A “Cook What You’ve Got” Challenge

Pie made from cast iron pan

Many of you already know that recently I’ve moved within Chicago but still across town and with enough stuff to require a truck much larger than I’m capable of driving, which usually means you’re no longer in the college-kid nomadic lifestyle stage of life (*sigh, I kind of miss those days, to be honest…).

I’ve shared  some of the photos, angst and toils surrounding the move on both Twitter and the MHK Facebook page, just to showcase tidbits of what’s happened to me along the way, including some of our first meals at our new digs.

Moving is never fun, but as one of my friends reminded me, it does give you a fresh start. That, I say, is very true.

One of the things I’ve learned when moving is that we don’t always use what we have, be that books, trinkets, tables or food. How much do we really need and how much can we really do without? Aren’t there things that other people could use more than us?

To be honest, I was sick of all my stuff. Not unappreciative, just a bit mad at myself for accumulating more than I really ever need or frequently use. Why did I have so much when others can and probably will use them more effectively? Luckily, I was able to find good homes for many of the small appliances, gadgets and home décor that I had outgrown, but I know there is still much more that can be distributed. Over time, insha’allah, it will be my mission to simplify my life with less stuff and more space to have memories of good times with good people, and of course, good {halal} food.

These instances have encouraged me to take a look back at what was happening when I cleaned out my old refrigerator and began to stock my ‘new’ one. Toiling over everything that was stuffed inside, I realized that although I always cook at home, I could definitely do a lot better at using what I’ve got in there to put meals together. I had the freezer, the fridge and the pantry to work with and let me tell you, the meals that can come out of cooking with what you’ve got will really surprise you.

With pie crusts and homemade frozen pie filling in the freezer (but not a single pie plate to be found), I baked this pie in a cast iron pan on one of our first days in our new place

The first few days in a new place reminded me of my trips to cabins or camping where I don’t have a whole lot of utensils to work with and the food we bring is just enough to feed us for a few days. It’s so much simpler and to me, so much more enjoyable. I plan on working more with what I’ve already got and buying fresh items as needed (for 2-3 days ahead). With jars of olives, cans of tuna and condiments galore in the refrigerator, there’s always an easy pasta dish that can be created or meat that can be simply dressed with just about any spice in the pantry. Not only is this a money and time-saver, you get something back for yourself: gratitutude and a new appreciation for what you’ve already got and you can be proud of yourself for thinking up new dishes with just a few items.

So, how abou it?  Will you take up the challenge with me?  Aside from buying some fresh fruit, salad greens, and milk, will you stop shopping for one whole week and cook with what you’ve got?

If yes, then tell me– what are you cooking with what you’ve got?

Who knows, if I get some really good responses, I may even send you some of the extra gadgets I’ve got around here…

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  1. hmmm sounds great!! I need to get creative anyhow! Now That I’m starting to feel better last night I cooked Spaghetti ( I used a half open jar of sauce I already had there before opening a new one ) and made my own garlic butter bread by crushing REAL garlic and sauteing it w butter and putting that on some wheat toast. It was delish!!

    The other day my hubb had brought home chicken for biryani- I saved the leftover chicken in the freezer, last night I also saved some cooked hamburger(beef) meat I didn’t use. Now, I have chicken and beef in the freezer, bread in the pantry, some opened turkey and beef bacon packages. Turkey lunch meat, a opened box of Spaghetti noodles, Random odds and ends of Sauces and such. I’ll let you know what I come up with InshaAllah

  2. Every time I go to the store my son yells, “Bring tuna!” and my husband says, “Bring Hummus!” I now have 27 cans of tuna, 18 cans of chick peas (aka garbanzos. hummus). Thankfully, I can search MHK for some new recipes 🙂 Great blog!

  3. I have a clean out the fridge day each week and use up any ingredient from the week’s shopping that’s about to expire. I also keep a list of foods in the freezer on the fridge, so I don’t accidentally go out and buy stuff I already have. The once a week C(lean) O(out) R(efrigerator) N(ow) approach has at times resulted in some of my best dinners. One week, it was leftover black beans and corn spiced with chili powder and just a smidge of some bratwurst I’d been using in a scrambled egg dish — all three leftovers.

    I don’t think I have a way to post a picture of that particular dish … but it was pretty and tasty. I now throw away much less food since starting this practice several years ago, so it is a definite money saver, too.

  4. It was 5:00 pm and I hadn’t taken anything out of the freezer for dinner. When I looked to see what I had the result a simple meal. Steamed yam, steamed rutabga and steamed broccoli with spicy tofu was on the menu. It was also filling.

  5. Oh my. I am guilty of over shopping but I also do the meal with what’s on hand frequently and quite well. Especially when I want something to eat that a lot of people would order from outside like pizza. I was just so in the mood for pizza the other day and was gonna order one but I stopped myself and made a batch of dough when I got home. It was enough for 2 small pizzas so I put half the dough in the fridge, certain the kid would want pizza again real soon. I already had cooked ground beef in the fridge and I always have cheese on hand. So a ground beef pizza with mushroom/green pepper spaghetti sauce it was! Then a few days later a craving for cheesy garlic bread hit and so the rest of the dough was used and I shredded a chunk of monty jack to top it. Food is so much better when you make it yourself. We are eating the leftovers right now and my lil bugger is singing “pizza! pizza!”

