Cooking with a Friend: Cooking without a Plan

Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. The Cooking with a Friend series chronicles her cooking and menu planning adventures with her neighbor, J.

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This week, as we did in week 5, J. and I purchased a CSA box of vegetables. It was chock full of seasonal produce including green beans, new potatoes, cauliflower, alliums of all sorts, cucumbers, and fennel. "Does it make you itchy," I asked J. on email, "to try this week's menu on the fly tomorrow?" We had enough vegetables in the fridge and grains in the pantry, and I figured that by adding a few protein elements we could just improvise the menu when we got together on Sunday. To add to the vegetables, we purchased a whole chicken, a pork tenderloin, bacon, and eggs. When J. came over on Sunday, we spent a few minutes looking through the vegetables and making some decisions.

Cooking without an exact meal plan worked out okay for us during this specific week, but I'm not sure it's repeatable on a regular basis. Our menu, as you'll see below, didn't end up using the bacon or the eggs. Both ingredients were fine to hold over for a week or two, but it made our costs for this week a bit higher than normal.

A couple months ago, my friend Sam made delicious potatoes for a few friends during a girls' weekend away to the Russian River. I asked her for the recipe, and made them for J. and I. It was the first dish we've made that we gobbled up while we were cooking instead of saving it for the week. We convinced ourselves that the potatoes wouldn't be nearly as tasty when reheated, and that gave us free reign to eat the entire dish. If you'd like to recreate the perfect roasted potato, Sam uses this recipe from Delia Smith.

This week didn't have any other revelatory recipes, as most of them were things that we'd made before. Mark Bittman's chicken under a brick is becoming a staple as it's delicious and good to reheat. Much of the rest of the menu was dictated by the vegetables we had, and the lentil salad has been seen on our menus before. To make the pork tenderloin, we sliced it and marinated it for an hour or two in a spicy-soy marinade that I made up, then put it on a stove-top grill to quickly cook.

While the plan during cooking was to create a dish of pork and vegetables to be served over rice, both J. and I ended up eating the components in unconventional ways. One day, I ate the pork with rice, and the next, I ate all the stir-fried vegetables tossed with pasta. I really appreciate the flexibility of our menus for this reason. While the basis of the meal is created, there's still room to change up the menu during the week.

The food that we cooked during week eleven turned out successfully, but the cost, the food overage, and the initial chaos of the kitchen reminded me why we normally make a meal plan beforehand and stick to it.

Final Menu, Week 11

Cost: $44 each

Average weekly cost to date: $36 each

About the author: About the author: Jennifer Maiser is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.

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