I wish I could tell you the secret formula for having dinner on the table every night of the week without running to the grocery store for things you forgot on *ahem* three different occasions. But perhaps you take comfort in the fact that I cannot, despite my other neurotic routines like these or these.
Truth be told, some weeks our food planning is right on target: I use ingredients we already have (exercising creativity in recipes, as needed), I make only one grocery store run, and I know exactly what we are eating any night of the week (with leftovers for lunches!). Other weeks the kitchen has suddenly become a storage area for bills and cookbooks and I feel guilty for having just gone to the grocery store and drag my feet about going again when I could just go to get take out (right next door to the grocery store), or we end up having a lot of smorgasbord meals that will not be appearing in a cookbook anytime soon.
I’m coping, thanks for asking.
There are, however, two things that I look forward to doing routinely: breakfast and desserts. And I can tell you my secrets for those.
Ah, the most important meal of the day… Alex leaves for work pretty early. And though I would like to be the kind of person who wakes up before the sun (oh wait, I already do that) to whip up some all-American biscuits with eggs and bacon and freshly made honey butter every day, I keep it real and recognize that about the time he’s out the door, I am painstakingly willing my eyes to open. That means I am packing lunches in the dark. I like to send him off with SOMEthing for breakfast. It makes me feel good, especially since the primary alternative – his work’s cafeteria food – is a let’s-not-even-go-there kind of thing. So I make a big batch of breakfast on the weekend that will last us through the week – at least Monday through Thursday. If we run out by Friday, he can treat himself to a bagel sandwich on his way in.
And because it would become monotonous to eat the same thing every day (though some people do it, I know), I pick a few make-ahead breakfast foods that would allow me to add variations easily, and I rotate these items. If you’re going to do this, I recommend choosing at least 4 items so that they only repeat once a month. Save the bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, casseroles, and (unless you have time to reheat stuff in the morning) scones and biscuits for the weekend when you can be more leisurely in the mornings.
No matter whether you need extra fiber, prefer an all-paleo meal plan, or simply want to work more veggies into your breakfast, you can easily adapt this idea to fit your preferences to keep your mornings varied but stress-free, and most importantly, well-fed.
In our current rotation are: mini-muffins, granola bars, mini egg frittatas, and poached fruit with yogurt (and sometimes with granola)…whose recipes and variations I share here.
Mini Muffins (makes 24, I usually give Alex 3 to take with him)
6.25 oz all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup yogurt (any kind – whatever you have! I’ve used blueberry, Greek, plain, and vanilla)
1/4 cup canola oil
Mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. (You can do this ahead of time and keep wet in the fridge if you want to bake them off in the morning).
Mix wet ingredients into the dry, adding whatever flavors you want – be creative! Here are some seasonal suggestions:
Winter: zest of 1 orange and a big handful of dried cranberries
Spring: a handful of chopped strawberries and a small handful of white chocolate chips
Summer: big handful of fresh chopped berries
Fall: 1/3 cup shredded apple or pear
Scoop into mini-muffin pan pre-sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes. *Note: These are best the first day or two after you bake them. After that, you might want to reheat them for a few minutes or bring along some butter and jam.
Mini Egg Frittatas (makes 12 – baked in a muffin pan!)
salt and pepper
12 slices of deli ham (optional)
Honestly, that’s the minimum ingredients you need, but I recommend adding some “fillings” to keep things interesting. Here are some ideas (be sure to chop them up small): cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, spinach, bacon, roasted vegetables, shredded potatoes or zucchini, green onions… Mix and match based on what you like, what you have leftover in the fridge/freezer, and what’s in season.
Preheat oven to 350F. Crack eggs into large bowl (a measuring cup with a pourable spout is great!) and whisk them about with seasonings. Add fillings. Pour an equal amount into large, well-greased muffin tins. Alternatively, press a slice of deli ham into each muffin tin well to make a little ham “cup” to hold your mini fritatta. Bake for 20 minutes, or until eggs look set. Store in container in fridge and enjoy cold or reheated.
