In-between putting up yard sale signs, sorting closets and packing boxes, I take a much needed breather with you here to share a Spanish tortilla recipe we've been making often during these hectic weeks, and some thoughts on meal planning.
I was sharing with a friend that even in these hectic times, we're still eating real food and having delicious, albeit easily put together, meals. For me, it's just as quick to make a Greek salad, and pan-fry a lamp chop with eggplant, as it is to prepare processed foods or getting take-out. And so much better. She admitted this was true, but for her, the issue was the planning, the logistics of knowing what to cook, having it on hand etc. In short, it's all about the meal planning.
I can certainly understand this, because it used to be our case before we had Pablo. Trying to decide what to eat at the last minute when it's already late and we're already starving, not feeling like looking up recipes and not having a lot of things on hand... too tired to improvise. We never did a lot of processed or prepared foods, but certainly would go for rice, pasta or potatoes more than we should have. The amount and variety of vegetable was fairly dim (mostly tomatoes and cucumber, really), and the overall variety of our meals was seriously lacking. I would cook new recipes mostly for special occasions. On a daily basis during the week, cooking felt overwhelming, there just seemed to be no time for it.
Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you. If so, let me tell you that the antidote to this cooking rut for me was meal planning.
When I started consistent meal planning when Pablo was 12 months, it all changed.
It's ironic that I write about it this week, because I actually have not had the time to really make our formal weekly meal plan as I usually do. But these past couple of weeks have made me realize how much I have learned from meal planning after doing it for almost 1 year and half now.
When you meal plan month after month, slowly, cooking on a daily basis and cooking and eating meals made of real foods, becomes a habit, you can start doing it somewhat on auto-pilot. What used to feel like a huge endeavor, has become easy, a task almost done as a matter of course. Improvising such a meal feels natural and no longer daunting. Because you've tried so many different recipes, seen the ones you really like, your meal "palette", so to speak, is much wider. Opening up a recipe book and deciding to make something last minute feels fun rather than complicated. Some things keep coming back from week to week, tried and true, easy recipes your family enjoys. After months of meal planning, you start to have a "pool" of your family's favorites, and even on a week where you haven't had a chance to do the weekly plan, you can always count on making those staples (for us, it's things like French-style grated carrots or lentil salad, pan-fried Dover sole, pea salad, chicken basquaise, among others...) Like in everything else in life, practice makes perfect.
So it basically comes down to two things: Why do it? And how to do it?
10 reasons to make a meal plan
- It makes it a lot easier to have consistently balanced and delicious meals with a lot of variety
- It takes away the "what are we having tonight?" anxiety
- It gives an opportunity to try new recipes, new ingredients
- Planning time for cooking helps experiencing cooking as a time to recharge, to be in the present moment, to slow down, be grounded within ourselves
- It helps waste less food
- It saves money on shopping
- It makes the grocery shopping more straightforward
- It helps take advantage of all the seasonal produce
- It creates opportunities of connection for the family (in the planning, cooking and eating part)
- It works! It's one of those things that you will not regret once you try it. I promise you it will make your life easier and less stressful, and your meals tastier. The process will feel so much easier once you start, too.
How to go about it
First, I would say start with trying it once or twice a week. Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend, grab 1 or 2 cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelf. Maybe browse Pinterest or your favorite food blogs for some ideas that spark your tastebuds. And make the menu for one or two dinners for the following week. Print out the recipes, make your shopping list. Then set aside the day and time you will go shopping for it. Post the menus on the fridge, that way, the whole family can look forward to it! If you like it, slowly work your way up to weekly meal planning. (I've created a simple weekly menu template you can download here.)
Start a list of recipes you want to make in the future. When you have a couple of spare minutes, browse through papers/magazines, food blogs (cut out / print recipes, make a folder to keep on hand), Pinterest (create a board with images of recipes you want to make), bookmark recipes in your own cookbook that make you salivate or intrigue you. I've created a very simple document for you to download to list recipes (this one is very basic, would love your feedback on whether it is helpful, as I'll be working on creating more documents of the kind in the coming weeks). When you sit down to make a meal plan, you'll have a great list of ideas to work with.
Go with the seasons
Think seasonal. Keep a list on your fridge of common seasonal produce in your area. Look up recipes with those seasonal ingredients (I found a pretty good list here). See what's currently available by visiting your local farmer's market.
Schedule it inMake it part of your schedule : decide what time you need to start cooking to get dinner ready at the desired time, and put it on your calendar. Plan on it the same way some plan to sit down to watch a TV program.
