Monday, January 7, 2013

Pantry Purge

The blessings and bounty of the holiday season always pour over from the old into the new, cluttering my shelves as well as my imagination.  Every January I find myself reflecting on the excess that remains in my pantry.  The cookie ingredients that didn't get used, that extra side dish that I had in the corners of my mind and had to have on hand just in case, the appetizer that was never needed... these all roll over into the new year and I never feel a clear need to make that journey to the grocery store for a proper shop until I have done my best to purge the pantry.

This year my inspection of my cupboards, freezer and refrigerator revealed a bounty that has carried me from my preholiday shopping well into the New Year with nary a trip to the store for anything more than milk or eggs.  The ham bone hastily placed in a ziplock bag on Christmas Eve and pushed into my bursting freezer has already been consumed in a lovely split pea soup.  The extra ingredients for the Green Bean Casserole were hastily combined with some frozen meatballs which turned an easy side dish into a delicious Sunday night dinner served over grains.  The possibilities that remain in my larder are tantalizing - and hopefully help make the bite that the holidays took out of my food budget a little less startling.

My goal is to make January a food budget phenom - and refrain from purchasing any groceries other than the fresh food needed to keep our diet nutritious.  Milk as needed, fresh fruit and veg to keep our diet from turning into a carb/protein overload - but I'm on track to keep January the month where we clear out the cobwebs and have a successful New Year pantry purge!

Split Pea Soup

1 leftover ham bone hastily placed in ziplock and tossed in freezer on Christmas Eve - partially thawed
All leftover carrots, celery, onions and any other soup veggies leftover from holiday shopping binges
Bacon drippings collected during course of holiday cooking - if desired
2 pounds of split yellow or green peas (used yellow this year for first time - yum!)
Garlic (fresh or granulated)
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup flour
butter/bacon drippings

Sort and rinse split peas watching closely for stones.  Peas can be soaked overnight in water, or can be softened using a quick soak method by covering peas with ample amount of water and allowing to come to a boil.  Peas should be boiled for 2 minutes and then allowed to rest for 1 hour, covered.  Chop up onions and veg.  Place 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon grease (butter or olive oil can also be used) in frying pan large enough to hold onions and celery.  Soften onions over low heat taking.  Once onions are soft and begin turning a golden brown color, add the celery.  Keeping the heat low, cover the celery/onion mixture and allow the celery to soften.  Stir this mixture occasionally.

Once the peas have soaked, turn heat on and bring to gentle simmer.  Add the partially thawed ham bone  and diced carrots to the soup and allow to cook for about an hour.  Add onion and celery mixture and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes longer.  Add garlic and bay leaves to taste, simmer for about 30 more minutes, or until peas are cooked to your preferred state of doneness.

In pan used to cook onions, stir together 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings (butter or olive oil can also be used) and 1/2 cup flour until roux is formed and golden brown in color.  Stir roux into soup to help bind the soup together.  Simmer gently for additional 30 minutes.

Enjoy with crackers leftover from those cheese trays or bread rolls remaining from holiday dinners.

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Green Bean and Meatball Casserole

The ubiquitous green bean casserole has many forms, so I will leave it up to each of you to either use your favorite or follow the recipe below.

1 pound frozen meatballs (I always keep a bag of these on hand during the Thanksgiving to New Years rush)

2 cans green beans
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup french fried onions, divided
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange meatballs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Place in oven.

Meanwhile, mix condensed soup, soy sauce and milk using a whisk.  Gently stir in green beans and half of fried onions using a spoon.

Remove pan of meatballs from oven using oven mitts.  Carefully spoon green bean mixture over meatballs and smooth out.  Cover with foil and place back in oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove foil and sprinkle remaining fried onions over top of casserole and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Enjoy over rice, noodles, cous cous or leftover mashed potatoes.

My favorite is to serve with a mixture of whole grains - such as brown rice, wild rice and millet.  Goes great with any combination of whole grains.

Happy New Year and here's to a pantry freed from the excesses of holidays past!

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