Note: If you wanted to make mini-fritattas in a mini-muffin pan, you could! I think you would need to reduce the cooking time by 5-10 minutes though.
David Lebovitz has a lovely overview of poached fruit here. Right now we are alternating between poached pears and poached apples, and the recipe is largely the same for either one.
fruit (4 pears is enough for 8 breakfasts for us)
Peel fruit and slice in half. Use a melon baller to core and remove seeds. Arrange in saucepan. Fill with pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, grape juice, wine… whatever fruity liquid you’ve got– just enough to barely cover the fruit. You could even use just plain water, I think, though the flavor will be way more mild. Add sugar (a couple spoonfuls if needed) and complementing flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla beans are a good place to start). Cover with a piece of parchment paper directly touching the fruit and bring to a gentle simmer for 20 minutes or so. Remove fruit and store in the fridge. When ready to eat, cut the fruit into small pieces and toss into your yogurt, maybe with some homemade granola or sliced almonds if you’re feeling fancy. P.S. You can also save the poaching liquid – just pour it into a bottle or storage container and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to poach again. Or, if you want to serve poached fruit for dessert, boil that poaching liquid down until it is a sauce, and pour it over your fruit. Love those multi-tasking foods!
Neither of us are big snackers during the day. So we like to have something sweet to nosh on while we catch up on our *nerd alert* TiVo-ed Jeopardy! or Nova episodes. I’m okay with that – both dessert and my self-proclaimed nerd-dom, that is. Let us eat cake!
And ice cream! And pie! And cookies!
But not all at once. Geez.
Similar to the breakfast rotation, I pick one dessert to make each week, sometimes on the weekend, but sometimes during the week, depending how busy we are. And, unless it’s a special occasion, I only make one. That means sometimes it lasts us all week, and sometimes it only lasts for a couple days.
In our current rotation we have cake (I’m cooking my way through Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson), ice cream (usually Alex’s choice from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer), and cookies (get you some here or here or here, for starters).
In case you couldn’t tell by those cookbook references, I do use specific recipes for desserts (rather than a master recipe and variations). Maybe that’s because there are so many interesting specific things I want to try, and dessert recipes vary so much – especially cakes and cookies.
I won’t post any specific recipes for the desserts in our current rotation, but I will give a couple pointers:
Again, like breakfast, choose things that you like to eat or make. If you find it laborious to make buttercream, then save that for special occasions. If no one in your house likes rhubarb, then don’t make White Chocolate Rhubarb Downside-Up Cake.
With cookies, make a double batch and freeze half of the dough in pre-formed balls (mini ice-cream scooper works well) or logs. This way when you have a busy week, it’ll be easy to just pull those out of the freezer and bake them. Or when you have an impromptu potluck to attend or the kiddos have a friend over, it’ll smell like you’ve been baking all day and taste like friendship. Quaint!
With cakes, and only two people, it can make us feel like we’ve gained weight just looking at a 3-layer 8″ round cake. Cake doesn’t last as long – a couple days is when most are freshest. I often halve cake recipes and bake them in my little 6″ round pans or in a small square casserole. If there are extras, I have Alex take it to work to share. His co-workers don’t seem to mind.
It’s surprisingly easy to have homemade pie. You can make pie dough in advance (again, think double batch), keep it in the freezer, and thaw in the fridge when you’re ready. If it’s winter time, use pears or apples since they’re around, or a bag of frozen berries in your filling. Bake bake bake and then you’re set for dessert (and maybe breakfast too?) all week.
Seasonally, I have fruit crisps, puddings, and other treats that I want to add in, but in general (and at least right now), we’re trying a lot of cake and ice cream.
And there you have it, folks! A few tips to keep you feeling organized, but also creative in the kitchen when it comes to the beginning and ending of your days (breakfast and dessert, that is). What would you work into your breakfast or dessert rotations? What other sanity-saving tips do you have? Do tell.