Here are some of my obstacles...or shall I say...challenges?... to meal planning:
-I find it very boring to repeat a recipe. Unless it's something I love, I am totally unmotivated to make it more than once.
-I am trying to lose weight (lost a quick 8 pounds at the start of the year and have stalled ever since. I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with the spectacular meals I've enjoyed in the past few months.) I try to stick with recipes that are accompanied by nutrition information so I can keep track of my calories. Yawn.
-I have two young children. They are willing to TRY anything. They are NOT willing to fill up their bellies with any old thing. Sans kids I would eat a lot more soup (they like it but it takes FOREVER to eat) and I would try every wacky vegetable stew recipe that comes my way.
-Fun ingredients are expensive. (Duh. I know I am WAY too indulgent in the kinds of foods I'm willing to pony up for. Honestly, the "me" of five years ago would be appalled at the contents of my shopping cart.)
-I am sadly lacking in knowledge of basic cooking technique. I have to rely more than I'd care to on recipes. True, some of my tastiest dishes are the result of me winging it, scrounging for a meal after not having been to the grocery store in two weeks. But that's just me getting lucky.
As I've told you before, in a moment of desperation I subscribed to The Six O'Clock Scramble. And I have to say that a few of my favorite go-to recipes have come from there. And it is a super convenient way to plan one's meals. But, really, I find about 1 stellar recipe for every 30 duds and ho-hums. Every time we have a mediocre meal, Shaun looks at me with resigned eyes and asks, "Aviva?"
A few weeks ago I decided to relieve the tedium and branch out a bit. As I absolutely love tahini, I decided to try this recipe for Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad from one of my favorite food blogs, smitten kitchen. It was good, and I absolutely recommend it to those of you who like these flavors (and I know there are some of you out there.)
A few caveats: I made my squash chunks too small, so they were overcooked and lost their chunkiness, imparting an unwanted baby-food taste and texture to the finished salad. Also, I like red onion, but I found it to be overpowering, even after cutting back on the quantity. Next time I would soak it first. Finally, the raw garlic in the dressing was a little strong for me as well. It tasted fine the first night, but made me not want to eat the leftover dressing. I'd put in a little less than the recipe calls for. Unless you're a big fan of raw garlic.
It was an adventurous week for me. I also decided to try out a recipe from one of my Spanish cookbooks; primarily because it looked really simple and inexpensive. It is called Arroz con Acelgas or Rice, Bean, and Greens Soup. It wasn't until I got to adding the sole seasoning in this soup (apart from salt) that I realized I had never before made a soup that contained none of the following: carrot, celery, onion, or garlic.
The secret weapon in this soup? Saffron. That, plus the inclusion of a turnip, had sold me on the recipe. I love saffron, and I now that I have discovered that Cost Plus World Market sells it for $3.99, I no longer rule out dishes calling for it. But I am a neophyte in its use. People like me (meaning folks uncomfortable with ambiguity) should really not be given recipes that call for "a pinch" of anything. I always find myself adding just a bit more than my first instinct (ESPECIALLY when it's the only seasoning in the recipe!) because it would be a shame to have used some and then not be able to taste it. Then I add a bit more. Then the dish ends up tasting a little bit like dirt.
So, I ended up with a giant pot of not particularly tasty soup. But I hate to waste healthy food, so I dutifully ate my share and froze the rest. I defrosted it this week, and it has been greatly improved by the addition of leftover Easter ham.
Speaking of Easter, I had an even more successful smitten kitchen experience with this Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote. Particularly the compote. It was delicious and would be good with almost anything. And holy smokes, peeling the strings off the outside of the rhubarb stalks released a smell that was the very essence of spring. I could hardly get over it.
Those are my latest culinary adventures. I would love to hear what some of your latest successes have been (preferably accompanied by recipes :)
And I'm curious for folks to weigh in on this as well: is it just me, or are garlic cloves WAY bigger than they used to be? Maybe it's just a western thing, but I feel like a clove of garlic these days yields at least twice as much as it used to when I was a kid. Therefore I'm always second-guessing how much garlic to use in a recipe if it only gives an amount in cloves. Anyone? Or have I completely lost my mind?