Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning How to Make Do With What I Got

This past week I threw out a half-used loaf of mozzarella cheese I originally bought to make a panini, a third of a bunch of celery I bought to make sloppy joes, the moldy end pieces of some gruyere I bought to make a croque monsieur, nearly an entire head of ice burg lettuce that I only used to make two salads, a good half-cup of the crumbly remnants of my Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal, and a half bag of shelled edamame with freezer burn.

The great fridge purge got to me. In my efforts to keep my blog fresh with new recipes and exciting ingredients, I have become reckless with my shopping -- buying my way through the grocery store without considering how I will make use of the leftovers. While I usually do make a concerted effort to use up everything I buy, I know I can do a better job. I am not the kind of girl who gets a B- in anything, but I'm currently straddling C territory on this one. It isn't right. And it isn't me. I am an "A" student, and do not want to settle for anything less!

Unless of course, being an "A" student in thriftiness involves freeganism. Cute Anthropologie skirts and coordinating tees/sweaters do not mix well with dumpster diving. (Nor does germaphobia.)

This past weekend, I endeavored to make a few changes in my spending/eating habits. I decided not to try any new recipes. Instead of marrying myself to a certain dish that I felt I had to make, I listened to my cravings and then made something based on what I already had at home.

On Friday night, I defrosted a chicken breast and used up some leftover veggies to make a healthy and delicious chicken stir-fry with quinoa. On Saturday, my mom treated me to lunch out and a wonderful home-cooked dinner. On Sunday, I didn't go to brunch after church and instead made whole grain pancakes with wild blueberry maple syrup (pictured above) using items I already had on hand (frozen blueberries, maple syrup, whole grian pancake mix, wheat germ, etc.) and scrambled eggs. Even though the recipe I used called for buttermilk, I didn't hi-tail it to the nearest grocery store to buy a carton. I mixed a half-cup milk with 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and called it a day. The result was perfectly fine -- great even, and now I don't have to worry about what I'm going to do with the rest of a carton of buttermilk.

After all this unremarkable cooking, yesterday afternoon I started to feel the pressure to do something great and fabulous and worthy of exclamation points and comments like, "that looks so good!" I wanted to try to recreate a pork chop dish from one of my favorite restaurants, but knew it required buying several items that I would not immediately be able to use up. I walked aimlessly around Whole Foods, and later in the day, Gelson's, trying to let myself be inspired by something, but I had nothing but scorn for everything I considered. I didn't want any of it, and for once in my life, was sick and tired of thinking about food and what to do with it.

I finished my shopping and then went for a quick and ferocious hour hike up Runyan Canyon. I blasted the new Kelly Clarkson cd on my iPod and charged up the hill like I was on a mission to burn holes in my seriously worn down Nikes. It felt good. It felt cleansing. And after busting out some Bar Method style ab work on my purple yoga mat at home, I was ready to get back in the kitchen. Not to make something exotic and worthy of photography, but to make the wonderful chicken dish I made last Monday night. I used the half & half I already had, the remaining 1/4 cup of white wine in the bottle I opened for friends that past Thursday night, and plain white mushrooms that were $4.99 a pound as opposed to the $9.99 a pound shitake mushrooms. The result was delicious and satisfying. Especially since I didn't have to break the bank or dive into any dumpsters to make it.


Erica said...

Great concept! I'm usually pretty good about using what I have, but I am def guilty of buying some ingredient that I only use in one recipe and then never use the rest of! The pancakes look fab!

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm totally with you. I've been trying to figure out how to make new things with the stuff we have as I purge our freezer.... Trying to make fun exciting things for the blog gets exhausting after awhile--and EXPENSIVE!

And as the Queen of Cheap at the Pond, it doesn't work to well.

And freeganism is stupid.

Esi said...

You're so funny. I did a bit of a purge this weekend too and I am basing the next two weeks of cooking on stuff I have on hand. Sounds like you're doing a good job so far!

Sara said...

I really try to use what's in the house, I'd say that I use 90% of what I buy. Here's a tip for stuff like celery - before it goes bad, throw it in the freezer and pull it out the next time you make chicken stock! I do this with carrots, celery, and stuff like leek and fennel tops which would normally get tossed.

The Duo Dishes said...

Well you see how many of our recipes go...It's primarily based on what is in the fridge, freezer, cabinet, etc. It probably helps even more than we can pool our ingredients together to maximize the scrounging! We support the 'what's in the house right now' menu plan. :)

Tokyoastrogirl said...

Very inspiring! I need to get my butt up a canyon soon. Dang.

Diana said...

Erica - It's nice to know I'm not the only one!

Miranda - YES! It is exhausting! I love doing it, but sometimes I wish I didn't always feel the pressure to create something fabulous.

Esi - I'm trying! We'll see how long it holds up...

Sara - I would never have thought that celery would freeze well - thanks for the tip! I actually did use some of it to make the split pea soup I ate for a couple meals last week. I wasn't completely wasteful!

Chrystal & Amir - Yes, I was so inspired by the recipe you posted today based on what you had on hand already -- awesome!

Tokyo - I was inspired by your post today -- those ginger cookie ice cream sandwiches look beautiful!

Reeni♥ said...

The pancakes look great! My favorite way of cooking is to see what I have on hand and brainstorm a dish out of it. I hate wasting food. Even if it's a piece of onion or some old lettuce. I like Sara's idea of making stock out of the odds and ends.

I feel the pressure too, but remind myself that I'm doing this for fun. I want to keep it 'real' and sometimes real isn't all that exciting, or impressive in some circles. I don't just come here for your food. I come because I enjoy you and your writing. I will show my support for you even if you never gave us another recipe...just because!

Heather said...

that hike sounds wonderful! i'm so envious!

Claudia said...

I purged winter a few weeks ago and am making a concerted effort to look at ingredients that will definitely be used. The blogs are so helpful. One could just plug in a leftover ingredient and - and you never know.

Pearl said...

thank you for visiting my blog! i love the pancakes with the blueberry sauce... especially when it means that you're cleaning out the fridge! it really is hard to make new things, especially when you know that there are completely edible foodstuffs still in the freezer.. *sigh* :)
may i add you to my blogroll? i'd love to follow your recipes!

Kirby! said...

I can totally relate: foodblogging sometimes makes me buy these crazy things that I never use more than once, then I have to watch it go bad. Here here for empty-the-fridge cooking!!

Diana said...

Reeni - You are so sweet - your comment brought the biggest smile to my face! I don't think I'm going to give up on the new recipes just yet, but it's nice to know I'd have at least one reader if I do!

Heather - I'm sort of getting back into hiking again! I just wish we had more rustic places out here. I went on an amazing hike when I was out visiting my friend in DC. Can't remember the name of it now!

Claudia - That's so true! I forget about doing searches of blogs for specific ingredients -- I'll have to remember to do more of that!

Pearl - Of course, you can add me to your blog roll! Thank you! :)

Kirby - I am still trying to come up with ways to use up the big jar of fig jam I have in my fridge! I tried putting it in a chicken recipe and it failed. Miserably.