December 20, 2018

Simpler Cooking & Meal Planning

I tend to not do a very good job at planning ahead for meals. I know some folks are really good at it and because of them, I know all about weekly menu planning. I know all about once-a-month cooking. I've thought these are good ideas but have never been able to work them into my reality. In fact, most of the time it's midafternoon before I figure out what to fix for dinner. Dan changed that this past summer.

Every Sunday he grills hamburgers for dinner. He stopped using charcoal briquets a long time ago, favoring cooking with hardwood instead. He has experimented with smoking the burgers and has gotten quite good at it. He uses mostly pecan (in the hickory family), but we also have apple, pear, and peach trees which impart a lovely flavor. This is truly frugal cooking.

Hamburgers cook pretty quickly, however, so he was always commenting on the lovely coal bed left glowing after the burgers were done. "Do you have anything else to throw on the grill?" he would ask. So I started buying or defrosting something else to throw on the grill. He worked his way up from burgers, drumsticks, and leg quarters to whole chickens, ducks, and roasts.

Pecan-smoked meatloaf

With less tender cuts of meat he'll hot smoke them on Sunday and the next day I'll finish it up in the slow cooker to tenderize it. Then, if the cooking broth doesn't become gravy, I freeze it for homemade smoke flavoring to add to soups and stews.

What's really nice is that this extra Sunday cooking gives us three or four days of a delicious, ready-to-eat main course. And that means nightly dinners are easier to plan and prepare. Win, win, win!

Care to share your ideas for simpler cooking and menu planning? I can use all the tips I can get.

23 comments:

Gorges Smythe said...

If I lived alone, I'd probably live on Hobo Stew. ;-)

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

How wonderful! Sure wish my hubby was interested in grilling! I sometimes do write down meal ideas for the next week and it goes best when I do. There is also the problem of trying to get gluten free for me! I love freezer cooking but don't usually get much ahead! Nancy

Maria Zannini said...

I plan a weekly menu. It makes life so much easier.

This is the post I wrote on how to decide what to make: http://mariazanninihome.com/meal-planning-without-the-drama/

If I lived alone, menus would be a no brainer because I have simple tastes--the husband, not so much. :)

Powell River Books said...

We use our BBQ almost daily at the cabin. Ours is propane, probably less tasty but so easy to use on a floating structure. Wayne uses it for fish, chicken, ribs, steaks, burgers and roasts. That gives us lots of variety for our meals. I do the sides, potatoes (baked in our woodstove in winter or BBQ oven fried), steamed or baked veggies and chopped green salads. Sides vary in the summer to include our home grown vegetables. We only plan ahead when we shop. Like you mentioned, we usually decide what it will be in the morning so meats can thaw for cooking by dinner. - Margy

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

Great idea! In the winter I make a double batch of some kind of hearty soup. A quick dinner is frozen fish fillets, ultra thin sliced cabbage, lemon sour cream, salsa, corn torillas for fish tacos! Add some cilantro and you're good!

Quinn said...

Using a crockpot is about as much planning as I can claim - I've got a hunk of pork in the crockpot right now, been gently simmering away for hours, with cranberries and balsamic vinegar. House smells nice :)

Leigh said...

Gorges, that sounds pretty good, actually. :)

Nancy, I'm fortunate Dan likes to grill out. :)

Maria, you have a very logical approach! Good advice.

Margy, it's really nice when you cook together, isn't it? I have an easier time coming up with sides than mains!

Nancy, I never would have thought of fish tacos! But it sounds pretty good.

Quinn, pork, cranberries, and balsamic vinegar sounds wonderful! I will definitely give that a try.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

I plan some weeks. Other weeks I am all fly by the seat of my pants. Keith will eat anything and I'm really low carb these past 14 months so whatever meat he leaves behind becomes mine. I think I've turned into our German Shepard. Needless to say I have no real tips for you Leigh. How's that for helpful?

MillersBend said...

I love using the grill also. I'll have it going all winter long, like you I love the season woods, hickory is my favorite. It was nice visiting your blog. Have a wonderful day.

Sam I Am...... said...

That's a great idea but at my stage in life I don't eat much meat and in the summer it is too hot here to stand over a hot grill. Now would be a good time to grill down here! LOL! I could do some chicken as that is what I eat the most of. Living alone I only cook about once a week and live off of it the rest. Like yesterday I made a big crock pot of soup that cooked all day and then once my greens come in (They're growing outside in a plastic container greenhouse....got the idea from a Roots and Refuge podcast) I'll have a salad with it and my homemade bread as always. It's healthy and I love soups...so much variety!
Congrats to Dan though! It sounds and looks yummy with the smoking and the variety of wood. He needs to write his own cookbook! I need directions! LOL!

Leigh said...

Donna, like Keith, Dan is happy with just about anything plus he likes his food plain. Bonuses for me. :)

How are you doing on low carb? Most people I talk to say they lose weight but feel lousy.

MillersBend, welcome! And thank you for taking the time to comment. Isn't hickory the best for flavor? Our favorite.

Sam, Dan is the meat eater hence the menu. :) If it was just me, I would likely eat very little meat.

