With a Wave of my Spatula

“You will never get out of pot or pan anything fundamentally better than what went into it. Cooking is not alchemy; there is no magic in the pot.”-‘Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South’, Martha McCulloch-Williams (1913)

Wrong. Sorry, Martha.

My heart goes out to anyone sitting at your table for a meal. Poor souls.

There is magic that happens in the kitchen. I consider myself to be a baker, but I’m also not a half-bad cook. With dessert items, I have no fear. Combine this, try that, bring it on. I love to experiment. Add some love and  a dash of sparkle and you have a beautiful creation. With food-food, I’m more of a by-the-cookbook kind of gal. Some folks, and I greatly envy them, can go to their fridge, just look in there with no preconceived plan, pick out half a dozen items and whip together a fantastic meal.

I wish I could do that. Flinging together a meal on a hope-and -a-prayer is not my strong suit.

Until this week. There was magic present in my wee kitchen, I dare say.

We had hosted a large party over the weekend and with that, of course, came a hefty food and drink bill. No biggie. We love to entertain and this is one of the by-products. But to offset that, I thought I would try to get creative with our pantry and freezer this week and….is she going to do it?….really?…..use what we have.

At the start of this week, I purchased just a few little items that I knew we would need. Some more eggs, half and half (for morning coffees…uh, hello), lunch stuff for the kids. Minimal grocery visit. I also gave my husband a heads-up that it could possibly be a more “interesting” week, meal-wise, due to this pantry challenge. I know that, inside, he quivered a bit, but he went along with it. He has said in the past that he’s not so keen on my spur-of-moment pasta or stir-fry “creations”, as he calls them. In the name of a happier wallet, though, he was going to take one for the gipper and play along with this. It’s only six or seven days. On the upside, if the creations were all awful, we’d lose a pound or two. Win-win.

As when you gaze into your closet and proclaim that you have nothing to wear, the same can happen with your pantry shelves. Somehow, pieces of food or clothing can sit there for weeks and weeks and be perfectly fine to eat or wear, but never get play-time. Poor things spend their lives on the bench watching the other kids get chosen to play. That can of garbanzo beans? I think it’s been there for six months. Those raisins and tahini paste? Same thing. Forgotten souls of PantryVille.


Well, I came to their rescue this week (can you see me with my cape, flying into my pantry?) and I did it. I did not make a return trip to the grocery store once. I made meals for every day, including some breakfast things (pumpkin bread) and thank-you cookies for friends (crackle cookies). My pantry was on fire.

I don’t know if it was just sheer dumb luck that I had good ingredients at hand (those “staples” plus the CSA share and a few frozen meats) or if I was really bringing my A-game to it all, but it worked. I can hear the strains of “Hallelujah!” playing in the background, can you?

This week has been a good exercise in getting creative and making something out of presumed nothings. I won’t forget about those poor little garbanzos for quite so long next time. Or the sweater I haven’t worn in a year.

Here are a few things that worked for me….happy cooking this weekend, everyone!

Steamed Carrots with fresh grated ginger and grated orange zest
Brown Jasmine rice mixed with Mint and Cilantro Chutney (so delish…just about a heaping tablespoon mixed into about 2.5 cups of rice)
Chicken with Mustard and Cider Sauce (easy recipe follows)
Chicken Cacciatora
Asian noodle bowl
Pumpkin Bread
Schezuan Spare Ribs (easy version…marinate them first with Soy or Ponzu sauce, gingerroot, sesame oil, honey and lime juice then broil)

I know there was a pasta dish in there somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t remember it.

Suffice it to say, all meals were gobbled and tummies were happy. Fancy that…

(if you are inclined to give up the ghost with those canned garbanzos/soups/beans, at least put them aside and donate them to one of the many canned food drives that will be popping up in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. Either make some magic in your own kitchen or spread the magic to someone else! )

Chicken with Mustard and Cider Sauce, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

This is easy, folks. Brown chicken breasts and while that is happening, whip up this sauce. After sauce is completed and breasts are mostly done, add the sauce to the chicken pan and let everything mix and marry together for a brief bit (15 minutes or so) until chicken is cooked through. Keep the temps low, you don’t want to rubberize your chicken. No one likes a rubber chicken.

Mustard and Cider Sauce
1 Tb. vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced (I cheated and used a little bit of sweet onion. Just chop it super fine)
1.25 cups apple cider
2 Tb. cider vinegar
3 Tb. butter, cut into 3 pieces and chilled
2 Tb. minced fresh parsley (I skipped this, although it would have added nice color)
2 tsp. whole-grain mustard

Add oil to a small pan. Add shallot/onion and little bit of salt and cook until softened. Stir in cider and vinegar and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, about 8 minutes. Turn heat to low and add butter, one piece at a time. Off heat, add parsley and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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