The other day I had bread dough rising in the fridge, as I often do, and then I remembered about it and put it on the wood-burning stove, which I had just lit, so that it could come to room temperature and I could do something awesome with it.
Then I went into the other room, because experience has shown that I will definitely remember that I have something going on in the kitchen when I’m elsewhere, and nothing stupid will happen.
When I came back into the kitchen the fire was roaring and the dough was risen, all right. In fact, the bottom half of it had started to bake (in the inadequately greased pan). What to do?
Well, I might not learn some things from experience, but others I do. I knew that I could get something out of this mini-disaster. Not a nicely baked big loaf of bread, but something.
So I gently pulled off the part of the dough that wasn’t already baking, formed it into a little focaccia-like lump, put it on a properly greased baking dish, and popped it in the oven, letting it continue its rise as the oven pre-heated; and then it baked. It was fine as a little bit of bread for the family at supper — actually, they loved it, which is so sweet of them and why I don’t give up entirely in the face of my distractedness.
The other bit, the part in the pan, I just baked as is. It’s not lovely, is it? And it was impossible to get out of the pan without hackage.
The substance itself tasted fine — not even sour, as I thought it might after that pre-bake on the wood stove. I could have used it for Breakfast Casserole or Bread Pudding, but I chose to make it into breadcrumbs.
That got me to thinking about the end of the Christmas break, when Deirdre and the Artist and Finnabee were still here. Deirdre was remarking on how I am able to “pull out” things from the fridge to get supper together. Now that she’s seeing it from her own perspective as a home-maker, she was wondering how exactly it’s done.
I kept reassuring her that it’s something that comes with experience and, to be fair, having a certain number of people around to cause the stash of food you can later use in this seemingly magical way. And I’ve written here about Save-a-Step Cooking, which is the best, most painless way to keep from having to come up with a meal from scratch every day or go broke trying.
You know about planning your meals for the week so you don’t get caught unawares. But what about those days where the meat didn’t thaw in time, or you have more people than you expected, or your shopping trip got thrown off?
You need some tried-and-true quick suppers up your sleeve, with some ways of rounding out a meal to make it filling.
As I made those breadcrumbs, I thought that maybe if I shared a couple of other tricks, it would be helpful to her and to you as well. I’m not going to list the usual things you find in magazines about what to have in your pantry. I take it for granted that we all know we shouldn’t buy pasta one box at a time, and that jarred tomato sauce has its place. You have your cans of tuna and beans (or maybe some beans you’ve soaked and popped in the freezer). You get that you need to have a supply of milk and eggs. You have rice.
But what else would be helpful to have around? Here’s a list, but I only have pictures of the breadcrumbs! Sorry!
1. Pie crust. When you make a pie, make extra crust, form it, and stash it in the freezer. A pie crust makes a small amount of stew (including chicken pieces with potato, carrot, and peas) into that wonderful and filling substance known as Pot Pie. One pie crust, rolled out thin, can make a wonderful galette that rounds out a pot of soup or some other little leftover slices of meat or what have you. One night with Deirdre’s family, we had sweet potato galette and it was just so delicious! I will make one in the daytime at some point and take a picture of it. You could make this one here but don’t bother mixing everything up in a bowl first — just chuck it all on your pie crust in layers and go.
2. Pieces of ham. Rosie had ham a while ago and called me to ask me what kinds of thing I would make with the little bits, since I’m always referencing them. What wouldn’t you make? Soup is better with bits of ham. Mac and cheese becomes dinner with pieces of ham. Galette (#1) is heartier with little bits of ham. You can make Hawaiian pizza if you also have a can of pineapple in the pantry. You can toss pasta with ham and green beans and feed 8 people with half a cup of meat. So next time you serve ham, carefully divide the leftovers into nice slices, chunks, bone, and little bits you’ve taken off the bone (although you don’t have to be obsessive about it since the meat on the bone is good for the soup). Wrap each kind up in its own ziploc bag, label it, and stash it away.
3. Pieces of bacon. You’ll have to squirrel these away before the barbarians attack breakfast, but even two slices (I always get thick-cut bacon) will crumble up nicely on a salad with blue-cheese dressing. That galette will be lovely with bacon. You can mix it up in mayo to make lettuce, cheese, and tomato sandwiches that aren’t BLTs but do have a sort of bacon-y aura.
