[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T[/dropcap]he most radical shift in my meal planning process happened at a very specific time in my life. I was working as a young winemaker in the beautiful Barossa Valley. It was vintage, the busiest time of the year, so my life pretty much revolved around working and sleeping.
There wasn’t much time for ‘luxuries’ like eating and bathing. So as you can imagine, sitting down to figure out a meal plan and write a shopping list was out of the question.
As luck would have it, my one ‘treat’ was a weekly pilgrimage to the Barossa farmers market. I’d grab a coffee and a bacon & egg roll and then take my time buying my produce for the week.
It was heaven.
Because I didn’t have a plan or a shopping list, I was guided to choose what looked best. Sometimes I’d know exactly what I was going to make with my bounty. But more often than not I wouldn’t. So each night I’d walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and decide what to cook then and there.
Sometimes I’d look up recipes but mostly I’d make it up as I went along. Just trusting my instincts and cooking from the heart.
I should mention that this was completely new territory for me…
Before my Barossa days, I always consulted a recipe. But my limited time circumstances meant I had to try another way.
Mostly the results were delicious, or at least edible. There were the occasional ‘disasters’ which meant, I’d use my backup plan of cheese on toast and take it as a ‘learning experience’. But over time these happened less and less frequently.
These days, I pretty much follow the same approach to meal planning.
Apart from the weeks when I’m testing out one of the meal plans for my Soupstones Meal Plans done-for-you product, or I’m making a meal for the Jules & David project, I head to the markets. Buy whatever catches my eye. Then decide what to cook on a day-by-day basis.
Sound like a place you’d like to get to?
Well the good news is you totally can!
In fact, now is a great time because I’m going to be starting the 2015 edition of my ‘Master Your Meal Plan’ program at the end of next week…
This will be the fourth year I’ve run this online class and it’s really my favourite. I love helping people ‘reverse’ the meal planning process so it not only takes hardly any time, but it’s super flexible to fit in with changes to your schedule – perfect for modern life!
And I really love helping people learn to become instinctive, creative cooks who aren’t slaves to recipes any more.
If any of this sounds interesting, you can learn more about the program over at:
Bangers & Beer
I was inspired to make this after reading Jennifer McLaggin’s brilliant book called ‘Bitter’. Well worth a read. It’s one of those meals which just happily cooks itself in the oven, freeing you up to do other things. But the best bit is the wonderful smells it generates. As the beer cooks down it fills the house with wonderful bready, yeasty, baked goods smells… Its almost worth making just for the aromas alone. Almost.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, ‘bangers’ refers to sausages. And I should note, when cooking with beer, it’s super important to be generous with the salt when you season so it balances out the bitter flavours. Some beers can be quite bitter and can overpower the finished dish if you don’t add enough salt.
enough for: 2
takes: about an hour
3 carrots, halved
2 onions, quartered
450g (1lb) thick sausages
350ml (1.5 cups) beer
2 bay leaves (optional)
mashed potato or cauliflower + green salad to serve
1. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F). Place carrots and onions in a roasting tray and drizzle with a little oil. Bake for 20 minutes.
2. When your timer goes, add the sausages, beer and bay leaves (if using). Season generously and return to the oven, uncovered for another 20 minutes.
3. Turn the sausages and give the veg a stir and cook for another 10-20 minutes or until the sausages are browned and cooked through and the beer has reduced to a sauce.
4. Taste and if too bitter for you, add more salt. Serve on a bed of mashed potato or cauliflower with a green salad on the side.
different beers – I’ve tried this on different occasions with Corona and Coopers Green and while quite different, both were lovely. But pretty much any beer will work, just be mindful that the stronger the flavour of your beer, the more intense it will be in the finished dish.
no beer? – replace with cider, white or red wine. Or if you want to keep it alcohol-free use stock or even water.
vegetarian – I can imagine this tasting amazing with mushrooms!
onion-free – just add extra carrots or replace with celery or one of the veg below.
more veg – feel free to add other root veg like parsnips, sweet potato, turnip, beets or potatoes. Just chop them into sizes that will cook about the same time as the carrots and onions.
more summery – use summery veg like zucchini, peppers and eggplant.
And while we’re talking meal planning, what sort of planning method do you use?
Are you a traditional work it out in advance planner? Or more of a ‘wing it’ person like me? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
ps. Not sure if this program can help you?
Heres what Nic and Nichole said about their experience..
Nic, Master Your Meal Plan Owner.
