This was it. The kind of week the Plan was made for. Dave had events. I started a new job and produced two events in the evenings. We knew it was going to be trying.
Last Sunday, we kicked into high gear. We took a look at the number of meals we needed–18 lunches and dinners from Sunday night to Thursday night–and the number of nights we had time to cook–just one, Sunday. We weren’t just advance planning this week, we were advance cooking, and then portioning out the dishes into the 18 individual meals we’ll need. We didn’t expect to eat according to the plan, that is, only eating the Asian dish on Monday, Mexican on Wednesday, and so on, but we did look to our themes to choose the four dishes that we’ll rotate through for the week.
The cooking turned out to be pretty painless; the eating however, was a doozy. Since I’m writing this one with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll review the recipes within the plan.
MONDAY – Asian Night: Pineapple Curry Fried Rice
This is a great dish, adapted from The New Best Recipe‘s fried rice by adding a tablespoon of curry powder. Fried rice is also generally pretty easy to make, so long as you start with cold rice. We try to make the rice the day before, but the morning of works fine, too.
This is quickly becoming one of my favorite meals. The distinct, warm flavor of the curried rice is punctuated by the bright pineapple, and the blend of textures is just right. Fried rice is a great “eat for a week” dish, too, as it holds its flavor well and reheats easily.
TUESDAY – Mediterranean Night: Chicken with Couscous, Chickpeas, and Apricots
A Best Skillet Recipes dish consisting of lightly breaded and sauteed chicken cutlets over a bed of seasoned couscous with chickpeas and dried apricots. Verdict: Good, though not excellent. Couscous cooks so quickly that it’s hard to imbue it with much more than its natural flavor, which is why I typically like it as a side dish for heavily seasoned or rich proteins and vegetables, when the blandness can be a relief. This recipe though just lacked oomph and seemed sort of unbalanced – the apricots had great texture, but contributed to an overall sweetness that cried out for a heat that was nowhere to be found. The dish desperately needed harissa or warming spices. Frying the chickpeas in toasted spices or adding spice to the chicken breading could have added the missing element.
WEDNESDAY – Mexican Night: Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa
Yikes. Not. A. Keeper. I hate to malign the original recipe too much since I did make some changes, but this is not a recipe I’ll be trying again. The basic idea is to combine quinoa, broth, beans, and vegetables in the slow cooker with the goal of a dense, casserole-consistency dish. My grave error was adding to the mix some tomatoes that were about to turn; the additional liquid completely threw off the proportions. Instead of a casserole, we ended up with slop: squishy, wet, overcooked quinoa porridge. The seasoning was good, but honestly, it was hard to choke this down for two lunches this week. Blech. Thinking about it now, I just can’t imagine how cooking quinoa for two-and-half-hours with any degree of liquid is going to turn out well, though I could imagine the concept working if you tried it in the oven, arroz con pollo style, or on the stove top using a paellera.
THURSDAY – American Classics Night: Lasagna
Freezer lasagna that is. Sweet Jesus, this was hard to get through. As Dave put it, lasagna is something you want to eat like once every six months, not four times in a week so that you can get finish off the pan. This was a vegetarian lasagna with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, a style I like well enough, but don’t rave about even when it’s fresh. I tried to make it more palatable by putting fresh arugula on top of each serving, and that did help, but it wasn’t enough to keep this from feeling like a slog.
FRIDAY – Wild Card
Shrimp burger at the Holloway, where have you been all my life??
SATURDAY – Friend/Family Night
Celebrating my new job with the fam!
SUNDAY – Elaborate
Momma’s gonna get her cooking on.
To do a quick goals check-in, I’ll say that we did nail our budget this week and admittedly, I didn’t have much anxiety about deciding what to eat (just about eating it!). On the other hand, as if my distress weren’t totally apparent from the descriptions of Wednesday and Thursday, this was a less than satisfying week from an enjoyment perspective. Cycling through the M – Th foods for ten meals (Sunday dinner through Friday lunch) was too much, especially when two of the meals were just not very good. That’s the dark side of pre-planning and cooking: when a dish goes awry, you’re stuck with it, and a LOT of it, too.
We did have a pretty major deviation from the plan in that we broke down and ordered a pizza on Wednesday night – we were just exhausted, the couscous was finished, and we knew if we ate fried rice we’d have nothing but quinoa gunk and lasagna for the rest of the week. The next time we have a week this intense, I’m going to build a night of takeout or a couple lunches out into the plan. The sanity is worth the money.
Another thing this week illustrated is that a crazy week is not the time to try to hero up and clean out the freezer (the lasagna) or try a very new dish from an untested source (the quinoa). When there’s such little room for error, it’s better to rely on tried-and-true recipes. Finally, I was reminded that when I’m really pushing myself, I shouldn’t jettison the goals of being healthy and frugal, but I should think about pushing enjoyment higher on the priority list. I find it far easier to stay focused during a busy time when food feels like a source of joy, not more work to get through.