Cooking On The Fly


Torrential rain is coming down, it’s late, and the gas gauge is on empty. Not great incentives to go food shopping (in a future article, we’ll review “Planning Ahead”). Cooking with what’s on hand does not come naturally to most because we’ve been conditioned to follow somebody else’s recipe. And nine times out of ten, we’ll be missing a key ingredient which requires a trip to the store – exactly what we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

This is when the art of substitution comes into play, and ultimately the art of omission if absolutely necessary. Mastering these arts comes with trial and error – and Google. If you can type – or use your voice – it’s pretty easy to find suggestions for substitutions on line for missing ingredients. Even staples like eggs, butter, oil and cheese have substitutions. Don’t let one or two missing ingredients stop you from making that tomato and mozzarella salad – unless you’re fresh out of tomatoes and mozzarella. Granted, you must at least have some basics on hand, the best scenario would mean a decent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, but canned is always feasible too. Lemons and limes are miracle ingredients - the acidity adds a brightness to any compatible dish - from salads to apple pie.

Fresh herbs are super versatile – in many cases, if a recipe calls for a certain herb, there is enough flexibility there to substitute one herb for another. For example, a classic basil pesto can be made with parsley. It will be milder yet equally delicious and will have the same vibrant green color. Incorporating leftovers into a new dish gives them a new life - they are reinvented. Omelets, tacos, and salads are dishes that cry for leftovers. Avoid sharing phrases like “I had to clean out the fridge, so I whipped up this quiche!” Your intentions are well-meaning but to those on the sidelines, the concept is not appetizing. And remember there is a difference between leftovers and leftovers which lost their shelf life. If it has fuzz on it, it’s over the hill.

Whipping up a simple pasta is one of the easiest options for cooking on the fly and it’s astounding what can be accomplished with a pinch of salt, boiling water, extra-virgin olive oil, pasta and cheese. There’s no rule pasta sauce has to be red. Need a few greens on the side? Tossed with a little fresh lemon juice, grapeseed oil, and sea salt, the greens come alive. Thank goodness, the wine already comes in the bottle. The most you’ll have to do is remove the cork. All this is manageable in about 30 minutes for those who claim they “don’t cook.” The “it takes too much time” has now been removed from the argument pool. And the bulk of this time is waiting for the water to boil. In the mood for tacos? Isn’t everybody? Having white corn tortillas on hand does make a difference when it comes to making tacos. They are super inexpensive and have much more flavor than the plain flour tortillas. There are 3 basic components to a taco: a base layerwhich is typically chopped lettuce, spinach, or any leafy green like arugula, which gives a nice peppery bite. Next comes the filling, which can consist of grilled meat, poultry, fish, grilled vegetables, or raw vegetables – avocados, tomatoes, and red onions are some tasty choices. The last but key component is a sauce or dressing, which brings it all together and makes the taco moist. In a pinch, bottle dressings like ranch or even thousand island work, but taking equal parts mayonnaise, a ripe avocado and some sea salt to make a beautiful creamy dressing is a no-brainer treat.

Creating a dish or two with what you have on hand is less challenging than you think. So next time hunger strikes, imagine you’re practicing to become a contestant on “Chopped,” where you might be offered a basket of mystery ingredients to create a judged appetizer, main course or dessert. Good luck!

Delicious Recipes from Lowcountry

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