I love menu-planning. I love combing through recipes, seeing what sides would play best with the main dish, imagining how everything will taste. I even like grocery shopping. That was a coping mechanism in college, when I got super-stressed I would just wander the grocery store and look at all the produce, colorful and tidy, everything in its place. I was like Holly Golightly with Tiffany's, but the even poorer version.
As much as I like menu planning though, sometimes it is Wednesday night and we are at home and I have not shopped and our stomachs are not respecting my lack of planning, they are just wanting to eat. So, I improvise.
Let me preface that usually my improvising begins with eggs or beans, because those are two things we always have. You may have different things, like pasta or potatoes. Start from there- with your proteins and starches. You can technically make a meal out of those two categories!
Improv for me usually looks something like this:
Caitlyn looks in pantry. Discouraged, she looks in the fridge. Returns to pantry. Returns to fridge. Surveys countertops. Consults Pinterest. Calculates how crowded the store might be at this time of day. Returns to fridge. Sees that there are some oldish sweet potatoes that aren't yet sprouting (hurray!) and a can of black beans. Roasted sweet potatoes, cumin and garlic seasoned black beans, do we have salsa? Yes! Sprinkled with salsa, and top with a fried egg (because, trendiness.)
"Dinner. Is served." Caitlyn bows with a flourish, lower curtain.
Another option in this scenario, is our good friend The Frittata. We like Frittata because she is sophisticated and cool, but also real. You know, she doesn't make us feel uncomfortable. She's laid back.
Our favorite frittata recipe is usually just eggs whisked with a little milk or cream; cubed, roasted sweet potatoes; jimmy dean sausage, and feta crumbles. You can substitute it with anything you may have on hand- tear up some of that ham you bought for sandwiches, grate in some cheddar, stir some ground mustard into the scrambled eggs and toss in that broccoli you just found in the freezer (but maybe microwave it first). Dinner! Hakuna Frittata!
The Basic Formula for Frittata:
- Lots of eggs, now is no time to be stingy! I'd say around 6 or 8.
- "Hearty stuff"- bacon, sausage, ham, mushrooms, ground turkey, leftover shredded chicken etc.
- Veggies! (because, virtue.) Bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, whatever floats your boat.
- Cheese, if that's your thing.
Hearty stuff first! Brown your meat, set aside, then soften veggies in the same pan, because it is always best when your mushrooms taste like bacon. Add the meat back in, then sprinkle the cheese over everything. Mix up your eggs with salt, pepper, and a splash of milk, then pour over the top. Let sit over medium heat until the edges of the eggs start to set up. Then, pop the whole skillet into the oven (which has been preheating to 350 during this whole process) and let it bake for around 15 minutes, or until set up in the middle. One pan dinner, day = saved.
some other frittata combinations :
- mushroom//bell pepper// spinach// feta
- bacon// cheddar// chive
- sautéed summer squash // green bell pepper // goat cheese // bacon (you could even swirl some pesto into the eggs!!)
Hope this helps you on those nights where the cupboards are bare ;) The only other tips I can offer are to pay attention, use ingredients that you already know taste good together, and give everything a good smell throughout the process. If you're not as ready to rely on just your nose and instincts, check out The Flavor Bible. It's really handy as it lists a TON of ingredients and what they go best with it! I got one for Christmas and use it all the time. (Thanks, Rob!)
Most importantly, eat with the people you love. (and if all else fails, pizza party!)