Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

By Mercedes Lee

I get it, I do. On top of everything else we’re required to provide as parents, employees, community members, now there’s the additional pressure of providing a nutritionally sound dinner, 7 nights a week, at a reasonable hour, that appeals to the picky palates in the house.

As someone who lives and breathes organization and is a chowhound to boot, I have a series of tips and tricks I’ve learned that help my family successfully navigate the dinner gauntlet smoothly (most of the time) with minimal tears (most of the time).

This month’s tip is about DOUBLE DUTY DINNERS. Make your work count – twice! Repurposing one dish into another later in the week is a cost-effective way to stretch ingredients, labour, and time into tasty results. This month’s pot roast, based on an Ina Garten recipe but simplified for all of us who don’t live in the Hamptons, is a delicious one-pot dinner that requires nothing more than keeping the leftovers in the same pot, thinning out the liquid, and dumping in some barley and mushrooms to be turned into a delicious soup for later in the week. WIN!

Pot Roast with Vegetables
Serves 4-6

1 4-5lb pot roast (or any big hunk of meat labelled “braising”)
all purpose flour
olive oil (regular cooking oil works)
2 onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic
2 cups of red wine (recipes will tell you “never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink” but I say that’s rubbish. Cook/drink cheap wine and no one will judge. No one will judge if you omit the wine entirely)
1 176ml can of diced plum tomatoes
1 cup of beef stock or beef broth (if using beef broth, buy reduced sodium or no salt)
three sprigs of thyme
three sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups baby carrots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. dust the roast with flour all over. In a large dutch oven, heat a few glugs of oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle the roast all over with salt and pepper. Sear the roast in the pan until all sides are golden brown. Take the roast out and set aside on a plate.
2. throw the chopped onions, celery, and garlic into the pan, and sauté until softened (about 3-5 minutes), stirring ocassionally.
3. Take the wine (if using, if not, substitute equal amount of water or more beef stock/broth), dump it in the pot and stir the bottom with a spoon, scraping up any browned bits.
4. Add the tomatoes, the beef stock, the thyme and rosemary back into the pan. Put the roast and any accumulated juices into the pot, cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat so that it’s barely simmering, and then let cook for 1 ½ – 2 hours, or until the meat is tender*
5. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, you can add the baby carrots, and the butter.
6. Before serving, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as required.

Serve hot (you can either take the pot roast out and slice, or the meat should be tender enough that you can just break off chunks), with the carrots with a side of boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes.

*This dish is very forgiving. If you forget it and it spends an extra hour braising, no harm! If you let it get to the point where all the liquid is reduced, just top it up with more.

You could add 3 cups of frozen peas in the last 15 minutes of cooking, and then you get two vegetables in one dish! You could also add other chunks of root vegetable, or even little boiling potatoes, for a one pot meal. You could park the whole pot in the oven at 350F for the same amount of time. After step 3, you could throw everything into your slow cooker, set it on low, and have dinner ready when you get back (if you’re okay with the baby carrots being very soft, they can go in at the beginning, too).
Round 2: Beef, Barley, Mushroom Soup
To turn this into a delicious beef, barley, mushroom soup, keep everything in the same pot. The day you’re ready for soup, add ½ cup of pearl barley, maybe half a pound of sliced button or cremini mushrooms, and 4-6 cups of additional stock, broth, or water, and let it simmer until the barley is cooked through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper. You can add more liquid to get the desired amount of soupiness. Serve with a salad and some bread and butter and there you go, dinner is done…like dinner? Err… The soup is pictured below served with a roasted red pepper, goat cheese panini.