The Weekly ShopPosted: August 25, 2010
This post is meant to provide an insight to how I plan what I eat and cook, but may also prove that I’m a little crazy. My friends who know of this routine think I’m a little kooky for it but I’ve explained that it helps me budget and eliminate waste. It doesn’t always work out as planned but it certainly helps keep things in a semblance of order.
I do most of my grocery shopping on Sundays despite the fact that I have off days during the week and the market would be way less crowded on weekdays. I don’t know, it feels right to go on Sundays. I think I’m just used to it because my mother goes to the market on Sundays back home as well, and when my parents lived in China for a few years while my dad worked there and I helped run the household, I always went marketing on Sundays too. I guess I really am a creature of habit.
Late Saturday night, I usually sit around with my food magazines and cookbooks and plan what I want to eat the following week. I also take into considerations cravings and dishes I’ve been wanting to try.
I like gathering magazines of the month we’re in so August magazines regardless of the year is good. I also have the latest Delicious magazine in there because I saw it on the stands. The reason is obvious: seasonal produce. If I took a magazine from January, it’s going to be full of summer salads, berries, and probably lots of BBQ dishes. While yummy, it’s going to be impossible gathering those ingredients together and they’ll just taste rather strange in the dead of winter.
The two cookbooks are for inspiration and ideas. I’m constantly flipping through The Cook’s Book because it’s such an invaluable source of information. I actually got lucky and bought it back in Malaysia recently and lugged it all the way back to Melbourne. I believe it is now out of print but if you ever get your hands on one, I urge you to buy it. I don’t necessarily cook from it but it provides a lot of how-to on basic stuff that I find really useful.
Bouchon is a book I recently bought and can’t help but admire the recipes in it for its simplicity. I admire Thomas Keller and his principles on cooking so much and that picture of that roast chicken sold me. I’d been thinking I wanted to make a roast chicken because I’ve been craving it, and I want to learn how to truss a chicken. Then I saw that gorgeous roast chicken and thought, okay, I’m making the Bouchon chicken with my favourite roasted root vegetables.
I then jot down what I want to make on the days I want to make it. I take into consideration the lifespan of the fresh produce for the dishes and if I find some are more fragile, those dishes get pushed to the top. It also depends on the schedule of my days cos that would mean more or less energy to make more complicated dishes. I also try to make dishes that would use more or less the same ingredients to eliminate waste, especially when it comes to herbs. Even then, I always end up with wilted herbs that need to be thrown out. I don’t trust dried bottled herbs; nothing compares to the real deal! Sometimes you can’t help it but most times, I go for the fresh stuff.
This week my housemate was away until Tuesday night and she usually makes dinner every Monday and Wednesday night. Mondays are my busiest days so I’m more than happy to relinquish cooking responsibilities because I only get home close to 7 p.m. Also, it’s pretty safe to say that our fridge is always stocked with leftovers of some sort. I think right now we still have some bolognese sauce enough for one serve and two roasted chicken drumsticks. Either me or J will get to it for lunch one of these days. I may even shred the meat off the drumsticks and make a chicken sandwich for both of us for lunch, actually.
On the menu this week is:
Monday – leftovers. I had leftover Indian take away from my lazy Friday night in – excellent lamb Rogan Josh and a garlic naan.
Tuesday – I’m vegetarian for religious reasons so it’s a Soba Miso Soup dish inspired by a recipe in September’s Delicious magazine by Jill Dupleix but hers called for dashi soup so I switched it around and eliminated some ingredients to arrive at my own version of the stuff. Recipe will be posted soon.
Wednesday – homemade pizza from scratch with some sort of grilled vegetable and bacon topping. Bacon leftover from a quiche I made for a potluck at my friend’s last week. Usually my housemate J takes the dinner on Wednesday but she’d be arriving late at night Tuesday from her business trip and I knew she’d have to go to work on the following morning so she’d probably be exhausted so I’m making her dinner. I’m going to try making pizza dough from scratch for the first time so I’m excited about this. I always try something different every week.
Thursday – roast chicken with roast vegetables; Bouchon method. Nothing I like more in winter than a good roast chicken meal.
Friday – chicken, leek and mushroom pot pies, a recipe based off something in Delicious as well but I’m also augmenting it and making my own pastry. Usually I head out but I’ve been over indulging last week and I reckon I need to catch up on school work. I know this will make enough for leftovers as well so I’m covered for Saturday lunch too.
