Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ideas for Dinner with Chicken Pictures

But not pictures of chicken for dinner....

Tonight, for some reason, I find myself with the urge to write a blog post.  I'm sure it's been over six months this time.  But events have conspired to make tonight's post possible and I'm going with it.

First, kids are all in bed.  Second, I have some recently uploaded photos to share.  Who wants a post without photos? Third, I have a new homemaking thing that is working for me.  Innocuous, non-judgemental.  Just potentially helpful.

John loves animals.

I've tried many approaches to meal planning.  There's the "pour over cookbooks for hours searching for the perfect recipes" approach.  Not very time efficient.  And you can't have your favorite dish (anything in white sauce) every night.

Or the "use someone else's 52 weeks of completely different menus for each night of the week approach."  Actually, although you don't really know what you're going to get with this second one, I do recommend it if you are just starting out. (With planning or cooking.)  I did a Saving Dinner Menumailer for a year and it was like going through a cooking course.  I just went ahead and did everything on the mailer.  I go to know many different cooking techniques and foods.  Who knew I would end up liking a dish with sour kraut?

Maggie was very brave.

There's also the seasonal menu approach: one week of meals repeated for six to eight weeks.  I appreciated the predictability and really getting to know the recipes.  One of the frustrating things about the menumailer was that I never knew how long the recipe would really take me to make or how much we'd have left over.  When you make the same meal once a week for six weeks, you know.  Plus, buying in bulk was easy.  You need all the same ingredients next week. And it was nice to plan for the different seasons. (And with our Orthodox fasting seasons, what we eat changes drastically every few months.)  But a little boring, no?

But I am a busy homeschooling mother of four.  I need to move toward simplicity in the kitchen.  No more than one "fancy" (or complicated) dinner a week.  If that.  Single ingredient dishes beckon.  Steamed vegetables (and microwaved frozen). Potatoes.  Rice.  Low brain-power cooking.

We got to borrow our friends' chickens.

I wish I could remember all their names! 

I tried to use all crock pot meals for a while.  There are pluses and minuses.  The pluses: all the prep is done way before dinner time.  That leaves time for cleaning up before dinner and setting the table.  Dinner may be more likely to be on time.  That is, if you get it done early enough.  If not (this is a minus), you may find yourself converting your crock recipe to a stove-top version. And probably if you are feeling rushed to cook in the afternoon, it is likely that your morning is already filled as well.  Where is one to put the cooking time?  And anyway, it all starts to taste, feel, and look the same.  There are only so many ways to prepare meat with carrots, onions, and celery in a sauce.  But there is certainly a place for this machine in my kitchen.

He's in heaven.  Not sure about the chicken.

So one day, I jotted down a two-week rotation of categories of meals.  I'd recently discovered a couple of different recipes in Bittman's How to Cook Everything that were basic techniques with long lists of variations.  Bittman is great for this.  Often after the variations, he adds on another list with even more ways to spice up the recipe.

I've seen people do this daily themed menu before.  Sometimes they go for ethnic themes.  Or a certain meat on a certain day.  Mine lists the type of meat (or main dish) and the cooking method.  I didn't list any sides.  I figured I'd let the main dish or my laziness on that particular day determine those.

Boys and birds.

Curious?  Here's what I've got:

Week 1
  • Sunday: Broiled Chicken Breasts
  • Monday: Crock Beef
  • Tuesday: Baked Chicken Parts (Bittman—lots of variations)
  • Wednesday: Shrimp
  • Thursday: Meatloaf or meatballs (my note: make double!)
  • Friday: Pizza or Pasta
  • Saturday: Brunch (mid morning) and Leftovers (or something just as easy) for dinner
Week 2:
  • Sunday: Broiled Sausages
  • Monday: Crock Chicken (or pork)
  • Tuesday: Stew Beef (Bittman—lots of variations)
  • Wednesday: Tuna
  • Thursday: Roast Chicken (my note: roast 2!)
  • Friday: Pizza or Arabic
  • Saturday: Brunch (mid morning) and Leftovers (or something just as easy) for dinner
Those chickens were very forgiving.

It's working well!  To some extent, I can work with my mood and the ingredients I happen to have on hand—it's more flexible than listing a specific recipe. But it's specific enough that I can more easily defrost the right meat at the right time or jot down a grocery list for my husband (who, yes, does all the shopping for me—I thank him all the time).  It also allowed me to plan for what nights need a reeeeeeally easy dinner and what night I have a little more time to work (on a moderately easy dinner or to stockpile the freezer).

And the crock pot night is the night when I don't have time to cook in the afternoon at all.  I knew there was a place for that thing in my rotation.

I've also found that the kids prefer foods that are one main ingredient or a couple, rather than a big mixed up, chunky soup.  I happen to like lots of textures all together.  But it really does make me happy to see them clean their plates.  Most of them eat pretty well these days.  So what if they prefer things separate?

He's either putting them back in their house or trying to lure them back out.

A budding animal lover.  She is currently begging for a dog.  She says she'll help walk it in the backyard.

So, to the few people who tell me they occasionally check my blog, there you are.  Maybe I'll even check back in with an update for an Advent Fast version of my two-week rotation.  Wish me luck with that idea.  :)


  1. Thanks for sharing! I'm pregnant and tired ... and nothing sounds good, ever, unless, perhaps, someone ELSE has cooked it. :) Your rotation looks doable, and has variety! I've never looked at Bittman's books, but I think the time has come for me. Thanks for all the tips.

  2. P.S. I'm a comma-lover, but as I re-read my comment, I realized the second sentence would drive my non-comma-happy husband (and surely others, too!) mad. :) Whoops!

  3. Sigh, it takes me so long to get back to those who leave comments because I can't figure out how to comment using my iPod, which is how I use the internet for the most part. I don't think Google wants to make it very easy, seeing as they and Apple are rivals.

    Annie, I love the commas in your first comment. They make for a very clear sentence. I, too, am a comma lover. :)

    Matushka, thanks! Congratulations, by the way. I've also tried to comment over at your place and it just gets lost somehow. See above. So very, very happy for you and your family!

    1. And of course, I just now notice that Google has added a helpful "Reply" button. I feel old.

  4. Well, I'm so slow even to read things that this comment is months late. The kids look adorable with the chickens and I appreciate the dinner planning tips. I feel like this has been a week of "I don't feel like cooking. What's in the freezer?" Email me if you're still in Chicago...


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