A pantry can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse. We have been finding this out since we moved into our new condo last April and have had the cursed blessing of a pantry. The blessing side of it is the obvious delight of having the added storage for your kitchen non-perishables, so they’re not taking over precious real estate in your kitchen cabinets. This is a huge double plus for those of us living in the city that are otherwise limited on storage space.
Now for the curse. I am going to call this the “Big House Effect”. When you live in tighter quarters, you have a tendency to think twice about making extra purchases since the question of where you’ll put said purchases is a very stark reality. As life develops and you move into a larger space, those rooms have a way of filling themselves with more and more things over time, and oftentimes end up being things you really don’t need. The “Big House Effect” has now taken over our pantry. Just because we have the space, our subconscious wants us to fill the space, so now we find ourselves with a mass of snacky things and rarely used ingredients that are taking up space for no apparent reason.
It’s not quite Spring yet, but I’ve got some wishful thinking and optimism, so I decided to get a jump start with Spring cleaning by initiating phase one of our pantry purge. My initial inspiration came from the recipe for Chocolate Cherry Goji Bars found in the Superfood Snacks cookbook by Julie Morris. I had the pleasure of working with Julie last year when she came to teach a demonstration cooking class at The Chopping Block.
I drew inspiration from this recipe, making sure I still had the stickiness of the dates that Julie’s recipe calls for, and balancing that with a mixture of dried nuts, while adding in my own leftover dried fruits and such to the mix to make for some delicious fruit and nut bars. It lent me the opportunity to use up those nuisance items that were taking up unnecessary space in the pantry: nuts that were going stale, dried fruits that were untouched, and partially used bags of chocolate chips from the last time I baked cookies. This is what got the wheels turning and had me thinking about the other ways I have used up unwanted scraps in versatile ways, making for a happy ending in my tummy instead of a fateful day at the bottom of a trash can.
Look at it like a “Chopped Challenge”. You’ve got this basket (aka pantry/refrigerator) of ingredients, and are tasked with putting together some interesting and delightful concoctions from ingredients you wouldn’t normally pair together. There are all sorts of ways to not only cook your way to a clean pantry, but to also utilize vegetable and fruit tidbits that are about to go bad in your fridge and turn them into some pretty delicious works of art.
Fruit & Nut Bars
Leftovers to Utilize: Dried fruits, nuts, honey, sweet spices, honey, cocoa powder, coconut shavings, oats, chocolate
2. “Garbage” Salads
Leftovers to Utilize: Fresh fruits and vegetables, canned beans, old bread (to make croutons), cheese, fresh herbs, grains (i.e. quinoa or cous cous), miscellaneous greens, canned proteins (i.e. tuna), frozen or pre-packaged proteins (i.e. shrimp or smoked salmon), proteins in general (chicken, beef, etc.), hard-boiled eggs, crushed tortilla chips (or freshly-fried strips of tortillas), vinegars or juice from citrus (for incorporation into a vinaigrette)
Frittatas, Scrambled Eggs, or Stratas
Leftovers to Utilize: Eggs, milk, vegetables (fresh or frozen), fresh herbs, old bread (for stratas), cheese
Soups, Stews or Chili
Leftovers to Utilize: Vegetables (fresh or frozen), cheese rinds (to add flavor to the soup), stocks, beans (canned or dried), cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce/paste, grains, greens (i.e. collard greens, kale, spinach)
Leftovers to Utilize: Old bread, milk (fresh or sour), eggs, vegetables (for a savory bread pudding), fruits (dried, fresh, or canned), cheese, fresh herbs
Leftovers to Utilize: Tomatoes (fresh or canned), cheese, vegetables (even things like potatoes and broccoli), fruit (i.e. pineapple), canned beans, proteins, eggs (can crack it straight over the top and bake it just so), miscellaneous sauces (tomato, alfredo, chipotle, etc.)
Leftovers to Utilize [for traditional nachos]: Canned beans, salsa, fresh herbs, tomatoes (canned or fresh), cheese, jarred peppers, proteins (pork, chicken, beef, ham, bacon), fresh vegetables (i.e. peppers, onions, jalapeños, etc.)…or think outside the box with a twist on the traditional, like with these Mediterranean style nachos made with homemade pita chips
Leftovers to Utilize: Fruits (frozen or fresh – over-ripened bananas are the best!), vegetables (frozen or fresh – thinking avocado, spinach, kale, etc.), peanut butter, milk (coconut and almond milk too), nuts, yogurt, juices
Leftovers to Utilize: Fresh herbs, greens (collard greens, kale, spinach), nuts, cheese, plant leaves (like from radishes and beets)
Compound Butter (easily frozen for future use)
Leftovers to Utilize: Butter, fresh herbs, citrus zest, garlic (even better when roasted), dried herbs
If you noticed in parentheses and were quite possibly alarmed by the inclusion of sour milk in the list of “leftovers to utilize” in bread pudding, allow me to take it further. The sour milk thing might sound a little crazy to some people. It probably would’ve sounded crazy to me once upon a time as well, as I am one of those people that refuses to even do the sniff test on milk that says it is only one day expired. But I also hate for things to go to waste, so in come the baked goods. This is the perfect place to incorporate sour milk. Not to the point that it’s green and lumpy, but just to the point that it’s got that off smell and off flavor. Think of it like milk with lemon juice added to it - a very similar effect. The acidic flavor of the soured milk actually imparts a really nice flavor in the finished product, like in these yummy cinnamon rolls I made last week!
I hope these tips will inspire some interesting concoctions in your own kitchen, and make the kitchen clean-up not so grueling of a task. This is especially a useful thing to start doing a few days leading up to a vacation so your refrigerator is cleaned before departing and you aren’t coming home to strange smells and unpleasant developments in the fridge.
Does the idea of throwing together vinaigrettes and stews from leftovers still sound intimidating? To get a great overview of these skills, sign up for our upcoming Spring Training: Greens and Grains cooking class, and draw even more inspiration on what to do with your seasonal produce!