Daily Archives: April 30, 2012

Cooking on Short Notice – Cooking for People Who Don’t (Beltane Edition) – How to use convenience foods to cut down on prep-time and energy-expences

Hey there!

So, back in February, Commodorified hosted a blog carnival about food security, for which I wrote about Cooking in the Dead of Winter. She’s doing another one (I think they’re going to be a quarterly thing).

The theme, this quarter, is “half home-made” — the idea is to provide recipes (and such?) that start with boxed ingredients and go from there. I think a good example of “half home-made” are the recipes you find on the backs of tinned-soup lables: Take one tin of cream-of-thingy soup, add half the required amount of liquid, and pour it – possibly with a tin of diced tomatoes – over a mix of protein and carbs. Bake. Serve. Nom! 😀

That said, I… don’t tend to do half home-made.
It’s either All Home-Made (although not hardcore – I don’t make my own pasta or cure my own sausage, or whatever) or it’s All Convenience Foods (like frozen lasagna, or pre-fab alfredo sauce + pasta/perogies + a handful of baby tomatoes and pre-sliced mushrooms).

As such: My plan for this is to talk about convenience foods – pre-chopped veggies, frozen veggies, tinned beans (and/or tuna), pre-cooked chicken from the grocery store, and similar – that, by and large, let you do “all home-made” with a lot less Aargh, when you’re running short on time, energy, or – as is the case with me occassionally – notice.

So. Onwards!

Easy Veggies
Cherry/grape tomatoes, snow peas, and fresh baby spinach can just be rinsed and chucked into a dish.
Similarly, if I’m buying peppers or broccoli, I sometimes pick it up from the “mix and match” bar where they sell dips and fruit trays and stuff. That way, it’s pre-sliced (and you aren’t paying for the weight of the pepper core, which is significant).
I also love pre-cubed squash, rutabaga, and sweet potatoes and – even more-so – pre-sliced mushrooms, for the same reason. There’s up to about half an hour less prep to deal with – sometimes quite a lot more than that (if – just for example – you’re making Sunshine in a Roasting Pan, which I do every year for Winter Solstice). They go bad really fast (which is probably why they wound up in the pre-sliced section to begin with, if I think about it), but they’re great for when you already know what you’re going to make and just need the help of a sous-chef-inna-box.

Stuff like this – along with couscous, potato gnocchi, perogies, short (or long) pasta, and other FAST-COOKING carbs – makes throwing a meal together (when you have little time and/or little energy) so much easier.

Pantry Suggestions
Similarly, from the perspective of no time, no energy and, oh yeah, no notice (but, I should point out, wrists that can manage the can opener)… if you can keep stuff along the following lines on hand in your pantry, you can do fast meals for Many when you’ve got unexpected company:

Pasta (this includes couscous and gnocchi, fyi)
Rice (white rice, as it only takes 20 minutes to cook – I like basmati, myself, but whatever works)
Perogies (handily combining potatoes with bacon and/or some kind of cheese – I tend to go for No Name potato-and-cheddar, myself)


TINNED: diced tomatoes, water chestnuts and/or bamboo shoots, mushrooms
TINNED: tuna, chick peas, romano/kidney beans
DRIED: seaweed (nori is delicious), mushrooms (shiitake, inoke, morel… I just get the cheap wood-ear ones at the Kowloon Market up the street, but whatever you like), + possibly TVP
FROZEN: spinach, peas, broccoli

…plus oil-based salad dressing (like “Italian” or “Sesame Ginger”) or cooking oil, garlic powder (or fresh garlic, and/or fresh onion, since those tend to keep really well), basil, black pepper, and maybe a box of pre-grated parmajan cheese… You can throw together a tasty meal on short notice without having to run the grocery store.

For example:

Super Simple Pasta = Pasta shells with: tinned tuna + tinned tomatoes + garlic powder, black pepper, basil

Instant Tagine (which is possibly an oxymoron) = Couscous with: tinned chick peas + tinned tomatoes + frozen spinach + garlic powder + black pepper (you can also throw dried apricots into this for extra tastiness)

Pasta Not-Actually-Primavera = Linguini with: frozen peas + frozen spinach + dried/tinned mushrooms + Italian salad dressing + parmajan cheese

Short-Notice Stirfry = Rice with: Dried mushrooms + dried seaweed + tinned water chestnuts (and/or tinned bamboo shoots) + (optional) tinned tuna + frozen peas + garlic powder + sesame ginger salad dressing

Winter Comfort Food = Ravioli/Frozen Perogies with: tinned mushrooms + tinned tomatoes + garlic powder + black pepper + (optional) parmajan cheese

Mushroom Stew = Egg noodles with: tinned romano beans + tinned mushrooms + dried mushrooms + frozen spinach + (optional) tinned tomatoes + garlic powder + black pepper + (optional) basil

You can also use left-over grocery-roasted chicken (a favourite for potlucks, fyi) – or any other left-over critter/tofu/seitan/tempeh you have in the fridge – in place of the tinned tuna OR the tinned beans in any of the above combinations (but they’re less likely to be Just Lying Around in the event of sudden company).

