Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Menu Planning, Part II

One of the difficulties with conventional cookbooks and menu planning is that cookbooks are organized and focused in such a way that one becomes lost in the planning process. Dishes are highly stylized and, unless one is in an extraordinarily creative mood, difficult to adapt to different ingredients without a great deal of effort. It can be frustrating to seek a recipe for a specific ingredient and find that the book includes only one or two applications. Additionally, cookbooks are heavily focused on meatcentric entrees and this can discourage the use of alternative proteins, particularly when one is unfamiliar with their best uses. These are some of the reasons why I have developed my own approach to menu planning and cooking.
In evaluating dishes in my many cookbooks I have assembled a list of several types of cooking. Into these I group my recipes. The recipes are written so as to invite adaptation to seasonal ingredients and non-meat proteins. I also find that as I assign recipes from the different groups over the course of the week, I experience less redundancy in my dinners. For example, one of the categories is searing/sautéing/pan-frying and this category includes stir-frys. A basic recipe for stir-fry  would include suggestions for vegetables that suit the three growing-related seasons, which are pre-growing season, growing season, and post-growing season. The following are my cooking categories:
  1. Direct Heat (this includes searing, sautéing, pan-frying, and grilling)
  2. Indirect Heat (this includes roasting and braising)
  3. Salad (this includes any amalgamation of cold ingredients and a sauce) 
  4. Mezze (this includes menus that consist of a variety of little dishes, often consistent with a cultural theme, which are designed to be tasted together)
  5. Cassarole (this includes dishes for which the ingredients are handled separately before being combined and baked as a whole)
  6. Soup & Stew (this includes any amalgamation of hot ingredients in suspension, which may or may not be cooked together) 
  7. Sandwiches, etc. (this includes any marriage of a bread and a protein, as in sandwiches, pizzas, tamales, dumplings, etc.)
  8. Noodle & Rice (this includes all dishes in which the noodles or rice are the primary ingredient)
As you organize your recipes into these categories you will find that planning can become much more streamlined. It is far easier to look at a large cookbook and find something in it that is a casserole because it is Monday and you always have casseroles on Mondays, then it is to flip aimlessly through the pages with glassy eyes and a distracted brain. There are clearly more categories than there are days of a week so you will obviously not cover all categories in the course of a week. On The Provident Table blog I will identify the category into which the recipe falls, as well as write recipes and suggestions that can be easily adapted to varying ingredients.

To access Menu Planning, Part I, please click here:

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, July 2012

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