Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Work (With) What You Got

One of my favorite sultry singers, Ms. Candye Kane, has a fabulous song called Work What You Got. The lyrics go something like this:  

"You've gotta work what you got, if it's a little or a lot..come on baby, work what you got.."

Her songs are all about empowerment, loving yourself exactly as you are, not just making do with what you have but embracing it! If you take a look at Candye's pics, you'll see one gorgeous, self-confident, sexy lady! I have had the pleasure of seeing her perform live on two separate occasions, the last time just after she went through cancer treatment. But I digress..what does this have to do with vegan cooking/eating, you're probably thinking?

Well, honestly, not much! The title of the song does, however, pop into my head whenever I'm scrounging through the refrigerator and pantry for dinner ingredients.  I hate to run out to the store for one or two random items, don't you? As hard as I try to keep a fully stocked pantry, it's much more challenging in the RV.  So, I tend to work with what I've got as much as possible.

To give you an idea of the space constraints I'm dealing with, below are pics of my prep/cooking area, and my refrigerator.

As you can see, there's not a whole lot of room to spread out! It's really important to remember some of the basic kitchen rules:

1. Measure all ingredients before cooking, then put the unused portions away. I don't have space on my counter for a bunch of stuff so I measure, put everything in bowls and use in the order called for in the recipe.

2.  Clean up as you go! I fill my tiny sink with hot soapy water before I begin, adding dirty dishes as I use them.

3. Keep your prep area super clean! Because I don't have a dishwasher to sanitize tools & utensils, I am extra-careful about avoiding cross-contamination (Loki does eat raw meat, after all) and making liberal use of green cleaning products. The last thing I need is for one of us to get sick and have to worry about finding a doctor in an unfamiliar town.

Ok, now that I've made my point..grin..I'll share a recipe with you. This comes from Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson, a book my dear friend Catherine sent me for my birthday. If you're like me, the economy has had an impact on your finances and you're looking for ways to save money.  One of the easiest ways to do this is with your food budget. In addition to coupon clipping & shopping the sales, I find myself gravitating toward the produce aisle more than any other in the store. Below is an example of my cart during a recent shopping trip, I spent about $30.00 for all of this and, along with some pantry staples, it provided me with quite a few healthy vegan meals! (Who do you think that bacon belongs to?)

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong!

There's a misconception that healthy food has to be expensive, and that's simply not true.  If you eliminate most of the convenient processed junk from your diet, you'll be surprised at how much more money you have to spend on fresh fruits & veggies!

Before I plan dinner, I take a peek at what I already have on hand and try to utilize those items first. In this case, I had some sad looking zucchini that I didn't want to waste, a box of pasta and can of tomatoes, onion, garlic (which I am never without!) and some Italian vegan "sausage" that Chip hasn't had a chance to grill for me. I have a green pepper? Why, yes, I do! Perfect, here goes!

Substituting the penne and "sausage" instead of the rotini and "pepperoni", I whipped up the following recipe in no time:

Rotini with Spicy Vegetable Ragu
by Robin Robertson, Vegan on the Cheap

1 pound rotini
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Big Stick Pepperoni (page 56), chopped (I used Tofurky brand Italian sausage)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
3 garlic cloves
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley (I used basil)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the rotini over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the pepperoni and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in the same skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and garlic.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, basil, crushed red pepper, if using, salt, and several grindings of black pepper.  Simmer to allow flavors to blend and to break up the tomatoes, about 5 minutes.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and return to the pot.  Add the sauce and the cooked pepperoni (sausage, in my case) and toss to combine.

Serve hot.

Penne with Spicy Vegetable Ragu
My review: Delicioso! This made a lot of food, much more than 4 servings, in my opinion.  I wouldn't change a thing, but be sure to use the red pepper flakes and fresh herbs, they definitely add a needed kick to the sauce.