plan / no plan (good recipes)

For the first time in my life, I planned a week of suppers and did all the shopping beforehand. I’ve heard of people doing this. My mom is the queen of planning; last month she sent out a group email to coordinate our meals at the family reunion. It’s in August. I’ve seen the planning charts on pinterest and even considered pinning them. I’ve looked at those together people with envy and admiration. I’ve thought it could be me and then reminded myself that I am the one who doesn’t even make a grocery list and, when I do scratch out a list on an old receipt, I leave it or change my mind. I make dinner magic from there’s-nothing-in-the house. I wing it, I don’t follow recipes.

Until now. Now I do both! Or, at least I have that one time.

A while back, I had dinner with a dear friend and I blinked in amazement as she rattled off her plans for meals over the week her family would be in town. I also had family coming to town and planned to hit the store and buy piles of food that would turn into dinner. I said I wished I had her organizational bones. When I said that out loud I realized I do. At one time, I headed up giant fundraising campaigns, coordinated hundreds of volunteers. And now I own my own business. I am no stranger to lists, to a spreadsheet. I choose to wing it in the kitchen because it is great fun to invent with my kids. They choose ingredients and we go for it. We dance around the kitchen and make impulsive decisions that (most) always work out. And there is a time to plan. Like when we have a full house of loved ones and I don’t want to have a post-ski-5pm-kitchen-scramble because I’d rather have everything at the ready so we can shake martinis while food peacefully simmers into dinner.

Plus! Yes, there’s a plus. With two grandmas and a grandpa who want to help and because the ‘recipe’ didn’t only exist in the dusty corners of my brain, I had tasks to hand out. Supper-making was collaborative and relaxing in a way I hadn’t experienced with house guests.

Our week of planned dinners was grand. And, here, I am sharing our menu with you.

Day 1:

CHEESE QUICHE + SALAD

I am just in love with Mark Bittman’s Basic Cheese Quiche, crust and all! (Yes: I use his over mine for this recipe). Because this quiche recipe isn’t posted by him online anywhere, it isn’t mine to share here. But it can be easily found in his cookbook. And his cookbook is wonderful.

Day 2:

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA 

I followed this recipe exactly and it was so good. Fresh, interesting and a big hit with everyone.

Day 3:

GARLICKY OVEN-ROASTED SWEETS AND DATES, FILET + SALAD OF BRUSSELS, SPINACH AND BEAN SPROUTS

Andy cooked the filets and I know very little about cooking meat so I don’t have much to share on that front. The salad is a current favorite of ours: spinach, chopped brussels sprouts (steams for just a minute), bean sprouts and vinaigrette. And the oven-roasted dish is a winter staple around here. Easy, fast and delish.

Garlicky Oven Roasted Sweets and Dates
adapted from this recipe

3 sweet potatoes, cut into ice cube-sized chunks
8-10 garlic cloves, whole
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups medjool dates, pitted and sliced in half length-wise
salt

Preheat oven to 375. Place sweets, cloves, oil and dates in a baking dish. Cook for 45 minutes. It’s ready when potatoes are soft with golden crispy edges. Salt and serve.

Day 4:

MUSHROOM BOURGUIGNON + PAN SEARED ASPARAGUS

Oh holy. This recipe is just AMAZING. A few changes I made: 1/2 portobellos and 1/2 buttons (only because the portobellos were super spendy); no pearl onions. Also, in addition to the link above, this recipe is in Smitten’s book (seen above), which I just got for my birthday and think is excellent! Everything we’ve made has been lovely. Also we used and love this boullion.

Day 5:

CAULIFLOWER SOUP + SALAD (WITH LEFTOVER STEAK) + CRUSTY BREAD

warming leftovers / Earlywood short server spoon

My kids love this soup. It’s a little different every time we make it.

Cauliflower Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
1 large head cauliflower, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
stock or water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
salt

Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until a bit soft and fragrant. Add cauliflower and carrots. Cook for a few minutes. Pour in stock (I didn’t include an amount here but you want it to cover your veggies by a few inches. You can always add more later). Add mustard and sage. Cook until veggies are soft (about 15 minutes) and then purée with an immersion blender or blender. Too thick? Add stock or water. Too thin? Simmer a bit to cook water off. Stir in cheese, add salt to taste and serve.

