If you're like me, the query "What's for dinner?" brings a near-homicidal rage dangerously close to the surface of your brain. If you're like most people, it causes at least some stress. If you're a super-organized, Bree Van deKamp Stepford-wife, then you know the answer for at least a week in advance, and always have fresh produce, multiple sources of quality protein, every shelf-stable staple imaginable, a full stock of spices, and garden-grown herbs at your fingertips at all times. Go away, and make some homemade pasta, or something.
Is she gone? OK, then. The rest of you, gather 'round. Here's our chance to help each other out, and have a little fun in the process. If you're like me, then December is usually a tight month, money-wise. If you're not like me, well...you read the first paragraph, so you figure it out. Anyway. One of the things that I must challenge myself to do from time to time, especially when I have so many things to spend money on all at once, is to prepare meals FROM MY PANTRY. Meaning, using whatever I have on hand, in pantry, regrigerator and freezer. I've been doing a lot of that lately, which is timely, coming on the heels of my "Taste of Love" posts. I've resisted the urge to pick up any "little something" from the grocery store, forcing myself to use up what we have before buying more groceries. This is especially important if you're grocery shopping using the Crazed Coupon Clipping Obsessive-Compulsive Method.
This weekend, we (by which I mean, mostly Alex) cleaned out the refrigerator, and I was slightly apalled at the sheer volume of perfectly good food that had expired before it had a chance to get eaten. For example, we threw out two full cartons of eggs that were long past their "sell by" date. In the first place, why was I buying all those eggs? In the second place, I couldn't come up with some meal, during all that time, that incorporated "the perfect protein?" Not even a Saturday morning plateful of scrambled eggs, maybe with some pancakes? Sheesh. At this rate, I'm NEVER going to grow up to be my mother. The good news is, our supply of puppy parvo/distemper vaccine is good until the spring of 2010.
So I decided to cook with what I have until I just can't do it any more, and so far it's been going...well, it's been going all right, but I could use some fresh ideas. Night before last, I made a well-received casserole whose ingredients consisted of some doctored-up canned chili, a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese (that's "Kraft Dinner" for my Canadian friends, and speaking of "Kraft Dinner," if you're searching online for meal ideas incorporating Kraft mac & cheese mix, search under "Kraft Dinner" on Canadian sites, and you'll have MUCH better luck. For instance, did you know that there is a preparation method for cooking this stuff all at once, without having to cook the noodles, drain them, and then adding the cheese mix and milk? If you're American, probably not, because it's certainly NOT ON THE BOX here), a package of low-fat Philly cream cheese from my freezer, and some shredded cheddar. Haute cuisine, it was not, but it got eaten, and it used up several of the items I'd bought in bulk during one of my coupon-crazed shopping trips. Note the striking similarity between what I call a successful meal, and what brought my mother to tears 30 years ago.
Here is your challenge, which I'll illustrate with our dinner from tonight. Not only do you have to make it, you have to photograph at least the finished product, and post it on your blog and/or flickr, along with the recipe(s) used, if any. Let me know you've done it, and I'll post your link(s) here on this entry for reference, and link back to it from the flickr pages. Our first challenge, in which you were dared to show us, warts and all, the contents of your refrigerator and/or your DVR "Now Playing" pages, went over very well, and was lots of fun (and if you missed out on those challenges and they sound like fun, you may certainly still participate by joining the "I DARE YOU" flickr group or emailing me your pics).
So, getting the ball rolling: I had bought a pork loin on sale several weeks ago, and had it sliced into boneless chops, and brought it home and froze it in several meal-size packages. Got one of those out to thaw in the fridge a couple of days ago, and it was ready to cook tonight. Peered and peered into the pantry and refrigerator, and came up with the following ingredients:
- 8 single-serving cups of Mott's Applesauce with Cinnamon, from back when I bought a kajillion of them, nearly for free, thanks to the master-couponing tips from Attilla the Mom. This severly cut into Bella's applesauce stash, and she was not happy, but she still has enough for several more weeks' worth of daily applesaucing.
- 2/3 of a bag of Green Giant Frozen Vegetable Medley
- One of many cans of Pillsbury refrigerated Crescent Rolls (these were, like, 12 cents each on another couponing spree) -- Helpful preschooler not included
- LOTS of instant mashed potatoes, see bulk-coupon-logic above
- Skim milk
- Newman's Own olive oil (I had just thrown out 1/4 of a bottle of same, because it was stale--that was painful--and I WILL use this bottle before it goes bad.)
- Smart Balance "margarine"
- Minced garlic in the jar (we use this stuff like it's going out of style)
- Wondra Ultra-Fine Flour
- Balsamic vinegar
- Course-ground black pepper
- Dried chives
- Coarse Kosher salt
Ignore the fact that I'm about to change tenses from past to present, mid-stream, and go back to the pan, still on the stove, with the leftover olive oil and pork bits. Add about twice as much minced garlic as you would if you were working with fresh garlic, to taste, and brown it. Add water that's already hot (I heated mine to almost boiling in the microwave, because I don't cook with water from the hot-water tap, and neither should you, bleccch), say about 1 cup per pound of meat. Then, sprinkle in some flour, at a ratio of about 1/8 as much flour as water. Cook at a low boil, stirring, until it thickens up, then add about a heaping cup of applesauce per pound of meat, and a splash of balsamic vinegar (lemon juice would also work fine). Cook that down just a bit, a few minutes, then pour the mixture over the pork chops in the casserole dish. Add cinnamon if you like. Bake at a low temp, about 350 degrees F, uncovered, for an hour.
When your hour is up, you can go to work on the rest of the meal, and this is where the microwave comes in handy. Enlist a helpful preschooler, if you have one, to roll up the crescent rolls and place them on a baking sheet. Up the oven temp to 375, and put the rolls on the top rack, above the pork dish.
For the veggies, uh...well, you dump them in a dish, as pictured above, cover it, and microwave on high for 10 minutes. While they're cooking, you mix up your mashed potatoes, according to package instructions, and add garlic powder, dried chives, salt, and pepper. (Note to parents: Mashed-potato-stirring makes an excellent diversion for a Helpful Preschooler, should you have one around.) When the veggies come out, remove the rolls and pork dish from the oven, set aside, and nuke your 'taters for 5 minutes. By the time you plate the rest of the meal, the mashed potatoes will be ready.
Holler at family (if you are not from Arkansas, you may simply CALL your family) to come set their places at the table, and serve. et Voila! Dinner without shopping! Now, because I have limited imagination when it comes to such matters, do share YOUR pantry-raiding genius with the rest of us! (Note to male readers: That said PANTRY-raiding.)Psssst...hey, Mir--how ya like those plates?
And just so everyone has the opportunity to play "I DARE YOU," even if you don't want to do the whole meal-planning/cooking/recipe thing, I offer this alternate dare:
SHOW US YOUR PANTRY. (Note to Mocha: I said "PANTRY.") Like the refrigerator and DVR challenges, no straightening, no staging, just open 'er up and let fly with the photography. Again, I'll go first, and no laughing at the bizarre number of bulk-purchased items (YES, we have enough cereal, Smarty-Pants) OR my Canadian potato-chips, which I'll be talking about later, because they are, quite possibly, the most perfect prepared-food item ever invented since the beginning of TIME.