How often have you looked into your pantry and fridge, and declared loudly about the absence of anything to eat? I’ve been there. Often I didn’t feel like cooking, or I really thought there was nothing there. So I settled for take-out, or toast, or popcorn. Yeah, we all know about popcorn dinners, right? I almost succumbed to it last night actually.
But then I started to look at what I do have on hand in a different way. I started to think, what if I only need a couple of ingredients to make a meal? Maybe I don’t need to cook to feed the queen every day.
Partly from laziness, partly out of curiosity . . .
I began to put those few, unlikely ingredients together. And to my surprise, most of those spontaneous meals turned out beautifully! I thought it was a fluke, but nope, it works almost every time. Then I discovered I have a knack for it.
That’s when I decided it would be fun, and so incredibly useful, if I could teach others how to do this. Unless you are wanting to learn to cook various ethnic dishes, I believe that it’s difficult to develop everyday creative cooking skills when you attend a class where there are a set number of recipes that are prepared while you watch. If you already know how to follow a recipe, this will just give you 3 or 4 more to add to your repertoire.
But what if you want to learn how to put together delicious healthy meals with the ingredients that you routinely find in your kitchen? And do it in 30 minutes or less? How helpful would it be if you could transform leftovers into something new and tasty, instead of throwing out food every week?
Here’s an example (and 4 recipes!)
Let’s say it’s the end of summer and you have some leftover cooked corn on the cob, a few zucchini, an avocado that was not quite ripe when you bought it, but is perfect now, and a some leftover chicken from a weekend BBQ. Instead of heating them all up as is, you could prepare one of the following:
1. SALAD: Slice the corn off the cob with a small sharp knife, dice the zucchini and avocado into small pieces, chop the cooked chicken.
If you have learned to stock your pantry, you will have some lemons and olive oil to make a quick dressing. I usually have at least one type of fresh herb on hand, so that would get chopped and thrown together with the rest, along with some cherry tomatoes, and you have a delicious summer leftover salad.
3 more ways ….
2. QUICK SAUTE: Heat some olive oil on medium in a pan with some onions and garlic from your pantry (the Carmen Sense Kitchen session from my Culinary Wellness Coaching will help you be prepared for last-minute meals). Slice the zucchini and add to the pan. When semi-soft, add the corn kernels and chopped chicken. Add herbs if you have them, and a squeeze of lemon. The avocado is really nice if sliced and placed on the side of the plate, or chopped and sprinkled on top. Serve with a green salad from your stocked fridge.
3. SOUP: Cool or rainy day? In a soup pot, sauté an onion and a few garlic cloves from your pantry, add some chopped zucchini. When it’s half-cooked, add 2-3 cups of water or soup stock and bring to a boil. Add corn kernels, chopped chicken and hot sauce or chili peppers if you have them, for a mexican style soup. Mash the avocado with some lemon and serve on crackers, raw zucchini slices or whole grain bread.
4. VEGETARIAN?: You likely don’t have leftover chicken! Just add a can of beans (any kind) from your pantry to the salad, sauté or the soup. Alternatively you can mash the beans up with the garlic, lime and avocado for a tasty dip to use with raw zucchini slices. Mix the corn kernels with olive oil and herbs for a colourful topping.
So that’s at least 4 different meals with only 4 leftover ingredients and a few pantry staples. Imagine the possibilities when you start to think of your leftovers in a different way. You can save money by not throwing out half a head of broccoli after you’ve made your standard stir-fry… maybe cook it in broth and puree it with some pesto… chop it up with other leftover veggies for a quick salad…. Make a tasty dip with yogurt or beans for an afternoon snack… See what I mean?
Once you start to think this way, and more excitingly… cook this way, easy healthy meals start to come together with ease. This often saves me from eating out or ordering in when I’m too tired to cook a more complex meal. It helps me bring nourishing food and snacks with me on outings, bike rides and other places where I suspect I will cave to less healthy food. Lunches for work become a breeze, and late-night cravings are curbed.
Check out my Pantry Cooking class if you want to try it too!