When I got this assignment, my heart sunk. I thought, if “green and fuzzy” doesn’t become a new food group very quickly, I am in way over my head. So I moped around for about twenty minutes. Finally I decided to cut myself some slack. After all, I am, as the French would say “a woman of a certain age” who works about 50 hours per week at a stressful job and doesn’t have a home computer. My pantry has been pretty low on my priority list for many years now. Retirement is looming (14 months, but who’s counting) and it’s time to have a life again. Preferably a more healthy life is in my future
Finally I figured out that I should have a plan of attack. So here was my Plan of attack as of Day One.
Step One – Clean out my refrigerator and discard anything that met one of the following criteria:
- Was past its expiration date – I’m lucky but I’m not that lucky. Why take a chance?
- I already had a whole bunch of them- I mean, really, how many packets of MacDonald’s ketchup does one cook need?
- The contents were unrecognizable – Lots of mysteries were found. A few were identified after meticulous detective work.
- It looked too good. You have to ask yourself, if those cheese slices in plastics wraps looked that good and you couldn’t even remember ever buying them, how healthy can they be?
Step Two – Figure out my Pantry rating scale. This was going to take some thoughtful consideration. I think I’ll take a nap.
Neglect – Inspect -Reject
Cleaned out most of the refrigerator and freezer, except for the side door. After that purge I found I had the following items
- Peapods, mini-peppers, cauliflower (both roasted and raw), two stocks of celery, a chunk of cucumber, a small bunch of green onions, one beet, and a bunch of cilantro. They would go with the garlic and ginger and cherry tomatoes that were out on the counter. Things were looking up.
- About two pounds of baby carrots. No kidding, I go through about a five pound bag in a week.
- A bottle of Kelvita (effervescent, fruit-flavored, probiotic beverage) (been there, done that)
- Five little cups of Activia (like I said, been there)
- Two apples of an unknown age, but potentially usable
- One 32 oz. container of plain yogurt
- Half a jar of black olives
- A carton of chicken stock
- A bottle of apple juice (for my Sunday School kids, aged 3-6 years)
- One bottle of unopened Cherry Zero Coke
- A pint of overcooked farro. (So, you were supposed to drain it after 20 minutes? Why do they make the print so small?)
- A pair of good earring. (No, really. Burglars never think to look in the crisper and the humidity is good for the stones. I read that somewhere. Of course now that you guys know, I will have to find a new hiding place, in case one of you has a second career as a cat burglar.)
Settled down with a bowl of mushy farro mixed with Activia. The crushed cashews helped a lot. The pantry rating scale would have to wait. All-in-all it was a good night.
Fallen Soldiers and Behomiths
All day long I thought about what I would make for supper. It was not looking promising! I could only think of that cavernous refrigerator waiting for me.
Finally, l decided I needed to cheat. Not a lot, just a little. I’m not proud of that, but I was pretty good at rationalizing it. After all, I would have had more ingredients if I hadn’t gone all “Little Suzy Homemaker” on myself. Besides, I always shop for produce a couple of times a week. It’s fresher that way. Also my grocery store is near my McDonald’s and there’s not that much else open at five or six am when my crazy body wakes me up.
I came home with the following item
- One lemon and two limes
- A box of cherry tomatoes (A girl can never have too many Cherry tomatoes)
- A can of chopped tomatoes
- A can of tomato sauce
- A three-pound jicama (no kidding, I weighed it). I didn’t know they grew that big! I’d better find some new recipes.
- A bag of grated Parmesan cheese
By the time I got home I felt hungry, tired and a little guilty about cheating. So I cooked some spaghetti noodles (whole wheat) and a sauce including onion, garlic, oil, and chunks of mini-peppers with a couple of black olive as a garnish. I was excited to find some Italian Mrs. Dash in the cupboard. Then, in an instant, “Mrs. Dash” became “Mrs. Crash” On the way down she hit the salt shaker that was on a lower shelf. As both bottles were falling, all I could think of was that I was about to experience retribution for my duplicitous behavior.
The cover of the salt shaker came off and there was salt everywhere, but fortunately it missed my dinner by about an inch and a half. I told you I was lucky! I guess that cabinet is next on the “hit list”.
For penance I cleaned out the shelves on the refrigerator door and the freezer. After that purge I had found the following items:
- Another bottle of Kelvita (hope springs eternal!)
