The part of Plan to Plate that I love best is the ever-changing nature of it. I will forever protect and preserve the individualized concept, because it brings my clients and me joy in so many different ways. For some people, I just plan their menus, provide recipes, and send a shopping list. I can do that all through email, without the client even having to lift a finger (well, except to point and click). For others, I plan, shop, and deliver their fresh ingredients. For others still, I plan, shop, and prepare their ingredients- making it super easy for them to cook in their own kitchens. And then, for some folks, I cook their meals from start to finish.
The menu ideas are always evolving, the ingredients and clients are so diverse, and my days never look the same. I appreciate my ability to be flexible now, after many years of operating within a very rigid, minute-by-minute, constricting school schedule. I’ve worked on the school schedule creation committee before, and it is a seriously daunting task to ensure equity to every child in a school. I understand the need for such tight scheduling, but I don’t miss living by the clock.
Last week, I was contacted by a woman who found my business card at a local coffee shop. She sounded overwhelmed and frustrated. I could tell by her voice that she needed some help. I had the opportunity to share several delicious cups of French Pressed coffee with her and act as a consultant in her kitchen.
We discussed the process of taking stock of the items available in her fridge and pantry, making a plan for several meals, creating a list, and shopping with purpose. I offered a variety of fun options for “cooking” with a five-year-old, like skewering fruits, cheeses, and grape tomatoes. As we talked, she very naturally articulated some goals. I encouraged her to set herself up for success- rather than taking on too much at once. I could sense her relief and empowerment growing before our time together was over.
A few days later, I got a thank you note letting me know that she had already begun taking steps toward her goals. She was being diligent about her planning time and looking forward to shopping. What a unique and rewarding experience for me! As I’ve said before, food is so much a part of our lives, and in my position, I am welcomed into the hearts and bellies of good people- via food. I didn’t cook a thing for this client, but it felt wonderful to help her on the road a fuller, happier, less stressful life. BIG smile.
In between planning, shopping, cooking, and consulting for other folks, Adam and I are always playing in our kitchen, trying to push boundaries and be clever- within a tight budget. Starting a new business is extraordinarily gratifying, but I’ll be the first to tell you that the money doesn’t just come falling out of the sky all at once. I think that being forced to stretch our pennies has fostered our sense of creativity and resourcefulness even more.
Last night, we made a play on foods. Though we love us some chicken wings, it’s just not healthy to keep that fryer out on my counter. So, to satisfy that buffalo wings and blue cheese craving, we planned roasted buffalo chicken thighs with an orzo salad of celery, carrots, blue cheese and a few other treats.
We started by soaking the chicken thighs, an inexpensive and flavorful cut of meat, in some store-bought buffalo sauce.
Meanwhile, we got to work on the orzo salad.
Orzo is a pasta shaped like rice that is very popular in Greece, I’m told. One day I’ll see for myself! It only takes about 7 minutes to cook in boiling water, so it’s a great weeknight “go to” ingredient.
While the orzo cooled down, I sliced the celery, grated the carrots, crumbled the cheese, and chopped some fresh oregano. I also pressed a couple cloves of garlic into the warm orzo.
When building a dish like this one, I am mindful of the size and shape of all of the components. I want every bite to contain a little bit of each flavor and texture. That’s why I didn’t ribbon my carrots or dice my celery. Like sizes make for easy eating and successful integration of ingredients.
I made the simplest dressing in America for this salad. A lemon vinaigrette.
The zest and juice of half a lemon, combined with a splash of red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. That’s it.
Fresh, light, and bright, the lemon vinaigrette worked really nicely with the oregano too.
So simple to put together, this orzo salad contains all of the goodness provided by the side items that generally accompany wings, plus so much more. The crunch of the traditional carrots and celery is a total requirement. But nice thin slices of celery are a real palate pleaser here. The saltiness and chewiness of the sunflower seeds stand up perfectly against the soft, subtle orzo. The oregano really woke up all of the flavors. And that tangy blue cheese was a star. The dressing just brought it all home.
After their spa treatment, the chicken went into a hot pan on the stove to create a nice crust on the outside.
They finished their cooking time in the oven, away from the direct heat. And then, we tossed them again in the buffalo sauce.
And just like that, it was time to enjoy.
Without any frying or guilt, we were able to enjoy all of the flavors I associate with buffalo wings. But this presentation is so much more refined. The chicken was super tender and full of juicy goodness. The salad truly blew me away with its freshness. To be perfectly honest, I was just scraping the bottom of my bowl of leftover orzo salad that I had for lunch with a few slices of steak we grilled up on Superbowl night.
I will be making orzo salad again in the near future. I can feel it. And I think it would translate extremely well as party food- either in mini cups of some sort (edible or not), or in a big bowl. You can make this salad ahead of time and serve it at room temperature. It will impress your guests, for sure, without taxing you during prep time.
So, as always, I suggest you play with your food. Be creative! Take something traditional and twist it into something that reminds you of the original dish, but looks completely different. And have fun doing it!
Happy cooking to you.