Monday, December 04, 2006

I DARE YOU, Challenge 2: Dinner On Hand

Read on for the current challenge, and follow the results on the pages of the "I DARE YOU" discussion group on flickr.com.

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
The chops were VERY lean, as in trimmed of all fat, so I drizzled a little olive oil onto a heated, heavy pan, then browned the chops on both sides. Once that was done, I removed them to a casserole dish. Envy my classy Pyrex, and pretend it's a LeCreuset baker, which is what I'd rather have.
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.

21 comments:

  1. I am forced to conclude that more husbands should be like me :)

    I do the grocery shopping every Saturday morning while Mrs. Fab sleeps, and then I come home and put the food away and plan the menu.

    She cooks it, which is fine with her. It's the shopping and planning she doesn't care for.

    Gee...maybe THAT'S why she puts up with me...

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  2. Not a bad dinner, actually.

    Unfortunately, I'd be the only one in my house that would eat ALL of it as I live with 2 very picky eaters.

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  3. Hey, nicely done! Wanna come to my house? Also? The drainless mac n' cheese recipe? Perfection! Now I can be even lazier when cooking dinner! I love it.

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  4. Are those Ketchup-flavored potato chips in your pantry? Wowee! Someone in our house would eat "30 packs of Ketchup" (Big Daddy was on TBS last night..heh) for dinner if we let her.
    I made a chuck roast in the crock last weekend. It was full of chunks of grizzle but the vegetables and sauce were sehr yummy. Was I suppose to trim that cut beforehand too? I wonder. Or maybe cook it on low for and additional five hours (in addition to the five hours on high that I cooked)? During the week, since N and I usually don't roll in the driveway til almost 6 pm at night...1/2 hour is my cooking time allotment. On the weekends, I experiment though. I may get a pork loin instead of buying the pre sliced chops.
    Last night, DH made mac and cheese and frozen vegetables for dinner. Natalie informed me that "daddy makes good dinner and *you* do not." Good thing my self esteem does not hinge on my cooking experiments.
    But, your recipe is definitely inspired. I am going to try the challenge from the standpoint of cleaning out the pantry (or in our case, several sets of cupboards).
    Speaking of challenge, I indirectly posted about you (and Alex and Bella and the rest of your Razorback fam). ARe you up for the challenge from my alma mater in the Capitol One bowl this year? ;) I thought of you right away when I heard the match up. :D

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  5. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a Van De Kamp(er). I know in advance what I'm going to make, but I'm not too concerned about food groups etc...

    I do have photos of my pantry though!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/breadcrumbsinthebutter/305191903/

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  6. Oh and Mr Fabulous is my idol! He should be the model that most men must follow in order to be married.

    (But my husband does okay, he does the shopping. I just plan and cook.)

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  7. Belinda~ While the recipe sounds dee-lish, the pictures of the pantry have put me off my food. The organization of said pantry is simply frightening.

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  8. Okay, I am envious of your pantry, not the organization, I am organized, but the amount of food you have and the ability to make so many meals with it. I have to study your coupon scheme in detail so I can have food to cook. I tend to shop (usually not much money to spend) and eat whatever I buy until it is all gone and then I buy more. I try to make it all last two weeks. Of course I am the only one eating it, so I don't have to worry about anybody else's tastes.

    Your meal looks delicious, it is making me hungry, especially since I had a peanut butter and butter sandwich for lunch.

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  9. Every time you post a picture of Bella she's got the greatest expressions. I bet she's a hoot.

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  10. Your cabinet is freakishly neat compared to mine.

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  11. Mr. Fab: YES, that arrangement would be PERFECT. Like you say, it's not the cooking I mind at all, but the stress of coming up with varied, nutritious meals time after time. Grocery shopping while I sleep? *siiiiiigh* Alex is good to go grocery shopping for me, but only if I provide the list. Hmmmm...now I'm wondering if I should let him know I'd allow him to plan meals. I have a feeling the schedule would be heavy with spaghetti and meatloaf.

    Leslie, and it's not fair when your preschooler CHANGES THE RULES DAILY!! "But, Bella, you ate a pound and a half of spinach ravioli last week. You CAN'T 'hate' it today!"

