After my last post, I decided the next one must be easier, lighter, less deep, less thinking and most definitely less processing. Here we go. . .
Menu planning and grocery shopping is part of my weekly schedule. It can get routine and mundane, and somewhat uneventful, but since I like to cook, it has the potential each week to turn into something fun! When I am at the grocery store, I’m on the prowl, eyes open wide, always sniffing and searching out some new product (or new to me) and for sales! At home, I try to be creative, in the menu having a variety of meats, sides grains, while at the same time making everyone happy (doesn’t always happen). To keep it from getting boring, I made a rule not to have the same thing 2 weeks in a row and I try to have at least one new recipe a week. All of this takes time and planning. To do this, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.
First, I subscribe to cooksillustrated.com. I’d much rather have the printed copy in my hand each month (every 2nd month, technically) but I’m too money conscious to pay the heavily added shipping fee to get to me here in SK. Plus, the online version allows me access to all the previous issues. I trust these recipes, even if I’m making them for the first time. It is produced by the people who do “American’s Test Kitchen” on PBS, so I know the recipes have been tried over and over to get the best results. This really is invaluable to me because I don’t want to spend my time and money on something that doesn’t turn out. It’s worth the 29.99/year.
Next, I have an incredible cookbook menu planning software, shopncook. I have being using it for maybe 5 years now and it has cut my planning down to 15m each week! Generates a shopping list, and off I go. New this year is the iphone app and it is worthy of praise as well. I haven’t had a lot of time to play around with it, but I have synced it with my cookbooks and so I have everything at my fingertips at any given moment.
Even with all these wonderful organizational and inspirational tools, I don’t stick to the menu strictly each week, because you never know what you may find and the grocery store. . . .
Last week, I brought home some some beautiful eggplants I found on the sale shelf (I have got to get into the habit of taking more pictures). They ended up being the highlight of our week, when I found this great new recipe. It made the kids a believer in eggplant! Definitely a keeper recipe.
Another change I have started to implement in our menu is the weekly addition of fish. Why not? It’s healthy, good, and is something I can get easily. Did I say that it is healthy?
The first week, I didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t recognize the way the fish looked (or the genus species name:), so I just bought what looked good. This particular store didn’t have anything fresh , so I was buying it frozen.
First lesson: learn the names of fish in Slovak. Once I got home (with the said fish) I learned that I bought a fish farmed in Vietnam, that most sources on the internet said they wouldn’t eat (Pangasius). Something about comparing it to being farmed in sewages?!.
I cooked it anyway (not to be wasteful) and figured one time eating it shouldn’t do too much harm, plus it looked really nice. I will admit that I didn’t tell any of the family what I read about it and how it was difficult for me to eat. And yet, I somehow believe that even if I didn’t read all that bad stuff, I would still say: it tasted terrible. Another note to self: research and learn how to cook fish well.
I redeemed my self the following week by choosing a fish they love: Salmon. Zac grilled it perfectly, it was delicious.
So this week at the store I found this:
Shrimps! It is so unusual to find them here, fresh. Can you see where they are from? BRAZIL! How is that even possible? Despite my skepticism, I picked them up and wondered just what I could make with them? Although I love eating shrimp, my mind was blank! I put them back. Next, I saw fresh tuna, amazing!, then the price 24.99/euro/kg. Ouch. I went to the frozen section. I picked up some frozen tuna, ½ the price. Moving on. On the next isle, I wondered if it is really worth it to spend so much on frozen fish. I had my doubts it would be good quality. I went back to the fish section, returned the tuna and found frozen tilapia, very inexpensive. I took 2 packages.
Passing back by the last package of shrimp, I suddenly had a thought: SHRIMP AND GRITS!!
I was so excited! I took the package (as if it was Black Friday) and my mind began to recall the files that I need to remember the ingredients. It has been over 11 years since I lived in the US and cooked this regularly when living in South Carolina. Can I even get grits here in Slovakia? Quick, what is the technical definition of grits? So glad I have a smart phone, with an unlimited data plan. I did the search right there in the fish isle. According to what I found, I can use corn meal (yellow) or polenta. It’s always tricky comparing ingredients with what I know in the states. Corn meal here is not what I would call or consider corn meal from the states. It is coarser here. I was pretty confident it would work. 3 grocery stores later I had everything I needed, except the recipe.
Back at home I searched and searched. Walked away, came back. Thought and thought. Because of the software, most all my recipes have been converted to my computer so I don’t even have “hard” cookbooks anymore! But, I was certain I wouldn’t have thrown this one out. The NEXT day, rummaging in the basement boxes, I found it!
I was noticeably excited, despite the negative looks and remarks from my kids. I was cooking shrimp and grits and it was going to be delicious and remind me of “home”.
Everything went fairly smooth. I tried the polenta first. I’ve never cooked with it, and decided it wasn’t what I needed. It cooked way too fast (within minutes) and was much too globby. So, I used the “corn meal”. Beautiful. Perfect texture, perfect consistency.
Now here is where it got a little stressful for me. I’m in the kitchen cooking a meal, I’m really excited about, careful of every detail. It’s getting late, but I’m not stressed (yet) because everything is working. I find that I get easily stressed in the kitchen, the later it gets, and the kids keep asking when will it be ready or when they need my help with something that would take me away from getting it done.
With that admission, one of the kids comes to me and explains how he needs a book to read in Slovak language, for his reading class. Somehow I got the impression that he has needed it for sometime (maybe months) and that his teacher is getting frustrated that he doesn’t come to school with a Slovak reading book (only English books). And so he needs this book, tomorrow.
I try to multi-task here. Continue with the perfect meal, while calming him, assuring him we can get him one today (on his Nook) and instructing him to go to a certain webpage and look for something that interests him. NEVER.THAT.EASY.
The computer won’t work, he needs a password, his Nook is dead, he needs a charger, what was that website again? How do you spell that?
Distraction after distraction, I feel the edges starting to ruffle.
My teenager boldly tells me how I shouldn’t yell instructions from the kitchen, but instead go upstairs. More ruffles. Ok, I said in the start, this is going to be a “lighter” post, so I’m not even going to go there. Only to comment that, those words were not what I needed to hear from my child, in that way, at that moment (or any moment).
Stay focused, stay focused, don’t loose it. Stay it wasn’t right, and let it go.
Back to my cooking. It looks thin now. Too thin. What happened? Zac comes home, smells the kitchen and gets excited and comments, “thin is ok”, “grits always set up.” Additional note to self: US grits always set up!
The finished product, looked and smelled delicious. BUT it was too thin, much too thin. I had to take it back to the stove and add some polenta to thicken it up. Thankfully, in the end, it was a perfect consistency and tasted amazing. Zac and I devoured ours. The others, well.. . .Sam wanted more shrimp, not necessarily with the grits. Hampton only ate the bacon out of it. And the girls politely tried to say how they would vote for the pangasis over shrimp n grits.
Hey, that’s ok. It was a success (in far more ways than 1). And there is just enough leftovers for breakfast.
So much for shorter, but it sure was more fun than last week’s post. Maybe I should think in “series” for this one 🙂