Make it a family project
Get your family involved in this if they're interested, have them pick a recipe, or an ingredient to work with. Have the kids help with preparations. Look at cookbooks together. Go to the Farmer's Market together. Make it a family project, a way to connect.
Trust you can work with the (little) time you have
Be realistic in the amount of time and help you will need to grocery shop and prepare the meals. You don't necessarily need a lot of time to prepare a great meal. Start with determining the time you'll have for a given meal, and select recipe accordingly.
Think rainbow, when looking for ideas and creating your meal plan, try to include vegetables and fruits of the different colors of the rainbow within a day, this way you will be sure to eat a lot of the vitamins and nutrients you and your family need. Rule of thumb: the brighter the color of a vegetable or fruit, the more vitamins.
Think leftovers. For example, the tortilla recipe I'm sharing here, we served it as an appetizer one night, so there was half left over, the perfect quantity for a picnic lunch the next day. Be on the lookout for recipes that lend themselves to this. The days you have a little extra time, plan on recipes that can be kept a few days and eaten later in the week, like hot or cold soups (which also be frozen for later use), stews, cooked vegetables eaten cold with simple vinaigrette (cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, potatoes, leeks are perfect examples, you can boil or steam them one night, and with easy raw vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber and some fresh herbs on hand, you will have a wide variety of combinations for the next few days: potato-cauliflower-green beans chives, green beans tomato cucumber-parsley, zucchini-mint vinaigrette, leeks vinaigrette, tomato-potato, etc...)
Meal planners out there, do you have more tips to share?
TO DOWNLOAD (FREE) THE RECIPE TO DO LIST, CLICK HERE
TO DOWNLOAD (FREE) THE WEEKLY MEAL PLAN TEMPLATE, CLICK HERE
(Your feedback is most welcome on those!)
Now, about this Spanish tortilla recipe (basically a kind of omelet or fritatta), it's delicious, fairly quick to prepare, and you can get very creative with it without fearing the result to go awry. We had a parsnip in our veggie basket that was getting soft, so I used it here. You can add any greens that might be getting bored in your crisper. Also a great opportunity to experiment with different herbs, adding them chopped and raw to the eggs brings out their flavor. In short, it's a very malleable dish which you can make your own easily. The wonderful directions and tips from Aran Goyoaga in Small Plates & Sweet Treats made this a sure-fire success.
I can remember having a simple potato tortilla at our Spanish relatives in Northern Spain some years ago... to this day, it just feels like the flavor of Spain. A little mind and tastebud traveling in these hectic times, is most welcome...
Spanish Tortilla with parsnip, zucchini, chards & dillAdapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga
Serves 4 as an entree
Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn
Age for babies: 10-12 months (depending on your child's tolerance of egg white).
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large + 1 small Russet potato
1 parsnip (or you can just use 2 large Russet potatoes)
2 leaves of rainbow chards
2 small zucchinis
3/4 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 sprigs of dill
Prep the vegetables: mince the onion, peel and dice the potato and parsnip into bite size pieces. Remove the ribs of the chard leaves and chop grossly. Peel the zucchinis and dice them. Chop the dill.
In an 8 inch diameter frying pan (this is important, it's just the right size to flip the tortilla and cook it just right. I actually got my measuring tape to check this! It paid off), heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes until softened (not brown.). Then add the potatoes and parsnip with 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Then add the zucchinis and chards and cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 tsp salt, some pepper, and the dill.
When the potato mixture is done, using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato/vegetables (letting out the excess olive oil, but reserving it) onto an absorbent towel on a plate. Pour the extra olive oil out of the pan, except for 1 tbsp (I was only left with about 2-3 tbsp when all was said and done).
Then add the vegetables to the eggs and stir.
Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and pour the tortilla mixture in. With a wooden spoon, stir in a circular motion at the center of the pan, until the eggs start to cook. Then let it be for 2-3 minutes. Run your spatula along the edges.
Get as flat a plate as you can find. Place the plate over the frying pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Then gently slide it back into the frying pan to cook the other side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on how runny you like it inside. (It took me about 3 times to really perfect this move! If you miss the "flip" or it falls apart a little, oh well, still going to taste great! :-))
Then you can leave it in the pan or slide it onto a plate to serve. Let it cool a bit, it's best eaten just warm or even cold. (It keeps 2-3 days in the fridge, and can be reheated in the microwave.)
We have served it with a butter lettuce or endive salad, or with a side of cantaloupe and prosciutto. Delicious!