Longtime Shapely Prose readers will recall that I am neither a gifted nor a frequent cook. And because I am neither a gifted nor a frequent cook (and I’m married to a total non-cook*), I have this wasteful, expensive habit of buying a bunch of meat and produce with the best intentions, using a quarter of it and forgetting about the rest until the fridge starts to reek. (This is the story of my life in so many ways, very much including “I stock up on fancy food because I’m also planning on morphing into a master chef and actually cooking instead of just eating nachos for dinner every night.”)
Guilt about doing that accumulates over time, so about once a month I decide I am going to form one of two new habits:
- Going to the market for a small amount of fresh food every day (or at least every day I can realistically envision cooking), like I’m all European and shit.
- Keeping enough non- or semi-perishable staples in the house at all times that I can make a full meal — albeit one that will make Michael Pollan weep — even if I haven’t been to the grocery store in two weeks.
The problem with potential habit number 1 is that it involves A) shopping and B) planning, which are the two parts of cooking I most strongly object to.** So that usually lasts about as long as my resolutions to spend thirty seconds tidying my desk every day instead of waiting until I’m crying hysterically because I can’t find a bill that needs paying/the notes for something I’m writing/my headphones/the computer/whatever.
Or, I don’t know, my resolutions to update this blog more.
The problem with potential habit number 2 is that since I avoid both shopping and cooking as much as possible, my mental kitchen inventory tends to be spotty whenever I’m actually at the store, which means I eventually end up with like three bags of frozen broccoli, a dozen cans of soup, four boxes of lasagna and 20 lbs. of flour taking up space where there ain’t much to begin with. And then I go to use up some flour, for instance, and discover halfway through a recipe that I have 3 boxes of baking soda but no baking powder, so there is not even any goddamn point to having no room in my cupboards, because I still can’t just spontaneously decide to make food.***
This brings us to two nights ago, when Al opened the freezer to get some ice cubes, triggered a small avalanche, and issued the following edict: “TOMORROW NIGHT IS VEGETABLE NIGHT. I don’t care what we eat, but the primary ingredient needs to be frozen fucking vegetables.”
I had actually been sorta-planning to do something stroganoffy with some stew beef and sour cream that were not getting any younger, so now I had a challenge: how to use all of it at once? After Googling stew recipes for 45 minutes and failing to find anything that sounded simultaneously tasty, freezer-clearing and doable, I went out to the kitchen and made a miraculous discovery: after 5 years of attempting to develop Habit 2 above, I finally have a lot of ingredients in the house that actually go together. Enough to make two separate casseroles, using three bags of frozen shit!
This is where my eyes bug out as I triumphantly raise a spatula and cry, “COOK ALL THE THINGS!“
So here’s what I made:
1. Beef Stew with Biscuit Topping
Starting point: This recipe
What I did differently: 1/2 cup of red wine + water instead of all water; 1/2 bag of frozen peas (stirred in at same time as Worcestershire and sour cream) instead of carrots; no fresh garlic; dried dill instead of chives in the biscuits.
2. Broccoli Casserole
Starting point: This recipe, plus the one on the broccoli bag, plus the highly variable tuna casserole recipe in my head
What I did differently (from the linked version): 1 bag broccoli instead of boxes; + 1 bag frozen corn; cream of chicken instead of mushroom soup; no eggs; no mayo; + maybe 1/3 cup ricotta I was looking to get rid of; + 1 glug ranch dressing; bread crumbs and parmesan (canned in both cases) instead of Ritz crackers for topping; baked 30 mins.
I also made peanut butter banana cookies while I was at it, but they turned out pretty mediocre. (Which is not to say that I won’t eat them all, just that there’s no point in sharing the recipe.)
Michael Pollan wept, surely. And yes, there was a slightly off-putting church potluck vibe to dishing up multiple casseroles, but both recipes turned out pretty damned yummy and made enough for several more meals, which was the idea. (Granted, that kind of defeated the whole make-room-in-the-freezer goal, but at least tupperware stacks more neatly than bags of veggies.) So now I’m all, DUDE, I GET WHY NORMAL PEOPLE THINK COOKING IN BATCHES/FROM WHAT YOU HAVE ON HAND IS A GREAT IDEA! I’M TOTALLY DOING THIS ALL THE TIME!
Which means, of course, that I will do it again in six months or so. But you know. Baby steps.
If I have any commenters left, please feel free to leave me some more foolproof clean-out-the-cupboard/freezer recipes!
*I knew that going in and agreed to live with it, even if it means the division of labor is super stereotypical in this instance.
**Yes, I have tried online grocery delivery — in fact, it’s how we do most of our big shops now, and I highly recommend it to others. But there’s a big minimum dollar amount, plus delivery fee and tip, so you can’t use it to pick up just a couple things, which are what I always want/need.
***Yes, I know you can substitute baking soda and cream of tartar, but do I sound like the kind of person who has cream of tartar on hand? I would have to chuck one of the 9 bottles of poultry seasoning from my spice rack to make room for it.