I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. In addition, for each section, I’m food bloggers and culinary experts – for this excerpt, it’s Dani Spies, author of.
Do you find yourself throwing lots of food away? Do you get tired of eating the same thing all the time? Are your cabinets full of ingredients you rarely use? Is your freezer stocked full of a year’s supply of meats and poultry (if you even know what’s there and can find it)?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and improvising isn’t your thing, it’s time to work backwards. This is how it is done:
1. Avoid your monster weekly shopping trip. You may have to make a quick trip to the local market to pick up a few necessities like milk, eggs and bread. After all, perishable goods only stay fresh for so long. But don’t go to Costco and stock up on bulk supplies of anything (not yet, anyway). Don’t go to any market with a long list until you have disposed of some of what you have.
2. Take inventory of what you have on hand. There’s something gratifying about throwing an empty contain away, seeing an empty shelf in the freezer or getting the excess containers out of the fridge. Like removing clutter from that shelf or drawer which is always filled with the family’s junk, you’ll experience a deep sigh of relief at eating stuff that has been hanging around for a while. (And of course, if it has spoiled or is no longer fresh, then by all means, throw it away!).
3. Just dump it! I can usually think of something I haven’t cooked in a while by looking at what’s available in storage and thinking to myself, “Hum…now what would be good with chicken and rice and broccoli and red peppers and coconut milk?” Things like pasta, pizza and salad are good scapegoats for throwing together whatever you have on hand and concocting a tasty dish. Thai stir fries are handy to make, too. So dump what you have and see what you might able to create.
4. Work backwards. On NPR’s The Splendid Table, there’s a segment called “Stump the Cook” in which callers suggest preposterous ingredients and the show’s host has to come up with a dish. But if you don’t have time to listen or need a more immediate idea, there are many other web sites where you can enter ingredients and obtain recipes. Among these include www.supercook.com, www.chowhound.chow.com, and www.recipematcher.com. You can then select a dish that suits your fancy and cook yourself into oblivion.
Dani makes fun and creative dishes by working in this manner: “Working backwards is one of my favorite ways to cook. I call this ‘bottom of the drawer week.’ This is when I just have lots of odds and ends and no plan. I often find that some of my best meals come from these weeks because I am relying 100% on intuition and creativity – and although I don’t always believe it myself – this is where the best ideas come from! Soups and quesadillas are definitely go-to staples for me when I am trying to work backwards.”
If you follow this 4-step process, before long, your kitchen will be depleted of its overstock. Not to mention, your family will have happy bellies from the new dishes you have prepared with some old, boring ingredients.