Although I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and trying new things, the reality is that I mostly cook the same handful of dishes again and again and again. To get out of this rut, and to free up some space in my freezer, my fridge and my cupboards, I decided to give myself a 30-day challenge: Every day, cook with (or just eat) at least one ingredient that’s been sitting unused for a long time (the definition of “long time” depending on my mood of the day, I guess).
It can be as simple as a spice I have ignored for a while, or as complicated as the raw foie gras at the bottom of my freezer which really needs to be eaten soon – the point of the exercise is to make it easy enough to stick with for a month, but challenging enough to be interesting.
Without further ado:
Day 1, May 23
- Ingredients: Butternut squash (they keep forever but mine has already been around forever) and quinoa.
- Recipe: Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pine Nuts, Feta.
- Verdict: Tasty and worth making again, but next time I’ll use less feta (I put in the entire package I had bought, and it was too dominating).
Day 2, May 24
- Ingredients: Sun-dried tomatoes and a jar of creamy asparagus spread, both well past their “best before” date.
- Recipe: Tuna lasagna (I just added the tomatoes and spread to the sauce).
- Verdict: Tuna lasagna is one of those go-to dishes, and I often make it on Tuesdays as it gets ready in the oven while I’m picking up my son from his swimming class. Because it’s a great “use what you have” type of dish, I should get better at putting in miscellaneous stuff from the fridge that needs to be eaten. Today’s version was very tasty. I don’t think the asparagus spread made much of a difference (at least the jar is no longer taking up shelf space), but adding sun-dried tomatoes is a good idea which I might use again.
Day 3, May 25
- Ingredients: Lots of different nuts and seeds.
- Recipe: The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread.
- Verdict: I used to make this “bread” on a regular basis a couple of years ago, but when my silicon loaf pan died I lost the habit. I bought a new pan a while ago, but didn’t get around to making this delicious and healthy loaf again. Finally, the time has come! This is ridiculously good the first day, straight from the oven. The following days it’s still great, but it does get a little soggy and is better when toasted.
Day 4, May 26
- Ingredient: Halloumi cheese.
- Recipe: Halloumi & watermelon bulghur salad (using quinoa – again! – instead of bulghur).
- Verdict: Delicious! You can’t really go wrong with grilled cheese I guess, but the salty halloumi was even better than I expected. I will definitely buy more of this cheese and experiment further with it. I’m aiming to eat less meat, and halloumi seems like a great alternative.
Day 5, May 27
- Ingredient: Lebanese spice mix.
- Recipe: Lebanese Shish Taouk (Tawook) (this recipe lists all the different spices, but as far as I can tell they’re more or less the same as the mix I have).
- Verdict: This was an excellent meal, highly recommended! I used a little less yoghurt for the marinade, just a couple table spoons, and cooked the skewers on a cast iron griddle plate. The meat was very tender and the spices were very tasty, my 11-year-old loved this too. The Lebanese spice mix clearly didn’t deserve to sit unused for many months, but it won’t happen again.
Day 6, May 28
- Ingredient: Hollandaise sauce from a carton.
- Recipe: Salmon and asparagus in Hollandaise sauce.
- Verdict: The salmon and asparagus were nice, the sauce was so-so. I don’t think I’ll buy it again, but it was perfectly edible and the carton no longer takes up space in my kitchen.
Day 7, May 29
- Ingredients: Dried linden (lime) leaves and flowers.
- Recipe: Linden tea.
- Verdict: A pleasant, relaxing evening drink. The taste wasn’t very strong, so for my next cup I’ll use more leaves.
Day 8, May 30
- Ingredients: Pickled silverskin onions.
- Recipe: Ploughman’s lunch.
- Verdict: Quite lovely, those little guys didn’t deserve to remain uneaten for so long. Now that the jar has finally been opened I will finish it for sure!
Day 9, May 31
- Ingredients: Herb and spice mix for salad dressing.
- Recipe: Balsamic vinaigrette.
