Friday night, coming back from work – and the car dies. Drama ensues, a good Samaritan with jumper cables are found — but then the car starts. We heap praises on the Samaritan, and head directly home. No stopping at the butcher, the bulk store, or the box store. Straight. Home.

We count our pennies. We pinch our belts. And I do a quick inventory and menu based completely on what’s in my pantry.

I make my menus on Thursday nights, and my planned menu used very little of any of what I actually had in my pantry. I was surprised at what I had in my pantry.

  • navy beans (dried and tinned),
  • split peas (about 1 cup),
  • a ton of popcorn (microwavable & kernels)
  • mixed beans (tinned),
  • corn meal,
  • lots of flour (whole wheat, barley, AP) and baking stuff (baking soda, baking powder, …),
  • 6 tins of no-salt-added diced tomatoes,
  • lots of herbs (including fresh garlic & ginger, pesto, cilantro, and fresh parsley)
  • 2 L chicken broth,
  • 1 lb of hamburger,
  • a box of frozen appetizers,
  • a bag of shrimp with shells on (uncooked),
  • a bag of frozen cranberries,
  • a bag of frozen strawberries,
  • a tortierre and a bit,
  • some leftover Shepperd’s pie
  • some leftover sausage,
  • some yogurt (flavoured & not),
  • 1 lb flank steak,
  • 1 box of mac and cheese,
  • lots of milk,
  • 1 box of tomato soup,
  • sandwich bread,
  • eggs,
  • bacon,
  • rice,
  • frozen vegetables (broccoli, beans, summer mix, endame, and corn).

So, what can you make with that handful of ingredients? Turns out, quite a lot actually. I didn’t use it all this week, although I did put a serious dent in my pantry.

Sunday
7
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry (Overnight) Oatmeal [Spring pad link]
Lunch: Appetizers
Dinner: Beef empanadas with salsa & cheese [Spring pad link]
Desert: Rick Gallop’s Banana bread

This was a day I went rummaging and digging stuff out of the corners of my kitchen. I have a tube of steel-cut oats, so I set those to bake overnight and stored what I didn’t eat for lunches during the week.

The box of frozen appetizers has been in the freezer since before Christmas (’09). They made a tasty lunch. For the banana bread I ended up mixing white, whole wheat, barley flour and flax together; but you can’t really tell in the finished product.

It seems I made a double batch of empanadas, enough to store the dough and mix and have it again later in the week. I baked them, but the original recipe also has instructions for frying.

Monday
8
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Leftover tortierre & steamed vegetables
Dinner:Mac and Cheese (boxed) & best ever green salad [Spring pad link]

I went out and bought salad greens and 1/2 a dozen apples (lunches and snacks), and some cheese for tomorrow night. I finished off the flavoured yogurt in the fridge, and found a few forgotten containers of leftovers in the freezer that made good lunches.

Mac and cheese is one of those pantry staples I always have around. Normally it’s used as the odd weekend (or day off) lunch; but paired with a salad with goat cheese & pistachios (leftovers from my last attempt at making pistachio ice cream) it made for a very filling meal.

Tuesday
9
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Shrimp salad with olives and herb vinagrette dressing
Dinner: Grilled cheese & bacon sandwiches & Hearty Tomato Soup

The bag of shrimp were another frozen leftover. I cooked them the night before and garnished some leftover (and undressed) salad for lunch. The vinagrette is simple- olive oil, red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon (total) of oregano, pepper, and thyme. Store in a bottle. Shake before using.

Dinner was another lunch time favourite. The tomato soup came from a box, but it was a good box. đŸ™‚

Wednesday
10
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Leftover Sheppard’s pie
Dinner: Fried chicken & french fries

The car was out of the shop, and we wanted to celebrate. I bought a bag of freezer fries, we picked up fried chicken at the grocery store and went home to have dinner. Total cost: 15.00. We also picked up some cold cuts, cheese, and a box of smoked meat (adding another 15.00 to the bill). The former for lunches fro the rest of the week, and the latter for the weekend (and because it was on sale).

Thursday
11
Breakfast: Banana bread & peanut butter (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Chicken sandwich with Havarti cheese & chicken soup
Dinner: Marterdi [Spring pad link] & steamed basmati rice

Friends are coming over. I’ve made Marterdi successfully before, and it’s regularly well received. This week I’m adding vegetables to this dish and using leftover ground beef (empanada mix & one lone hamburger) and sliced cooked sausage instead of uncooked 12 sausages. I’ll serve it over chicken-broth infused basmati rice, cooked with a nob of butter.

Friday
12
Breakfast: Banana bread & peanut butter
Lunch: Chicken sandwich with havarti cheese & chicken soup
Dinner: Leftover buffet & Steamed vegetables

Right now this looks like it will be the last of the chicken broth, leftover marterdi (mostly beans & veg), and/or more appetizers and empanadas. It could be fried eggs over beans, or maybe a big salad with some cheese, beans, and slices of apple; we shall see

It got me thinking.
At some point, I began buying what I wanted to make and supplementing from my pantry. Instead, I should have been starting with my pantry and supplementing with what I buy. The realization that I had it all backwards was rather startling. I read all kinds of cooking, frugal, and menu-planning blogs; but I’d forgotten this step.

  1. Inventory your pantry.
  2. Look at the flyers to figure out what’s on sale (and where).
  3. Make your menu from your inventory.
  4. Figure out the maximum you can make from your inventory, then supplement by buying extras.

So, that’s what I’m going to do next week.
Also, I’m going to stop planning (and buying for) 7 dinners & lunches. Instead I’ll plan 5-6 a week, and expect to make at most 5.

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