Each January I participate in the Pantry Challenge with Life As Mom's Jessica at Good Cheap Eats. This allows us to spend less and use more of what we have. Pantry Meals are an important part of a successful Pantry Challege as well as instrumental in getting dinner on the table during the week all year long. Pantry meals are those meals you can just throw together based on what you have on hand, eliminating an extra trip to the grocery store. Each of these can be made either with what I have on hand or substitutions. Many of my pantry meals are one dish meals that either stand alone or with the addition of a quick salad or bowl of fruit make a complete meal. All week I've been sharing some recent pantry meal additions -- Veggie Quesadillas, Fried Rice, Cheesy Mexican Rice, and Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage.
Here's a round up of our all time favorite pantry meals. I can throw each of these together and never get a complaint from a single member of my family.
Pasta dishes make great pantry meals. Most pasta dishes are very forgiving and substituting ingredients for what you have on hand is a simple fix. I have many, many pasta dishes my family likes, but one of our favorites is Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage. It uses so many staples I have on hand all the time -- canned tomatoes, pesto, pasta, parmesan cheese, and sausage. However, it is easily adaptable. Don't have italian sausage? Use breakfast sausage or ground beef or chicken or leave out the meat all together for a meatless option. I have used every type of pasta imaginable in this recipe. My one piece of advice is to stay away from spaghetti. The sauce is thick and just won't hold on thin spaghetti noodles.
Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage
2 T olive oil 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, drained 28 oz. pasta, cooked and drained 6 T pesto 6 T Parmesan cheese 1 lb Italian sausage, cooked and drained salt, pepper, fresh basil to taste
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 2 minutes. Add tomotoes and simmer for 10 minutes. While tomatoes are cooking, use a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon to break up the larger tomato pieces.
Season tomato sauce with salt and pepper, stir in pesto. Add Italian sausage and simmer 5 more minutes.
Pour sauce over hot pasta, mix well. Top with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Another great pantry meal I like to make is fried rice, using leftover meat and vegetables. This time used leftover pork. While I used the traditional peas and carrots in this batch, I've been known to throw in corn or chopped asparagus, even the last of a jar of pimentos went in once. This is a great way to give leftovers a new flavor profile and make it more appealing to my family. It is pretty quick too, especially if you use leftover rice instead of cooking and cooling it.
Fried Rice 1 c long grain white rice, cooked according to package directions. 1 T canola oil 2 eggs, scrambled 1 clove garlic, minced 1 c frozen peas and carrots 3 green onions, sliced -- green and white parts powdered ginger salt soy sauce, low-sodium leftover meat of your choice (chicken, ground beef, shrimp, pork) Place hot cooked rice in a bowl. Toss in the frozen peas and carrots. Put in the freezer. Stir every few minutes until rice is cool and sticky. Your rice must be cold or it will turn to mush when you fry it. You can also use cold, leftover rice. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet on high. Add green onions and garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes (it will smell REALLY good). Remove rice from freezer, place in wok. Stir fry for a minute, add soy sauce to your taste. I use quite a bit, covering most of the rice. Add powdered ginger, about 1/4 t and salt to taste (if using full sodium soy sauce you won't need salt). Add in diced leftover meat and chopped scrambled eggs. Continue to cook until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings and soy sauce if necessary.
We did very well on our Pantry Challenge this week. We did have an unscheduled dinner pick up from Wendy's this week because my tutoring session went LONG and I couldn't even begin to cook until after 8:00, so we opted for a quick drive thru meal on Thursday. However, I had only spent $12.00 on fresh veggies and dairy at the grocery store that week, so even with our $15.00 Wendy's trip we were still WAYYYY under our usual food expenditures.
I managed to do a bit of freezer cooking this week as well. We own a small restaurant and when there are extra items that will not be used before the expiration date and are not needed at the Salvation Army soup kitchen, I am the lucky recipient. My DH brought home 10 pounds of ground beef and 6 white onions. I quickly turned that into 5 meals of homemade meatballs and 12 half-cup portions of frozen chopped onions. I also made pancakes and chicken taquitos. I love that I was able to add to the freezer and still keep up with our pantry challenge. My refrigerator is getting bare. We've used up lots of condiments and made better use of leftovers this month. My freezer is showing signs of emptimess, which is good as it needs a good defrosting. You can see what we are eating from the freezer this week on my weekly menu post. Every meal starts with an item or two from the freezer. I still need to do a thorough inspection of my pantry. The kids just kind of throw things in there and I'm not sure what exactly is in there. That will be this week's project and make next week's meal plan from what I find in there. Hope everyone is doing well on their own challenge. Linked to Good Cheap Eats.
