Summary: Now is the time to really start cooking from your pantry. Print out our creative cooking planner and start brainstorming ideas for dishes. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see some fun recipe ideas that I can make out of my pantry.
“This must be an exciting time for you. You have always been one to know how to use everything and not let anything go to waste.”.
Someone who wanted to remain un-famous dm’ed this me on Instagram last Friday. It was the first day of the Californian lock down and I had started to post all my meals on the gram.
I felt a bit hesitant to agree, mainly because of the word “exciting”. It felt the wrong word, not accurately describing my mood nor the situation. But this morning I realized, it might be true. Besides the other feelings like fear, despair and anxiety that pop up too.
I am excited in an odd way. I simply can’t wait for the next meal and create something I have never made before. Scrolling my own Instagram feed (have a look too) from the past week, and already starting to loose count of the days, I see a lot of effortless creativity in my cooking.
You might think that as a chef and self-called creative cook that is normalcy, but let me assure you: it’s not. I too have days, weeks and sometimes even months that I don’t feel creative at all.
When the Mister wanted to go out for some groceries on Wednesday I was hesitant. I didn’t feel we really needed food (except for chocolate so I let him 😉 ) and I had still so many ideas for meals with all the food we had in our pantry, fridge and freezer.
I do realize I am privileged in this situation. I have a well-filled pantry. I know how to cook. I love to cook using what I have on hand, getting creative with the items that need to be finished first. And I don’t have much other things to do as all my cooking classes and events are cancelled or postponed (so I can take your bookings for after all this!).
The best thing I can do is help you learn to cook this way too!
Consider me your walking recipe
I say it often in my cooking classes: “Don’t look at the recipes provided all the time, consider me as your walking recipe instead.” while wildly and un-elegantly gesturing my body posture. You might have seen me do that.
That offers still stands. Email or show me the ingredients you have/want to use on Instagram (tagging me @creativecookco) and I will provide you with suggestions for meals.
But I also have a little helper:
Print my creative cooking planner
For my private cooking coaching clients that I help out finding the best ways for them to have more home-cooked meals in their life, I have created a cooking planner that I want to share with you too. Click on this link to download the creative cooking planner in a slightly moderated version.
It’ll help you plan your meals and let nothing go to waste.
But first, reorganize your pantry, fridge and freezer.
Not the Marie Kondo way.
The goal is to see what you have and what needs to be finished. I like to organize my pantry by category: all the starches (rice, noodles, grains, pasta, etc) together, beans on a different shelf, and all kinds of condiments also group together. And I have a small corner in my cabinet with items that have passed the Best Used If By date. Those need to go first. No, don’t toss them in the bin. Most, if not all, will still be okay to eat.
My cupboards have been hoarding caseras (crunchy flat salted tacos) for way too long. They’re not really crunchy anymore, but maybe I can revive them? I also have too much rice noodles, an ingredient I bought for a cooking class but never really use myself. And there are a few cans or jars with fish: crab meat, roasted eel and sardines, with best by dates long gone.
I try to do the same in my fridge, dedicating the shelf right in front of me for stuff that is perishable and can’t stay there forever. Last week I roasted an eggplant and still have some leftover. There are grapes that have been reproachfully looking at me for over a week. I even have revived them in cold water, but still haven’t eat them yet. And the Mister bought a whole chicken earlier this week, so at least there’s a plan for the weekend.
My freezer isn’t that organized, although I try to keep the various food groups separated. Every now and then I clean it out and make a list with what’s in it, but I’m lacking the perseverance in updating it regularly. So it’s always a surprise what’s on the bottom or the back of the drawer. I found out I have 2 packages large spring roll sheets. Some label-less meats. And 2 bags pureed sapote pulp that are taking up space.
Write down your list
Now grab the form you’ve printed. Write down a maximum of 5 in each category: starch, protein, vegetables and condiments. Preferably the items that need to be finished sooner rather than later.
Here’s the list I created myself after today’s inventory:
Now start brainstorming ideas
Next step is to start brainstorming ideas. You can flip through the indexes of your cookbooks, ask google, have a look at your favorite food blogs. And you can ask me. Email me your picture of the list or show it on you Instagram and don’t forget to tag @creativecookco and use #creativecookingplanner.
Tip: while brainstorming, don’t limit yourself to only the items you wrote down. Do use the other foods you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
The list made me come up with the following ideas for dishes:
- Turn the caseras into nachos?
- Roasted grapes on ricotta + fresh mint on toast for lunch or bruschetta as snack/starter
- Roasted grapes with fennel for a sensational salad + goat cheese + need to add a grain (farro?)
- Lima bean sauerkraut soup
- Ssäm sauce (Momofuku’s Korean chili sauce) + rice noodles + carrot stir-fry
- Rice noodles: fresh spring rolls (yes, I do have rice paper sheets too!) with thinly sliced carrot, lettuce, jicama, cucumber, etc. Maybe add some shrimp (freezer).
- Roasted eggplant: baba ganoush
- Roasted eggplant: on pitabread for lunch
- Spring roll sheets: traditional rolls with veggies + ssäm sauce. Or filled with spicy ground chicken. Or the crab meat! Or with beets (freezer) + goat cheese + thyme.
- Use yogurt in pancakes. Or a cake.
- Use the canned roasted eel in homemade sushi
- Cabbage rolls filled with ground chicken
- Crab cakes
If other ideas for dishes pop up, write them down too. Even if you don’t have all ingredients. Maybe you can sub the ingredients. Of put the ingredients you need on your ongoing grocery list for when you really need to go to the grocery store. It’s always a good idea to have ideas for dishes ready for days you’re less inspired.
Now it’s your turn: feel free to share with us (below!) your pantry staples and how you are planning to cook with them.
Thanks for reading this far! Of course, this is only just 1 tip in the series. You can read part 1 here. In the next blog post I will discuss planning ahead for when times might get worse (fingers crossed it won’t!). So stay tuned if you’re curious to learn how I do that.