Monday, October 24, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: Spanish Rice with Shrimp

Little interruption in our blog time due to a fabulous time up in Boston with some great friends including the one and only Angela King!  I have to track down all of the notes I took on the great beer we had while we were there but for now, back to the Make Ahead Meals!
The next meal on the list that we tackled was Spanish Rice with Shrimp.  This recipe involved using the Tomato Sauce , Rice Pilaf and also the Roasted Peppers.  I was hesitant about the tomato sauce because it seemed a little bland on its own.  This recipe came together incredibly fast!  Lesson number five: something to keep in mind with this and all of the Make Ahead recipes is that it doesn't seem to allow for the fact that you are removing these ingredients from the fridge to the pan.  You need to either bring them to room temperature before using them or throw them in the microwave for a minute or so just to get them heated up a bit.  I'm not  a huge fan of olives cooked into food but I like to try all of the recipes the way they are written the first time through.  The olives gave a it a delicious salty flavor that really kicked up the tomato sauce.  All together we really enjoyed this recipe and will definitely make it again!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: Pork and Avocado Tacos and then some...

On that Monday night after I had done all of the shopping for the meal plan and made the first two blocks, Pulled Pork and Tomato Sauce, on Sunday, I was ready to begin really trying the whole concept out.  I made the Pork and Avocado Tacos.  Now the article advises making the meals in the order they are listed on the website because that gives the greatest variety of meals per week and I do try to follow that as best I can but I had a guest coming over on Monday night with dietary restrictions that would not work well with the Spanish Rice with Shrimp.  Also, I hadn't finished making the rest of the building block recipes so this was one of the few for the first week that I could throw together.
The Pork and Avocado Tacos went over very well.  I had never had pork on a taco before, and I must say, it was very nice.  The dressing was delicious although honestly, I skipped the cilantro.  We aren't cilantro fans here.  I'm also not a huge fan of iceberg lettuce and wish I had just followed my instincts as I learned in lesson 3 and just used the lettuce I wanted to use.  The only thing that didn't work that well in my opinion was the veggie mixture was so chunky that it did not want to stay in the taco shells.  I ended up only putting a small amount in the shell and eating the rest as salad.  Oh and FYI: this entire concoction baked over tortilla chips as nachos - Outstanding!  I think I preferred it that way more than any other combination.
After dinner as we are cleaning up and catching up, I started the rest of the building block recipes.  Lesson Number 4: get a good oven thermometer!  My oven pretty much claimed to never get up to temperature that night and everything roasted just fine.  Don't trust appliances!  Use thermometers.  Now here's a little product placement for you: if you don't buy the butternut squash already cut up and peeled, you must get a Pampered Chef Serrated Peeler.  This thing will change your life when it comes to difficult to peel fruits and vegetables.  Anyway, there isn't much to say about Roasted Veggies.  Everything came off without a hitch on that recipe but bear in mind that you do not want veggies that are blackened just nicely roasted.  Blackened can create a bitter unpleasant taste.  Both the roasted veggies and the Pulled Chicken went well but I wish I had portion the chicken right away.  Don't forget to save all the non meat parts such as the bones and such for making chicken stock!
I was very happy with the Rice Pilaf recipe.  I came together easily, was light and fluffy and tasted great.  I don't really like peas but they work in the recipe and I'm glad I put them in.  My only complaint with this recipe is when I think of rice pilaf I think of it as having orzo in it which I absolutely love.  The next I make it I may throw a handful of orzo in there as well.  So finally I was done with the building blocks and had successfully made on of the recipes!  I'm enjoying this process a great deal and I hope it is helpful to other people as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: The Basics

This month we decided to try Rachael Ray's Make Ahead Meals.  I had been looking for a way to get a more set schedule for dinner that didn't involve a lot of cooking during the week.  I've been working until 7 o'clock or later every night and I try to be in bed by 10.  That doesn't leave a lot of time for meal planning and cooking!  This plan seemed like a perfect fit.  I have a lot of thoughts as to how it is progressing and I'll try to blog about it as much as I can!

I started out by making the building block recipes that you create the rest of the meals around.  You could definitely make all of them at once but I got a late start so I only made the pork and the tomato sauce the first day.  An important thing to keep in mind when you are creating the shopping list is to only check off the recipes you plan on cooking that week.  I initially checked everything off and then realized that the list was way too complicated to deal all at once.  Not all of the items can be purchased all at once because of freshness issues.  Lesson number one: only check off what you plan on cooking!  And for us, that's about 4 meals a week.  I chose the building block recipes, Spanish Rice with Shrimp, Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad, Chicken and Tomato Sauce, and Pork and Avocado Tacos.  Grand total grocery bill was about $200 due to all the meat that I had to purchase for the month.

I made the pork and the tomato sauce on Sunday after all the grocery shopping.  The Pulled Pork recipe had a few flaws...  It calls for 2 five pound pork shoulder roasts.  I purchased one beastly 9 and change roast.  The way I have always cooked a pork shoulder or really any roast is to throw it in the oven low and slow and enjoy the results.  I made the mistake of following the directions which had me butcher the roast into chunks.  I'm assuming this was a time saving effort but instead it took forever to work my way through it.  Lesson number two: always cook a pork shoulder low and slow!  Oh and Lesson number three: follow your instincts, the recipe isn't always right!

I also made the Tomato Sauce that night.  It was a simple recipe and went pretty easily.  People that make your own sauce: do that if you choose but keep in mind that this recipe is intentionally basic so that it works well with a variety of additions.  When I first tasted I couldn't believe how bland it was but when added to the other upcoming recipes it works very well.

That first night I was so consumed with the prep of these two recipes we didn't even get a chance to try out any of the meals!  Ironic to be sure.  If you have the time, make all of the building blocks at once.  Buy lots of freezer ziplock bags.  If not, do like I did and make a few building blocks each night but be sure you have enough prepped so that you can create dinner out of what you do have!  I'll write about the other recipes I've created these past two weeks as I have time.  Hope you found this helpful!