filling the empty nest with food

Menu Planning

When I was a teenager I remember being dazzled by the monthly menus published in the Women’s Day magazines my mom used to buy at the grocery store.  Probably my OCD self loved the way the whole month of dinners was perfectly and neatly laid out in advance.  So methodical and organized. I imagined the pleasure in sitting down with a pen and paper and a growling stomach to think up those 30 dinners. Every dish in each meal meticulously planned. And then, I’d picture myself taking those menus to the grocery store to buy the ingredients on the list to make just those meals, and nothing else.  Each ingredient to be bought in advance and stored expectantly in the pantry. And when you were ready to cook, say, roast chicken with buttered egg noodles and steamed green beans, you’d have all the ingredients stored neatly and ready to go.  At the time, it seemed like the perfect way to cook.

Except, somehow, I didn’t turn out that way when it comes to menu planning. What I’ve got instead is a pantry full of random things bought on impulse or on sale. What the heck do I do with 5 cans of coconut cream from a momentary impulse to throw a pina colada party?  Or all the necessary ingredients for a meal except the main one missing? Spaghetti carbonara sounds delicious right about now.  A look in the cupboards and fridge locate the spaghetti, bacon, parmesan, and parsely–but, damn, no eggs.

I will attribute my current state of menu “planning” to my anarchic muse being much stronger than my orderly muse.

I opened the fridge the other day and saw a half-empty container of sour cream and began to dream up recipes to use it in.  What could I make with that? Beef stroganoff might be tasty, or a plate of nachos to plop some on top of.  But what tempted me most was an aptly named “Decadent Chocolate Cake.”  It’s easy to mix up, since all you need is some chocolate, a bowl and spoon.  Well, mostly chocolate, a bowl and spoon.   But, if, like me, you’re not tied to your monthly menus, you’ll always have some butter, eggs, and sugar at the ready.

A Decadent Chocolate Cake (adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook)
1 cup boiling water
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
8 T butter (1 stick)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 T butter
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
6 T heavy cream
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (or as needed)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Knock out excess flour.In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate and butter; let stand until melted. Stir in the vanilla and sugar, then whisk in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix baking soda and sour cream together and add to chocolate mixture.  (If you happen to have 1 cup of sour cream and want to use it all up, go ahead and add the extra 1/2 cup.  The cake will be extra rich.) Sift together flour and baking powder; add to batter, mixing thoroughly. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Set in the middle rack of oven and bake 40-50 minutes, or until the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes; unmold and cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Frosting:  Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth. Cool slightly; add more sugar if necessary to achieve a spreading consistency. Spread on cake while frosting is still warm.

3 comments on “Menu Planning

  1. Mom
    December 3, 2012

    You make my mouth water–and I’ve just eaten breakfast!

  2. Caroline
    December 8, 2012

    I want to come to your pina colada party! (But only if you serve that cake there as well!)

    • Catherine
      December 9, 2012

      Piña Coladas and chocolate cake. Now there’s a match made in heaven!

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2012 by in Desserts, Recipes and tagged .

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