How to cook through a cookbook: Part I - Meal PLANNING

Ottolenghi Simple and Viet Food Any Day cookbooks

For years, I amassed a collection of cookbooks - fabulous tomes full of brilliant recipes. And yet, I rarely cooked from them. I thought my culinary training, seasonal approach, and natural enthusiasm would carry me through. I also (wrongly) thought that people who used recipes weren’t very good cooks. Occasionally, I’d scan a handful of recipes for a dish, get the gist and then just freestyle. Until 2020.

The first few months of the pandemic were pure comfort food: burgers, pizza, shepherd’s pie, pork paprikash, pasta pasta pasta, roast chicken, and every baked good known to humankind. I ran through my full repertoire pretty quickly. I was cooking so much I felt like I was running a restaurant. And I don’t even have a dishwasher! I was getting very bored.

Back in my Brooklyn days, I had a friend from grad school who would plan a whole week or month around a style of cuisine so that she could efficiently work through the pantry items. I figured it was time to try this method, but couldn’t find the ingredients I wanted without driving all over hell’s half acre or giving my money to Amazon for something that may have already been sitting in a warehouse for a year. I started ordering directly from small, artisanal producers but the shipping bills quickly racked up. There are a few good spice shops that sell online, but no one had the full spread of ingredients I was looking for in a one-stop shop.

So, here I am… I created Larderie so that I could have all the ingredients for an adventurous cook. It’s not a deep dive into Szechuan cuisine (yet), but it’s growing to be a little bit of everything. Larderie is here for people who want to dive in a bit more - learn some new techniques, taste some new flavors, and work with great ingredients. 

I’ll admit, this works best if you’re a planner. At the very least, you’ve got to be willing to try the planning thing. Personally, my life can get pretty hectic. Between parenting, commuting, and attempting to both sleep and exercise, the time I have for cooking is nowhere near as ample as it used to be. 

Oh, how fondly I remember the days of drinking wine, listening to music and cooking for hours on a weeknight, only to eat dinner at 10pm. These days, I read all the meal prep blogs and have an entire tupperware board on pinterest (eye roll… barf… I know). 

What drives me absolutely crazy about all the meal prep blogs is the idea that I would make a big batch of soup and a big batch of sheet pan chicken and veg and eat those two things in rotation over the course of the week. NEVER! I live for variety! Alas, I’m a bougie bitch with a not very bougie schedule.

Beyond the insane culinary demands I have placed on myself, we’ve been making a conscious effort to eat less meat and waste less food. I swore I’d master compost this year, and my husband is hell-bent on eliminating plastic and plastic bags. We all pick our battles…

Everyone has a different way of doing this, but here are a few guidelines that we have found work well in our household for menu planning and meal prep.

  1. Try something new, but only one wild idea per week.
  2. Eat something green with every meal.
  3. Not too much meat - no more than 4 dinners out of 7 is the goal.
  4. 1 night of takeout; 1 night of leftovers; Mom cooks 3 nights, Dad cooks 2.
  5. One or two “big projects”  so that it’s no more than 2 hours of meal prep on the weekend.
  6. It’s okay to make the kid something else if what I really want is a weird-textured spicy thing, otherwise he has to at least try it.

So what exactly do we eat in a week? Here is an example of a meal plan as I dig into Mi Cocina, by Rick Martinez. 

Breakfasts

We are trying to eat less eggs, so we stock a few different things so that we can choose what we want. That typically means:

  • Overnight oats with almond milk, cinnamon, and honey + fruit, chia seeds, nut butter
  • Avocado toast with some kind of chile flake (urfa, aleppo, etc)
  • Peanut butter toast with fruit
  • Eggs with veggies and/or cheese - usually leftover veggies from dinner, wilted greens, or that last bit of chopped onion that didn’t get used. Cheddar and parm are the go-tos in our house because I’m lactose intolerant and the fresh cheeses don’t agree with me (a cruel fate for someone who loves food this much).

Lunches

My husband almost always has lunch on the fly provided at work. I try to eat some kind of salad with some kind of protein or filler (meat, beans, heavy roasted veg). Sometimes I literally just dump leftovers on lettuce and drizzle with dressing. Our kiddo usually gets a rotation of:

  • Rice, veg, meat du jour
  • Pasta with peas and either red sauce or parm and butter
  • PB&J with a medley of crunchy veggies, fruit and a dairy item
  • A bonafide sampler of cold cuts, crudites, and cheese, complete with crackers (he loves this)

Dinner

This is where it gets fun! We’re lucky that our kiddo will accept peas, broccoli and green beans, so those are always on hand. He will also eat anything that resembles pasta or meatballs, any kind of bread or tortilla, black beans and noodle soups, so we’re pretty lucky.

Saturdays are almost always grocery days and Saturday/Sunday are the big cook nights (Mom cooks and tackles meal prep for the week). So we’ll start there:

SATURDAY
We have a friend coming over, so I like to make a big spread and some kind of appetizer nibble. I usually do the cooking, so we’ll dive into the new book. When I start with a new cookbook, I tackle the basics before getting into the heavy stuff.

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Poached eggs on toast with broccoli rabe greens

Salad Nicoise

Aquachile with tostada chips, arroz verde, and black beans

Aquachile from Mi Cocina by Rick MartinezBlack BeansArroz Verde


SUNDAY

Kiddo is with the grandparents for the end of spring break, so this is my opportunity to meal prep and maybe eat something new or spicy.

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Avocado Toast

Fruit

Ramen

(I’m obsessed with the fresh noodles and sauce base for $6.99 at the store. I like to garnish with a soft cooked egg, a strip of nori, some scallion and sesame seeds. Sometimes I wilt greens too!)

Roast Chicken with Pipian Rojo, Leftover Arroz Verde (we’ll see how it keeps!), Black Beans, and broccoli rabe

Roast Chicken with Pipian RojoMoriqueta MichoacanaSopa de Lima

MONDAY

Still no kiddo and I’m working from home, so more fun stuff!

Morisqueta Michoacana (slow cooked pork with roasted tomatoes and guajillos), with grilled sweet potato and broccoli. 

TUESDAY

Mom commutes and we have a 7pm school tour, so dad is responsible and it needs to be kid-friendly.

Sopa de Lima with a side salad



WEDNESDAY

Dad’s working and Mom’s on school tour duty, so this sounds like a takeout night. 

Takeout! Maybe Pizza?



THURSDAY

Mom commutes and another 7pm school tour means dad is responsible. This must be leftovers night. We’ll clean the fridge out and get ready to do it all again on Saturday.

Leftovers




FRIDAY

Tofu, mushroom, and bok choy stir fry over rice

Kiddo might eat broccoli and rice with soy sauce. Maybe we’ll make Dino Nuggets!



Follow along next week for Part II: Meal PREP where I get into food storage, and food prep techniques, and the real real on sticking to the menu.