Thursday, April 14, 2011


As I was rushing to get out of work in time to get to yoga class, the fiance called me to let me know he'd be home late.  And then he asked "What are we having for dinner?"


Yes, I love to cook ridiculously time consuming recipes.  But, sometimes I am:

A) Lazy
B) Facing a random assortment of things in the kitchen that seem to make absolutely no sense
C) Hungry enough to start gnawing on furniture

When this set of circumstances occurs, dinner is a Concoction.

Concoction is a term of my mother's - we can call her the Queen of the Concoction.  She can survey the fridge and the pantry, throw in whatever random things are available in no set amounts (aka "Enough"), cook it on the stovetop for no set time (aka "Until It's Done").  This, essentially is how I learned to cook, and also why my secret dream is for Chopped to have an amateur competition, because Mom and I would so take everyone down.  In fact, as I was sharing the blog with Mom, she said she liked it, but also asked "Are you just going to do recipes?" and I replied, "No, I promise to blog about Concoctions."

Behold the Concoction as it sautees and bubbles!
So, tonight, when I first walked in the door at 9:30, fiance was still at the gym and hunger was hardcore setting in, it was definitely Concoction time. 

First, I surveyed my options - we needed a grain, a protein and lots of veggies.  Since I love weirdo grains, we fortunately had a lot of options.  I decided to go with one with a shorter cooking time - pearled couscous.  Pearled couscous is also known as israeli couscous.  The grains are slightly larger and rounder than regular couscous.

As for protein, we had a ton of canned bean options.  I decided to go with chickpeas, since the couscous was taking us in a middle eastern direction anyway.

Next, I surveyed my produce options - leftover green onions from my veggie enchilada experiment, leftover celery root from the lasagna experiment, garlic cloves, mushroom slices and broccoli raab (okay - so I might have picked the last two items up at Safeway on the way home from yoga, but I didn't have to use them tonight).  In case you're not familiar with it, broccoli raab is a slender green vegetable.  And, as I learned tonight, it's not a form of broccoli.

After I chopped everything up, I heated olive oil in my large skillet and got the couscous going.  The onions went in first, followed by the mushrooms, fresh ground pepper, celery root, broccoli raab and chickpeas.  I added some leftover vegetable broth and let the whole thing cook down.  When the veggies were sauteed to my liking (maybe 12 minutes or so - I only know because that's how long the couscous took), I tossed in the couscous and shredded parmesan and, voila, Concoction in around 18 minutes.  And yes, it was tasty!
The finished product!

Ultimately, when you're pressed for time, you can eat a frozen meal, which is about as appetizing as a frozen brick and likely about as good for you, or you can make a Concoction.  So, if you are looking to make your own Concoction, here are some tips:

1.  Concoctions work well if you tend to have good stuff already in the fridge.  If the only stuff in your fridge is mustard, a leftover hot dog bun and bologna, you are not going to be happy with your Concoction.  So, start eating fresh produce, whole grains and beans if you're not already.

2.  Keep a well stocked pantry - As much as I eat fresh, there are a number of non-perishable items that aid any cook.  Canned beans keep well, and if you're leery of BPA, you can get ones that are BPA-Free.  Also, having a variety of quick cooking whole grains - quinoa, couscous, whole wheat pasta - will help you out.  If you really are in a crunch, I am also a fan of microwaveable pouches.  Seeds of Change makes a nice grain blend.  You should also have olive oil, an arsenal of spices and herbs (fresh is better in most cases, but dried works in a pinch . . . ha), and garlic cloves.  Cartons of vegetable broth are also a nice touch.

3.  Prep produce in advance - if your stuff is pre-washed and chopped, your Concoction will come together more quickly.  You can also have fresh-cut items on hand, like the sliced mushrooms I bought.  There are also fresh stir-fry mixes, shredded carrot and cabbage, chopped pepper mixes, bagged greens, etc. The faster you cook, the faster you eat.  And the more produce you eat, the healthier your meal is.

4.  Make Sure It's Pretty.  This is another edict of Mom's - "Food should be colorful."  As the saying goes, you eat with your eyes first.  The more of a variety of colors there are on your plate, the more appetizing the Concoction will be.  And, since fresh vegetables are the best way to put a lot of color in your meals, incorporating them in the Concoction will make your meal healthier.  So, you can do brown rice and mushrooms if you please, but I guarantee you'll be happier if you put in some carrots, yellow pepper and zucchini.  The trick is having all that stuff on hand in the first place, granted.

5.  Have something to put all this stuff in.  Having a lot of storage containers will facilitate both your prepped items, and leftover ingredients and additional servings of the Concoction for you to eat for lunch the next day.  We like these GlassLock containers.  They seal securely, which is important if you are bringing food to a potluck or bringing leftovers to work. 

I'll likely feature more Concoctions as the blog goes on, so stay tuned.

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