Cutting Kitchen Waste and Sparking Creativity

Heather says:

Have you ever noticed when you’re just plowing along trying to keep up  with life that some things start to slip? For me I’ve gotten into a bad habit of simply heading to the store, grabbing sale items, and planning the menu from that. Our grocery spending isn’t too terribly out of control, but I’ve slipped into the habit of staring at a full refrigerator and deciding there was nothing to eat.  This leads to another trip to the store while some neglected vegetable wilts silently in the back of the produce bin. I don’t like being wasteful; not only does it feel ungrateful, I feel like I’m embodying a lot of stereotypes I don’t want to fit.

I put the brakes on a few days ago. I’m taking inventory and planning meals from what we have and not buying another vegetable until we eat what is already in the house. What do you always have on hand? I keep a pretty extensive spice collection, stock, pasta, dried beans, and tomatoes.

When I cook creatively, I don’t measure, it’s a throw it together kind of adventure. The idea terrifies some of my friends who are novice cooks -yes, I’m talking to you @JennieBinSC. There are many people in her shoes and I thought it might be fun to run through the process of a few magic creations and then open the comments to hear about yours.

One of my fallback, I am not in the mood to cook plans is what I call a Slacker’s Frittata, the kids call it egg pie. Steam broccoli (or mixed vegetables) until tender, then use a pastry blender or fork to break up the large chunks. If I’m in the mood to dirty a pan, I might sauté some onions and a little garlic. Toss all of these items together and spread in a  greased pie plate or 9 x 13 pan (this depends on how many you are cooking for). Beat some eggs with a little milk, salt, pepper, and pour over the vegetables. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 350F until set.

If there are leftovers, crumble and wrap in a tortilla for a breakfast burrito. That, my friends, is fast food.

Butter, chicken stock, and herbs make a great simple sauce for pasta. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter, add a cup of chicken stock or broth and season with your favorite herbs, this week I used basil as someone hid my Italian mix. Boil pasta, steam vegetables (again break up the larger florets with a fork), find a stray can (or if you’re Jo-Lynne a jar) of tomatoes, black olives, great northern beans, all three or none of the above. Toss all of these items in a bowl with the sauce and serve with grated cheese.

Yesterday morning I stared into the pantry, willing a dinner idea to appear, but the dried kidney beans wouldn’t budge. So, I took them up on the challenge, soaked and cooked ’em When time to cook rolled around I sautéed onions, garlic, and bell peppers in a little bacon fat. I mashed the  kidney bean, added beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, and Toronto Seasoning (I think that came from Heidi’s kitchen, I know I didn’t buy it). The beans were sloppy, so I added rolled oats to soak up the liquid and shaped the mixture into patties. Once broiled, and topped with cheese, they made excellent bean cheeseburgers. Should I admit to eating three?

Tonight it’s going to be a variation of drunken Irish stew. I have stew beef, but very few traditional stew vegetables. It’s ok, I’ll be adding cabbage and cauliflower, as both are on the verge.

I would love to hear about some of your creations. What do you make without using a recipe to take advantage of what’s on hand? Many Home-Ec readers, like my friend Jennie, could be inspired to experiment.

Many thanks to Lynnae of BeingFrugal.net for the inspiration.
Submitted to the 226th Festival of Frugality at BeatingBroke.com


17 Comments

  1. Eranb on September 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

    sounds fantastic! 
    – eran

  2. […] Home Ec101 is Cutting Kitchen Waste and sparking creativity. […]

  3. Stacy on April 10, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I just made a version of your pasta dish, above. It was pretty good–thanks! My husband liked it, and I consider him to be kind of particular. My son liked it too.

  4. Tom on April 10, 2010 at 12:05 am

    We have regular refrigerator and a full size upright freezer. They are full of food. Lot of times, I end up throwing out lot of food because we didn't know they were in there. We tend to forget about them when we can't see them. We'll have to figure out what to make from the inventory one of these days.
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  5. ThatBobbieGirl on April 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    This is actually how I cook most of the time — make stuff up with what I have on hand. Eventualy I started trying to record what I did either as I did or shortly thereafter, in case everyone was like, "WOW, MAKE THIS AGAIN!" so that I actually could make it again.

