Friday, July 15, 2011

Pantry Creativity

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Earlier this month, I received my vehicle excise tax bill, and even the quarterly payment was a whopper. Ouch. And you know how gas prices are skyrocketing? Suffice to say, I'm on a seriously constricted budget for my grocery expenditures for at least a little while. I still have milk delivery each week, and I'll shop for a few, inexpensive vegetables and fruits (bag of carrots, frozen broccoli or spinach) to keep real nutrients in my diet. But basically, this means being reeealllyyy creative with what's in the pantry (and fridge/freezer).

I did have one strike of luck, in that a good friend of mine who is also vegetarian and gluten-intolerant recently moved across the country and had some pantry items she didn't want to ship. I "inherited" some GF pasta, a large jar of nopalitos, and more rice-paper wrappers than I believe are currently available in the entire country of Vietnam. All of these have played roles in my recent inventions.

I'll tweet more successful results (and probably the not-so-successful ones, too) under the #pantrycreativity hashtag until I get around to writing another post here.

Invention #1: Mac&PB&J

What can I say? I was feeling lazy and was out of bread.

56 g dry Tinkyada gf macaroni elbows
28 g peanut butter
14 g jelly (I used blueberry)

Boil macaroni in salted water as usual. While it's cooking, mix peanut butter and jelly in a bowl until well mixed. When pasta is ready, drain well (rinse if desired), then stir into PB&J mixture.

It's better than it probably sounds to some of you, not quite as good as it may sound to others.

Invention #2: Spring Rolls

Like I said: "more rice-paper wrappers than I believe are currently available in the entire country of Vietnam." I didn't have any of the usual fillings, like cellophane noodles, fresh spinach or lettuce, tofu or basil leaves, so I had to simplify.

6 "triangle" (1/4-round) shape rice paper wrappers
1 small carrot
28 g peanut butter
a splash each of rice vinegar and wheat-free tamari
85 g frozen broccoli florets, thawed and chopped smaller

Combine peanut butter, rice vinegar and tamari in a bowl. Grate carrot with the fine side of a box grater, then mix into PB mixture. Add broccoli and mix.

Have ready a shallow, heatproof dish (like a pyrex brownie pan), a large dinner plate and the smaller plate on which you plan to serve the spring rolls. Place one wrapper in the heatproof dish. Boil water in a kettle, then pour just enough over the wrapper to cover it. Gently poke it around in the water to make sure it stays covered and softens; this will take just a few seconds. Remove from water with bamboo tongs or your fingers if the water has cooled fast enough.

Carefully spread wrapper on the large dinner plate and immediately place the next wrapper into the still-warm water and poke it until submerged. Add about 2-3 Tbs of filling to the wrapper on the plate, and carefully wrap it by folding over one side, then the right-angle corner, then the round edge, and rolling toward the loose side as tightly as you think it can handle. Rest the roll at the edge of the plate to drain a little before transferring it to the serving plate. Meanwhile, the next wrapper should be ready. Repeat until all wrappers and filling are used, adding boiling water to the heatproof dish as needed.

These, I liked. I've repeated this a few times. I thought I had a photo, but unfortunately I can't find it.

Invention #3: Nopalitos Corn Bread

That was one ginormous jar of nopalitos my friend gave me. After a few days of nopalitos tacos and huevos con nopalitos, I just wanted to get rid of the things. This inspiration turned out to be very successful.

1 recipe "Southern Corn Bread" from The Joy of Cooking (p. 777 in the hardcover edition of the 1998 revision)
1 c. drained nopalitos, including the jalapeño from the jar, minced

Prepare according to the recipe omitting the sugar and cutting back the salt to 3/4 tsp (1/2 tsp might have been better), stirring in the nopalitos and jalapeño just before transferring batter to a preheated, 10-inch cast iron skillet. By the way, I substitute buttermilk powder and water for the buttermilk in the recipe, and only used half the water indicated (1 c. instead of 2, I think it was).

I ate it with some huevos con chorizo de soya (that's Trader Joe's soy chorizo, which is gf and vegetarian), to which I had added some Narragansett Creamery queso blanco, and a Redbridge. (Yes, it was a "treat" day.*) Yum!

Invention #4: Veggie+ Mac&Cheese

Normally, I like my mac&cheese unadorned, but I am trying to eat healthier, so here's what I did:

1 box gf mac&cheese (Annie's, Trader Joe's, Pastariso, whatever)
1/4 c nonfat milk
1 Tbs butter
1 carrot, grated fine
85 g frozen broccoli florets, thawed and chopped smaller

Boil macaroni in salted water. Combine sauce mix and milk in a measuring cup and stir well until smooth. When macaroni is ready, drain, rinse well, and leave in colander. Rinse pot and return it to stove over medium-low heat. Melt butter and add carrot, then cook while stirring regularly until a little soft. Add broccoli and cheese sauce, stir to combine. Add cooked macaroni and stir well over medium heat until sauce thickens a little, which takes at least a few minutes.

This made three generous portions, two of which I froze for later consumption. They reheated nicely in the microwave.

Invention #5: Carrot-Yogurt Salad

I make my own yogurt using a Deni yogurt incubator, so I usually have some on-hand.

6 oz. plain, nonfat yogurt
dill, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
28 g pistachios, chopped
1 carrot, shredded fine
2 Tbs ground flaxseed

Mix yogurt together with seasonings until well blended. Add pistachios and flaxseed and mix well. Mix in carrot. Ta-da! Very satisfyingly crunchy.

Invention #6: Pasta Salad

A friend of mine is having a potluck party this weekend, and is providing ice cream so she prefers that people not bring dessert. I have a lot of gf baking supplies on hand, but not much for baking savory things. She did say it was ok to show up empty-handed, but I felt embarrassed to do so.

Fortunately, I had an idea.

1 small onion, chopped (or 1/2 onion; I think I had a little too much)
1/2 c. plain, nonfat yogurt
1 tsp dill
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 medium carrot
7-8 oz. dry GF pasta
leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the onion, separate the pieces well and soak in a baking soda solution (1 Tbs : 1 c water) for 15 minutes, then drain and rinse well.

Combine yogurt, dill, garlic powder, olive oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add onion after soaking/draining/rinsing. Cover and refrigerate overnight (optional).

Boil water in a large pot. When it reaches a rolling boil, stir in pasta and a generous shake of salt. Stir regularly, especially in the first couple of minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, grate the carrot into a large bowl, using the coarsest side of a box grater. Add yogurt mixture and mix well.

When the pasta is done, drain and rinse briefly, shake out extra water, then add to bowl while still warm. Stir well to combine ingredients thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Snip mint leaves into small pieces over bowl, then stir to combine completely. Transfer salad to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve (preferably in the next day or so).

* After successfully reaching the "normal" BMI range, I fell into summer slothfulness (and travel-eating) and gained back some of the weight I'd lost. I decided that it's not worth berating myself over every cookie, but there had to be a way to balance rich snacks with healthy eating habits. My solution? First of all, treats are one small desserty-snack and one richer meal per day; second, I only get to have those days if my weight is down when I do the Wii Fit "body test" in the morning. If it's not down, then it's healthy-eating-only that day. So far, it's working fine (and I've re-lost about half the weight I'd re-gained).

A couple of days ago, a new friend was surprised to hear that I'd had a donut for breakfast that morning. Specifically, she asked, "How do you look like that, if you eat donuts?" I explained my treat-day system. But also thanked her: no one had ever before implied that I looked like someone who didn't eat donuts. I guess anything's possible. :-)