Impromptu Meals - how do I plan for them?
I don't want to spend a whole day cooking five pounds of hamburger meat or chicken to put in little freezer bags so I will have them for the following week. Frozen cooked protein just does not appeal to me.
I don't want to plan the next week's menu for every day. (I really don't want to know what I will be eating on Wednesday, one day at a time is my new rule).
I don't want to make extra portions so there will be enough to redo tomorrow, although I am aware there are certain recipes that taste better the next day, so in that case, it is best to have "extra".
I DO want to be able to pop up from the computer or come in from wherever & throw together a simple but delicious dish, which means no running to the store for this, that or the other.
Am I asking too much out of life?
All this spontaneity surely must need some planning though. Are there certain things I should ALWAYS have in the fridge & pantry in order for this to happen?
If you are an impromptu eater, please let me know how you do it!! Singles & twosies could benefit from your ideas too.
Well, funny you should mention it. I have been working on a pantry list for me. This is what I have come up with. I hope it is some kind of help. I do keep meat in my freezer because most things can be thawed in a sink of water within a few minutes.
PANTRY BASICS TO KEEP ON HAND
Rice (Long Grain, Arborrio)
Zatarain’s Rice kits
Tomatoes (paste, puree, diced, sauce)
Corn and other vegetables
Stocks (vegetable, chicken, beef)
Soups (canned, boxed, dehydrated)
Sweetened Condensed Milk
Roasted red peppers
Juice (orange, lemon. lime, key lime, healthy)
Loaf of bread
Dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Better than Bouillon (chicken and beef)
Paprikas (hot, sweet & smoked)
Green Bell Peppers
Red Bell Peppers
Pork Chops (2 & 4)
Sausages (2 & 4)(various kinds)
Italian Sausage (.5 lb or 2 & 4)
Ham in small packages
Chopped Chicken in small packages
Pulled Pork in 1 lb packages
Chopped pork in small packages
Chicken Stock by the cup
Beef stock by the cup
Pound Cake (3 slices)
Mini Bundt Cakes
Chicken Leg Quarters (2 at a time)
Pre-blanched Green Beans
Minced Shallots in small packages
re: Hank Hanover
Do you actually have all these things on hand right now??
I don't mind frozen meats, just don't like precooked protein.
Pound cake-3 slices....are you pre freezing them in those portions? Yes, that would be nice, you could make a fruit sauce from the frozen fruits.
I am intrigued at your extensive list & will be studying it in the next few days to see how it can work for me.
Meatloaf...do you make them up & freeze them at that point or cook fully & then thaw & reheat?
Red & green bell peppers...just put in freezer without blanching or what??
Zatarin's rice kits - are you talking about the boxed rice? I have never tried those.
Thanks for sharing....looks like you put a lot of thought into this....my brain wouldn't let me think this thoroughly!!
I just recently made that list and some of those items are not yet in stock. I may end up tweaking it somewhat.
Meatloaf. I make a meatloaf mix with 2 lbs ground chuck, 2 lbs ground sirloin and 2 lbs ground chuck. I mix all the ingredients together and make 3 loaves. I cook one and put the other two in foodsaver bags and freeze them. Meatloaf still takes 1.5 hours but it is pretty much hands off.
Red & green bell peppers. I catch them on sale and buy 3 to 6 and chop them, put what I normally use in 1 dish (about half a pepper) in a sandwich bag (remove as much air as I can). I then put these rolled up sandwich bags into a bigger zip lock bag and put them in the freezer. When I need some I take 1 sandwich bag out and throw it in the skillet with the othe veggies I am sweating.
Zatarain rice kits. I keep a few. I especially like the yellow rice. It's expensive but quick and flavorful.
Pound cake (3 slices) I haven't implemented this yet but here is my logic. I have 3 people in the house most of the time. I like to make a quick dessert with a slice of lemon pound cake a scoop of ice cream and a couple spoonfuls of macerated strawberries. I think it is better than anything I could bake. I can use the same technique with other fruits that are frozen. Unfortunately, an entire pound cake just gets eaten over the following 2 days just as snacks. So I have been considering making or buying a pound cake and freezing it in 3 slice packages just for a quick dessert. I do try to keep some frozen mini bundt cakes in the freezer, too. I can bring them out and thaw them, heat them up, put a scoop of ice cream on them and drizzle some hot fudge sauce on them within about 20 minutes or so.
Lentils, cous cous and tapenades have not been added yet. I really need to try these items and decide whether my family likes them or not.
I keep evaporated milk around for emergencies. Every once in a while, I will want to make white gravy (that's Texacan for bechamel sauce, ya'll) and will go to the fridge and find myself running a little low on milk. That's when I use the evaporated milk.
I have found that your spontaneous approach leads me to the take out menu more often than I like. I would suggest that, at least each day, you get a plan for dinner fairly early so you can make sure you have everything and so you are "mentally prepared" to cook.
As I said down thread, I'm kind of embarrassed about the Vienna sausages. It is just they were always there when I was a kid. They are real garbage, consequently, I don't have a favorite brand, I buy the cheapest generic ones I can find. None of the all beef ones. I eat them right out of the can. My wife makes a sandwich out of them. I will sometimes cut them into discs and brown them, then put them in boxed mac and cheese. I have seen people heat them in bbq sauce.
Probably the best thing about them is they are cheap and fast and will supplement a desperation cheap food budget when you are out of money on Wednesday and have to get by til Friday afternoon. You can throw them into Ramen noodles. They are good for camp outs or if you are living in your car.
re: Hank Hanover
quite a few of these things i don't eat, but i'll add some basics for me:
blanched, frozen summer greens, like chard and beet greens from the csa
frozen home-made pasta sauce
frozen tomato confit with basil
frozen herb purees, like basil, cilantro, etc.
flours, nuts and nut flours stay in the freezer since i live alone. this keeps them fresh MUCH longer
canned wild salmon
full-fat fage yogurt
sugar-free polaner jam
I don't have as formal a list as the very idea makes me rebellious ;-( but I do try to make sure I have lots of things we like: an assortment of beans cooked and frozen, farm fresh eggs, many grains, chicken thighs, some pieces of fish, canned fish, endless condiments and oils, coconut milk. I also shop for very fresh veggies at least weekly . I can always at least make an omelet.
I also make extra whenever I make soup or braises ( I love braises without potatoes frozen and rewarmed , unlike you) and freeze them in two portion packs.
i can get an abundance sometimes from the csa and it will go off before i can get through it. tougher greens like chard and kale do not cook instantly.
blanch, drain, dry, freeze in portions. easy.
i get fresh herbs cheaply from asian markets, but again, they will likely go off before i get through the bunch, unless i am batch cooking. so i whizz what's left with some olive oil and salt. divvy up into portions of about 1-2 tablespoons, wrap each in saran and then bag. perfect for adding to sauces or sautes. even though it's cheap, i hate wasting food.
i stopped eating grains, so beans, pasta, cous cous, bread etc. are no longer staples for me. that took some getting used to as far as what to keep on-hand for nights i don't want to "cook."
Thank you so much for the info. I would just take a bunch of parsley, for instance, & wash off & dry in paper towels & then put in baggies to freeze. When I went to use these herbs, they looked absolutely unappealing & gloppy after being tossed in soups, etc. Hope the blanching will stop this from happening.
Well... I'm kind of embarrassed about admitting I keep Vienna sausages but they are a bit of a throwback from when I was a kid. Vienna Sausages are like little cocktail wieners in a can.
I usually just take them out of the can and eat them. Sometimes, I cut them up and throw them into boxed mac and cheese (Yeah I know... true gourmet cuisine).
My wife likes to cut them in half lengthwise and make a sandwich out of them.
I have seen people cut them up in little discs and toss them into scrambled eggs.
