Going Off-List


Week before last I did something I haven’t done in over 5 years: went shopping without my Menu Mailer grocery list.

For those not familiar with Menu Mailer, it’s the invention of Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva, and features a set of dinner recipes, serving suggestions and an itemized, categorized shopping list each week. Even though I’ve got a culinary degree, am a veteran list-maker and perfectly capable of decided what to make for supper every night, it was nice to not have to make those decisions each week.

After so many years, though, I was starting to chafe at the repetition of flavors (all cooks have their favorites, after all) and some of the more questionable processes she recommends (there are very few times, after all, that any good comes of playing the hokey-pokey chicken: cook the chicken, take it out, make the sauce or something, put the chicken back in, finish cooking). And don’t get me started on caramelizing onions by adding brown sugar.


But I had become somewhat a slave to the convenience of it all. It was my turn to do the grocery shopping and I had plenty of things I wanted to road-test for the cookbook, so I made a quick list. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, even if I was so very out of practice. Have you ever had a hard time making a grocery list? When you break it down into simple building blocks, it’s not difficult:

  • Proteins–choose 7; beef, pork, chicken, fish, beans, tofu, some can be repeated or skipped altogether
  • Vegetables–choose at least 7, 10 might be better; salads can cover you for a couple of meals, and a mix of fresh (whatever looks interesting) and frozen veggies (broccoli, cauliflower and green beans are always good staples) that can be easily steamed
  • Carbs–yup, you need these, too! Even when you’re watching your weight choosing healthy carbs can help keep your cholesterol in check and add fiber to your diet (especially for those who don’t like veggies). Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, whole wheat rolls.

After that it’s all a matter of matching the pieces together. Imagine it like one of those games with the revolving pieces–one for the head, one for the body, one for the legs. You just spin your pieces around til you like what you see and that’s what’s for dinner!

Of course, it helps to have a well-stocked spice cabinet and plenty of condiments at the ready to dress up whatever components make up your meal.

Another way to make your list is to pick specific recipes to try each week. This is what I used to do at 19, when first married, and charged with the task of having dinner ready each night when my husband came home. My cookbook collection was much smaller then and it was still in the darker days on the Internet so I only had a few sources to choose from. Still, I tended to choose one from here, one from there and it got a little confusing.

Instead, a better option might be to pick recipes all from the same book and just note down the page numbers for reference. Not only does it give us more use of these tomes we collect, but it makes things a little simpler. Granted, if the  book you picked was 101 ways to serve Chicken, you might get a bit bored over the course of a week. Then again, many flavor profiles can work regardless of the protein of choice and it could provide interesting for the adventurous.

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