Pantry Decimation 2.0

I really like the bulk aisle at my co-op.

Seriously. I really, really like it. So much so that my pantry has gotten into a rather alarming state; it’s packed with re-used glass jars filled with beans, grains, and all sorts of dry goods. And let it be known that my pantry has some deep shelves.

It’s a little out of control.

So, with the intent of actually consuming the staples I’ve been essentially hoarding, I’m trying to make meals that use up those staples and only require purchasing fruits and veggies. It’s actually been quite successful, and I’ve enjoyed seeing S try various grains for the first time (kasha! wheat berries! black rice!). Plus, it’s frugal!

Of course (this is me, after all), I’ve been pretty bad when it comes to taking photos. So you don’t get to see the delicious black rice and sweet potato dish I made, or the creamy, delicious broccoli polenta we had for dinner last night.

But you can see this photo of my quinoa “fried rice,” inspired by Jenna’s non-vegan version.

fried-quinoa_8636268580_o

My version featured purple cabbage, minced garlic, crumbled marinated tofu, diced green onion, black sesame seeds, and lots of flavorful sauces – ume plum vinegar, hoisin sauce, low-sodium tamari, and mirin, to name a few. (Incidentally, our “sauce and oil” cupboard is nearly as full as the grain-and-bean pantry shelf.)

Quinoa is a lovely stand-in for rice in a simple stir fry. If you haven’t tried it, you should. In the meantime, I’ve got a whole lot of grains to use up, so feel free to share your favorite recipes for black rice, amaranth, Israeli cous cous, and bulgur. ;)

Pantry Decimation Challenge: Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

Once I found out that I’d have a couple days to move (not just a single night and a couple hours), the Pantry Decimation Challenge I so eagerly started last month became much less of a priority. I wouldn’t be refrigerator-less, so I didn’t think I really needed to clean out my fridge or pantry.

And then I moved, combined my food with S’s food, and realized that, whoa, we’ve got a whole lotta food, and maybe I shouldn’t have abandoned that Pantry Challenge so quickly. At the very least, I should’ve tried to finish off the irritatingly small amounts of various foods that were lurking in my cupboards – the dregs of a bag of soy curls, a barely-filled jar of arborio rice, that sort of thing. But it’s not too late. S and I are trying to use up those random bits of food as we hold off on purchasing pantry staples. So last Saturday night when I was in charge of dinner, I forced myself to use pantry goods only. After poking around in the shelves brimming over with pasta and spices and beans, I concocted what turned out to be a very delicious meal.

Close-up of a bowl of mushroom risotto - creamy rice with visible flecks of mushrooms.

A very brown meal.

S heaped praise on this Shiitake Mushroom Risotto, and I didn’t even bother to deny it – it was that good. I don’t have a very precise recipe, because I mostly just threw things together and hoped for the best. If you’re nervous about making risotto, don’t be! It’s actually super easy as long as you’re willing to stand by the stove for about twenty minutes. You don’t even have to stir constantly; you can simultaneously tend to whatever else you’re cooking. You just have to give the rice a good stir every minute or so and keep an eye on it. Anyway, here’s a rough list of what I used and what I did:

Ingredients:

  • Dried shiitake mushrooms
  • TVP (I had a tiny bit left at the bottom of a bag)
  • Herbs (I used a homemade poultry seasoning mix with a dash of extra thyme)
  • Arborio rice (I probably used a little over 1/3rd of a cup)
  • Mushroom stock (I used maybe 1/3rd of a carton by the end)
  • Diced onion (Maybe ¼ cup?)
  • Earth Balance

Method:

Put the dried mushrooms and TVP in a bowl and cover them with stock. Set them aside to soak and rehydrate as you prepare the risotto.

In a small pot, add the rice and stock. For the stock, you probably want to start with 1.5 the amount of rice – so, if you use ½ cup of rice, add ¾ cup of stock. (I don’t bother to measure the liquids for risotto, though – the goal is to keep adding stock as the rice soaks it up.) Bring the liquid to a boil and then turn it down to medium-low – keep it simmering, but not boiling. Stir it frequently to ensure that no rice sticks to the bottom, and add more stock as necessary.

After you’ve got a good handle on your risotto (about when you’ve first turned it down to medium-low), heat some Earth Balance (or olive oil) in a small saucepan on medium and add the diced onion. Sauté the onions until they’re translucent, giving them the occasional stir in the pan. In the meantime, don’t forget your risotto!

Check your TVP and mushrooms. When they’re hydrated and the onions are translucent and fragrant, add the mushroom and TVP mixture (broth and all) to the saucepan with the onions. Depending on how thick your mushrooms are cut, they might take a little longer to hydrate. I added mine when they were soft to the touch. Add your spices, too.