- Verdict: We eat green salad several times a week, and I always make the vinaigrette myself. I bought this mix of herbs and spices weeks ago, but never remembered to add it to my vinaigrettes. Now it’s done, but to be honest I didn’t taste much of a difference. I will add a bit more of the mix next time, and maybe let the vinaigrette sit for a while before tossing the salad, in order to give the flavors more time to develop.
Day 10, June 1st
- Ingredients: Chinese wok spice mix.
- Recipe: Speedy stir fry.
- Verdict: The spice drawer is finally getting some love with this project. I really like this particular spice mix (it’s not five spice which I don’t fancy, it’s a blend from Lidl of all places) and should definitely use it more often.
Day 11, June 2
- Ingredients: Raisins.
- Recipe: Nibble with pecan nuts.
- Verdict: The little bag with only a handful or two of raisins left in it had been sitting in my drawer literally for ages. I’ve no idea why I never ate them, I like raisins. Well, on this day I had not used any other ingredients fitting the 30-day challenge requirements, so when a craving for something sweet came up shortly before bedtime, its time had finally come. Down the raisins went, accompanied by a few pecan nuts. Quite a satisfying late-night snack, and the little bag of raisins is no longer staring accusingly at me every time I open that drawer.
Day 12, June 3
- Ingredients: Orange marmalade.
- Recipe: Spread on toast. Eat.
- Verdict: We almost always have cereal for breakfast, so we rarely buy jams and marmalades and when we do, they tend to sit half-eaten in the fridge until they become moldy. Today I had some nice bread which I didn’t want to go to waste, so I swapped the usual cereal for toast with orange marmalade (not yet moldy), a very enjoyable classic. There’s still marmalade left in the jar though, so I will have to repeat a few more times.
Day 13, June 4
- Ingredients: Chickpea flour and sugar.
- Recipe: Norwegian waffles.
- Verdict: I do make waffles regularly, but it’s been a while since the last time. I typically replace about 1/4 of the wheat flour with some other type of flour for additional nutrients and flavour. This time I used some chickpea flour, but that is a frequent choice, so I guess it doesn’t really count for the challenge. However, I recently found an old bag of sugar which had fallen behind the drawers. Sugar keeps forever so no problem there, and the waffle-making provided the opportunity to empty the drawer of the bag which had just a few spoons of sugar left in it. Sweet!
Day 14, June 5
- Ingredients: Barbecue spice mix.
- Recipe: Fall off the bone oven baked pork spareribs.
- Verdict: I didn’t make the BBQ sauce of this recipe, but I did follow the cooking instructions after rubbing the ribs with my BBQ spice mix. The meat was perfect, but I’m not 100% convinced by the spices. They don’t exactly taste bad, but the mix is not delicious either. I might just toss it, because I don’t think I will be tempted to use it more often. I guess there really was a good reason this one was sitting unused.
Day 15, June 6
- Ingredients: Hibiscus flowers and dried, powdered orange peel.
- Recipe: Cold brewed Jamaica.
- Verdict: Yum! I had only tried brewing the hibiscus flowers with hot water before, but like the author of the linked article/recipe I liked the cold brewed version much better. Very refreshing and definitely worth making on a regular basis. I added some dried, powdered orange peel (which definitely also qualified for the challenge) to the brew, but I think I’d have to add a lot more than I did to actually taste a difference.
Day 16, June 7
- Ingredients: Pasta.
- Recipe: Tomato basil pasta salad
- Verdict: I dislike wasting food, even very cheap food like pasta (it’s not a money issue, it’s an ethical issue), and I always try not to cook more than I know we will eat. Usually a standard pack of pasta is just the right amount for our family, but if one of us isn’t around for a pasta dinner, there will be some left in the pack. Those one-person portions have tended to be ignored for the longest time, but since I started working from home a couple of months ago, one-person leftovers are ideal for my solo lunches. This pasta salad was simple and nice, and I have freed up additional space on the shelf.
