More and more these days, Matt and I find ourselves playing the fridge-clean-out-game when deciding what to do for dinner. We do about one main grocery shop per week at which point we buy tons of produce, a little bit of meat or poultry for matt and restock our grains, beans and dairy arsenal. I may plan for a couple specific meals, but other than that, dinners are improvisational. The benefits? Playing the clean-out-game a few nights a week minimizes waste, saves money, avoids getting takeout, and it’s actually a pretty fun game. The hard part? Knowing what to have on hand to be able to successfully improv a delicious, balanced and satisfying meal. There’s no exact formula for this, and it really depends on your diet and food preferences. In any case, I’ve come up with a vegetarian-friendly list of staple categories to stock up on, and a few of my fave examples of each…
lettuce/dark leafy greens – hearts of romaine, lacinato kale, arugala
citrus – lemons, limes, blood oranges
flavor boosters – garlic, red onions, yellow onions, jalapenos, avocados
other produce – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, red bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, grapes etc.
whole grains (uncooked) – short grain brown rice, quinoa, lentils
breads/pasta – whole wheat penne pasta, whole wheat pita/flatbread
dairy – cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, grass-fed plain yogurt, whole milk
canned foods (organic only) – black beans, chickpeas, lentils, diced tomatoes, coconut milk
oils – olive, organic canola, virgin coconut, toasted sesame
vinegars – red wine, champagne, apple cider
pantry/fridge staples – sea salt, hot sauce, tamari, tahini, dijon mustard, yellow miso, ketchup, raw cashews, maple syrup, agave, all purpose flour, corn meal, yeast
herbs/spices (dried) – black pepper, oregano, dill, parsley, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon
So now let’s put this list to work. A perfect example of an amazing fridge-clean-out meal using my handy-dandy staples list? You got it – these healthy and delicious Asparagus & Hummus Gyros. I threw these wraps together without much effort, and, you guessed it, each item I used is on my staples list. I made hummus from canned chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. I did a simple roast of the asparagus spears, which I had purchased without a purpose. To make it a balanced and substantial meal, I added shredded romaine, leftover minced red onion and a stupid-easy dill-yogurt sauce that utilized the last 1/3 cup of yogurt left from my family-size tub. Then I wrapped it all up in basic pita flatbreads. So yummy and so easy. This dinner ended up taking less than 30 minutes to prepare, and Matt and I were both blown away by how tasty it was. Balance it out with some crispy red grapes or apple slices and you’ve got yourself a full meal.
Anyway, I’d love to know your go-to tips and tricks for stocking the pantry and playing the kitchen improv game. Or, even better, any successful improvs you’d like to share. Let’s hear it!
Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros with Dill-Yogurt Sauce
Servings: 4 Start to Finish: 30 minutes
for roasted asparagus
16 asparagus spears, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
for hummus (you could also use 1 cup store-bought hummus)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup water (+ more for texture)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)
for dill-yogurt sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 romaine heart, shredded and washed
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 flatbreads or pitas
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
Toss trimmed asparagus spears with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes, checking spears and flipping them every 5-10 minutes. When finished, the tips of the spears should be brown and the flesh a rich olive green.
Combine all hummus ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed, a tablespoon or 2 at a time. Transfer to bowl, season to taste. I use 3 dashes hot sauce and an extra tablespoon or 2 of water.
In a small bowl, stir together yogurt-dill sauce ingredients. Season with salt and lemon juice, to taste.
Prep veggies. Warm pitas, if desired, in microwave (wrapped in a clean towel) or in the oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.
When all components are complete, build the gyros. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of hummus across each pita. Top with 4 asparagus spears, shredded lettuce, chopped onions and about 2 tablespoons dill-yogurt sauce.
My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.
One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.
In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.
I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.
So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.
Happy summer and happy Friday!
Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving) Start to Finish: 10 minutes
2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.
Makes about 1 cup of pesto