A week or two of family faves can be prepared ahead of time so dinner is served pronto from fridge (or freezer) to table without last-minute meal cramming. Here’s how to plan ahead:
• Get a desk calendar and start plotting a one-week menu plan incorporating the bounty of seasonal fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish and fowls.
• Remember to make thorough, thought-out shopping lists after the weekly menu plan is completed.
• Create categories for proteins, produce, dairy (and non-dairy), grains, condiments, herbs and spices, snacks, fats, dry pantry items, and baking ingredients.
• Don’t forget the aromatic herbs — parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and garlic.
As we come to the end of summer’s glorious harvest, focus on stone fruits, berries, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and corn. You can capture these treasures by pickling and preserving, whipping up chutneys, relishes, dills, jams, jellies and sauces.
For autumn, consider beets, parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi, celeriac, carrots, cabbages, fennel, mushrooms, apples, pears, cranberries, figs, yams, pumpkin, winter squashes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, and leafy greens — arugula, radicchio, curly endive.
• The organized chef can probably knock off four or five dishes on a Saturday or Sunday, condensing prep time, gas and electric use, and clean-up to a single day.
Some weekend suggestions include butternut squash lasagna with a warm arugula and pear salad, lamb meatloaf with caramelized parsnips and balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts, Meyer lemon and rosemary roasted turkey breast with cranberry relish and wild mushroom strudel, or seafood cioppino with fingerling potatoes.
For just desserts, a rustic apple tart with coconut whipped cream, or fig and pomegranate compote would hit the sweet spot.
• Weekdays can be simpler with Meatball Mondays (pot of marinara and chicken meatballs over pasta of choice), Tomahawk Tuesdays (giant bone-in steak, sliced and shared family-style, grass-fed and organic please), Whimsical Wednesdays (fun fondues, creative crepes, or colors of the rainbow kebobs), Tranquil Thursdays (wild-caught shrimp, corn, avocado and black bean quesadillas, eggplant Parmesan, sheet pan dinners, or one-pot wonders like stews, risottos, ragus), and Fishy Fridays (grilled wild salmon, cod or halibut with sweet potato fries and red slaw).
• Note: Be sure to make abundant portions so leftovers can be enjoyed for lunches throughout the week, or frozen for future dinners.
Recipe: Sassy Chicken Meatloaf
• Ingredients: 2 pounds of lean ground chicken; 2 eggs, beaten; 1 small red onion, minced; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil; 2 slices Italian crusty bread (toasted and crumbled); 1 tablespoon grainy mustard; 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, parsley and smoked paprika
• For the glaze: 1/2 cup ketchup; 1/2 cup barbecue sauce; 1/3 cup grainy mustard; dash of hot sauce.
• Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. For the glaze, combine ingredients in small saucepan. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Set aside.
In a skillet, heat oil on medium. Sauté onion and garlic until tender. In a large mixing bowl, combine onion and remaining ingredients. Blend well. Divide into two portions. Line two oven-safe baking dishes or cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle with oil. Shape meatloaves into ovals. With pastry brush coat meatloaves with glaze. Bake 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
Serve with roasted sweet potatoes, or celeriac mashed potatoes. (Serves 6)