The big challenge is just getting them out of the can.
re: Hank Hanover
Ah, never be embarrassed by what you enjoy eating! If we're lucky there are bites of childhood that we like to carry along always. :)
If it helps, I have developed an appreciation for Velveeta. I was a snob about it until sometime in my 30s when a relative brought it along to make party food at our house. Because she was my guest, I ate her dish. LOVED IT! I think it was Velveeta mixed with canned chili and served with tortilla chips. Who knew? I have since made the V + Rotel dip several times over the years and have used it in soup.
Ok, I might have to work my head around to canned sausages. I eat canned tuna and salmon, not sure why this should be different. Just not used to it. Maybe I'll toss some on the grill while cooking out and start there! It's good to have proteins around with long shelf life, right?
Vienna sausages...they might fall apart on the grill, they are kinda soft. I have warmed them in a small skillet with a touch of bar b q sauce.
Oh yes, you must have some Campbell's Pork & Beans to go with them. Also, if you like spicy, they have spicy flavored, but I don't care for them...I like to just add my own hot sauce. WWII military rations at its finest, my father said he would trade cans of Vienna sausages for canned peaches...says he was sick of eating them.
The good news is... they are cheap. I get the generic ones for 40 cents a can.
They are a part of my recommendation for desperation cheap meals for single people with limited time, money and cooking skills to make til payday. A family size box of mac and cheese and 1 or 2 cans of cut up Vienna sausages and you can eat for at least 3 or 4 days on what ...$3?
Hey!... you have to have a change of pace from ramen noodles.
Vienna sausages, ritz crackers and peanut butter and energy bars should be part of your survival kit if you ever have to live in your car.
Well... I haven't implemented the following yet:
Pound cake (3 slices)
Minced shallots in small packages
Sometimes I run out of peaches because I don't use them as often as the other fruits, stocks because I use them a lot especially chicken.
I try to always have chopped red and green bell pepper in the little baggies, the 1/2 to 1 pound packages of chopped meat so I can throw them into a risotto, pilaf or stirfry, pork tenderloins, chuck roasts and chicken leg quarters.
I started keeping pre-blanched green beans because I did it for Thanksgiving and it worked out well. All I have to do is saute them with a some shallot and garlic and they are done. Unfortunately, I can usually only keep one dinners worth in the freezer.
I do try to keep the chocolate mini bundt cakes so I can put ice cream and hot fudge sauce on them.
I just put them in as is. I keep half a bell pepper chopped in sandwich bags then I roll the sandwich bags up and put them in a quart size zip lock bag. When I need some chopped bell pepper I just go put out 1 sandwich bag and empty it into my suate pan and sweat with the other veggies.
re: Hank Hanover
Don't all these little baggies of things get lost in the freezer? Maybe I could get one of those dollar store flat containers & put the little baggies in there or something like that. Isn't that a lot of labeling for all those little bags of herbs & veggies??? Got to label them for sure...
a favorite meal for two of us is beans & greens. The only part of it that's best fresh is the greens, we use kale or collards as a rule. Recipe is:
1 onion, chopped & browned
1 can white beans, drained
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 can tuna
1 large bunch greens, chopped
Brown the onion, add everytbing else, stir to break up the tuna, then add the greens and simmer, covered until they're tender. We add herbs (basil, thyme) or a Cajun garlic sauce for added flavor. It's quick, simple, delicious, and fairly healthy. Any meat can substitute for the tuna - leftover ham or chicken works great - or leave the meat out for a vegetarian/vegan meal.
Have a local restaurant that delivers on speed dial =)
For long term I have pastas, pasta sauces, rice, and some various canned items. I also have boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer. I grab a case when they have a special on them. The last ones were $1.28 a pound. Potatoes will last a long time, as do onions. You may also look into a food dehydrator. I dry chili peppers ,and Roma tomatoes for later use, and you can make your own fruit leathers with one too.
My fast dishes are chicken fajitas, and , and, ,,,,,,Crap, it's been so long now, I forgot what else I make.
It has gotten to the point where I rarely make a complete meal now. Usually too tired when i get home from work to fuss over making something. Many nights dinner has been a big bowl of guacamole with chips, or some other snacky item. As a result, I have to purge the kitchen, and refrigerator again of food that has become compost pile candidates.
If I can rid myself of the 206 mile daily commute, I will be able to get back to cooking a real meal again.
As to frozen meats. I usually just foil wrap the chicken, but a FoodSaver vacuum sealer makes a big difference on how long something lasts. I recently cooked a 15# turkey that was factory vacuum wrapped from 2010. It was fine, with no freezer burn. That turkey fed me for a few days.
Glad to hear from you again...looks like we are still rehashing the same Ole problems of what to fix when we are super tired & miles from the grocery.
Here is my take on ideas I am formulating as this post evolves. Also a few words to you.
English muffins in freezer - split in half, brown in cast iron skillet & cover them with things like eggs cooked your style, ham, cheese or whatever or just sausage gravy. Use your imagination here.
The pantry & fridge staples listed by folks here are good starting points. You mentioned about getting back to cooking a "real meal" sometimes. Perhaps it is best to reconsider this buying stuff for the "real meal". Rethink your lifestyle & start thinking of mono meals. I found it is OK to have something out of a can, but learn to doctor it up with something fresh. Judybird up the way mentioned a very good meal - beans & greens. Something canned mixed with something fresh.
Snoop around in these folks fridge & pantry & see if you can figure out what they might be planning for those impromptu meals. If it is not coming together, just ask what they could fix from their lists.
I see you mentioned a frozen 15lb turkey...forget the big bird & buy a couple of portions of whatever turkey meat you prefer. I like the dark meat so I bought a package of 2 thighs. I baked one in the oven slathered in olive oil & made a side of some boxed dressing, but added chopped fresh celery, onions & moistened it with chicken broth & poultry seasoning. The other thigh could be baked with some lemon pepper & oil & cooled & made into turkey salad with dried cranberries, finely chopped celery & finely chopped green onion & mayonnaise. Very good with some type of artisan bread like walnut date bread.Keep extra slices of bread frozen in pairs in the freezer. Or use the other piece of turkey to make a soup & add the veggies you have on hand plus a few handfuls of dried noodles, keep the extra noodles in a jar.Wide mouth jars are wonderful for storing beans, pasta, rice & noodles. I keep pints, quarts & half gallon wide mouth jars on hand for all kinds of stuff. There are also quart & a half jars out too, but have not found them locally.
The extra cranberries can be kept in a jar in the fridge or freezer & used to top salads with, put in quick muffins or stirred into oatmeal or cereal.
Celery should be wrapped well in tin foil in fridge..will keep a long time that way. Chop finely as needed in simple soups, stir fries or in meat loaf. You get the drift that I am trying to use up the food that I have on hand. It is a new learning curve to keep it all corralled, but let's face it. We have only the pantry, fridge & freezer to work from. How hard is that? I am speaking with more confidence than I actually have at this point, but these folks are great at showing us the way,the life & the truth. Amen!
Get out your pencil & paper & start setting up your own fridge/pantry/freezer list. Start from scratch. Figure out your preferences in foods. Work from that point. If you like cauliflower, consider that you probably will be buying a whole head...so figure out out how you are going to use the whole thing...don't just think you will toss it into whatever...think it all the way through.
Oh guess what??? These impromptu meals DO take some planning. I am not a list maker but I see these folks are pretty thorough in what they feel will make their life easier. We can do it too.
Trader Joe's Frozen jasmine rice (or your favorite variety)
Trader Joe's frozen peas, corn, fire roasted peppers and onions
A decent jar of spaghetti sauce and some olive oil
Basic veggies- onion, potato, carrot, garlic, celery - maybe a bag of washed lettuce and a lemon
Canned tomatoes, paste and sauce
A few good rice mixes.and some dried pasta
Chicken or beef stock = either frozen or canned
Some Italian sausages in the freezer and maybe some bacon
eggs, cheese, butter, milk or cream
Bread, rolls - fresh or frozen
ketchup, mayo and mustard - a variety is nice
Soy sauce, worchestershire sauce and garlic salt.
