About once a year I seem to lose track of everything and I have to totally empty and reorganize my cabinets and my freezer. I hate doing it but you get a much clearer picture of what needs to be on your shopping list and you avoid running out of staples. I don't think anything wasted more time, money and mental energy than running out of something half way through a recipe.
I don't have a big pantry, my dry goods are kind of spread out. I have some stolen shelves in the linen closet, the coat closet and the regular kitchen cabinets. It makes it harder to keep track of things. After moving things around and grouping like items together, I discovered that I have an inordinant amount of white beans. They'll definitely be on the menu more over the next few weeks.
For tonight's dinner I'll be cleaning the fridge out so the CSA pickup will fit. A quick glance inside the fridge revealed some lettuce, an onion, leftover beets, 2 zucchini and a small container of acorn squash. There are two bulbs of garlic on the counter. If you read that list and it meant nothing to you, don't panic. The more you cook, the better you are at recognizing the possibilities in your fridge.
Here's how I do it. First, think about what foods you would find in recipes together. For example, would it be uncommon to see onion, garlic and zucchini in the same dish? Not really but when it comes to the beets and squash, you need to make a decision. Those are two great tastes that may not taste great together. What kind of shape is the lettuce in? Can it still be a salad or would it be better cooked and served more like other greens?
I already know I need to use some of the white beans so I've had them soaking overnight. How can I incorporate the beans into a recipe involving the fridge ingredients? Is there anything in the freezer that can help me tie these ingredients together?
The other big piece of the puzzle is, how much time to I have to devote to this meal? Am I running out to work tonight, do I have a meeting, is Jim working late? Do I need a meal that can stand up to being in the pot a little longer without losing quality and flavor in case someone is running late?
The final verdict is I'll be making a vegetable and white bean soup with squash biscuits and a salad. For the soup I'll sautee the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. When the onions are softened, I'll toss in the zucchini and beets. I'll add about 4 cups of tomato sauce I had defrosted earlier in the day. Crushed tomatoes would be fine as well but I'm using what I have. I'll add the white beans in after they have cooked (tomato products prevent dried beans from cooking completely.) I'll probably add a dash of Bragg's Aminos or tamari depending on what it tasted like. Cajun seasoning and Italian seasoning are other flavoring options.
While that's simmering, I'll use the leftover squash to make squash biscuits. This recipe is from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes. It's really just a basic biscuit recipe that adds 3 Tbs brown sugar and uses pureed squash for half of the liquid in the recipe. The lettuce will be chopped up for salad, although it could easily be added to the soup if you prefer.