I thought it was about time I did something a bit challenging on this blog. No, it’s not some complicated French Laundry recipe with 25 steps. A challenge for me is trying to stick to a plan, so last week I wrote out (most of) a menu plan for the week on Saturday morning, and then tried to shop with it in mind, and stick to it for the rest of the week.
There are many good reasons to plan meals in advance. It’s likely to be cheaper, because you can plan to use leftovers, and end up throwing out less leftover food, as well as food you bought but didn’t get around to using before it went out of date. I have also found that it makes me more likely to eat up leftovers or something from the freezer, rather than letting my hunger-raddled brain talk me into yet another M&S curry.
In planning a week of cooking, I need to allow for some dinners together, and some for just me when Other Half is out or traveling, and also lunch for me to take to work, although not everyday – there are plenty of places to buy it if I need to. I also like to build in some longer, project things from recipes I would like to try out. Here is the (rather incomplete) plan I sketched out on Saturday morning before heading to Sainsburys:
- Saturday: Cheese and chutney for lunch [what do you mean that’s not a meal?]; Orechiette al forno from David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs.
- Sunday: Rest of Orechiette; Shoulder of lamb with beans [Shoulder of lamb not looking great in Sainsburys, so modified to lamb shanks]
- Monday: Soup & scone from freezer; Cottage pie [changed after seeing how much leftover lamb there was to cassoulet with the beans and lamb]
- Tuesday: lunch?; out for dinner
- Wednesday: lunch?; tortelloni from freezer, with greens. [Revised plan – get curry out of freezer.]
- Thursday: Chicken meatballs from Smitten Kitchen
- Friday: Dinner at Hawksmoor
What really happened
So, cheese and chutney really isn’t a lunch as it turns out. Hummus from Sainsbury’s, pitta bread from the freezer and a mushroom and mascarpone pizza, also from the freezer was more like it. I heaped rocket on the pizza, and then had the cheese with the first of my green tomato chutney and an apple for afters.
I made a huge quantity of the baked pasta so there would be a lot of leftovers, and also because the recipe makes a large amount. A Platter of Figs is a beautiful book, organised by menus for seasons (though Californian ones) which makes it a great source of inspiration. Here I modified, but not extensively. He called for Italian sausages, which are tricky to find, so I used good organic sausages with some crushed fennel seeds. Instead of the rapini, I gathered a huge heap of chard and spinach from the garden, and cooked it down, roughly following Mario Batali’s Swiss Chard ragu recipe. The final dish of cooked pasta mixed with the fried, crumbled sausage, the greens and a tub of ricotta before baking, was earthy and satisfying. And the only thing that improved it on reheating was a healthy heap of grated cheddar on top, so there was more creamy, melted cheese, rather than the crisp, dry parmesan.
I also made cauliflower soup on Saturday, which I ate through the week, and a loaf of minimally kneaded bread, using the Azelia’s Kitchen recipe and method AND Dan Lepard’s Hazelnut and Prune cake. Phew.
I ate the leftover pasta, as planned, although beans on toast were preferred by my OH. I bought 4 lamb shanks from Sainsbury’s with leftovers in mind, and dug out a Tamasin Day-Lewis recipe for them. This calls for a heap of peeled, halved onions, white wine and a huge amount of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t quite bring myself to put all that balsamic in, so compromised with half real balsamic and half apple balsamic. This was a really beautiful recipe – a sweet, rich liquor with beautiful tender meat. I removed the meat from the shanks and shredded it, which was a bit of pain, but made leftovers much easier to deal with. I served it with butter beans, soaked overnight then cooked until tender, and reheated with garlic, olive oil, cherry tomatoes and parsley. A really lovely warm meal for a cold night, but not too heavy.
Leftover food in the fridge on Sunday evening:
- half a packet of bacon
- 2 tubs cooked butter beans, one plain and one with tomatoes
- huge casserole dish of lamb and onions.
- bag with lamb shank bones in.
- one portion orechiette
Lunch was cauliflower soup, the cauliflower and cumin soup recipe from Moro East, with the end of the loaf, and a piece of hazelnut and prune cake, which keeps getting moister as it keeps, a bit like fruit cake.
Dinner was, if I say so myself, a triumphant cassoulet-type dish – the leftover butter beans, a splash of passata, leftover lamb and gravy, and a breadcrumb topping. I sped the whole thing up by microwaving the beans in their tupperware, heating the lamb and gravy in a little pan, and frying breadcrumbs on the stove before putting it all into a preheated pie dish.
More cauliflower soup, this time with crisps, because it was somewhat underseasoned. Dinner was the remaining pasta bake, microwaved, hazelnut and prune cake, and a cup of tea.
Lunch was ribollita, vegetable soup from the freezer, with a cheese scone (loosely from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, but without the sugar), also from the freezer. Dinner ended up as chicken curry from the freezer, with rice. I most often make Nigella’s Mughlai Chicken from Feast as curry for the freezer – it makes a really creamy, mild chicken curry, but with a rich flavour, even though I leave out all the cream and just use yoghurt. I tend to make in huge quantities – two skinless breasts plus six skinless chicken thighs. It can then be frozen in tubs and reheated, either with some chickpeas and extra veg to stretch it a bit further, or just as it is.
Well, chicken meatballs, as much as I am dying to make them, seemed a bit silly with so much leftover food still in the house. I was also feeling that it had been a meat-heavy week so far. So I hauled out the contents of the vegetable drawer and roasted one and a half slightly wrinkly peppers, a parsnip, half a butternut squash and an onion cut into wedges with a little cumin, coriander and salt and pepper. The last batch of leftover butter beans were fried in olive oil to get a little crispy around the edges, and seasoned with salt and smoked paprika. Sliced halloumi on top of the veg, and returned to the oven for 10 minutes to melt, finished things off. Was all very tasty, but if I did it again, I would probably cook the beans in a little tomato sauce instead – the whole thing was a little dry. When OH came in, he had shredded lamb, beans and some passata all simmered together for 5 minutes in a makeshift stew.
Leftover roasted veg and halloumi reheated very well for lunch. Hawksmoor Seven Dials were very gracious when we turned up early for dinner, scorched a huge Porterhouse very nicely, provided a heap of crisp and tasty chips, and generally made for an enjoyable evening.