Day 6:

YAM AND BLACK BEAN ENCHILADAS

small soft corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups black beans (fresh cooked preferred, a can works too)
3 yams, chunked
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons water
salt and pepper
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
enchilada sauce*
plain whole milk yogurt
fresh cilantro, chopped
spinach

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place yams into a pot of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft. Remove from burner, strain and set aside to cool.
  3. Cook onion in a tablespoon of oil until soft. Add spices and cook for a minute.
  4. Add water and scrape goodies from bottom of pan.
  5. Peel the yams by loosening the skin at one end and pulling back. Add yams and beans to mixture.
  6. Soften tortillas by coating lightly with canola oil (spraying works well) and baking at 350 for 5 minutes.
  7. Using two 9×13 pans (or a combination of smaller pans), spread 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the pan.
  8. Scoop some yam-bean mixture into a warmed tortilla. Roll it up, then place seam side down in the pan. Repeat. The enchiladas should be snug up against each other.
  9. Pour enchilada sauce over top and sprinkle with cheddar.
  10. Bake for about 15 minutes.
  11. Serve on a bed of spinach, top with yogurt and cilantro.

*use a can or make this easy enchilada sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
one small can tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Whisk together and heat over medium-low for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit to thicken.

Day 7:

TAKE OUT THAI FOOD

Oh we love Sa Wad Dee. Take out is always a good option for the last night.

On day four, Andy wrapped his arms around my waist and said, “Babe, I really like this planned-dinner-wife thing.” We laughed but I know what he means. I think I’ll try it on every once in a while. We needn’t have allegiance to our habits. In fact, a fresh approach is often the key to new inspiration.

What are you making? Enjoying? Excited for? Do you plan? Wing it? How are you finding inspiration in the kitchen these early spring days?

26 Responses to plan / no plan (good recipes)

  1. Karin says:

    Kyle is my saving grace on this topic! Bless that man. He plans out meals every single week without fail and does most of the shopping! I just get to do the cooking! I remember not so long ago, people used to know me personally at the grocery stores because I would be here every single day after work!!! I cannot even imagine that now. I don’t like to do the planning due to my dislike of making decisions.

    • dig dig says:

      Every week! I like it. I am considering doing it regularly; like once a month. It was a really nice break in our routine! Kyle is a stud.

  2. Jenn R. says:

    Well hey, thanks for planning my menu out for me :) Seriously though, that mushroom dish by Smitten Kitchen is going to be made, as are the black bean enchiladas. Yum. I’m not a meal planner, so this is awesome. Like you, I’m just starting to get into that groove. My goal is to have a food prep day, where the veggies are chopped for the week, and such. That’s about all I’m good for. My life is organized chaos. I grab the stability when I can, and let ‘er ride the rest of the time.

  3. Shelley says:

    I plan 5 dinners a week. My husband does all the grocery shopping but he needs to know what I might need. I don’t do a Monday this, Tuesday that, because I may not feel like it on the night, but it saves money and angst if I at least have some choices stuck on the fridge. Broccoli, chicken casserole tonight was a big hit with everyone and since I work full time (and my “kids” are 18 and 21), it really keeps my decision making to once a week. The other 2 nights it is wing it, leftovers or what have you.

  4. Jorie says:

    We wing it a lot over here too. But I’m
    In love with my crockpot, esp in the winter. You just throw stuff in their and voila! Try adding chicken breasts, black beans, corn, salsa and taco seasonings and let it go for 4-6 hours. Shred chicken up and serve over rice, on a lettuce wrap or with corn chips. Our three kids devour it! Thanks for the recipes you shared!

  5. Abby says:

    I do a meal plan *almost* every week. Sunday morning, over coffee, my hubby and I talk about the upcoming week and what sounds good for dinner. Then I make a grocery list from the planned menu.
    We started doing this because we were on a tight budget and it was the only way I could stay on course. We used to just go shopping and buy what sounded good or what we thought we needed, but then we’d end up back at the store several time getting missed ingredients.
    With mt menu planned, I don’t have to scramble last minute to figure out what to make, we stay on budget AND I only shop once a week (I hate grocery shopping).

  6. Tatiana Sciancalepore says:

    Can’t wait to try the enchiladas!! But it all looks really great!

    As for the planning–when I was first married, I never planned. However, with 3 little ones and only one income, the weekly menu/grocery list has become an absolute must. It just really helps me get the most bang for my buck and cuts back on waste. Having said that though, it’s also a giant pain in the ass sometimes, but I think I’ve found a trick. Instead of sitting there with a pad and pencil and trying to come up with a week’s worth of meals off the top of my head, what I did was, I made a list of all the recipes I know. Surprisingly, I knew well over 30 which was quite a shock because I’m always complaining that I don’t know what to make. So, now that I have a list, I whip it out when I’m ready to shop…jot down 7 meals and make a list of the things I need for them. Turns out it was having to come up with stuff off the top of my head that was so frustrating. So, my list makes me happy :)

  7. Sarah says:

    I’ll just live vicariously through you. This all looks amazing. Dang, I would love to muster up that amount of organization and planning! I am a seat of the pants dinner preparer, for sure.

