Something From Nothing

January 8, 2009 at 7:15 am 22 comments

We’ve been working on our budget for 2009…and we’re going back to my favorite method. Cash budget! Using cash only really helps me when I’m at the grocery store. I pay MUCH closer attention to what I’m putting in my cart, I look for the specials, menu plan ahead of time, etc. Love it. I’m always up for a good challenge, and when I know that I only have X amount in my wallet, I’m thrilled when I don’t spend it all πŸ™‚

With that said, I’ve been taking inventory of my pantry to see how long we could go without going on a major grocery run. I made a big list of all the ingredients I had on hand and also all the meals I could make. I came up with 9 meals out of “nothing”! Yay! One of the meals I came up with is the one you see above.

Here are the things I had to work with:

  • A big bag of quinoa: I love quinoa because it cooks so much faster than brown rice and it has such a high protein level. I made twice as much as I needed and then put the rest in the fridge for another day.
  • Broccoli (I found a big Costco bag of it in the bag of the fridge…sometimes I get a little over zealous and think that we will eat it all, but we never do. So even though some of it was getting mushy, most of it was good. I picked out enough for this meal and then put the rest of it into freezer bags for other meals.
  • Snap peas: I used some of this bag of peas for something quite awhile ago, but amazingly, they were still totally fresh and yummy. I love snap peas, so I was thrilled.

So, I have these ingredients, and I decide to whip up some stir-fry. I like my stir fry to have a little kick, so I Googled a sauce recipe to loosely follow and oh my…it was delish. I squeezed some fresh orange juice from some OLD (but apparently still good) oranges in the pantry, added some fresh ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce…and poured it on top of the veggies while it sauteed. Healthy, tasty…cheap!

Normally, I would have added tofu to this and probably some shitake mushrooms as well. But because I had taken inventory of what I had, I knew I wanted to keep those things for my miso soup recipe later. Being that the quinoa is so high in protein, it was a well-rounded meal without those things.

Here are more of my favorite “something from nothing” pantry meals:

  • Pancakes: I always make my own (basic vegan recipe from “How it all Vegan”) and love to top it with whatever I have on hand. My favorite is peanut butter, bananas, and pure maple syrup. If we have have blueberries on hand, I will mix those into the batter…but you could also use thawed frozen berries as well. More topping ideas: walnuts, applesauce, any nut butters, the possibilites are endless.
  • Eggs: If you’re not vegan…eggs are a great cheap option for quick protein. We LOVE hard boiled eggs, but often make egg sandwiches or just scramble them.
  • Beans and Rice: Can’t forget this pantry staple. You can dress this up in so many ways it’s ridiculous. Put it into a tortilla, or top it with veggies, add some sweet thai chili sauce…yum.
  • Curries: I try to keep several cans of coconut milk on hand…and as long as I have some rice, curry powder or paste, and frozen veggies, I have a meal.
  • Baked potatoes: Bake a bunch of taters and top them with shredded cheese, beans, salsa…whatever you have on hand.
  • Soup and bread/muffins: You can make a soup from pretty much anything! I keep the all natural veggie bouillon cubes in my pantry at all times so I can have an instant broth. Add whatever veggies and beans you have on hand and some herbs voila! Soup!Β  Throw it on the table with some homemade bread or quick corn muffins and it’s a perfect meal.

I’m sure I’m not the only one watching my budget carefully right now…what is your favorite pantry meal?


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The TLT Vegan Agave Cornbread Muffins

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristen  |  January 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I need to do that! We are really watching our budget now. My hubby just started a new job and he is not making what he used to. But he is working for the government now and the security is a little more important to us right now considering how unstable the job market is these days!! We have stopped using credit cards because they are just terrible things. So we have to sit down and do a budget. But I know we have tons of stuff in he pantry and I’m going to the store today. So I think I’ll do your idea and see what I can come up with using mostly the stuff in my pantry. Thanks for the idea!! Oh and my favorite pantry meal is usually pancakes!! And I’m pretty sure it’s my kids favorite too!

  • 2. Jessica T.  |  January 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Do you buy quinoa at a natural foods store? Just curious…I’ve checked and none of grocery stores have it (Jewel, Aldi, Super Target, Fresh Market).

    I’m guessing I’ll find it at Trader Joe’s in a nearby town. Is it the sort of thing that can sit on the shelf for quite a while? Once I buy some, I’ll probably buy a lot since it’s not available nearby!

  • 3. Marie  |  January 8, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Things have been tight around our house lately as my husband’s business has ground almost to a stand-still, and thus I am conjuring up interesting foods out of what I already have in the pantry, too. Good fun! It’s amazing what you can come up with when you really try.

