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The Philosophy of My Kitchen

October 5, 2010

I like to think of myself as a fairly eco-conscious, budget-savvy cook.  I plan my weekly menus, and I only buy local and organic produce (with the extremely rare exception), sustainably raised organic meats, eggs, and dairy.   Good for me, right?

Well now I want to share my philosophy of cooking with you.  It’s nothing too complicated, and it’s easy to replicate at home.  I had a food blog previously where I posted recipes that other people had written, with my tweaks.  Now I want to put a new spin on it.  I want to demonstrate my approach in such a way that will be useful to people.  And of course, I want the end result to be delicious, wholesome, and interesting.  This may be a tall order, but I think I can do it.

So stay tuned for those recipes, tips and techniques; they will be coming soon to A Little Barefoot, I promise.   For now, I want to share with you the basic structure of my menu planning, simplistic though it may be.   This is my approach, and of course it is as adaptable as you want it to be.

Step One: Go to the farmers market on a weekly basis.*

My local farmers market is on Saturday mornings, so this is a nice tradition for a weekend morning.  My husband and I go and get something to drink at the Coffee Bean, and we browse the market.  Sometimes I come with a list of specific produce I want, but most of the time I don’t.  I always make sure I have onions, garlic, celery and carrots on hand at all times.  The rest of it is based on what looks good and is in season.  I try to get at least two types of fruit and three types of vegetables.  Sometimes I’ll get bread, too.  If your market sells farm-raised eggs, go for those too!

The farmers market is truly the backbone of my menu planning.  I generally spend about $20 to $30 a week there, and the things that I buy there provide most of the food my husband and I will eat for the entire week.  If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is.

*Note: this assumes you live somewhere like I do, where there are farmers markets year round.  If you don’t, then of course you can skip this step and get produce at the grocery store in step three below.

Step Two: Browse cookbooks, blogs, and memory banks for menu ideas

Next, I plan my menu based on what I brought home from the farmers market.   Sometimes this is a time-consuming task.  Other times it takes five minutes.  I try to let the produce serve as the starring role.  I might plan one chicken dish for the week, one pasta, one soup, and one salad or sandwich.  The other nights we’ll have leftovers or maybe go out.

Step Three: Make a grocery list and go to the store

Once I’ve planned my four or five recipes for the week, I make a list of the items I need to buy in addition to what I’ve already bought at the farmers market.  The goal is to keep this list short.  A consistently well-stocked pantry with oils, vinegars, dried pastas, canned tomatoes, and beans, etc., makes this much easier.   The only items on my list should be meat, dairy, and dry goods.   Any produce items in a recipe that I don’t already have, I will tweak and use something else that I already got at the farmers market.  Recipes are meant to be broken, after all.

Since I only make meat once or twice a week, I splurge on the good stuff.  I only buy grass-fed beef and free range organic chicken.  One chicken breast can be stretched for two people, easily.  Like I said, the produce is the star of the show, and the meat is secondary, most of the time.   Once in a while I’ll buy a whole chicken and roast it, and make stock from the bones.  This alone will make several meals.

The grocery bill with this approach, for two people, should only be another $50 to $60 or so on top of what was spent at the farmers market.

Step Four: Use what you bought

Amazingly, this is the hardest part sometimes.  My goals may be lofty on a Saturday morning, and then the craziness of the week keeps me from actually cooking what I intended to cook.  But there is always wiggle room.  If I don’t have time to make the casserole I wanted to make, I’ll make a stir fry with the same veggies instead.   The goal is not to waste any of it if at all possible.  And if you find you went overboard one week, pare back your list the next week and don’t get so much.

So that, my friends, is my philosophy and approach to keeping my grocery bills down and my meals healthy and interesting.   I encourage you to try it, or your own version of it.   I hope to help you put it into action with some fun menu and meal ideas on this blog.


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