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The Secret of Menu Planning

Home cooking at its best: inspired by the French, Leek and Spinach Quiche.

Wow, it has been quite the busy past two weeks! I’ve been on the road with, eating my way through Atlanta, and unfortunately too busy for La Vita Cucinare. But luckily, I’m finally all settled back in New York City. And what better time to talk about menu planning than after I’ve just spent eight days eating and drinking at six restaurants a day (I know, best job on Earth!). I’m certainly ready to get back to some good home cooking!

When I was a kid, my mother had a meal calendar that she used to plan each week, including my Dad’s favorites­—beef stroganoff, chili, tacos—and a few dishes my sister and I loved—Chinese sweet-and-sour meatballs and chicken Parmesan. While I can still remember the little square piece of paper she would pencil dish titles onto, I never thought to create a meal plan of my own. Trips to the market have always been more of a lazy stroll, as I imagined the feasts I could prepare during the week. Occasionally I planned out dinners or parties, and went shopping grocery list in hand, but more often then not, shopping has been altogether impromptu.

But a few weeks ago, after realizing that my move to New York has resulted in way too many take-out and restaurant grub sessions (embarrassingly sometimes breakfast, lunch, and dinner!), I decided to take matters into my own hands and cook everything I ate for an entire week. And thus I realized the secret of menu planning. Starting off with a little inspiration from The Kitchn’s Roast Chicken menu, I devised a resourceful menu, and then only spent $90 on groceries, much less than my take-out bills usually add up to. (It did help that I was only cooking for one, as TH was out of town the whole week.)

I began with a roast chicken, eating chicken breast, chicken salad, and chicken soup—one bird, five meals! Then came braised pork loin for dinner, which once shredded also turned into barbecue sandwiches and tacos. My new favorite sandwich, pan-fried tofu with spicy mayo, made an easy lunch to bring along to work. And to end off the week, I made this pretty quiche for a friend’s brunch party. Of course eating at all of New York’s fabulous restaurants is part of the fun of living here, but every once in a while, it’s great to challenge yourself with a week of home-cooked meals. And a reminder of how easy it is, especially when armed with a plan!

Leek and Spinach Quiche, adapted from Food+Wine December 2011
Serves 6-8

For the pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup ice water

For the filling:
1 leek, carefully washed and thinly sliced
½ cup spinach, thinly sliced
Black pepper
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup water
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites

For the pastry:
Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Use two forks or a pastry cutter to cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until it is pebble sized. Slowly pour in the water and mix together until a dough starts to forms. Turn onto a work surface, knead two or three times, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch circle. Fit into a 11-inch pie or tart pan and trim the overhang. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat over to 375°F. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and baking beans or pie wrights. Bake for 50 minutes, until golden, then remove weights and continue baking for 25 minutes longer. Transfer to a rack to cool, for about 10 minutes, while preparing filling.

For the filling:
Sauté the leeks over medium heat until translucent. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Combine the butter, water, cheese, and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add the leek-spinach mixture and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whip the whites to soft peaks. Add 1/3 of the whites to the filling, combine, then gently fold in the rest of the whites. Pour the filling into the shell. Bake for 35 minutes until golden. Cool 10 minutes and serve.