The idea or inspiration for this meal time planning entry was suggested by a post from sporeflections.wordpress.com who lives vicariously in Arizona, apparently they are having an early Spring.
Many people live stressful lives and work far too much, in my humble opinion, work as a concept is highly overrated, in post-modern times we have forgotten to enjoy a meal and just relaxing about life in general. So with this in mind and since I am the generous sort here is a pragmatic little secret I share with you.
I do most of the food shopping and I shop on a daily basis instead of one giant trip to the grocery store each week. I find that every day you can plan ahead and have lots of choices on what you want to serve at meal time. I also follow the rule of Helen Corbitt (1906-1978), the head chef for many years in the kitchen of the flagship Neiman Marcus, who really believed in having a pantry with emergency supplies for guests who just appear. She had a long list of items but oh so practical.
Usually by 8am I know what I am serving that day for dinner or lunch or both. If people come for dinner or for lunch, we do a lot more luncheons now, I can plan a complete menu 3 days in advance, so no surprises, the secret is too keep it simple, good and enjoyable.
All you need is a bit of imagination, discipline and planning and know what works for you. I would never do a new recipe on people in the hope that it might be ok or might work or say to my guests, ”I have no idea if this is good or bad, never tried it before.”
Chef Helen Corbitt of the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus, Dallas
I am retired but still fairly busy each day with all manner of things to do around the house and in town. If you are really run off your feet and feel tired by the time you get home, here are some tips on what could help you along instead of going to a fast food outlet or eating frozen processed meals, which is equivalent to rat poison in my book.
The first thing to do is establish what both of you at home like to eat, that should be fairly easy. I usually buy daily a small amounts of fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes which I leave on the counter because the fridge is bad for them, apples, clementines or oranges but only a few, never a bag, in winter because of cost I will buy other fruits more of the season and not imported. Our Canadian dollar is only worth 0.67 cents US right now so it does make a difference in the final bill. Also many other green vegetables or root vegetables, I usually serve 2 vegetables minimum with a meal.
By buying selectively, I can decide ahead of time what green vegetables, root vegetables or potatoes, a variety of them, I wish to prepare with the meal. As for meat, since we have a crockpot, we can prepare spaghetti sauce, stews and soups, etc. I will get Will to tell me what he wants me to buy and then we will spend a couple of days preparing cooking dishes which can be frozen and you have a variety of things in the freezer you can pull out.
I also like to buy chicken, but never whole, parts, deboned and skinless, escalope style or thighs etc… Ham steaks or meat balls my butcher makes. I will also look at other cuts of meat or fowl. Am not buying steaks any more because of the cost again but burger meat like beef, veal, I can mix up with spices and do burgers which I can then freeze. So I have about 7 days of meals prepared ahead of time.
As for fish or seafood, given the state of the oceans nowadays, it is becoming very problematic to buy fresh or wild. Most of the stuff sold in supermarkets is from Asia or South America so do consider that it has been on the road for at least 3 weeks before it gets to you. Though I do look for product from Canada in fish and seafood, PEI being a good source well known for quality.
I also get things like good cheeses and deli meats at my butcher which is cut fresh, I do not buy the pre-packaged processed meats because of the salt content. Fresh eggs can be cooked hard boiled or you can make an omelette and this is simply enough for a lunch. Sicilian Olives because they are sweet and not vinegary and assortment of nuts, but always in small quantities because it looses its freshness quickly.
I also try hard to stick to what I like to call European portions, meaning meat is 5oz steak or pasta is no more than 100 gr. and sauce simply to cover not drown. You can serve a salad with that, dressing just olive oil or a nice gourmet dressing. These days we love blue cheese which is made by our food store and has none of those unpronounceable ingredient names. As for breads I buy small quantities daily or every 3 days, fresh, never that processed white bread stuff that looks like insulation. I do like the hard crust and dense bread.
So by shopping everyday and buying only according to what I planned, we have a diversity of things to eat. Having also a variety of prepared meals which can be reheated makes for variety every night of the week.
As for inviting people over for lunch usually on a Saturday or Sunday, I try to plan a meal that is nice but requires simple steps and everything is ready when the guests arrive. We can have a pre meal drink, to keep things easy I will offer a bubbly and some olives or radishes. I remember reading in my manual from the Hotel School in Lausanne that liquor or cocktails before meals is not a good idea since it spoils the palate for the meal to come. Since we are going to have a meal, you don’t want to ruin your guests appetite with chips and dips.
I also try to keep the desserts light, no heavy cakes or anything too rich. Usually if it is just the two of us, there is no desserts, maybe a fresh fruit not canned. If we have guests then it will be a nice sweet but something that accompanies the meal instead of fighting for first place and displacing the main dish in texture and taste. I find that serving a small glass of dessert wine is a good alternative dessert. I always think that our guests will thank us for not overloading their stomachs with too rich foods.