Coffee, tea, crackers and cookies
Canned soup, jelly
I require Fresh orange juice
My husband requires peanut butter, saltine crackers and ranch dressing
Yes, you ARE asking too much, unless you are a Hogwarts alumna with a working wand. You recently began and participated extensively in a thread about how to economize by avoiding food waste. And another about extending and repurposing leftovers into subsequent meals. Now you want to be able to prepare a quick meal from scratch pantry items without preplanning. Those concepts are inimical. If your goal is frugality, you will be making batches of many things, including meat-based meals, and freezing in portions. Your preparation will not be quick when the meal involves braising cheaper cuts of meat, or cooking dried beans. For us muggles, the microwave reheating is as close as we get to how you want to be able to cook. The closest I come to impromptu is surveying what's on hand and cooking it, or choosing from completed dishes in the freezer
Alternatively, you can do what I did (quite by accident). Move. Move to an apartment above a great grocery store. It's like having an enormous refrigerator in your basement! Otherwise, I think grey is right. If you want the luxury of not having to plan, you must expect to pay for it. Most often by overbuying (= a certain amount of spoiled / wasted food) or by giving more money and stomach space than you might like to restaurants or packaged/canned/frozen food manufacturers. Sorry, but there ain't no other way that I can see...
I didn't know I had to go through some rigorous schooling & tests to qualify for posting here. As for as pre planning, I realize there is some pre planning in everything we do.
These folks seem to grasp the concept of what I was aiming at & have so graciously responded. Sometimes it is best to lighten up & just go with the subject & not think things through so thoroughly greygarious. You worry your mind & become frustrated that folks don't always stick with the rules, (whatever those might be).
I tend to try & post about things that are on most folks minds, general type discussions that might help us all get from one meal to another. As you see, dear Hank Hanover was working on the same thing I am wanting to do. Some other folks are doing the same thing so they can just go in & make a meal from what is on hand. They share & everyone benefits. What else can be expected of a post??
Each of my posts are separate thoughts, not really related. If you feel I am taking up too much space with random & frivolous posts, please inform the moderators. Perhaps you ARE a moderator & you are reprimanding me. I don't know unless you identify yourself.
If I have offended you or anyone else by posting on Chowhound, please forgive me.
Graygarious, I am laughing till I SPLIT on the "working Wand' concept... kind of up there with the Star Trek 'replicator", in that all things are possible at all times.
Extending, and using items from freezer stashes are all good, waste is not.
I am in the camp of not doing due-diligence ever day, as to what I have in the fridge-freezer, and often change my mind about what I want for dinner as the day goes on, as I am in the 1% in terms of that I have the choice to make different things for dinner depending on my mood.
BUT, and a big one, I want to always use what I have, tailor my choices to not wasting things, and I could not imagine having the resources to have as much of a provenence that Cstout says to have in his pantry, fridge, freezer. It just sounds like there is the option of 'everything' if there is enough food stored up. It is kind of sickening, considering others ability and resources.
I would like to think I shop carefully, based on what is on sale, know what I can cook; get creative about learning new things to widen my horizons and use of econimical cuts/ use more beans, grains, etc./ buy veggies on sale or in season. Work to make my place in the world smaller and more in keeping with others.
Agree with you, that making batches of items and freezing is economical, practical, prudent.
Sept and Oct we work 10-12 hour days so at the end of August I.........
1--drop a king's ransom in the Costco meat aisle. Beef, pork, chicken, fish----all divvied up into meal-size amounts in ziplock bags. (this requires financial planning, and a freezer :-)
2--hit the bulk food store and buy quart-jar amounts of legumes: split peas, red/brown/green lentils, pintos, chickpeas, navy beans. Also cous cous, rice, and noodles.
3--ensure I have all my baking supplies and my canned goods topped up.
Once I've done these three things, the only thing left to buy week-to-week is milk, bread, eggs, and produce. It definitely shortens my cooking time because the main entree item is "in stock" and I can grab what I feel like having that night and still prep it from scratch. It's not totally impromptu, but by devoting maybe a day and a half every 3-4 months so that you can re-stock is a good trade-off.
applgrl...yes one day of agressive shopping sure would save some money in the long run. Like your method a lot. I usuallly shop weekly for the same stuff & was thinking just the other day...can't I shop less often & stop buying the same staples week after week? Now you got me thinking...thanks a bunch.
Well done applgrl, sounds like a wise, and economically planned strategy. You know your situation, and set yourself up for it.
You could probably teach classes on this somewhere locally; an extension or creative 'night-class' forum. Many people want these kinds of techniques to use, and don't seem to know them. Teach:)!
lots of good advice.
in addition to having canned and frozen and packaged foods available and safely stored, keep your refrigerator cold, your produce will last longer. And while gregarious may have been harsh, some of what was said is true. Flexibility costs and results in some degree of waste. On the other hand this kind of thread helps find the balance point that each of us finds appropriate for our own needs.
Oh, and some variation of hank hanover's list looks about right. A well stocked pantry cabinet and crammed freezer is the way to go. Make your home a mini-mart as much as possible.
I humbly don't see how being flexible can be a waste. The food is there, it can be eaten today or some other day....main point is to prevent waste, is just eat it before it dies a moldy or frosty death. Finding the balance point that suits our individual lifestyles is key here, as you said. My haphazard method would not work for a busy Mom with kids to feed 3 meals a day to.
This post has evolved into sharing what we keep in stock & that is exactly the kinds of things I found I needed to know to have an impromptu meal.
We come together to learn, it is all good.
the biggest waste part comes from not using things up quickly enough. Fresh produce first on the list, some things just can't be frozen and for whatever reason aren't used in time. Other things can only last in the freezer so long and may be pushed to the back and forgotten. And even packaged goods have a 'best by' date. Usually its a very conservative date, but I have found that even pasta can go bad if you forget to look on the bottom of that one shelf in the corner. Finally I've had canned goods (crab in this case) that rusted out (someone put something wet on it, and it was a humid summer)
Yep, stocking up in the pantry & freezer does have its disadvantages too....got to keep a mental eye on what is going on in both places. Someone said down the line that a big freezer & pantry leads to big wastes. I guess it is great for large families where there is a large turnover in food, but not so sure for singles & doubles folks. Just have to keep it to a minimum & refrain from the "hoarding" syndrome. Good point you have there....
Stocking a pantry doesn't have to equal lots of waste. I keep a long pasta, a short pasta and a soup pasta at all times. One bag or can of each kind of bean we like. I make my own broth and freeze it as I go. As things get low I buy a replacement and put in the pantry as my backup. The only items we waste are usually gifts or something we bought and used but went molding in the fridge. Jelly/jam is a big one. Rarely is a packaged item in the pantry tossed.
Again, its finding the right balance for you. i'm single, but i still buy many items in bulk. I keep my refrigerator really cold, and I freeze things other people wouldn't consider freezing. part of that is because i live someplace with a hot humid climate year round. I can see from the evolution of your responses and your ongoing questions that the light is coming on for you. You will find that once you have a decent pantry (canned, dried, frozen, and refrigerated) your confidence in your cooking will improve because you know that you probably have something available to either fix what just went wrong, or to use as a back up in case of a total disaster... and they happen from time to time. Just remember, your phone and the number to your favorite pizza place is an important part of your pantry in case of the ultimate emergency.
Keeping the fridge really cold...never have thought of that, I have since turned mine up. Thank you for regarding me as "evolving". I carefully study each reply & sometimes reread so I can come up with what will work best for me.
All the replies are wonderful...there is such a broad spectrum out there...from not keeping much squirreled away to having all kinds of things in stock. And you know what, it all works! That is what is so mystifying...trying to get hit a happy medium.
What do you freeze that you think most folks wouldn't??
No delivery services for me.. I live 24 miles from a pizza delivery service. BUT, I am reading "My Pizza" & trying to learn to make good pizza dough. So many things you can top a pizza with...not just pizza sauce.