- Teriyaki Sauce
- Barbecue Sauce
- Rice Vinegar
- White Wine vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Two bottles of Mirin (I can’t remember what that was for, but it must have been good.)
- A bottle of ketchup (it hadn’t expired, but looked like it wanted to)
- A bottle of Mustard (expired and unopened)
- A bottle of Ranch dressing
- A bottle of Olive oil
- A bottle of sesame oil
- Two cups of cooked squash
- About a cup of frozen blueberries
- One box of Lean Cuisine. (It looked a little lonely there without its equally sodium-rich, previously eaten, friends).
- A bag of frozen peas (unopened, so that’s good)
- Half a box of frozen waffles (hey, they were whole wheat)
- Half a box of frozen English Muffins
The rating system would have to wait until another day
(Mentally insert a photo of empty bottles, as a memory for their valiant service)
Adventures with Jicama (Part One)
I started my day by looking for on-line recipes for jicama. I found a lot of really good-sounding recipes. (Maybe my three pound monster was not enough). Better yet, several of them required lemon or lime juice. Wasn’t it a good thing that I had picked up a lemon and two limes on day two? And I still had cooked pasta from last night. It looked like it was going to be the best Friday night in recent history. Of course I still had two kitchen cabinets to go. Plus, I still needed to figure out my rating system. Oh yeah, and I was supposed to cook stuff!
I decided to try one of the Jicama recipes. Here is the first recipe I found:
- One jicama, peeled and sliced into matchstick-like pieces (about two to three cups)
- One cucumber, sliced into chunks or thick matchstick-like pieces
- One Red bell pepper, sliced
- Two green onions, finely sliced
- One half cup of chopped fresh cilantro
- One-fourth cup peanuts, cashew or slivered almonds
- One fourth cup dried cranberries or fresh pomegranate
- One fourth cup chopped basil
- One fourth cup lime juice
- Two tablespoons fish sauce or (for Vegetarians 2 tablespoons Thai golden mountain sauce)
- One third teaspoon shrimp paste or (for Vegetarians add 1 extra tablespoon of soy sauce)
- Two cloves garlic, minced
- Two teaspoons sugar
- One fresh red chili (minced) or one-half teaspoon dried, crushed chili
- One tablespoon soy sauce
- Combine all dressing ingredients (9-15) in a cup, stirring well to dissolve the sugar, set aside.
- Place all salad ingredients (1-8) in a large salad bowl. Pour dressing over and toss well.
- Taste and adjust for flavor. If it is too salty, add another squeeze of lime juice. If not spicy enough add more chili.
- Plate up salad, topping with a little more of 6, 7 and 8, if desired
How I did it
- I used unsalted slivered almonds. It could have used just a bit of salt.
- I used golden raisins instead of the cranberries or pomegranates
- I substituted cilantro for the basil because I didn’t have any basil
- I left out the fish sauce (disappeared in the purge) and had no idea what that Thai golden mountain sauce was.
- Left out the shrimp paste and the soy sauce (also disappeared in the purge)
- Left out the fresh chili, but substituted red pepper flakes
- Because of all of the adjustments, I thought it was too sweet for my taste.
- The vegetables did not take up as much of the dressing flavor as I expected, even though I let it sit overnight.
The Main Events
After a breakfast of jicama salad, I headed off to the grocery store for more fresh ingredients. I really like beets so I decided to try two beet recipes that look really good. See the May issue of Cooking Light to see how they are supposed to look. I haven’t gotten the hang of posting photos yet.
The first one appealed to me because it contained both beet roots and beet leaves. I was a bit apprehensive about the beet greens because I hated them when I was a child when they were cooked to within an inch of their lives, but I thought it was worth a try. I also thought the technique of shaving the raw carrots and beets was interesting.
Spring in a Bowl (May Cooking Light, Page 12)
- One and one-half cups of uncooked farro
- Three cups water
- One and one fourth teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- Two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- One tablespoon of sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar (I used the white wine vinegar)
- One half cup roughly chopped beer greens or arugula
- One fourth cup blanched English peas (I used frozen peas instead)
- Two baby carrots, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- One green onion, thinly sliced
- One stalk celery, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- One small red beet, peeled and thinly sliced
- Two ounces crumbled goat cheese
- One fourth cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Combine farro, 3 cups water and ¾ teaspoon salt in a small saucepan over medium-low, cook 25 minutes or until farro becomes tender. Place farro in a strainer, drain well.