4. Stock. When you have a roast (and making a roast on Sunday is the best way to A. Not work hard on Sunday but serve a nice dinner and B. Save plenty of Steps the rest of the weeks ahead), put all the bones in a pot with the bits of onion, carrot, and celery that you’ve collected along the way (you can keep those in a plastic bag in the freezer as well, along with parsley stems and mushroom bits). Add any pan drippings if you haven’t already used them for gravy or sauce.
It’s not beyond me to ask the family to put their chicken bones in the pot when they’re done eating. Simmer it for the rest of the evening (doesn’t take days as some think) with a tablespoon of vinegar if you remember it. Even if you add nothing, just simmer the bones. Strain it into a bowl over a colander and set the whole bowl in your fridge (sometimes in winter I put the pot with the lid on the workbench in the garage and do this in the morning, and this is a good reason to have a second fridge). It will keep with its layer of undisturbed fat for a week. Scrape off the fat (you can keep it if you want — I usually don’t as I have lots of bacon grease handy, but I sure kept the duck fat from Christmas!). Put the stock into mason jars (leaving 2 inches of headroom) and freeze or use within a day or so. You can defrost stock by putting the jar in a pot of cold water. Once it’s not crazy cold, you can slowly microwave it or use warmer water.
Stock is essential. With stock you can make the gravy for your pot pie and you can make good soup. But you have to have some for it to be any good for you! So start stashing it!
5. Pieces of cooked chicken. When your supper of roast chicken is over (and you should absolutely never roast fewer than 2 chickens at a time), separate it into big pieces, bones, and little bits. The latter are your special stash for chicken salad sandwiches, chicken caesar salad, and chicken quesadillas. Making chicken soup with your stashed broth? Add even a cup of little pieces of cooked chicken at the end, so that it sticks to their ribs.
6. Cabbage, carrots, celery, and apples. In winter especially, when you can’t get to the store for fresh veggies, you can always pull out one of my three favorite side dishes: 1. Cole slaw (shred cabbage and carrots, toss with mayo, vinegar, a little sugar, salt, and cumin). 2. Carrot sticks (obvious). 3. Waldorf Salad (cut up celery and apple, add raisins or dried cranberries, toss with chopped nuts like pecans, dress like cole slaw minus the cumin).
7. Garlic-ginger paste. This is easy to make and keep in the fridge. Then add to the cole slaw with some bacon. Stir-fry is fast, and the garlic-ginger paste makes it extra authentic.
8. Sausage/beef mix. When you get back from the grocery store, just fry up the extra packages of ground beef and Italian sausage you bought for your stash. Drain and divide amongst ziploc bags. Freeze. With this mix you can make spaghetti sauce, chili, tacos, shepherd’s pie — all super fast. Always make more than for your planned menus, because you will use it, trust me.
9. Cooked veggies. Cook your green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, peas, whatever — with another meal in mind. Two days later, pull them out and heat them up. They will be very good if you didn’t overcook them in the first place. Most veggies (not green beans, it’s true) freeze fine.
10. Frozen corn. Sukie says that corn makes everything better. It’s true. If you have frozen corn, you can add it to pot pie, chili, or soup to stretch it out as well as make it tastier. Peas and spinach are also good to have in the freezer for when you don’t have another fresh veggie anywhere.
11. Bread dough in the fridge. Almost any dough will work just fine in the fridge, rising there slowly until you are ready for it. Homemade bread makes the simplest meal seem wonderful and warm. You can always make supper of a tray of dough, spread out, topped with your meat mix (#8) and cheese. Cheeseburger pie! Delish.
12. Bread crumbs! The most ordinary casserole is just a million times better with a layer of toasty breadcrumbs on top. Use any mason jar with your blender blade*. Collect all those heels of bread and leftover toast — you can keep them in a bag in the freezer until you are ready. Or put your dough on your wood stove :)
With breadcrumbs you can quickly make Chicken Lightly Seasoned or Mac and Cheese for dinner. Your meatloaf and meatballs need them. And you know those bags of red peppers? Buy one. Split the peppers in half. Drop a tablespoon of a mixture of some kind of cheese (goat, feta) crumbled, mixed with a little bread crumbs, parsley, maybe a small amount of finely diced tomato or sundried tomato onto each one — top with a little grated parmesan and bread crumbs, and roast on a pan spread with olive oil for 10-15 minutes at 400*. Serve with your pasta dish. You can’t pull that one out of a hat without bread crumbs!
What do you reach for when your dinner plan doesn’t materialize? What’s your go-to easy supper? What do you have on hand to make it happen?
*Don’t put hot liquids in a jar — no room for expansion! But making a frozen drink is awesome — it’s ready to drink!