Dinner Plans

Are there really people out there who create a weekly menu plan? Because even though I have compiled a healthy trove of  lo-co recipes, these past few weeks I’ve been just… well… totally disinterested in figuring out what to cook every single day.

This led to an alarming increase in so-so-so-not-lo-co takeout in the waning summer months. Which explains my recent break from posting. Very embarrassing. Oh, and not healthy.

The only good thing I can say about the past month is that I’ve upped the exercise quotient. I have been spinning at Joyride every week – even after the need to train for my bike trip ended … a new personal best.  Thank you Emma, for your inspiring music!

But I can’t spin every day.  So here’s what I’m trying to kick-back into lo-co gear.

For running, there’s an iPhone app called Nike Plus which tracks where you are, your run time and distance, and coordinates with your iTunes playlists.  It doesn’t require a chip or anything tied to your shoe anymore – all you need is your iPhone or iTouch.

Nike Plus plays right into my OCD need for knowledge; it’s really quite motivating.  Oh, and it’s totally free.  Woot.  And it automatically downloads results to your computer so you can see how many miles you’ve run over time. My husband and I love it.

So exercise, check.  (Though that will become problematic as the weather gets cold…sigh).  But for now, I run outside and spin.  So that (just, hah) leaves the dinner nightmare.

I tried a few things to get re-motivated for cooking healthy, lo-co dinners.  Online searches for new menus left me uncharacteristically bored.  Two beautiful (and expensive) new cookbooks have been skimmed but not used. Melissa Clark and Julia Moskin’s columns in the New York Times are interesting as always, but have just not inspired me to cook a new dish.

But the August 22 NYT article, “You Plan, I’ll Cook: Leaving the Menu to Others” hit home. I was particularly inspired by the efficiency of a service called The Fresh 20:

“… the Fresh20, a meal-planning service that provides recipes for a week’s worth of healthy dinners. Monday might be ginger and garlic pork with snow peas and red peppers; Friday, Napa rice noodle salad with Asian peanut dressing and mangoes. The week’s shopping list has 20 ingredients and is calibrated to eliminate waste (snow peas, carrots and red peppers appear in both days’ meals) and to cost $75 for five dinners for a family of four, or $3.75 a person per meal.

Ms. Swank Meili now shops for food just once a week. She is back at her pre-baby weight without, she says proudly, making one trip to the gym. And she is not stressed by figuring out what to cook and “making a million trips to the grocery store.”

Baby-weight-loss and cost savings were not what did it for me. What got me excited was the efficiency of this program: each week you get a menu, shopping list (which even offers quantities for substituing chicken or turkey for beef) – and you incorporate leftovers or earlier prep required for some meals later in the week.

A recipe skeptic, I warily checked out their site and was delighted to find that the menus looked like recipes I’d use – fresh ingredients that have steps (not just opening cans) but are also not too intricate… no one wants dinner-party recipes for every day. These recipes actually look like they’d taste good and be relatively easy to make.

So I joined.  I chose the ‘classic’ menu; they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free subscriptions.  Here’s what’s on this week’s menu:

  • Orange Glazed Pork Tenderloin
  • Halibut Puttanesca
  • Cuban Pork Sandwiches
  • Spaghetti and (turkey for me) meatballs
  • Grilled squash, plum and white bean salad.
Sounds great, no?  
I’ve just printed out the shopping list and am headed out for my 2 mile run.  Then it’s off to the grocery store armed with an already-printed-out shopping list.  I am almost… almost… almost excited about cooking this week. 



Healthy, Delicious and Easy Vegetable Curry

In this frigid tundra we call Connecticut (will it EVER stop snowing this winter?), I needed a break from the salad thing.  Something hearty and filling and warm.  Something that I could make for dinner that would yield lunch leftovers.

Casting about for a new Lo-Co recipe to meet these demanding criteria, I turned to one of my favorite sources, Cooking Light.   There I found a crock-pot recipe with 53 reviews and 4 stars (my minimum requirement for trying any new Cooking Light recipe) that looked interesting.

Then I hesitated.

First of all, this vegetarian recipe has 19 ingredients – 20 if you include the garnish of lemon wedges.  But a solid read-through revealed all was OK because I recognized each of the 19 ingredients (as opposed to the sunchoke (?) potato soup recipe I also considered).   Plus, all this recipe required was chopping — and many of these ingredients I could buy pre-chopped, so really, it was just mixing.

Totally do-able.

But still I hesitated because I’ve tried crock-pot cooking many times, always with mediocre results.  While dealing with the drudgery of eating salads I was in no mood for chopping and mixing 19 ingredients if there was a chance the result could be boring.

My worries were unfounded: this Vegetable and Chickpea Curry recipe is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever made in a crock-pot.  It’s hearty, creamy and so delicious that my husband, who was enjoying a pizza dinner with our son (way too many vegetables for broccoli-only-boy to try), pushed aside his slice and gulped down a bowlful.

Then we both had it for lunch the next day, and my husband asked when I was making it again.  I’d call that a huge recipe success, made even more delightful since not only is this recipe low cholesterol – it has NO cholesterol.

If you’ve never read Cooking Light, have a look at this recipe and its reviews on their website: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry. I took the advice of reviewers and added MORE curry (I like Penzeys Spices Sweet Curry Powder) and substituted sweet potato for baking potato.

Other modifications I made: as I detest green peppers, I went with red instead.  And since I accidentally purchased a jalapeno instead of a serrano pepper, I just opened a can of diced green chili peppers instead.

Way easier.

Plus, there is no need to measure all 19 ingredients carefully, which I love.  For example, I just diced one red pepper and one sweet potato, and tossed in most of the can of diced green chilis – and ignored the precise measurements listed.

For the recipe with my modifications, download the PDF on my Lo-Co Recipes page or here: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry, Modified.  As it just started snowing again, I think I’ll make another batch this weekend.