If you aren’t familiar with the ‘Dinner with the Crazies’ segment of The Aspiring RD, click the ‘Dinner with the Crazies’ page above for a bit of background information.
Dinner with the Crazies has been the surprise breakout star of The Aspiring RD. I receive such positive feedback on throwing together simple, healthful, and cheap dinners from the innards of my fridge, that I’ve even begun to fancy myself as some type of Martha Stewart meets MacGuyver, minus the rubber bands and jail time.
But sometimes creating a simple dinner isn’t just about the constraints of time. I named DWTC because of my overwhelming schedule, but over winter break I found myself still relying on simple meals from ingredients I had on hand. I discovered over my month off that DWTC can also stand for Dinner with the Cheapies, Don’t Want to Cook, or even Down With Takeout Containers. Sometimes whipping up a multi-ingredient, recipe-driven meal just isn’t in the cards, but I hope that DWTC has taught you that avoiding the cookbooks doesn’t mean you have to eat a calorie-dense meal.
DWTC also continues to evolve for me, forcing me to be more creative about my last minute meals. One of my greatest challenges is leftovers. I happen to be married to someone that doesn’t have a strong affinity for them, meaning that anytime I make a new recipe for 4 servings, I will be eating it 3 times. While that works well for a tupperware-loving gal like myself, the even more challenging aspect of cooking a recipe is that you rarely use all of the components that were needed for the dish. So you wind up with leftovers plus the left over odds and ends in the fridge, waiting to be used in your next culinary creation.
Which is where I found myself starting 2012 – with a fridge full of food and no idea what to do with it.
After hosting close friends for a delicious New Year’s Eve dinner, we were a little cash poor and leftover ingredient rich. From cocktail blinis to decadent artisanal cheeses to containers of heavy cream and marscapone cheese, our fridge looked wildly out of sorts on January 1st. Nary a fresh vegetable was to be seen, but with such an abundance of food, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the grocery store.
What to do? Hit the pantry for DWTC.
This mix had few additional ingredients. Outside of the bacon, these are items that I recommend keeping on hand in any DWTC-ready kitchen. Onions have a long pantry life when kept dry and pre-chopped garlic can be purchased in the produce section of the grocery store and kept for months in the fridge. I recommend buying chicken broth in the larger cardboard containers so it can be stored after opening. Rather than running out to buy the two ingredients I was missing, I subbed prosciutto from the NYE antipasto plate for the bacon and mixed a small amount of heavy cream with skim milk to make a MacGuyver-style half and half. Money spent so far = $0.
While the soup bubbled away,
I pondered what else I had on hand to make this more of a meal. Sometimes, opening the fridge or freezer door and just staring in there for a while is effective (sometimes it is just a waste of energy but you have to take your chances).
On this day, fridge-staring worked.
I spotted the end of a loaf of pumpkin seed bread and some of the delicious cheese that a friend had brought for the feast. Fancy grilled cheese? Yes please.
Grilled cheese – like egg salad, pasta, and pizza – is one of those foods that I would never give up and never have to. These foods have an unfair bad reputation but can EASILY be made at home at the fraction of the calories they will cost you when dining out. A greasy grilled cheese with Kraft singles on white bread is hardly a match for rich cheese made from actual milk, sandwiched between nutty bread smeared with some fruity spread.
Any way you cheese it, we were two happy campers. The soup needed some additional seasoning but the half and half and bacon were easily replaced by what we had on hand. It lasted for 1 dinner for us both and an additional lunch for me before hitting the freezer for a future emergency meal.
This dinner cost under $10 and didn’t require anyone to take off their slippers and leave the house. Understandably you wouldn’t regularly have a plethora of leftover cheese on hand, but when you do, be sure to stand in front of the open fridge until the idea hits that you CAN make it into a healthful, balanced (and just minorly decadent) meal.
Happy 2012 readers, more DWTC to come for sure.
- The Aspiring RD