Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Menu Planning Continues

I'd like to say I have my menus made. NOT! With a few hiccups in our schedule due to an emergency that shifted a friend's livestock chores onto our plate for a few days, and helping out an older couple, my mess is still sitting on the living room floor where I left it Friday. I did whittle the recipe papers down, mainly because I decided to procrastinate the sorting and organizing the large dessert pile.

For to make a menu you first need a list of main dishes to put on it. The side dishes and dessert, I'll just do what ever comes to mind for now. My main dish list is on several sheets of plain paper which I have now scribbled on to update, so I'd like to type up new ones. Besides, it looks like it must of soaked up a spill at one point for it has definite waves and a hint of green. The number of dishes on it is now over fifty and I'm not talking about all the variations I might make of one dish. For example souffle, which has a number of variations and chili we combine in several ways.

Your list doesn't have to be a on a sheet of paper. When I was homeschooling, I used a card catalog system with an index card for each main dish and then side dishes also had a card. I then combined them. That format no longer suites us even though it worked great at the time for I set up our children's schooling on a card system also.

This was different from when I was growing up. Our menu varied little. My mom worked and was involved in a zillion activities and was home little. So we usually had roast on Sunday, meatloaf on Monday etc. (a hold out from around the 1950's). When I began cooking for myself, I saw the myriad of possibilities and wanted to explore them.

In fact, for the past two years I've gone on theme kicks. For example, to find three or four outstanding and different kinds of cheesecake recipes. I searched magazines, cookbooks, and the internet for recipes that looked enticing, then wait until I had found cream cheese at a rock bottom price before beginning to bake. As to not hate cheesecake by the time I was done, I did it over a three month period until four reined supreme. If you would have had a piece, you would have been required to rate it according to - is it a repeater or in other words, is it worth making this again? Should the texture or taste be altered? Then I continued scoring the cheesecakes by ease of creating, ingredient availability, and cost. It turns out we ended up pleased with four kinds- a chocolate, a lemon, a New York, and a old quick and easy family favorite that held its own with the newcomers. Recently, I've found a new recipe I want to try using cream cheese and a soft goat cheese that I can make. If it's good, it would score high on cost but not be as easy to create because I'd first being making cheese. In this manner, all recipes are thus evaluated.

On the rare instance when we eat out and the dish is especially good I can't help but try and dissect the what's in it. For instance, the Polo Con Crema and the Bolognes sauce on noodles recipes, I've concocted from just such experiences and tweaked to make them more chunky to please our palates.

Though I use magazines, the internet, and cookbooks, I rarely buy a new cookbook because I end up only using a few recipes from it. The cost and room it takes deter me. Instead, I frequently bring home from the library a cookbook that has caught my eye. We are lucky that our library has a large selection. The books spend a few weeks in where I copy a few recipes and maybe even get to try them out. Then back they go.

One magazine does continue to arrive every two months. It is Cook's Illustrated. None that I've found so far compare. The result of this recipe collecting is a three ring binder with pockets and plastic page protectors yawning to the breaking point and a another stack that wouldn't fit inside. Hence, the mess in the living room that will hopefully soon be organized.

A couple years ago, the binder had room to spare. It had dividers according to main dish, side dishes, etc. and my recipes were two back to back in a page protector. The ones I wanted to try were in pocket pages in the category where they fit. Then if I felt like trying a new dessert for example, I looked through the pocket. So into this yawning chaos I plunged and first divide the recipe pages into categories and if they weren't main dishes they were set aside for another day. You know, "Don't do today what you can put off for tomorrow." No actually, I had to prioritize this time of year is a real stress. I haven't even finished canning. But we have to eat.

Then, I updated my main food item list. It is set off into categories also. Just to confuse you, it is not Italian, Mexican, steak, or soup like in the menu planning, but rather according to the type of meat used in the dish. This is mainly because we raise and process most of our own meat and invariably have more of one kind than another. If you use the store exclusively, you can choose another way to categorize them. But then again, you may want to use the cheapest cuts of meat the most and therefore use chicken or hamburger a certain number of times a week. You can therefore combine the Mexican night with a Mexican dish with chicken in it or with hamburger etc.
My list appears something like this:

I. Hamburger

1. Stuffed Mexican Bell Peppers
2. Lasagna

3. Chili (which you can further elaborate upon on all the ways you traditionally have chili if you so desire.)
a. chili - cheese, and Frito's
b. chili - on baked potatoes with cheese
d. chili - on Lawry's spiced potato fries
e. chili - and cinnamon rolls (This sweet and spicy hot combination is a favorite)

4. Tacos
and so forth.
Then the beef category would extend to other cuts of beef.

1. Swiss Steak
2. Cubed Steak
etc. and so on and so forth.

My chicken list is very long and includes seventeen main dishes that we love. As I was updating this list from the recipes stacked on the floor, I realized how badly we need to get serious about another chicken coop so we can raise more of our own meat.

When you are done, you will possibly have a fish and crustacean, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and wild game categories.

Sound like a lot of work. It is at first but after this initial organizing is done, it will be worth the effort. I know, I did it once back when our kids were young and I was homeschooling. It saved me countless headaches of "what's for supper?" Then our lives changed and with the many changes I've lost control of my recipe and menu planning. I want it back. The whole thing not the bits and pieces I've been working with. The hurdle is that I counted over fifty main dishes alone, not counting the varieties with some of those dishes - like souffle. There are at least three variations for that.

This year, I really must begin. Then as I do so, I'll include you in on some of the other organizing ideas I have. Maybe I should make this into a book. I've always wanted to write books. My kids have been after me time and time again to do up a cookbook for them. Nothing fancy, they say just a three ring binder of recipes. They don't know how much I'd like that for it would be a great gift to myself. Whew, fifty some main dishes plus variations seems like a lot and what will it be after I'm half way done - a hundred. Not to mention the side dishes and desserts. Maybe, this needs to be a on going Christmas gift with yearly installments.

Meanwhile, I had better get typed the lime recipe I promised you and a new one we just tried last night. It was wonderful. My variation of it anyway. They are both fast and easy. So here's hoping your further along with your canning than I am.

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