That's SO Jenn / Food Writer Jenn Arata
Updated 11:12 am, Monday, August 6, 2012
I don't know about you, but I happen to have a very full pantry. And fridge. And freezer. And kitchen cabinet. All packed with food. Even though it's fairly organized (my frozen items have recently been categorized into labeled buckets and my spice rack has a list of duplicates for when I run out), I still manage to go grocery shopping on a frequent basis. On those days when a spontaneous market run leaves me without an inventory check, I sometimes even end up with unnecessary doubles.
My husband and I so want to be the coupon clipping, weekly menu planning type who has a week's worth of meals scheduled every Sunday evening, but that's just not us. It's not even me, and I've had holiday gifts stashed in the closet since spring.
Last weekend, however, we got to talking, and decided to make a game out of it. Sure, we've had plenty of spontaneous "Iron Chef" nights where we've chosen our secret ingredients from our in-house selection. Five days worth however? I feared I would end up with mustard sandwiches by Friday afternoon.
So we put together a brief list, and I do mean brief because the beach was awaiting us, and came up with a few rough ideas. My task? To execute successful dinners without running to the store. The result? Homemade veggie pizza, grilled fish tacos with corn slaw and peach salsa, garlic baked polenta with red clam sauce, crabcake burgers with dijon Greek yogurt sauce and pan seared gnocchi with spicy green olive tapenade.
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In other words, we made it to Friday evening without a mustard sandwich in sight. I truly can't believe how many options we had right in our house.
I truly enjoyed this project because it helped me realize just how feasible it is to stretch my stock. Skipping the long lines at the grocery store was a major perk too. They key is to remember if you bought the ingredients in the first place. They're most likely items you enjoy or intend on using. That's half the battle right there.
I honestly think we could go another week like this -- frittatas, soups, dinner wraps, stir frys, pancakes for dinner -- it's all there begging to be put together. This challenge served not only as a reminder to survey my items before rushing to the market, but to keep track of staples needed for dinner in a pinch. Canned beans and tomatoes, pasta and rice, frozen veggies and proteins, cheese and Greek yogurt and basic herbs and spices (especially jarred minced garlic in the fridge!) are all very helpful.
Need inspiration? Make this a fun family activity. Fill your kitchen table with a mixture of fresh, frozen and canned ingredients and have everyone come up with ideas to incorporate them in various dishes. Are your children old enough to cook? Ask each person in the house to create their own combinations and assign them a weeknight to make their meal. Take turns offering feedback on what you like most about the taste and creativity to encourage thinking outside the box. It worked for us, and we're now left with full stomachs, an emptier pantry and a lesson learned.
Want to play along at home? Even if just for a night? I would love to know what meals you come up with. Comment on my site thatssojenn.com or send an e-mail to email@example.com