Thursday, January 13, 2011

Craft of Creative Cooking and Planning

Winter Lentil Soup

A lot of people don't know about lentils.  I didn't either until I was grown with a family of my own.  I cook a lot of bean dishes, both with meat and without, especially in the winter.  Soups and stews rock when it's cold outside.  With a loaf of fresh baked bread and butter, what could be better?  That was one night's dinner last week, lentil soup, cornbread, and fruit salad.  It was good.  It was frugal.

In the 1970s and '80, when I was raising the kids, I devoured vegetarian cookbooks and natural-food books.  A single mom, we could barely afford meat.  I Also took the sugar out of our diet.  Honey only.

My children, when they get together, start talking about that experience every time.  And immediately the story of the "Maple Bears" comes up.  I found these cute, little maple bears at what used to be Nashville's best natural food store, The Sunshine Grocery.  I bought four of those adorable bears and gave them to the kids as a treat. 

This past Christmas, the same thing started all over again, the maple bear story!  The kids like to say, while other kids were eating chocolate candy bars, they were munching on maple bears. 

Those early days of raising four children on a limited budget gave birth to my Meal Planner.  I found that simply planning a week's worth of dinners ahead of time, usually on Sunday nights for me, and making out the accompanying grocery list, ended up saving me bucks.  I still use my Meal Planner.  I've planned for up to a month at a time, but I usually stick with the upcoming week. 

On Sunday night, I sit down with a few of my cookbooks, paper and pen, and start with Tuesday's meal, allowing me to fill the crockpot Monday morning with what I'd planned the previous week, and go off grocery shopping and running errands.  The cookbooks give me ideas.

That's just my plan.  There are so many variations on this theme.  The best parts:  (1) If you only buy the items on your grocery list and avoid impulse shopping, you will spend less and rest assured you have everything you need to prepare a week of food for your family.  (2) Invariably, I end up with food left over that stays in the freezer or frig because some meals go for two days (I cook big quantities), or I can freeze those leftovers for a night when I need fast and easy.  And then there are those unplanned dinners out that crop up, so I'm left with the fixins' for a meal to use later.

All in all, it adds up to savings, savings, savings.  And good, nutritional food for my family.  When I make my grocery list, I just automatically add fresh fruits and vegetables, and a few cans of fruits.  I make desserts with almost every meal.  It makes dinner lots more exciting.  We have a lot of salads too, including fruit salads.  My family looks forward to meals here.  Three grown, healthy-eating men! 

My older son does help with the cooking, giving me some breaks, but he always says, "What are we having tonight?"  He knows I've planned.  On occasiona, we turn him loose to be creative on his own.  Seems I recall a conversation Christmas Eve about having him do one of his fish fries the grandkids love.

Sunday we had "rubber chicken."  That's when you roast a whole bird in the oven, a nice fat one, hopefully a free roamer, stuffed or unstuffed.  I stuffed ours with homemade gluten-free dressing.  I scattered chopped potatoes and carrots in the pan, and used a thyme, Rosemary, and butter rub to season the skin. 

The "rubber" part comes in when you  s-t-r-e-t-c-h  that bird for several more dinner entrees.  Next night we had another sliced chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans.  Next night was chicken soup.  Tonight is chicken and rice casserole.  Our bird weighed eight pounds.  And after tonight, I still have a carcass to boil for broth, which I store in my freezer.

Tomorrow we get a break from chicken and get Dark Baked Beans with Molasses and Country Pork Sausage.  More cornbread of course.  Pineapple upside-down cake.  Wish you could come.

I guarantee you this week's meals cost very little money compared to the average grocery shopper.  Leave a comment with any questions. 

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