Cooking on the fly.
Making it work.
Pantry (or freezer, fridge) dive cooking is something I really only started doing once I became a confident cook. But seriously, there is so much trial and error involved, I’m not sure why I didn’t start sooner.
Making something fast when you are tired, when you are just hungry and can’t think — that’s where knowing what flavors go together comes into play.
One book changed it for me, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. My friend Sarah told me about it way back in 2003 and I immediately bought it. It’s from the same folks who did The Flavor Bible and I like it better, maybe because it was unknown and I felt like I was in on a secret. Who knows. Anyway, similar to Flavor Bible, it has a huge list of food flavor pairings. Like, if you have salmon, look up salmon and there’s a list of things that go nicely with salmon. Bolded things go very well (ie: ginger, dill, parsley, shallots… you get the idea.) I use this book a couple of times a week. And even so, I have never really cooked a recipe (Daniel Boulud, Hubert Keller, Gray Kunz, Patrick O’Connell…) from it, I just use it as a reference book. And look, it’s so well loved!
So, since many of us are sheltering at home, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recipes (that is a loose term here…) that I make when I don’t have much time or don’t feel like cooking. These are easily adaptable, which is the best part. Make them yours!
I purposefully did not give you a lot of specific ingredient amounts. This is very loose, feel-it-out kind of cooking based on what you have on hand. The directions are really more like a guide to help you see the sequence of when to add things, vs real instructions.
LIGHT SUMMER PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND HERBS
(perfect on warm nights in August and September)
Cook pasta of your choice and keep in a bit of the pasta water in case you need to add it to your dish. You want your pasta to be done a little before, but not cooked too far ahead of making the whole dish.
Heat oil in a saucepan and add about 2 tsp of minced garlic and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes. Cook about 3 minutes over medium heat. Add a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes and cook until they begin to pop and get soft, about 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta to the pan, along with roughly torn fresh herbs like basil or oregano. Top with freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper. (Shout out to my friend Brenda for telling me this one many moons ago.)
BUTTERY EGG NOODLES WITH KIELBASA AND PEAS
Cook egg noodles about 1-2 minutes less than the package instructs. Drain into colander but leave some of the liquid in your draining container just in case you need to add moisture later.
Heat oil in Dutch oven —or otherwise heavy bottomed pan. Add thick slices of kielbasa to pot and cook on medium-high, warm it through and brown it a bit. As you see the kielbasa leaving brown bits to the bottom of the pot, grab some liquid (stock, water, white wine) and drizzle it into the hot spots of the pot and scrape up the bits as the steam rises. Turn down to medium, add frozen peas and heat them through. Add cooked egg noodles to the pot with the kielbasa and peas. Add a tablespoon of butter and a little fresh parsley to finish it. Stir it all together and stand there and eat it out of the pot.
RUSTIC WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH GARLICKY TOAST
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 tsp minced garlic and 1/4tsp red-pepper flakes, dashes of salt and pepper. Cook until oil is infused and garlic is just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Remove garlic from pan and put aside.
Toast thick crusty bread in the oven for about 10 minutes. Take out of oven and put aside.
Add 2 cans (drained) chickpeas to the garlicky oil in pot, turn the heat up slightly to medium-high and cook until heated through about 5 minutes. Smash some of the chickpeas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to create some different textures of beans. Add about 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add freshly grated parmesan and roughly chopped parsley.
Take the reserved cooked garlic and slather it on the toast with some soft butter to go with your soup.
SESAME RICE BOWL WITH (LEFTOVER) SALMON AND CRISP VEGGIES
Cook your choice of rice and keep it warm. I think simple white rice is great here and the frozen jasmine rice at Trader Joe’s is quick and cooks perfectly — in the microwave. I’m not a huge microwave person but dang, this stuff is perfection. Take leftover baked salmon and tear it with a fork into large chunks. (Be sure to remove the skin from the bottom.) Place the salmon in a mixing bowl and drizzle with minced ginger, honey and sesame oil. Mix gently. Grab a bowl, add the rice and then the salmon mixture on top. Add sliced radishes, cucumbers, scallions and sesame seeds.
For this salmon, I simply baked it with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
Two others that I haven’t made in a while but absolutely loved are versions of the Buddha Bowl (chickpeas, pickled red onion, arugula, snap peas, rice) and Big Island Bowl (steak and pineapple, rice) from (the now, defunct) Terra’s Kitchen meal kits. So good!
Also, FYI, I have a slight gluten situation. I am not allergic or intolerant, but I would say my body just feels better without it. So, I have found that I like Whole Foods 365 and DeBoles GF spaghetti, both available on Amazon Fresh.
Here is what I try to keep around in my kitchen. It’s long and there are still a lot of things I left off that I don’t use that much. Here are my staples.
red wine vinegar
apple cider vinegar
white wine vinegar
Better Than Boullion (roasted chicken, beef) broth concentrate
assorted basic spices
TJ’s Everything But the Bagel
TJ’s Chili Lime Seasoning
long noodles like spaghetti, bucatini, linguine
shell pasta like penne or orecchiette
bread crumbs or Panko
canned white beans
various hot sauces
TJ’s Yuzu sauce
TJ’s Chili Onion Crunch
bittersweet baking chocolate
semisweet chocolate chips
whole seed mustard
pico de gallo
whole roasted heads of garlic (do not store in oil)
bottled WF 365 Caesar dressing
TJ’s jasmine rice
homemade chicken stock