Thursday, July 29, 2010

Challenge: Pantry Party Week

It's the end of the week, and you get out a piece of paper. On it you write down menu items that sound like a good idea for the week ahead. Maybe you write...

....Buttered chicken
....Taco salad
....Tuna & noodles

You carefully write out the ingredients you'll need, double check your pantry and head to the store. Coming out with food for the week ahead, your cart is PACKED. Maybe you splurge and buy meat when it's on sale. Maybe you load up on whatever you need for the week ahead. As you stand in the check out line waiting with your coupons, you can't help but smile, knowing that unlike the other very disorganized parents, you are saving money by being pro-active and scheduled.

Of course, maybe you're like me and soon realize at the end of the next week that you only made two of those meals and fruit flies are gathering on those delicate peaches your kids just had to have. Or maybe you cooked so far ahead that now the thought of reheating yet ANOTHER frozen container of whatever makes you want know.

Well, I have a challenge for you. You can plan all you want, but next week (or whatever week you want to use), I dare you to only go to the store for essentials. Now, essentials don't mean you send your spouse to the store for a hurried run because you're out of salt. It means only getting the things you NEED.

For us that included: Milk, Eggs & Bread

That's it. Basics here!

The challenge itself sounds easy. Use what's in your pantry, fridge and freezer? Bring. It. On. However, as you may discover, it's not that easy.

For example, I found a pound of chicken breasts in the freezer. Upon thawing them, I was stumped. I found a nearly empty bottle of marinade (why did we keep it at that stage anyway?) and used it for the dish. Unfortunately, I really wanted to put it over rice but only had the long-wait variety. You know - the rice that takes about an hour to cook.

I don't have an hour to cook like that on weekdays.

Anyway, we just put it over some of last week's spinach and it was really good!

Or...I also found ground beef in the freezer (I think I have a freezer addiction). I thawed IT out and combined it with breadcrumbs, egg, minced onion and some spices to make meatballs! Currently I'm making a sauce to cover them - of course, I had to get creative sometimes. I don't carry chili sauce on hand, so I had to make my own. Of course, the substitution required tomato sauce which I didn't have. You see where this is going. Honestly, it's not bad!

Here are a bunch of substitutes in case you were wondering:

Ketchup Substitute: For 1 cup ketchup substitute 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons vinegar (and a pinch of ground cloves if you have them).

Chili Sauce Substitute: For 1 cup chili sauce substitute 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, dash of ground cloves and dash of allspice and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Tomato Juice Substitute: For 1 cup tomato juice substitute 1/2 cup tomato sauce and 1/2 cup water.

Tomato Soup Substitute: For 1 10-3/4 ounce can tomato soup, substitute 1 cup tomato sauce plus 1/4 cup water.

Rum Substitute: For 1/4 cup rum, substitute 1 tablespoon rum extract plus enough liquid to make 1/4 cup, or substitute vanilla extract or Kentucky Bourbon.

Marshmallow Substitute: For 1 cup miniature marshmallows, substitute 10 large marshmallows.

Dry Mustard Substitute: For 1 teaspoon dry mustard, substitute 1 tablespoon prepared mustard.

Onion fresh/dry equivalent: For 2 tablespoons fresh onion, chopped, substitute 1 tablespoon instant minced onion.

Garlic fresh/dry equivalents: For 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced, substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (do not use garlic salt).

Dry Herbs Substitutions: To replace 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs with dry, substitute 1 teaspoon dried herbs.

Cornstarch Substitution: For 1 tablespoon cornstarch (for thickening), substitute 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

Substitute for chocolate: For 1 square (1 ounce unsweetened chocolate), substitute 3 tablespoons cocoa and 1 tablespoon fat (vegetable or coconut oil, etc).

Substitute for 1 egg: 1 tablespoon corn or potato starch, 1 tablespoon pectin, 1/2 teaspoon oil, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tablespoons liquid - use applesauce or mashed banana for the liquid portion.

Vanilla extract substitute: Use an equal portion of dark rum (such as Myer's) or as a second choice, Kentucky Bourbon.

Baking powder substitute: For 1 teaspoon (single acting) baking powder, combine well 2 tablespoon cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and measure out 1 teaspoon. Store remainder in airtight bag. Bakewell cream may be substituted for cream of tartar.

Back to the matter at hand though:

Thus far in our week, we have:

1) Cleaned out the left overs. Finally.
2) Made hashbrown casserole, using the hashbrowns that were in the freezer for about 2 months, sour cream that was to expire in a week, 2 packages of cheese I purchased about a month ago and one of the many bottles of Ranch we always haveo n hand
3) Made quiche using the last of our dozen eggs, the last of our mayo and the pie shell I found in the freezer from about 9 weeks ago
4) Made BBQ drumsticks, using frozen drumsticks (no idea how old), two partially-used bottles of BBQ sauce (The JackStack one was so old, it actually exploded on me when I opened it!) and orange marmalade. The sauce was great! It's a shame the drumsticks were not the best quality at that point!
5) FINALLY used our Tuna helper!!

Basically, you get the point. You have to get creative and sometimes smudge a recipe. I think I've made this meatball and sauce recipe BETTER, if that's possible.

By doing the Pantry Party Challenge, you'll do three things:

1) Save major $$. Do you know how much you spend a week on food? Yeah - it's scary. Food is just too expensive. Just a few years ago, our weekly grocery bills were around $50. Now? Yeah right.

2) Get out of the box/rut. I have those go-to recipes too. Spaghetti is our favorite. However, we don't have pasta and there is NO way I'm going to make pasta on my schedule. It's nice to be forced to get out of my comfort zone and try new things.

Yes, sometimes it will taste bad. Like those drumsticks? Ick. No way. I can't be spoiled with smoked chicken and then given freezer-burned drumsticks.

3) Clean out the pantry, fridge AND freezer! It's amazing to see what you "just had to have" a few months ago! Plus, as an added bonus, you get to see what staples you should really keep around. Like...pasta. Or tomato sauce. Those were two things I REALLY could have used this week.

So next time you feel like pinching pennies and cleaning house at the same time, try the Pantry Party Challenge! Just one week - that's all! We're going to try to do it once every few months. Once a month at this point may be pushing it! I think when crockpot season starts and we start to hoard frozen veggies and broth, we may try it monthly!

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

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