My husband and I both love to cook, especially making dinner for one another. But when he gears up to prepare a dinner he needs advanced planning: look up a recipe, make a shopping list, go to the supermarket and then cook (and make a mess). He’s always amazed at the meals I am able to throw together by using what’s already in the fridge and cabinets.
Admittedly this is not always easy and we’ve ended up with some funky meals from time to time. But one of my tricks is to always keep my cabinets and freezer stocked with a few key staples, and then there’s always something to throw together at the last minute, or when it’s simply too hot to leave your home!
Here’s a few of the staples I like to keep around and some easy dinner ideas:
What can’t you do with some pasta, rice or quinoa!? Use whatever veggies you have lying around (even frozen), and saute in olive oil with onions and garlic. Cook pasta (or rice, quinoa, cous cous, etc.) per directions on the package and toss with veggies, olive oil, salt and pepper. If you’re serving a dairy meal grate some parmesan cheese on top. If you have leftover chicken in the fridge, cut into pieces and throw it right in.
Other easy cabinet items to mix into pasta: chick peas, roasted red peppers, olives, or cannellini beans. One hearty dish and dinner is served!
Diner night at home is super easy to throw together with a few things from your cabinets and freezer. I love these sweet potatoes fries from Alexia products, although they make them in a number of different varieties as well. Bread, tuna, mayo and cheese and you have tuna melts! No tuna? Throw some veggie burgers into the oven or pan. You might even want to indulge and make some homemade milkshakes to go along with the meal.
Pizza night is one of my favorite dinners to put together. I love coming up with different combinations of cheese and veggies such as ricotta, fennel and kalamata olive or spinach, mushroom and goat cheese. But in a pinch, its super easy to throw together a simple cheese pizza. Whole Foods, Trader Joes and even Fresh Direct all sell their own pizza dough which is either refrigerated or frozen. One important tip: make sure to bring the dough fully to room temperature before working with it otherwise you might not get the results you want.
Make sure you keep plain crushed tomatoes or your favorite jarred tomatoes sauce, like Barilla Traditional Marinara Sauce, on hand. You can use these to make a perfect pantry pasta as well. You can also keep a block of mozzarella in the freezer! Just thaw and grate for your perfect pizza.
This past Sunday, The Food Network aired a special “The Big Waste,” which featured chefs Alex Guarneschelli, Ann Burell, Michael Symon, and Bobby Flay. The chefs were challenged to compete against one another to create a meal for some 100+ foodies, bloggers and other food personalities using only ingredients from farms that would have otherwise been thrown out.
It was definitely an interesting watch (I believe it will be airing another few times this weekend), and perhaps the most disturbing moment was when some of the farmers brought the chefs to see their compost piles: the camera scrolled across piles and piles of beautiful-looking produce, that was considered unusable because it did not appear “perfect” by the average American consumer.
I hate wasting food, and try to do everything I can to use my leftovers in creative ways, so I loved seeing the top-notch meals the chefs put together using discarded tomatoes, chicken and ricotta cheese, among other ingredients.
In the meantime, here are two of my go-to recipes that I use almost weekly in order to make the most out of stale bread, and vegetable peelings. Would love to hear your favorite waste-not tips!
Shannon’s Waste-Not Croutons
- 3 Cups leftover bread, cut into cubes
- 1 Tbsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper and olive oil (also add the cheese if you’re making the croutons dairy). Toss mixture over the bread cubes, and lay out on a cookie sheet.
Bake bread cubes around 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle over your favorite salad, or serve on top of your favorite soup.
- 4 quarts water
- 3 whole carrots
- leftover carrot peels
- 2 whole celery stalks
- leftover celery stalks
- 1 whole onion
- leftover onion peels
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- leftover garlic peels
- 2 whole parsnips
- leftover parsnip peels
- leftover tomatoes
- fresh parsley
- whole peppercorns
- 4 Tbsp salt
Other vegetables you can throw in: asparagus stalks, brussel sprout leaves, sweet potato, bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini.
In a large stockpot, add leftover vegetables, parsley and peppercorns. Fill the pot with three quarts of cold water, and cover pot with lid.
Bring soup up to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for one hour. Pour soup through a strainer into a large bowl, discarding vegetables and herbs, then season stock with salt.
Freeze vegetable stock in plastic containers or ice cube trays for up to 6 months.