Do you cook by the book?

I am a recipe follower, many of my friends are not recipe followers. I believe they use recipes for baking, but when it comes to making dinner they just do what they think will work (and it does). Seeing that I have been cooking meals ever since my parents left home when I was 21, you would think I would have a huge repertoire by now. Why is it then, that I can often only think of three things to cook? By Thursday my mind is blank.

Towards the end of last year I was inspired by Tonia to use a meal plan again. I have tried keeping to a meal plan before but never one which included the weekends, so this time I have made up several meal plans covering Monday to Sunday. I found that when I started it went very well. I made my grocery lists from the meal plan and I spent less and we wasted very little. In order to make up my meal plans I browsed through recipe books (we have quite a lot) and picked favourites, tried and true, and a few new ones that looked interesting.

We have many recipe books, and there are a few favourites I get out just about every week. For Indian food I like Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking. For Italian, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking is well, essential, actually. I will also make a stir-fry each week and maybe a stew in the slow cooker, although it’s BBQ season now so the slow cooker will probably have a rest. I do have plenty of places to go for ideas but I still get stuck. This is where the meal plan is great. Just lately, however, I haven’t been sticking to a meal plan and cooking dinner is a challenge again. So I need to return to thinking up a week’s worth of meals and then shopping accordingly. The hard part will be done, I’ll just have to cook them!

Last night’s dinner was from Marcella’s Kitchen:

Conchiglie con Peperonie Verdi, Rossi e Gialla alla Panna

40g butter
1tbs vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped not too finely
2 medium green peppers (capsicum) diced into 1cm cubes
2 medium red peppers diced into 1cm cubes
2 medium yellow peppers diced into 1cm cubes (I used 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange)
black pepper in a grinder
150ml double cream ( I used 2 tbs because that’s what I had; it was fine)
450g conchiglie (pasta shells)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
50g freshly grated parmesan

  1. In a 25-30cm saute pan put the butter, oil and chopped onion and turn the heat to medium. Saute the onion until it becomes coloured a pale gold.
  2. Add all the diced peppers, turn up the heat to medium high, and cook until tender, turning them from time to time.
  3. Add the salt and generous grindings of pepper, stir well, add the cream, and turn up the heat to high. Cook until the cream is reduced by half.
  4. Drop the pasta into a saucepan of abundant boiling salted water. Cook until it is barely tender but firm to the bite. Drain and toss immediately in a warm bowl with the peppers and cream and all their pan juices. Sprinkle with parsley and grated cheese, toss again and serve at once.

Another way to get over the “I can’t think of any thing to cook” syndrome (which is the culinary equivalent of the “I don’t have a thing to wear” syndrome) is to cook with a friend. And that is what I did for tonight’s dinner. Chicken Pot Pie, made this afternoon, two cooks, half the work, twice the enjoyment!

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