Maybe one of these days I'll set him down and work on a cookbook! We have a couple of books, but he's mostly learned from experimentation.

Leigh said...

P.S. to Millers Bend. I'm not on Google+ so I can't leave a comment on your blog!

Chris said...

For me, simple cooking means hardly any cooking. If I can do it all in one small frying pan, that's almost all I have to clean afterwards. I like to keep pickled and fermented veg, as the go-to for a one-pan fry up. Fry two pieces of bacon and one egg. Cooking done! Put onto a plate with a handful of greens (spinach or rocket) some pickled beets, sauerkraut, mayo, chilli jam and half an avocado. A complete meal of healthy saturated fats, probiotics, vitamins protein and chlorophyll.

Because I cook in a cast iron griddle, I don't even wash it up either. Just scrap it down, and wipe the surface over with oil. All done in 10-15 minutes!

Goatldi said...

Grilling. Well that was Geoffrey’s territory. It is on my list as so littlen was done as he became terminally ill.

I love simple right now. Nutritious and easy. Multiple meals from one main cooking session.

I haven’t made up a weekly nor monthly plan in awhile. All things in time. Not very helpful but there you go.

Woolly Bits said...

I have to plan my food, otherwise I'd have to cycle to town and back every day:( that would be an awful waste of time, so I make a food plan for the week and a shopping list accordingly - with the help of the special offers list from my local supermarket. we're lucky that they deliver the weekly shopping, but it also means that whatever I forget I have to do without - or go extra for that something. over the years I've become fairly efficient with that list/plan - and also with making do, when things weren't available:) when DH does the shopping he just brings what's on my list - but doesn't replace stuff that's not on the shelf! which leads to some odd combinations, but so far we haven't had to go hungry:) I do cook two meals of stews and soups, but not so much of other things because I only have a small freezer. bbq is not really very feasible hear - it's either too cold, too wet or too windy to cook outside - and we don't have a porch etc. to use for that. good thing that I like to try out new things though - sometimes having to do without stuff leads to unexpected but good results!
happy christmas to you and your family! I hope the coming year will be good for you, withouth injuries and troubles - and lots of success with your smallholding!
Bettina (from ireland, where it's the usual grey, dampish - unchristmassy weather:)

Leigh said...

Chris, sounds like the perfect meal! It helps to have a number of prepared side-dishes to finish out any meal. And I agree about easy clean-up too.

Goatldi, I think simple is always best. So is getting a lot of meals from one cooking session. :)

Bettina, it's never convenient to have to make extra trips to the grocery store. On a bicycle it would definitely be more challenging! Weather is a big factor for cooking out. We've had so much rain with low temperatures so that our wood isn't drying out these days. Puts a real damper on getting a fire started. I agree that limited ingredients make for some fun experimentation! And a very happy Christmas to you too!

Amy AKA The Hippy said...

I love this idea. My Redneck and I do similar cooking methods in the summer when he can be out by the smoker all day. During the winter, I love just altering the meat into crockpot recipes. I tend to "pre-cook" a lot just to make life easier. Having already grilled or smoked meat in the freezer helps tons. Thank you so much for sharing how you "meal plan". We all have to find what works best for us. *Hugs*

Leigh said...

Amy, precooking is a great idea! And I like your idea of freezing some of our smoked meat. Would be so handy. Off to take a closer look at your blog. First glance makes me want to explore!

Cockeyed Homestead said...

Merry Christmas Leigh. I pray that you and your household have a safe one. Jo

Leigh said...

Thanks Jo! Merry Christmas to you too!

Renee Nefe said...

Since we are a small family with small appetites I make "plan-overs." I make one meal that lasts us at least two nights...If I'm smart the left-overs are for days when I'll be busy. I'm usually not so smart though. ;)

For Christmas they put the typical meats on sale, I got us a big roast. I made it on Christmas Eve and it lasted 3 dinners. Today I was looking in the freezer and found that I still had half a brined turkey in there, so I made that for dinner...it should last us 3 meals. I probably won't know what to do with myself when I have to go back to only 2 night dinners.

Ed said...

Once upon a time, my brother bought me a smoker for a birthday present. It was a huge thing that can do about three turkeys at once. Since it consumes most of the day, I always load if full of things to smoke and then freeze the meat for consumption later. I find the smoke flavor is more intense after meat has been cooled down to room temperature after the initial smoking anyway.

I long ago gave up the charcoal grill in favor of propane. I found that we grill more often when it isn't as time consuming to prepare for grilling.

We typically do a lot of cooking on weekends and eat leftovers for most of the week. Another thing we do is when we cook something that requires large batches, like a lasagna or a pot of chili, we will eat half and freeze the other half for a later date. That way we aren't eating chili for an entire week.

Leigh said...

Renee, good to hear from you! If I recall correctly, it seems your family didn't used to be too keen on leftovers. (???) Sounds like you've brought them around nicely! Cooking with plenty to make several meals is truly a timesaver, isn't it?

Ed, that's a good plan. I tend to make smaller meals, but really, I should make more and freeze half for another day.