Yesterday I was pondering and pottering in our mesh-covered vegetable tunnel when I spied four or five rows of miniature bok choi plants, all glossy and green, some of them prematurely shooting lemon coloured flowers in their distress at our unseasonably warm, dry weather. That evening, while scrabbling frosted fingers amongst icy packets of summer vegetables trying to retrieve a packet of sausages, I found a bag of crisp Chinese long beans.
Mmm the makings of stir fry suggested themselves to me as I went about the mundane tasks of my day. Yes, perfect. I want to dramatically diminish the contents of our freezer, and those bok choi plants are growing where I plan to plant potatoes in springtime.
A little bit of this and a little bit of that and tonight we had a delicious Thai stir fry topped with strips of omelette. This stir fry meal is a basic recipe - BACK TO BASICS - that I often rely on. It's wonderful for using up leftovers, surplus garden produce and as a freezer clearer.
BASIC USE-IT-UP THAI STIR FRY
1) Start by gathering and prepping all your ingredients in advance. For me this means picking, washing and slicing veggies, gathering spices etc beforehand. This meal is fast to make, so have your table set and plates ready. If you are serving your meal on rice, it needs to be almost cooked before you start cooking the stir fry. If you use instant noodles in the dish, there is no need for rice. (Tonight's choice of ingredients is shown in brackets)
2) In a very large, hot wok or frying pan, heat up your oil of choice (coconut oil for me tonight)
Sitr fry sliced ginger, garlic, sesame seeds if you have them and whatever oniony item you have Lemongrass is great here too. (spring onions from our tunnel)
3) Stir in Thai spices or thai paste and a dash of soya sauce and/or fish sauce. (I used thai seven spice, soya sauce)
4) Add sliced leftover meat and/or nuts of choice e.g. bacon, white fish, chicken, pork, beef, cashew nuts. Stir rapidly. (I left this out and rather used the egg strips at a later stage)
5) Add a large quantity of veggies, in order of cooking time eg carrots then beans then spinach. (Our own frozen grated courgette, sweetcorn, mange tout and Chinese long beans were dumped still frozen into the pan, then once they were softened I added the fresh bok choi)
6) Sprinkle over some stock powder to complement your protein and the flavouring sachet from instant noodles, or not. Optional: Break up some instant noodles and stir into the pan. I use two spoons to keep everything in the pan. ( chicken stock and 1 packet of chicken flavoured 2 minute noodles)
7) Pour in a can of coconut milk if you have any, alternatively use a little water and a dollop of tart jam like plum or apricot jam or a dash of sherry if needed. Season to taste. (coconut milk for us tonight)
8) Place a lid on the pan while the noodles cook. Top with egg strips if you like. (I did - Beat and cook an egg or two in a small pan without stirring, flip over like a pancake to ensure it is cooked through. Roll up and slice into strips).
In a similar fashion, the ideas for the other two meals of the day came together in my mind as I pondered various items that alerted me from garden, freezer or pantry. The most frequent question in my mind when entering my personal grocery store is, "What is begging to be used first?" This mindset ensures that there is minimal wastage.
Frozen apricots that escaped my daughter's smoothie-making frenzy last summer were calling the loudest from the freezer. So last night I used these apricots and a recipe from my sister to prepare breakfast for today: First I smashed the solid hunk of apricot halves onto the concrete floor to separate them inside their plastic bag. Half a packet of sweet frozen peach chunks were added to balance the tartness. Then my mind switched into FOOD FAMILY mode. Pecan nuts and peaches, the slightly bitter nutty crunch complements the soft sweet fruit. I whisked an egg, then stirred in the nuts, two handfuls of rolled oats, some oat bran, cinnamon and honey. I spread the mixture over the still frozen fruit in a casserole dish and popped it all in the fridge to defrost overnight. This morning all I needed to do was pop the dish in the oven to bake for half an hour while I showered. The oats soaked up the juices that oozed from the thawing fruit, then crisped up on top as the dish baked. We ate it alongside dollops of warm yoghurt drizzled with honey. Delicious. "Where's the recipe?" you may ask. Well it's simple
BASIC BREAKFAST BAKE
1) Place sliced fruit of choice on the bottom of your dish
2) choose nuts and spice to match eg apples and walnuts, peaches and pecans, apricots and almonds
3) mix (2) with 1 or 2 beaten eggs and a few handfuls of oats, oat or wheat bran, and a little honey/sugar mixed to a moist consistency
4) In the morning, bake in a moderate oven until bubbling and golden. Serve with plain yoghurt.
All those frozen vegetables needing to make way for the next season also inspired me to rustle up an Almost Mexican Vegetable and Bean Soup for lunch, which needed a crusty bread. So we turned cream into butter just for the buttermilk, a key bread-making ingredient around here. The butter went into the freezer and the excess buttermilk went into the soup pot. And the bonus was using up some frozen sweetcorn, green beans, mange touts and patty pans from summer. The mexican part came from the pantry - baked beans, a little tomato sauce, cumin, garlic and oregano and chilli sauce on the table. Oh and I used some of the ubiquitous leeks from the veggie tunnel.
I wrote this blog post to show how I plan my meals based on what needs using the most - true Elastic Mom Style, but meandered into sharing recipes. Both the stir-fry and breakfast bake are favourites in our home. I hope you adapt my BACK TO BASICS recipes to what's in your garden/freezer/pantry and give them a try.