Always Hungry? What’s in the pantry?

I don’t do meal planning well…I don’t like to do meal planning.  I’d much rather be spontaneous about my cooking and eating. Okay, I’m a picky eater–my appetite varies with the weather, the season, and even mood. While I’m managing to be moderately successful with the Always Hungry? meal plans, I really appreciate the “how to” section for each phase. It gives me much more freedom to cook what I want to eat. Even so, I’m looking forward to getting past the first two weeks of Phase 2 when I can do even more improvisation. Besides weight loss, one benefit of reading the book and starting this has been a close look in the pantry. In my pantry inventory, I found very few items that were on the discard list so doing without a lot of the prepared or processed things was not really a big issue.

I’m fortunate that from where I live it’s easy for me to stop at the grocery store on my way to and from other errands, so I tend to shop for perishable several times a week–check out the market and see what looks good: meal planning on my feet.  There is a farmers’ market close to me that is open on Wednesday evenings and one on Saturday mornings.

Many times I cook without a recipe and improvise something from what is in the house; improvisation is much easier if you have a well-stocked kitchen and pantry.My only purchase that was specific for the Always Hungry meal plan was the whey protein. That may remain in my pantry after Phase 2 is over–shakes for breakfast work well for me since I really don’t want major food first thing in the morning.  The Stahlbush Island Farms frozen berries have been a huge help with these when fresh berries aren’t of best quality.

There are a number of  things that I almost always have around.  You can find lots of lists in cookbooks for things you “should” always have on hand, but all of those lists need to be modified to suit your tastes.  If you hate anchovies, then there is not much point in having those in the pantry.  I may not want to eat them on a sandwich, but they can add a very subtle, rich background flavor to vegetables like broccoli–used in very small quantities they won’t scream “fishy” at you, and they can stand in for nam pla in providing umami.

Though I do shop for perishables frequently, I want to be able to prepare a meal even if it’s so hot that I just cannot face going outside, so I  keep a reasonably well-stocked freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Even just from the canned (not many things) and dried goods, I could produce a meal at the drop of a hat.  Canned tomatoes in several forms–diced, whole, fire-roasted (add a little smoky flavor to a dish) and quick sauces–are such a pantry staple that they need not get more than a passing mention.  Sun-dried tomatoes, a tube of tomato paste, capers, and roasted red peppers are some other things that get frequent use.

Some of these supplies also stand in for the emergency kit in case of hurricane or ice storm that results in a power outage.  Peanut butter is a staple, but that doesn’t mean that I want to have to pull that out of the cupboard for supper–that’s snack food or for breakfast on toast, or with slices of apple or stuffed into celery ribs.

Dry pasta is a great base for improvising, so it’s good to have several different shapes around to harmonize with what is going in it or on it.  Once the package is opened,  if the unused portion is transferred to a Ball or Kerr Mason jars so that it’s tightly sealed it will keep until the next time I need this particular pasta. It will be good to add that back into my meal (in moderation, of course).

Dried lentils are another pantry staple–they don’t need soaking before cooking; it’s so easy to make a side dish or a soup using them.  There are many kinds of lentils (as there are beans) that can easily add variety to your cooking and allow improvisation.  The basic “brown” lentil can be found in most supermarkets in the section with the dried beans and rice.  My favorite is  the French Le Puy lentil which are small and hold their shape well when cooked. If you use them often, it’s worth looking for other lentils such as small black, or Spanish brown lentils.  You might have to find a “gourmet” store, but these are worth having on hand as a pantry staple. Lentils combine well with rice or other grains, and can be cooked with rice, or alone, in the rice cooker.

Although it does take a bit of pre-planning cooking your own dried beans instead of using canned ones it is worth the effort, but canned beans are still a pantry necessity. Cooking your own has the advantage of controlling the amount of salt and seasonings.  (That is not to say that I don’t have canned beans of various kinds in the pantry–I do–and I would not want to be without them.)   Some heirloom beans and/or specialty beans have such different flavors that they are worth searching out.  You can soak and cook more than you need for a single serving and freeze them with some of the cooking liquid so that you have them for quick use when you haven’t planned ahead. (One of the reasons I’ve been able to stick with the Always Hungry meals as will as I have is that legumes are part of the program.)

barley and rice

Barley (left) & arborio rice (right)

Grains are another staple in my pantry: rice, barley, quinoa, and some of the commercially available mixes that provide variety in a convenient way.  Being able to add some of these in Phase 2 is so welcome!  Since I love polenta, but corn is off limits, I’m going to try the millet “polenta”, though I don’t expect it to replace the real thing.

Basmati rice (brown or white) is a favorite for long-grain rice.  Since risotto is a great way to improvise a meal,  arborio or another short-grain rice that is suitable for making risotto is on hand too. It’s good to use in soups as well.  Barley is also a grain that to have on hand at all times–it makes a hearty soup, it can be cooked like risotto, and it makes wonderful side dish instead of rice. Depending on the season,  bulgur and couscous, both the fine and the Israeli, are also likely found lurking on my pantry shelves. Especially in the summer, with tomatoes abundant, tabbouleh is quick, healthy, and easy as a salad or a side dish. There are so many good grains that we use all too infrequently, just waiting to be added to out diet.

Though not “dry” cans of broth/stock are good to have on the pantry shelves, right along with the canned beans.  As a further backup, something like Better Than Bouillon in whatever flavor you use most often–chicken is a good compromise.

