A blog I was reading issued a challenge for January: try to eat things you already have in your house. AKA: the pantry challenge. We all have plenty of things in our pantries and freezers we haven’t seen, let alone used, in quite some time. So the challenge says to get that stuff out and use it! I’m pretty frugally minded, so I loved this idea as it meant I’d spend less on groceries and eating out.
So I did a preliminary assessment and found a few things:
- 12 pounds of dried black beans. Yes. TWELVE pounds. Because Michael was eating a simple meal of black beans, rice, and chicken every day for lunch — but he was buying it from Chipotle. So he decided we could easily make that dish ourselves. And so it was that instead of getting a couple one-pound bags of black beans to try out the idea, he went all in and bought 12 pounds. At the time of my assessment, the bag was unopened.
- Miso soup mix. I wasn’t sure if it was still good. But it was worth a try.
- Mushroom Risotto mix. I’m not one for mixes. This was another Michael purchase. I gifted him a survival course for his 49th birthday, and he bought a few of these “just add water” meals at REI for the occasion. This is the last one. He said he had no plans to eat it, so I added it to my list of possibilities.
- I had some linguine, a half-eaten bag of noodles, and some brown rice pasta. My goal is to switch to all brown rice pastas, mainly so I don’t have to hear Michael complain about how much pasta I eat. So I have to get rid of the linguine and the noodles.
- Luckily, I had also just bought a hunk of fresh parmesan. (If you’re still eating the Kraft kind in the green cylinder, you don’t know what you’re missing.) This meant I had all the ingredients for one of my favorite pasta dishes: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper).
- Our freezer provided some more goodies. Two bags of turkey soup I made after Thanksgiving. A couple bags of turkey meat, which didn’t get closed properly so are probably not good, but I’ll try them. Frozen corn. Green beans. Tilapia (a large bag from Sam’s club — another Michael purchase that I think moved to our new house with us two months ago). And some frozen things our Christmas house sitter left in our freezer. I’ll pay her back next time she’s in town.
I started with the black beans. A woman once showed me how to make the real ones (the ones you make with dried beans, not canned), but I didn’t have the ingredients, and honestly I hadn’t made them once since I diligently copied down everything she told me. But Michael and I got an InstantPot for Christmas, so I googled a few recipes and then did a combo of what I found. I sautéed some onions and garlic (in case you don’t know, this is how to get any house to smell like you’re cooking something good), then added a pound of beans (after I sorted out the damaged ones), six cups of water, and a bunch of spices I had. Dried cilantro, coriander, cumin, fresh ground pepper, and a couple other things. I set the pot to cook on high for 20 minutes, then let the steam release for 10, then opened up the pot to find the soupy beans I’d imagined. I cooked off some of the water, and we tried them. Oh how good they were! I’ve made two more pounds since then, but then got a little bored, so didn’t make a batch this week.
I’d had the real cacio e pepe in Italy, but I’d never managed to make mine quite like theirs. I knew you were supposed to add pasta water to the sauce, but I always just cooked some pasta then tossed the drained stuff with some cheese and freshly ground pepper. Good, but not quite it. So this time, I decided to follow a recipe. While the pasta was cooking, I melted a little butter and toasted the pepper, then added some pasta water and simmered it. Then, a couple minutes before the pasta was done, I added it to the pan along with some freshly grated parmesan. As instructed, I tossed it all with tongs until the cheese melted and some of the water burned off. MUCH better than previous attempts. I’ve had it a few times since.
And then it was the day before the neighborhood book club. This would be my first time at this event, and we were instructed to bring a salad or appetizer. So I opened the pantry and found a couple cans of cannellini beans and a small bottle of sun-dried tomatoes in oil. I googled, “recipes with cannellini beans and sun-dried tomatoes” and voila. I found a simple one that only required I add a little oil, red wine vinegar, onion, and a few spices. This was the “find” I was most proud of:)
In case you can’t tell, I actually LIKE to cook. And I had three snow days in January, so have had plenty of time. The challenge notes that you’ll probably need to buy produce, so I’ve added some onions, potatoes, carrots, bananas, and pineapple to my supplies. And bought some hummus as that’s my mid-morning snack at school. (We didn’t have any tahini, otherwise I’d make my own.)
I still have plenty of black beans. And haven’t had the risotto or miso soup yet. The turkey and tilapia haven’t been touched. So I think I’m going to continue the challenge into February!