Pantry Cooking II: Recipes

Friday, February 15, 2013

In my last post, I talked about the kinds of food I like to keep on hand most or all of the time. For those looking for a more thorough explanation, or those who like to learn from example, I will give details on a few meals I like to make using those things.

I can almost always make a good breakfast-type meal — omelette or scrambled eggs — with eggs and between one and three of the following add-ins…

cheese
spinach
mushrooms
tomato
avocado
bacon
ham

in whatever combination sounds good.

One combination I like especially for an omelette is herbed cream cheese (combine about a tablespoon of cream cheese with a squeeze of fresh garlic from a garlic press plus pepper and Herbes de Provence or whatever herbs you have — thyme, oregano, basil, etc.) with diced avocado and fresh tomato.

An omelette is nice but scrambled eggs are almost just as good and easier to make. As far as I’m concerned, scrambled eggs with cheese wins for best/easiest combination, it’s hard to go wrong with that.

The key to good scrambled eggs is to cook over low heat and don’t stir too much, just enough to scrape the cooked part off the bottom and let the uncooked part flow over so it can cook. And then don’t cook too long or the eggs get dry.

If you keep cream or half-and-half around for coffee, try making scrambled eggs with a little bit of that, it’s very good. If I’m not doing that (which I usually don’t), I use a tablespoon of water mixed with the eggs. (I don’t use milk because I can’t tell the difference, I think it’s totally fine with water. I like to save my milk for things that matter.)

Along with the eggs I’ll eat some kind of bread/carb thing…

—cheese grits (with Worcestershire sauce, or, since I’m out of that and trying to use things up, lately I’ve been adding Pickapeppa Sauce)
biscuits with honey or jam
—half a bagel with cream cheese or jam
—toast, but only if I have bread from my neighbors

plus some kind of fruity thing …

—fried apples (peel apple, heat a skillet and add a little bit of bacon grease, when hot, slice apple into skillet and cook until tender, YUM)
—half a grapefruit
smoothie made with frozen berries, frozen banana, juice
—orange slices
—sliced apple or pear

So as long as I have eggs, I have a good meal. And I don’t limit myself to breakfast with that, I’ll eat eggs any time of day or night.

Another technique that is very useful is the Universal Pilaf recipe from the Tightwad Gazette. This calls for the following:

—fat or oil: e.g., olive oil, canola oil, bacon grease, chicken fat, butter, margarine, shortening
—base (aromatic) vegetable: e.g., garlic, onion, shallot, leek or green onion (white part only)
—protein: e.g., cooked or raw chicken, ground beef, ground turkey or other meat; or any kind of canned (or cooked) legume; or tuna or whitefish
—grain: e.g., white rice, brown rice, couscous, millet, quinoa, bulghur, wheat berries
—vegetable: e.g., frozen or fresh peas, carrots, corn, spinach, celery, tomatoes
—liquid: e.g., water, broth, vegetable cooking water, stock
—seasonings: e.g., salt, pepper, basil, oregano, curry powder, chili powder, paprika, etc.

in the following proportion, for approximately two servings:

2 Tbsp fat
1-2 cloves garlic plus 1/2 cup onion (or more, or less, it doesn’t really matter)
1/2 to 2/3 cup protein
1 cup grain
2 cups liquid
1/2 cup vegetable (or more)
seasonings to taste

The basic procedure is as follows:

1. Heat fat in a large skillet, for which you have a lid that fits.
2. When the fat is hot, add the aromatic vegetable (garlic and onion) and cook until the onion is translucent.
3. If using uncooked meat, add it now and brown. If using cooked meat or beans, add to heat through. (If using tuna, do not add yet.)
4. When the meat is browned and/or heated through, add the grain and stir until coated with fat.
5. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. (Add tuna now, if using tuna.)
6. Add vegetables and seasonings, stir, and return to a boil.
7. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.

How long this takes to cook depends on what grain you use — couscous will be done in 15-20 minutes, brown rice will take closer to 45 minutes, white rice somewhere in between.

My favorite version of this involves ground beef, white Jasmine or Basmati rice, peas, carrots, and curry powder. It is also good substituting cooked chicken for the ground beef, or using couscous or brown rice instead of white rice. (The reason I usually use white rice is because I often make this on Saturdays when I eat a big breakfast then do stuff around the house all day and then all of a sudden realize that I am really, really hungry and I need something that will be ready now now NOW. Or soon, at least. And white rice cooks quickly and I almost always have it on hand.)

This is a really great technique; unless your cupboard is truly bare, you can almost always make something that tastes delicious and is ready quickly. It’s a winner.

The other thing I rely on is tortillas with some kind of filling — you can do a breakfast-type thing with beans and cheese and scrambled eggs or a taco-type thing with corn tortillas and chicken and vegetables (and cheese … and salsa … and …) or enchiladas with spinach and cheese and beans or chicken, or a wrap with cheese and tuna or salmon. Or, or, or. The possibilities for that are nearly endless.

At any point in time, I will almost always be able to very quickly make a good tortilla-based meal out of what I have in the pantry and/or freezer.

I can also usually make a stir-fry with rice or noodles (or leftover rice, as fried rice).

Making a stir-fry is a great way to use up bits and pieces of things that are not enough to make a full meal but that you want to use and not throw away. Even noodles go much further when you stir-fry everything together than when you boil and eat. Two ounces of pasta with tomato sauce is not much of a meal but two ounces of pasta stir-fried together with vegetables and soy sauce feels like plenty.

One version of stir-fry I like a lot is Singapore noodles, using rice sticks and curry powder and whatever vegetables I have around, or yakisoba, which is more of a generic stir-fry noodle thing.

And there’s more, but that’s enough for today. I’ll do a separate post with the rest.

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