My mother was a home economics teacher, with emphasis on the economics. Not so much financial economics; but she shared many lessons in the economics of time. It was a necessity, she worked full time as a teacher, often had before- and after-school duties, was raising four daughters -- mostly on her own -- and running the household.
The economics of time in my mother's house was also known as making lists: chore lists; grocery lists; etc.
Making a list at the start of most days, even weekends, is how I have almost always planned my work.
I also found -- at least at one point -- if I made a meal list or a menu -- I spent less money on food, ate better and lost weight.
I say I found this at one point, because I became distracted by something or other and stopped doing it after a couple of months.
So, one of my New Year's resolutions is to return to that mode of operation: making menus and using them.
If you'd like to give it a try, here are some hints, plus menus and recipes.
Unlike most "new" eating plans, with this you don't have to restock your shelves from scratch. Start by seeing what is already in your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Keep a mental check list, make an actual inventory list, or use a grocery list form most word processing programs have in the standing forms file.
The next step is try to fit your food inventory into what experts say you're supposed to eat: this and that number of servings of the different food groups. Find a copy of the new food pyramid to become familiar with the recommended servings we are supposed to eat in a healthy diet.
With the pyramid guidelines in mind, check your inventory and favorite recipes and make use of your supplies to create a menu for a week -- or two if that is the way you prefer to do your grocery shopping.
Knowing what you have on hand and what you want to make lets you limit your grocery list to what you need, and consequently, helps save money.
Life being as busy as it is, it would probably be a good idea to include some meals that can be prepared ahead, at least in part, or those that will have leftovers than can be turned into other dishes.
That -- specifically planned use of leftovers -- is the basic premise of the "cook once, eat for a week" kitchen concepts that have become somewhat popular in recent years. I have a couple of cookbooks that are built around that premise, "Cooking for the Week -- Leisurely Weekend Cooking for Easy Weekday Meals" and "Dinner's Ready -- Turn a Single Meal into a Week of Dinners."
Now, in my freezer are boneless, skinless chicken breasts; boneless pork fillets; salmon steaks; and ground turkey.
Using the salmon and my "Cooking for the Week" book I could make the following:
- For the weekend: roast salmon with lemon-garlic couscous, crunchy snow peas, and chocolate-chocolate chip biscotti;
- For the weekdays: salmon hash one day; couscous salad with cashews, currants and snow peas another day; and finally risotto with salmon, parsley and green onions.
Couscous, snow peas and biscotti is not something I am likely ever to stick in my cupboards, but I do have rice and pastas which can be seasoned with lemon pepper and garlic; regular, frozen sweet peas that can be made al dente; and the stuff to make a plain cookie to serve with instant pudding or canned fruit.
Using the other cookbook, "Dinner's Ready," I could find several other salmon dishes. This book also has a set of menus based on salmon:
- The Sunday dinner: poached salmon with white wine sauce; asparagus maltaise; warm portobello mushroom and rice salad;
- Weeknight entrees: salmon salad with lime-rosemary vinaigrette; stir-fry beef with asparagus, orange and walnuts; fettuccine with salmon, capers and tomato; and turkey scaloppine with cranberries velouté.
Not a fan of asparagus, I would use green beans instead and simple canned mushroom stems and pieces bought on sale at Walgreens with rice or pasta for a salad.
According to the cookbook, the cranberries velouté uses leftover salmon, but I have to look at the recipe to see how ... actually it's a recipe for both the turkey and cranberries:
Turkey Scaloppine with Cranberries Velouté
1/2 cup dried cranberries
8 turkey cutlets, 3 to 4 ounces each
1/4 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups sauce reserved from
Poached Salmon with White Wine Sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
Soak the cranberries in about 1 cup of hot water for at least 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Coat turkey cutlets with seasoned flour, pat off excess and set aside.
Heat oil in large skillet on high heat until smoking, using two batches, brown cutlets, about 1 minute on each side. Transfer meat to warm platter.
Pour off all but about 2 teaspoons of oil, add onion and cook about 2 minutes, then add garlic and cranberries and cook another 30 seconds. Add reserved sauce and parsley and bring to a boil. Adjust seasoning and pour over turkey cutlets.
The white wine sauce is made from:
4 cups white wine
2 cups water
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
This is combined and used as the poaching liquid for 2 1/2 pounds of salmon fillets. Once the salmon is done -- it will easily flake with a fork -- boil the liquid down to about 2 1/2 cups Combine 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour, add this to the liquid slowly, stirring constantly, when well incorporated, simmer for 4 minutes, strain, then whisk in 1/4 cup whole milk or lowfat plain yogurt.
Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the sauce for the turkey scaloppine and serve the remainder over the poached salmon -- saving 3 cups of flaked fish for salmon salad and a cup for fettuccine with salmon.
That's how the cook-once program works -- one big meal, with enough made to have the basic ingredients for a number of other meals.
Or you could use a simpler approach:
Thaw a pound or so of ground beef or turkey. With half of it, make spaghetti; then make chili with the other half. Regardless of the approach, it comes down to something the former general manager of the Payson Roundup, Jack Myers, once told the staff: "Plan your work and work your plan."