Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue Plate Monday - Menu Planning and Pasta Shells with Italian Sausage and Broccoli

What’s for dinner? Do you hate asking yourself that question as much as I do? Years ago, I learned the way to avoid answering that question was menu planning. There have been times when I’ve set aside the practice for one reason or another, but I eventually make my way back.

Since our big move almost eighteen months ago, I have not been very diligent in my menu planning. When Kelly announced Blue Plate Mondays, I decided I would get back to my menu planning again.

My system isn’t very sophisticated, but it works for me. Here’s how I plan:

Check to see what has been stashed in the freezer.
Since I usually only buy meat on sale, there is probably something in there that I purchased but haven’t used yet. This week, I found a package of sweet Italian sausage, a large chuck roast (too big for just the two of us), and a container of spaghetti sauce.
Look at this week’s sales circular from the local grocery store.
The only grocery store in my town besides Wal-Mart is Food Lion and they have four stores. Guess where I shop. Since I typically only shop the outer edges of the grocery store, I’m most interested in the meat, produce, and dairy items on sale. This week, Food Lion has pork tenderloin, two po
und chubs of ground chuck, center cut pork chops and packages of frozen boneless chicken breasts (buy one, get one). In the produce section, they have yellow and zucchini squash and broccoli crowns on sale. They also have Birds Eye Viola! Pasta meals in the frozen section and New York brand Texas Garlic Toast. I’ll pick up one or two of each of these items to throw in the freezer to use if I need a meal in a hurry.
Take a quick look through past menu lists.
As you can see from the above photo, I keep all my menu lists. I look to see if there is something we haven’t had in a while or if there was a new recipe I tried that we really liked.
Look through my file of new things to try.

If I am looking through a cookbook and find a recipe I like, I note the name of the recipe along with the name of the cookbook and page number on a list. I might also note the key ingredients. A lot of times, I find recipes when I’m browsing the internet so I make a copy and put it in my file. My file also contains recipes torn from magazines or the back of boxes or cans. There is no real organization to my file
other than a section for main dishes, side dishes, and things to bake (cookies, cakes, breads, etc.)
Each week, I try to include one new recipe, whether it is a main dish or a side dish, in my menu planning. If the recipe is from a cookbook, I note where the recipe can be found on my weekly menu.
Otherwise, I paper clip the recipe to my menu list. After trying the recipe, I make a note on the menu list as to whether we liked it and if I should fix it again.

Wow! This looks like a daunting task in itself. But I’ve been doing it this way for so long that it really only takes me fifteen to twenty minutes. Then I sit down with my trusty yellow note pad and make out my menu for the week. While I’m making out my menu, I also make out a grocery list. My grocery list isn’t anything elaborate either, but I do list things by section: meat, produce, dairy, etc. Saves time in the grocery store which makes a task I dislike a much more pleasant experience.

Here’s what my menu looks like for this week:

M – Pasta shells with broccoli and Italian sausage, green salad, copy cat Macaroni Grill rosemary bread.

T – Leftovers from Monday. *We eat a lot of leftovers. We don’t mind them and it saves me from having to cook every night. If there are still leftovers after two dinners, Hubs knows it is fair game for lunch.

W – Grilled chicken breast, herbed rice, sautéed zucchini and yellow squash w/diced Italian tomatoes. *Since Hubs is the master griller in our house, I try to include something grilled each week which eliminates me having to cook the entire meal every night. I will have him grill the entire bag of chicken breasts so they can be used in menu items for the next day or two.

TH – Salad with grilled chicken and honey mustard dressing.

F – Stir fry using grilled chicken and any fresh veggies left OR omelets and toast.

S – Fish sticks, mac and cheese, peas. *Our grandson will be visiting so I need something “kid” friendly. Thankfully, Hubs also likes this meal.

Because I picked up pork chops and ground chuck on sale this week, I already have two menu items on my list for next week. I’m getting back in the groove!

The recipe I would like to share with you this week is the pasta dish we will be having for dinner tonight. This is one of those recipes that has no set amount of ingredients. Just play it by ear for your family.

Pasta Shells with Broccoli and Italian Sausage
8 – 16 ounces of medium shell pasta
1 package Italian sweet sausage links (The sausage I use comes in a package with a little over a pound in it.)
2 – 3 cups broccoli florets
1 sweet red pepper, diced or cut into thin strips
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (more or less to you taste)Tablespoons crushed rosemary Dried or fresh, whatever is on hand
Olive oil

Cut casing from sausage or leave casing on and cut into 1” pieces. Brown sausag
e in large skillet. Just before sausage is completely browned, throw in garlic, red pepper and rosemary. Finish cooking sausage while sautéing the pepper. You may need or want to add a little olive oil. In the mean time, cook pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is two minutes from done for your liking, throw the broccoli in the pot. After pasta is cooked and broccoli is tender crisp, drain well. Place pasta in a large bowl and pour the sausage mixture over top. Stir well. Serve with grated Italian cheeses.

Part of Kelly’s give away is sharing a photo of us wearing a favorite apron. Go to Kelly's blog here to see the cute apron she has made and the guidelines for winning it.

Let me say that I am really not as "plump" as these pictures portray. These pictures were taken in December and we had NO heat. I have four or five layers on underneath those aprons.

Above is my favorite vintage apron. It has a bib and hangs below my knees. Make sure you OH! and AH! over that beautiful loaf of cheddar cheese braid coming out of the oven.

For Christmas, I made aprons to give as gifts to four girlfriends, five daughters/daughter in law, my mom and Larry's mom. I picked out material that reminded me of each person and included vintage buttons from my grandma's button box. I had to make one for myself when I found this fabric with bees. To see all the aprons I made at Christmas you can go here.

Join us for Blue Plate Monday at (un)Deniably Domestic and see what others are cooking for dinner. Tell us what's cooking at your place.



Kelly said...

Wow Bea! Your name just keeps getting tossed in the jar. The recipe looks great and I love the menu planning. I will begin to share my strategy next week and it will be such fun to compare! Love the bread - oh I can live on bread and the aprons are perfect! We have had three winters of ice storms now so I get the layered look very well. Thank you so much for joining in. I do appreciate you very much and will be trying your pasta dish ASAP. Your friend, Kelly

unDeniably Domestic