Category Archives: Food for Thought

Pantry Challenge

Since we have to install new counters (oops) and attach cementboard to the wall over the busted plaster (not my oops, but still), I thought January might be a good time to do some pantry cooking.  We’ll save some money and consume some of the stuff that’s been in the pantry (or lazy susan, in our case) quite some time.  Here’s what we’ve got:

dried beans–black beans and white beans
whole wheat couscous
pasta (I’m about to stock up, since Stop and Shop has it on sale for a buck)
tomatoes (ditto above–Red Pack for $1/can, so I’ll get a dozen this week)
brown rice
brown and wild rice  (not a lot)
white rice  (also not a lot)
arborio rice (probably 3/4 cup)
bean threads
half a box of rice noodles
lentils (red and green)
pearled barley (about 1/2 c)

And in the freezer, lots of ham, turkey, the equivalent of a can of chickpeas, 8 oz mozzarella, and some frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s; a bit of frozen mixed veggies and some frozen corn. The fridge is pretty sparse–some clementines, a single onion and some hummus, but also eggs, milk, cheddar, pepperoni.  and a really old cabbage.

So, what would you make?  I’m thinking some kind of soup, macaroni and cheese with ham, and that’s where I get stuck.



Boy, since the semester has begun I have become a terrible blogger.  Folks, it’s been crazy.  So many students, too many committees, I’m a tired pup.  I’ve been buried under papers for the last couple of weeks–this is partly my fault, as I didn’t do, say, a few a day to ease into them–instead I’ve been grading furiously since last weekend in an effort to turn them all back tomorrow.  Thirty-three went out yesterday.  Tomorrow, I need to have finished 22 more 3-to-5 pagers, and ten 1-2 pages, and a few stray random assignments.  Oh, and I need to figure out how to have a Skype conversation between an old friend of mine and my whole class.  I forgot to call AV about it til today.  Might just be us arrayed around my laptop.  I haven’t had time to think about it.  Frankly, I should go to bed now so I can get up super early, grade, finish reading for the morning class and prep discussion, And drink a gallon of coffee.  Alas, I have no coffee beans ground (grinding in the morning is a project that involves moving the grinder and beans to another room and covering the whole getup with a blanket several times over to muffle the sound), and the cat, once I’m up, has taken to hounding my husband til he gets out of bed, too, and gives Senor Furry some treats.  That’s the academic life, folks.

Cooking has been pretty minimal lately–we made a stirfry on Monday I posted here a long time ago–

And last night I quickly made some granola, modified from this basic recipe–

And we ate some pasta tossed with frozen pesto from last summer, frozen peas, some chopped spinach, and some sauteed onions.  Tasty.

I’ve been using a food diary–you’ve seen me go through this before if you’ve been around here awhile!–to try and lose a few pounds I put back on.  It’s going ok, but willpower isn’t my strong suit this time around.  I had more motivation to lose 27 two years ago than I do now to lose this ten.  I’ve dropped a pound and a half in the past two weeks, so that’s ok (I’m only five feet tall, so really, this is just fine for me).  I figure I put it on slowly so if it comes off a half pound a week, then that’s fine, too.  I’ve been exercising again (except for today–no time, no time!  and likely not tomorrow, either.  Ugh), and feeling generally pretty healthy and eating pretty well, and as long as I can fit into most of my clothes (that’s the kicker–my cute pants from when I was at my thinnest a couple summers ago don’t fit so well now), well, that’s ok, too.  I like me as I am, curves and squishy and all, and I like going out to eat and enjoying myself.  If I lose the ten pounds by August, then that’s dandy.  I do miss my brown dress pants 🙂

I’m glad I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner!

Yesterday I made calzones–they were lovely–but placed them each on an oiled cookie sheet (they were huge), which, when placed in the hot oven, smoked. Ew. Hot oil smoke smell is pretty vile, and it stuck around til today…

When I covered it with burning bread smoke, thanks to two apparently not-so-quick-cooking pork chops and a pan that got waaaay hotter than I thought. I really wanted a ham steak but wouldn’t spend the money at Whole Foods–now I have rapidly cooling potatoes and two chops in the oven. Oh, and a house that smells like smoke.

