|You see: spice-rubbed pork with veggies over polenta / I see: clean out the fridge - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Let's play a game -- I'll show a photo and describe what most people typically see, and then I'll say what I see in the photo. For example, the above image: you see seared spice-rubbed pork with caramelized onion and wilted greens, served over polenta, drizzled with pan gravy. What I see: damn, the fridge is full of random crap, I don't want to go to the grocery store, time to clean it all out in one dish.
Yeah, my version kind of takes the romance out of cooking, but it's totally true. I had a rapidly wilting bundle of Swiss chard in the fridge, I always keep onions handy in the pantry, along with a package of cornmeal for last-minute starchy sides, and because we buy our meat in shares (we literally have half a pig and a quarter of a cow chillin' like a villain in a box freezer), I almost always put a package of pork chops in the fridge to defrost, never really knowing how it would be used.
Take the meal below for example -- you see pan-fried pork schnitzel over root vegetables. I see: pork chops are defrosted and require cooking, and oh hey, I forgot about these carrots and potatoes from the CSA.Both meals are in a way, identical -- random vegetables and the versatile magic of The Other White Meat. Pork chops can be seasoned and seared up like a steak over a creamy starch, or it can be sliced thin, pounded flat and breaded, and made into a crispy treat.
And they're all one-pan meals -- note the schnitzel photos: I tend to sear the meat first in a large pan, and while the meat rests (it can be placed on a baking sheet, tented with foil and kept in a warm oven), I use the same pan to cook the vegetables. The browned meaty bits and leftover cooking oil/butter perform double duty, flavoring the vegetables. Even the first image with the spice-rubbed pork: understand that pan gravy is just a nicer way of saying, deglaze the pan with some delicious mixture of stock or wine to lift up all the caramelized bits off. Your post-meal cleanup is a million times faster, so promises a self-proclaimed Hater of Dish-Washing and Kitchen Cleanup.
|Holy schnitzel, this is a tasty midweek meal - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|One million ways to enjoy potatoes - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
- Cornmeal (Why?See above pork dish)
- Aged cheese (Whatever you like, asiago, parmesan, etc.; anything that lasts a while in the fridge)
- Chicken stock
- Cooking wine (I like Marsala - nice sweetness)
Potatoes in a creamy sauce are a common weekday meal. I don't fuss with peeling them, I just slice them thin enough to where they pan-fry quickly, I set them aside, and use the same exact pan to make a milk-based sauce, flavoring it with cheese, bacon, or whatever I've got handy. If I have greens getting too wilty for a salad or the ubiquitous bundle of kale we get in our CSA, that gets cooked with the potatoes, and it all gets mixed together when the sauce is complete. Super fast, super easy, plenty delicious -- that's my set of rules for weekday meals.
|Sweet potatoes with greens -- you know, healthier - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
|You see chicken dinner, I see asparagus on super-sale at the grocery store - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
The same could be said for Costco shopping. I get staples like canned tomatoes, dry quinoa, butter (you can freeze it, so buy lots), and the Monster Truck-sized supply of toilet paper, but I like browsing the produce area for seasonal finds. Those seasonal finds inevitably become impulse buys, which leads to meals like this chanterelle mushroom feast. There's chicken under there somewhere. Or maybe it was pork. I don't even remember. Who cares -- CHANTERELLES ON SALE!
Much like the asparagus binge, I had no qualms about going through a giant box of chanterelles in a week's time -- it's totally OK to base your meals off a surplus of delicious fungus, I highly recommend it. Mushrooms cook down by quite a bit, and when roasted, you get a more intense flavor. Searing off a meaty protein like pork or chicken, and then making a simple pan sauce with milk/cream, some wine and stock makes the dish heartier, but just a big plate of roasted chanterelles tossed in a light cream sauce is delicious on its own. The roasted stuffed tomatoes were an afterthought -- again, our CSA has the habit of giving us odd quantities of ingredients, like the lone avocado, and three or four too-small tomatoes.
|Costco, I love you and your seasonal mushrooms - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Also, Pinterest is your friend. If I'm feeling uninspired by the random cuts of meat defrosting in the fridge, I'll just type in search phrases like "pork chops" and "kale," or "ground beef dishes." I'm a visual learner, so if I see something that catches my eye, even if there's a recipe or not, it gets me excited about cooking.
I hope this post inspires you to be adventurous in your UnRecipe cooking and letting the seasons and impulse food buys guide your meals in the new year!