  6. As Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu

    I usually menu plan for 2 weeks at a time and only shop for items to use in those planned meals. However, being pregnant has thrown me off my game, lol. Alhamdulilah some sisters have brought me food and come over and cook for me. So much so that I have tons of leftovers and odds and ends. I decided to have a couple of leftover days. I pulled out all the leftovers in my fridge and let my family and guests choose whatever they want. No cooking is getting done until all these leftovers are taken care of first!

  7. after i restock some items, i was thinking a chicken tagine, with prunes and dates, onions, carrots, chicken wing, and then spices and honey.

    and then i need to make some deer stew, and some deer jerky

    corn and tortilla soup with chicken, lentil dahl[veggitarian] and prehaps chicken fajitas

    my main problem is this week, i’m low on food stamps, so most of these items i have set aside from previous meals that i’ve cooked, and pureed and frozen incase we needed them.

  8. I’ve been on this challenge for the past couple of weeks because we are going to be travelling for two months so I want to make sure nothing goes to waste while away (plus, saving in groceries means more vacation money, yeah)! So here are some of my latest succesful findings and inventions:
    – With a can of tuna, a can of green beans and a can of sweet corn I made a warm salad. Just toss in salt and olive oil, doesn’t sound great but its actually very tasty.
    – With a forgotten chunk of beef liver in my freezer I made this liver pate. Delicious on home made sourdough bread!- To use up a can of chickpeas and some peanut butter I found this nutricious sweet hummus recipe. My daughter couldn’t have enough apples slices with this- With all the random nuts in the pantry and freezer I make baklava. Enough said 🙂
    – I always keep a packet of Ghirardelli brownie mix in case we get a last minute invitation to a party. I wanted to use mine up without feeling too guilty. I added a can of sweet potato and two tablespoons of flaxseed to the batter. No one noticed the super nutrition boost and my husband was so happy for the treat!
    Just some ideas. Enjoy!

  9. Assalam Alaikum
    We havent shopped for a week and I had frozen cauliflower florets and 250g of lamb mince in my freezer.I made a mince and cauliflower curry which was scrumptious. Tomorrow I plan to make whole meal pasta with fresh spinach and tomato sauce (since we don’t have any meat 🙂

  10. I also do this “Cook with what you’ve got” about once a week. Usually it is on Saturday because I do my grocery shopping on Sunday so usually by Sat my stock is kind of low… but I usually always have certain staples on hand in the pantry and freezer.

    Yesterday, I made a sort of a nicoise salad. I always have fresh spinach so that was my base. I made the dressing myself with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, freshly ground black pepper and oregano. Then I boiled eggs and potatoes and put that in one corner. I put some very good quality tuna packed in olive oil that we have. I then added some kalamata olives I have in a jar in one corner. I sprinkled feta cheese over. Then I took some naan’s that I get pre-made from Trader Joes out of the freezer. (Bread freezes extremely well, so that is always where I keep it). I put them in the toaster. And I also made a hummus with canned garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini, garlic and this one I added cilantro because I had it and it might go bad soon.

    Then we took bites from different areas of the salad with the naans and also dipped in hummus, we also had harissa on the side for dipping.

    It was great and my daughter LOVES dipping things 🙂

  11. Having a blast with this challenge as I’m one of those load em up at ‘Costco’ gals but still stop daily at independent grocery store. No store this week, no waste!
    Work from home so some of my faves are the morningstar black bean burger on naan or bread and loads of fixings.
    Sauteeing a can of albacore with garlic, lemon juice and capers .. maybe add some spinach is awesome over pasta.
    Nong Shim (spicy) Korean noodles which will throw whatever I got in there. Scallions, mushrooms, boiled egg.
    Spicy lamb burgers for my other half and his colleague with naan, fixings, mint chutney and raita on Saturday.
    We love our Indian food so a ten lb bag of basmati has a home here as well the spice rack is full. Playoffs on Sunday we had jeera pea pulao with butter chicken so got rid of all that naan in the freezer:) Neighbor brought over curry leaves so fried them up in some butter and coated some roasted cashews for football time snack.
    Breakfast was ridding of some corn tortillas unda style. Fry the corn tortilla up in egg, place whatever you want. I rid of some cheese and more capers.
    I assume I have to make some Americanized stuff for my other half this eve. Will have to be chicken as all I have. Never good on ideas for him so off to one of those Betty sites. Have a great week all!!!

  12. Hi Yvonne,

    My refrigerator is often filled more with more condiments than food.

    I have almost completely stopped driving for a single ingredient. If it is important to what I plan to cook, then it is deferred to another day. Instead, I cook with what I have and make do. Since I have a lot, it is not a great issue.

    When I pluck something out of the freezer or shelf that has been waiting a while, I call it, “Thinning the herd.”

    Hope all is getting settle in!


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