  • 4. livelightly  |  January 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Jessica…yes, I buy my quinoa in the bulk section at our coop, but I have seen it in a box sometimes. I would just ask. I would think you probably won’t find it at mainstream supermarkets, although it is gaining popularity.

  • 5. jessica  |  January 8, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I’d agree with the quinoa and frozen vegetables option. I found that if I am REALLY lazy and don’t want to make a sauce for it, I just steam the vegetables and top the meal with just the smallest amount of Annie’s Lemon and Chives dressing… it makes me so happy!

    Also, for a more comfort type of food out of the pantry, my boyfriend makes the most wonderful vegan biscuits… he uses spelt flour (a MUST in our pantry) mixed with a bit of white, nutritional yeast, and a blend of spices that he doesn’t tell me about πŸ™‚

  • 6. Denise  |  January 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I make these kind of meals all the time! Pizza is an awesome one because you can top it with anything! We also have a lot of “leftover night” where I take everything leftover out of the fridge and heat it up and make kind of a leftover “buffet.” I also make a lot of soups and tacos/burritos. It’s amazing what you can put in a tortilla and call a taco.

    Glad to see Happy Foody up and running again, I’m in a cooking rut!

  • 7. Kristy  |  January 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I’m right there with you! There’s always food in the pantry, but once I’ve made all my “recipes” for the week…what to do with the leftovers? We have CORN-week about twice a month in our house when the budget is either out or getting close. CORN stands for Clean Out Refrigerator Night, but it usually lasts for several days. A lot of our now-staple menu items have emerged from “nothing.” I have a great cheesy-egg souffle that is wonderful for breakfast-dinner and soup is always a tried and true fave…no one will ever know if the veggies were a little limp before you tossed them in the pot!

  • 8. KT  |  January 8, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I just came across a great bean soup, and I ALWAYS seem to have bags of beans in my pantry! Here it is:
    Here is how I cook dried beans in my crockpot without pre-soaking.
    Combine the following in a 6 qt. crock pot:
    3 pounds of dried beans – I use 2 lbs. black beans and 1 lb. pinto
    1 tsp. cumin
    3 TBS kosher salt
    1 1/2 tsp black pepper
    3 TBS olive oil
    6 TBS minced, dried onion
    Water to within 1 inch of the top of the crock

    Set to cook on low.
    With crushed saltines, it tastes like chilli!

  • 9. leslie  |  January 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I love pantry meals! It feels great to use some of the supply rather than run out to the store over and over! My favorite is a good curry using some frozen veggies, spices, a can of cocnut milk, and some rice. My health food store clearanced some amazing red, purple, and white grained fair trade organic rice for crazy cheap, so we get to eat fancy for a while right out of our pantry. πŸ™‚

  • 10. sherrilee  |  January 8, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for the great ideas! My favorite pantry meals are- lentil stew in the crockpot- lentils, broth (or even water) carrots, onions, garlic, sundried tomatoes, dried herbs and pizza on pita bread. We keep the pita in the freezer and it makes a great crust.

  • 11. sara  |  January 9, 2009 at 2:05 am

    I am getting on this kick as well (though still keeping many raw foods on the menu).
    One thing I tried this week was a recipe that I found at Beauty that moves for brown rice patties mixed with carrots and eggs. They were good and we will be making them more often. They taste like a potato pancake. Here is the link-
    I also love steamed broccoli (a BIG bowl) with tahini. I can easily call that lunch.
    I also made kichari this week which I guess you might call an Indian dish. It reminded me of the rice served on Indian buffets. It is supposed to be digested really easy. It is cooked mung beans with basmati rice with some spices (coriander, cumin, tumeric, pepper) cooked in a bit of ghee. I think next time I make it, I will make it with some very simple red lentil soup (maybe just a bit of onion and similar seasoning to the kichari).
    Also sprouts with dressing- good, cheap salad!

  • 12. Bonny  |  January 9, 2009 at 2:23 am

    We do a lot of beans & rice, soup, fritattas and omelets. We also do a tamale pie that is yummy, cheap & easy – polenta crust, beans/refried beans/beans & sauteed veggies, cumin, salsa, cheese. Bake, top with lettuce, chopped tomato, avocado, plain yogurt, or whatever you have!

  • 13. Natalie  |  January 9, 2009 at 4:33 am

    I love making a meal list for the month. It becomes more like our own little “restaurant” menu. I don’t make things on a particular day. I let someone in the family pick out what sounds good to them so its kinda like going to a restaurant…except for the clean up. My favorite pantry meal is stir-fry. I love putting together whatever we have in the fridge with some good rice. And if the sauce doesn’t turn out perfect Sweet Thai Chili sauce makes ANYTHING taste great!

