This is not going to be the suddenly-obligatory How To Work From Home opinion piece, because I’ve never personally found working from home difficult, so I’m not the person to offer advice to those who do. On the other hand, I’ve spent most of my life either poor, or getting paid on a biannual schedule, or both, which means I do have a ton of useful advice about what to do with shelf-stable ingredients.
Since I’m assuming a lot of you are sensibly hunkering at home and wondering what to do with that fifty pound bag of rice right about now, I figured I might amuse us all for the next few weeks (and hopefully not too much longer) by posting some recipes that reply on stuff you might have in your pantry.
That isn’t SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, baked beans, and SPAM.
And if the economy collapses completely, well, at least we’ll have rice. Which is pretty much the guiding philosophy of my regular food shopping anyway!
Today, no recipe, but a few hints and tips I learned over years of stretching my food resources. Especially since if you’re social distancing, working from home, or furloughed… you’ll have more time than usual to cook.
1) Throw away nothing unless it’s actually rotten. Chicken bones and squidgy bits? Stock. Into that same pot go the onion ends, the celery stumps, the carrot bits, those little hard bits you flick off the end of the garlic. Yesterday’s bay leaf can go in there, too. It still has a little love to give. Sautee all of this until it starts to color the bottom of the pan, then deglaze it with water and a little wine if you have some and simmer it overnight. Don’t eat meat? Same process, no chicken bones.
2) Those sketchy vegetables that aren’t actually bad but just kind of unappealing? Into the soup. Sautee, add that stock you made up top, cook them for a while and then, if that wizened carrot is still not looking too great, puree. Into the pot, wrinkly green beans. Into the pot, freezer-burned corn. INTO THE POT, MUSHY TOMATO.
3) You can stretch favored foods with less favored ones. If you hate tofu and you panic-bought a pallet of shelf-stable mori-nu at Costco because nothing else was left, toss a brick into your turkey chili and mush it up fine. Or puree it into the soup with your sketchy vegetables. It’s protein, it’ll keep you going. (If you’re allergic to soy and you panic-bought that pallet? Trade with the vegan neighbors. I can’t help.)
4) Dry beans cook up better if you soak them overnight. Don’t add acids until they’re soft: that’s what makes them take forever to cook, not salt. If you really can’t get the fuckers to loosen up put a pinch of baking soda in the water. They’ll explode, but you’ll be able to eat them. Save the bean broth, you can use it for chili or soup.
5) It’s okay to cut the bad spots off fruit and veggies and use the rest. Onions may have a bad layer and the rest of the onion might be fine.
6) If something is about to go off, portion it out and freeze it. You can freeze milk and cream, even, as long as you only plan to use them in cooking afterward. (If you put your frozen cream cubes in coffee you will wind up with a slick of butter on top of the coffee, which I understand some people like but not me.)
7) Save produce bags and re-use plastic zip-locks that aren’t greasy or falling apart. You can re-use these things, since I suspect most people didn’t hoard enough plastic wrap to survive the apocalypse. (If you’ve already made the switch to Pyrex and silicon storage bags, congrats, you’re ahead of the curve!)
8) Use stuff you might not normally think to use. Celery leaves are an herb; you can use the whole green onion and not just the whites/greens. (If you save the root and a bit of stalk you can stick it in a cup of water on the window sill and it will grow you another onion, smaller than the first. This can be repeated several times.) Garlic with green bits growing out tastes fine if you cook it (it’s bitter raw.)
9) Try to think of resourceful cooking as an adventure. Think of the ingenuity of our wartime ancestors whose courage gave us tomato soup cake (it’s actually quite good). If you don’t already have a copy, I recommend M.F.K. Fisher’s classic of wartime home economics, How to Cook a Wolf.
We’re all going to need some reading material, after all.