Friends and faithful readers, I have a confession. This week I finally had a kitchenlister meltdown and it all started with the pantry inventory. (Well, “finally” meaning since I started this blog. I’ve had plenty before that.) Maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But it did feel like the week of annoyances (see here, here and here). Still it’s a good reminder: Changing your shopping, cooking and eating habits ultimately requires behavior changes. It’s a gradual process that benefits from small steps and little successes. I truly believe that keeping a kitchen inventory is an important part of the solution. Still, let’s not pretend otherwise, cooking real food on a daily basis requires commitment. It requires trial and error, optimism, and persistence.
Today was a day of leftovers. Not only delicious, but with the bonus of an easy start to the week. On Saturday, we had dinner at my parents’ house where my mom made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I brought mixed roasted vegetables—acorn squash, fennel, broccoli and leeks.
I also put together a blackberry-rhubarb crisp when I got there. For this, I used homemade crisp topping and fruit, both from my mom’s freezer. From my CSA box, I also added fresh mint leaves. Fruit crisps are simple desserts to throw together before dinner and bake while eating. Watch my Rhubarb Crisp video below. Also download my cheat sheet for an easy formula by creating a free account.
We split up the leftovers and I got a little of everything. On Monday, I reheated the fruit crisp in the toaster oven and added a large scoop of plain yogurt for breakfast. It’s important to use unsweetened yogurt here as the dessert is already sweet enough. Adding the chopped nuts helps too.
Lunch was leftovers from another weekend meal: Chickpea and Tatsoi Coconut Curry. I adjusted the recipe to use what I had. Jasmine for basmati rice, black beans for chickpeas and coconut butter mixed with water for the coconut milk. I also added my leftover roasted veggies. This type of simple and versatile recipe can serve as a template for your own creations. This is the first time I’ve tried a recipe from Dishing Up The Dirt. I love the seasonal focus (It’s a farm, after all!) and improvisational style. Not to mention the amazing photography!
User Error: Annoyance #1
I referenced “meltdowns” at the start of this post, and it began Sunday evening. I didn’t intend to use black beans instead of chickpeas. I always cook more dried beans than I need, then use some and freeze the rest for convenience. I diligently make notes about whatever I freeze in the pantry notebook as part of my kitchen inventory. For example, my freezer inventory included the date I cooked the chickpeas and the quantity I froze. My trusty notebook said I had one 2-cup container left—alas, it was no where to be found.
In my frustration, I blamed the tool. I should have built in some kind of feature to solve for this problem. Don’t ask me how; I have no idea. I simply felt that if I screwed up, then everyone else would too. I think of myself as a reasonable person, but in this case, I was being irrational. Matt pointed out that I can’t blame the tool for user errors and behaviors. It’s a tool to support cooking habits—it can’t create habits for users. Yes, yes … I do realize that. I finished dinner with the 2-cup container of black beans that were noted (correctly) in my freezer inventory. I took solace in the fact that my pantry list made it easy to find a quick substitution.
Back to Monday
I turned to the leftovers from Saturday for Monday’s dinner. My mom had mentioned that my grandmother made potato patties from leftover mashed potatoes. But, my mom didn’t exactly remember how she made them. So with a rough description, I turned to kitchenlister. Quickly finding this recipe for potato cakes, it sounded similar (minus the cheese). Already having mashed potatoes on hand meant I could jump ahead a step. I added half an onion that was lingering in the fridge, and they were delicious.
With too much celery on hand, I decide to braise one head with the one fennel bulb I had left. The simple method comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This cookbook is my go-to resource for basic cooking methods. (It also has plenty of elaborate dishes to round out the book at over 700 pages!) Before I made kitchenlister, I relied on this cookbook for recipes I could make with what I already had. I served the potato patties and braised vegetables with the leftover meatloaf. In this way, dinner was a mix of leftovers and new dishes.
Sandwiches are an obvious choice for leftover meatloaf. With no bread on hand, I decided to use it for breakfast instead. I remember eating canned hash—corned beef and potatoes—as a kid. So with that inspiration, I made a vegetable-laden hash. It used the leeks, kale, leftover braised vegetables, corn and the meatloaf. I served it with reheated potato cakes and fresh pear slices on the side. There was even enough left for Wednesday’s lunch.
Remember my vegetable soup from last week? Well, it was still lingering in the fridge. Sitting beside it were the sunchokes and broccoli left over from Wednesday’s fish. So I pureed it all together and we ate half for lunch and the other half went in the freezer. I never worry about making too much soup because if I get tired of it, I throw it in the freezer. It always tastes good later for impromptu meals.
Speaking of the freezer, I’ve mentioned herb purees before. Well, I tried a new one this week: celery leaves and fennel fronds. I used a little of the puree to garnish my vegetable soup before freezing the rest.
I also packed the rest of the fresh mint leaves in ice cube trays with water. To use, I can add mint ice cubes to beverages, or let the ice melt and just use the mint leaves.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll recall that I’ve rarely (never?) mentioned eating out. I believe dining out should be an exception rather than the default for meals. Not only is it cheaper and healthier, but having the knowledge and skills to cook is more satisfying. One way to achieve this goal is with this straightforward rule:
Only go to restaurants for (1) special occasions, (2) while on vacation, or (3) with friends or family.
