Kitchen Creative

We’ve migrated into the part of the year when we’re all supposed to be reinventing ourselves into new, better selves. As I sit at my kitchen table after a run on my treadmill (I’m training for a race, so eventually I have to run outside but right now it’s cold out and I don’t want to), I contemplate all my new improved self behaviors, such as patiently, rather than my usual impatiently, waiting for my husband to leave the kitchen so I can finish the leftovers by myself, or being excited when I accidentally drop a bath bomb intended to be used by the kids and break it, therefore making it fair game for me.

In my defense it is dragon shaped and apparently emits vegan sparkles.
I mean, wouldn’t you?

Our meal plan this week was just about flawless. Well, it was. Coming to the end of the first week of our pantry challenge, with a mantra of using up what we have, we had made a plan through Saturday to use what we had, with Sunday picking up on some added fruit, veggies and milk. Total spend for the 2 weeks on groceries? $66.61 + another $8.78 on a couple of gallons of milk from our local dairy. Not bad. We had plenty of apples, squashes, sweet potatoes and onions, plus some other random veggies in the drawers to use up. Our freezer had plenty of meat in it, and so far we’ve eaten pretty well. Then of course as we were taking stock for lunches we realized that we had definitely under-planned, and spent another $49.01. Way less than our usual, more than we had hoped.

Eli and I were by ourselves on Saturday evening, so my plan was stuffed spaghetti squash, a house favorite. And then I took a look at our 4 spaghetti squashes. Moldy, all of them. And I had just spent the grocery money that was supposed to hold us until January 20th, just under 2 weeks away.

The only thing between me and running to the store is our pantry challenge. That challenge is part of us cutting back spending to achieve bigger goals. But you know, I could have just run out.

I didn’t. I quickly started googling recipes for the ground lamb I had thawed in anticipation of stuffing the squashes, and mentally inventorying our food supply. Theme? I really thought I was going in a Lamb Keema direction, but since we’re short on our 30 plant based foods for the week, I was going to jazz it up. To be honest, we have a lot of root veggies to use up, so I peeled and chopped a few sweet potatoes and a rutabaga that had been part of our last winter CSA distribution, and melted some ghee in a glass baking dish. I had actually never cooked a rutabaga before, but I took 2 home as a challenge in late December.

And then, um, they sat in the veggie drawer.

I put the chopped sweet potatoes and rutabaga in the baking dish, tossed a bit more ghee on top, and popped them in the oven at 375 degrees F. I was going for nutritional density without heavy refined carbs. Not being totally sure how I wanted to season them, or even really if I was going to mix them in with dinner or have them as a side, I didn’t put anything else on them.

At some point I started mulling just how many vegetables I could stick in this meal. I have recently been targeting variety – 30 plant-based foods a week, which is supposed to be a huge differential in gut health. I had some baby spinach that needed to be used up, half an already-baked butternut squash from a recipe earlier in the week, and of course, onions and frozen peas. But the night prior, in a planned exception to our Uber Frugal Month I had dinner with a friend at a Tapas bar. She and her family are going through a thing, and sometimes you suspend your spending freezes and dry Januaries for a night of friendship.

I got a little inspired by the Potatoes Bravas we had shared, and went in the general tapas direction. Mostly.

I made the Potatoes Bravas sauce for the sweet potatoes and rutabagas, tossed them after they had baked for 45 minutes, and left them for another 45 or so.
There was a lot of sauce left, so to that I added a generous splash of red cooking wine, and the butternut squash, which had been baked into a soft mush. Stirred that around and it was surprisingly good.

In a separate pan I cooked the ground lamb, a package of frozen cauliflower rice, and the last of the spinach. I then combined it together in my cast iron skillet – I splurged on a Staub skillet a while back, and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made – and topped it with a hard cheese that we hadn’t opened over the holidays, called Casa de Medivil, in keeping with my not-really-but-maybe Spanish theme.

I toasted (ok, sort of burned) the last few pine nuts I had in my fridge, and added some olives and marinated peppadews and mushrooms to a plate of sliced burrata, then topped it with a little bit of Maple Bacon Aioli we had in the pantry that needed to be opened and used, and topped it with the pine nuts.

And that was dinner. Total plant-food count? 11, 7 of which we hadn’t had previously during the week. I don’t count the seasonings, although technically you can.

I did all this while Eli was putting on our new storm door, which required hours of creative carpentry, because nothing in this house was built to any standard sizes, since there wasn’t as much of that back in 1850. The new door is just about done and lovely, and my husband braving the cold to do carpentry on the porch is something I have endless gratitude about, especially considering I wussed out on being cold this morning even for the 5 minutes it would take me to break a sweat running.

Did we meet our 30 plant-based food varieties goal this week? I honestly don’t know, I totally lost track. Close…I think? I’ll track better this coming week.

Sunday I made a batch of chicken tortilla soup, and put together a shepherd’s pie, for Monday dinner I splurged on tortilla chips and fresh Pico de Gallo because it’s just not the same without.

I was traveling Tuesday and Wednesday, so Thursday I pulled some meatballs out of the freezer, cooked pasta, and added a jar of Rao’s sauce, and made some popovers and that, plus sliced avocado and peppers was dinner. Friday was bulgogi, also from the freezer, with rice, roasted broccoli, and some Trader Joe’s scallion pancakes I had bought on a whim and stuck in the freezer a while back. There were plenty of leftovers for weekend lunches.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and my plan for breakfast is two-ingredient pumpkin donuts (thank you @sydneyinsuburbia), fresh fruit, and breakfast sausage from the freezer. And then it will be time for steak tacos and more meal plans.

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