My family and I are moving this month, and in an effort to clean out the old, random food items in my pantry, I decided to see what meals I could come up with using old cans and produce that is quickly expiring. I like to keep a stocked pantry, and sometimes things add up to where I either have an abundance of items, or they are nearing their expiry date. When this happens, I like to challenge myself and see what meals I can come up with from the ingredients I want to use up.
With moving on the agenda, I am wanting to create some freezer meals to pop in the oven or crock pot for days where we are too busy unpacking to make dinner.
My goal in sharing with you what I do with these items is to encourage you to think outside the box, be creative with ingredients that you may not like, and to maybe provide you with some comic entertainment if any of my meal ideas today are a complete flop. Thanks for humoring me!
Here are some items I've gathered that I would like to use up.
Besides the obvious impending spoilage of the bananas and corn, let me tell you about why I pulled the other ingredients. The minced onions were bought last year and are going stale. I do not like to have an open bag of rice lying around (usually I put rice in a large container, but it is currently out of commission), so I would like to use all of that if possible. As for the Pork & Beans and Quaker oatmeal packets, they are about a year expired. Finally, I bought several cans of Chunky Mixed Fruit quite a while ago and, as it turns out, I do not like the taste of them.
I do not want to throw these items out because they are still in good shape. In an effort to not waste them (or my money for that matter), so let's see what I can do with these ingredients!
Beans, Beef, and Rice BBQ Casserole
The first thing I decided to make was a bean, beef, and rice freezer meal. First, I pulled a pound of ground beef out of my freezer to thaw. Once thawed, I browned it in a skillet and drained the fat. My sister taught me a cool trick to dispose of the fat safely; place a piece of aluminum foil over your kitchen sink drain and create a well by forming the aliminum to your drain. Then, pour or scoop your fat into the well. When it cools, simply pick up the sides of the aluminum foil and toss it in the trash!
Once my beef was drained, I added one ginormous clove of elephant garlick, about 2 tsp of smoked paprika, 3 tbsp of onion flakes, and 1/4 tsp of ground cayenne pepper to the pan. I let that cook over medium heat until the garlick was fragrant and the spices bloomed.
I then added three cans of Pork & Beans, some leftover corn, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and the rest of a bottle of BBQ sauce I found in my fridge, about 1/3 cup. I let that cook for about five minutes.
If you have available a cute, sticky little boy hand to sprinkle in some salt, it will taste even better! Made with love.
I really encourage you to go by feel and taste when making your own recipes. You really learn a lot about flavours this way. It also encourages you to experiment and create your own flavour combinations.
While the beef and beans were cooking, I made some rice in the rice cooker.
This is a big pot of food, so I am guessing this will make about three dinners for us (my husband, myself, and our two-year-old. The littlest one is on a very strict milk diet, he's pretty serious about it!).
First, I added a generous amount of rice to the bottom of a 9x13 dish. I'm using disposable here because, again, this will be a freezer meal for us. This 9x13 will be for two dinners.
Then, I added a layer of the bean and beef mixture.
I found some bottom-of-the-bag shredded cheddar in my fridge and decided to sprinkle that on top too.
I let these cool completely before double wrapping them in foil. I wrote myself some rough cooking instructions, and into the freezer they went!
This turned out to be very tasty! I now have dinner for three nights for my family, made from things that were either just sitting on my pantry shelf, or going bad in my refrigerator! I don't know about you, but that makes me excited!
If you get inspired to make this, you do not have to assemble it in a casserole dish if you do not intend for it to be a freezer meal. You can whip this up in half an hour and serve it over rice in a bowl.
This has a delicious, smokey BBQ flavour, and is reminiscent of a backyard summer barbeque! This dish would be delicious topped with a big dollop of sour cream or some diced avocado (or both).
Banana Fruit Bread
You might get a laugh out of this one, but stay with me!
With my bananas on their last leg, I was thinking I could either freeze them for smoothies, or just use them up to get them out of the way. I went with the latter because that means I could eat some banana bread, so the choice was obvious.
Here's where it gets a little hairy.
Could I put a can of mixed fruit into my banana bread? I figured I could at least try, because either way, those bananas HAD to go, and so did the canned fruit. In an effort to stretch my creativity muscle, I went for it.
I will be using my family's tried-and-true Banana Bread recipe. If you would like a step-by-step guide for making our Banana Bread, let me know!
Fashionably late for the photo: Vanilla Extract
How I Made Banana Fruit Bread
First, I mashed the banana into the butter. I only had 2 1/3 bananas, so to compensate for the 2/3 banana I was missing, I used 2/3 cup apple butter that I canned back in September.
Then, I added the canned fruit. I decided the chunks were too big, so I gave them a quick chop. If you get inspired to make this, first of all, good for you! Second, dice these chunks up until they are quite small; much smaller than what you see in the photo below).
I added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and gave it a mix. Then I transferred it to my greased loaf pan.
This banana bread needed a topping, so I melted 1/2 stick butter and added two packets of the Quaker oatmeal (Cinnamon & Spice and Maple & Brown Sugar) and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Then, I sprinkled it on top of the banana bread.
I baked the bread at 350 F for 75 minutes (until it reached 180 degrees on a thermometer). I covered the top with foil at the 45 minute mark.
This took longer than the recipe said, I assume it was because of all the added wet-ish ingredients.
Even though I pulled it out at 180 F, 10 degrees less than the temperature of fully cooked bread, I left some wiggle room because it is a quick bread, not something like a white sandwich bread that needs to be fully cooked. I enjoy my banana bread almost underbaked, so I pulled it out before it was fully done. Also, you'll see that it came to temperature just by letting it sit on my stove for 10 minutes.
Left: Temperature straight out of the oven.
Right: Temperature after cooling for 10 minutes.
I really encourage you to use a thermometer when cooking and baking rather than going off of suggested times. Going off of suggested times is a sure way to get overcooked chicken and undercooked banana bread. The reason for this is because everyone's oven is different, and everyone lives in a different climate. Both of these factors affect the end product's doneness. With that in mind, I believe suggested times make good reference points, but should not be relied on when determining doneness.
With this banana bread recipe, it is important to let it cool completely in the pan before transporting it to a cutting board to slice. That being said, I did not let mine cool completely before taking it out of the pan and slicing. Oopsie.
Here is what mine looked like when I cut into the center!
Now, for the moment of truth: the taste test. I have to say I was a little nervous to try this, but I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was! I can see how this wouldn't be for everyone, but this really caught me off guard with how incredibly tasty this bread was.
Remember that I did not like the canned fruit to begin with, but, transformed, it added softness and sweetness to the bread. It tasted like a mix between banana bread and a delicious fruit cobbler! I will definitely make this again, and I consider this a win in the repurposing ingredients department!
The topping was absolutely delicious as well! I mean, what's not to like about oats, butter, and sugar?
I know several of us have a pantry or cabinet that has housed the same cans for a very long time. After a while, these items tend to seem tired to us, so I encourage you to be creative and use them in a way that makes them exciting again! You may be able to create several recipes, and save money in doing so. If you keep things long enough and they begin to expire, you do not necessarily have to throw them out, especially if they are canned. Canned goods often last years beyond the date written on them as long as they are stored properly, and the can is not damaged. If you realize that items are expiring in your pantry, be creative and use them up! Then, you will have room to replace them with ingredients that you actually enjoy.
I'm curious, what kinds of things have you made, or are now planning to make, from random ingredients in your pantry? I'd like to know!
See you next Monday!