- Place hot farro in a large bowl. Add vegetables and stir gently to combine.
- Top evenly with cheese and parsley.
How I did it
- I substituted cilantro for the parsley
- I substituted grated Parmesan for the goat cheese
- I substituted table salt for the Kosher salt.
I thought this was a very tasty and colorful dish. I couldn’t quite figure out if it was supposed to be a main dish or a salad, but it would work either way. I am not that into cheese so I think I will leave that out next time and throw in some chopped nuts for the protein. I was surprised to find that the beet greens were good as a salad ingredient.
The orange carrots and the red beets kind of “clashed” in color. I might try yellow beets next time. The white of the goat cheese looked pretty in the picture, but I think next time I will shave some cauliflower stalk, instead, for that dash of white color.
The only problem I had with this recipe was that it was tricky to shave the baby carrots. I think next time I will take a full carrot so I keep my fingers away from the peeler.
Beet, Lemon and Walnut Salad
(AKA a recipe for disaster)
Building on my previous success with beets, I decided to make a second beet salad. This one looked easy and said that would only take ten minutes to prepare and was very pretty. The other one made a lot, so I decided to cut back on the recipe. I started with one beet and quartered the rest of the ingredients So here is the recipe the way it is supposed to be:
- One tablespoon sugar
- Two large lemons, peeled and sectioned (about three-fourths cups)
- Four large beets, roasted and peeled (about five ounces each) (Two yellow and two red)
- One half cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- One fourth cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
- One third cup goat cheese, crumbled
- Two tablespoons walnut or olive oil
- Three eighths teaspoon of flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
- One fourth teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Combine sugar and lemon segments in a small bowl, let stand at and room temperature for one hour. Remove lemon segments from bowl with a slotted spoon (reserve lemon juice mixture for another use).
- Thinly slice beets crosswise into one-eighth-inch-thick rounds. Arrange beet slices, lemon segments, and parsley on a large platter. Sprinkle with walnuts and goat cheese. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
How I did it
Wait a minute! This was only supposed to take ten minutes! What’s all this about letting the lemons and sugar sit for an hour? And where do roasted beets grow, on trees? They have got to be kidding! I could see was going to be grossly more than ten minutes.
Oh, I should have read the recipe more closely – Active time: ten minutes, total time: one hours and ten minutes. Did I mention that the print was pretty small? This was not looking good, as I was tired from making the first dish and then my Cauliflower Curry for lunch and baking some jicama to make jicama fries.
To make a long story short, it took me 45 minutes to find a recipe for roasting the beets. I had made them before but couldn’t exactly remember how to do it so found a recipe in one of my Indian cookbooks. Note to self, Indian beets must be a lot smaller than American beets. After I roasted them and cooled them, I found that they were still as hard as a rock.
If I had had my wits about me, I would have just shaved them like I did in the previous recipe, but no, I had to follow the recipe. So I decided to do the only logical thing, and took a nap.
When I got up, I cut the beets in half and threw them back in the oven for another hour. Well, they were softer and a lot smaller, but had skins like leather. Peeling them was out of the question! The lovely dinner plate of my dreams was beginning to look like a very small appetizer plate. I decided to eat it any way. Let’s just say that it was very chewy!
I will try this one again, but I may need a while to grieve before then. So I looked on-line when I got to work on Monday and figured out how to roast beets (pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, wrap individually in foil, and bake fifty or sixty minutes or until tender, rest for 10 minutes to release the skins, peel when they are cool). I also didn’t think that the lemon segments added that much to the appearance or texture. I think next time I will just use them to make a citrus vinaigrette.
Last minute Thoughts
Well I enjoyed the cooking adventures (and misadventures) of this first week. Some day I will tell you of the misadventure of the Jicama fries. I look forward to learning some new recipes and techniques and how to load pictures from my phone to the blog.
Oh, and for my rating scale, I thought I would go for a diamond analogy (cut, color, clarity and carats). But my four will be cut, color, clarity and carrots (lots and lots of baby carrots). I would say that I went from a score of one on day one to about a three on this highly scientific scale.