I've been doing something weird for the last week and a half. I've been planning our dinners ahead of time. And not only that, I've also been prepping them ahead of time.
I know there are a lot of Mommy Bloggers on the Net who post their weekly menu and tout the virtues of meal planning, but I've never been very good at that. Usually I'll have at least a few dinners in mind when I'm doing my grocery shopping, but whenever I plan more than a few dinners ahead of time, I get all messed up midweek and I end up substituting grilled cheese sandwiches for a more labor-intensive meal and then the next evening I am not sure if I should make what I'd planned for the previous evening and just push the menu back a day for the rest of the week, or should I skip that dinner completely, stick to the schedule, and oh no, that lettuce isn't gonna get used before it gets slimy! By then I've thought too much about it, I'm quite exhausted by the mental confusion and ready for another night of cheese sandwiches.
The different thing this time around, besides the fact that maybe I'm planning simpler meals, is that I am starting them the night before. That seemed kind of counter-productive at first, but here's the thing: When I get home from work tired and hungry, I'd rather have to do just a few quick things to get dinner on the table. Then, a couple hours later, when I've got a happy full belly and the kids are already in bed, I can focus for twenty minutes or so on prepping the following evening's dinner.
Here's how it worked last week:
Saturday Grace and I had a lot of fun in the kitchen. We made cookies, curtido, enchilada sauce and corn tortillas. While I was chopping the cabbage, onions, jalapeno and carrots for the curtido, I chopped up some extra veggies for two stirfried dishes later in the week. That night we had cheese enchiladas and some black beans (that happen to be leftover from earlier in the week).
Sunday evening we had tostadas using fried tortillas and more of the leftover beans, some lettuce and cheese. That night I made a braised beef stew in the oven and chopped some onion, garlic, carrots and celery to add to it the next day. I also marinated some thinly sliced beef for a stirfry (and froze it) and applied a tasty meat rub to a pork roast.
Monday evening when I got home from work I added the veggies to the stew and simmered it on the stove for about 10 minutes and we ate stew. That evening I got the marinated stirfry beef from the freezer into the fridge.
Tuesday we add Stirfried Broccoli and Beef over rice noodles using the pre-marinated beef and the pre-sliced onions, carrots and broccoli. After the kids went to bed, I browned a pork roast, chopped some veggies and soaked some beans for Wednesday's dinner.
Wednesday we had Shredded Pork'n'Beans with Cornbread. Wednesday morning I transferred the browned pork roast, diced veggies and soaked beans to the slow cooker. That evening all I had to do when I got home was mix up the cornbread and shred the pork.
Thursday I had planned to have "Make Your Own" stirfry with the rest of the pre-sliced veggies (onion, carrot, chayote, green cabbage and broccoli). But when I got home Jason was not hungry, the kids were busy playing with a new toy and I was so hungry I could hardly think. It wouldn't have taken much time to boil some Chinese noodles and set up a Make-Your-Own-Stirfry bar, but I didn't feel like putting any effort into a dinner that only Grace and I would eat. (What about Abby? you ask. Frequently we find that she eats nothing--or only bread--at dinner.) So I ate a bowl of cereal, and an hour or so later, I made some bean and cheese burritos for the girls.
Friday we had Make-Your-Own-Stirfry. I had planned to have Pork Tostadas with leftover shredded pork, curtido and the last of the corn tortillas Grace and I had made, but I decided to freeze the pork and use it later in the month. Maybe we'll use the tortillas this week to make enchiladas, or maybe the girls can use them to make quesadillas for after-school snacks.
Slow Cooker Shredded Pork and Beans
Simple and warming for cold winter nights. Makes 4-6 servings, plus leftovers.
2 lbs pork shoulder
your favorite meat rub -I used an unlabeled premade mixture I had in the spice drawer
1 tablespoon cooking oil
3 ribs celery
carrots -I think it's silly to put in a number of carrots, because carrots vary so widely in size. I suppose you want to end up with about 1/2 cup diced.
garlic -at least 3 cloves
1/2 cup canned or frozen chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon oregano or Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
1 lb dry pinto beans
Cornbread (recipe follows) and curtido to serve.
Up to 3 days ahead of time, thoroughly coat a small pork shoulder with your favorite meat rub. Let rest in the refrigerator overnight (or up to three days).
The night before you plan to eat, brown the pork on all sides in a little oil in a heavy pot. Let cool. Chop an onion, a few ribs of celery and a few carrots. Mince some garlic. Store pork and veggies together overnight in the fridge with chopped green chiles, oregano, salt and pepper.
In a medium saucepan rinse and soak 1/2 lb pinto beans.
In the morning transfer the veggies and pork to the slow cooker. Drain the beans, add them, along with enough water to cover and a big pinch of salt. Turn the slow cooker to Low and cook 8-10 hours.
Half an hour before you plan to eat, prepare the cornbread. While cornbread bakes, remove pork from slow cooker and let rest on a serving dish 15 minutes. Shred pork using two forks. To serve, spoon 1/2 cup beans into each individual serving bowl. Top with shredded pork. Garnish each serving with one tablespoon curtido. Serve cornbread on the side.
Adapted from Alber's Cornmeal
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 small eggs
1 cup milk
Butter or spray an 8" square baking dish and preheat the oven to 400º. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In small bowl whisk together butter and eggs. Whisk in milk. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Whisk to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve.