Doing More With Less
Every week, I write two lists: a grocery list and a dinner list.
I know a dinner list seems a wee bit fussy, particularly from me and my Zero Tolerance For Fuss… BUT I’d say the half-hour I spend writing the dinner list saves me at least a couple hours a week and saves me money besides.
Here’s how I do mine:
Step 1: Assess the state of your pantry and jot down any meal idea based on what you can make with what you have on hand (or with the inclusion of one or two ingredients). For example, at the bottom of my list is an entry for tacos (because I found I had taco shells in one of the cabinets), so tacos went on the dinner list and sour cream and salsa went on the grocery list. I usually try to make this list after I hit the farmers’ market that week, but I’m in a kind of Greenmarket limbo since deciding I need to try shopping at a different one.
Step 2: Pick something new to make. I get bored really easily with the same foods over and over (to the point that I usually don’t even eat leftovers the next day if I don’t have to) so I try to include some new recipe every week. This week’s list is slightly unusual, due to the fact I bought a copy of Donna Klein’s Supermarket Vegan this weekend, and I’m going through a MAKE ALL THE THINGS! phase with it. My parenthetical page numbers on this week’s list are all from that book.
Step 3 (optional): Check out the grocery sales. I don’t always do this, but if I’m really hard-up for dinner ideas, I’ll go to the supermarket’s site and see what’s on sale that week. Otherwise, I just pick up some sale items while at the store and they end up as part of Step 1 in this process.
Step 4, possibly the most important step of all: PUT THE LIST ON THE FRIDGE. I don’t even want to discuss how many times I have made the dinner list and then failed to take it out of the notebook and put it somewhere. Seriously. It’s shameful.
With the dinner list on the fridge, I am saved my usual staring-blankly-into-cabinets-at-5pm-and-sighing time and can just get cooking without having to think about it (last night was the pasta puttanesca and it was crazy good) AND I know that the items that ended up on my grocery list have an actual use that week, which keeps me from buying perishable items on impulse and regretting it later (yeah, I’m looking at you, flaccid carrots).
What’s your shopping strategy? One list or two?
Above (in my rather inexpertly rendered panoramic view) is my new kitchen. Your comments on my last post were all really helpful and/or encouraging, so I’m back for more.
Here’s my problem: THERE. ARE. NO. COUNTERS.
Okay, this isn’t as big as deal as my caps-lock might have you believe. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know about this before I moved in and my last apartment only had about 3-4 feet of counter space anyway.
If you click through to Flickr, you can see my notes on what I’m thinking of putting where (and what I’m not going to do, like screw shelves into the wall that the electrical breakers are on — yikes).
So. What do you guys think?
Addendum: Under the jump are my own (somewhat disjointed) thoughts and ideas.
Payday arrives every other week here, and the check that’s closest to the first gets a big chunk taken out for rent. (Too big, frankly, which is part of why we’re moving.) That leaves us with one week or so per month, between having paid the rent and waiting for the next payday, that ends up being a pretty lean week. This week is one of those weeks.
Enter Wally, the handsome man on your right.
He’s 11, which is not ancient for an indoor cat, but it’s not youthful either. Sunday afternoon was spent in the vet’s office trying to diagnose what’s making him have a runny nose and keeping him from eating. [Short answer from the vet: “uh, I ‘unno.”]
After leaving the vet’s office several hundred dollars lighter than when I went in, I immediately started thinking about the week ahead. While my pantry was already pretty well-stocked with my usual staples, I started to think about what else I might need for the week… and I realized I have a handful of go-to ingredients that are cheap and would to brighten up boring food (like beans and rice) without spending a lot.
I love tuna salad. Canned white tuna, with minced celery and pickle, some mayonnaise and maybe a few capers… if I could eat that as often as I’d like, I’d end up as mad as a hatter (or maybe just as mad as Jeremy Piven) due to the elevated levels of mercury in canned tuna.
What’s a tuna-phile to do?
Fake Tuna Salad
Mash 2-3 cups of chickpeas with the tines of a fork. (You could trying using a food processor but one pulse too far and you’ve got hummus instead.) This can be a little tedious but the resulting texture is more appealing. To pass the time, I recommend Pandora’s Oldies Soul station, as pictured above. Add minced celery, pickle, mayonnaise, or whatever your mom added to tuna salad when you were a kid.
Okay, I haven’t been a very good food blogger of late. Truth be told, there’s been some belt-tightening going on in Maison Gezellig. Nothing dire, just finding we need to cut back on some expenses and food is one of the easiest places to start.
Unfortunately, making dinner out of whatever you find hanging around isn’t a recipe for exciting food blog posts.
Or, as it turns out, for especially alluring food photography.
Which is a shame, really, because this corn and potato chowder was one of the best things I’ve made recently. Even my kid, who usually can’t even remember where she left her shoes an hour ago, saw me editing this photo from last week and remarked on how good this soup was.
The soup was born from the packages of frozen vegetables that my husband always brings home from the grocery store. There are a few exceptions, but in general, I hate frozen vegetables. They’re always a sad reminder of how they once were before being frozen. Fortunately, for me and my freezer, this soup makes up for it.
Corn and potato chowder
Mince one medium onion. Saute in two tablespoons butter until onion is soft. Peel and grate one medium potato. Add about 2 cups broth, enough to cover the potato and onion. Simmer potato and onion until both are cooked through. Meanwhile, dice two more peeled potatoes and a couple stalks of celery. Thaw and rinse one 10 oz. box of frozen yellow corn. Once the potato/onion mixture is soft, puree with a stick (or regular) blender. (This makes the soup creamier without adding actual cream, which I never have on hand.) Add the remaining vegetables, 2-3 cups of milk, a couple bay leaves and a big pinch of nutmeg. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to be sure the milk doesn’t scald to the bottom of the pan. Salt to taste. Serve as is, or with a little grated cheese.
I have never been keen on the humble bean.
I cook them because they’re cheap, they’re a good source of protein, they’re better for the environment, et cetera — but I’ve never cooked them because I like them. They’re either mealy or mushy and always completely bland.
Oh, how wrong I have been.
Until recently, I was firmly under the impression that adding salt to beans as they cooked made them soften slower and therefore need to be cooked longer. As it turns out, cooking the beans in salted water makes them cook faster, and more importantly, it makes them taste better. I also found this batch was the first time I’d cooked beans that kept their skins on and didn’t disintegrate before they were cooked all the way through. Each bean remained its own discrete jewel of cumin-scented goodness.
1 pound of (picked over, washed and soaked) dried black beans
8 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
5 bay leaves
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
I never remember to soak beans the night before so I boil them for about 2 minutes, then let them sit for 1-2 hours before cooking. After soaking, drain the beans and add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer until done (usually about 2 hours, but depending on how long you soaked them and the age of the beans, it could vary).
After eating them over rice and tossed in a salad, I took what was left and made it into black bean soup.
This was just one of those “throw stuff in from the fridge and hope it works out” soups, which could have been okay at best, but the beans… MY GOD, THE BEANS. I had added some garlic and some tomato paste into the soup pot and I wasn’t that impressed with the result, but as soon as I got the stick blender in there, all the flavor inside the beans came out — the cumin, the garlic — everything came out into the taste of the soup. I already wish I had more.
Beans, can you ever forgive me for treating you so bad?
Despite being a food blogger for… how long now? A year and half? I have something to admit: I have never cooked another food blogger’s recipe. Ever. I don’t know why; I just haven’t.
So, when I saw this post on what to do with old bread, I thought, huh, that sounds pretty good, then filed it away for future reference, the same way I’ve done with a hundred other recipes in the past year and half.
And then last week, I found myself with a collapsed loaf from a recipe I’d tried. I think I added too much yeast. It was edible… but a bit flat and therefore useless for sandwiches or, really, anything. So, I was standing around in the kitchen, glaring at the failed loaf, when I realized I had eggs and milk… I even had some grated Gruyère and Swiss hanging around.
So, what the hell — it’s just gonna go to waste anyway, right?
Holy shit, this is possibly one of the best things I have made EVER.
I cubed the bread, and filled the pie pan with the cubes. (The rest went to the birds.) I used a ratio of one egg : 1/3 cup milk (4 eggs, 1 1/3 cups milk in all) until it looked completely soaked, like french toast. I threw in a couple handfuls of grated cheese and one bunch of chopped broccolini that was wasting away at the back of the fridge. I started it out at 375º but after 20 minutes it was browned nicely but still wet in the middle, so I lowered the temperature to around 300º and cooked for another 20 minutes.
Now, I do not like baked eggs. Quiche, frittata, shirred eggs… they all get a weird taste/texture I don’t like. But this was fluffy and tender and not all eggy. You can see from the photo that some of the cubes of bread crisped up and got all crunchy… I’m actually salivating just remembering it.
Will this be the start of a blog cooking spree? I kinda doubt it, but you never know.