Over the past week or so, I’ve had a chance to use these 5 Easy Ways to Stretch the Menu when you’re snowed in. We’ve been hit with three successive waves of ice and snow. Since I’m still hobbling on an injured knee, I haven’t been willing to brave even slightly slick stairs. This has kept me at home on the few days that I otherwise might have ventured out to the grocery store.
In order to have satisfying meals, I’m having to dig deep into the pantry. Some of you can probably pop open the freezer and have lots of choices. I, unfortunately, am not a good freezer of meat, soups, or casseroles. I know that if I freeze them, I’ll never get around to thawing them out and they’ll just end up being thrown away. Because of this, I use my freezer to store specialty flours, raw almonds, emergency coffee, an occasional batch of biscuits, and a couple of bags of frozen vegetables.
If you’re like me, you can use these simple ideas to stretch the menu when you can’t leave home:
1. Be inventive with seasoning.
If you run out of onion, use shallots and garlic, or take a look on the back porch. The rosemary may still be peaking out of the snow.
If you have dried beans handy, but no meat or chicken stock around to add flavor, use water, salt, pepper, a couple of tablespoons of butter, peeled onion or shallots, a couple of cloves of peeled garlic, and a potato or sweet potato cleaned but with the skin still on. This is a great use of a sweet potato that’s been around too long. If the ends have dried up, just cut them off. That will flavor the broth even more and you can eat the sweet potato separately when you serve your meal.
You can also use leftover pot likker (either the official version from collard greens and fatback, or a more generic version of vegetable broth from boiling green beans or carrots or potatoes) to flavor beans or rice. Pot likker is also a great soup base.
Since fresh vegetables and herbs will be the first thing to disappear from your pantry, use them thoroughly. Instead of discarding the ends of greens of celery, stems of chard, stems of rosemary or cilantro or sage, greens from beets, stems of mushrooms, or even peels from potatoes, throw them in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use them to infuse flavor into soups, vegetables, pasta, or sauces. Remove the actual stems and peels from the broth before using it in your dish.
2. Stretch fresh or preserved protein by using vegetables, grains, starches, and pasta.
Rather than waiting until you’ve run out of chicken, make it last longer by adding rice. There’s no need to stop there, you can make it go even further by cooking some small white beans along with the rice. Adding the beans not only increases the number of portions, it also increases the protein in the dish.
Sauté onion, cubed chayote squash, cubed potato, and shredded Granny Smith apple in a cast iron skillet until the vegetables and fruit are soft. Season with salt, pepper, and Vietnamese cinnamon. Add left-over rotisserie chicken and continue to cook until chicken is hot. It’s not a particularly attractive dish, but it tastes great and is very filling.
Turn a can of tuna into a meal for 4 by creating a simple sauce made of butter, milk, garlic, and a blend of cheeses, add some frozen green peas and pasta, then top with cheese and bake.
Don’t forget to have fun with this ’cause snow days should be fun! Serve fried chicken tenders with almond flour pancakes and real maple syrup or go the whole way and break out the waffle maker for a more traditional version of chicken and waffles. Pull open a can of sardines and eat them along with some saltine crackers as though you’re on vacation at your cabin in the mountains.
3. Focus on proteins other than meat.
When you’re eating every meal at home it doesn’t take long for all the steak, pork chops, roast beef, tilapia, salmon, or chicken breasts to disappear. Once they’re gone, other protein options have to take precedence.
Eggs, peanut butter, almond butter, other nuts and seeds including mixed nuts, milk, soy milk, yogurt (especially Greek style), cottage cheese, Mozzarella cheese, Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, paneer, tofu, lentils, edamame, green peas, quinoa, and a combination of beans and rice are all substantial sources of protein.
Baked goods can also provide protein. For instance, muffins made with almond, cashew, or hazelnut flour are high in protein as are cookies made with peanut flour or brownies made with black bean flour.
4. Keep an open mind about condiments and snacks.
It’s one of Murphy’s laws that you’ll only discover your mayo is outdated when there are 10 inches of snow outside. Don’t fret too much. Hummus can be used as a spread to add exotic flavor to your sandwich, or skip the spread altogether and use a few slices of avocado or leftover guacamole for that little extra somethin somethin.
Don’t let a lack of mayo trip you up when making tuna salad. You can always use plain yogurt and lemon juice instead or sour cream and sweet pickle juice if you prefer.
Create a delicious marinade for steak using nothing but a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
Make balsamic vinaigrette with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, water, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a peeled clove of garlic. Instead of using equal parts vinegar, water and oil, I cut the oil in half for fewer calories. It’s just as delicious once you shake it all up in a jar.
Curb your salty snack craving with dill pickles or a handful of olives.
Need something sweet, crunchy and really easy? Make two minute trail mix using raw almonds, golden raisins, and semi-sweet chocolate chips then follow the trail right back to your recliner. You’ll probably have a minute left over.
5. Substitute quick breads, tortillas, or cheese for breads and crackers.
It is the rare household that doesn’t have corn meal on hand, so cornbread is a universally good choice to fill the gap when a before-the-snow rush leaves the store shelves bare of bread. If you don’t keep shortening on hand, fry some bacon and use the renderings instead. You can also use butter or olive oil. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, just splash a little vinegar in regular milk and voila, you’re good to go.
Muffins, biscuits, or pancakes can take the place of toast for breakfast or a roll with dinner. A corn tortilla will hold a breakfast taco better than just about anything.
Small piles of shredded Parmesan cheese turn into crunchy cheese crackers when baked for 6 minutes at 350º.
Sometimes I enjoy the disruption of weather or an injury (not the pain) because it reminds me that I can think about things differently and solve problems in fun ways. There’s a special feeling that comes with that. It’s better than the feeling of regular accomplishment.
I hope you find these tips helpful. With all the snow that’s falling this year, you may have even better tips than these. If so, we’d love to hear them!