Essentially, the times when dining out is a deliberate activity. When the restaurant is chosen for reasons other than convenience. In summary, a meal that’s worth it. That doesn’t mean expensive, although it doesn’t preclude it either. Rather, it means a restaurant that provides an enjoyable meal. Hopefully, it also means a restaurant that supports the local economy and the environment. A meal that reflects your values in the same way that your grocery purchases do.
Two late nights in a row meant we got up later than usual. My trusty hot cereal came to the rescue.
Lunch was leftover hash but my afternoon snack was cheese and nuts.
It’s the end of October and that means the last week of our CSF! Rather than a grand finale, simplicity abounds. Baked Coho salmon, corn, and a celery–kohlrabi salad with homemade bread.
This meal requires little work. The oven is already on so roasting the rest of the vegetables from my CSA box just makes sense. I’ll have roasted broccoli, celery (including the leaves), kohlrabi, and leeks ready to use. Anything I can’t use can go straight into the freezer.
Having roasted veggies in your fridge provides ready fillings for squash, tacos, or eggs. Like in this quick omelet we made the following Saturday:
Recall that last Thursday I received a double CSA box on the heels of my mid-week single box. Still, I took a more cavalier attitude with using everything up this week. I guess after weeks of consuming so many vegetables in a short timeframe, a week to use everything felt long. In truth, though, I had my last summer CSA box on the way and it was going to be another double.
Unreliable Recipe: Annoyance #2
But first, homemade bread. My second kitchenlister meltdown. With such a simple dinner planned for Wednesday, I thought I had time to make bread. Given our focus on quick and easy recipes, I was surprised to find a yeast bread recipe so I had to try it. Plus, it made two loaves. Perfect, because I wanted one to freeze anyway. I have made bread many times—and I do stick to recipes—usually from trusted sources (i.e. printed cookbooks).
To get to the point, my bread had no oven spring and generally looked pathetic. It tasted fine but I wouldn’t make it again. As you’ll see, I used up all the bread so it wasn’t a loss. But I felt annoyed that somehow I had let this terrible recipe become associated with kitchenlister. I felt capable of salvaging failed dishes, but not all users would. What if someone tried this recipe, and then swore off bread baking? That would be a disaster because it’s actually not hard to make good bread as long as you have a decent recipe. I thought about deleting it from the database—hey, it’s my tool, I can do that—but then I thought I am only one tester. Is my opinion all that counts? Then I also remembered there was that one change I made … hmm … so the recipe’s still there. And if you’d like to try it (or avoid it), here it is.
The bright side? My failed bread turned into a delicious breakfast:
Dinner was equally simple. I had already made tomato soup a few days earlier with some overripe tomatoes while making dinner. Now if you’re thinking this sounds like I made two dinners at once, let me clarify. Making tomato soup with fresh peak-of-the-season tomatoes is easy. A little onion, tomatoes, salt, pepper. Simmer and puree. Tonight I served the soup with a chopped celery and apple salad which is, yes, just as simple as it sounds.
More toast and fruit for breakfast. I cubed up the rest of the loaf and froze it. I knew I would be using it the next day. Still, good-quality bread has no preservatives. Toasted frozen bread tastes better than fresh bread left to sit out for three days.
Oh wait, it’s Friday, right? So what’s that mean? Obviously, working late. Because everyone loves to stay late on Friday! (Let’s just hope this is not a new trend.)
And when you finally do get home, what you really want is some cheese and crackers. And a drink. That’s okay because it’s Friday. (Just don’t act like this everyday.) Plus, now I don’t need to worry about that protein, right? Let’s not talk about saturated fat…
Of course, I had tons of fresh produce after picking up Thursday’s boxes. But now it’s fall and this stuff is picked so fresh, it would all be fine through the weekend. And no worries, I used it (see next week’s post … coming soon). Well most of it, anyway … keep reading.
There’s Always Room for Improvement: Annoyance #3
This brings me to my last complaint of the week. That corn we ate on Wednesday was sweet. (Despite how it sounds, that’s not the complaint.) We ended up sharing a ear even though I cooked two. I don’t track leftovers in my kitchenlister account (unless destined for the freezer). Should I? I like to be organized but tracking things that change daily makes no sense to me. Instead, I place leftovers at the front of the fridge and grab as needed for lunches or for a head start on breakfast or dinner.
Still wrapped in the husk it was cooked in, I put the corn in the crisper drawer and forgot about it. I only realized this as I was using the rest of the corn over the weekend. Fortunately, Seattle provides (requires, actually) city-wide composting. It’s just one ear of corn. And I normally use almost everything! Yet with up to a quarter of food purchased not actually eaten, food waste is always worth worrying about.* Be conscious about it, and strive to do better next time. You can bet, the rest of that corn—the kernels, the husks, and the cobs—went to good use. And the corn broth went into the freezer along with a note in my kitchen inventory.
*If you think food waste isn’t a big deal, I believe five minutes of reading will change your mind. There are some staggering statistics out there. The average US household wastes over $1,000 annually on uneaten food. The average American discards ten times as much food as someone in SE Asia. In the US, food waste in landfills accounts for almost 25% of all methane emissions (a significant contributor to global warming). Read this summary from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for more stats and to learn how your own behavior may contribute to the problem.
THE FIRST STEP TO PANTRY ORGANIZATION IS EASY: START A FREE ACCOUNT WITH KITCHENLISTER.
If you’d like more information about any of these fall meals, leave me a comment.
Read more about my “Week in Review” posts.