Quesadillas are a quick weeknight meal we enjoy on a regular basis. I can have these on the table in under 30 minutes. One of our favorite recipes is this one for Vegetable Quesadillas. One of the great things about this recipe is you can change out the vegetables to suit your tastes or what you have on hand in the refrigerator. You can also used fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. This is a true versatile pantry meal.
1 t olive oil
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c chopped zucchini
4 green onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t salt
8 (6 inch) tortillas ( I had HUGE ones is the refrigerator, so I made one large quesadilla and cut into wedges)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 c sour cream
1/2 c salsa
Mix sour cream and salsa together. Refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in olive oil, heat for 1 minute. Add in vegetables and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place 4 tortillas on baking sheet. Top each with 1/4 of the vegetable mixture and 3 T cheese. Place remaining tortillas on top.
Lightly spray the top of each tortilla with non-stick spray. Bake until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, about 8 minutes. Cut each quesadilla into 4 pieces. Serve with sour cream/salsa sauce.
These reheat well for lunch or leftovers the next day.
As our 2013 Pantry Challenge winds down, I'm highlighting some of our favorite pantry recipes. Some are old favorites and some are new ones we discovered this month while cleaning out the pantry and freezer.
This is a great pantry meal. You can substitute any type of protein or leave it out all together. Don't have Rotel, use tomato sauce and green chiles or chopped jalapenos. Use any type of cheese you have on hand, cheddar, jack, pepper jack. This is a very forgiving recipe. It also makes a lot, so you will have leftovers for another meal or lunches during the week. We like to top it with salsa and sour cream.
Cheesy Mexican Rice 1 T vegetable oil 1 c long grain white rice 1 can (16oz) chicken broth 1/2 - 1 c water 1 can Rotel 1/2 onion, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 t salt 1/2 t ground cumin 1/4 t chili powder small can corn, drained 1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained 1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained 1 1/2 c shredded colby jack cheese Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in rice; cook and stir until rice is lightly browned and gives off a toasted fragrance -- about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, water, Rotel, onion, garlic, salt, cumin and chili powder. Bring to boil, reduce to low. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn, beans and beef. Cook until heated through. Top with cheese, heat until cheese is melted.
Week 4 of the Pantry Challenge. I'm working through the depths of my freezer this week. Each year in July I do a HUGE freezer cooking session before we all head back to school. By January, there are bits and pieces of that session that need to be eaten. This week my menu focuses on those items. I have several different marinated chicken breasts, a Mediterranean Whole Chicken, a Pizza Pasta Casserole, beer chili, mac and cheese and broccoli casserole. I also have buffalo chicken, plain shredded chicken and a bag of hashbrowns.
Sunday - Wings and Dip while watching the FALCONS! Monday - Mediterranean Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans Tuesday - Beer Chili, Mac and Cheese, Veggies and Ranch Wednesday - Sandwich and Salad Bar Thursday - Buffalo Chicken Casserole, Salad, Fruit Friday - Mom, Dad, Patrick and Tommy for dinner ?????? Chocolate Chocolate Kiss Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting Saturday - Supper Club - I'm taking a side dish--- still not sure what.
Conducting a successful Pantry Challenge is impossible without meal planning. If you don't plan to use what you have, you will end up at the grocery store or the drive thru or at a restaurant, blowing your small January grocery budget. I try to meal plan all the time, but during a Pantry Challenge it is a necessity.
I start out by checking the refrigerator for things that need to be eaten quickly. Today I found bacon, proscuitto, lettuce, celery, green onion, pesto, smoked sausage, and bagels. I also checked the freezer and we have an abundance of brats, italian sausage and mac and cheese. In the pantry I had black eyed peas, plenty of canned tomatoes, hot dog buns and a 1/2 bag of potatoes. These items will make up the bones of my meal plan.
Sunday -Black Eyed Pea Jambalaya, Salad used - celery, green onion, smoked sausage, proscuitto, black eyed peas and lettuce Monday - Grilled Brats, Peas and Mashed Potatoes used - brats and potatoes Tuesday - Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage, Salad (recipe coming this week) used pesto, italian sausage, lettuce, canned tomatoes Wednesday - Salad and Sandwich Bar used lettuce, bagels Thursday - Teriyaki Chicken, Rice, Salad, Fruit used the last of the lettuce Friday - Subway - Nanny's treat Saturday - meeting a college friend for dinner
I didn't use the mac and cheese or bacon, so those will start off the list for next week's menu.
Next week I will be featuring a different pantry recipe each day. Stop by for recipes for
Monday - Mexican Rice Tuesday - Veggie Quesadillas Wednesday - Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage Thursday - Fried Rice Friday - Links to many pantry recipes
Still going strong with our Pantry Challenge. There are many benefits of doing a pantry challenge, but this week, the biggest was not spending money at the grocery store. I had some extra cash to do a little clothes shopping from the sales racks. I have some great new spring outfits (like a $278 Ellen Tracy dress for $12.00!) to begin building my spring wardrobe.