Day 17, June 8
- Ingredients: Banana muffins.
- Recipe: Thaw. Eat.
- Verdict: To continue on the topic of reducing food waste, I used to make muffins with overripe bananas (now that I’m at home during the day, I mostly manage to eat them while they’re still okay). I typically used them as easy fuel for my lunch break runs, but now my work situation and exercise habits have changed, and the last batch of muffins sat forgotten in the freezer. Today I thawed a couple which I enjoyed with a cup of coffee. They’re still lovely!
Day 18, June 9
- Ingredients: Fava beans (frozen).
- Recipe: Sizzling halloumi cheese with fava beans and mint.
- Verdict: Yup, when I finally got around to trying the halloumi, I liked it so much that I went and bought more. Today I made this simple salad with some fava beans from the freezer, a fresh and healthy meal which deserves to be made again. By the way, the mint leaves also qualify for the challenge: I grow them on my terrace, but tend to forget to use them, so this was two birds with one stone although the mint doesn’t take up cupboard space.
Day 19, June 10
- Ingredients: Sorrel from an old aunt’s herb garden (frozen).
- Recipe: Salmon and sorrel Troisgros.
- Verdict: Lovely meal. The thawed sorrel was very soggy, so instead of cutting the sorrel like in the recipe I just put the leaves in the sauce and used my blender to make it smooth. The salmon was very good, too, so all in all a success.
Day 20, June 11
- Ingredients: Tikka masala paste.
- Recipe: Chicken tikka masala.
- Verdict: I procrastinated a bit with this one, because in my memory, the paste wasn’t that tasty. Well, I must have done something wrong the last time I used it, because this was delicious! There’s enough paste left in the jar for one more meal, and I sure won’t procrastinate before using it. Additional bonus: This meal was made with leftover meat.
Day 21, June 12
- Ingredients: Nutritional yeast and lemon pepper.
- Recipe: Tofu Popcorn Chick’n (tofu isn’t exactly an everyday ingredient in this household either, so it perfectly fits the purpose of this challenge even if I had to buy it).
- Verdict: Epic fail. The coating didn’t stick to the tofu, so I ended up with a pan of bland, uncoated bits of tofu and clumps of gooey coating. I will need to find another recipe to get rid of the rest of my nutritional yeast.
Day 22, June 13
- Ingredients: Smoked salt.
- Recipe: Bread with hummus, olive oil and smoked salt.
Day 23, June 14
- Ingredients: Goose fat.
- Recipe: Ultimate roast potatoes.
Day 24, June 15
- Ingredients: Lobster bisque.
- Recipe: Heat the contents of the bottle that’s been sitting in the fridge since the dinosaurs were around, and serve with garlic bread.
Day 25, June 16
- Ingredients: Shrimp paste (oh my, is the smell scary!).
- Recipe: Khao Klukh Krapi
- Verdict: Yummy! This was an extremely nice surprise. Light, healthy and very tasty, I will definitely make this again. I went very light on the scary shrimp paste, so I’m not sure how much of the yum I really can attribute to it. However, my research taught me that it can add umami to almost any dish (including tomato sauce!), so I’ll continue to experiment with it. This was fun and exactly what I started this challenge for!
Day 26, June 17
- Ingredients: Ajvar
- Recipe: Eat with bread and feta cheese (as per a comment, not the main post)
Day 27, June 18
- Ingredients: Tikka masala paste.
- Recipe: Chicken tikka masala.
Day 28, June 19
- Ingredients: Time to tackle that raw foie gras!
- Recipe: Baked eggs and foie gras on toast.
- Verdict: I have made this before and have also eaten it at a lovely restaurant. At the restaurant, the foie gras was crumbled instead of in whole slices. I prefer that way, it blends better with the eggs.
Day 29, June 20
- Ingredients: Cornmeal.
- Recipe: Cornmeal pancakes.
Day 30, June 21