Meals and snacks tend to fall into three categories, raw foods, cooked foods, refabricated foods (leftovers). Most dishes come together by stirring together ingredients and finishing them to your liking. This works particularly well for themed dinner nights, like taco night, pasta night, etc.
Plain: enjoy on its own or with a bit of salt, oil or vinaigrette.
Preserved: Raw fruit and veggies that are starting to turn can be doused in vinegar and a little sugar to pickle (to extend their shelf life) or covered in oil (works especially well with chopped garlic).
Composed salad: Combine ingredients and correct for seasoning. Add a vinaigrette, hot sauce or condiments in your fridge.
Smoothie, salsa or cold soup: Pulse in a blender, correct for seasoning, embellish with a yogurt drizzle.
COOKED MISE EN PLACE INGREDIENTS
Simple side dishes and composed salads: Mix together your preferred ingredients, add your favorite fat (butter, olive oil, sesame oil, miso butter), spices, vinaigrettes and sauces, and correct for seasoning.
Sautés, ratatouille and stews: Sauté together or cook in a little liquid (water or broth), maybe add a can of coconut milk and simmer, add the grains and/or beans, proteins, and correct for seasoning.
Composed bowls: grain bowls, noodle bowls: Arrange your favorite ingredients in each bowl, add stock and embellish with herbs, flavorful oils (like sesame oil), hot sauce, miso, etc.
Purees: Pureed roasted veggies can amp up your hummus. Or, combine with stock for a pureed soup. Pureed sweet potatoes can be added to a can of refried beans for taco night (just add some cumin and maple syrup, to taste).
Layered gratin dishes and casseroles: Layer your ingredients with cheese (or cheese alternative), lasagna noodles, tomato sauce, or all of these and bake until bubbly.
Taco, burrito, nacho bar: Lay out all your ingredients, along with tortillas, tortilla chips, grated cheese, sour cream, and whatever fixings and sauces you prefer and let your family make their own dinner. Sweet potato-refried beans are a great addition here.
Sushi rolls: Use nori sheets, rice paper, lettuce leaves or collards, thinly sliced cucumbers to make your own sushi-style rolls with leftover ingredients.
Pasta night: Toss together leftover ingredients with tomato sauce and/or cheese.
Frittatas: Mix together leftover ingredients with eggs, cream and cheese. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown.
Loaded sweet potatoes: Load up baked sweet potatoes with any number of ingredients and heat in the oven.
Pizza night: Almost any combination will do well as long as you add grated cheese. If you don’t like messing with pizza dough, use premade flat breads.
Breakfast hash and omelets
Granola and granola bars: Great way to use up rolled oats and dried fruit
Fruit and grain puddings: A variety of cooked grains can be mixed together and cooked down with some coconut milk and mixed with fresh or dried fruit.
Tips for Root-to-Stem Cooking
Bulbs, stems and leaves: Beets, chard, kale, carrots bulbs, leaves and stems can be removed and cooked separately (they have different cooking times). Slice the stems and leaves first.
Tough Stems Keep those fennel, broccoli and cauliflower stems. They can be sliced and sautéed.
Peels: Potato and sweet potato peels can be cooked into a broth, pureed back into potato soups, or baked and turned into crouton variations.
Veggie stock: Save mushroom stems, leek greens, tomato/onion/carrot peels and scraps and freeze in separate freezer bags. These can be used when needed to make a nutrient-rich (and budget friendly) veggie broth. Just cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook on medium-low for about twenty minutes. Throw in some thyme, peppercorns and a bay leaf if you have them on hand. Freeze whatever you don’t need in separate freezer bags (label each bag). You may accumulate more like-kind veggies and scraps over time and add them to their respective freezer bags. This is an especially great way to always have scraps on hand for veggie stock.
Substitutions and Miscellaneous Scraps
Cream: Cashew cream, hummus, cooked parsnips (pureed with cooking liquid and butter/oil).
Pesto: Swap out the basil for mint leaves, fennel fronds, celery leaves, radish tops, carrot tops,
radish/turnip tops, parsley leaves. Correct for seasoning.
Hummus: pureed edamame, fava beans, or white beans
Sugar: Honey, maple syrup, jams and jellies, fruit purees
Bonito flakes (for making miso soup): smoked herring/sardine/kippers. Simmer in water for twenty minutes and strain.
Leftover lettuce and lettuce bottoms (cores): Sauté in place of greens.
Potato and sweet potato peels: Use to make broth.
Parmesan cheese rinds: Add to cooking water, soups and stews for flavoring.
Coffee grinds: Add to ice cream base and churn or bake into a biscotti.
Oats, nuts, seeds: Make into alternative milks.
Pickles: Radish peels and chopped veggies, like shredded cabbage and thinly sliced red bell peppers, can be transformed into a quick pickle, as long as they are refrigerated and consumed within 3-5 days. Another shortcut for adding pickle flavoring to foods is to save the pickle juices leftover from condiment jars.
Cream that’s nearing its expiration can be turned into homemade butter and buttermilk (for baking and marinades): Whip up heavy cream in a stand-up mixer (handheld mixer works too, but it will take longer), past the whipped cream stage, until it transforms into butter. Mold the mass of butter fat into a shape and press in a colander with a weighted plate to squeeze out the extra buttermilk. Save the buttermilk for marinades, baking and cooking.
Milk that’s reached its expiration date can be turned into ricotta and whey (for cooking): You can find numerous recipes for making ricotta by Googling the recipe. Just make sure your (whole or 2%) milk is not ultra-pasteurized (UHS) or it won’t work. Regularly pasteurized milk is fine. Skim milk doesn’t work well either. You’ll also need cheesecloth and a thermometer that goes up to 200 degrees. *** For every quart of milk, you will need about ¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon (4 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) of lemon juice or vinegar.
Heat the milk to 200 degrees. Take off the heat and immediately add the salt and lemon juice (or vinegar). Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to rest for ten minutes (do not stir). Set a cheesecloth over a strainer or colander and ladle the solids into the cloth. Do not press down. Allow to drain for about 15 minutes (longer if you like a drier ricotta. If it’s too dry, add some whey back into the mass of curds. Refrigerate the ricotta and the whey separately in airtight containers for 3-5 days. Use the whey in smoothies, as a cooking liquid or a nutritious addition to soups and stews.
*** If you don’t have a thermometer, heat milk to the scalding point, which is when bubbles collect along the edge of the pot and it looks like it is almost ready to boil (do not allow the milk to boil). If you don’t have cheesecloth, coffee filters work well… just place the filter over a strainer or colander. Linen dish towels also work, as well as fine mesh bags. My great aunt used panty hose, which was hilarious but seemed to work well. I’m assuming you know to use a clean panty hose.