Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WotW: Solving menu writer's block

Hello again! Today, I come to you with a confession... I, Lorene (of just Lu, here for my weekly Wednesday post), suffer regularly from the debilitating psychological disorder known as menu writer's block. About once per week, I am incapacitated by my inability to plan the next week of meals. Thus, I buy either nothing or everything at the grocery store... and we eat quesadillas. or pasta. again.

There are so many fantastic recipe blogs in bloggyland with wonderful recipes and inspiration. Debra's Tasty Tuesday segment here is a wonderful resource, with even more inspiration now that she's added a tasty linky party. (Seriously, go check it out and add your favorite recipe.)

But sometimes, when I'm planning my menus for the week (or at least attempting to plan a menu), I need a more direct approach to menu planning. Browsing is out. I need a recipe working with the spoils of my latest grocery store expedition, stat. "What in the world can I make with canned salmon and black beans?" (and then I think... why do I have canned salmon? I don't even like salmon...)

That's where these three sites come in. Stuck in a rut? Need an idea for dinner... fast? Ready to explore and become a bit more gourmand? Meet your perfect recipe-finding match:

For when you need a meal idea, and fast:
Kraft Recipes is a fantastic resource if you're searching for a quick dish for almost any occasion. You enter three ingredients that you want in your dish and what type of dish you want (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, appetizer, side dish, and even beverage!) and then just browse through the results. Most recipes are very simple and call for only a few fairly common ingredients. Like a recipe? Just add it to your recipe box.

Because the site is run by Kraft Foods, most of their recipes do call for at least one Kraft product. This can be a little bit frustrating if you don't own every flavor of their dressings/marinades, but even if you just have one flavor, there are recipes for using it in every type of dish: side dish, main dish, salad, appetizer. And when you find a recipe you love, just pick up a bottle on your next trip to the grocery store to add some extra variety to your meal rotation.

For the aspiring gourmand:
If you're looking for something just a little more toward gourmet or at least made-from-scratch, try out Allrecipes. They have the same kind of ingredient search as Kraft Recipes, only better: you can include up to four ingredients you want as well as four ingredients that you don't want. With a sour-cream-hating husband like mine, that feature is a must. There are literally thousands of recipes in their database, so you're sure to find something that you'll love at the right skill level for you. When you find one you love or that you want to try your hand at, toss it in your recipe box to save for later.

Allecipes has the benefit of being a site created primarily by members, for members. (Membership is free, of course.) This means that most of these other recipes were created by people like you, just trying to put a fabulous meal on the table--and you can add your own fabulous recipes! This also means that you can ask a question... and get it answered, all within the Recipe Exchange section of the site. If you are an aspiring gourmet or just need to learn a new technique for a recipe, the How To section is fantastic and will teach you everything from how to cook an egg about ten different ways to how to slice and dice properly (did you know you've probably been doing it wrong?).

For when you're stuck in a rut:
Right@Home's recipe section is a nice in-between from Kraft's three-ingredient simplicity and Allrecipes' vast collection, perfect when you're stuck in a recipe rut but not in a big time crunch. Their recipes are easy to make and don't require that you are a gourmet chef or that you spend hours slaving over the stove.You can find a recipe that works for you, ranging from healthy twists on family favorites to make-it-yourself nutty pumpkin ravioli (which is now on my list...).

My favorite feature of Right@Home is the add to shopping list feature. The site doesn't have a recipe box feature, but instead you can add all the ingredients from the dish that you've found (and bookmarked, of course) to your shopping list, which you can then print out and take to the store with you. No more meals missing one key ingredient because you just forgot. No more forgetting to buy the cumin and yet somehow ending up with three jars of it because you just can't remember if you've purchased some already... C'mon, it might not be cumin for you, but I know I'm not alone in the predicament. ;)

Soo.... are you feeling cured of your menu writer's block? What are some of your favorite sites/blogs to help you on your road to recovery? If needed, we can arrange to hold weekly MWA (Menu Writers Anonymous) meetings. :)

PS -- Need some inspiration? Check out the Let's Eat Workshop from Crazy Domestic. To get organized, check out this recipe scrapbook, this classy cookbook, and this easy binder personal recipe book; then try one of these awesome meal planner helps: a menu planning center, an awesomely adorable menu board, and printable menu planning binder pages

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about books, crafts, recipes, and whatever else comes up at just Lu.
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