How Do You Come Up with Meals?

The Dilemma

Jon and I both cook. We like to eat good food, and we don’t mind spending time in the kitchen putting it together.

The problem is, we can’t ever think of what to make. So, right now (as I type this, ADD-style) we are trying to come up with meals for the week.

Our Tools

To accomplish this task, we have a notebook and pen, the Better Homes Cookbook, an orange cat (he supervises) and two laptops.

We Fail

texas_beef_chilliWe have come up with and rejected several meals, mostly because Jon will say something like, “Is there anything in particular you’d like to eat?” and my responses always revolve around cheese, beef or candy, and we don’t want to eat any of those for every meal (well, one of us doesn’t) on the basis that it is unhealthy in large doses. (Well, one of us thinks so.)

We have rejected chili, bacon-wrapped hamburgers, taco pizza and something in our slow-cooker. Also, every couple of seconds, I get distracted by something more interesting, and Jon breaks out into song or goes to get something in another room. We are further delayed by the fact that I am checking my tweetstream and writing blog posts while we are having this discussion.

The Solution

angry_cowSo, after a great deal of discussion, we have decided on meatloaf and turkey burgers for two meals, and I’ve loaded the grocery list up on fruit and dairy and other weird things I’ve been craving lately. Yes, dairy is a weird thing to crave, because I believe that milk is the enemy and should be shunned whenever possible.

Oh My God, What About Tomorrow?

Although today’s crisis has been averted, does anyone have any suggestions for good places to find ideas on what to cook?

Online food databases are great if you have a specific recipe in mind, but if you’re going in blind, you end up making horrible soups and someone’s misguided attempt at a casserole. Recipe books are good, but unless you enjoy leafing through them at random, they are not very helpful for coming up with ideas.

What I’m looking for is a list of fun things to make. Ideally, a list that excludes chicken, fish or lentils, because they are shifty foods and not to be trusted. Suggestions appreciated!

Image credit: chili and angry cow


  1. I recommend Italian sausage. That's a pretty easy thing to cook. Just get 3 to 6 links, pop 'em into a Pyrex dish, put some olive oil on there, then throw them into a preheated (350 degrees F) oven for maybe about 45 to 60 minutes (we tend to cook ours a little longer because we're paranoid about any pinkness — especially because we buy our sausage from a sketchy Whole Foods). Make some pasta too, and you have a yummy dinner.

    Are you making your meatloaf from scratch or using a mix to add in w/ the beef? You could make a turkey loaf too, I suppose.

    I'll think more about other recommendations.

    Anyway, for some after dinner treats, check out my law blog, Uncommon Law, if you haven't yet, at;click on the category "Recipes." Even though it's a law blog, I have a couple of recipes for pretty tasty desserts on there (I highly recommend the peanut butter carrot cake).

    Since it's a Boston law blog, maybe I'll try a Boston Creme Pie recipe at some point!

    Now I'm getting kinda hungry…

  2. Oooh, that sounds good. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Re: Meatloaf, definitely from scratch.

    Peanut butter carrot cake… this might have to be explored.

  3. You may indeed propose this! Although the baby is rather obsessive about meat products, it never hurts to introduce him to beans and tempeh! (We had tofu yesterday at this thai place we should go to if you're ever up here).

    Re your PS: I think my site would be a lot more popular if I included that same image every day, in some way, in each post. Even MORE, if I left out all words, and just posted the image. :-P

  4. Me and Brian are allll about pizzas. Particularly because you can put whatever toppings you want on them! For awhile we were making the dough from scratch, but it seems to turn out better if we just suck it up and buy frozen pizzas, and then put our own fun toppings on them. And maybe some extra cheese, mmmm.

    What about things like omelettes?

    And oh my gosh, LATKES. I found this fantastic recipe for latkes and they were like potatoey crack. And Donn, I meant to tell you about them, because the only non-vegan ingredient in them was 1 egg, which you could probably substitute with egg…substitute. I'm sure it exists. Anyway, OMG latkes. Here is the recipe:

    1 large baking potato (1 pound), peeled
    1 small onion (4 ounces), peeled
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    Peanut oil, for frying

    In a food processor or on a box grater, coarsely shred the potato and onion. For longer strands, lay the potato sideways in the chute of your food processor. Transfer to a colander or wrap in a cheesecloth sling, and squeeze as dry as possible. Let stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze dry again.

    In a large bowl, whisk the flour, egg, salt and pepper together. Stir in the potato onion mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.

    In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until shimmering. Drop packed teaspoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of a spoon. Cook the latkes over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes; flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

    Sorry to get carried away there. But…SO GOOD.

  5. I second the pizza notion. Mini personal pizzas are great to make on English muffins or pita bread.

    For sauce, I tend to use the Classico brand; I hate it as pasta sauce, but it's good as pizza sauce.

    (Actually, I prefer to use homemade tomato sauce from my Mom's secret recipe, but that takes 3 hours to make, requires lots of prep, and I don't have that kind of time/energy these days.)

    If you like Lebanese food, you could try making kibbe. My Dad went to some middle eastern grocery store somewhere in this area, got the ingredients, and the guy told him how to do it. Don't ask me for a recipe though; I haven't ever cooked it.

  6. Sarah

    I thought it was Kibbi, but regardless it is fantastic. I buy it (premade) at this convenience store/deli called White Dove. I've heard they have fanastic falafel too, but I don't eat it so I'm not sure.

  7. I've seen it spelled a bunch of different ways, including kibbeh.

    There is this wonderful place in Hampton Falls, NH, called Martha's, that makes the best kibbe I have ever had. They're a teensy tiny family-run Lebanese diner. It's clean in there, and the food is delicious.

    Where is White Dove?

  8. Johanna

    If you are looking for inspiration, I get a lot from Along with having a great searchable database if you have an ingredient in mind (with really useful reader reviews), they have slideshows on the homepage that tempt you with delicious-looking photos of food. Even if you don't end up making the specific recipe they propose, it might generate ideas (and then you can use the database!). might be good too – they email me every month with a thematic rundown of recipes — like chili in the fall, Christmas cookies, whatever.

  9. Thanks for the suggestions! I'll check them both out. Search-able by ingredient is very exciting. This way, I can subsist entirely on cheese for months.

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