Surprise. January felt long for once. Now February has been a blur. I blame these guys:
Fine, I only had them for a week. But pet sitting when you haven’t had pets in a while (and never a dog) takes adjustment. In any case, any routine out of the norm (for you) means quick and easy meals are a nice bonus. Good thing I had a well-stocked fridge and freezer.
But to start, February means happy birthday to me:
Extra birthday gift (besides this amazing tuna): leftovers. Here’s the meals I made with leftovers from my birthday dinner.
As reliable (albeit slower to cook) as hot cereal: dried beans. Endless tasty and healthy meals await.
Homemade bread, dried beans, and from-scratch tortillas don’t sound like weeknight cooking. But it all comes down to timing. Most of the “work” with yeast breads is the rise time. So make it on the weekend, or let it rise while you fix a simple dinner (like pasta). Bake it to eat some for breakfast the next day, or refrigerate it after the final rise and bake it the next night. Then eat leftover focaccia with a basic pot of beans—often, I only add water and salt. Fancy it up with garnishes. The following night, those same garnishes become toppings for tacos using reheated beans. All I have to do is make fresh tortillas (which is easy once you learn the technique).
In this way, each of these meals looks complex and time-consuming. But in reality, I make one piece each night and roll the leftovers into the next meal. Each dinner consists of something cooked fresh, supplemented with something leftover. Finish with shredded, chopped, or otherwise prepped, garnishes for interest.
One large sheet pan of focaccia makes accompaniments for many meals. It also freezes well if you can’t quite finish it all.
And speaking of eggs, this is what good eggs look like:
If you’re new to bread baking, focaccia is an easy place to start. Since it’s baked in a sheet pan, you can get by without specialty equipment. As with all baking (or cooking, for that matter), you always need a bigger bowl than you think. Why can’t I seem to remember that?
Leftover focaccia is also good for snacking.
So are homemade crackers—although I’d recommend being comfortable rolling out doughs. Crackers are easy to make but they turn out best if rolled as thin as possible.
An easier bread to try is pizza dough. Because who doesn’t love pizza? Correction: Who doesn’t love good pizza? Which is the reason to make it yourself. Most pizza is mediocre (and I’m being generous here). Not only does homemade pizza taste better, but you’re in control. So you want a more nutritious crust, or more or less toppings? No problem.
I used my new Hard Red Wheat Flour from Bluebird Grain Farms to make a flavorful crust. (If you’ve never tried freshly milled flour, do it now.) I had recently shared a disappointing pizza at a acclaimed local pizza place. While I was not impressed by the execution, the flavor combo inspired me to make my own version.
Still, well-executed restaurant dishes can provide inspiration too. Don’t think that you can’t recreate a simple version of a dish you enjoyed at a good restaurant. Like this yogurt, inspired by Sitka & Spruce:
By February, do you still remember meals you froze in August? Okay, I wouldn’t have remembered either … that’s why I have kitchenlister 🙂
Other breakfasts continued the theme from last week’s protein-packed meals:
By late February, the once-long list of local fruits has dwindled to … apples. Often soft ones at that, since they’re from storage at this point. But the winter citrus selection remains strong. It’s also the start of as-local-as-you’re-going-to-get avocados (i.e. from California, not Mexico). So now is the time of year when I indulge in tropical fruits.
Sure, I enjoyed exotic fruits this month. But there’s still a place for canned local fruits too. And more hot cereal!
The closure of my favorite cheese shop lead to a dearth of fresh mozzarella last summer. So I grabbed some when I saw it for sale at my neighborhood farmers market. It’s not tomato season yet. That didn’t stop me from enjoying two seasonal pasta dishes:
Another great farmers market find: wild mushrooms. I stick with basic preparations like sautéing for special ingredients. So simple with one trick: high heat.
Cook with good ingredients and tasty meals are simple:
Okay, you’ve made it to the final section. I’m going to brag just a little. I love Japanese food. Perhaps not that interesting, or a surprise, except that this is a recent discovery. Oh sure, I eat my fair share of sushi. My husband is obsessed with udon noodles so I get a few bites on occasion. But I didn’t know how much I loved Japanese food until my one and only (so far!) trip to Japan.
Yes, of course, the sushi and udon noodles are amazing. But fish for breakfast? Yes, please! Rice balls stuffed with umeboshi and wrapped in seaweed? Wait, why are we stuck with McDonald’s? And needless to say, green tea, red bean and black sesame anything! (See birthday cake above).
I returned home and checked out countless library books on Japanese cooking. Then I made nothing. That was almost two years ago. All those little bites in little dishes—it sounds so intimidating and time consuming. And I’m sure some of it is. But seriously, some of it’s not. Including my very favorite thing of all: tamagoyaki.
So on to the bragging … take a look at these beauties:
Now I’m not saying they were perfect—for one, I don’t have a special tamagoyaki pan. But all these little dishes were tasty, easy and perfect for make-ahead lunches or snacks. I didn’t have any dashi broth either, which thins out the egg mixture. Stopping myself before draining the can of tuna, I hesitated. I wanted to use every last bit of this amazing product. So now I’ve learned that “natural juices”—what I’m calling tuna water—are a perfect substitute for dashi. (At least in small quantities.) I shared this story of frugality with my mom. Her comment: “I think you are now more thrifty than your Grandmother. It is official. She would be proud.”
Delicious Japanese-inspired food and grandma’s approval. I’m calling this month a success.
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If you’d like more information about any of these late winter meals, leave me a comment.
Read more about my “Week in Review” posts.