Meal-Planning. When you think of the concept, maybe you groan, or maybe the blood starts rushing through you excitedly, urging you to pull out cookbooks and check out the front pages of your favorite food websites for inspiration. Whatever the case, we have to eat, and meal-planning can be a stress-free way of organizing home-cooked meals all week, even if you are making a couple of dishes on Sunday and heating up leftovers all week. You can turn a pot-roast into a pasta sauce or add an egg and some bread to a soup. And, you can top it all off with a healthy ending: fruit.
I never want to eat cold fruit in the winter, so instead I roast it all in the oven. Roasted pears go into my oatmeal for breakfast and get covered in chocolate sauce for dessert. Baked apples get cored, filled with butter, raisins, and brown sugar, and served with Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack or vanilla ice-cream as dessert. This apple cranberry crumble is a new and slightly more complicated version of the baked fruit, though it is still incredibly easy. You can keep the skins on for added health and throw in a little extra oatmeal. And, you can get it all ready and stick it in the refrigerator until it's ready to bake.
To roast pears, cut the them in half and remove the stems and cores. Place them skin side down in a baking dish filled with a half to one inch of water. Sprinkle with some white wine or sugar and roast in the oven (375 to 425 will work--if your oven is already on then just pop the pears in there with whatever else is cooking). You can turn the pears skin side up halfway through baking if you wish, or you can occasionally baste them with the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish. Pears are done roasting when tender when pierced with a fork. For an extra-special treat, remove the pears from the baking dish and pour the liquid into a small saucepan. Add a tablespoon or two of sugar and simmer until a syrup forms. Pour the syrup over the pears. You can also serve with chocolate sauce. I like the chocolate glaze I used for the cupcakes in my last post, which can be found here. To lighten the sauce, use half and half instead of heavy cream.
1 1/2 pounds apples (about 3 medium), peeled and cored
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for dish
1/2 cup pecan halves (2 ounces), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
3 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Quarter apples lengthwise, then thinly slice. Toss in a large bowl with cranberries, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt until evenly coated.
Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish. Mix pecans, flour, oats, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl until combined. Work in butter with your fingertips until topping is crumbly, with pea-size chunks.
Spread apple mixture in prepared dish; sprinkle with topping. Bake until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.
*Notes: I like to use Cortland apples and a mixture of pecan and walnut halves.
The recipe comes from this book pictured below: Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home, which is a lovely little book I picked up at the library and have been cooking out of for a month or so now. The recipes are presented as 52 meals divided by season and include instructions for dishes like Creamy Chicken with Tarragon, Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Cutlets, Braised Chicken Marsala with Sage Polenta, Pasta Shards with Poached Eggs, a creamy Cauliflower Gratin, Caramelized Endive, Salmon with Creamy Leeks, and Broiled Black Pepper Tofu with Soy-Lemon Dipping Sauce. Quick and easy to make with glossy color photographs of each recipe, this book is a great one to have on hand when planning weeknight meals.
Some Other Meal-Planning Resources
I've recently started writing out our dinner menus on a refrigerator magnet pad that looks like this:
I purchased several of these at Michaels last spring for $1 each with old-fashioned farmy patterns like black and white checks with two hens, red cherries, and apple-pie rickrack, but you can also find them on Amazon here if you want to chalk up a few extra dollars. Pottery Barn also has a nice meal planner you can hang in your kitchen that you can find here. A couple of other websites offer free online meal planning, which might be more your style. One is Meals Matter. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Some more sophisticated weekly and monthly meal planning templates can be found here, which you can print for your own use. Finally, an interesting article to check out that has tips about meal planning from OrganizedHome.com can be found here. My husband is pretty excited that he can now look up at our refrigerator on any given day and anticipate the meal he will get that night. Got other meal-planning tips and resources? Post a comment and let us know!