The Frugal Gourmet...

In my bid to cook with an eye towards grocery store sales, I'm also making an effort to be less wasteful of food. Food waste is rampant in the United States, with estimates ranging from 25-50% of available food resources going to waste, and up until now, I have been disposing of my share of food. I would buy things like celery, which the grocery store forces you into buying in packages far larger than I would need, and end up throwing away the majority of it after using one or two stalks. I would separate eggs for a baking project and forget to use whatever part I had leftover before they went bad. Odds and ends of cheese would grow mold in forgotten corners of my refrigerator, only to be discovered months later.

With my new thrift-driven mindset, I'm trying to be more conscientious about using up food while it's still at optimum freshness. I made a fritatta this morning for breakfast using leftover broccoli from a dinner we had early last week and some egg whites leftover from my pie of shame debacle. It was easily the tastiest meal I've ever constructed from leftovers, which is an encouraging sign of my evolution as a cook. Usually, I don't fare very well without a recipe, but improvisation worked out for me on this occasion.

Tonight, I made us dinner using almost entirely ingredients we already had in the pantry. Justin accompanied his mom to Costco a few weeks back and brought us back an eight-pack of canned black beans that joined several cans I already had on hand. To clear out some of the surplus, I decided to make a black bean soup that I'd spotted a while back on Smitten Kitchen that also utilized canned pumpkin. As it turns out, I have several cans of pumpkin languishing in my cabinets that never got turned into pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, and I figured it was time to be using them up, as they had technically passed their expiration dates several months ago. The only thing I had to buy from the store was a package of cooked ham, which I was able to find on sale, and use a coupon for. Overall, I was pretty pleased with myself for my frugality.

I was also pretty pleased with the meal I was able to produce, as was Justin. The soup turned out hearty and very filling, and was excellent with a crumble of the queso fresco we had leftover from last week's tacos, though Justin opted to go with a garnish of sour cream and pepitas (also a leftover that has been haunting my refrigerator since Christmas, when I used them to make Mole Biscotti.) This is a dish we'll definitely be revisiting, even after we burn our way through all those cans of surplus food languishing in the pantry. 

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 15 oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. canned crushed tomatoes
1 1/4 c. onion, chopped
1/2 c. shallot, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick unsalted butter
4 c. beef broth
1/2 c. water
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree 
8 oz. cooked ham, cut into 1/8 inch dice
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

In a food processor, coarsely puree the tomatoes and black beans. 

In a large pot, saute the onions, shallots, garlic, cumin salt, and pepper in butter over moderate heat. When onions have softened, stir in bean puree. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and water and simmer, uncovered, about 25-30 minutes, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. 

Just before serving, add ham and vinegar and simmer until just heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve with your garnish of choice.

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