Fellow chowhounds who participate in COTM (cookbook of the month) are chatting away on a separate thread about some of their favourite recipes. Many have realized that their home cooking/cookbook "obsession" has led them to spend very little time doing repeats, and lots of time trying new things. I am one of these people who try's something new most nights, and while I find this fun and challenging, I do find that the menu planning can be complicated, and a little less rewarding. Of course I like to have a week of new meals ahead of me, and of course I love browsing my books, but at some point I actually have to sit down and plan the darned menu and make a grocery list.
So I am wondering, how do the rest of you plan a menu. I grew up in a house where my mother somehow did most of the shopping without a list, had a standard rotation of tasty meals made from a stock list of items that she pretty much always had on hand, which meant that she could decide the morning of what the plan was for dinner. I definitely see the advantage of this, but I do yearn for variety, challenge, and new dishes.
For me the solution is that I spend about 1.5 hours a week with a pile of books, my iPad, the EYB site, and my menu planning/grocery list app, and I create a menu of mostly new meal items, aiming to have meat no more than 4 times per week (that is our goal), which means usually one fish/seafood night, and 2 vegetarian nights. I often plan some left over heavy meals early in the week (pasta/stews etc) so that we can have lunches, and will usually plan for a bit of advance or project (involved) cooking on Sunday.
The grocery list becomes essential because I am mostly making new things so I rely heavily on my shopping list as I don't know off the top of my head what is going into tomorrow's phat tai for example.
So what do you all do, are you mostly planning, flying by the seat of your pants, a mix? Have you abandoned attempts at new dishes based on the effort to get it all planned out?