Meal plan: 19 February 2012

Meals are getting better and better in the Bangers & Mash household.

Firstly I put it down to the meal planning, which has made me think much more carefully about what and how we eat.

And secondly, it’s due to writing this blog, which I’ve been doing for almost three months now. It’s certainly helping to keep me on my toes, forcing me to be more creative in the kitchen, try out lots of new recipes and even develop my own dishes.

This week, I think, has been a particularly good one mealwise. Lots of highs and not a single low.

As it was the half term holidays, we got to enjoy some big meals at lunchtime with lighter meals in the evening. I much prefer eating this way. We even had roast chicken for Friday lunch, which is always such a treat.

The first high has to be our romantic Valentine’s meal, once the children were tucked up in bed. We enjoyed a scrumptious pan-fried duck breast salad with mixed berries and walnuts from a recipe by the wonderful Karen Booth over at Lavender & Lovage.

Pan-fried duck salad from Lavender & Lovage

I can’t plan a romantic meal without chocolate featuring on the menu, so we followed the duck salad with a gorgeous chocolate and raspberry mousse, adapted from a recipe I found on the Riverford website.

Chocolate and raspberry mousse

Later in the week I cooked a delicious celery and blue cheese soup. I don’t mind admitting it was out of this world. I know soup isn’t normally something to get excited about, but there was something really quite sexy about this one. Again I promise to post my recipe in the next few days.

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

I tried out some lemon and ricotta pancakes as a mid-week pudding, ahead of Shrove Tuesday, and these were a fantastic success. I adapted a recipe I found in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook, which I borrowed from the library at the weekend. I look forward to testing out and playing with more recipes from here in the coming weeks.

Lemon and ricotta pancakes

And my final legal high of the week was a spicy chorizo and butter bean soup I made for a light supper on Saturday evening. I wasn’t really expecting much but it was packed full of gutsy flavour. Yet again, recipe to follow shortly.

So here it is then. Last week’s meal plan in its entirety…

Monday 13 February
Lunch: butternut squash soup (F)
Dinner: tortilla and salad

Tuesday 14 February
Lunch: ham salad rolls followed by love heart jam tarts
Dinner: (kids) beef casserole and baked potato (F) (adults) pan-fried duck breast salad with mixed berries and walnuts, followed by chocolate and raspberry mousse

Wednesday 15 February
Lunch: hummus and salad wraps
Dinner: pumpkin & parsnip cassoulet with homemade garlic bread

Thursday 16 February
Lunch: celery and blue cheese soup followed by lemon and ricotta pancakes
Dinner: chilli con carne (my husband made a mild version for the children)

Friday 17 February
Lunch: roast chicken, roast potatoes and steamed vegetables
Dinner: leek and potato soup

Saturday 18 February
Lunch: baked potatoes and salad
Dinner: Spicy chorizo and bean soup

Sunday 19 February
Lunch: mutton casserole and spicy corn bread (F)
Dinner: Bread, cheese and salad

F = from freezer

Meal plan: 29 January 2012

It might have taken a day to prepare, but our Chinese new year meal was fantastic

I’m very happy to say it’s been a good week for meals in our house. Lots of old favourites and some new experiments too.

Highs

The outstanding highlight of our culinary week has to be the Chinese new year feast on Saturday.

Food is a great way to bring families together, and for me this was true despite my family being scattered across the world.

I’d sent out a plea to aunts and cousins and not only recipes came back, but a whole host of wonderful food memories.

It was quite special to know that both my cousin in Sweden and I were preparing the same soup for our families, and still eating leftovers several days later!

Jerusalem artichokes with bacon, leeks and sage

Another highlight were the Jerusalem artichokes for supper on Tuesday.

I cooked them with bacon, leeks and sage using a Riverford recipe and served them simply with big hunks of buttered bread. Truly gorgeous and very satisfying.

On Friday night we had a family favourite: beef stew and parsley dumplings, a perfect winter warmer, which went down well with my husband after an exhausting game of squash.

Lows

I’m feeling quite smug in being able to say there were no kitchen disasters this week. The only downside to our week’s eating was the morning-after windiness following the delicious artichokes!

It doesn’t really constitute a low but I wasn’t totally happy with my pizza muffins for the children’s lunch boxes. I think that recipe will need a little work before I publish it.

Monday 23 January
Lunch: healthy green soup and sandwiches
Dinner: spaghetti bolognese

Tuesday 24 January
Lunch: healthy green soup and sandwiches
Dinner: mutton curry F

Wednesday 25 January
Lunch: pizza muffins
Dinner: Jerusalem artichokes with bacon, leeks and sage

Thursday 26 January
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner (kids): minestrone soup F (adults): stuffed chicken breasts with beetroot and potato dauphinoise

Friday 27 January
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: beef stew and parsley dumplings

Saturday 28 January
Lunch: bread, cheese and salad
Dinner: Chinese New Year meal

Sunday 29 January
Lunch: Chinese leftovers
Dinner: Hummus, bread and salad

F = from freezer

Why another food blog?

Earlier this year I realised I had to make some serious changes to how I shop for food and cook for my family.

My husband had changed jobs and starting a new career in a primary school, while I was in the process of cutting my work hours to spend more time with our children. Our monthly income had taken a severe nosedive.

One evening we sat down to work out where we could reduce our outgoings. We were shocked, nay disgusted, at how much we’d been spending on groceries. I’d always thought I was pretty organised with our food shopping, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What made it worse was how blissfully ignorant we were of what a hash we’d been making of things.

On top of the fortnightly deliveries from Sainsbury’s Online, our bank statements told a sorry tale of frequent pops to the local corner shop to top up on things we’d run out of (and of course those emergency bottles of wine required after stressful days) and buying impulse items at markets and farm shops, doing our bit to support local producers naturally.

Despite spending an astronomic amount on food and drink, it occurred to us that we hadn’t really been eating well for our money. All too often we’d go to our (full) fridge but be lost for what to cook for supper. None of the lovely ingredients would quite add up to a meal. So we’d end up resorting to a basic staple (like spaghetti with sauce) or, I’m sorry to say, ordering a takeaway.

Then there’s the food waste. The amount going in the food bin each week as a result of this haphazard approach to food shopping was shameful.

Now I know it’s not rocket science but when the idea of a weekly meal plan occurred to me it felt like a major revelation. My Nana and mother-in-law think I’m hilarious because this is how they always cooked for their families; simply sitting down once a week to decide on meals for the coming week and then shopping accordingly.

These days it’s not how most of us shop or eat. Not the people I know anyway. We decide what we fancy on the day, which means eating out lots, shopping every day or having a fridge full of ‘just in case’ ingredients that end up rotting to a squishy pulp somewhere at the back.

Because life is hectic we think we don’t have time to plan ahead. But I’ve learned over the last few months that spending an hour or so on a Sunday evening planning meals saves so much time later in the week. There are far fewer trips to the corner shop and I love having the freezer stocked with meals for those days when I know I’m going to be too busy to cook, never mind even think about food.

As well as massively reducing the amount of food getting chucked out and slashing our food bills by about half, the simple act of planning our meals has also led to us eating a much more varied, interesting and health diet.

Because I’ve been raving about the benefits of meal planning to anyone who’ll listen, friends have suggested I start a blog to share my experiences. So here it is. Notes from my kitchen for anyone like me trying to feed their family good, tasty, wholesome food on a limited budget, without compromising on quality of ingredients.

So watch this space for recipe suggestions, weekly meal plans and ways to save money as well as details of my culinary successes and failures. I just want to share what works for me and my family in case any of it’s useful, and I’d love to hear from you on what works for you and yours!