Next will I will be featuring a different pantry recipe each day. Stop by and check them out.
Sunday - Black-Eyed Pea Jambalaya Monday - Brats, Mashed Potatoes, Peas Tuesday - Tomato Basil Pasta with Italian Sausage, Salad Wednesday - Sandwich and Salad Bar Thursday - Teriyaki Chicken, Rice, Salad, Fruit Friday - Subway - Nanny's Treat Saturday - Out with Friends
The first week of the 2013 Pantry Challenge did not go as well as expected. My pantry basics needed a replenish after the holidays. After Christmas Eve Dinner for 15, Christmas Day Dinner for 9, New Years Eve party for 35, New Years Day Dinner for 11, 4 days of houseguests and 5 teenage boys for a sleepover I was out of some essentials -- flour, oil, confectioners sugar, mustard, salt, eggs, chips and salsa (the boys ate 3 bags of chips and 2 jars of salsa as well as 24 cupcakes!) So a quick trip to the grocery store for those items as well as fresh fruit (my kids are just devouing those adorable and delicious clementimes), salad fixins and milk.
We ate very well this first week off of leftovers from the holidays. For lunches we finished up Nanny's pimento cheese, chili and hot dogs, leftover enchiladas and nachos.
Dinners were delicious. I made Fried Rice and Pioneeer Woman's Italian Chicken Soup, subbing in leftover pork loin from New Years in both (posts coming soon). We enjoyed dinner with friends on Saturday night, I took creamed corn (from the freezer), Cream Cheese and Pepper Jelly Appetizer (from the pantry) and Sugar Cookie Bars.
I got ahead of myself and posted my 2013 Kitchen Goals before my 2012 Wrap Up, oh well....
For the past 3 years (2010, 2011, 2012) I have set 12 goals for the kitchen, one for each month of the year. This is so much easier than setting a bunch of resolutions and trying to accomplish them all at once. Here's a recap of my successes and failures for the 2012.
Goal 1 - Pantry Challenge - SUCCESS
Did it! Third year in a row.
Goal 2 - Clean out utensil drawer - SUCCESS
Did it! And it is still clean and functional
Goal 3 - Limit dining out/take out to 2 - 3 times per month - SUCCESS
We have done really well with this one, so much so it is almonst non-existant. Now we treat eating out/take out/or delivery as a treat because we want to, not because we have to.
Goal 4 - More veggies in our menu plan- SUCCESS
Much, much better this year, especially with the addition of salads for dinner at least once a week. I'm still working on the variety of veggies we eat, but our overall intake is much higher. We have also added a greater variety of fruits to our meals
Goal 5 - Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day- FAIL
This was the 3rd year this has been on my goal list. I never got around to it, especially with an emphasis on eating better and losing a few pounds, this just didn't seem like a good fit for our family. I'm dropping this from my kitchen plans
Goal 6 - Better utilization of garden produce -- less waste - FAIL
Our house flooded at the end of May and the entire summer was spent trying to get it repaired and livable again. The garden fell by the wayside, there just weren't enough hours in the day to deal with contrators and a garden.
Goal 7 - Dehydrate and freeze more - HALF SUCCESS
Since the garden never really got off the ground, there wasn't much to freeze, but I did use the dehydrator to make dried apples several times this fall. They have become a favorite snack and a great addition to homemade granola.
Goal 8 - Update Family Favorites and Freezer Cookboooks - HALF SUCCESS
Freezer Cookbook is up to date and the Family Favorite Cookbook is almost finished. I'm just waiting for some pocket sheet protectors to come in and I can add the tabs and cover pages. It should be a very valuable resource once it is complete.
Goal 9 - Learn to make and freeze cream corn - SUCCESS
My very good friend and I, following my Granny's directions, prepared and froze and entire bushel of corn. We had 13 quarts of corn between the two of us. We have certainly decided to invest in a Pampered Chef Corn Cutter for next year!
Goal 10 - Create a list of family favorite salads - SUCCESS
We have added several main dish salads to our menu rotation this year, including Chicken Caesar Salad, Chef Salad, Layered Salad and Revised Southern Cobb Salad
Goal 11 - Eat at the table and not in front of the TV - FAIL
This is just not our style. We get home late from work, practices, tutoring and we just want to relax and eat. I don't think we will ever be a eat at the table all the time family
Goal 12 - Let my kids cook more - SUCCESS
We did this alot this year. Bubba is fully functional at making himself breakfast in the morning and he is also very good about making sandwiches and cereal when he wants a snack - I know that is not really cooking, but he is much more independent in the kitchen and not so dependant on me. Next step for him is more "real" cooking. Boo Boo is my constant sous chef and kitchen helper. She helps me make everything. She is great at putting things in the crockpot when she gets home from school so it is not over cooked when we all sit down to eat around 8:00. She will be doing more independent cooking next.
