Good morning, food non-wasters! Last week, The Finance Phoenix wanted to know what exactly I was making with all those groceries, and I thought I’d make this week’s tip about meal planning. This has really been how I’ve been making the no-food-waste thing work: being super strict about the planning, although also being flexible enough to throw things in the freezer if the week changes unexpectedly and there just isn’t time.
I’ve written before about laddering and spring cleaning, both of which are versions of “figure out what you already have and start there.” I guess I’d say that successful meal planning on the cheap has a fair amount in common with dressing from a capsule wardrobe, where you mix and match the basic clothes you love from a limited number of pieces, say 30. Meal planning gets easier when you have a roster of stuff you like and use a lot, and can stock it so that when you plan a recipe, you already have a bunch of what needs to go into it. I try to always have things like: tahini, a selection of vinegars and oils, honey, white and brown sugar, sesame oil, parmegiano-reggiano cheese (a hunk of it, wrapped, will keep more or less indefinitely in the fridge), garlic, mustard, yeast, a selection of dried herbs and spices, nuts and seeds (in the freezer), capers, cornmeal, white and whole wheat flours, cornstarch, baking powder and baking soda, kosher/table/sea salt, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, lemon juice (in the freezer), a bottle each of red and white wine. If I use up one of these things, it goes on the next week’s grocery list for immediate replacement. I used to stock more dry goods like beans, lentils, pasta, grains, and canned tomatoes, but lately I’ve taken to trying to just buy what I need for a specific recipe. What I try to keep in stock is the stuff that I’d use only a little bit of for any given recipe and that lasts for a long time, properly stored. I buy tahini maybe three times a year, miso maybe twice, because I only use a couple tablespoons at a time…but when you need it, you need it. After the grocery list, I’ll explain what I’m cooking from it this week.
Salt, $.79 [this is insane, does salt really cost this little? I haven’t had to buy new salt in like three years]
white vinegar, $2.09
canola oil, $3.29
Corn tortillas, $.99
1/2 lb bulk bacon, $4.95
olive oil, $14.99
oatmeal-blackberry scone, $1.99 [I am apparently never going to get tired of these]
Total, minus bag credit [ALWAYS keep the bag credit], $31.09
Coffee beans bought in bulk at the co-op — hmm. didn’t get a receipt, can’t quite recall. About $8?
Grand total, $47.25
The salt, vinegar, and canola and olive oils were just stocking up — I apparently ran out of all the basics this week. I buy milk three or four times a month; I use it for coffee, plus for things like the occasional cup of cocoa or if I need it to bake. Every now and then I have cereal, but mostly not.
I make oatmeal for breakfast, and didn’t have to buy anything for it this week; I had oats, nuts, dried and frozen fruit, and brown sugar all in stock.
The avocado, yogurt, and approximately half the kale were for Coconut-Quinoa Bowls, which I actually made with brown rice, not quinoa; I recently realized I have a 2-lb bag that I bought for no good reason months ago and that I have to start using. I also had dried coconut to use up in the pantry, along with almonds, garlic, salt, and lemons.
Finally, the bacon, tortillas, and the rest of the kale are for the recipe below. In my spring cleaning last week I not only found that rice, but also a bag of pinto beans, and decided to work on using some of this stuff up. So, refried beans it was; in addition to the dried beans, I had an onion in the fridge from a 3-lb bag I bought a couple of weeks ago, and cheddar cheese to finish the quesadillas off although really you can use almost anything that melts well, or I guess skip the cheese, though I think it helps a lot with binding everything together.
Homemade Refried Beans and Kale Quesadillas
This is one of the few things I will actually cook when I get home on a weeknight; as long as the beans are pre-made, they take about three minutes to assemble and another five minutes to cook, which is the limit of how long I will be patient in the kitchen after a workday.
For the beans:
If you already have leftover white or pinto beans made, great. If not, soak them for a few hours or overnight. Then drain the soaking water and put in new water. Bring to a boil, boil for five minutes, then turn the heat down to a simmer. They will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours depending on what kind of bean you have and how fresh they are; start checking them early. Salt them when they’re pretty close to done. Let cool to room temperature and/or stick them in the fridge for a few days, whatever.
Fry the bacon in a skillet, preferably cast-iron but whatever, really. Take the bacon out with a slotted spoon or tongs or whatever and reserve for another use (by which I mean, eat the hell out of it.) Slice up an onion — white, preferably, but yellow is fine — really thin, I mean really thin, and toss that into the hot grease. After a few minutes it’ll start to become translucent; add some diced garlic; fry the whole thing for another few minutes until the garlic is golden and everything smells amazing. At this point, put in the beans and a little bit of their liquid. Stir and let it cook for a little while — I don’t know, maybe five minutes — stirring occasionally, adding more liquid if things seem dry. Mash in the pan with a potato masher; I like them not too too smooth. Check for seasoning, and you’re done. You can cool and freeze or fridge at this point, or just move straight on to using them.
For the quesadillas: Get out your skillet again and put a bit of oil into it. Chop up some raw kale leaves into pretty small ribbons or bits. Spread a corn tortilla with some beans, put the kale on top of the beans, scatter some shredded cheese, put another tortilla on top, and then fry the whole thing over medium-high heat, turning at least once, until the tortillas are a dark golden brown, the kale is wilted, and the cheese is melted. I usually put the lid on the pan for the first few minutes in order to encourage the kale to wilt and the cheese to melt, then take it off so that the tortillas will crisp up properly.