I am snowed in, but I would be lying if I said that I’m low on food. Whether it is because my parents lived through the Great Depression, or my own personality, my cupboards and refrigerator are (now and usually) well supplied.
On days like this one, I often make “something out of nothing,” taking scraps and working with them to create a meal. The key is to not to be too wedded to a recipe. Improvising is easy if you start out with the attitude that you’ll end up with a meal, no matter where you begin or what you have to work with.
My “Something Out of Nothing” plan is a 5-step process:
- Take an inventory of what is in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry,
- Figure out what might go together and, of those combinations, what you’re in the mood for,
- Look for a recipe that includes approximately what you have on hand, and
- When you get to an ingredient in a recipe that you don’t have, smile and carry on.
- Set your own expectation and those of others you may be feeding at an appropriate level. Without being unnecessarily self-deprecating, a bit of humor and an acknowledgement that this is just “slapped together” will set the right tone. Then, if it’s any good at all, you’ll be pleased with the result.
Here are a few of my favorite templates for how to work with leftovers and various odds and ends, along with suggestions for how to “go with the flow” if you’re working with what is on hand.
If you have eggs and a few vegetables, hopefully with a bit of cheese…
If you have eggs, cheese, and stale (or fresh) bread)…
- Strata – With or without ham or bacon
- Bread Pudding – I think of bread pudding as the sweet cousin to a savory strata. Either one is great with a salad.
- French Toast – When all else fails, even the electricity, there is always a cast iron pan on the open flame.
If you have rice and a few odds and ends of vegetables or meat…
- Fried Rice – Best with day old rice, fried rice is the perfect “anything goes” stir-fry dish.
If you have pasta and a few fresh or frozen vegetables, maybe even a jar of roasted peppers or canned tomatoes…
Pasta Primavera – Even if the veggies are sparse, a handful of frozen peas and a batch of thinly cut pieces of carrot, celery, and onion can make plain pasta much more than simply a starch.
Pasta with Tuna, Garlic, and Parsley – If you don’t have parsley, it still works. Add in a few leaves of thinly sliced spinach if you have them.
- Marcella Hazan’s quick tomato sauce with pasta.
If you have a decent amount of vegetable odds and ends…
- Roasted Vegetables – You can roast just about any vegetable other than lettuce or spinach
- Stone Soup
If you have a frozen chicken or pieces of chicken…
If you have ground beef, a few potatoes and some veggies (fresh or frozen)…
And if all else fails, hopefully you have cereal and milk (granola is almost always in my cabinet, for sprinkling on top of other cereals or with yogurt), or yogurt.
What’s your favorite “Something Out of Nothing” meal?
PS – Yes, I know the photo out my kitchen window shows barely 6 inches of snow, but in DC that counts as a snowstorm bringing the city and surrounding area to an absolute standstill.