  8. Laura says:

    I do a mix of plan and wing it. I plan and shop for three meals each week, large enough to have left-overs. Which nights we cook those meals is part of the wing-it side of things. Between left-overs and being creative we manage to feed everyone the rest of the week. The best of both worlds.

  9. Jenny says:

    This post has me drooling and lusting after a functional kitchen. I can’t wait to be back up and running. I have a split kitchen personality; I love both planned meals (though I’ve never been organized enough to plan a whole weeks worth) and winging it which is so rewarding when you make something amazing from we-have-no-food-in-this-house.
    Glad you are loving Smitten’s cookbook-it’s one of my faves. That mushroom bourginon? Major food boner.

  10. Lisa says:

    Vague planner here, no list but know in my head at least 3 meals I will make each week. I have been reading petite- kitchen .com for inspiration and specifically shopping to get ingredients for one new meal each week from Eleanor’s lovely blog. Now off to browse Smitten Kitchen – liking the look of that mushroom dish!

  11. I never used to plan meals and was a terrible cook…then I had babies. I changed my whole attitude about food and cooking and now I love cooking and am a total planner! It works for me and my personality to know what we’re having. A couple weeks ago I did the opposite of you…instead of my usual planning, I winged it. Went to the store WITHOUT a list and bought random stuff. What fun it was to create each night with whatever inspired me in the fridge that day. I admit, I went right back to planning the following week but want to have weeks of no meal plans thrown in more often. Especially as we approach summer, no school and fresh veggies…those things call for no planning! Love all the recipes in this post…can’t wait to try some!

  12. Jill22 says:

    I’m a dinner planner and I just thrive on it. I’ve tried winging it and I just end up stressed- not how I want to be in my kitchen! So I plan, writing out a meal schedule on the whiteboard, sticking to a grocery list (saves money too!), and looking forward throughout the week to the meals coming up. I envy those who can whip things together without recipes and planning (my lovely coworker is like that and amazes me every day) but I’m happy with my kitchen groove. Thanks for the recipes, Nici! I can’t wait to try them!

  13. Catherine says:

    You really make it look effortless. Can you post another weekly plan in the prime of Summer when your garden is bursting? Would love to see what you do with that bounty.

  14. Wesley says:

    Yum! Going to try your enchiladas and cauliflower soup. We just started meal planning a few weeks ago. With a busy 1 year old, it saves us so much time and stress when we know exactly what we have planned for the night and when we have all the ingredients needed. We try to do at least one crock pot meal per week, which I love because not only do I get to smell it all day, but there is absolutely no fuss at dinner time – scoop, serve, enjoy.

  15. aimee says:

    Oh gosh I wish I was that organised!
    It all looks great, particularly the soup :-)

  16. Jeanna says:

    This all looks amazing! Mmmm, so hungry now. Personally, I am a planner. I do like to make up recipes on occasion, but I find I function better when I at least know what the dinners are each week. My problem is I like new recipes a little too much: it would take me 6-9 months before I’d make a family favorite again because I was too busy trying new recipes. Now I publish my meal plan on my blog for two reasons. One, I know people struggle with meal planning and I figure my plan my give some inspiration. And two, I need to be held accountable to repeat some recipes. It’s helped!

  17. trbholt says:

    Burb. from the time you and Trav were babies until you went away to college I pretty much had 7 days of meals in the fridge….knowing I had “go-to” stuff on hand & always seemed to have extra kid friends around to feed! I still plan out dinner every night, but it is planned that morning of said dinner & only when Dad is in town. I wing it when I am home alone. I do try and have a meal plan when guests are visiting….and like you, I am a confident cook. I remember when Trav was little he told me I was a “good-cooker”, love that! Happy Spring my darling daughter! xo, Mom

  18. Jenny says:

    I love this:
    “We needn’t have allegiance to our habits. In fact, a fresh approach is often the key to new inspiration.” Sometimes I feel daunted to start something new because I know I won’t be able to be consistent about it, but really, why do I feel I need to be married to a new idea? Silly really. I have often thought about meal planning, too … but then I could be sewing, writing, taking pictures, loving my babies … and I can’t tear myself away. Cheers to your week of planning! All the meals looked healthy and delicious!