  • 14. Dani  |  January 9, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I’ve been stalking your site for months, but just had to comment that I’m SO GLAD YOU’RE POSTING RECIPES AGAIN! I love to hear your ideas and because of this site I have been learning about nutrition and what I should really feed my family. Please keep your ideas and recipes coming! Thank you so much.

  • 15. Candyce  |  January 9, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    I love tahini, too, and especially love it on steamed kale with lemon juice and garlic.

    One of my favorite pantry meals is a lentil loaf with a homemade BBQ dressing. Yum! So filling and so full of protein. I usually serve it with roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes.

    Here’s a silly question — I’ve never had quinoa — what does it taste like?

  • 16. bleachusd  |  January 11, 2009 at 2:07 am

    I just got around to reading this entry… but I LOVED it. I’d love to hear more of your “something from nothing” recipes… I mean, you did come up with nine recipes afterall.

    I’m still trying to find the balance in cooking for myself (in that I live alone and most recipes make WAY more than enough for one person)… working out recipes that lead enough leftovers, but not so much that I’m eating the same thing straight for several days/meals in a row. This one was great because I know that I could easily work this recipe out to be just for me.

  • 17. Sarah B.  |  January 14, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    FYI–for everyone who has asked about where else one can purchase quinoa. If you are priveleged enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, they sell quinoa in a box, for about $2.00/lb. I agree with Sara, too, and wouldn’t be surprised if mainstream stores start carrying it soon, since I’m reading about quinoa all over the place!!

  • 18. Sarah B.  |  January 14, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    One of my mainstay, pantry recipes is beans and rice. This started out originally as my take on the Fajita Bowls at “Crazy Bowls and Wraps” restaurant. Start with brown rice, add grilled chicken strips, sauteed bell peppers and onions, then add black beans and pinto beans (I sometimes make a homemade beans ‘n’ sauce), then add your choice of toppings (cheese, salsa, etc.). My family’s preference is to eat the bowls by scooping the goods up with tortilla chips, but a fork is always an option, too! But I simplify and cheapen the bowls by sometimes doing just plain beans and rice. I like to mix together 1 drained can of pinto beans and 1 undrained can of ranch-style black beans. So easy!

    Love everyone’s ideas!

  • 19. Candyce  |  January 27, 2009 at 3:43 am

    I love your blog, and wondered if you had any advice or resources for dieting as a vegan or vegetarian on a budget. Or just vegan dieting in general. I gained quite a bit with my pregnancy, and since I wasn’t able to nurse, I am struggling with having a lot of weight to lose for the first time. Thank you so much!

  • 20. Erin  |  February 9, 2009 at 2:50 am

    Do you guys happen to have a Winco nearby? I love it! I have literally had a car overflowing with meat, veggies, and other staples and spent less than $300. During a regular shopping trip, I can pay $100 or less and not have to go shopping for two weeks or more, then it’s only to supplement the things I ran out of.

    I live alone right now (my kids go back and forth,) so I like to keep a big bag of chicken breast in the fridge. I’ll take one out, defrost it, then I’ll season it with garlic, salt, and pepper, and some extra virgin olive oil, and cook it over the stove. Then, I get one of those Steamfresh bags or a similar brand (which only run $1, love it!) for my veggies. The chicken taste really good because the season compliments the flavor instead of covering it up. On top of that, it’s a great meal for people that are trying to cut calories like myself!

  • 21. Mandy  |  February 17, 2009 at 1:36 am

    I am obsessed with Soba noodles right now, just toss with any veggies on hand along with sauce of your choice, and delish!
    Thanks for your blog!

  • 22. Koryn  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I’ve been doing this a lot too. Basically I hit the store every day and get only what I know I need for dinner (if anything) and then make the most of leftovers. I buy whatever is on the sale rack and then check out recipezaar to find something to do with it lol Eggs really can be a life saver (especially since I live near 2 farms) I make crustless quiche a lot with leftovers and that’ll last through a couple breakfasts. Any ageing fruit I turn into quick breads. You can do tons with spaghetti. My family always liked to just throw a big can of whole tomatoes and some butter in a pan, heat that up and mix with the pasta. Cabbage and noodles, or anything with cabbage is cheap! Wheat gluten stretches great if you make your own seitan. Oatmeal = another thing you can do a lot with for a little πŸ™‚ Whenever there’s old or extra bread I make french toast to freeze or bread pudding. Bread and Bean soup is good too! I’m still getting the other people in my family used to quinoa. Or really anything but minute rice *rolls eyes*. I Get all my grains at Wegmans in bulk. I make my own yogurt now and that saves a ton of money since I eat it every day, and it’s very easy.


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