    Of course, I've downloaded a few hundred cookbooks into my brain, which means I'm full up on ideas. I read cookbooks and cooking websites instead of novels. Recipes are like short stories to me 🙂
    My recent post The Potty Police? You'll be relieved to know they're on the job

  6. Jackie on April 8, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    We call these what's in the kitchen days. We had one last night as a matter of fact, and the night before that if I'm being truthful! My favorite is chicken sauteed in a pan, add onion and garlic and a can of diced tomatoes. Add some italian seasoning and simmer. YUM. You can cook up some pasta too and put the chicken mixture on top of the pasta.
    My recent post What’s in the Kitchen? Ham.

  7. strivingbean on April 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Yeah for Bean Burgers! Good job on your pantry creativity.
    My recent post Runner’s Salad

  8. strivingbean on April 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Yeah for Bean Burgers! Good job on your pantry creativity.
    My recent post Runner’s Salad

  9. CG Jenny on April 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I wanted something with a Mexican flavor last night but didn't have the time or stuff for some of my usual recipes.

    Between the fridge and pantry, this is what I came up with:
    1# meaty but tough trimmings (raw)
    1 lg. can red enchilada sauce
    2 lg. cans pintos
    tortillas
    cilantro
    cheddar

    I cut the meat into 1/2"x1" pieces and threw them into the dutch oven. Poured the sauce on top and brought to a slow simmer and let it simmer for about 3 hours (while I did a bunch of other stuff).
    When the meat was tender, I added the drained beans and let it simmer for another while (maybe 20 min.)
    I drained off (and saved for another use) most of the sauce and we used the meat/bean mixture for Chili Colorado-ish burritos. It was as good as some of the traditional Mexican foods I have slaved over all day (almost as good as homemade tamales!).

    I will do this again and use it various ways. I can make burritos again or I can leave the sauce in and ladle it over tortilla chips and top with cheese, and whatever for some super nachos deluxe or in a layered enchilada casserole.

    What I loved about it was that it practically cooked itself; no real measuring or 13 different herbs and spices to get out, no chopping of onions, garlic and chilies… just cut up the meat (or not if you are really pressed for time), no browning, just dump a can on top and let it cook.

  10. Tinkerschnitzel on April 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    My fallback is chicken picata. It's soo easy! Brown 3-4 chicken breasts, remove and add 1 can of drained artichoke hearts and 1 can of drained mushrooms. Brown, then deglaze the pan with one of those individual sized bottles of white wine (I prefer a chardonnay or white zinfandel). Add chicken back to the pan, add enough chicken broth to cover the chicken, then cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 mintues. Add some capers if you have them, and a little lemon juice at the end. I sometimes throw bowtie pasta in when I add all the liquid. Be careful, though, if you use redwine. You'll end up with purple chicken, although it's REALLY good. 😀

    • HeatherSolos on April 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      I have a chicken dish that uses red wine. We call it purple alien chicken and I don't think the recipe will ever end up on here as I have a feeling that the purple chicken would freak some people out.

      • caroline on April 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm

        There is some dish my mom makes where you end up with purple chicken. No clue what it is but I know I like it.

  11. Shelley on April 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    That Frittata sounds wonderful. We just do a veggie omelette in a skillet. Other than that, my 'go-to' meal when I'm uninspired and lots of vegetables are on their last legs, is Rice Dish: http://shelleyshouse.blogspot.com/2008/04/rice-di

    I've done it long and often enough that I can start dinner and have it on the table in 30 minutes. Yum.

  12. JimK on April 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I do a lot of pasta things where I throw whatever small amount of protein I have in a pan with some kind of green veg (spinach, collards, broccoli or whatever dark green thing you have that needs cooking) and give it some heat with crushed red pepper, some mouth feel with a good olive oil and some deliciousness with a little feta (which I always seem to have). I increase the health factor by using a whole grain rice-based pasta (Tinkyada's Pasta Joy line cooks up firm and has a nice chew like real pasta). The longest part of cooking this is waiting for the water to boil. I have a very weak stove. If that thing is putting out 4000 BTUs I'll eat my hat.

    Last time I made this it was half an onion sweated down, a fistful of blanched collard greens, a half-cup of green peas, a can of tuna, two Tbsp of feta, 4 Tbsp of olive oil and a generous shake of black pepper & crushed red pepper. Not a lot of salt needed due to the feta. YMMV on the salt.

  13. CarolinaDreamz on April 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    What a fabulous sounding burger. Good job on getting them cooked from dry. Remember all those beans I bought? Yeah. Me: Pressure cooker scared.

    The Toronto Seasoning is Whole Foods version of Montreal Seasoning. Or so they said. I pair it with brown sugar on the grill. (I don't eat steak, but you know what I mean.) I'm excited that I can eat the bean burgers and try it, now, too. 🙂
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