  19. Tammi Salas says:

    Well, I’m definitely adding your enchiladas to my menu planning. Those look and sound delish. Okay, well I’m kind of a schizophrenic list-maker. We have a running list of things we run out of that lives on our kitchen counter. I add to it on shopping day and on the back side I jot down a few menu plans that I researched or had a recipe for to help me remind me what my ideas were for the week. I’m getting older and if I don’t write it down…it’s gone from my mind!. I’d say I only plan about 2-3 meals per week, but wing the rest. Since we live 30 minutes from town, it’s important to stock up and have back-ups, etc. However, if you asked my husband, he would say I never read a recipe through to the end and always need him to run to our small town market. I think that’s an exaggeration, but it has happened…

    I’m lacking inspiration lately and looking forward to reading my growing stack of bon appetits and Cooks Illustrated to find a few new ideas.

    Thanks for the inspiration. See you very soon at DB.

    • Christal says:

      Try CookingLight.com and Williams-Sonoma.com recipes too for inspiration. Some of our families favorites have come from those two sources either from their magazine, sales catalog, or their web sites.

  20. Nicolette says:

    “We needn’t have allegiance to our habits. In fact, a fresh approach is often the key to new inspiration. ”

    wow. yes. I like you so much. I’m never one to declare I’m a new person all of a sudden. and it totally resonates with me the want to be a more organized meal preparer. my goal is to shift my way of approaching and find joy, and in doing that i’m finding inspiration.

    we’ve recently ben on quite the home-pho kick. and stir fry rice noodle dishes with hoisin (do you ever make moo shoo? we can’t eat eggs right now because my kids break out real bad but moo shoo was a staple once upon a time)

    i love to make kale enchiladas with ezekiel tortillas and an indian rose sauce topped with avocado and cilantro…. perhaps i’ll blog those

    also: coconut oil oven fries. kind of my specialty.

    my husband loves to make all kinds of creative slaws to add to our meals, too. just simple cabbage, onions, carrots,whatever else and sauce (usually soy-free veganaise and vinegar concoctions.)

    can’t wait to try your cauliflower soup!

  21. Liz says:

    I do a combination….plan for most meals and then buy a few things that look good and wing it later. I don’t plan what will be which night and often switch around sides, etc from my original plans, so it always feels original and spontaneous, even though I had a bit of a plan to make sure things would run smoothly.

  22. Jolene P says:

    I think I started meal planning when I had my first child almost 9 years ago… Now with 5 kids in our family, it really saves my sanity at dinner time and the amount we spend on groceries. I plan once a week and do my groceries the following morning. Melskitchencafe.com has been a wonderful discovery in the past year. She has a lot of meal plans and step by step spreadsheets, and her recipes are all kinds of AWESOME!

  23. Jennifer says:

    Oh how I loved this topic. At least 2-3 of our weekly dinners are planned while the other half I wing. And I think that percentage shifts with the seasons (i.e. tend to be less structured come summertime). But I am also mindful about the rhythm of the household – we’ve created a ritual into our week with “Breakfast for dinner Thursdays.” We all know it and crave it; and it’s a special treat for all of us. And seriously, who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? And I love that it takes minimal effort come week end.

    I tend to keep ingredients on hand for fast meals including Emeril’s broccoli and cheese soup (which also is great made with roasted caluliflower). But some days I need unfettered inspiration – a picture from IG, a seasonal vegetable craving, or a new recipe from my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking – to push me through the task of “what’s for dinner.”

  24. I love this. I am great at groceries. I like to keep all of my favorite staples and fresh items on hand so that ideas can percolate during the workday, and I come home inspired to be creative, and blow off steam making a wonderful, spontaneous and inspired dinner. There is the dark side of this though. I am controlling of what I eat that I don’t let go and let my husband decide and cook enough. He’s a good cook! I want to change it, but the habit is set. And the other thing is, if I have an idea on Sunday night, I might be tired of it on Monday night and want something else. I will be at least the 3rd to quote “We needn’t have allegiance to our habits.” Some of my habits are bad! While I wing it at night, it is no fun, not healthy, economical or sane for two people to wing it when packing 2 meals a day to eat at the office. I’ve been doing better… Starting the week with healthy groceries, boiled eggs, cut veg, hummus, boiled eggs, a big pot of soup and other easy things. Tonight, I went out on a limb and declared my supper plans for tomorrow. I have the soup made. My husband loved the idea. Now, I just have to stick to it, and stick to my decision not to be regimented all the time about not making plans!