Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekly Menus at The Majestic

We're in lean times... or so they keep saying. Being a bit more budget conscious in the past several months and learning to stretch a dollar has been a real learning experience and has resulted in a lot of fun for me when it comes to eating well. I've figured out that it doesn't really take $40 to buy groceries to make dinner for two, even at Whole Foods, and that creating weekly menus for Dan and myself is a fun and interesting challenge. I give myself a budget of $80 to do my weekly shopping. For that I try to get six meals for two, and surprisingly enough I usually come out under budget and with leftover food.

A typical grocery run might include a whole chicken, ground pork, ground turkey, beef bones, yellow onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, eggplants, pita bread, canned tomatoes, eggs, a small hunk of good cheese, and milk. I try and shop the circumference of the grocery rather than interior aisles buying mostly fresh vegetables and proteins. If I do buy things from the aisles, they are usually things like dried pasta, lentils, rice, olive oil, or bread crumbs - essentially things that will keep for a long time so I can buy them only occasionally rather than weekly. I also walk to and from the grocery, so carrying more than a couple bags of groceries for the few blocks can be a bit cumbersome.

The actual cooking process of these menus will take the bulk of a day, around six to eight hours. With the above mentioned grocery list, I might compose a weekly menu of stuffed peppers, turkey meatloaf, roasted chicken breast, gumbo, baba ghanouj, French onion soup, and macaroni and cheese. These are all things than I can cook just about up to the finish, keep in the fridge, and heat in the oven when I get home. I've accumulated lots of individual sized casserole dishes over the years, so I can eat macaroni and cheese while Dan has meatloaf. I also like to have something that tastes great cold like the baba ghanouj that we can snack on right away so that I'm not tempted to overeat when dinner is actually ready. Cracking open a bottle of wine that will go with dinner and having a glass while we wait the 30 or 40 minutes for dinner to heat up is also another really nice way to unwind.

On cooking days, while I have stocks and soups simmering or things in the oven roasting, I try and accomplish personal goals like working on the Silvestrini Etudes or reading up on food and wine periodicals for work-related things. It's become a sort of meditation of domestic bliss one day a week and helps me feel more at home when I get done with a long evening of waiting tables. A home cooked meal sure does beat the usual Chinese takeout 4 out of 5 times. I still do love Chinese takeout every now and then. The key is variety. It is the spice of life after all!

Stuffed Bell Peppers Majestueux

4 large green bell peppers
1 medium yellow onion chopped
1 stalk celery chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons dried herbs (coriander, basil, thyme, oregano, or whatever you like)
1 cup of cooked white rice
1/4 pound ground pork
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon AP flour
1/4 cup grated gruyere or cheddar
vegetable oil
  1. Prepare the peppers: cut off the tops and remove seeds and tough white parts inside the peppers by scooping them out with a spoon. Discard the "guts" and chop the tops of the peppers, excluding stems, and set aside for use later. Steam the bottoms of the peppers for about 10 to 15 minutes or until they are cooked through but still bright green and firm. Shock them in an ice bath to stop them from overcooking.
  2. Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper and brown in a hot skillet with a little vegetable oil. Once the fat is rendered, remove the pork to drain on a paper towel and set aside for use later. Save the fat in the pan!
  3. In the same skillet with the pork fat, sautée the onion, celery, chopped pepper tops, and garlic over medium heat until tender. Deglaze with vermouth and reduce.
  4. Make a basic white sauce in a sturdy sauce pan by melting the butter and combining with the flour. Once the roux has ceased bubbling, gradually whisk in the milk. Bring the heat up until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the cheese and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Combine the cheese sauce, rice, sautéed vegetables, dried herbs and browned pork in a bowl and mix well. Stuff the peppers and serve after warming through in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or save for later in the refrigerator. Reheat in a 400 degree for about half and hour.