Here's one from this past week....Leftover Concoction. Ingredients given in the order found and decided on...
Lean ground (range-feed) beef, < a pound (left from 2 pound package from which hamburgers had been made probably about 1/3 pound)
1 onion, diced (oops, no garlic in the house! How did that happen???)
beef stock (approximately two cups, not measured.)
1 can Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilis
3 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes from a 5 pound sack, needed to be used (just a wee bit softish), cut into cubes (or cuboids.)
1 can red beans
last of a bottle of olive salad (chopped green olives & pimentoes--at a guess about a tablespoon or so.)
large dollop of ordinary yellow mustard from jar, mixed with a little of the pot juice in a bowl so it wouldn't "fleck" "Dollop" is as much as one of our tableware spoons will hold, piled high.
1 can yellow kernel corn
last of a bottle of barbecue sauce (several tablespoons)
It worked in this order...sauteed the onions lightly in the bottom of the pot, looked for garlic, didn't find; pushed onions to one side and started browning the ground beef. Was defrosting a quart of homemade beef stock in small saucepan. In considering a starch to add, discovered potatoes needed to be cooked, so pulled them out, scrubbed them, cut them up. Added the tomatoes & green chilis to the beef as soon as it wasn't red. Poured in the part of the beef stock that had melted. Cut up and added the potato pieces. Looked like not enough. Hmmm...beans always a good stretcher. Hesitated over which (I always have red, black, and white canned beans in the pantry, but decided red would look good with potatoes. Drained and rinsed the beans (can liquid for beans is icky) and tossed them in. Poured in more of the defrosting beef stock. A recent discovery this year has been the use of olives in things I never thought of putting olives in, so when I thought of adding mustard, and looked in the fridge, there was that nearly-empty jar of olive salad. Tossed in the olives, put mustard in a cereal bowl and added small amounts of pot broth (stirring madly) until smooth, then put that in the pot. Added some coarse-ground pepper. Looking and smelling better now but...would look better for a dash of another color...and there was the yellow corn in the canned-stuff shelf, waving its little canny arms and pleading "Pick me! Pick me!" With corn in the pot, the concoction acquired a decidedly southwestern look: corn, beans, tomatoes--and that suggested that the nearly empty bottle of barbecue sauce might enhance it. Sniff-sniff-sniff (were the scents compatible?) Yes. In went the last of the barbecue sauce and I rinsed the bottle and put in the rinsing. And enough of the defrosting beef stock to cover the potato pieces. Then put the top on and left it alone until the potatoes were done. Between a soup and a stew, colorful, and tasty. Better the next day, too.
It fed two adults that night, and two adults the next night. The leftover beef stock became part of today's dinner (beef and mushrooms in red wine.)
I grew up cooking from scratch. I can use cookbooks and written recipes and level measurement--and do for some things--but long ago started "fiddling" with recipes to see how far they could be messed with, because much of the time we didn't have much money. The inexpensive basics can get really boring if you do them the same way all the time. In some families it was entirely too predictable (I thought) what dinner would be on every day of the week, and only one of them (the original form of the roast or chicken) really tasted good. So...I started buying herbs and spices and experimenting, one new flavor at a time.
Like most home cooks, I like one-pot dishes for their ease--and also for the complex flavors that arise from what-all you can put in them. (Like mustard. Like olive salad.) And there's less cleanup. So I have several "skeleton recipes" that can be varied a lot, and by shifting from one skeleton to another, I avoid boring. (Sometimes maybe too exciting, but not boring.)
Here's another concoction, built on almost the same skeleton as this week's:
1/2 to 1 pound of beef chunks (stew beef, or cutting up a tough something like chuck roast), browned.
1-2 onions, chopped and sauteed
4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped (not sauteed unless you stand there, because if they get too hot they're bitter.)
1 can Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilis
Jar of mushrooms
1 carrot, chopped/sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 quart beef stock
dollop of yellow mustard (yes, the cheap kind.)
starch: your choice of rice, barley, or potatoes. Adjust liquid to the needs of the starch. Simmer until starch is done.
Variations are many. If you want it thicker--let it reduce at a simmer. If you want it soupier, you can add water. (But if you have plenty of stock, add that.) If you don't like spicy food, use diced tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes & chilis. You can add any fresh, canned, or frozen vegetable that makes sense (different ones make sense to different people.) If you grow your own herbs, use them. If you don't, use whatever dried herbs you like. The addition of olive salad, capers, etc. makes a nice change. Mushrooms are always good (I could break the budget on mushrooms...) Red wine in a stew or soup improves anything with beef or lamb in it. On occasion, I 've started with a meat/onion/garlic/tomatoes & chili base and then used canned green beans, frozen home-grown green beans, home-grown new potatoes, canned potatoes, corn (usually whole-kernel--I'm just not that fond of creamed corn), chopped spinach or other greens, green peas (not the home-grown ones--those we eat raw.)
Soup concoctions for fast meals. Let's assume you've put in the work to make your own stock and freeze it in quart containers (yes, it's worth it, if you have freezer space. I make slightly unorthodox stock, as I include actual meat, not just bones, so that I can package (separately) 2 cup amounts of chopped cooked chicken and beef. (You know how many recipes call for 2 cups of cut-up cooked chicken, right?) But you can use store-bought chicken or beef stock or broth.
1 quart really strong chicken stock
1 quart water
2 cups cooked chicken (in nice little chunks.)
1 smallish can of either diced tomatoes, or diced tomatoes & green chilis (you can guess which I use!)
1-2 cups rice, or one cup barley (how many are coming to dinner? When? Rice is faster; barley is heartier, both swell while cooking.)
(for more people, or in cold weather, add a can or two of rinsed canned beans--we like black. check to be sure there's enough liquid as the starch component cooks.
Fastest: with beans or with pasta or both. Ready in 10-15 minutes.
Next: with rice (with or without beans). Ready in about 25-30 minutes.
Slowest: barley (takes longer than rice to cook. Ready in ~40-45 minutes
If you've already got a "hot" soup on and company shows up who aren't "hot" eaters, throw in a can or two of kidney or pinto beans and/or more starch.
Beef-vegetable soups are built on the same principle, but benefit from having carrot, onion, bell-pepper (any color) and celery added--and of course potato is good in this kind, too. Red wine (I did mention that before, yeah?) and mustard both go well in beef soups.
Just a few ideas...for now I need to go pull today's concoction out of the oven.