In Praise of Random Dinners
When the fridge is mostly empty, but there's no way you're going to the grocery store
Wednesday morning I looked in my refrigerator and it was as if I had never bought $175 worth of groceries on Monday. Where does the food go?
sometimes often astounded by how much food we go through each week. Feeding a family is no joke! Especially when everyone is fixing breakfast at home, packing lunches, expecting snacks and eating a full dinner every night.
It’s not as if we have nothing to eat. Although take a peek into my fridge and then tell me, what would you fix for dinner?
First, I’ll answer the most obvious question. Do I have the smallest and least expensive model of refrigerator that Home Depot sells? Probably. I’m not sure, because it came with the house when we bought it 12 years ago. But it’s totally fine. Out of all the things I want to upgrade in my house, the refrigerator doesn’t even make the top ten.
Next, I feel like I need to address the amount of dairy products. Milk, half and half, Kefir, Greek yogurt, sour cream, butter, parmesan, mozzarella, a bag of pizza cheese, cheddar in a pyrex container…plus vegan butter and oat milk. It’s a little embarrassing.
Then there are the random things, like Sorin’s martini olives, a handful of salad greens in a giant container, eggs, tortillas, two shriveled beets, half a container of chicken broth and three bonsai seedlings in the back right corner that my 12 year old is germinating (apparently 4 weeks in the refrigerator is part of the process).
Surprisingly, I pulled off a semi-decent dinner without a trip to the grocery store. All it took was a little creativity and a little lowering of expectations.
The goal wasn’t to make an amazing dinner. The goal was simply to get everyone fed.
What you didn’t see in my refrigerator were the vegetables hiding in the crisper drawers: asparagus, three zucchini, four gold potatoes and half an onion. I tossed everything with olive & salt and into the oven it went.
I pulled a can of beans out of the pantry and combined it with the cheddar and tortillas to make quesadillas. (My husband doesn’t like quesadillas, so he keeps an emergency box of veggie burgers in the freezer)
There are other directions I could’ve taken dinner, most of them relying on pantry items that I almost always have on hand.
Rice + eggs + frozen peas + soy sauce = fried rice
Dried beans in the pantry + leftover chicken broth = simple white bean soup
Pasta + garbanzo beans + parmesan = simple pasta
Eggs + toast = breakfast for dinner, with fruit
Last week, on yet another random dinner night, I roasted a few potatoes and half a bag of baby carrots that needed to be used up. I added a package of Trader Joe’s frozen samosas to the sheet-pan. Then I defrosted frozen peas. Then I found a tube of polenta in the pantry, so I sliced it up and warmed it in a saute pan with butter.
The lesson here is that everything you serve doesn’t have to “go” together. You can serve Indian samosas with sliced polenta. Yes, it’s random, but it’s also fine. This dinner prevented me from spending money on take-out and saved me from a last minute run to the grocery store and it used up random food that was just sitting around the kitchen.
Win, win win!
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Dinner Last Week
I’m always curious about what other families are eating. Aren’t you? Here’s what my crew ate last week. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven three times to make warm, cozy dinners, proof that we’re getting a real winter here in LA, at least by Southern California standards.
We took a Sunday drive and reached a light sprinkling of snow on the ground in about 20 minutes. The snow-capped mountains outside our dining room window are a very rare treat.
Monday: Fried rice made with leftover shredded purple cabbage and scrambled eggs, with broiled tofu on the side
Tuesday: Lentil soup ( a new recipe I’m still developing for Kitchen Skip, but this lentil soup is good too)
Wednesday: Kay Chun’s Sticky Coconut Chicken and Rice from the New York Times. I thought it was delicious!
Thursday: See above for “random samosa and polenta” dinner
Friday: Smitten Kitchen’s Mushroom Bourguignon, served with egg noodles. This is good, but also surprisingly rich and heavy for a vegetarian meal. My kids weren’t into it and mostly just ate buttered noodles.
Bare Minimum Dinners by Jenna Helwig is filled with simple, fast recipes for busy parents. I like her realistic approach to cooking; these are dinners that you really can get on the table in 30-minutes. Most of the recipes have less than 6 ingredients and rely on store-bought shortcuts. Such as fish stick tacos, zucchini herb pancakes made with pancake mix, and black bean burgers made from canned refried beans.
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Hope you have a good weekend!
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