Kitchen Focus

When you spend so much time thinking about recipes and cooking as I do, you'd think that coming up with a week's worth of meals would be a task that could be done in your sleep. Well, think again. I get stumped too and I imagine that most people do at some point.

So, this month, I'm sharing one of my best secrets with you. It's called a dinner log -- that's actually just a name I came up with, nothing official about it. What's a dinner log? It can be a computer file, a spiral notebook, a list jotted into the pages of a journal. The key to a dinner log is what it contains -- and that's a simple list of menus you've tried and enjoyed. It can be as complex as a complete set of recipes and beverage recommendations or, more in tune with my tastes, as simple as a quick list of things you had together and liked.

It sounds like a funny idea. After all, if you did it once, isn't it easy to just do it again? Well, when you've gotten back from a business conference and you feel too tired to think, it's a blessing that will keep you from making the pizza delivery guy a member of the family!

I like to make little notes in my dinner log next to menus that have a particularly interesting theme (i.e. Greek), a special diet in mind (i.e. vegetarian) or ideas about preparation (i.e. can be made in under 30 minutes). I also like to have a few with stars by them -- those are the menus that are great for entertaining or require a little extra time or special ingredients. Having all of this in one place allows me to quickly look over my list to find a tried and true menu for entertaining friends or enjoying a cold weather favorite.

There's also another great benefit to having such a list on hand. There are times when I want to try a new recipe and haven't got a clue what to serve with it. It's then that I pop out my dinner log and take a look at some of the "supporting actors" I've used through the years. Sometimes I'll use them as is or make a few tweaks to help them fit into a new menu. And, if I like the way it all turns out, it gets added to the dinner log too!

If you find yourself having the same meals week after week, a dinner log can help you take a look at the kinds of things that your family enjoys and, better yet, introduce new meals based on some of those themes. If your family is into pizza, maybe you'll want to try some other Italian favorites like calzones or lasagna.

Likewise, if you find that you need to make a change to your diet for health or other reasons, you can take a look at your dinner log and look for patterns. It's also a great way to give your health care professionals a glimpse into the types of food you normally eat. It's one thing to say that you eat a diet high in vegetables. It's quite another to show that you enjoy stir-fries and roasted vegetables regularly.

I think you're getting the picture here. Before I leave you to consider starting your own dinner log, I'll share a few of my own entries to give you an idea about how easy it can be.

  • tandoori chicken salads, hummus with pita chips, cucumber-yogurt dip (Indian theme -- good make-ahead meal)
  • tangerine-soy cod, roasted garlic rice, stir-fried snap peas and red onions (under 20 minutes -- nice company standby)
  • maple-glazed corned beef with mustard, roasted vegetables, mixed cherry tomato salad (allow extra time -- include squash in r.v.)

Enjoy the process and happy cooking!

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