Thursday, November 7, 2013

Simplifying Supper: Creating a Recipe Binder

Earlier this week I told you all about my to-do list for the remainder of 2013.  I decided to start off by tackling my recipe binder and thought it would be fun to spend the next few posts sharing how I have simplified our meal planning and de-stressed our dinner-time routine.  And, as an added bonus, I am even including some of my favorite, go-to recipes.  Yum!

I love to cook.  Before having kids, I was always spending hours in the kitchen pouring over cookbooks and trying new recipes.  But after having kids I realized that I needed to change my ways and fast.  Anyone out there who is a parent knows that the 30-minutes leading up to dinner time is known as the "witching hour" in most households with toddlers.  It always seems that the biggest meltdowns happen right when I have three things on the stove and a timer beeping to remind me that my dinner is about to burn up in the oven.  I learned that the best time for me to make dinner was actually during the mid-afternoon while my children napped, so I began seeking out recipes that I could prep mostly in advance.  As my recipe collection grew and evolved, I began filing away all my favorite recipes in a three-ring binder and, thus, Everyday Dishes was born.

Everyday Dishes is like my recipe Bible.  Inside it contains hundreds of our favorite recipes, all meeting a certain list of criteria I developed for keeping things simple and doable:
  1. I must be able to get all of the ingredients in a regular grocery store.
  2. I must be able to prepare the majority of the meal in advance.
  3. The recipe must be straight-forward and easy to make.

I divided my notebook in to nine categories: 
  • Vegetarian Main Dishes
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Pork
  • Soup
  • Vegetable Sides
  • Potatoes. Pastas, Rice and Grains
  • Salads

I also recently put together a second notebook for non-dinner recipes.  That notebook includes recipes for lunch ideas, snacks, appetizers, sweets and "other".

When I first created my notebook a couple years ago, I started out by going through all my favorite cookbooks and recipe blogs and marking all the recipes that fit my above mentioned criteria.  I had my hubby move our printer/copier into our family room and I began making copies of each recipe I had marked.   I put each of my recipes in clear sheet protectors to protect them from spills when I am using them in the kitchen. I'm not gonna lie: this was quite an undertaking.  Ultimately, I was able to get all my recipes marked, printed, copied and sorted in about the same amount of time that it took us to watch a movie.    

Since that time, whenever I come upon a new recipe that I like and fits my criteria, I print it out (or copy it) and add it to the binder.  More recently, I took the binder one step further and began formatting all of my recipes so that they would look the same.  The type-A side of me loves how organized and uniform my binder looks, but formatting all those recipes was way more time consuming than I thought it would be, so I would not necessarily recommend doing it.  

While creating the binder did take a bit of time, the payoff has been huge!  Now when I am planning meals for the week, I only need to look at one cookbook -- my recipe binder!  Without a doubt, this binder has saved me many, many hours of sorting through my cookbook collection week after week.

I have had some people suggest that it makes more sense to keep recipes filed electronically instead of the ol' paper method.  While this is definitely a more modern approach, I really like having a book that I can browse through when I am meal planning instead of having to click though multiple links.  Additionally, I don't always want to have my computer on the counter with me while I am cooking -- it makes more sense for me to have a paper recipe.  But, I know my paper system may not work for everyone, so if you would prefer to organize your recipes electronically, I highly recommend the website Pepperplate.  You can manually enter recipes or import recipes from over thirty-five different websites.  Pepperplate will also help you create meal plans and grocery lists.

In my next post, I'll share more about how I do my weekly meal planning.  Until then, here is a recipe for you to add to your own repertoire.  Bon Appetite!


Chicken Cakes with Horseradish Aioli
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4 (2 patties per serving)

Great served with frozen sweet potato fries and a Cesar salad.  If you don’t like things too spicy, you can use less horseradish in the aioli, or serve with a BBQ sauce instead.  As with most things I make, this is one that can be made in advance and/or frozen.  I always make a double batch and freeze the extras for later meals.
Chicken Cakes:
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large  breasts)
¼ c. chopped fresh chives
3 TBS mayonnaise
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
¼ tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 cup bread crumbs (available in the baking aisle)
2 tsp. canola oil

3 TBS mayonnaise
1 TBS horseradish
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/8 tsp. salt

1.      Place chicken in food processor; pulse until ground.  (From personal experience, I have noticed that once the raw chicken dries on the bowl and blade of the food processor, it is hard to clean off.  I recommend immediately washing blade and bowl after use to make the job easier.) 
2.      Combine chicken, chives, mayo, Cajun seasoning, salt, egg whites and breadcrumbs in a medium bowl.  Mix well.  Divide mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a ½ inch thick patty. 
3.      Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add patties; cook 7 minutes on each side or until done.
4.      To prepare aioli, combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Serve with cakes.

To prepare in advance, complete steps 1-2, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. 

To freeze, line a baking sheet with wax paper and spray with cooking spray.  Place raw cakes on cookie sheet and put in freezer.  Once frozen, transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag for storage.