All I’m saying is that my friends and family should be thankful I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. We’d have a raw bird and some calcified sweet potatoes, or stuck mashed potatoes and vile stuffing 🙂 Some weeks are just like this–my cooking mojo somehow falls away and is replaced by Awkward in the Kitchen Girl.

Hopefully the cookie dough I just made will make lovely cookies, and I’ll be back on the tracks. Til then, happy thanksgiving! I have much to be grateful for this year–and a wonderful place in which to cook is the least of them. A wonderful spouse. A loving family. A job I love. A city I….am much better with this year than last year. Great neighbors (compared to last year, these guys are above and beyond fantastic). And a happy orange kitty. Happy cooking!

Book Review: Made From Scratch

Made from Scratch (and bread)I have been wanting to read Jenna Woginrich’s book, Made from Scratch, for a while now.  Our library didn’t have it, but when I got a gift certificate to Amazon, it was on its way.

Woginrich’s subtitle, ‘Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life,’ was what originally drew me to the volume.  Those of you who have been reading this for a while know I enjoy making things by hand and have, over the years, made more and more stuff that way.  I haven’t bought bread in ages (save one emergency loaf six months ago), I rarely buy cookies (only the occasional Joe Joe’s!), and I like to sew.  a lot.  I’ve also gotten better at repairing sewn goods that I’ve bought, and grown my own veggies. I see what Jenna is after in her book, and I get it.

Woginrich provides lots of examples of her hit and miss homesteading out in Idaho.  I appreciate her honesty, and it helps remind a novice urbanite (or, suburbanite, now) like myself that homesteading is hard work.  Sure, sometimes I dream of a little flock of chickens laying eggs for me and a hive of bees to fertilize my plants and provide me with honey, but it’s a pretty romantic dream.  Starting those projects, as Woginrich learned, and maintaining them are hard work.  She divulges the real heartbreak she’s had in the process, but is always encouraging.  So maybe I will get a beehive someday.  But it won’t be soon.

Woginrich was very enthusiastic about bread baking.  I remember the thrill of making my first loaf of bread, and noticing just how much better it was than anything I’d bought in the store.  Dear readers have seen me make many, many loaves of bread on this blog, some with better success than others.  Woginrich provides a fairly fool-proof recipe for country white bread, which, having not made it in ages, I eagerly assembled.  It has great structure and holds up well for several days; you don’t get a lot of crumbling, which is often the case with homemade wheat breads.  It lacks a little bit in the flavor department, but adding a little more salt and swapping in butter for veggie oil might do the trick.  As it is, though, it makes excellent french toast and is a great vehicle for peanut butter.

Woginrich has written an easy read with a nice little index section.  It might be enough to get me to buy my own banjo…

Working with leftovers

As a rule I prefer to eat leftovers over sandwiches or anything else for lunch.  Sometimes, though, leftovers are kind of odds and ends–a bit of chicken, half a zucchini, whatever.  On Saturday night, rather than order pizza, we worked with what we had in the fridge and cabinets to make dinner.  This isn’t anywhere near ‘pantry eating’ as Molly at mommycoddle has done (that’s intense–a whole week without shopping), but it got us through the evening.  Course, then we spent all of Sunday visiting and had to order the pizza that night, but better that than take-out two nights in a row.

On this particular occasion, this is what we had handy:  half a cooked chicken breast from a previous night’s dinner; some carrots; onions and garlic; some leftover wine from dinner a few days before; half-and-half and butter; and the usual array of spices/oils.  Oh, and frozen peas.  Plus we had a quarter-box of spaghetti and a little less of linguine.  See where this went?  We boiled the water and cooked the pasta; in the meantime we sauteed half a thinly sliced onion in olive oil, adding some garlic, diced carrots, and eventually peas, adding wine to the pan and swirling in some cream (1/4 cup, I’d guess?), a sprinkle of dried basil, and salt and pepper.  The chicken was added, diced, near the end to just warm through.  Pasta was then tossed into the pot, tossed around.  Bowls were topped with plenty of grated parmesan.