Anyway, thanks for the encouragement. Actually, I do cook pretty good, but was just trying to live spontaneously & try to "throw things" together without a lot of thinking everything through. Ha Ha...ain't necessairly true, but with wonderful folks like you tossing out ideas...it is become more realistic.
I agree with Melpy & KaimukaMan that, if you are reasonably well organized, being well-stocked does not necessarily equate to waste. Yes, sometimes there are left overs in our fridge that get tossed because they've gone bad, and there are a handful of inexpensive types of produce that I buy with the knowledge that they may go bad before I use them -- cilantro and jalapeno peppers mainly.
I do make a point of rotating items that I keep in stock in multiple units -- whether in the freezer, fridge, or cabinets -- so that the oldest are most accessible and used first. E.g., if I've just purchased ground chuck, it goes on the bottom of the freezer shelf, with older packages placed on top. Similarly, canned goods are arranged in rows, front to back, with the oldest in the front.
And, once or twice a year, when there is a food drive for a local pantry, I will go through my shelves and pull anything that I've had for awhile (but not with expired dates), especially if I have multiples of that item and I don't seem to be using them much. E.g., I can recall one time I purchased several cans of garbanzo beans because I became temporarily enthused with making home-made humous, and they then languished in the pantry.
Cstout, not clear if it's just frozen protein you don't want or any precooked protein. I was wondering about the Oscar Meyer pre-cooked bacon. The flavor is pretty good and you can construct a BLT in about two minutes. The spontaneous eating you describe works well with salady things---make tuna salad or tabbouleh that lasts a week; keep marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shoestring beets, kidney beans etc on hand---your refrigerator makes a good salad bar. Your supermarket meat counter has little packages of pre-cut ham bits and you can add cheese, a tiny can of shrimp, or deli roast beef to make a substantial chef salad.
My frozen meals always looked so gross after being in the freezer for awhile...they just always turned me off when I went to thaw them out to reheat, so I just decided to just cook enough for a meal. I don't mind raw meats & veggies at all though that have been frozen.
You mentioned marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shoestring beets....what would you suggest I do with these things...I need a few ideas to get me going. Thanks.
"You mentioned marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shoestring beets....what would you suggest I do with these things...I need a few ideas to get me going. Thanks."
those are generally sold in cans, so perishability is not an issue, and they are good over salads.
if your frozen food "looks gross", i'm wondering if you're not doing it right? as you mentioned above with just sticking raw parsley in there? i batch cook often and there is no discernible difference in quality with the thawed stuff. if i was not willing to do this, i'd be eating eggs pretty much everyday, all day. the expense of buying small amounts of meat outweighs the convenience. id' rather buy a pork shoulder, braise it and then freeze some off some day later on. even months away, ya know?
if it's just me, chances are i only want to spend a few minutes making a meal. not waiting 40 minutes for protein to roast.
i don't eat pasta or grains. i eat very little food out of cans and i don't buy processed sauces or dressings. not everybody wants to eat bits of ham and garbanzo beans for dinner.
i also can rarely get through a head of any kind of lettuce before it goes off, so i only buy it if others are having salad with me.
It was I who suggested the artichoke hearts et al so I will respond. What I meant was that if you keep the makings of a big fancy salad ready at hand in the refrigerator, salad as a meal becomes very quick. If all that stuff is still in the cans it sounds like too much trouble. But if I set up the week by opening the cans, putting the contents in covered plastic dishes, and stashing them in the refrigerator, letting the refrigerator be my salad bar, I can put everything together in a very impromptu five minutes: lettuce, celery, tomato, red onion, green pepper, artichoke heart, palm heart, shoestring beets, sliced fresh mushrooms, shredded cheese, hard boiled or deviled eggs, ham bits, cucumber, hummos, tabbouleh, deli roast beef etc etc, making a full-meal salad. Lately I have been into Garbage Salad a la steakhouse, mixing deli potato salad directly with the chopped greens and other salad ingredients. A bag of IQF cooked shrimp in the freezer also comes in handy for salads. Especially with hot summer coming, salad as the main part of the meal becomes inviting.
OHHHHHH, I get the idea now....wonderful idea to get all the salad ingredients into containers so you have a mini salad bar!!! Hmmm, I could have one whole shelf in the fridge for my salad bar...you are too clever!! These are just the kinds of things that can get one started on being a creative cook. Those leftover artichokes can be tossed in a pasta dish. Simple to you folks, but little light bulbs are popping on in my sluggish brain...I am getting the hang of it!!
Don't know about the garbage salad thing though...I like all my food to have their proper place on my plate...but I will try it just to see how it tastes.
You mentioned Steakhouse....what's it like in one of those places??? Been way too long since I have set my foot in one...oh yes, I remember now...kinda dark, a glass of good wine, rare ribeye & a delicious salad (before the days of that garbage mix you mentioned). Thanks for the wonderful tips & memories.
By the way what is IQF shrimp? Don't know what those letters stand for.
I do try to wrap any leftovers quite well for the freezer, but sometimes I pull out a casserole & it is pale & dreary looking, not at all the way it was when it went in. Perhaps I do need to get a food saver...just another space hogger that I would not know where to put though. Fixing enough for one or two meals is more appealing to me.
I heard some folks drop some chopped lettuce in their soups...have you tried that? I have not.
Thanks for sharing.
I am very much an impromptu eater as I have a complete inability to plan and I never know what I want to eat until I'm in the moment. What helps me with this is I have a local farmer direct produce company deliver food to me a couple of times a week (though I can have deliveries as many times as I want).
On a Tuesday afternoon I get a big mixed box of seasonal fruit and veg. It always has a few staples such as some onions, potatoes, carrots and whatever else that's in season that the farmers are growing. I love this as I get a little surprise each week and I can feed my impromptu cooking with impromptu ingredients.
On a Saturday morning I get all my other staples delivered. This includes chicken thighs, beef mince, bread, milk, eggs, yoghurt and orange juice. I can have pretty much well any fresh produce I want delivered, but as staples these work quite nicely. Between these 2 deliveries and a stock of spices, sauces, noodles, rices, pastas and stocks I can make an excellent meal at the drop of a hat. I do hit the shops during the week to supplement some different vegies/meats etc. I may need, but generally I do quite well with the above.
Home deliveries...who in the world does that?? Do you pay extra for delivery service? You are so lucky to have food brought to your door. And fresh food at that!!
I want to be able to just get up & walk in there & start rustling around like I had good sense & sit down to a meal without having to drag around a cookbook(s). You are so lucky to be able to do that.
re: Hank Hanover
LOL Australia, Hank, but we still talk funny. and do things differently. I did kind if think that as we're about 20 years behind the times something similar might be available in the US. This company is nationwide, but each franchise makes relationships with farmers and producers local to the state they
supply. They will only sell the highest quality of what's in season - if say damaging weather occurs, or the produce inspected isn't 100%, they will not sell it. They have since branched out into all kinds make particularly good olive oil in my state). Delivery is free and you can adjust your order up to 2pm the day before it's due. It really does save.my life as I always have fresh veggies and protein on hand without even having.g to thik
That sure doesn't sound behind the times to me at all, wish we had services like that here....somehow I forget this is an international site & always picture the people being from the US. I really enjoy hearing about people's ways of living in other countries...thanks for sharing.
Oh bugger, I didn't realise that went through LOL I was on my phone and trying to make corrections when I gave up. Oh well, at least you got the gist. It really is quite a new service to us, we've been using it for 2 years, but it's only just starting to take off. It's excellent, because like the US, Australia is a large nation with many states and it just doesn't make sense to truck produce all over the country - it's costly and results in not-so-great produce. They do offer nationwide lines that can't possibly be produced in all states, such as barramundi and salmon, but they specify very carefully that it's not local to your state. Everything else is, however, is very much local. It's so cheap (for AU$25 we get a huge box of fruit and veg that feeds the 3 of us for a week with leftovers), superb quality and extremely convenient for impromptu cooking.
