Tim Cebula Tim Cebula
January 12, 2016

No two cooks plan a like…some don’t plan at all! Senior food editor Tim Cebula explains his “I hate meal planning” approach. Take it away, Tim! 

My appetite is a fickle mistress. I serve her as best I can, but it takes an open mind, a willingness to shop almost daily, and a family with tastes as shifting as my own. I'm lucky to have all three.

It's not so much that I hate meal planning—I admire those who do, and wish I could plan beyond my next meal. But I can't. Part of the problem is that I'm highly suggestible. Around 5 p.m., when I'm surfing food websites for end-of-day news, I'll stumble on a photo/thread/description of food that grips my lizard brain and leaves me no choice but to cook and eat that particular dish.

Close-up photo of crispy-skinned, golden and juicy roast chicken? Gotta have it. A story on seasonal mignonettes? I'm on my way to the fishmongers, folks, cuz tonight is now officially Oyster Fest 2016 at chez Cebula. It's possible my wife has made a delightful grain salad earlier in the day, or is 2 hours into a 6-hour pork shoulder braise. There is no conflict here, or waste: these dishes can be served in addition to the obsession du jour, or enjoyed the next day. But dammit, I will satisfy my craving no matter what.

Obviously I have to shop at least several times a week. I don't mind at all. I love—love— to grocery shop. Love to be surrounded by food, inspired by ingredients. I don't hit the market for specific items. I just shop with the broad concept of a dish in mind. So I end up indulging myself further with certain produce that looks fantastic. Or maybe the sudden inspiration strikes to make a yogurt sauce or sweet potato cakes to accompany the dish. As I say, I'm lucky my family likes surprises.

This approach isn't for everyone. It doesn't save time or money. But it allows me to eat exactly what I'm hankering for on any given day, and for me, that's invaluable.

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