One of January's prime traditions has been the Pantry Challenge.
Simply put, you try hard to cook only from the food you have on hand, either in the pantry, or in the refrigerator and freezer. There are limited exceptions: mostly in the dairy/eggs department.
I can't figure out for certain who began this -- but the blogger at Life with Mom and Good Cheap Eats seems to be the main instigator at present. (Though others, including yours truly, have done it in past years.) She just got done with two weeks worth of living on the bare minimum.
I haven't been as passionate about following it as I usually do, thanks to taking care of Daughter #1 while her shoulder mends. But I have:
*Resolved to USE UP leftovers, rather than just slinging them to the chickens. (Unless the food wasn't that good the first time around -- then I 'donate' it with a clear conscience.)
*Scrubbed out both the vegetable and meat/cheese drawers, thrown the spoiled stuff to the chickies, and reapportioned things we can still use.
*Made a big batch of applesauce from the apples in the crisper, then chopped the surviving vegetables into strips or chunks, for stirfry and relish trays. Some went into Creole-style jambalya, too. (Recipe's coming soon.)
*Put the remaining Christmas candy bars and cookies in the freezer, promising myself we'll only take them out a few at a time. (Our bulging waistlines say we've had enough sweets for a while.)
*Stacked and put away canned goods and dry stuff -- after I double-checked what were in the back rows, or needed to be used up.
*Checked and pulled packages of meat and fish from the freezer at the beginning of the week, so I plan better what to use during the week. This has worked especially well. The meat thaws slowly in the refrigerator -- and it's ready whenever needed, as long as I remember to use it. (Put it toward the front!) It's started creating bare spaces in the freezer, too.
There have been two other motivators:
*A friend at church told us about not realizing that the power cord to his freezer had gone bad. Result: nearly $5000 of food spoiled, by the time he checked. What would I do, if our freezer followed suit?
*We've had a few snowstorms, with more scheduled. (Not as many as you in the East...but enough.) It's not unusual for power to go out -- then [see above].
*That same weather has made it tough to shop. (Plus I just don't feel much like it right now. The effects from flu are still draining off what strength I've got.)
Not to mention knowing that property taxes, and some unexpected bills, are coming due soon...
I HATE wasting food. Every time I scooped out a mushy pepper from the crisper, or scraped out some celery, I felt like I'd dumped a handful of change in the trash. Hopefully having everything clean and visible will solve this nicely.
It helps to also have inspirations like this suggestion -- plus this one -- on dishes to cook just from pantry shelf items. Posting foods for the Bare Bones Meal series on Holiday Goodies has been an inspiration, too.(If you go there tonight, you'll find the latest -- on using up leftovers. Visit in coming days, and you'll see even more suggestions. Like a favorite from my backpacking days:
ONE OF THE EASIEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD
3 tablespoons (or a small packet) of onion soup mix
1 small can turkey breast
1 can green beans
1 small can mushrooms
Dump everything in a pot, along with 6 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, let cook for 10 minutes. Add more water, if soup is too salty. Serve with crackers or bread and cheese.