Oh bugger - have never heard that saying before..would love to hear you folks say that with your accent. Anyway, twenty file dollars is unbelievable for all that amount of food. I live in an area where everything is higher that most other places & it is so frustrating. We have "peach" stands every year & sometimes the peaches sell for $8US per pound...just because we are noted for delicious peaches....same thing for pecans.
Anyway, thanks for sharing a little way of your life...really enjoyed it.
re: The Dairy Queen
Two supermarket chains in my area do home delivery. The one I use from time to time does a great job of selecting fresh meats and produce based on the customer's online order specifications. The $10 delivery charge is probably cancelled out by the absence of impulse items selected while roaming the supermarket aisles. I use the service mainly for pre-winter stocking up of nonperishable items.
An aunt of mine recently had foot surgery and I went on line and found a nearby market that did home delivery. Knowing she would never resort to such a thing I placed an order and had it delivered. She was ecstatic, and actually did a couple more orders after that. She can now get around fine, and prefers to do her marketing in person, but she payed it forward when one of her friends was immobile for a few weeks.
If you like pasta you are in luck. Stock evoo, dried pepper flakes, fresh garlic, anchovies if you like ( I do), canned tomatoes, a wedge of good parm, All kinds of things can be added to this basic sauce-- fresh or dried herbs (basil and oregano are acceptable dry but parsley is always better fresh), mushrooms, sausage etc.
make a nice big pot of chili (find a recipe you like) eat some, freeze the rest in portion sizes, same with braised lamb shanks and rice pilaf, freeze portions separately and all you need do is defrost reheat and make a salad.
Omelets are great filled with just about anything. All this is really basic stuff. Do a little on your own research and hands on practice and you'll be good to go.
BTW, you can't go wrong with a jar of good natural peanut butter, jam and a good loaf of whole wheat bread (I like Safeway's Open Nature Nuts and Seeds especially when its on sale) for a great sandwich (with banana and/or bacon which I don't do but I hear its great) and a large cold glass of low fat milk.
Pasta is great....can zip out a meal in no time, unfortunately I have to watch how much I consume, although they are coming out with whole wheat pasta nowadays, doesn't seem as tasty to me, but just something else to get used to.
I have really been experimenting with quiches, omelets & frittatas...good base for using up veggies that becoming past their prime.
Of course soups are always a good way to get a fast meal, but with summer coming on, they don't sound as appealing to me...it really gets hot here in Tx & we constantly look for something to cool us off with. But will look around for some really light makings for soup.
You have come up with great ideas, thanks for sharing!!!
I don't think that you are asking too much, but it will require, in my opinion a well stocked pantry and freezer. These are great anyway - with my pantry and freezer I can stock up with things when they are on sale, and so you can save money.
I'm not sure that sharing my pantry list would help much, I have allergies to several common foods. But what has helped me the most to be able to throw things together is to make a list of things I can make using all or mostly pantry things. I keep the list on the fridge - then when I want to throw something together and am drawing a blank, I have a list of about 50 things I can choose from.
Beyond that, I think that you have to have at least a little bit of an idea of how to make things work together - make up your own recipes and such. I've been doing this a lot lately. I broke my foot. (Right one in a huge boot, so no driving.) Going to the grocery store is out, as is any cooking that requires a lot of standing - been pretty much doing slow cooker and casserole meals for two weeks now. I pick a protein out of the deep freeze, then just go to the pantry and throw stuff together with it that sounds good. For me, this is easy, but DH cannot do it, so there must be some level of naturally knowing what works that I think that you need to really be able to effectively throw things together spontaneously without a lot of previous planning.
So sorry about your foot, that is a bummer for sure!! I really like you idea of a list of things you can put together based on what is in your pantry & freezer. I am really going to work toward coming up with about 50 ideas too. As one person said in another post, "I don't need more cookbooks, I need more ideas." Sounds strange at first, but if you have chosen the route to eat according to what's in the house, it is only practical to make a list as you suggested.
Yep, I do need that list...thanks a bunch!!
Fifty dish list...have reread your post & now understand your list is composed of items in your kitchen...not actually recipes or general combos of what you can fix. I was really pondering that 50 "recipe" idea & was thinking that is going to be a big challenge for me to accomplish. I think I feel better now that I you are just listings "items".
No - it's actually a list of recipes/dishes. Things like casseroles, soups, protein combinations - anything that I would serve as a main dish. I don't keep an individual item list, my pantry is too large.
It's probably my fault for being confusing. I blame it on the narcotic pain meds.
Have you seen this Bittman article? I'd forgotten all about it until reading your post.
Lots of ideas and you could make a pantry list using the "recipes" that sound good to you.
I love your idea of stocking the kitchen this way. I plan to make use of all this great help you're getting! :) Thanks for asking the question.
"Plan" and "Impromptu" are oxymoronic, so there isn't a ligitimate answer to your question. But it is clear that you want to develop the ability to prepare meals spontaneously with ingredients you already have on hand. Obviously, some amount of planning is necessary so that you have a standard set of staples in place. You could begin by reviewing your herbs, spices and seasonings to ensure you have a good foundation for enhancing your creations. Next would be oils and fat (low, high or both; your choices) like butter etc. and various dairy produces like milk, cheeses, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.
A variety of dry goods like, sugar, flour, pancake/waffle mix, pasta, beans, various cereals and grains will be helpful too, along with canned goods like tomatoes, tomato sauces, canned fruit, etc. During your regular shopping excursions, select some fresh vegetables that will keep in the crisper for five or more days. Spinach and broccoli, to name just two, go with just about anything. Fresh, frozen and canned meat good like tuna, pickles herring, also need to be considered. Once you've got the foundation in place, develop you culinary imagination by reading recipes in magazines and try to fit some of your "on hand" ingredients into variations on the themes those recipes represent. Try to understand how certain ingredients compliment one another and how to avoid conflicting flavors and textures. It's acceptable to combine pasta with a good tomatoe sauce but you probably wouldn't make hit by combining it with a fruit syrup. ;>)
Next, develop an adventurous spirit and don't be afraid to experiment a little bit.
There is nothing I enjoy more than having my wife say "I didn't plan dinner - what would you suggest" so I can pull things out of the pantry and have some fun in the kitchen while she enjoys a good book.
oxymoron it definitely is...I was wondering if anyone would comment on that. Good staples you listed there...but I am wondering what I would do with herring....been years since I ate them. What do you & wife do with them??
Wife is very lucky to have a guy that likes to be in the kitchen...does she always like what you have prepared?
Thanks for the detailed list.
I would like to figure out more ways to fix canned tuna...any suggestions???
I rarely have a plan going in to dinner, other than a vague idea of what protein I'm going to use, and never precook meats. I will re-package fresh meats from bulk packs into meal sized portions and freeze them, but I regard that more the last step in putting away my groceries, rather than the first step in meal prep.
I rarely cook from it these days, but there was a year or so when I was setting up house with my now husband, working, and dealing with his erratic schedule that I heavily relied on this cookbook:
It's all about pantry cooking and having the ability to throw together a good meal in a short amount of time. Apparently it's even a James Beard Award winner, which I didn't realize until I looked it up on Amazon just now. These days I follow the philosophy, if not the recipes.
I am lousy at preplanned menus for a coming week. The best I can do is to buy protein, freeze or store it, and then decide what to cook on a semi daily basis based on what I have on hand.
I recommend keeping a basic stock of foods on hand. If you like pasta, buy several boxes on sale, etc. Take a list, even a rudimentary list, of basic foods that you need when you shop, so you won't be unpleasantly surprised in the middle of cooking a dish. Then devise a repertoire of things that you can make without a lot of thought, and which you like to eat.
In the morning I often think about the tasks or schedule ahead--the way I used to do when I worked--and I try to let those circumstances dictate how I prepare the day's food. If I fail, I fall back on toasted cheese sandwiches, or deli meat sandwiches, or a tuna melt. For lunch I fall back on leftovers.
