I crave, therefore I cook

Today was one of those days — jonesin’ for flavor. Plus, I had a lot of odds and ends in the fridge that I knew I had to use…so that prompted one of my favorite summer treats — fresh salsa!

I posted this recipe before, so I’ll just show the end result:

I love this stuff (and so does everyone else I make it for). I’ll be happily munching on this for the next few days. It wasn’t even part of dinner.

One of the other bits of something I had to use up was the remainder of a head of cauliflower. About half of it went into a really yummy cauliflower salad a couple weeks ago (yes, it’s been around that long). Today the rest turned into this: cauliflower roasted with olive oil and cumin. Super simple. Super delicious.

Even Mike, who’s not the biggest cauliflower fan, really likes this. (I should be clear: Most of the time, Mike likes what I make, but frankly, some days I don’t really care. My palate needs what it needs. And it would be happy eating this cauliflower, or pretty much any roasted veggie, every day.)

But these were just the “use up the odds & ends” dishes. What I was really craving was a roasted sweet potato salad. Had a recipe from the mayo jar, but it really wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted more savory, and no mayo. (Although, to be clear again, mayo is a god to me. I love mayo. I inherited that from my dad. My life would be nothing without mayo. But not today, not in roasted sweet potato salad.)

So after browsing about a dozen different recipes online, I made up my own based on what sounded good.

Savory, for sure. So first I mixed cubes of sweet potatoes with olive oil, cinnamon, chile powder, a bit of cayenne, a little coarse salt, and pepper. I chopped up some onion I had left and added that too. Spread it all on a baking sheet. (Is anyone else a big fan of non-stick foil? LOVE IT…I even use it on the grill so I don’t have to clean the grates all the time.)

This went in the oven (set to “roast” on my convection oven — 400°) while I worked on the other ingredients.

Several of the recipes I liked added nuts. So I toasted what I had — some pecans, some almonds, some walnuts. I always do this on top of the stove in a skillet because it’s easy. Toasting makes the nuts more flavorful, so you can use less. Plus, I store my nuts in the freezer, so I also toast them to warm them up.

After about 10 minutes of toasting (stir them occasionally and watch them so they don’t burn), I chopped them up along with a few dried apricots I had (more pantry clean-up). I also added what I had left from a bag of craisins. (I love a savory-sweet combination.)

After about 30 minutes of roasting (I forgot to set the timer), the sweet potatoes were done. For some reason, they don’t get crisp like regular potatoes, but they were soft and delicious. (Actually, they don’t look any different in the “after” picture than the “before.”)

After these cooled a bit, I threw everything together. Here’s the sneaky part — as I was cleaning out the fridge, I discovered some balsamic vinaigrette I had made for a different salad recipe a couple weeks ago. The recipe (for a wild rice salad I didn’t end up liking all that much) made a ton, so instead of having to make dressing, I was set! Great surprise find.

It’s hard to drizzle and take pictures at the same time.

A couple stirs and that was it. I just switched to a smaller bowl (which happened to be vintage Pyrex inherited from my Aunt Jenny — very in vogue right now according to my Country Living magazine), and left it sit at room temperature for a couple hours while I went about my evening. (Room temperature salad was part of the crave — didn’t want anything cold.)

My poor photography skills aside (NOT inherited from my dad, who was a photographer by trade), this was one great salad! Next time, I might consider adding some finely chopped celery for the crunch and added bit of savory, but I wouldn’t hesitate to make it just this same way again — and for company, too.

Another “good thing” (to steal from Martha), is that cleaning up the odds & ends in my fridge also contributed to my composter.

Seriously, I am not much of a crunchy organic person, but I do love my compost! We inherited the bin with the house, and someday I’ll replace it with something more snazzy that tumbles or at least has doors on both sides. But this one is OK for something basic.

Not only does it feed my garden, it makes me feel a lot less guilty when the strawberries go bad or I forget about that red pepper I paid a fortune for and only used half of, and other such wastefulness.

Someday, I’m going to buy an indoor composter that I can use all winter long. Or maybe an earthworm composter. (Some women want jewels, I want composters. And a roto-tiller.)

Anyway, sorry to digress into talking about garbage in the middle of a food post.

I’ll just leave you with this — tonight’s savory dinner. Simple, but crave-worthy.

And now, maybe something sweet.

Klondike, anyone? I’m buyin’!

One of the very nicest things about life is the way
we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing
and devote our attention to eating.
~ Luciano Pavarotti

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$9.85

Sometimes, little things just hit you.

I stopped at Wal-Mart to buy a few ingredients for recipes I want to make for tonight’s and tomorrow night’s dinner. And to pick up some more asparagus — we roasted a bunch last night — delicious.

A quick aside.

Mike said, “I never thought I’d like asparagus. I never used to.”

This confirms my belief that every adult should try “hated” foods prepared by someone other than his/her mother. Nothing against mom’s cooking, but…times have changed, and so have ingredients and preparation methods.  If I hadn’t tried it, I’d still be convinced I hated Chinese food because when I was growing up, eating Chinese meant opening a can of La Choy chop suey on a Saturday night…gag me.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I never left the produce aisle — six items, none of them organic:

  • an eggplant
  • a cauliflower
  • a red pepper (always outrageously priced — why?)
  • a cubanelle pepper (which she rang up as a jalapeno, 18 cents)
  • a bunch of asparagus (on sale)
  • a bunch of parsley

Bottom line: $9.85

No doubt it would have been more at another grocery store — I shop at Wal-Mart because it’s invariably cheaper.

Near the checkout in Wal-Mart is an in-store McDonald’s. Mike and I could have both eaten there for $9.85.

No, it wouldn’t have been as healthy. And it would only be one meal (I’ll have enough veggies left over from my recipes to add a side to another meal, plus leftovers from the meals themselves).

But the veggies are only part of my recipes — I’ll be adding many other items  from my pantry, all vegetarian except for some chicken breast that goes in tomorrow’s white chicken chili. (Tonight’s barley risotto is all veg.) So that adds cost.

I don’t wonder why people live on fast food — it’s cheap and filling. Or why they buy cheap processed — what would my $10 have bought in those aisles? Or why more people don’t buy organic. I’d love to — can’t afford it.

Maybe we have so many obese people in the U.S. because it’s so expensive to eat healthy. Mike and I spent about $400 on food in March — not counting our Friday night dinner-and-a-couple-beers at the local bar, usually around $25. And not counting Mike’s daily lunches out — around $6 a day. I’ve been trying to build up our pantry, so have been stocking up on staples.

So, for both of us, it’s running about $20 a day to eat.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot? For just two of us? And I’m not an extravagant shopper — I usually buy store brands, use coupons, and leave the expensive items on the shelf. (I’ve been buying “healthier” eggs because I think I should, and lamenting they cost at least $1 a dozen more than “regular” eggs.)

I dunno. No great insights forthcoming. No solutions. Just something I’m thinking about as I sit here, not making any money, worried about the future.

All sorrows are less with bread.
~ Miguel de Cervantes