Keep stirring that risotto and adding broth as you sauté the onions, mushrooms, and TVP. After you’ve been cooking the risotto for about 20 minutes, give it a taste – the rice should be soft and creamy, not terribly chewy. Test your mushrooms as well – you want them to be soft too.

Remove the risotto from the heat when it’s done. Add the onions, mushrooms, and TVP when they’re ready and stir everything to combine. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Enjoy!

What’s your risotto-making technique? What’s your favorite use of dried mushrooms (we’ve got a ton!)?

Pantry Decimation Challenge 2012: Espresso-White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve had the dregs of a bag of vegan white chocolate chips languishing in my pantry since Christmas, when I made S a big ol’ batch of chocolate peppermint bark. The thing is, I’m not really a fan of white chocolate. First of all, it’s terribly named – white chocolate contains no cocoa, therefore it is not chocolate. Second, it doesn’t taste like anything except generic sweetness. Do not want.

However, I will admit that white chocolate chips have their place…  and that place is in cookies where they can play second fiddle to their more legitimately named cousin – actual chocolate.

In the foreground, three chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips. In the background, a container of instant espresso powder, a glass of soymilk, and a stack of more cookies.

They also offer a nice color contrast!

Okay, okay – I might be showing my bias by saying that they play second fiddle, because the white chocolate chips in these cookies are really a perfect complement to the other flavors going on here – namely, espresso and actual chocolate. The chips are a creamy, sweet – dare I say perfectly fitting? – addition to a complexly flavored cookie. I suppose that in this orchestra of ingredients, they can share the first fiddle seat with the cocoa powder in this recipe. Hmph.

Perhaps you, too, share my general distaste for white chocolate and find yourself with leftover white chocolate chips waiting for their chance to shine. If so, might I suggest making a batch of these cookies? They’re really tasty, despite the white chocolate. Okay, okay – because of the white chocolate. Hmph.

Espresso-White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes nine good-sized cookies

Ingredients

1 C spelt flour (all-purpose would work fine)
1/3 C high-quality cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt

1/3 C brown sugar
2 T vegan sugar
1/4 C vegetable oil
3 T nondairy milk
1 T instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp blackstrap or regular molasses (optional)
1/3 C white chocolate chips

Method

Preheat oven to 350˚ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (spelt flour through sea salt) and stir them a couple of times. In a separate, medium-sized bowl, add the sugars, molasses, and oil and mix until the sugars are moistened. Add the remaining ingredients except for the white chocolate chips and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and incorporate. The dough will be a bit sandy and might seem resistant to coming together, but work at it for a bit until you get a large ball. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Form dough into balls of about two tablespoons and flatten them slightly when your hands. Keep them an inch or so apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until they just yield to the touch. Remove from oven, let them cool for a minute or two, and then transfer to baking rack (or just slide the parchment paper onto the counter if you’re lazy like me!). Enjoy!

A stack of five chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips. In the background, a container of instant espresso powder and a glass of soymilk.

Helllooooo, cookies.

And with that photo, I’ll take my leave.

PANTRY DECIMATION TALLY:

  • Spelt flour: The majority of a bag (just a few tablespoons left!)
  • Cocoa: Finished a container (though I still have separate from the co-op…)
  • White chocolate chips: Finished the bag!
  • Frozen broccoli: Finished the bag (not in this recipe!)
  • Long-grain brown rice: Decimated my stash (same comment!)
  • Short-grain brown rice: Decimated my stash (same comment!)

Do you enjoy white chocolate? What’s your favorite cookie combination?

Pantry Decimation Challenge 2012: Commence!

In my opinion, moving is one of the most stressful situations we mature adults have to deal with (y’know, aside from things like illness and losing your job and, um, important stuff). First you need to shove everything you own into countless boxes, then you have to load all of those boxes into a truck or your car or lots of people’s cars, and then you have to remove all of those boxes that you JUST LOADED and put them in your new place. There’s lots of heavy lifting and strained arms and realizations of your sad state of strength. And when your finally get all those boxes into your new place, you’re exhausted and sweaty and sore and irritated and all you want to do is kick your feet up, mix yourself up a big-girl drink, and watch a stupid, mindless movie. BUT YOU CAN’T, because everything you own is IN THE DAMN BOXES, and you have to unpack them all first! It’s the worst. I hate it. It stresses me out.

…in case you’re abnormally slow to infer things, I’m moving.

I briefly mentioned my moving plans a few weeks ago, but now it’s a month away and I’m entering into moving!panic mode. See, I’ve moved before, but this is the first time I’m moving when I own real furniture, like a couch and a bed and crap like that. I’m only moving one town over, but it might as well be a state over – the amount of work involved is pretty much the same.

View into a small storage space, which is filled with boxes haphazardly thrown everywhere.