So on Sundays, I troop down to the market with three green bags and spend a good hour and sometimes more browsing the market. I usually head to the Queen Victoria Market, but I’ve also explored the South Melbourne Market on occasion. It’s absolutely geeky to admit this but shopping in the market is one of my favourite things. I head straight for the organic produce section and get as much of the things I want there (being conscious of the price, of course). I generally find the price difference between organic and non-organic small, and sometimes it’s even cheaper at the organic end despite the crowd converging at the non-organic end. This constantly puzzles me but I suppose it’s just people’s mindset that organic is synonymous with expensive and they don’t bother looking.
I avoid supermarkets unless absolutely necessary but I tend to never buy any meat or fresh vegetables and fruits from there. The price difference is astounding, especially with meat. And there’s just a huge difference in quality. I’m not naive enough to believe that there isn’t a middle man involved with the purveyors in the markets as well, but there’s a lot of holding time between the farmer and the shelving at the supermarket which decreases the freshness of the produce. There’s a lot of middle men between the harvesting of the produce to the shelf at the supermarket and they can swear up and down that they’re “fresh produce” but really, it not. It’s just logistically impossible for the volume a supermarket demands to the loading of their trucks and the many locations of supermarkets in the country.
I don’t know a better way of explaining the difference other than to buy an onion from a supermarket, then buy one from any vendor in the market. There’s just a huge difference.
I’m not saying that I’m such a strong advocate of fresh produce that I never step into the supermarket because obviously the convenience of it (and nearness to me!) is great when I’ve been too busy to go to the market. Also because I still eat cornflakes and muesli bars, and I get my milk there. Sometimes I buy pre-packaged salad bags there, too. It’s just a lot more economical if I don’t and I honestly believe that I minimize my carbon footprint tremendously just from buying from the market and not the supermarket.
More than that, it’s the experience of it all. Seeing what’s really in season. Talking with the vendors about how to use certain vegetables, the scent of insanely fresh herbs, getting dinner suggestions from your butcher, getting your your meat cut the way you like, learning of the flavours of different sausages from the passionate man who makes them all by himself. Plus, forming a relationship with all the people you buy from on a weekly basis helps. Trust me when I say there are discounts to be had once you form a relationship with them.
Then there’s all the delicious food to be eaten at the markets, too. I love the hotdog stand and the organic pizza stand in Queen Victoria Market, and the Spanish restaurant in South Melbourne Market.
There’s an Asian grocer right beside the Queen Victoria Market that I just adore called Minh Phat. It stocks pretty much everything and anything from Asia (and beyond). There are many Asian grocers in the city and in Chinatown but none as well-stocked as this store. We’re talking Buddhist prayer items, claypots, woks, varieties of rice from Asia, and Asian dinnerware. They even have tinned Milo imported all the way from Malaysia, which I prefer to the Australian version. I pop in there pretty often to stock up on the things I miss from home – like those awesome Hup Seng cream crackers. Saltines? Nuh-uh, Hup Seng cream crackers all the way, baby!
Another reason why I love the market?
The florist. It’s a lot cheaper than any of the florists in the city, or even the flowers you see in the supermarket. I got these gerberas to brighten up our apartment, and it’s made a big difference. They’re not exactly a weekly expense but more a sporadic luxury. It brings a smile to my face in the morning when I awaken and wander into the dining and see this on the table (rare as I’m not a morning person!). We’re in desperate need of medium-sized vases so I improvised with a pasta sauce bottle we had lying around, peeled off the ugly label although it still left an ugly white residue at the back. The ribbon is from a parcel I bought from Net-A-Porter many years ago that just did a good job at adding some character to an ugly ol’ pasta jar. I always knew there was a reason I kept all sorts of silly tidbits!
In total (including the flowers!), I spent about $80 and this would feed two girls for four different dinner meals a week, and would probably result in leftovers that we have for lunch. And we’re talking about some really good meals here too (there’s a ball of bocconcini and I bought three packs of dried porcini from the deli).
So yeah, while I may seem like I’ve overdone the menu planning and thought process of my weekly meals, it really is something worth considering. I certainly don’t expect anyone to go through cookbooks and magazines the way I do, but I enjoy doing it and it really is more fun and relaxing for me than it is a chore. Menu planning just helps with the budgeting and avoiding waste.