Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Plan Starts to Take Shape

So apparently I'm getting a lot of hits from some site whose URL includes the work "marketing" and comes from a ".biz" domain. Must be legit, right?

Anyway, I've been going over how to make this food plan, and I realized that I've been looking at it the wrong way. What I originally had in mind was an updated version of our old food plan, which was really just a rotating list of a few key recipes that we could make on a regular basis on family schedule (i.e., other than taking a few hours on a weekend to make something special). It was part of our larger effort to put together a monthly food budget, and figure out what we were spending on groceries (or rather, what we could be spending on groceries if we focused a little).

However, the list we came up with wasn't the most interesting part of the exercise. What was most interesting is what I learned from studying the list as a whole. The first was how the cost of most dishes hovered in the $8-10 range, while making enough for both me and Sharon to have dinner and then have leftovers for lunch, which put the per-meal rate at closer to $5. For the two of us to get takeout for, say, $20 twice a week means we're spending $1500 a year (real money, not pre-tax) extra on food than we have to. Put another way, we could alternatively treat ourselves to a very expensive meal once a month and still probably be pocketing some extra. Worst of all, between moving and the difficulties of getting settled into the new house, eating out two meals a week at $20 a pop is a pretty conservative number. Definitely looking forward to saving that money again.

But the biggest thing I noticed was that since I had to break down the component ingredients, I was able to see how many of them kept appearing in recipe after recipe. A bit part of it is because I like to do a lot of, well, let's call it classical cooking: dishes with a fairly long pedigree (or at least based on classical methods). I'm much less enamored with recipes from a lot of TV cooks nowadays who want to dress up their food with a whole variety of spices and odd ingredients: give me some mirepoix and a slab of protein to cut up and sear in some way and I'm happy.

What this meant was that while we made an actual list (and I remembered the dishes that were on it), I didn't feel beholden to it. If four out of five items on the list used onions and carrots, then you'd better believe I made sure to stock up on onions and carrots and keep them in the fridge. When I did get to the store, I was able to see what they had on sale (or just looked good that day to my eyes) and take it home, knowing that I'd be able to do something with it. Even though I had finally gotten a smartphone, I rarely needed to pull up some recipe when in the store--if I saw a couple good-looking pork chops, I felt comfortable enough tossing them into the cart (after checking the price, of course) and know that things would work out for the best.

Thinking back over the actual execution of the food plan, I realize that this is really what I want to do. I don't want a list of recipes that I take with me to the store once a week. Rather, I want to put together a new list of core recipes based on our current dietary needs, buy lots of the basics that we'll use a lot of (10 lb bag of onions, I'm looking at you), and be sure to get several day's worth of meat at a time. Of course, it's not quite that simple.

First of all is the planning. Like I mentioned earlier in the week, Sharon's tastes have been all over the place with this pregnancy (and, to be fair, with the earlier two as well). We're going to have to sit down and narrow down what constitutes the boundaries of meat that are going to be acceptable to have on hand. The downside? I know that slow-cooked beef is high on that list, which means having to start thinking about dinner much earlier in the day. The upside? I doubt we'll ever cross chicken breasts off the list, and there are a lot of fun applications I can make with them.

And, of course, there's me. Over the past few months, I've had a lot of luck on the Taubes diet (short version is that it's Atkins), and need to get back into the swing of things (it's hard to turn down carbs around Christmas). On paper, this won't be too much of a problem, since I've traditionally altered my diet by just shifting consumption of whatever we're having. If we're sitting down to chicken, steamed broccoli and rice, well I'm going to have more of the first two (mostly the broccoli) and not a whole lot, if any, of the third. Really, though, what's going to be the bigger hurdle for me is the mental: when I'm walking through Wegman's, I'm going to have to stop suppressing the memory of how tasty mashed potatoes can be.

So where does that leave us? The first step is to identify what meats are still on the menu, as well as brainstorm some ideas for new things we want to try (Sharon has been dropping hints about quinoa for longer than I care to remember). Once we get that, then we start with a new list of core recipes (with plenty of overlap, of course) and start trying them out. Once we've refined what we're all happy eating, we'll be able to focus more on techniques and less on specific recipes.

So really, what I'm saying is it's time to get back to basics.


Speaking of recipes, this looks good:

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