…at least I’ve got ample boxes for packing! Clearly I’ve been putting my storage space to good use. :-\

It doesn’t help that I will essentially be homeless for 24 hours during the move. I need to be out of my current place by noon on a Saturday, but I can’t move into my new place until noon Sunday. Our new place, I should say – S and I are becoming grown-ups and moving in together. Hooray! Not hooray that he’s in the exact same situation and will also be homeless for a day. Alas. At least we will be homeless together.

Two suitcases and three boxes, along with a small dog.

Yes, I have already started packing. Winter clothes and books are ready to go!

I think we’ve got our homeless plans mostly figured out (yay for friends), but I don’t have a good solution for storing our perishable foodstuffs during that homeless period, which means that I must use up all my frozen and refrigerated goods before we move. And that is why I am designating June as my official Pantry Decimation Month! I will attempt to use up as much food as possible, to reduce having to cart around boxes of 8,474 types of rice and also to avoid wasting refrigerated goods that I’d have to get rid of.

This weekend I kicked off my challenge by burning through some frozen veggies with Happy Herbivore’s Biscuit Pot Pie. I used frozen broccoli, frozen peas, and – most notably – some frozen green beans that are probably two years old. I am very wary of freezer burn (I have very finely tuned senses when it comes to that particular smell/taste), but by rinsing the beans in water to remove their thin coat of ice crystals, I somehow managed to avoid it. The pot pie was not as good as the last time I made it (when we used a bag of mixed frozen veggies), but it was still yummy. It was not, however, very pretty, so you don’t get a picture. Instead, how about a tally of my pantry decimation thus far?

PANTRY DECIMATION TALLY:

  • Frozen peas: Used half a bag.
  • Frozen green beans: Used half a bag.
  • Frozen broccoli: Used half a bag.
  • Frozen blueberries: Used a quarter of a bag (not in the pot pie, duh).
  • Frozen raspberries: Finished a bag (same comment)!

What’re your pantry-busting tips? How do you feel about moving?

The Other Kind of Pantry Challenge (+ Colcannon, Reinvented)

These days, my Google Reader is filled with bloggers participating in pantry challenges. Their general goal is to avoid spending money on groceries by only using what they have in their pantries. It’s a fine goal, to be sure. But when I see their lists of pantry items (5 kinds of rice, 7 varieties of dried beans, 3 cartons of almond milk, 4 jars of various nut butters, 2 pounds of tofu, etc etc etc!) I just can’t help but think, “If only my pantry were a tenth as full as theirs!”

The sad thing is that I’m not even exaggerating. As tempting as it would be to play down my foodstuff inventory for comedic effect, the pathetic truth is that – not counting spices – I probably have less than 30 food items to my name at this moment in time, and that’s counting stuff like soy sauce and Bragg’s and ketchup. So… yeah. It’s pretty sad. Being carless in an area with less than stellar public transportation kiiinda sucks. I don’t want to ask my roomie – as fantastic as she is – for rides all the time, so I walk to the grocery store when I need food and she doesn’t. I don’t mind walking at all, even when it’s f-f-freezing outside, but it does limit the amount of food I can purchase. Plus, the grocery store within easy walking distance is rather limited in its selection of non-boring food. The bottom line is that I haven’t been to the grocery store in almost two weeks, and my pantry is takin’ a major hit.

But fear not – my limited resources don’t always result in limited creativity! Tonight I realized that if I didn’t use up a couple of potatoes, they were going to reach levels of softness that would make the Pillsbury Doughboy’s tummy seem like abs o’ steel in comparison. Obviously I had to mash them, but I wanted to do something a little more interesting. So I decided to make a modified, empty-pantry-influenced version of colcannon.

Now, I’m not gonna lie – I’ve never actually eaten colcannon, which is stupid because 1. I’ve got me some Irish blood, 2. I love kale, and 3. I love taters. But theoretically it’s one of my favorite foods. Heh heh. Anyway, my sad lack of fresh veggies resulted in my using some frozen spinach in the place of kale or cabbage. Not the kind that comes in a dense block, mind, but loose leaf spinach from a bag. And you know what? It wasn’t half bad.

Colcannon...ish.

Now, obviously my ghetto colcannon is nowhere near as pretty as, say, Lolo’s more traditional variety. But I enjoyed it, and other than the potatoes that were on the verge of death, it didn’t really use up many of my limited pantry resources. I just boiled up two taters with some onions, then added the spinach to the mix just before the potatoes were soft. I mashed it all up with some Earth Balance, a bit of garlic powder, and – in keeping with my firm eschewing of tradition – a dash of Tabasco and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper. So, was it actually colcannon? Prooooobably not. But was it good? Hell yeah! And will I be making a trip to the grocery store this weekend before my meals cross the line from “untraditional” to “downright revolting?” You better believe it.

Zebras like colcannon, too.

P.S. Isn’t my zebra bowl cute?! Best Goodwill find EVER.