I think for what you want to do, it will take some thought on your part, and perhaps some retraining. I really am an impromptu cook myself. But I often know what I will cook a day ahead. So, you could live in the moment, but consider your meals a day ahead.
There is a saying that goes "Give a person a recipe, he/she eats a meal. Teach a person to cook, he/she eats for a lifetime. With that said, I must admit, I really don't know how to cook.
Here is the scene...I am standing in my well stocked kitchen & saying, "Now what??' It is not really that bad, but I see it coming down to that eventually. If you keep stocking the same Ole stuff, you will keep cooking the same Ole dishes. But the situation changes if you are a Creative Cook.
How can one be an impromptu cook if they aren't creative? Pantry planning is only a part of the big picture here.
Well, all is not lost. I can stock my "kitchen", shuffle through cookbooks for ideas & recipes & get by just fine. Will it teach me to be creative? Maybe, but I really don't think so.
OK, now I must somehow learn that elusive technique called creativity. Got any suggestions??
I make some of the same things repeatedly -- I know what I like, after all, and I know how much energy/time I have on a given day.
That said, even creative cooks get in a rut. It happens to me for completely un-food-related reasons: I'm feeling sick, I've had a rough month, a major life event happened so I was going on auto-pilot to divert my full attention elsehwere. You get the point.
If you're trying to force yourself into being creative, though, you might want to start by NOT stocking your pantry impeccably well. When I was a student, having to make budget-based substitutions, binning abject failures in favour of cheap and dirty take-out, and ultimately learning from my successful meals on the fly is how I built kitchen confidence and creative ability in the first place (ie., "hmm, this tofu is pretty good, but maybe next time I'll add some sesame seeds to the sauce!" -> purchase sesame seeds -> use them in that sauce but also on a wider variety of things in order not to waste them -> learn what works better with or without them -> repeat with other things).
One of the things I enjoy about doing groceries, especially at a good greengrocer, is finding something I don't recognize readily and either speaking with the shopkeep about it or buying it and looking it up online to be able to use it. Since I read a lot about food, I'll have heard the name for something I've never myself prepared, so I get excited to see how I can use it and build a meal around it from familiar things. Eddoes are a recent example of a vegetable I bought for this reason, and pupusas of a meal from ingredients I already used often. Props to mariacarmen for the latter!
I know you don't have a lot of cookbooks but try to see if you can check out "How to Cook Without a Book" by Pam Anderson. Hopefully, it will be at the library.
It basically teaches you how to cook without recipes. It gives a suggested pantry list and teaches you how to go to the pantry, fridge and freezer and throw things together for a meal. It has been one of the better books I acquired after I learned the basics of cooking.
Learn to make a simple dish you like to eat. Make it several times. You will have learned how to cook it. That's how I learned. I just kept putting food on the stove, and ultimately I got better. Since you want to be able to hop up and eat something, I suggest starting easy with boiling or poaching an egg. You can make egg salad with a couple of boiled eggs. If you make it with 4 boiled eggs, you will have supper tonight, and lunch tomorrow.
After you learn how to fix eggs, you move on to something else, say a toasted cheese sandwich or a hamburger. You keep it simple at first.
And you can make a sandwich out of almost anything.
I can't emphasize this enough. Cooking is a life skill. You learn to do it by doing it. And if you continue along this path, you will be learning about cooking for the rest of your life.
And don't forget, there are loads of YouTube videos demonstrating all sorts of cooking processes.
We are pretty much like Electricfish & sueatmo. The earliest that we typically plan what we will eat for dinner is in the morning, on our way out the door, when we will typically pull some sort of protein out of the freezer. And, even then we sometimes change our minds and do something else that evening. I shop once a week, stock up on proteins and staples when they are on sale, always buy enough fresh vegetables & fruit to last the week, and have standard things that are always available.
At the beginning of the week, after shopping, this is what I have on hand for a household of 2:
In the freezer:
ground chuck in 1 lb packages -- typically 2-6 lbs on hand at any time
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, packed 2 or 3 one-half breasts
chicken thighs, packed 2 or 3 together (bone-in with skin)
pork chops, packed 2 or 4 to a package
Italian sausage in 1 lb packages
fillets of fish -- generally salmon & cod -- in 1 lb packages (purchased flash frozen)
1-2 lbs shrimp
1 or 2 flank steaks, about 1.75 lbs apiece
cubed chuck, about 1-1/2 lbs
1 or 2 packages smoked sausage
1 or 2 pork tenderloins, wrapped individually
2 strip steaks
1 or 2 whole chickens )
1 beef and/or pork roast ) for cooking on weekends, usually in winter only
In the Refrigerator
eggs (at least 1 doz)
extra sharp cheddar cheese (several blocks)
Romano or Parmesan cheese
plain yoghurt and/or sour cream
sometimes goat cheese and/or feta cheese
lettuce - red leaf & Romaine
other veg, depending on sales & season - green beans, cauliflower, asparagus
lemons & limes
Various condiments - Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, green olives, banana pepers jarred salsa, barbecue sauce, homemade vinaigrette, store-bought Italian dressing (for marinades), tabasco, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce
Pantry or counterop
potatoes - various varieties
pasta - various shapes
rice - long grain & aborrio
jarred red sauce for pasta (for when we just don't feel like fussing)
canned chicken & beef broth - several cans
crushed tomatoes in puree
red wine vinegar
rice wine vinegar
lots of dried herbs & spices
Italian bread crumbs
Panko bread crumbs
canned chopped chilis - both hot & mild
Beyond this, we are not typically "spontaneous" in our cooking if you mean, making up a recipe on the spot. After 30+ years, my husband & I probably have a month's-worth of recipes that we make regularly based on these ingredients. So, in the morning we might decide to take out chicken breasts for dinner. But, it's not until we get home that evening that we actually decide how we are going to prepare them, or what sides we will make.
Nothing too outré
Chicken dishes - piccata, Mexican chicken soup, parmesan, marinated & grilled, curry, sautéed with vegetables with sauce based on chicken broth
Fish - tacos, broiled salmon, sautéed or pan fried cod
Ground chuck - in homemade red sauce with meatballs when time permits or just crumbled & browned with red sauce (homemade or jarred) when less time; meatloaf , tacos, burgers, chili
A lot of basic grilling in summer especially of pork chops, steaks; in winter might pan fry or broil
Shrimp gets tossed with pasta with olive oil and grated Parmesan, or put into risotto or added int salads
Cubed chuck is used in stew in winter , kabobs in summer
Marinated pork tenderloin, cooked on grill or in oven depending on season (this does take planning as it needs to marinate at least 8 hours)
Sides: green salads or steamed green vegetables usually
Starches - rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes (started in mw & finished in oven), potato pancakes, white rice, risotto, pasta, oven roasted potatoes (in summer started in mw and finished on grill)
Also, especially in summers, entree salads like salads nicoise, Greek sald with grilled chicken or shrimp
Homemade macaroni & cheese
Stir fries, especially if there is leftover pork
When we are too busted to do anything: grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna and/ or egg salad sandwiches with carrot sticks on side
Things that I left out of my list of ingredients kept on hand:
Tortillas (1-2 doz in freezer at any time)
Rolls for hamburgers
Whole wheat bread
Pataks vindaloo or hot curry paste
Red & white wine for cooking - usually a partial bottle leftover from drinking, but we also keep some 2-buck Chuck Cabernet and Chardonnay specifically on hand for cooking
1 or 2 ham steaks in freezer ( for Mac & cheese)
Chinese noodles for stir frying
Canned bean sprouts
Apricot preserves ( for a ridiculously easy chicken thigh recipe)
You don't have to pre-cook your meat. Just freeze it in the size portions you need to make ONE meal since you don't enjoy leftovers. There are only two of us so I freeze individual chicken breasts (I can always pull out two), and put ground beef into 3/4lb packages, and so on. Meat thaws in the microwave in less than ten minutes on 'thaw' and then you can cook it as you like.
eg. To make a quick spaghetti, I put the water on to boil and put the meat into the microwave at the same time. Leave the meat sitting while the spaghetti cooks, then drain it into a colander and I can use the same saucepan to cook the meat sauce. I have a GOOD pasta sauce in the cupboard so I just have to brown up the meat and simmer it for 15 minutes and dinner is served.