American Tuna image of canOther helpers for improvisation, include good quality canned tuna (personal preference is for oil packed) which can make a salad heartier, or be used with pasta or beans for a main course salad. Sardines make a good meal with  crackers or bread and fruit. These are good staples in the emergency food kit (which should also contain a can opener–the manual variety) as well. Salmon is part of the pantry, too, for salad or for salmon cakes.

Some other ideas for “pantry” cooking recipes inspired me to add some canned goods to my emergency stash–but that doesn’t include using cream soups and the like for “dump” cooking–that doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but having some carefully selected cans on the shelf can be useful.

There are some freezer things that I have found particularly useful while using the Always Hungry? meal plan adapted for single-serving cooking: chopped kale and spinach, chopped onions lend themselves particularly well to getting green veggies into my breakfast. Instead of the formality of making a fritatta with veggies, I find making scrambled eggs with the veggies much easier and quicker. A handful of chopped onions, a handful of frozen chopped greens quickly sautéed before adding the eggs does the job in a way that fits my morning functionality. If there are some cherry tomatoes lurking in the kitchen, those go in as well. Between supplying that quick handful, the opened bags live inside a zipper-lock freezer bag, right back in the freezer for quick access. I find that i use them so frequently that I don’t even do the vacuum seal–just pressing as much air as possible from the freezer bag will do fine since I buy the smaller bags and use them quickly. Now that I can add starchy vegetables in small quantities I’ve found that the Stahlbush Island Farms frozen butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and beets are good to have for use a handful at a time.

In anticipation of maintaining the weight loss the I have achieved so far (and hope to achieve in Phase 2) there have been two additions to the pantry–the whey protein, and chickpea flour. In addition to the recipes with the meal plan for waffles/pancakes that use chickpea flour, I’m experimenting with making my own crackers from that, rather than the usual wheat-based ones that I like to have around to go with the pickled herring or cheese. Here’s to maintaining weight loss, eating in a healthier way, and enjoying good food.

A son goût!

 

Sunday Suppers: Winter Whites

Great soups for suppers in the winter; all my favorites so I need to share this–white can be wonderful!

Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

The kidneys make this What our garden looks like these days

We’ve been spared the snow that’s blanketed much of the country, but early this week a layer of ice made our landscape more than a little frosty. Instead of making us feel a little blue, we’re craving food that warms us up. But of course we’re all about coordinating our colors. Here are some of our favorite winter whites:

Cream of Potato Soup (above) and Potato Leek Soup (below)

That there is perdy I’m gonna need a bigger bowl

White Bean Soup with Farro

Drizzle more olive oil if you want Drizzle more olive oil if you want

Cream of Potato Soup with Roasted Garlic

Campbell's eat your heart out Campbell’s eat your heart out

If only we’d get a little snow instead of ice we could whip up some of this:

Tastes like vanilla icecreamSnow cream

View original post

Spanish potato omelette (Tortilla Española)

Another favorite egg dish (though I don’t make this as often as the basic omelette) is tortilla Española or Spanish potato omelette–this takes a bit more time than basic omelette, but it is serious comfort food.  Though most recipes that I’ve seen recommend serving it at room temperature (and I love it that way too), I like the first serving still warm.  I don’t mind having some of this around to eat as recommended, at room temperature, especially in hot weather.  I usually make the entire 4 servings of this.

This recipe is adapted from The food of Spain and Portugal: The Complete Iberian Cuisine by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (p. 231) and allioli (p. 239).

Tortilla Española

Ingredients

  • 500 gm/1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced or thinly sliced (preferably waxy potato–red or Yukon gold).
  • 250 gm/8 ounces (about 3 medium) onions, finely chopped or sliced thin
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 250 ml/8 fluid ounces (1 cup) olive oil
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preparation

  • season the potatoes and onions with salt and pepper.
  • heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan (skillet), preferably nonstick.
  • cook the potatoes and onions covered over low heat until soft, but not browned; stir gently from time to time.
  • drain the potatoes and onions through a sieve, reserving the oil.
  • stir the eggs with a little salt and pepper
  • add the potato and onion mixture, mix gently and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • wipe out the frying pan/skillet and add 4 tablespoons of the oil, and heat
  • add the egg, potato, and onion mixture and spread it evenly
  • cook over moderate heat shaking the pan occasionally to keep it from sticking.
  • when the omelette begins to brown underneath, put a plate over the skillet and invert the pan and slide the omelette onto the plate.
  • heat a little more oil and return the omelette to the pan with the browned side up.
  • cook it just long enough to brown the underside.
  • transfer to a warmed plate and serve hot or at room temperature.
As a garlic lover, I love to accompany the with allioli (garlic mayonnaise) so here is a recipe for that accompaniment:   
 

Allioli à la Catalana  (Garlic mayonnaise, Catalan-style)

Ingredients

Makes about 1 cup; will keep in the fridge for several days.  This is for serious garlic lovers–there is a less potent variation given in the book, as well as variations using egg yolks.

  • 1/2 large head of garlic, peeled and crushed.
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice (or white wine vinegar)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) olive oil at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preparation

  • put the crushed garlic into a small bowl (or a large mortar).
  • add the lemon juice or vinegar
  • stir to mix
  • gradually add the oil, stirring in the same direction until the oil is absorbed and the mixture has a mayonnaise-like consistency.
  • stir in salt to taste.

You don’t need to use expensive oil–the garlic flavor is very strong.  This can be made in a food processor or blender, but I think that it’s more trouble to clean either of those than to make it by hand.

If you don’t care to make the allioli from scratch, you can add crushed garlic to a good commercial mayonnaise, and adjust seasoning to taste with lemon juice (or vinegar).  When I do it this way I use Hellmann’s® mayonnaise–it is quicker, but not quite as good as making it from scratch.