For the past six weeks I’ve followed a menu plan set. I received it as a bachelor sometime in the ’90s and tried it briefly until the grocery lists and volume of food (even halving the recipes) proved too much. It’s packaged somewhat like a traditional recipe box and the set of recipes and shopping lists follow through from week one to week six. Each week includes recipes for lunches and dinners followed by that week’s grocery list.
As Head-Child-Wrangler-and-Meal-Preparer these days, I decided to dust it off and give it another try. Having a set structure to work with has proven to be very helpful. I’m saving time by reducing the number of visits to the grocery store each week, not to mention the time each day that would be spent with my head in the fridge determining what to make and what I need to buy. I think less is ending up in the compost and garbage as well. It’s also harder to justify eating out when the food for dinner is in the fridge and a reasonably quick recipe is on the counter, so there’s a savings there too. Best of all if something doesn’t really workout I have the meal plan as a handy scapegoat.
I’ve sensed potential mutiny in the kitchen just a few times – perhaps there were too many bean salads with assorted crudities (raw vegetables) in the first week or two. It’s a vegetarian meal plan and one I suspect was developed by non-vegetarian nutritionists sometime in the 80′s (the authors have a new menu plan out now which appears much updated). I’ve learned to adjust the recipes and when confronted with something like Lentil Loaf Baguette (seriously) to seek inspiration elsewhere. I’ve also managed to substitute out the myriad of stuffed potato recipes, to generally use less cumin than suggested, and add more butter or oil (important fats for developing minds) to pretty much everything.
All considered it’s going well. There have been many winners in the box too. The pita pizzas in particular have been a hit and Anton has enjoyed helping to put them together. These remind me of the little English muffin pizzas my Mom and I would create and freeze for lunches when I was a kid.
I’m finding that sitting down once a week to come up with adjustments and substitutes is enjoyable and I’m noting the changes for the next time. With a few rounds through many of the cards will be replaced with our own recipes, inspired by what was originally suggested for the day, and recipes sourced from elsewhere. We’ll also strive to make it more in keeping with the seasons and what we can produce in our evolving garden. Here’s what I came up with to replace the Lentil Loaf Baguette.
French Lentil Soup
This is based on a wonderful recipe (Potage puree de lentilles) that Julia Child (From Julia Child’s Kitchen, Alfred A. Knopf, 1975, p. 12) describes as a meal-in-a-pot soup. It’s a classic French soup that serves four to six people. In the cookbook she includes a wonderful history of the culinary use of lentils and traces it back to the Grand Prior of the Knights Tempars in the Eighteenth Century, as well as earlier to biblical times.
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 leek (or substitute another onion)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 6 cups vegetable stock (or other stock or water)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- 1/3 cup diced rutabaga (or turnip, or neither)
- 1 1/2 cups dried lentils du puy or black beluga lentils
- 2 tablespoons salt
Chop the celery, carrot, onion, and leek into medium sized pieces.
Heat the butter in a saucepan, add the vegetables (except the rutabaga), and cook at medium low. Stir occasionally for approximately 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown.
Stir in the flour and cook for two minutes before removing the pan from the stove.
Gradually stir in one cup of the hot stock into the flour until they are mixed completely. Add the rest of the stock and return to the stove at a simmer. Stir in the bay leaf, thyme, rutabaga, lentils, and salt.
Cover the pan loosely for a gentle simmer over about an hour and a half – until the lentils are tender.
Carefully (so as not to burn oneself) blend half the soup (I use a hand blender and blend up the vegetables but leave about half the lentils intact). Add water or stock if the soup is too thick.
Serve in warmed bowls (pour hot water into them, let it sit for a few minutes, and then pour it out before filling with the soup) with a teaspoon of olive oil or butter on top.
There are plenty of ways to flatten a pan bagnat, the traditional tuna and vegetable sandwich from Nice. You could weight it with heavy books, or with a nice fat brick. You could squeeze it under a cast-iron skillet piled with cans, or press it beneath a stack of plates. Or you could find a child of about 7 and simply have her sit on it. - Melissa Clark, New York Times, Published: August 8, 2007.
The recipe that I based my Pan Bagnat on is from our Moosewood cookbook (Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, The Moosewood Collective, 1994 – p. 266). It’s without tuna unlike a traditional recipe (the New York times has a good recipe with tuna). Both recipes that I looked at suggest the use of a toddler or young child to help squish the sandwich. I can’t imagine getting Anton or Viola to sit still for long enough so I opted for a wooden cutting board, cast iron frying pan, and a glass bottle of water. It looked a bit perilous but all remained on top of the sandwich – and no animals (Farley’s inquisitive nose caused me some concern as the sandwich sat wrapped on the butcher block with it’s leaning tower on top) or children were harmed.
- 1 baquette or other French bread
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tomato, sliced thinly
- 1 cucumber, sliced thinly
- red bell pepper, sliced thinly
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup pitted black olives
- salt and ground black pepper
Slice the bread in half lengthwise, nearly all the way through. Open the loaf and spread the garlic on one of the cut sides. Drizzle the olive oil on both sides. Layer the vegetables on one half of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Close the loaf and wrap it tightly with aluminum foil. Weight the full length of the Pan Bagnat with something heavy for 1 to 3 hours. Slice and serve.
Also, here are a few interesting food-related links that I’ve received lately: