Do you ever have those nights when you look through the kitchen and say to yourself, "there is NOTHING to eat?" I uttered those words earlier this week, seconds before I grabbed my phone to order takeout. Then I stopped myself. Am I not the same girl who blogged about the benefits of a well-stocked pantry? The same girl who said maybe, just maybe, in order to make this cooking for one thing work, that I'd have to try taking the recipe-training wheels off and just try cooking without a script?
Seizing the spirit of adventure, I opened my kitchen cabinets. I decided soup might be a good place to start. I know I love soup, and maybe it's not everyone's favorite, but I figured that it would be easy to mess with proportions and to add a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I grabbed everything I thought might be good in a soup and laid it on the counter. I grouped these ingredients into categories:
BASE: water and/or chicken stock
VEGETABLES: frozen spinach, canned tomatoes, great northern beans, carrots, onions
FILLERS: barley, egg noodles, small pasta
FINISHERS: parmesan cheese rinds
Remembering that most recipes start by sweating some version of the mire poix (carrots, onions, and celery), I took what aromatics I had (about a two-handed scoopful of chopped carrots and onions) and let them cook slowly in a heavy-bottomed pot, seasoning them with salt and pepper. When they started to get soft (and to smell really good), I added half of a can of great northern beans (drained), half of a 14oz can of chopped tomatoes (not drained), and half of a defrosted 10 oz package of frozen spinach that I had squeezed dry. After giving everything a quick stir, I let these ingredients warm up a little bit.
Remember when I made chicken stock? It was at this point that I pulled out the bag of chicken stock I had frozen in the muffin tin molds, and added about four to the soup. You could probably defrost them before adding them to the pot, but I just through them in frozen - I'm not sure it made much of a difference. After they had melted, I added water to the pot until I liked the consistency, and voila! Dinner was served!
[In the end, I decided not to add any fillers, such as pasta or barley...the choice is yours. If you do add them, add them at the end, and just simmer the soup until the pasta is cooked through].
In this instance, I also added a couple of rinds of parmesan cheese I had stashed in my freezer last month. I let them hang out in the soup from about the time I added the stock and the water until I was ready to serve. "Waste Not Want Not" strikes again.
The verdict? Not likely to be featured in next month's Gourmet, but it was a simple dinner that I'd make again. But more than anything, this very small success gave me a little confidence boost to try cooking off-script again. And if I can do it, believe me, you can do it, too. Bon appetit!
OH. And wondering what to do with the rest of the beans, tomatoes, and spinach? I was, too. So I mixed them up, stored them in a tupperware container and stashed it in the freezer. I can pull it out the next time I make soup, but I'm sure that I can add it to whatever I serve next with rice, pasta, or tomato sauce. Imagination at work.
UPDATE: I've recently started listening to a wonderful public radio broadcast called The Splendid Table (www.splendidtable.org) hosted by Lynne Rossettto Kasper, who is just a wealth of information on all things food. In a recent episode, she discussed the three methods of Basic Soup Improvisation (a summary is printed on her website). I encourage you to take a look - it will help give you the confidence you need to cook without a script!