- nuts (cashews, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, pinenuts - although I usually store these in the freezer to avoid rancidity)
- marinated artichoke hearts
- dried chili peppers (guajillo, ancho)
- dried fruit (cherries, blueberries)
- sesame & poppy seeds
- some kind of noodles (ideally one Western & one Asian)
- couple kinds of rice (with different uses, like jasmine & short grain brown)
- purchased red sauce
- purchased pesto sauce
- canned diced & stewed tomatoes
- purchased (canned/tetrapak) soup of some kind
- olive oil (I like to keep peanut, sesame, and canola oils too, but could live without them if I needed)
- at least one kind of vinegar
- canned beans (cannelini, refried, chickpeas..)
- dried beans (cannelini, chickpeas)
- masa harina
- at least one kind of onion
- favourite crackers
- full (some may say ridiculously full) complement of dried herbs and spices (but I NEED bay, cayenne, thyme, rosemary, cumin seeds, chili powder, oregano, smoked paprika, S&P)
- can chipotle peppers
- rolled oats
- pizza crust mix
- tomato paste
- at least one jar of homemade preserves, contents vary
- a winter squash, likely butternut
- a few potatoes
- sweet potatoes
- chicken thighs
- chorizo or other spicy sausage
- pork tenderloin
- frozen leftover soup/stew, at least 1 portion, lunch sized
- frozen veg like corn or lima beans, with a specific purpose like Brunswick stew
- edamame in pods
- frozen spinach
- frozen berries, specifics vary
- firm tofu
- milk (non-dairy in my case)
- citrus fruit
- orange juice
- (goat) feta
- peanut butter (the natural organic stuff, which specifies keeping in the fridge)
- fresh ginger
- jar of jam
- fish sauce
- hot sauce(s)
- soy sauce
- baby spinach + one other leafy green that varies
- pickled something or other
- unsalted butter (I keep an 'emergency butter' in the freezer too)
- maple syrup
I've omitted or glossed over the specialty products I keep because of dietary restrictions, specifically the varied flours (if I could, I'd just stock wheat flour! :). I've also left out things like coffee beans or loose tea, that don't per se contribute to meals as implied above. Exceptionally seasonal things -- asparagus, which I'll only eat when it is in-season locally for, like, 3.5 weeks each year -- may periodically make up a great deal of my stock, but I've left them out because they are not constantly around.
There is no need to freeze meat, cooked or raw, to have quick meals. My husband and I tend to cook meats for one meal, purposely making enough for a second meal. Our "trick" is to never have the same protein two days in a row. For example, if we roast a chicken on Monday we might have the breasts with mashed potatoes and a pan sauce--stashing the legs/thighs in the frig. The next night we will have a totally different meal--say pasta with broccoli and sausage. Then on Wednesday, out come the chicken legs/thighs to be roasted on a pan of white beans with rosemary. Thursday could be another protein, say a roast shoulder of pork, that we have as canitas tacos, putting the rest in the frig. Friday, another pasta, say baked in a cheese sauce with cauliflower. Saturday night out comes the leftover pork to be cooked in a tomato sauce and served over polenta. As you can see, we don't have the same meat two nights in a row and we don't have the same meal twice in one week. No freezing, no big prepping ahead and we have wonderful dinners every night. (We also shop at the Farmers' Market once a week and get our main vegetables--last week it was fennel, broccoli, cabbage, salad greens and cauliflower--and use them throughout the week based upon what we feel like and what should be used first for more freshness. We shop for proteins every day or two.)
Now that is an excellent strategy...I am beginning to see my weak points are leaning toward not knowing how to be creative with veggies...maybe learning some basic sauces or things of that nature would help a lot.
I have never had roasted pork cooked in tomato sauce over polenta...must try that sometime.
I have quite a few things in my pantry/fridge/freezer because I like to experiment with different ingredients, so keep in mind that I'm not condemning anyone for keeping a lot of foods on hand. If money and space allow, there's nothing wrong with that.
But... if you're trying to do more impromptu cooking, stockpiling dozens of ingredients might be barking up the wrong tree.
If you want to learn to make meals without planning, your best bet is to learn to use any individual ingredient as many ways as possible - learn as many cooking and prep techniques as possible for any given ingredient. Study, experiment.
When your pantry is huge, there's the potential to use any given ingredient infrequently and thus stay reliant upon recipes. Instead, whenever you add a new ingredient to your pantry, try using it often and in as many different ways possible. You'll be a much more versatile cook, and much more up to the task of coming up with dishes on the fly.
Consider the following humble ingredients:
A whole chicken
A few onions
An herb garden with 3 or 4 herbs growing
A few lemons and limes
Salt, flour, oil, butter
How many wildly different preparations can you manage out of those ingredients? Because there are millions of possibilities.
As an added benefit, you'll waste less food.
Cstout, I'm in much the same boat. I work 12+ hour days and have a 1 hour commute each way, so it's not unusual for me to get home past 7:30PM. As a par for the course, I hate leftovers, repurposed food, pre-frozen food.
What I've found works for me the best is to stick to the simple during the week and get a little more advanced with my cooking on the weekends when I have more time. Here's what I keep on hand:
-Good deli meats, fresh veggies, cheese, and wheat bread for sandwiches
-Fresh fruit that can be cut quickly and eaten as a side
-Lettuce and toppings for salads; I try to mix this up and often do caprese salads, chopped veggie salads, etc.
-The single-packs of the steamer veggies, or fresh veggies that can be cooked in small portion
-Pasta, frozen gnocchi and a variety of sauces. Will also frequently do these just drizzled in EVOO, pepper, and a little sauteed garlic.
I can live with reheated soups, so I'll occasionally make a large pot of soup and pour it into some silicone jumbo muffin cups. Then when I need a quick meal, I'll pop out a couple of the little frozen pucks and heat those up.
I know you said you don't like frozen cooked meat but....
We started cooking our ground beef before putting it in the freezer. If you spread it into a relatively thin layer in a gallon ziploc, it makes it easy to take out a lot or a little as you need. Because we use this as an ingredient in other dishes (think tacos where the ground beef is mixed in a thick sauce), the "look" doesn't come into play as much. Seems obvious now but was a "duh" when we finally changed from putting it into the freezer raw and then trying to portion, thaw, and cook it properly while hungry...
Edit to add: I re-read your message about not wanting to take the time to pre-cook the meats. We find that we purchase the ground beef and use it "fresh" for meal one and just go ahead & cook all of it at the same time. It takes a little bit longer than cooking just the exact needed amount but it isn't significant.)
I'm very good at impromptu meals, but have limited freezer space.
The ingredients that I find best to always have on hand for quick meals are
Canned Goods: Tomatoes, corn, beans, chickpeas, tuna, chicken stock (multiple cans) coconut milk, black olives, artichoke hearts, sauerkraut (a can or two at a time).
Dry goods: pasta, rice, cornmeal, Asian noodles of various sorts, cous-cous, dried mushrooms.
Seasonings: Thai curry paste, Japanese curry bricks, olive oil, vinegar, various spices and dried herbs, hot sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, Wouchestershire sauce, fish sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, miso, chili paste, mustard, Tom-Yum soup paste.
Pantry/Fridge Staples: Onions, garlic, potatoes, ginger, eggs, cheese, butter, celery, carrots, frozen vegetables, green olives, capers.
Plus whatever meat and vegetables I bought that week.
Canned tomatoes are a stand-by. They make a good base for pasta sauces, from a cooked tomato sauce, to tossing cooked pasta, feta cheese, herbs and sliced olives, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice to make a quick cold pasta dish. You can also eat them straight out of the can as a winter side-salad, or use as the base of a soup, or cook them with tomato and onion and chicken for a casserole, or make cream of tomato soup or gazpacho.
