What’s Your Week Like?

This morning I was shopping. It’s Monday, and I like to think about what I’ll be cooking throughout the week. Sometimes I have no plan, and open the fridge or freezer in the afternoon to see what’s there. But more often than not, I’ll have at least some sense of where the week is going, culinarily speaking.

Fridge, freezer & pantry — items for the week's dinner

Outside influences sometimes play a part — upcoming dinner parties, the tastes of a guest visiting from out of town, my wife’s craving for Mexican food or my son’s for Japanese. I’ll think about the days and nights ahead, how much preparation time I will have for each (I take my son to tae kwon do two afternoons a week, for example), consider what ingredients I already have, and make a plan.

It makes your life easier to plan some of your meals out in advance. And it’s easier to do than you may think — and fun for you as a cook, plus fun for your friends and family who will be eating what you make. Every afternoon my son says, “Dad, what kind of dinner are we having tonight?” (note: not what ARE we having for dinner, but what KIND of dinner are we having.) His favorites are Mexican night, Japanese night and Italian night. But even these can be further parsed apart: sometimes Japanese night means grilled sumiyaki skewers; sometimes it means tempura; and still other times it means shabu shabu.

Not every meal at our house is a gourmet affair, but each is given thought and care. This morning as I stood gazing at hamburgers buns at Trader Joes, for example, wondering if I should make burgers one evening this week, I thought about the way most people would approach shopping for hamburgers. They would think, “Oh, I’ll make hamburgers one night.” And they would purchase ground beef and buns. When they made the burgers, they would pull out the ketchup and mustard, maybe some iceberg lettuce and tomato if they had it… maybe a pickle. And they might only then realize they didn’t have anything to serve with it, and would throw together a quick salad with the same iceberg lettuce and tomato as offered for the burgers.

As I peered at the buns, I thought differently about shopping for burgers. What kind of burgers would I want to make? Did I want to dress them with blue cheese and bacon, arugula, perhaps some caramelized onions? Or was I more in the mood for cheddar, onion rings and barbecue sauce? And what would I serve with them? I could make a spicy Asian-style cole slaw, or could pick up a few big potatoes and cook up some garlicky oven fries. Or I could make it easy on myself and fun for the kids, and get a bag of Trader Joe’s tater tots. In any case, I would be sure to have most of the items needed for whatever kind of burger and sides I was planning when I left the store. Unless I planned the burgers for later in the week, in which case I would pick the stuff up when I was out again near a market a few days later. But at least I would already have in mind what I was going to do.

I wound up not purchasing stuff for burgers, because thinking about what I had planned for the week, I realized I already had a couple nights of beef in mind. So perhaps I would save burgers for next week.

Here’s an example — what my week looks like, and what I’ve got currently planned (menus subject to change, and often they do). Remember, this is based on what I’ve got at home, what I’ve shopped for today, and what I plan on shopping for later in the week. You don’t want to decide that Tuesday will be spaghetti & meatballs night, only to realize at 5 p.m. that afternoon that you don’t have any pasta in the house:

• Monday (tonight) — Mexican
Flynn has tae kwon do today, so I’ll need to be efficient. I’ve got some really ripe avocados and some salsa I should use up before it ferments, so I settle on Mexican. For the kids, that simply means quesadillas and guacamole. For the grown ups, I’ll make fish tacos, queso fundido and margaritas. I can do most of the footwork — grating the cheese, preparing the quesadillas to cook, making the guacamole — before we leave for Flynn’s class. And I take a short cut with the fish tacos, using the really good battered halibut filets I buy at Trader Joe’s. I always keep a box in the freezer for fish tacos, or for fish & chips should we decide to do British pub night instead (just add bangers, fries, a quick salad…)

• Tuesday — Sushi
No tae kwon do, so I have more time to cook. While out this morning, I stopped by my two favorite Japanese markets and picked up some fresh fish to make sushi. I’ll wash and cook the rice in the afternoon before I pick the kids up from school, cut my fish and pre-form my rice balls a bit later… so that when it gets to be dinner time, I’ll I’ve got to do is make the sushi and set the table. (The kids will eat pan-fried dumplings which I purchase in large frozen bags at Trader Joe’s.)

Already thinking about tomorrow night’s dinner, I will start a dough before I retire to proof overnight for a French boule tomorrow.

• Wednesday — French brasserie
Tae kwon do again today. Read an article in a cooking magazine earlier in the week on steak au poivre. So tonight we’ll go Parisian brasserie — including my freshly baked loaf of bread with a lovely, runny Bourgogne cheese I bought on Monday. I’ll make some frites to go with the steak, open a nice cabernet, put on some Edith Piaf. And talk to my kids about Paris.

• Thursday — Pizza & pasta
This is one of the easiest of nights, and one I can always pull out of a hat as needed. I keep a wide variety of dried pastas on hand, and always have at least one or two pizza doughs in the fridge or freezer. Unless I have picked up some specific ingredient like clams or sea urchin, I will improvise based on what I have in the fridge. We often wind up with unplanned dinner guests on Thursdays, so this dinner is also flexible enough to be expanded as needed. (And I could also add a salad or throw together some antipasti.)

• Friday — Vietnamese
Friend Jon coming for dinner with his two kids. Jon works up stairs from the Grand Central Market downtown, and when invited to dinner always asks if I want him to pick something up. So I say, “Sure, pick up a steak.” Jon has food dyslexia, and inevitably screws up his mission and gets the wrong thing. So I’m prepared to be flexible if needed.

Thinking about Jon bringing a cut of meat, I wondered what I should make. I’ll tell him to get a rib eye or porterhouse, but he’ll arrive — if I’m lucky and he has actually purchased steak at all — with a large, lean, gristly and unrecognizable cut. So what can I do with that? Slice it thin, sear it on a very hot grill, and wrap it in Vietnamese rice papers and lettuce leaves with condiments (see recipe below). Perhaps I’ll prepare some shrimp spring rolls to go with it, if I’ve got the time. And I’ll make the six kids who will be dining with us (our three, Jon’s two and friend Maya from down the street) mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets.

• Saturday — To be determined
I still like a little surprise in my dining schedule.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greggie
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 06:26:02

    I thought about the way most people would approach shopping for hamburgers. They would think, “Oh, I’ll make hamburgers one night.” And they would purchase ground beef and buns. When they made the burgers, they would pull out the ketchup and mustard, maybe some iceberg lettuce and tomato if they had it… maybe a pickle. And they might only then realize they didn’t have anything to serve with it, and would throw together a quick salad with the same iceberg lettuce and tomato as offered for the burgers.

    Sean,

    We may be old friends but I must insist that you remove the spy cam you somehow installed in my kitchen.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  2. Greggie
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 19:53:06

    Yes, now I need to hide my offending items like store-bought pepper and those “As Seen on TV” gadgets in my cupboards.

    Reply

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