Similarly, if you have no time and no energy, but you do have money (or a good eye for when stuff goes on deep discount) you can go to town with:
bags of frozen shrimp
boxes of “hors d’oeuvres” meatballs
boneless tinned salmon (or, heck, frozen smoked salmon, if we’re really getting spiffy)
jars of artichoke hearts, garlic-stuffed olives, roasted red (and/or hot) peppers
pre-fab alfredo sauces and salsas
tins of smoked oysters or anchovies
containers of sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, (immitation or real) bacon bits, etc…

…and so on. These goodies are used the same way, but give you more flavours to work with and, because they tend to be a little fanicer (looking), can really trick your “what have I got in the fridge” meal out a treat.
For further suggestions, you might try this post, from the last carnival, about cooking when you have no time or energy (but you do have money).

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Plans for the Coming Month (Fishing and Gardening)

So. May starts tomorrow.
I keeping with my previous post about Spring and Beltane and things generally waking up, I thought I’d toss this up here:

To Plant (come the Long Weekend and the passing of “all danger of frost”):
Rainbow Chard (from seed – on the blacony)
Cherry Tomatoes (from sprouted plant – on the blacony)
Scarlet Runner beans (from seed – on the balcony)
Cucumbers (from sprouted plant – on the blacony)
Thelma Saunders acorn squash (maybe – from seed – on the balcony)

Morning Glories (from seed – in a window box)
Peppermint (from sprouted plant – in a window box)
Garlic Chives (from sprouted plant – in a window box)
Nasturtiums (from seed – in a window box)
Other Flowers (Ghost’s choice – from seeds or sprouted plants – in a window box)

Butternut squash (maybe – from seed – in a publically available plot)
Pie pumpkins (maybe – from seed – in a publically available plot)

To Acquire:
Fishing License (available from Candian Tire, I believe)
Filleting knife – a long, thin, sharp knife with a very pointy tip (we’ve probably got something appropriate already on hand)
Thelma Saunders acorn squash seeds (possibly from the Herb and Spice?)
Tomato, Garlic Chive, Peppermint, and Cucumber plants (probably from Home Despot – I mean Depot – particluarly if we’re also getting window boxes and soil, although possibly the Byward Market)
Window Boxes and soil (see above)
Some kind of “worm tea” or other fertilizer that may help our container garden grow

To Learn:

How to kill a fish:

How to clean and gut a fish I’ve just killed:

Spring is Here (the Light has Changed). :-D

This morning I woke up (before 7am) to bright sunlight (YAY!) and the reflection of mirrors and rainbows on my ceiling. Clearling summer is on its way!
And then I realized what day it is. April 30th.
The calendar-date for Beltane is tomorrow. (Guess I should plan that fairy cake party, huh…)

I think it’s really neat how the light-levels are so noticeable (maybe this shouldn’t surprise me…) around the cross-quarter days. For example, I find the days are noticeably longer – like “OMG, it’s 4pm and the sun is still well above the horizon” noticeably – around Imbolg. That I’m noticing “summer light” (when the sun is up early enough to hit the prisms and the mirrors in the bedroom before we actually wake up, let alone get up) right smack around Beltane falls into this situation, too.

The leaves have been unfurling for a while now – green flowers making the maple trees look like giant pompoms (“Come on Spring! You can do it!!!”), the birch trees decked in their catkins, looking poised as dancers – but maybe because it’s also been very grey outside (first sunshine in about 10 days, yesterday), it’s the sun that’s really doing it for me now.

Ottawa’s kind of a funny place, weather-wise. Although maybe this is typical all over the Eastern Woodlands. Like Palimpsest, we have a winter of bare branches (aka the winter of frost), a winter of snow, a winter of ice, and a winter of slush (or mud). “Spring” is usually not more than six weeks long (starting in mid-April) but, some years, only lasts for part of May, with “Summer” kicking off its first leg around the May 2-4 long weekend. (Victoria Day weekend is actually our Beltane — it combines nudity (or at least beach wear and flip-flops), alcohol (frequently), first planting, fire, and partying, along with rituals like Opening the Cottage, Putting In the Garden, and The First Barbicue of the Season. If we’re lucky, it’s even warm enough to hang out at the beach and play frisbee or something – ’cause gods know we’re not going in the water this early!).

Anyway. Spring. It’s here. For real this time, I think. 🙂
YAY! 😀

Meliad the Birch Maiden.