A basic stew is endlessly adaptable - onions and celery as a base, carrots, stewing beef, mushrooms, potatoes and a bit of stock or water for a beef stew. Chicken and vegetables, with a Thai curry paste and coconut milk for a Thai curry. Tomatoes, beef and beans and peppers for chili. Tomatoes, sausages, chickpeas and some frozen spinach. Potatoes, onions, celery, mushroom, carrots and pork, and use a brick of Japanese curry paste for Japanese curry.
Soups are similarly variable. Sautee onions, add stock and vegetables, saute until tender, puree, season and (optionally) add some milk or cream for a pureed vegetable soup. Sautee onions, add a can of stock, two cans can of water, a can of diced tomatoes, whatever veggies you have handy, and a 1/4 cup of rice for a hearty vegetable soup. Puree tomatoes, onions and cucumber for a summer gazpacho. Use Thai Tom Yum paste as a base for a flavourful vegetable and seafood soup. Use a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of beans and vegetables and add some ham or pepperoni for a rich bean soup.
For quick meats - learn how to defrost meat properly with your microwave. Bake chicken legs seasoned with cumin and paprika. Grill whole fish. Tuna salad made with lots of vegetables, a vinagrette dressing, and tossed with pasta. Stir fry (cut the meat when it's still partially frozen). Fried sausages with sauerkraut. Breakfast sausages with hash-browns. Pan fried pork chops. Pan fry a whole chicken breast, slice and serve on a Caesar salad.
Gosh you are certainly well stocked! I am not familiar with Thai cooking at all, but would like to try some simple dishes just to see if I would like those types of flavors.
You had so many ideas, I just cut & pasted the whole shebang. Never have thought to saute onions & then add them to soups...sounds great. Oops, I was thinking of roasted onions, not sauted, whatever.
Everyone seems to mention canned tomatoes - which do you think are most versatile...just plain stewed ones or what??
I had no clue that so many things are stashed behind people's pantry doors...what could we call all this peeking in there? Got to be a name for it.
Seriously, thank you welcoming us into you pantry.
Always buy the tomatoes unseasoned, purée, crushed, diced or whole. Really enjoying the Pomi that have just made it to my supermarket, which are not canned but in a carton.
There is a food blog called theperfectpantry.com that has a look at other people's pantries section. There are also some nice lists to start a good pantry.
Thai cooking from scratch is a bit intimidating, mainly because of the long list of ingredients. But there are some really good pre-made spice pastes out there - I buy them because they taste as good as what I can make with fresh ingredients. Look for an ingredient list that looks more like a recipe than an organic chemistry textbook. It can be spicy, but tends to be very, very flavourful.
I particularly like the green curry - the classic one is chicken and eggplant, but it adapts well to other ingredients. And you can freeze the leftover paste from a single serving packet (if you're cooking for one) and you can freeze the leftover coconut milk. So you don't need to make a four person dish all at once.
The Tom Yum soup paste is spicy and fragrant. The traditional soup involves shrimp and mushrooms and is fairly simple, but I like the flavour, and use it as a base for a more general vegetable soup.
For canned tomatoes - I generally buy the diced ones from Costco, because they're reasonable priced [in the grocery store, canned tomatoes tend to be shelved in the foreign foods section, and are expensive], but I buy whole tomatoes when I want a smooth sauce, as they add something to keep the diced tomatoes firm. I buy un-seasoned, because it's more versatile. Pureed works well for a smooth tomato sauce, but not so much for soups or stews.
Thanks for all the suggestions. I hope I can find some of those ingredients you mentioned for Thai cooking. The Tom Yum soup paste sounds like several different soups could be made from it. Do you know of a good "Quick & Simple" type Thai cookbook for rank beginners that uses some of the ready made mixes you mentioned?
The best way I have found to accomplish your goals (an impromptu feeling, combined with actually having the ingredients available to cook something and the energy to do it) is to do a bit of simple menu planning. I do not plan what I want to eat on any particular day. But every weekend I make a list of four meals that I want to cook sometime in the next week. Then I go shopping and buy the ingredients for those meals. I select the meals based on what I expect to find at the farmer's market and whatever else is interesting to me at the moment, like a new book, ideas from food blogs, COTM, or whatever, so it all feels very spontaneous, not like Meatloaf Monday or something. During the week I can then decide with some degree of spontaneity which of the four meals I am going to make. There are also usually leftovers (cooked dishes, raw materials, or components) enough to make one or two additional meals, which I come up with on the fly by combining the leftover components with pantry ingredients, and we eat or take out on the non-cooking nights. I've never previously been a planner, but I've followed this method for the last few months and it is working out really well for me. The planning doesn't take long (I actually kind of enjoy it) and it is so much easier to decide what to cook when I have ingredients on hand and some concrete ideas to choose between.
This post could have been written by me but I have been doing it this way for about 5 years. SO is responsible for buying weekend dinner forth most part and I pla Monday through Thursday. I think about what I have that I want to use up and what's in sale and buy four meals worth of groceries. I keep a decent pantry of beans, tomatoes, dried fruit, pasta and other grains, oils, vinegars, spice cabinet etc. that I can generally whip up something else if I want to NE spontaneous. Certain veg are staples like carrots, celery. Then I make what I feel like each night from my list. If I change my mind I can always freeze and order a pizza from the great local places or eat something made from pantry ingredients.
Pick recipes for 4 meals, make up grocery list, shop, choose from the menu & on the remaining 3 days of week, use up leftovers (whether they are cooked or just excess raw veggies). For someone like me who is not creative, I think I can handle winging it for 3 days...let's see, some sort of veggie soup or stir fry, toss in salads or maybe a quiche.
I will still need to freeze some things, splitting the packages of protein up for other meals & that sort of thing, just have to remember what's in the freezer so it can be used pretty quickly. I think I may start with your concept. The pantry will still hold staples, but at least I don't have to worry about being so creative for 4 days, just 3 days...sounds perfect to me. Thank you so much for those ideas!
I think you have come up with a great combination...not too much planning (only 4 meals), the ability to be spontaneous & having 3 days to really chill out. I just felt so mellow while reading your reply....thinking to myself, "she is so relaxed in her style of cooking", enjoying the moment.
For small things, I was enjoying the press and seal wrap after I pre cut my larger portions. Then I would use one freezer bag for each individual typenof meat. This was when I would mostly freeze boneless chicken breasts and porktenderloin. Now I have a meat CSA so I get the meat already frozen. On Sunday I pick out all the items we are going to eat and stick them in the fridge to thaw. Since we cool Monday to Thursday most things are ready when I want.
Thanks cstout! What a nice compliment. It was quite a challenge for me to get back in the kitchen regularly after having a baby, so I actually started out planning only two meals per week. I worked up to four, and that seems to be the sweet spot for me as I now cook most nights and enjoy it.
I've found that stocking the pantry has also become a lot easier as I've been cooking regularly -- I just replace the things I use often when I finish them up. So I wouldn't worry about stocking your pantry at first -- it will build itself naturally as you buy ingredients for recipes that interest you. Also, if you have an option to buy your proteins at the counter instead of in a package, you can get them in smaller quantities, then you don't even have to bother with splitting the packages.
One really great book that you might like is An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler - this is a fantastic book that will teach you how to cook with what you already have.
as a single, i have found it advantageous to cook a couple of dishes on one day (or night) that automatically gives you leftovers... chili, corn chowder, spaghetti sauce with extra onions and peppers; black beans and rice; etc. after first portion, portion out servings in plastic. Just remove from freezer before you go to work... also like idea of washing veggies as soon as you're home from store; also separate and freeze family packs of chic or other meat...breasts or cubed steaks cook in no time (even from frozen) in a hot cast iron skillet.. I sometimes use a salad dressing (like a speidie sauce with these to encourage thorough cooking.