This Labor Day weekend is unlike any other, in part because it’s also ushering in the first week of school for many Austin families.
Taking a few days off to relax while also preparing for a new school year means that many of us will be setting up student desks and stocking up on lunch supplies and setting our alarms for the first time in months. This might also be a time for many home cooks to start (or recommit to) making meal plans.
The closest I get to meal planning is penciling in on a calendar the meals I hope to make in a week, but Australian authors Jen Petrovic and Gaby Chapman have a whole strategy that involves cooking four meals, doubling quantities of a few of them and then throwing in a super simple meal to round out the week. They call it the 4+2+1 plan and recently published a whole cookbook, "The Plan Buy Cook Book," dedicated to the formula.
Another new book on the subject is simply called "Batch Cooking" from author Keda Black, who rolls one meal into the other strategically, starting with one two-hour cooking session on Sundays. Both authors offer detailed plans with recipes to help cooks stick to the plan without ending up with too many leftovers (or too little enthusiasm to cook what you’ve made) at the end of the week.
Lemongrass Beef Marinade
This lemongrass beef is excellent served with greens, steamed rice and quick pickled vegetables, and it’s easy to double and freeze. You could use sliced chicken instead of beef if you prefer. This meat is great in banh mi with quick pickled vegetables.
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, chopped or finely grated
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 shallot, peeled
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1 1/2 pound rump steak
1 quantity Perfect Steamed Rice (see below), to serve
Steamed Asian Greens (see below)
Make the marinade for the beef by combining the lemongrass, garlic, shallot, soy sauce, brown sugar and chile flakes in a food processor. Blend to a paste, then set aside.
If using skewers, slice the beef into cubes, or you can cut against the grain to make long, thin strips. Toss in the marinade. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour. If doubling the recipe, freeze the extra meal in its marinade, uncooked, for later use.
Steam the rice according to the recipe below, or follow the packet instructions.
Heat a barbecue grill or heavy cast-iron skillet over a high heat. If using skewers, put the cubes on the sticks. Otherwise, lay the beef strips directly on the grill or pan. Cook the beef, turning once. It will only take 2 to 3 minutes per side for the strips and longer for the cubes. Serve with steamed rice and Asian greens. Serves 4.
Perfect Steamed Rice
Want a fail-proof method to steam rice to perfection? Here it is in five easy steps. If you cook the rice a little early, just leave it to stand with the lid on until you’re ready to serve. This way, it will retain its heat better.
If your pot lid doesn’t fit tightly, use some foil under the lid to trap the steam while cooking.
2 cups long-grain rice (such as jasmine or basmati)
Rinse the rice in a colander.
Put the rice in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 1/4 cups. Bring to a rapid boil.
Once boiling, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and turn down the heat to very low. Cook for 12 minutes.
After 12 minutes, turn off the heat, leaving the lid on the saucepan. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
Steamed Asian Greens
You can’t go past a quick steamed veg side. Cook this in a saucepan or a wok for a ready-in-minutes side for any Asian-inspired meal. A tip: When boiling root vegetables, such as potato, sweet potato and carrot, start the vegetables in cold water. For nonroot vegetables, such as corn, beans and broccoli, drop the ingredients into boiling water.
4 baby bok choy, quartered
For the dressing:
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
Wash the quartered bok choy to remove any grit, then place in the saucepan.
Return to the boil, then strain after 2 minutes.
Serve the bok choy as is, or make the dressing by combining all ingredients in a bowl with 1 tablespoon water before drizzling over the bok choy. Serves 4.
— From "The Plan Buy Cook Book: Plan Once, Eat Well All Week" by Jan Petrovic and Gaby Chapman (Hardie Grant Books, $24.99)