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Cooking Challenge: Clean out your pantry

August 16, 2010
Our Empty Freezer: Ice, Edamame, Pasta Sauce, Emergency Meal, Ginger, Soy Sausage, Frozen Pastry

The other week, I sat down and looked at my budget. Not because I needed to, but because I was curious about how much we spend vs. how much we could save. I realized, not surprised at all, that our biggest expenditure is food. We love food. We love cooking good food. We love fantastic restaurants. Mostly, we just love a good meal.

In the pursuit of a good meal, I lost any sense of the frugality I had ten years after graduating from college. Back then, my best friend Fee and I ate succotash, homemade bagel pizzas, and plain pasta for dinner–and those were separate dinners. As an intern, I made nothing, but the pursuit of a career meant I didn’t mind the meager rations and weight loss. Looking back, Fee, AAM, and I laugh about it often. What were we thinking? The funny thing is, even then we figured out how to make a meal out of a few ingredients. When thinking about this recently, I realized that my pantry became a sign of my own gluttony. I bought random items, thinking about possibilities, without a plan. So, the past four weeks. I successfully kept our grocery budget at a minimum (under $50), and we cooked through the cabinets.

Cooking through the pantry taught me several things:

  1. You don’t need a full pantry to have a full stomach.
  2. Being forced to look at certain ingredients created creative meals, which helped me remember about different food combinations.
  3. It also made for some gross meal combos, so it is better to only buy what is necessary for a recipe.
  4. I buy some really crazy ingredients, which means I needed to make things like pumpkin ravioli in the summer.
  5. I need to rethink what ingredients I use and don’t use, watch sales, and stick to the staples.
  6. Time to make a staples list.
  7. I have too many bottles of various vinegars, and I don’t use anything but balsamic. Time to get REALLY creative.
  8. A full fridge hides the dirt. Ewww, I needed to clean it!

Budgeting your kitchen does not need to be an exercise in emergency, but a smart way to approach cooking and life. After research, and my decision to build a vegetarian lifestyle, I am going to rebuild the pantry strategically.

And now, after a month, things are pretty barren over here. I have a twisted pride over the emptiness of our kitchen. I think we could go another week, but we are going out of town. Including the freezer shot above, here are some photos:

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 8:23 pm

    Holy Crap- you make me look like a slob! I definitely have way too many vinegars and oils, and lots of pasta (among other grains)on my shelves. I do need to clean out the fridge, and I will…when I get the chance 🙂 You have no leftovers: amazing! I feel like that and condiments are what take up my fridge space.

  2. August 17, 2010 1:16 am

    Hmmm, various vinegars…. Have you thought about making homemade pickles? Even if you don’t want your kitchen to be as hot and steamy as traditional canning calls for, you can make up some fresh “refrigerator pickles” pretty quickly. What follows is a quick recipe for pickled figs, but you can substitute peaches or pears. It comes from Being Dead is No Excuse. You could easily cut this recipe in half:

    6 pounds figs (peaches or pears)
    1 clove per piece of fruit
    2 cups apple cider vinegar
    6 cups sugar
    1 piece of cinnamon stick 2 inches long
    1 Tbsp mustard seed

    Leaving figs whole, insert one clove in each piece of fruit. (If using peaches or pears, remove the pits and halve or quarter larger fruit.) In a large non-aluminum pot, combine vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until all sugar has completely dissolved. Add cinnamon stick. Add the fruit and boil until tender (for figs 7-10 minutes). Do not let the fruit approach getting mushy. Transfer into a sterilized jar–or tupperware–being sure to include some juice with the fruit and refrigerate.

    If you are wondering when you would ever eat a pickled fig, just think of all the times you might serve homemade pickles. Set them out as a condiment at an end of summer barbecue. Use them to dress up a sandwich platter. Snack on one in the middle of the night by the light of the fridge in your bare feet.

  3. August 21, 2010 12:36 am

    Ok Barb, I am inspired. I am going to pickle me some pickles. I am saving jars, and buying cucumbers and green beans. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Sarah, it is tough motivating to clean when I could just play with Serafina! To be clear, we aren’t always that organized, just that our shelves are that barren! I am totally obsessed with condiments, worth filling the space!

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