Monday, 30 April 2007

Kitchen Audit and a Menu Plan

Old Mother Hubbard looks in the cupboardToday is the last day of the month, obviously and, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be a holiday here in Spain. The dog and cats have almost no food left (I know my priorities) and, when it comes to human food too, my cupboards are beginning to look a little like Old Mother Hubbard's, so it's off the shops for me. This month, with unprecedented planning!

Whilst I do have the habit of buying ahead - at least non-perishable items - for a month or more, I don't usually have a planned menu. The reasons for this are, mostly because you can't always guarantee what you'll be able to buy here and, secondly, because I prefer to see what's available first.

So I go shopping with the idea that I need "so many" meals and buy those things that look freshest and best. But, having said the cupboards are getting bear, they're not completely empty and I've ended up with a few odds and ends that want using up before I buy anything new, so instead of my normal habit of checking cupboards for spaces to see what needs to go on the shopping list, first I went round and did a "kitchen audit"" to see what I've already got:

What's lurking in my cupboards?

  • A bag and a half (about 1.5 kilos) of rice
  • 2 bags (1 kilo) of green lentils
  • 1 large bag of Capellini a Nido pasta
  • Packet each of frozen prawns and mussels
  • 4 fillets of cherne (grouper, white fish)
  • Frozen broccoli, peas and green beans

Sure, there are a few other things lurking that are less consequential, but those are what stand out as being items around which meals can be based and, just to practice some of what I preach, what I did next was to come up with a list of 7 reasonably varied meals - with some help from food sites and Google - that utilize what I've already got first, in conjunction with the additional items I will now go shopping for.  Paella inglessa

  1. Lemony Lentil-Spinach Stew
  2. Capellini Al Pomodoro
  3. Broccoli Risotto
  4. Revuelto con Gambas y Triguero
  5. Simple One Pot Fish Dish
  6. Paella a la inglessa
  7. Chicken Casserole

By my calculations, that's one culinary visit to Morocco (which for me is only next door), two visits to Italy, three to Spain and the Canary Islands and one to Anglo-American comfort food land. It could have been more varied, to include something from a little further east, perhaps. Each of those 7 meals had to be quick and dead simple, not because I can't cook anything else, but because I am bone idle and, probably like you, pretty busy and want to do this to save time.

Plus, the whole idea was to be able to present you some dishes you might like to use. I plan to make these meals either for four in advance and store 3 portions or, make it once a week for four weeks, making 28 meals in all, which will take me virtually right through the month of May.

Well, it will get me all the way through the month, because there are bound to be days when eat out, or make something else "one off."

Week One

1A 2A 3A 4A 5A 6A 7A
Week Two
1B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B 7B
Week Three
1C 2C 3C 4C 5C 6C 7C
Week Four
1D 2D 3D 4D 5D 6D 7D

Based on this list, if the meals are cooked in that order, I'll only have to cook on all seven days during the first week and, then only quick meals, twice a week in the subsequent weeks: 13 of 28 days (bolded).

On the remaining days, all I have to do is heat up the extra portion, made in the first week, in the microwave. I count that I need 15 freezer and microwave-friendly, one portion size plastic containers or bags (depending on what's most suitable for the food in question). I do have that number already and, I think I can squeeze them in the freezer.

The maximum cooking time quoted was around 40 minutes for the lentils, probably a little more for the chicken casserole, but neither of those need to be attended much once they've been thrown in a pot. The other dishes take considerably less time to cook.

Rationale for the choices

Usually, I make lentils in the Spanish style, Lentejas con chorizo with potatoes and spicy chorizo sausage, but I'd already seen the recipe for Lemony Lentil–Spinach Stew at Yumsugar and thought that would be nice for a change, as well as adding some more healthy green veggies. Thank you Mr. Google, for finding me the Italian recipe for Capellini Al Pomodoro, pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, that just takes 5-6 minutes to cook. To be honest, I'm not a great fan of pasta in tomato sauces, but I thought this made a better contrast with the other dishes and adds another source (or sauce) of vitamins.

The Broccoli Risotto takes care of the broccoli and some of the rice. The Revuelto con Gambas y Triguero (Scrambled eggs with prawns and triguero asparagus), will take care of half of the prawns. And my Simple One Pot Fish Dish will use the cherne fillets.

Casa RamonThe simplified Paella a la inglessa, using just prawns and mussels, with peas and red pepper, actually isn't my purely English invention, or cheat. That is the way Doña Lola makes it at the restaurant, Casa Ramón, in Garachico in Tenerife.

This method makes it easier to produce in smaller quantities than it would with a host of varied ingredients and it is something I make fairly regularly, but normally, I'll eat it three or four days consecutively. What I have never done before is to attempt to freeze it, so I'm crossing my fingers here that it works. We'll see. Don't sue me if it doesn't! :) That just left one meal to find. So far, you'd almost think I was a vegetarian and, it does happen that mostly I do eat vegetarian and fish at home and only eat meat when I go out, but I wanted something that contrasts with the rest and I fancied chicken for a change.

Whilst I could have been more adventurous in the chicken department, as this also needs to be something that will keep, my plan is to make a simple, comfort food, one pot chicken casserole, with potatoes, carrots, onions and throw in the frozen green beans near the end. The pasta and the revuelto will need to be made on the day they are eaten, but I'm fairly confident that the lentils, the risotto, the fishy dishy and the chicken casserole will all freeze successfully.

And off to the shops: Thus, ignoring all the other things I need to buy like that ever most important cat and dog food; staples like milk, tea and coffee, household products and so forth, running down the lists of ingredients for the above seven meals, all that I need to buy to complete them is:

  • Olive oil
  • 24-36 small-medium potatoes (5 kilos ish?)
  • Spinach (fresh if possible, frozen if not)
  • Cheese (we can cheat, grated in bags, two of)
  • Tomato sauce (or tomatoes, if feeling less lazy)
  • Triguero or small green asparagus
  • One sweet red pepper
  • One green pepper
  • 4 chicken quarters
  • 4 large or 8 small carrots
  • 1 kilo of onions
  • 1 dozen eggs

El PanIn addition, there's breakfast (cereals, oatmeal) and I get fresh bread delivered to the door daily, which I have as a sandwich or with something for a second, light meal of the day. To up the fruit and veg intake, I'll have side salads and mostly fruit for deserts.

And, if there is any risk of going hungry, one thing I did not list is that my freezer is still full of about a million frozen bananas (give or take), that can be made into smoothies, cakes, puddings, etc.

Now, I'm no nutritionist, but whilst there are carbohydrates and it seems generally not bad in the fat department, with a reasonably healthy range of vitamins, at a glance, I think the balance might be a bit light on protein. Maybe I'll throw a few walnuts on my salads to add some? All in all, do you think that Maria Jose Sevilla would be proud of my cocina de aprovechamiento - the efficient use of available ingredients - that she refers to in Spain On A Plate? I certainly hope so. :) Of course, you may not have the same items lurking in your kitchen, nor like the dishes I came up with, but I hope you can extract some method from my madness to plan your own meals and make use of what you do have, as well as saving time by cooking ahead (where possible) and buying in quantities that are more economical. Let me know what you think.

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