“Whaddya Got?”

That’s the name of my hypothetical program on the Food Network. I’ve already posted about my fascination with cooking shows , and as many of the entries on this site testify, I am a serious, although completely amateur, home chef.

One of my favorite ways to cook is to survey the contents of the fridge, the cupboards, the freezer, the dry goods…and then think of a way of producing a dish, or even an entire meal, from the items available. This flexibility of thinking is an asset at the end of a vacation or late in the evening on a workday when we need something for dinner!!!! My friend Susan thinks it’s a special talent that I can combine random ingredients, but I just think it’s fun.

Anyway, Susan’s prodding and The Husband’s enthusiasm for my food tinkering have resulted in an ongoing joke/challenge/conversation about my Food Network show. The idea is that you (or some other person) would invite me to your house and leave me in your kitchen. When you come home a few hours later, dinner would be on the table, prepared only from what you have on hand. I think there would have to be some ground rules for a few basic staples to be available (and I think, arrogantly, that if I provided such a list at the bottom of this post, people would always be able to whip up a groovy something), and maybe I’d be allowed to bring some spices and knives, but you get the general concept.

I could have filmed two episodes today. We’re heading home tomorrow after 10 blissful days at our friends’ vacation house, and all week I have been efficiently making use of all the great stuff we got at the farmers’ market and the big farm supermarket. Now, I must admit, my typical challenge would not likely take place in a kitchen that looks like this:


and it wouldn’t usually include the ingredients I had at hand today. Nonetheless, The Husband was quite impressed at my ability to make great use of a bunch of leftovers to produce the lunch and dinner we enjoyed.

Lunch: homemade pizzas du jour:

Pizza du Jour

Pizza #1: Roasted duck with hoisin, goat cheese, and wine reduction sauce. The duck and sauce came from dinner on Thursday, when I made pan-seared duck breasts, mushroom-leek risotto, and the wine sauce. There was hoisin in the fridge, and we had bought a couple of fresh pizza doughs from the market when we went shopping on Monday.

Pizza #2: Ham with grilled pineapple, Manchego, and steak sauce. The ham slices were the last remnants from our deli counter purchase, the pineapple we had grilled several days ago for a Caribbean feast, the Manchego was just a small piece left from Tuesday’s stuffed piquillo peppers, and the steak sauce was on the door of the refrigerator. NEVER underestimate the usefulness of those condiments on the door of the fridge.

Dinner: Merguez ragu with artisanal pasta and warmed sourdough bread: The sausage was in the freezer, left over from the July 4 feast here. I defrosted it, removed the casing, and made mini-meatballs. Canned tomatoes, a parmesan rind, and dried herbs were predictably available to round out the sauce. There was an open bottle of red wine from Tuesday, so a cup of that got splashed in to balance the flavor. The pasta was an impulse buy at the market the other day, but who doesn’t have a box of dried noodles sitting around? The bread was the last half of a fresh sourdough from the farmer’s market. Wrapped in foil and heated up, it was rejuvenated into a perfect accompaniment for the earthy sauce.

Merguez Ragu

Dessert: Mint-Fudge brownies. I found a bar of dark bittersweet chocolate, melted it with some butter, then threw together a basic brownie batter: sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, a bit of flour and a lot of eggs. Packaged brownie mix is so completely unnecessary–you barely need a recipe to make them. The Husband had bought some mini-mint patties at the candy store earlier in the week; I tossed those into the batter for a bit of extra flavor, and Voila! Gooey, chocolatey deliciousness.


So…Whaddya think? Would you invite me to your house to cook? Would you allow a film crew to document the process? Would you eat the results?

And here is my List of Things You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen (with obvious exceptions for vegetarians, gluten-free eaters, and those with celiac–I can cook for you, too and I can give you your own list):

  1. Good salt. Fine ground sea salt improves almost everything.
  2. Canned artichokes. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.
  3. Decent soup stock–the organic kind that comes in boxes, or a good concentrated paste. It doesn’t matter if it’s chicken, vegetable, or whatever.
  4. A solid hunk of parmesan cheese. It keeps forever. Other cheese is also good.
  5. A variety of sausages in the freezer, unless you’re a vegetarian.
  6. Dried pasta.
  7. Rice. Plain old white is fine, but a variety of rice, which will last for months, is great. Some brown, some arborio, some wild rice…
  8. Canned tomatoes, in any form.
  9. Frozen peas. Shut up. Just keep a bag of peas in the freezer.
  10. Dairy essentials: Eggs, butter (real butter, unsalted), and milk (whatever fat percent you like).
  11. Lemons and limes. At least half a dozen of each, always. Extra citrus is even better.
  12. Basic baking ingredients: Flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda.
  13. Lentils. Dried lentils can be the base of a lot of excellent dishes, and they take very little time to prepare, especially with some of the items listed above.
  14. Cooking oils–Olive oil, canola oil, and sesame oil.
  15. Onions and garlic.
  16. Potatoes.
  17. Some kind of fresh vegetables. Iceberg lettuce does NOT count. More than one color of vegetables earns you bonus points.
  18. Bacon. I only list this because The Boy and The Husband deem it an essential. And it turns out to be quite versatile.
  19. Dried herbs and spices: Oregano, basil, thyme, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, rosemary–other stuff is great, too.
  20. Protein: tofu, beans, or meat (which can be kept frozen).

Most of these ingredients can keep for months, are quite inexpensive, and they barely take up any space. And with just this stuff, no matter what else you have in the house, you are so close to a great meal. 


One response to ““Whaddya Got?”

  1. Close. Hmmm. Close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and dinner!

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