I love watching Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef.  If I catch another cooking show like Lydia’s Kitchen, I’ll watch that, too. I’ve become an ingredient snob.  The only olive oil I will use is of the “first cold pressing” and I must see the sediment floating around in the oil.  It’s a MUST~!  That is where all the flavor is.  I love to eat tuna steak, shark steak, and swordfish, you know, that fish meat that makes you feel like you’re eating something.

New olive oil, just pressed. It has a dense co...
New olive oil, just pressed. It has a dense colour at first; later, it clarifies by decantation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love what great ingredients can do to a dish!  I’m a true Italian in the cooking arena. Creative cooking is so much a part of me that it makes my whole body sing.  “Like Water For Chocolate” is one of my favorite movies.  The connection Maria has with the ingredients and the food she makes is phenomenal and inspiring. That’s how I feel when I’m cooking, like my whole self is going into it. I’ve got to chuckle because sometimes my experimentation is not appreciated and sometimes for good reason.  DH hates mushrooms.  He can’t get out of his mind that they are fungi.  My dad’s neighbor in PA is from the old country and knows how to forage for mushrooms.  He dries them and gives to my dad, and he in turn gives me some.  What a different taste.  Another item that once you’ve had the real thing, you can’t go back to canned.  Canned mushrooms are so bland and scuzzy I don’t buy them anymore.

Herbs.  Fresh all the way.  I used to have a pretty nice herb garden up until last year… until my landlord’s son pulled everything out because he wanted to make his girlfriend happy and give her a flower garden.  Don’t mind the fact that his father gave me permission years ago to plant there, AND that same December they broke up… but I won’t go there.  I got over it and we ironed things out.  Still, I miss the rosemary and English and French lavender bushes.  I miss my lemon thyme and greek oregano.  I miss my basil and spearmint.  I managed to fit quite a bit in my little plot of clayish earth.  This past year or so, I’ve splurged on saffron and two years ago, whole vanilla beans.  Once I started grinding up my own spices, I started blending them for my cooking.

Myristica fragrans Nutmeg. The picture was tak...
Myristica fragrans Nutmeg. The picture was taken in Zanzibar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once you taste fresh nutmeg, mace, allspice, cinnamon, etc., you can’t go back to the pre-ground up kind.  Mace.  I thank my friend Pauline for turning me onto that one!  She gifted me with some fresh whole nutmeg nuts, so I had the luxury of trying out fresh mace, and I will not soon forget that.  See that reddish web-like stuff around the pit? Thats mace.  Smell that?  Ah~!  I use nutmeg (sometimes mace) on chicken in the oven.  I discovered that when I stopped cooking with salt and needed to find other substitutes.  Now, while I do use salt, I use much less than recommended in recipes.  Oh, and I love using course sea salt.

I’ve always been one to experiment in the kitchen, and now I’m adding home canning, and pickling into the mix.  I have my mind set to try out homemade dairy products like making butter, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and utilizing whey and whatever else, oh, cream.  There are plenty of tutorials on the net with loads of pictures and that’s right up my alley.

Oh.  so the reason for this post.  This past year, I’ve had to pretty much give up on quality ingredients for my cooking.  Or rather, I don’t cook much at all.  So what I’d like to do here is tell you how I am getting by on pretty much nothing fresh.  I hate it, but I keep telling myself that it’s temporary until things start looking up around here.  My pep talk pretty much consists of me telling myself that it could be worse and that others have it much harder than we do.  It’s temporary.

My basic goal is to cook everything in one pan.  First cook whatever meat, chicken, beef, whatever.  Then remove the cooked meat and use those juices as a base for sautéing veggies.  I don’t like to cook veggies too long.  I prefer my veggies to have bright colors to them.  Also, if you recook them another day, they won’t be totally overcooked and mushy.  After the veggies are done, I quickly throw the meat back in and whatever extras and serve when everything is hot.  You can imagine my glee when I found a recipe online for a one pot pasta dish.

Pasta.  Pasta can be healthy and it can be filling.  My favorite experiments are with left over veggies and pasta, Pasta Primavera.  There is no set-in-stone recipe; but the key, I think, is to have at least one veggie going in there that is not a left over.  The cool thing about primavera is that you and use any veggie you want.  Another thing that I strive to do as much as I can is “One Pot Meals.”  Just found one recipe on Pinterest and it blew my mind to put dry pasta in with all the ingredients into one pot, cover, cook, and VOILA, it’s a meal 20 minutes or so later… and all the water is used, no draining. Pasta, Tomatoes, Veggies Recipe link.

As it stands now, we buy frozen veggies.  Not fresh, but much better than canned.  In addition to the excessive salt content of can, those veggies are mushy and I hate that.  I only tolerate canned corn and peas for their texture.  What can I say?  We don’t eat as nearly healthy enough as we should.  It’s temporary.  I throw out nothing.  I make use of left overs within the week.  Actually, I love repurposing leftovers and creating another different meal from them.  Left over broccoli? Broccoli and egg omelet the next morning or for lunch.  Stale bread?  Don’t throw it out!  Make french toast or bread crumbs.  Two or three bowls of fragmented veggies hanging out in the fridge?  Do I see beans in there?  Throw it all together for a primavera dish tonight, or add a bit of tomato sauce and make a nice side dish.  Do you have garlic that’s not looking so plump anymore, or onions in the same predicament?  Chop up those babies and stick them in a sandwich bag and into the freezer they go.  What I like to do with garlic is mix it up with butter in the food processor with some basil, if I have it, and whip up some delicious garlic butter.  Add some olive oil and you have a nice spread.  Some milk that’s approaching the questionable point?  Throw it in a blender with some ice and a packet of hot chocolate mix for a quick summer’s chocolate treat for the kids (or yourself).  Add a teaspoon or more of instant coffee and make it a mocha.

Okay, I guess that’s enough to boggle your mind with today.  These are just some things I like to do to keep things interesting and useable on a limited budget.  Once you try out some ideas, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to just think up something new, delightful and unique to your own refrigerator and cupboards.  Next time maybe I’ll talk about how easy it is to make your own pita chips and roti.  Oh, and easy slushy-type drinks.

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