Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome new readers!

I'm glad to see yesterday's guest post at Get Rich Slowly struck such a chord!

To answer some of the recurring questions: I live in an apartment. Which means I have one regular-sized refrigerator and freezer combo to work with. I don't have a separate stand-alone freezer or anything. Granted, the kitchen itself, and the pantry, are bigger than what I've had before, but I also lived in New York for a decade before moving to Southern California. In New York, closets are often repurposed as spare bedrooms. (To which all my New York friends will reply, "What closets?")

So while I freeze a lot of stuff, my freezer is also packed to the gills. I rotate things in and out of there frequently. Same with the refrigerator. I don't have a lot of counter space, either.

Pantry Basics will give you a general idea of what I like to have on hand. Kitchen Basics tells you what I have to work with (I don't have a blender, a breadmaker, a rice steamer, or a pressure cooker; I have only four pans, but they're really really good ones--All-Clad Copper Core; I have a couple of specialty items, like the ice cream maker, but for the most part everything I own should be familiar to even a novice cook).

Notice what's NOT in my pantry. Cold cereal. Bisquick. Instant oatmeal. Mac n' cheese. Chips. Pre-made bread. Pre-sliced/grated cheese. Pre-made anything. I don't buy things that come in packages. I know a lot of people find that anathema. "But my kids won't eat homemade mac n' cheese! But my husband would kill me if I quit buying potato chips! But I work all day and by the time I get home, my kids are screaming at me and I don't have time to cook from scratch!"

It's true that it's a constant battle to get my stepson to eat anything, and it's also true that I've been blessed with a husband who eats whatever I put in front of him. (I will say that I refused to move in with him UNLESS he ate everything I put in front of him.) Once you get the hang of it, cooking dinner from scratch every night takes less time than waiting for the pizza delivery guy to arrive. That still doesn't mean my stepson will eat it, but I make sure he has plenty of fruit available when he visits us. Sometimes he eats nothing but apples the whole weekend, but my brother was also a very picky eater when he was little. I don't think he ate more than five things the whole time he was growing up, and ultimately he hit 6'2" and hasn't died of scurvy yet (surprisingly).

My menu planning is pretty loose and unstructured. Every couple of weeks I'll peer into the depths of the refrigerator/freezer and see what needs to be used up. Then I'll make a list of the dishes I could make, given what's on hand. Every day I pick something off the list, based on my mood/time constraints.

So, for example, we have a fresh box of CSA goodies. This is what we'll probably end up eating this week:

For breakfast: yogurt, fruit. When the yogurt runs out, I'll move to steel-cut oatmeal.

Lunches: salad (CSA lettuce, tomatoes, avocadoes, supplemented with homemade croutons, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and leftovers from dinner

I have red beans and andouille sausage ready to go, which will become red beans and rice. I also have garbanzo beans that need to be used up, plus a head of kale; that will become minestrone. Beets and beet greens can become roasted beet pizza or beet risotto; the tomatoes, green onions and cilantro will become a batch of tabbouleh.

After the more perishable stuff is used up, it gets even more unstructured. I have a tub of ricotta that will probably need to go soon; I could use that in pizzas, lasagna, ricotta pancakes, or spinach-ricotta gnocchi. Ditto some eggs: quiche, frittatas, or maybe a souffle.

After that, then I'll check the freezer again and see what's in there. There's a bunch of frozen vegetables (peas, corn, lima beans, spinach) plus frozen blueberries for muffins. There's a whole chicken, lots of Italian sausage, ground turkey, ground pork, and a pork butt. There's puff pastry, a bunch of frozen homemade broth, some chocolate chips, a tin of espresso, two wedges of good parmesan, a block of mozzarella, and some pecorino romano. Any of that can be pulled out and thawed and used in another round of dishes.

(I freeze the cheese in blocks, and shred only after thawing. Quite honestly, I've never noticed that the flavor of the cheese suffered from the thawing process, but then, I only ever use that cheese in cooking. When I want to eat cheese by itself, I splurge for the good stuff--not the blocks from Sam's Club.)

Between the freezer and the pantry, I can put together a healthy meal even without fresh fruits and vegetables. During the long, cold New York winters, when I didn't have a year-round CSA and couldn't abide eating the flat, tasteless, out-of-season produce flown in from Chile, I used a lot of frozen vegetables, canned tomatoes, and dried fruit. I learned how to utilize root vegetables--beets, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes--and what to do with dried beans. You get just as many nutrients from frozen spinach as you do from fresh, and if you're stirring it into a batch of vegetable soup or minestrone or spaghetti sauce, it's not like you'd notice a taste difference anyway.

So, welcome! Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments. I'll post later this week on substitutions in recipes, and how to use those weird CSA vegetables no one's ever heard of.


  1. I read your blog entry on J.D.'s site and was really impressed! I live in NYC and plan on following a lot of your advice and using some of your delicious-sounding recipes. Thank you!


  2. Brava! This is the blog that I've been looking for! You are proving that one can eat "well" and not break the budget! Love your idea about providing only fruit for your picky stepson. I have two teenage sons that do that to me. I'll definitely try it!

  3. I really enjoyed both this post and the one on GRS. I love reading about other peoples' cooking habits. I am on a weekly grocery schedule, but it would be a fun challenge to stretch it out longer!

  4. Found you via GRS, too. Can you share your butternut squash stuffed with Italian Sausage and wild rice recipe? That sounded SO delish!

  5. Also found you via GRS, and am curious about what your trips to Sam's/Costco look like. My husband is all gangbusters now about trying out your system, and I'm wanting too as well. Could you share your shopping list (and be specific) for when you hit up the warehouse every 3 months? I'm finding it hard to wrap my brain around only shopping there (plus a CSA), but I'm very intrigued. :) I can provide my email address if that would be easier...

  6. @Sar: See old post "Pantry Basics" (also in the Category list). :-) That's what I keep on hand, in varying amounts, all the time. Basically I buy whatever I can at Sam's, and get the rest everywhere else. Warehouse club inventory varies regionally, but they'll all have basics like flour, sugar, etc. Keep in mind my list doesn't include the other household stuff I buy in bulk (cat litter, laundry detergent, floss, etc.) and that a 25-lb bag of flour will probably last a lot longer than 3 months. ;-) if you have more questions! I'm happy to answer!