Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Decisions for Meal Planning Made Simple!

I have a little confession to make – I’m not a chef. I mean I can make a mean lasagne and I’ve gotten decent at creating just about anything stir fry, I’ve learned how to make ricotta cheese and what the heck to do with fava beans. But much of what I know how to make, are simply my versions of my family standbys I grew up eating and later customized for myself.  
Fresh Fava Beans Partially Shelled

Summer Squash & Arugula Salad - Eating Local by Sur La Table
Now I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, because, yes, I do post pictures of various food items that I’ve made; generally made from scratch using things from the gardens.

But I’m kind of a color-by-numbers sort I guess, in that, I’ve learned to cook being dependent on recipes. I love cookbooks and still have most, if not all, of my mother’s beloved cookbooks and a few of my own I’ve picked up and been given along the way. I’ve shared various recipes from some of them with you over the years.

And cookbooks are awesome with their gorgeous photographs and step by step directions – as long as you have all of the ingredients a recipe calls for, or a suitable facsimile. 

But how many times have I (or you), stood in front of an open refrigerator door staring blankly at the dozens of bags of assorted produce, cheese, fresh herbs, milk, cream, butter, yogurt, etc., etc., and then walk over to the pantry and stared into its shelves of dried and canned beans, rice, cous cous, lentils, olive oil, balsamic, oatmeal, various dried fruits, pastas, etc., and ended up making a bowl of popcorn with apple slices and peanut butter on the side? So many I’m almost embarrassed to tell you. Kind of like standing in front of the closet trying to decide what to wear to the school dance when we were in 8th grade. 

I guess by the time I come in from a double digit hour workday, sometimes on a triple digit temperature day, my brain is a little fried out for fresh ideas. And if it doesn’t jump out at me, well, it’s not happening, folks. Without a lot of energy left to brainstorm a fabulous meal at the end of the day, I imagine, is why many people turn to the obligatory drive-thru, meal in a box or dining out option.

It's probably a good thing that my budget doesn’t allow for dining out that much, because down here, there’s really not anywhere I want, or should want, to be eating anyway. Which would mean spending a good hour and half going out to eat in Big D, or at the least, up in Mesquite, to one of the two semi-healthful, semi-clean-fastish-food options. Chipotle or Jason’s Deli.

But one day while my stomach grumbled at me, I stumbled upon what maybe many of you did a long time ago and just forgot to tell me about; because there are a whole lot of people who “like” this guys Facebook page. And there's a cool website for color-by-number people like me – for cooking! 

My Fridge Food!

You simply tell the data base, (that I imagine was built by someone with the food skills that I don't have), what you have on hand, click a button and ohmygoodness! – dozens of recipes simply appear on your screen – and even tell you if you have all of the ingredients, or identify what items you are missing, based on what you input originally. It allows you to add items you may actually have, that were not originally asked about in the initial survey, to further build your menu options. And it even remembers everything for the next time you visit!

My Food Fridge Helped Me Whip Up a Simple Bruschetta for Lunch
Now there’s an app for this already – and I hope you get it, but I’m not a big app person.

However, I did bookmark the website and refer back to it whenever my brain goes dry for meal ideas. Which can be often. I’ve not been a pre-planned "menu for the whole week" person for years, because for one thing, this occupation is pretty inconsistent and I don’t always get to eat at the same time. This means I can’t always plan ahead for how long I’m going to have to make said menu items. And secondly, I may not want on Thursday night for dinner what I wrote on the menu Sunday when I planned it. And I don't always have a Sunday afternoon to prepare a week's worth of menu items for the freezer, and anyway, that brings me back to the "what if I don't want pasta salad for lunch on Wed. I want something else", issue.

So this is perfect in that I can tell some invisible chef in my computer what I have on hand and skim over the list of options it provides; which also gives a prep time, and then decide what looks good and what I have the energy to make. Unfortunately it ends there - you will also still have to prepare the said dish(es). But as long as I have a recipe, I'm usually game to try making anything that sounds good. And there are plenty of options with pictures so something catches my eye sooner or later.

This definitely should help reduce wasted time in front of the open fridge, expand meal options and reduce wasted food! I've not tried a lot of different recipes yet, but the few I have tried, have been easy to follow and came out well. And again, I'm not a chef so even if your kitchen skills are limited, these are not difficult to follow recipes.

Whenever I grow these, I get a lot of questions. Do you know what these are?
And for those of you in a CSA and are the ones who open your bag of goodies each week and says to yourself, “what am I going to do with this”? Fear no more! Just add the items each week to your list of things on hand and watch the ideas roll in! (Just make sure you asked your farmer to identify everything in the bag, before you left the farm.)

Here it is…..

You’re welcome! :)


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

PS - For those of you a little wary of signing on using your FB profile, or without one to use, I emailed Nick, the site owner, about other sign-in options. His reply was that he "had to take down the email log-in until I can run some security updates so Facebook is the only log-in option.  However, I have made it to where the site works the same way whether you're logged in or not until I get it fixed.  The pantry list should save to your browser."  

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