Meal Planning – Chinese Chicken Salad

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My Single Serving Basic Principles

1. Live well, eat well
2. Let the grocery store do some of the work.
3. Meal planning

When I get home from work, I am tired.  I don’t want to cook dinner – I just want it to magically arrive on my table.  I’m too tired at that point to come up with an idea of what to make.  The last thing I want to do is run to the store to grab an ingredient I need for dinner.   If I don’t already have a plan for making dinner, it just isn’t going to happen.  Hence the importance of basic principle 3.

My Single Servings Principle #3: Meal Planning

Step 1: Determine how many meals you will make

I meal plan once a week.  First, I check my schedule to see how many days I’m actually going to need to cook.  This varies from week to week, depending on my commitments.  I usually make 3-4 meals each week.  Whenever I plan more than this, some of my food always goes to waste (which is very annoying to my inner cheapskate).  If you never cook for yourself, I recommend starting with just one meal per week.  You can add more as you start to feel comfortable.

Step 2: Selecting recipes

This is my favorite part.  I read cookbooks the way normal people read novels.  (More about that later.)  When I first began meal planning, I would assign a specific meal for a specific day.  I quickly found that this system didn’t work for me.   Some days I didn’t end up with enough time to make the meal I had planned.  On other days I just wasn’t in the mood for it.  Now instead of assigning meals to specific days, I just keep a list of planned meals on my fridge.  That way I can choose whatever meal works best each day. A meal typical weekly meal plan for me might look something like this:

Chinese Chicken Salad
Ginger Pork Stir Fry
Pesto-Crusted Salmon with Lemon Orzo

Step 3: Create a shopping list

Once you’ve selected your menu for the week, go through each recipe to make certain you have all of the ingredients.  Be sure to write down quantities (e.g. 1/2 cup bean sprouts).  Also add to your list any staple ingredients you might be low on (milk, eggs, yogurt, fruit, bread, salad fixings, etc).  No matter how carefully I read a recipe, I always forget to write down at least one needed ingredient.  Lately I’ve started using myrecipes.com to create my shopping lists. Now I rarely forget to add menu items to my list.

Here’s how it works: First you need to sign up for a free account at  myrecipes.com.  Then you can start creating customized shopping lists based on your menu.  All you have to do is choose a recipe and select “add to shopping list”.  You can choose from their recipes or you can add your own. When I add my own recipes, I only list the ingredients and measurements.  When it asks me for the directions, I either write the name and page number of the cookbook, or I paste in the link to the website.  Myrecipes.com  links to CookingLight.com – one of my favorite recipe sources. I’ve added all of my favorite recipes to my personal account. This streamlines both my menu planning and shopping list making.  When you select a recipe, it will add every ingredient to your list – right down to the ‘2 T water’ and ‘1/2 tsp salt’. After your list is built, go through it and delete items you already have on hand. This process helps me make sure I really do have everything I need on my shopping list. One big down side to myrecipes.com is that it has a ton of annoying pop-up advertisements. I guess that’s to be expected with a free website. 😦

A sample grocery list for me might look something like this:

“fruit, Napa cabbage, red bell pepper, cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, pork tenderloin, orzo, sesame seed oil, hoisin sauce, milk, plain yogurt”

As you are meal planning, think about serving sizes.  Will you be cutting a recipe in half?  What roll-over ingredients will that leave you?  What will you do with that extra half-head of Napa cabbage?  Try to coordinate your meals to use up roll-over ingredients before they go bad.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Speaking of Napa cabbage . . . it’s delicious.  If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out.  And don’t be scared off by the word ‘cabbage’.  Sure, it’s in the cabbage family but it doesn’t taste like the cabbage your mom shoved down your throat as a kid.  It has a very neutral flavor.  Think of it as an extra crispy lettuce.  It also tends to stay fresh in your veggie drawer longer than lettuce.  I have two meals that I make with Napa cabbage – both Asian inspired. I always plan them for the same week because together they use one full head of Napa cabbage.  One is a pork stir-fry, which I’ll share Wednesday. The other recipe, which I’m sharing today, is Chinese Chicken Salad.

For the dressing:

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In a small mason jar, combine canola oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, grated fresh ginger and toasted sesame oil.  Shake until well combined. (You can store peeled fresh ginger in your freezer for months.  As an added bonus, it’s easier to grate when it’s frozen.)  This dressing is so delicious, you may never order an restaurant Asian salad again.

In a salad bowl, toss together shredded chicken, carrot, cabbage, bell pepper, sprouts, scallions, and cilantro. (I like the sprouts but didn’t have any on hand this time around so I left them out.) Since I’m going to use the other half of the bell pepper and napa cabbage later in the week, I chop those now and throw them in a tupperware in the fridge.  I usually build my lunch the same time I build my dinner so it looks something like this:

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For my lunch, I pack salad dressing and chow mein noodles separately so that the salad doesn’t get soggy.  To eat immediately, shake the salad dressing to recombine, then pour it over the chicken salad and toss.  Sprinkle with the chow mein noodles.  Enjoy.

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Chinese Chicken Salad
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Serves: 2

Dressing
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Salad
1.5 – 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
3 tablespoons shredded carrot
1/2 head napa cabbage, cored and sliced thin
1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 green onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chow mein noodles

1. In a small mason jar, combine all salad dressing ingredients and shake vigorously to combine. (Dressing can be made up to 4 days in advance.)
2. Toss the chicken, carrot, cabbage, red bell pepper, bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro together. Shake the dressing to recombine, then pour it over the salad and toss. Sprinkle with chow mein noodles and serve.

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