How to make dinner when there's nothing in the fridge

I was reflecting today - on my first day of funemployment - that one of the things I'm most excited about in the coming months is having time to cook during the day. I'm going to be marinating, simmering, and meticulously chopping vegetables into matchsticks in a way that getting home after a long day absolutely ravenous doesn't afford.

That being said, I also reflected on the fact that I eat really frigging well (almost) every single day, despite employment. This is not the time to discuss the epic failures which punctuate any culinary experimentation...

While there's always something fresh in the fridge, it's unlikely that it falls into the category of "well-planned foundation of a meal". Most likely it's renegade vegetables leftover from the one well-thought-out meal of the week. How is it then possible to make something truly delicious? Here are a few tricks.

sauted spinach and bacon with pickled onion

1) Your pantry is a sacred thing. If you treat it right, by which I mean re-stock regularly, it will get you out of a bind 9 times out of 10. For those who believe in the organized life, a checklist in the inside of the cupboard will remind you to pick up replacements on your next shopping trip - just check things off when you use them and take that paper with you!

I go the "trust-my-gut" route in buying staples. This usually works out since I know approximately how long things last. Sometimes, however, it means I have 5 cans of stockpiled chickpeas. Those nights we have falafel for dinner. I call that 'inspiration'.

2) There's no argument that preserving food in the summer is a ton of work. Often on a hot, sunny summer afternoon it seems like the stupidest possible way to spend time. Trust me, it's not!

Roasted tomatoes packed in oil which you find at the back of the freezer are a lifesaver of flavour on nights when there's not much fresh in sight. If you live in a tiny apartment like me and possess and even tinier freezer, go crazy and can some stuff which can (attractively) line shelves - chutney is a great option! So are tomato sauce and pickled everything.

3) Speaking of pickles... if you're really feeling uninspired, start by pickling something. I know it sounds silly. When you walk in the kitchen and find that one fresh vegetable on the brink of health, chopping it finely and adding a warm mixture of vinegar, sugar, and whatever spices tickle your fancy it's a surefire way to make a nothing meal taste fresh and delicious.

Korean BBQ tacos

I love carrots with ginger and mustard seeds or bell peppers with bay leaf and garlic. One of my favourite ways to use pickled veggies is on grain bowls; whether it's rice or toasted barley, grains with a poached egg, pickles, nuts, and a yogurt sauce is a basic formula to make hundreds of delicious and satisfying dinners in no time. Added bonus for the fact that everything packs up well for lunch leftovers the next day.

4) Keep corn tortillas in the fridge at all times! Tacos are a god-send. "I have exactly half a cup of leftover meat to feed 3 people" isn't a problem when potato and onion are cubed, thrown in the oven, and used to bulk up you filling. Top that with some shredded cabbage and the aforementioned pickles and dinner just became delicious.

5) Sauces. Learn to love them. Whether you have time to roast meat and make a pan sauce or just want to add herbs, garlic, and mustard to Greek yogurt, sauces are an easy way to build flavour quickly. They're also one of the most effectively ways to transform leftovers into something new and exciting.

If you want to put some of these skills into practice, consider getting in touch for a hands-on weeknight meals class. Let me guide you through a handful of techniques which will give you confidence to throw together something awesome on Wednesday night, without all of the stress of planning 'the perfect meal'.