On hand to on table

I guess it was by osmosis:  I learned from my Mom that coming up with what’s for dinner started with “what meat or protein do we have?”  Once that was identified, you looked at what was on hand to fill out the menu.  Growing up we lived 17 miles from the grocery store, so you didn’t just run after a single ingredient.

Even though now we have 2 grocery stores within 5 miles, I still tend to look at what is already in the house for most of my meal-making.  If we are having a holiday celebration or guests with us, I will plan a menu and purchase what is needed to cook for that occasion.  Other than that, I have no good routine.  My husband I and are both retired, and that flexibility lets us be casual with meals.  But the downside is we could eat more healthfully with some planning, and that’s why I’ve joined the class.  My cooking feels uninspired, and I want to include more fresh vegetables and learn flavorful ways to make them.  The issue I have with fresh vegetables is they demand to be used shortly after purchase or they can be wasted; they require planning! (notice above I said “meal-making” not “meal-planning”).

We have a small deep freezer for meat and vegetables, and always a few dry mixes and canned items in the cupboard.  The refrigerator holds staples of eggs, milk, butter, cheese, condiments.  My oils and spices cupboard is disorganized, and though I have quite a number of spices I tend to buy them only when trying a new recipe.  (The canned and dry goods stay quite organized thanks solely to my husband who puts away the groceries.)

What is not needed?  Probably half of the bottles currently on the door of the refrigerator.  Maybe I can thin those out…

I purposefully limit how much kitchen equipment I have.  I know that I just don’t love cooking enough to purchase and store specialized equipment.  So I have a mixer, a blender, assorted pots, pans, baking sheets and utensils.  Nothing specialized like a bread machine or pasta maker.  (I don’t have a food processor or food mill and am wondering what one does instead if you want to make the occasional pesto recipe…)


It was not difficult to come up with a recipe using what was on hand, but it feels a little like cheating because I had bought a spiral sliced ham when they were on sale for Easter.  (Though it was not on our Easter menu, at $1.77/pound I couldn’t pass it up, knowing it would make plenty of other meals.) One of those meals would use the ham bone, and I had a pound of dried split peas in the pantry.   I looked online for a ham and split pea soup recipe that included beef broth so I could use up a partial box of beef broth (leftover from our actual Easter dinner, and approaching the “use within 14 days of opening” message).

I opened the packaged ham and cut the meat from the bone, realizing again that I was holding the knife how I must have been holding it my entire life with my index finger over the top of the blade.  I am working on the pinch method, but it will take awhile to break this habit.  I packed much of the ham for the freezer in about 1 pound portions, left some in the refrigerator for use within the next few days, and placed the ham bone and some of its trimmings in a dish into the refrigerator overnight.


Break the old knife-holding habit…


Ham bone ready for the soup pot

The next afternoon, I washed one pound organic split peas, drained them, boiled in 6 cups water.  I then followed the recipe found at


with the following changes:

—Leftover beef broth (1.5 cups + 1/2 cup water) instead of the bouillon cubes. This brings the total liquid to 8 cups as per the recipe.

–I only had one onion on hand, so I added 2 T onion powder.

–My husband dislikes cooked celery stalks in anything, so I used a scant teaspoon celery salt.

I added the ham bone and spices to simmer 1/2 hour, then added the diced carrots.  The soup simmered another 2 hours.  We thought it was delicious, served with a couple of take and bake french dinner rolls that I had in the freezer.    We have leftovers, a bonus in my opinion…one less meal to make!


Ham and split pea soup


For my second recipe, I hoped to make sweet potato “fries” after tasting them at our Tuesday night class.  I knew I had a sweet potato in the cupboard, but alas, it had gone bad.  (Someday I will learn that sweet potatoes just don’t keep as well as russets.)  I even had my recipe picked out: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/baked-sweet-potato-fries-recipe

Now what? Still in the cupboard was a good-sized russet baking potato, so I guess now it would just be potato “fries”.  I peeled the potato, quartered it lengthwise, and carefully cut thin fries (more knife practice).  I cut the recipe quantities back to about 1/3, enough for my single medium/large potato. It seemed like paprika was not the right spice for a regular potato, so I omitted that and used just a pinch of ground cumin.

I baked the potato fries on parchment paper at 425° for about 30 minutes total, turning them at 15 minutes,  and again at 20 and 25 minutes.  (I baked at 425 rather than 450 because I worry about the parchment paper igniting.)

My husband proclaimed them “great”!  He had been lukewarm about the sweet potato idea, but made with a regular potato this was right in his comfort zone.  I was glad the recipe worked well…with olive oil and being baked, it’s at least a little healthier than regular fries (which I don’t make at home due to messy deep frying).

Unfortunately, by the time I thought about taking pictures of this cooking episode, all I had left was dirty dishes. No leftovers here.  Bugger!  The raw “fries” really looked quite professional, tossed with the oil and seasonings in a bowl (Photo I wish I had), and after baking (Another photo I wish I had!)  So instead, you will have to settle for a photo of my disorganized spice and oil cupboard (after rummaging around for the ground cumin, which I knew was in there somewhere…)                                                –Janet Anderson


Spices (I swear they move around themselves when the door is closed)

2 thoughts on “On hand to on table

  1. RobinS says:

    Haha! This was a fun post to read.
    You’re ahead of the game if you’re used to using what you have on hand, and it was not cheating at all to use the ham – it’s what was in your pantry/fridge/freezer! Nice to hear that your husband was happy with the end results, too.
    You’ve got the right equipment for your cooking style – and if you own a blender, you can make pesto! As you saw in class, an immersion blender is small and versatile (you can even make mayonnaise with one, and it takes a lot less time than the hand-whisk method.) So, it’s a handy tool but not a necessary one.
    Also, just wanted to mention that there are still local sweet potatoes from Wisconsin at the Seward Coop (E. Franklin Ave., Mpls.) I mention these because they have been in storage since this fall, and I’ve found that they last keep there integrity much longer than a russet. You will be cooking with one of them in the Week 3 lab.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you enjoy the class!

    Liked by 1 person

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