Well, I was busy doing my thing this Sunday and suddenly realized it was lunch time and I was famished. Thoughts of Cheezits ran through my head..my dark self whispered it would be much easier and faster to just grab the box and munch, “after all we’re soooo hungry, just do it”. Then I remembered I had leftovers in the fridge…These leftovers were not a run of the mill soggy casserole that no one wanted to finish, but a fresh salad together with rice and beans. It took only a minute to have a nice bowl of half salad, half rice, beans, hot sauce, cilantro and onions. Whew! I was SAVED. Now sitting here thoroughly satisfied I had to reflect a little on this intervention. If I hadn’t had what I really loved in that fridge and it wasn’t waiting for me I would have been a goner. In diet books I always read that we should keep something ready in the fridge for such times and I think trying to be virtuous we dutifully peel carrots and scrape celery and put them in bags stocking up our Frigidaire with what we think we should eat. It occurs to me that this is a nice idea but if you can’t get excited about veggie sticks then that isn’t going to help you when the hunger pangs hit. Also just having leftovers available really isn’t going to cut it either if you weren’t crazy about the meal the first time around. I am frugal but it finally dawned on me a few years ago what leftovers were going to “sell” in the family and which were going to sit around until they changed their molecular structure and had to be discarded with nose held. Now, the only leftovers that end up on the shelf are the ones we really love. Mexican food is big for us so anything of that nationality gets boxed or bagged. I try and make extra of whatever we love when I am cooking for the purpose of tasty meals later on. Whole wheat pasta, even plain, in a plastic dish has many fast lunch possibilities as long as Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese are around the house. Rice, ditto. Whenever I make salad I make a huge bowlful and then it is ready for a side dish or a meal with cottage cheese, nuts, whole wheat toast or even a slice of cheese. These leftovers can obviously come in handy for a quick dinner too! The point is: have what you really love that is healthy (not what you think you should love) sitting around, prepared in a way that is ready for fast consumption and then just watch the portions (that’s why a side salad helps). You can have a healthy lunch that you can really enjoy and still feel virtuous.
One thing about living a ways out of town is you learn how to keep food in the house for as long as you can. Since running to the store is not a quick trip for me I have discovered some surprisingly successful things to freeze. Most people don’t realize that bananas can be frozen, they can, and they hold up pretty well.
Bananas: Peel, cut in half, (so you don’t have to have a whole one every time) throw in a Ziploc and freeze.It’s that easy. Use the oldest first and you will know because after a few weeks they start to turn a little darker. They taste fine, they just don’t store indefinitely. Nice to know when they go on sale too. Now, of course you probably don’t want to eat them naked out of the freezer but they work well for smoothies and desserts.
Canned tomato paste: How many times have you cooked something and didn’t use all the can? I do that a lot. What to do? Freeze it. I just put a baggie over the top and a rubber band and it goes in the freezer door. It doesn’t even freeze solid so it is very usable the next time you need it. Or even better, freeze scoops of the paste in ice cube trays and throw in a Ziploc. A great way to use up tomato paste is in canned soup with a tomato base. Canned soup can be so blah. I deepen the flavor by adding paste.
Wine: leftover wine is a problem in our house. Freeze in ice cube trays and then pop out and put in Ziplocks.Wine cubes are great to add to sauces, stews, gravy and soups.
Instead of freezing your leftover home made soup (or stew) in a big plastic dish and forgetting about it, freeze it in metal muffin tins. You don’t need to grease the tins. After the soup is frozen, just run your warm wet hand on the bottom and then pop right out. (I sometimes use a dull table knife to pop) Freeze in a Ziploc. You have smaller portions that are easily heated up for one or two people and a quick satisfying lunch on a cold winter day.
Peppers: I do a lot of gardening and have these around. I like odd types you can’t get at the grocery store. The surprising thing about peppers is you don’t have to blanch them. Just cut and freeze. They will be ready for cooking though, not eating.
Tomatoes: Another vegetables that doesn’t require blanching, you can even freeze whole in a Ziploc. I prefer to strip the skins off by submerging in a pot of boiling water for a minute and then freezing in dishes because I make a lot of tomato sauce.
Fresh Herbs: Almost all herbs freeze very well. Basil is a little picky because it can turn black. You can freeze basil by chopping by hand or blender/food processor and mixing with oil or water and freezing in ice trays again and then transferring to Ziplocs.
Mushrooms: You must saute them in a little oil or butter and freeze on a cookie sheet or in little containers. You’ll always have some on hand to add to soups, stews or spaghetti sauce.
Berries of all kinds: No processing required, just freeze on a cookies sheet so they are nice and loose when frozen and throw in a Ziploc. Later, you can dip your hand in the bag and grab any quantity you want.
Now a couple things that don’t freeze well even if they are in the grocery store!
Potatoes are terrible when they have been frozen. They get rubbery. Maybe you can get away with it if they are mixed with a lot of other veggies in a soup but even then, the taste is flat and the texture worse.
Green Beans: Yep, that’s right, even the bags of green beans in the grocery store freezer are awful. Why? Because they never cook right again and when you reheat them they are like hard, spongy, little tubes that taste like grass. The solution I find is to buy French style green beans at the store and add those to my soups and stews. They do not hold that hard shape and the taste is acceptably better. Even when I freeze my beans from the garden I “French” them now.