“I used to spend ages planning all my meals to still feel like I didn’t have anything to cook. I felt undisciplined as I didn’t stick to my menu & wasted food cause I didn’t feel like whatever I planned. Now I can just make want I want, with what I have, with whatever time available. It makes u a more confident cook.”
Nichole, Master Your Meal Plan Owner.
“I am able to cook dinners that my family truly enjoys as many nights a week as I need to without repeating the same 5 dishes over and over and without buying a bunch of groceries that ultimately go to waste because our schedule changed.”
To learn more go to:
We (me and my husband) use same approach in cooking. We buy pretty much same staples every week, cook almost everything from scratch and use what ever we have in the fridge. When we short on time or ingredients we order take out. My family is pretty conservative so we rotate a small collection of favorite dishes on a regular basis. Sometimes I might add a new dish if I am sure it will be accepted.
Thx for sharing Angela!
Like most people, we do a main shop once a week, buying staples and what is seasonal but we start the plan with Sunday ‘roast’ (not always roast, sometimes boiled gammon, but you get the idea). Then the weeks meals evolve around what is left from the week-end, soups, cold meat and beans etc. Love reading recipes for ideas, just don’t always have time to make them!
Love it Sue!
A number of years ago, I met two mates from England. One was a chef, recently from river barge duty. The other worked the “front of the house.” They hung out at a small inn up the road a piece (nearby). They served several delightfully different meals, but one of the best was “bangers and mash.” It’s nearly the same as your bangers and beer, with the addition of smashed potatoes. Cook with thrifty beer, drink the good stuff.
Bangers and mash is hard to beat Daryle!
There I go again … not reading the recipe to the end. Bangers and beer IS the same as bangers and mash!
The most fun is to read a bunch of recipes for a given dish. Then put the cook books away and make the dish. Write down how you did it, just in case it turns out really well. Then compare your new recipe to the originals.
Great suggestion Daryle! It’s always fun to get different perspectives on different recipes… And of course new ideas!
I am a traditional meal planner. I sit down with my recipe notebooks, sometimes cookbooks, decide what I want to make, and write up a shopping list as I go. Sometimes my ingredients aren’t available, so I have to make snap decisions while at the grocery store. At some point I may transition into doing the planning more like what you do. But unfortunately, since I live in the desert, we don’t have good farmer’s markets, so I don’t have as much incentive to plan your way. However, sometimes I do see something that looks so good that I buy it and figure out a way to use it.
I love the sound of the Bangers & Beer. My husband is always after me to make simpler meals, and we both love good beer, so this dish is a natural for us.
Great Susan… If traditional meal planning works for you keep going! Jx
I sit down every week and plan menus only to sidetrack through the week, mainly due to tiredness, but still use everything. i shop online as i am ill and cant drive at the moment,i am very good at sticking to a budget as far as meals go, i start off using a recipe only to reinvent it myself. i use recipes as a guide line only hardly ever sticking to it, my husband laughs at me and says he doesnt know why i bother with the recipe cause i never follow it!! i make everything from scratch and am always on the lookout for new things to make. your bangers sound great will definately be giving those a whirl. cheers
Sounds like you’ve got a great method working there Cassandra!
if i see something like duck at half price in coles then its the meal that night.i bake it for an hour and drain off the fat and have a ready made diced vegs in fruit stock boiling .so the duck and stock are at same heat when it goes back in the oven.3bastes and fairly fat free in a hour.most planning revolves around meat choices and seasonal produce.waste is not allowed.compost is the worst fate it can have.i have plenty of time which isn’t like most readers here.internet is your friend when you need to use up some produce.say for example you got 3 things to use .put them in a search string recipe,and choices come up . i’m sure there are lots of happy jules’ meal planners with their busy lives.foolproof duck recipe btw.at 180C ff.reduce sauce while duck rests.i do like jules’ banger and mash recipe apart from beer free home.red wine in winter sounds good.
Love the sound of your duck dinner Barry! Thx for sharing :)
I have found it to be the most efficient to sit down on the weekend and plan a few meals I want to cook the upcoming week. I look through my recipe folders on the computer or already got some inspiration online and write the shopping list. Then I go shopping and buy everything I need that week. This way I don’t end up having to go to the store again on Tuesday night when I am already hungry but am missing a couple ingredients for a meal I want to make! ;)
Thx for sharing Nadine!
May I know when you add in the bay leaves?
Good spotting Carolyn! At the same time as the beer :)