Kate at IFA posed a Pantry Challenge today, listing a bunch of ingredients that she discovered in her cabinets. She resolved not to grocery shop until she uses all 29 of them. It's a formidable challenge. I find that even when I have rock stars in my pantry and freezer, some fresh produce from the store is always in order to bring them alive.
Which brings me to The System. Shortly after my husband and I shacked up a few years ago, I decided it was time to finally summon the full flower of my cooking mojo with some inspiration and organization. For the former, I subscribed to Cook's Illustrated and refreshed my cookbooks. For the latter, I just winged it and created The System for planning meals and shopping at warp speed. It's pictured above and it goes like this:
Make a chart with three sections: Have, Need, and Make. I start with Haves, meaning the ingredients I've got on hand that I want to use up during the week. Next the Makes, the meals I want to use the Haves for, usually four dinners, a couple of snacks, maybe a dessert. Then...I think you get the idea...I just continue working backwards to the Needs to identify the items I'll get at the store or order from Papa Peapod. The key to the idea is that the Haves combined with the Needs results in the Makes. I have no idea if anyone else uses this too, but it's so logical, I figured it's fairly common. My husband saw it and asked me to explain. When I was finished he said, "You know. You basically have your MBA. That's pretty much an entire two-year curriculum distilled down to an executive summary in visual form." Since he's a big UofC MBA geek, I took that as a compliment. I pretty much know what Goolsbee knows....and I make quiche.
Some cooks have a favorite appliance or piece of equipment they use in the kitchen. This is my favorite tool.