I use my Cook’n program to search for recipes using combinations of ingredients I have to use up at that time. It’s really been helpful for inspiration and good ideas.
If you have easy access to the internet, it’s not that difficult to find recipe databases, and subscribe to regular posting blogs/sites that offer collections of recipes. I have my own standby recipes, but sometimes I need a little inspiration. I have some interesting assortments of pantry and fresh ingredients, and I’m trying to find creative ways to use them in nutritious meals everyone will like.
Person #1 – does not eat mushrooms, bologna or other processed meats, squash, sweet potatoes or other fibrous-textured foods. Prefers vegetables either raw or barely cooked such as grilled, seared, or in some cases, steamed. Does not like many sauces, prefers seasoning and herbs. Prefers root vegetables, prefers food to be spicy and savory.
Person #2 – does not like many root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, or other vegetables like cabbage, celery, peas, or corn. Likes mushrooms and wishes every meal had mushrooms. Will eat vegetables that are cooked to mushy death like green beans, squash, sweet potatoes. Will eat some raw and crisp vegetables if they are in salads. Prefers food to be sweet and with sauces, gravy, or in casseroles.
Person #3 – Likes all meat but prefers no sauces, is okay with vegetables in salad, is okay with cooked vegetables in casseroles and gravies. Wants all meals to have cheese if possible, prefers Italian and Chinese food. Is neutral on the mushroom debate.
Person #4 – likes sweet food, cooked vegetables, mushrooms, salads, small amounts of meat and cheese.
So, it’s a balance every time. I have some meals that I know I have to prepare a little differently at times, and I have some meals that I know at least one person won’t eat so it affects what day I serve those meals.
Here’s my collection of items that I need to use up right now:
- Condensed soup bases (soup cubes, broth, and Campbell’s cans)
- Smoked sausage
- Cheese (mostly cheddar)
- Cottage cheese (stir in a beaten egg and it can substitute as ricotta so I didn’t exclude those)
Here’s what my searches came up with:
- Using the spinach, chicken, eggs and rice – spinach and chicken fried rice, cheesy spinach and chicken bake, rice balls, and some other casserole combinations. I was most inspired by the baked ones, and from there I had to focus on a method. Either casserole, slow cooker, or skillet. Any would be okay because the chicken was already cooked and seasoned (I’ll explain later).
- Next I tried a search for sausage, shrimp and noodles. Everything will come up a sort of jambalaya-style creole or cajun, so I decided to split the shrimp away from the sausage. We like jambalaya, but I just felt like something different. I did shrimp and cheese and found some really interesting stuff. I was most inspired by the shrimp and grits, which can either have a tomato-type sauce (using the Campbell’s tomato condensed soup can), or cheese mixed in with the grits and on top. There was also a shrimp macaroni and cheese which looked great. Tough choice. Made even tougher when I saw a recipe for hot shrimp dip – we have a winner! A hot shrimp dip with my chicken casserole would be perfect.
- So, that leaves the smoked sausage, a few kinds of cheese, more eggs, and noodles. The obvious choice would be a kind of lasagna. I liked it because everyone likes it, but I was hesitant because I do that a lot. But, I do it a lot because everyone likes it. Maybe with a white sauce instead of tomato-based sauce? Looking over the selections, I have a creamy cheese appetizer and a light-tasting casserole. Looks like the standard tomato-based lasagna is going to win out on this one.
When I do lasagna, it is rarely with the flat lasagna noodles, because I never see those go on sale like the other styles of pasta. So, usually what I do is bake the lasagna layers in a baking dish and cook the noodles separately, then serve the lasagna on top of whatever kind of noodles I make.
So, about the chicken casserole. Earlier this week, there was a killer deal at Bi-Lo where chicken thighs were marked down to about $1/lb, plus I had a combination coupon for $2 off of fresh chicken with purchase of mayonnaise. So, I got a package of chicken for free. I cooked it with some things I was trying to use up in my fresh drawer – half of a bag of cabbage shreds, onions, jalapeno, fresh ginger, and toasted sesame seeds. I added some hoisin sauce and pineapple juice, and it made a slightly sweet and slightly spicy Asian-flavored chicken. I was going to serve it over brown rice with a salad on the side, but the particular day we were going to have it, a relative invited us over for dinner so it went in the fridge instead. It’s been there for four days (that’s ok for cooked meat) and so today I had to do something with it. I had already de-boned the chicken, so I cut it up with the seasoning and sauce already on it and put it at the bottom of the crock pot. Then I cooked a pot of brown rice semi-done, the instructions call for 2-1/2 cups of water per cup of brown rice and cooking it about 45 minutes, I used 3-1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of rice and cooked it about 30 minutes, because I wanted it to absorb some of the sauce on the chicken and some of the water from the top layer. The top layer was a 9-ounce bag of fresh spinach, which at first glance looks like a lot, but fresh spinach cooks way down so don’t be shy with it. I tore up the spinach leaves into smaller pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. I took 4 eggs and beat them in a bowl with some leftover garlic butter from a recipe from last night – it was about four tablespoons of melted butter with one tablespoon of chopped garlic. I mixed that with the spinach until it was well coated. Just in stirring the mixture, it started to collapse the spinach leaves and they started to reduce significantly. After they were thoroughly coated, I layered them on top of the rice and covered the crock pot. It’s on low, it will probably cook about 6 hours.
For the hot shrimp dip, I started with a roux (see my earlier post on easy starters), gradually added about a half-cup- of milk, whisked until combined, and grated about 1/2 a block of cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces). I added the cheese, whisking it in until fully melted. I added two teaspoons of hot sauce and about a teaspoon of chopped garlic. I chopped the fresh shrimp into small pieces (they have to be small enough to be picked up on a cracker) and sauteed them in a small pan about four minutes, until cooked. I added that to the cheese sauce. At this point you can taste and adjust if you like more garlic or more hot sauce, but these proportions were pretty good for what I did.
For the lasagna, I had a 16-ounce container of cottage cheese that had some scooped out of it, there was probably around 12 ounces left. I cracked two eggs directly into the container, added some chopped garlic and fresh cracked black pepper, and mixed in some fresh oregano and basil from my windowsill garden. I stirred all this together and it was the base layer. Chopped smoked sausage goes on top of that. I decided to use a can of tomatoes instead of canned soup, which takes longer, but tastes better. Put a can of tomatoes in a saucepan, add chopped garlic, onion, and jalapeno (or green bell peppers if you don’t like it too spicy), chopped basil and oregano, then use the immersion blender and blend until the correct consistency. Pour over the sausage layer. Grate block cheese and wait to add to the top until after it has cooked a while (otherwise it scorches and dries out). Cook (without the cheese on top) about an hour at 300 degrees lightly covered with tinfoil, then put the grated cheese on top, then re-cover with tin foil and cook another 30 minutes. Remove the tinfoil, put on “broil”, and watch carefully. When the top crusts and bubbles, remove from oven. Serve over cooked noodles.
IN ADDITION … I made some sauteed mushrooms that can be added to the casserole and lasagna table-side for the members of the family that like mushrooms.