The start of the new year is a great time to take a good look in your cupboards and get rid of things that have been hanging around for too long and taking up space. As you peer into your kitchen pantry, ask yourself, Why do I need two boxes of Arborio rice, one of which has been open for seven months? How much longer can I ignore that tin of anchovies? Remember, too, that the winter squash that you've saved, since taking down the Thanksgiving decorations won't cook themselves. And that bag of wild rice, also from Thanksgiving, won't be pleased to hang around until next autumn.
By pointing out these neglected foodstuffs, I don't mean to suggest that you should throw them out. Waste not, want not: now's the time to cook with them and then restock your cupboards with something new and fresh.
An upcoming three-month trip to South and Central America is forcing me to do inventory of what's in my cupboards and fridge. It doesn't make sense to go food shopping before a long trip; the goal is to use up what you’ve got, especially the perishable stuff. This means that I've got to get creative and figure out how to construct meals with the hodgepodge assortment in stock.
The first thing I did was to get rid of food items that I knew I couldn’t use before I left: candied orange peel and preserved lemons went to friends, and simple syrup went down the drain.
|Oatmeal and Almonds|
In terms of planning meals without making a trip to the market, breakfast is easy. Every morning starts with a bowl of steel-cut oats sweetened with either homemade beach plum jam or the orange-scented syrup that was left over from making those candied orange peels. To make the first meal of the day even heartier, I add toasted walnuts or almonds that I originally bought for holiday baking. With only a few days left before my trip, I am determined to finish my stash of oatmeal, even if it means eating it when I’d prefer toast. I keep reminding myself that by the time I return in April, the weather will be too warm for this substantial breakfast.
|Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad|
As for lunch and dinner, the most urgent thing is to use up veggies, since there is no chance that produce will hold up until mid-April. Kicking around in the fridge—some of it for months––are broccoli, beets, romaine lettuce, turnips, scallions, cilantro, ginger, half an avocado, and knobs of cheese; out on the kitchen counter in bowls are sweet potatoes, a variety of winter squashes, and onions and garlic.
|Salad of Roasted Beets, Oranges, & Olives|
The first meal from the veggie stash was my stand-by dish for the autumn: roasted sweet potatoes with black beans and cilantro in a spicy dressing. For this warm salad I followed a recipe by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, but used butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes. A salad the next night was my own inspiration: I roasted wedges of beets, slices of oranges (yes, oranges!), and olives and tossed them with the romaine lettuce and toasted walnuts in a spicy orange dressing, made with walnut oil and walnut Dijon mustard. The sweet potatoes finally made an appearance the next night in a dish I’ve wanted to try for some time, twice-baked sweet potatoes with chipolte chile, from Fine Cooking. All three of these dishes helped me work through an opened can of chipotle chile in adobo.
|Roasted Broccoli with Gremolata|
I had grand plans for the two heads of broccoli––maybe a stir-fry for rice noodles or a hearty addition to a pasta dish, but in a pinch, when I was really hungry, I roasted the florets (as you can tell, roasting chunks of vegetables in olive oil at 425 F is my go-to method in the winter) and flavored the mix with Pecorino Romano and gremolata, which is a condiment of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. The roasted broccoli would be have been a delicious accompaniment to brown rice, enriched with grated Parmesan and lemon juice.
|Spaghetti Squash with Indian Spices|
Spaghetti squash will get me through my final dinners. The first dish I plan to make is the classic preparation, with a homemade tomato sauce of peeled plum tomatoes leftover from Christmas. The second one is more creative, and one I got from a cooking magazine, a medley of spaghetti squash and Indian spices.
I ran out of time for the turnips, which I had planned to sweeten with a cider glaze, the scallions, and the knobs of cheese, and the rest of the winter squash. I’ll probably just give them to my mother, but I’ll use the scallions, cheese, and the avocado to make sandwiches for the plane.
Make the most of the new year by cleaning out your larder and trying your hand at improvisational cooking; it will be good practice when a snow storm hits and you can’t make it to the market.
As for me, this will probably be the last snow of the season before I head to the Southern Hemisphere. Watch out for my blog posts about my food adventures south of the border.
Eat well, be creative, and stay warm!
Diana Pittet the Cheesemonger