You're wondering what to cook for dinner and the obvious meat or fish or big bag of something just isn't in there. What IS in there are lots of little bits that need something to draw them together into a, not only flavorful meal but hopefully nutritious as well. Following are some ideas aided by recipes that will help coalesce that pantry potential. When in doubt, pour some oil into a pan and saute an onion while you think. Inspiration will soon follow. We're spelling this out in some detail because it will cause many to rethink the way they approach cooking. Available ingredients take center stage, the recipe is only a suggestive and helpful aid.
Giving Your Bits and Pieces Some Substance, Keep one or more of the following "waiting in the wings".
Cook up a pot of an appropriate grain. I'd encourage you to step out and try a grain that may be new to you. You'll find a whole new pallate of flavors and textures. If you have a pot of one these grains already cooked you're a long way toward a substantial meal in a hurry.
- Using brown rice will substantially increase the health and nutrition of your meal. For a nice, nutty chew add a portion of U.S. grown Wild Rice. Remember to wash it thoroughly or you may get some sand. Wild Rice is a grass therefore it will add protein to your rice dish.
- Your choice of Hulled Barley as opposed to the grocery store Pearl Barley will greatly increase the fiber in your family's diet
- Quinois, Reserve this for a treat since it's certainly not local.
- Bulgar Wheat
- Our bucket of flatbread dough that can keep in the refer for a number of days.
- Red lentil pancakes, Keep red lentils as a staple in your pantry. The pancakes should be started three days prior...not the fast option. They don't take much time, just planning.
- Store bought tortillas. We're all familiar with the burritoizing of almost any food. Your bits and pieces minced and rolled in a burrito makes a very servicable meal. Consider the nutritional merits of corn over wheat.
- Veggie pancakes are a meal by themselves and can use a lot of disparate bits of vegetable.
- Savory crepes..you can roll up anything in a crepe! In Russia they're call Blini and even form the foundation for a week long Spring holiday. Try out Olga's suggestions.
- Quick whole wheat dough stuffed with your own concoction. Look at these Meat buns for inspiration.
- For a fun spring treat, learn how to use Spring Roll Wrappers. Chopped up veggies and/or meat in a Spring Roll with a nice sauce is a lovely meal! This Plum Sauce is also great with Spring Rolls.
If you choose a whole wheat pasta the health and nutrition of your meal will now be on solid footing. If your family is not used to whole grains, try to work them in slowly. You'll find, over time, that their pallates become, not only accustomed, but more desirous of the broader range of flavors and textures over those offered by the more highly processed grains.
Look for products that are free from GM grains. They contain far too many toxic residuals.
Pasta Cooking Tips:
- Bring a generous amount of water to boil. Add the salt AFTER it has come to a full boil
- Add enough salt to the water so it tastes like the ocean. Most folks don't add enough salt.
- Don't add oil to the water.
- Cook until done according to the directions
- Save some of the pasta water before draining in case you need to thin the sauce.
- never wash your pasta after draining or the sauce won't stick.
- Put the drained pasta back in a good sized non reactive pan on top of a portion of the sauce.
- Heat the sauce slowly so the sauce infuses the pasta stirring it well.
- Buckwheat noodles, Terrie's favorite substitute for Ramen noodles. I usually get the ones that are part whole wheat and part buckwheat. They're less expensive as well as some other beneficial qualities. Buckwheat is a grass that is very high in protein.
- Whole wheat pasta
- Different shapes of pasta do different things.
Beans, beans, beans. There are hundreds of varieties so start experimenting and keep a good supply of your favorites in the pantry. Learn to cook your own beans. Cook a batch once a week. Cool properly and store in a big jar. You can use these all week long for adding to soups, salads, or turning into any other part of the meal. They add a lot of protein and fiber to your meal.
Wrapping your meat or veggie mixture can be more than just tortillas. These are fun company food as well with a big tray of wrapping leaves in the middle of the table guests can "roll their own" and choose from a number of sauces.
- We like the fresh crunch of a rolled lettuce leaf, drizzled or dunked in a nice sauce.
- Steamed collard leaves are extremely high in Vitamin C and their size makes for a substantial roll.
- Steam cabbage leaves. These can be cold or hot. They make a great wrap.
Add the Bits and Pieces of Meat and Veggie
That little hunk of ham that has dried out a bit..? Don't throw it away. Mince it up fine and mix with veggies to make a stuffing, a topping or a mixture for adding to a starch (rice, potatoes, grains).
Ham Buns are great at using up bits of veggies and small pieces of ham. We called the recipe "Meat Buns" because the kids were drawn to the idea. Really, they're mostly vegetable with meat as a flavor. The kids absolutely devour these. In this Kale Sauce and Noodles with "Pancetta" we finely minced a small piece of ham, fried it and used it in place of the suggested bacon.
Thinking of meat as a flavoring will not only help you use up small remainders, it will also help establish a healthy overall pattern in all of your meals. Societally we need to be eating much less meat to mitigate ill health on numerous fronts. If you are a meat eater, save that steak or roast for the special treat that it is. Restraint increases our appreciation and enjoyment.
Remember, if that hunk of leftover meat is no longer appetizing taking center stage, chop it up fine and use it for flavor and protein. Use a food processor for fine chopping.
Not only do you use up a lot of food that many folks add to our national waste, but the flavor and texture combinations will add a lot of variety to your meals.
Mimimince is described in this recipe as a template with a number of flavor profiles that will work well with a wide variety of combinations.
Add A Sauce, Dip, Dunk or Drizzle
You might find by the time you reach this step that it's time to eat, but if you have a bit more room you can entirely change the meal with the addition of another flavor or texture. You can totally change the centerpiece of your meal by serving it with a dipping sauce or drizzling a nice flavored oil over it or serving it with a side of any one of a number of vegetable and/or meat minces. Most of these dressings last a long time in the refer so make a habit of keeping a couple at the ready.
Dressings that work well. Peanut Sauce , Ginger Sauce, Ginger Sesame, Asian Dressing,. Take a wander through our dressing selection and commit a couple you like to memory and keep them on hand for your emergency drizzling needs.
Chopped up garnishes , can be used as a topping AND use up a lots of bit and pieces of veggies.
What you'll find as you go along is that it's very helpful to have a pantry that is stocked with some of the grains and legumes that can give a foundation to your bits and pieces. Get used to cooking up a pot of beans once a week and keep them in the fridge. Plan on making a "foundation" item that you'll be able to use with numerous meals like Red Lentil Pancakes that will keep as a batter for a number of days. Even a pot of rice in the fridge can be the quick start to a good meal like Farm Style Fried Rice. Make your meal elements "cascade" through the week. This site is filled with ideas that keep you from having to start each meal from scratch. A dressing or two at the ready can transform your meal ideas in a hurry.