21 April 2011

Do what you can...

Theodore Roosevelt once said "Do what you can with what you have, where you are." This could not hold truer for any place other than the kitchen. How often have you stood in front of the opened refrigerator at 6pm thinking about what you could possibly come up with to satisfy your family's dinner time hunger? What about your significant other, spouse, child(ren), etc. calling to let you know there's company coming and begging you to come up with something edible, at the very least, and preferably hearty and delicious to boot? I have been there more times than I care to reveal, as that bonding time with the chilly white box in my kitchen usually ends with sandwiches, veggies and string cheese for dinner. Shamefully, when I think back on those times, even knowing how much my husband and son adore sandwiches and would happily eat them for every meal, I know I could have provided a much more pleasing, and heart offering with a little more effort and ingenuity for using the variety, big or small, at my fingertips.

My mother, who loves cooking and baking as much as I do, the reason cooking is what gets my blood pumping, was staying with my family on a recent visit and one night we were at a loss for what to get cooking for dinner that everyone would enjoy...or so we thought! Little did I realize I had all the ingredients for a version of a recipe I'd just seen in one of my cooking magazines. A few eggs, some pasta and roasted veggies later we had a spectacular meal with that even my 4 year old enjoyed. (Luckily he has a wonderfully refined palette for a young one, and enjoys things like balsamic vinegar, poached eggs, and asparagus!)

That particular night I was very fortunate to have just read that wonderful cooking magazine causing the recipe, of which I'd made a mental note, to pop up quickly after seeing what I did indeed have around my keen kitchen.

So what's the lesson here? Well, aside from remembering to keep your pantry and fridge well stocked, it's about having and using simple resources to save your family and friends from eating ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches every night! By keeping your pantry stocked with the list to the left, and replenishing your produce and refrigerator shelves with the basics listed on the right you can create some wonderful, quick dishes that will be incredibly satisfying and delightfully delicious. As for the resources, be on the look out for cookbooks at yard sales and used book stores, find a cooking magazine that suits your culinary style and subscribe and of course, get online and see what's out there!

After you are stocked up, give this simple menu a try and feel free to make these dishes your own with the flavors and ingredients you know your diners will enjoy.

Dijon Roasted Jewel Yams (can also be made with russets, reds or any potato you have on hand!)
Preheat your oven to 400
3-4 medium yams, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil (Canola or Grape-seed oil would also work!)
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl making sure all the potato is coated
Spread potatoes out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet in a single layer
Bake for 15 minutes, stir up potatoes and return for baking another 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender but not mushy.
Extra tip: If you've got leftover potatoes, put them in a sauce pan with some chicken stock, simmer then puree for a wonderful simple soup!)

Honey Balsamic Chicken (can be made with breasts or thighs)
Season boneless chicken pieces (Thawed is best, mostly thawed is okay!) with salt and pepper on both sides
while a large skillet is heating on med-high. After pan is heated for 2-3 minutes add 2-3 tablespoons oil.

Sear chicken pieces until browned on both sides

While searing, mix sauce (also great for pork chops or tenderloin!)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 honey
1 clove minced garlic
A pinch of smoked paprika
A pinch ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Once chicken is seared, turn pan heat down to low and carefully add sauce. Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. The sauce acts as a sort of poaching liquid which keeps the meat very tender and juicy!

To complete your meal simply add the steamed green vegetable of your choice. Remember the more naturally colorful your meal, the more healthful! Need something a little sweet to top things off? Try some sliced apples with Nutella™!

Now you're thinking..."Well, that's all fine and good but I have no chicken! My potatoes have eyes! I'm not going to get to the store for days!" Not to worry. We all end up going super-easy with soup and sandwiches or mac and cheese with veggies now and then and sometimes those comfort foods of kid-hood are just what we crave.

All you really need to do is look at what you do have around you, assess the possibilities of what you can create with what you have and don't be afraid to experiment. Also, depending on your individual household dynamic, go the menu-planning route, especially if you are an on-the-go family shuttling kids, pets, working multiple jobs, volunteering, etc. By planning your menus ahead of time, even if only by a few days, you'll be prepared to grocery shop, make portions of your meal ahead of time if appropriate, and save yourself headaches and hunger trying to come up with a nutritious and appetizing meal at the last minute.

When it comes to any mealtime, as long as we are with loved ones sharing stories, good conversation and creating memories or eating in the car on the way to a play rehearsal or a soccer game, or just having a quiet night alone with a good book, it matters not what the food on our tables might be, but how we enjoy putting love and time, even just a little, into every meal possible. Remember those  wonderful words from Teddy Roosevelt.

NEXT WEEK: Catching up on Chocolate, Part II!