Menu Planning 101Menu Planning 101
Perhaps you thought I’ve been planning palate-tantalizing dinners for years. It’s what moms are supposed to do. Present a varied menu in thirty minutes or less, every night, while bringing home a breakfast meat of the pork variety, frying it up in a pan, and never letting our husbands forget they’re men.
Some moms have resorted to take out or spending more time in restaurants than in their kitchens not because they’re lazy as some people insinuate or incapable of putting a meal together, but, I suspect, out of sheer boredom with the same old meals. You know, the ones we make week in and week out—the only ones our families eat without complaining. The main dish rotation at my house: teriyaki chicken cutlets, broccoli chicken alfredo, chicken enchiladas, teriyaki pork loin, and an occasional pot roast, spaghetti or lasagna.
Long ago I gave up on innovation and settled for the benefits of an unvaried menu. And there are benefits: I shaved a total of 17.5 minutes from my grocery shopping excursions, leaving more time for those proverbial bon-bons (Aisle 9). I knew exactly where the store shelved everything we bought on a weekly basis.
But recently even those benefits could not overcome my boredom with what I was cooking. My tastebuds longed for excitement. So I cracked open the cookbook my mother gave me for Christmas in the hope that I would cook more for my poor husband who exaggerated about endless nights of soup, sandwiches, and canned chili because I was supposedly only cooking those favorite meals twice a week. Okay, so maybe I was cooking twice a week, but having grown up in a family of six people, when I made a meal, I made plenty. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers.
So I found a recipe in this Rachel Ray cookbook that I thought my family might like. Then I had to procure the ingredients, which I’m proud to say my local Kroger carried and which I found . . . eventually, adding at least a half an hour to the usual weekly excursion. I marinated the chicken breasts in fresh lemon juice, freshly chopped sage and thyme. Interestingly enough, the chopping noise brought my husband’s grandmother from her room; she was concerned someone was “a-poundin’ on the door.” I mashed potatoes, skins on like they do in restaurants. I sautéed pearl onions and green beans. I even made a sauce for the chicken with wine and chicken stock. The results? Daughter said the chicken had an odd flavor, and she picked the bits of skin from her mashed potatoes, but she ate it. She wouldn’t touch the beans because they were cooked with a little balsamic vinegar. Grandmother ate most of it, but tried to hide that she agreed with daughter about the potato skins in the mashed potatoes. The biggest shock? My husband poured the sauce on his chicken and on his potatoes. He ate seconds. He never likes sauces or gravies. He actually liked this new, dare I say, gourmet meal.
I had hoped they’d all give the dinner a thumb’s down so I could go back to the easy rotation that didn’t require planning and venturing into unknown territories like the fresh herb section of the produce department. Good thing there’s always great recipes in the Wet Noodle Posse e-zine, like Terry McLaughlin’s Valentine Dinner for Two. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a Bourguignonne sauce, but I have the feeling I’m going to need to add it to my expanding repertoire. Oh, and where do I find the Gorgonzola?