Some people are terrified of this style of cooking, as I guess they lack the confidence to just pull stuff out of cabinets and call it dinner.  Some folks feel they need a recipe or risk messing up a pile of ingredients.  Working with what you have, though, is a skill worth cultivating and a confidence worth working on.  Once you have it, you eliminate the problem of throwing away a lot of leftover bits, can make dinner on the fly, and save money (I, being cheap, think that’s the best part).  Heck, if there had been more to work with I’d have done it again on Sunday.  The lesson, I guess, is that sometimes when you think you’re all out of food, if you look around, you’ll find out otherwise.

NYT: Home Canning on the rise!

For those of you who know me or who have been following this blog a while, you know that I like to can things. I’m good at canning applesauce; jam, well, that’s a project I’ll try again this summer. For a long time information on home canning was a little scarce and a little staid, but with the rise of people really questioning what they eat, where it comes from, and how it was made, preserving your own food is becoming popular. Here’s a link to the New York Times’ article today that gets into the subject in some detail, noting that it’s part of a trend including baking your own bread. I have a loaf about to go in the oven myself, and I made some mozzarella an hour ago. Course I just ate a Hebrew National hot dog, a handful of Lays chips, and a Vlasic pickle for lunch, but I can’t change everything at once!

Maybe we’ll try pickles again this year–we made them once years ago and it was a disaster and a mess. Hmm….so long, Vlasic!

Yay, moved!

Dining room in progress

After a sleepless night (a ridiculous story, but I’m not bitter anymore so I’ll just let it go), Mr. Pea and I, as well as a few now-beloved friends and relatives piled what was left of our belongings into a moving truck yesterday and headed across town. All went far too smoothly until we could not get our enormous couch through the doorway. Front door, back door, didn’t matter. We almost got it stuck a third of the way into our place, a third in the hallway, and a third out the front door. My father-in-law, however, would be damned if the couch didn’t make it, and he took off doors, he took of molding, he took off chair feet, and eventually it popped through. We won’t be moving again until that couch is beyond repair. So far, we love our new place. It is unbelievably quiet here. No blaring radios, rude neighbors, screaming teenagers. I hear birds. I have a sunporch/dining room (that’s what you see above). I could take a nap, if I didn’t have to grade til my fingers bleed. I unpack just to put the grading off.

Last night one of my colleagues came over to bring us dinner. This is easily one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever heard of. She brought a salad, a baked pasta, homemade ice cream and cookies to make sandwiches, plus a bottle of wine. We were thrilled. We’ve had our fill of takeout in the last week and that meal hit the spot. I’m planning on doing some grocery shopping tomorrow (currently all we have are leftovers and liquids–beer, soda, water bottles, all purchased for our moving crew) and getting back into the kitchen. I spent a few hours this morning trying to put it together. We’ve moved from a large kitchen with lots of cabinets, most of them quite deep, into a smaller, cozier kitchen (truth be told, I wasn’t nuts over the big one) but with fewer, much narrowing cabinets. Getting all our stuff in wasn’t easy, but I did it with a cabinet to spare, for tomorrow’s purchases. We’re also going to get some propane for the grill so we’ll be back in business there. I’m hoping to make some kebabs in the near future, and I’ve been itching to have a proper steak, so I plan on splurging on a ribeye or strip steak for a grill night. I’m also curious about our ‘new’ stove. It looks to be vintage 1983, but as long as it works (and by works, I mean heats the oven evenly as well as having functional burners), I’ll be happy. It’s electric, so that’ll take some getting used to, but I’m aching to knead some bread and set it to rise, then bake it so the whole house smells delicious. Yum.