I always check the menu plan while making dinner to see if there is anything I need to pull out of the freezer for the next night’s meal. This ensures that things are ready for tomorrow night. Next Monday we are having pork chops for dinner so I’ll make sure to pull those out of the freezer on Sunday night when I’m making dinner.

My meal plan also has a lot of flexibility to it. The order I place things in is just a guideline. Just because I have things listed on a certain day doesn’t mean I can’t mix things up a bit. Don’t feel locked down by your meal plan.

I think things go much more smoothly around the house when I do a meal plan because I’m not rushing around at the last minute trying to figure out what to make. I have a few options that I can mix up if I need to and most of my meals require little advanced thought. We are much more likely to eat at home when I know what I have in the house.

Are you having trouble following your meal plan? Have you had recent success building a plan?