We love risotto around here. It's such a simple dish and it can be tailored to meet your family's tastes, the seasons and whatever might be lurking in your refrigerator. Most people steer clear of making risotto because they think it it too hard, time consuming, or high in calories. It truly is neither. I can have risotto on the table in about 40 minutes, my kind of weeknight meal. Serve it with leftover chicken, pork or beef to make leftovers not seem like the same meal again. This version is a light risotto, with only 243 calories and 4.7 g of fat in a 1/2 cup serving.
1 t butter
1 t oil oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 mushrooms, chopeed
1 1/2 c Arborio rice
1/2 c frozen corn kernels (or other frozen vegetable of your choice)
1/2 c white wine
7 - 8 cups reduced fat, low sodium chicken broth, heated
1/2 t dried thyme (or other spice of your choice)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t rubbed sage
Melt butter and olive oil in a 2 qt saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and mushrooms, saute for 2 - 3 minutes. Add rice, saute 1 minute. Stir in corn and wine; reduce heat to medium, and simmer stirring constantly until wine is reduced by half.
Add 1/2 c hot broth, and cook, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed. Repeat procedure with remaining hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until rice is tender. (Total cooking time is about 35 minutes.)
Stir in thyme and next 3 ingredients, stirring until blended. Serve immediately. 8 1/2 c servings.
Year 4 of setting 12 kitchen goals -- one for every month. I have done some really cool things over the past 3 years. I learned to make my own hummus and freeze creamed corn just like my Granny. I have decreased our comsumption of processed foods. I have cleaned out drawers, pantrys and cabinets. I added to and increased my garden output and preservation. I utilized my extensive Southern Living Cookbook collection and created freezer and family favorite cookbooks. Whew, I get tired of just thinking about it!
Here are my goals for this year, some are new, some are carryovers from prevous years and some are continutations of goals that have worked in the past.
Goal 1 - Pantry Challenge (4th year) Goal 2 - Eat Sunday dinner at the kitchen table. Goal 3 - Add at least one healthy recipe/month to our Family Favorites Cookbook Goal 4 - Clean out ALL kitchen cabinets -- downsize Goal 5 - Better use of leftovers - less waste Goal 6 - Cook ahead on Sunday for the rest of the week Goal 7 - Use kitchen appliances - if I don't use it, get rid of it Goal 8 - Kids cook more Goal 9 - Redesign some of my kitchen cabinets for better space utilization Goal 10 - Learn to make 3 more items I would usually buy at the grocery store Goal 11 - Plan better lunches to take to work
I only have 11 goals this year, but some are pretty intense, like goal 4 -- I have 34 kitchen cabinets and 9 drawers! However, each goal is designed to make my time in the kitchen more efficient and better for my family.
I have cooked and cooked and cooked this holiday season. In addition to my Christmas baking I hosted Christmas Eve dinner for 15, Christmas Day dinner for 8, a New Year's Eve Party for 35 and New Year's Day Dinner for 11. Whew... I'm tired. The rest of the week we are cleaning out the refrigerator and eating up all the leftovers. Next week we will be eating from the pantry.
Saturday - Chili, Hot Dogs, Pimento Cheese Sandwiches Sunday - Beef and Chicken Enchiladas, Yellow Rice, Chips and Salsa Monday - New Year's Party - lots and lots of appetizers Tuesday - New Year's Day Dinner - Rosemary Pork Loin, Scalloped Potatoes, Collard Greens, Hoppin' John, Cornbread and Cake with Raspberry Filling Wednesday - Leftover Chili, Hot Dogs, Nachos, Enchiladas Thursday - Pork Loin, Scalloped Potatoes, Asparagus Friday - Finish off leftovers or Breakfast for Dinner Saturday - Dinner with friends
Since 2010 I have participated in the Pantry Challenge hosted by Jessica at Good Cheap Eats. It is a fantastic way to eat what we have on hand, use up food before expiration dates hit, get creative in the kitchen and save money. There are several ways to approach the challenge - Jessica discusses them here. This is how we do it at our house.
1. Plan from the pantry/freezer/refrigerator first.
2. Shop only for fresh food items -- salad fixins, fruit and dairy products
That's it, so simple.
I'll post weekly updates as well as any great recipes or meals we discover as we eat through our pantry and freezer this month.