    Michelle--YES! 30 minutes should be all anyone has to spend on dinner! I don't mind if "cooking time" is longer than that, but actual standing-on-my-feet prep? Blecch. And yes, I was embarrassed when I watched that "you're killing your kids" show, and one of the first things the Nazi Dietician would remove from the pantry was KETCHUP. Uh, you mean, it's not a vegetable, like Reagan said? And Oh. My. Gosh. Ketchup-flavored potato chips from Canada. There should be a law, that if someone sends you those, they have to send at least a CASE. And I think the rule on cooking times/cuts of meat is that the leaner/tougher the cut, the longer you cook it, which makes lean meats ideal for the crock pot. I have no gourmet palate, though, because I like everything "well done."

    Chantal: Did I say "go away?" I meant, COME HERE! Come and plan my menus and stock my pantries! I love you! And I think anyone with more than one child has to get more organized purely in self-defense! I would LIVE in your pantry.

    avalon and sarah: The cabinets are really NOT that organized. The lower one looks that way for two reasons:
    1. Several of the same item gives them impression of uniformity and organization
    2. That cabinet is at floor level, and is the one that Bella gets to stock when we get back from the grocery store. She's a bit, um...fastidious, let's say. When she first put everything in there, all the labels from like items had to face the same exact direction, and if she sees it like it is now, she will go in and "correct."

    Kim: The first couple of times you do the coupon/sale thing, you do tend to spend more than you normally would on a typical grocery run where you're just getting what you need for the next few days. But what you're doing is stocking up on things that are on sale AND for which you have coupons, so they are dirt cheap (It will take us a year to eat all those flippin' beans). But once you get into the swing of things, and you're getting as much (or more) food for free as you're paying for, it's pretty nice! Attilla the Mom has it all lined out perfectly on her site, and is the reigning champ, as far as I'm concerned! (And one thing I admit to missing about being single? That you can give yourself permission to eat the same meal 9 times in a row, if you want!)

    scribbit: SHE IS A HOOT. I can't believe you used that word, it's exactly what we say!

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  12. Don't be ridiculous. I only show my PANTY items to my gynecologist when I lovingly lay them on top of my other clothes so he's sure I wore them that day. You already know that I refuse, REFUSE I TELL YOU, to hide them underneath the pile.

    This dare is making me itchy. I'm twitching uncontrollably and my eyes are darting back and forth, scanning this room for my camera. My mind is furiously searching the files for items in my kitchen and a good recipe to share.

    Why do you do this to me? WHY?

    Because you love me. I know you do.

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  13. Mine is up on my blawg, but I'm embarassed about the pantry. I'll admit it, we don't eat stuff like fake mashed potatos (they're so easy to make from scratch) and we don't do a lot of canned stuff, but our pantry is filled with all kinds of crap. It's a total mess, too. I know it needs to be cleaned out, but I admit that I'm too damn lazy.

    My dinner was totally from the freezer. Does that count?

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  14. Umm... my dinner tonight was "Kraft dinner" (apparently...) but made exactly as specified on them there American boxes. (White Cheddar, baby. The only way to go.)

    And besides that you sooo dont want to see my "pantry" (which is really just a single cupboard)... I'd totally die of embarrassment.

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  15. Pic of my pantry? So not fair. I just moved in! I have one can of soup, four boxes of cereal and a lone straggling Quaker Oatmeal bar in Oatmeal raisin that everyone refuses to eat, but I can't bring myself to throw out.

    Wish you would have said panty instead. Now, THAT would be easier for me.

    CP.

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  16. Oh, man, Belinda. You HAD to go and suck me in to this.

    As soon as I can find the camera - that my beloved didn't pur back where it BELONGS - I'll be putting this on my blog.

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  17. Ok, I've taken the challenge and fixed my first dinner on hand meal. Check it out at either of my sites. It was yummy and I'm hoping to go the rest of the month without any major shopping. We'll see how it goes.

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  18. Oh WOW! That looks YUMMERS!! Now you have yet something else I need to try! And I am jealous of your cupboard.

    Now you got me all psyched up to visit recipe sites! Its too late now for me to be thinking about food!

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