Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's hiding in your cupboards?

Using what you have seems to be the theme this week. Those of us who didn’t grow up during the Great Depression are only now beginning to appreciate what it means to use what you have, make do, substitute, and wear things out. I am of the generation that thought nothing of buying a new stereo because it was “better” even though the one I have now sounds just fine. My husband appreciates the finer points of the latest tweeter or woofer or what have you and would argue the need for newer and better until he’s on his deathbed, so maybe I should choose a better example than stereos. Let’s say clock radios or dish racks or couch cushions. Most of us are inclined to throw out or give away our old, but perfectly good stuff, when something nicer catches our eye. I see that trend changing a little in light of the current economic situation and this is good for our planet, if not our factories.

I’m all about using what you have. I still have a palm pilot (which I only began using last winter when my husband threatened to throw it out after I ignored it for several years. He brings home his leftover electronics for me on a regular basis and I ignore them on a regular basis). I don’t want the latest greatest phone-organizer-gps-internet-video game-e-mail gadget. I’m fine with my ancient phone (no key pad? You can’t text? OMG!). I’ve learned to appreciate the GPS that came free with my laptop last year. It’s so last year though with the cord trailing down over my dash and plugging in to the lighter outlet. My palm pilot has Ms Pacman on it – what more could I want? To be honest, there are moments (and they are fleeting) when I think how cool it would be to have just one small gadget that fit in my pocket instead of my herd of outdated, noisy, slow electronics. But then I’m consumed with guilt at the thought of throwing out such useful things and I recommit to my position of ‘no new stuff’. Maybe it’s the mom in me – I’m comfortable being the martyr. “No don’t worry about me. I don’t mind. I’ll eat the burnt side…”

So back to what I wanted to write about in the first place. We all need to get back to using what we have. And that includes food. If your cabinets and refrigerators look anything like mine they have all kinds of unidentified objects cowering in the very back. A jar of bean curd or anchovy paste that was purchased for some complicated recipe you never got around to making. The orange marmalade your kids won’t eat because it tastes like Motrin. A gourmet dip mix you were suckered in to buying for some fundraiser. We’ve actually moved some of this stuff. My husband pulled out a can of clam sauce recently and said he remembered buying it at the grocery where we lived two houses ago! Thanks to modern preservatives though, it is still good!

I want to challenge you today. Be brave. Look in to the back of your cabinets, drawers and refrigerators. Pull something out and use it. And then do it again. See if you can get by without the grocery store this week. Imagine that some national disaster has occurred and you only have the food in your house to live on. I’m guessing that if we truly had to most of us could survive for months, maybe longer.

I’ll give you an example of using what you have. Vegetables are one thing I can’t stand to see go to waste. It was this issue, plus the multitudes of cucumbers we were drowning in a few months ago that led me to create a new salad. I call it chopped salad and it is basically everything still in your crisper drawer (plus anything still growing in your garden) chopped up really small and mixed together – kind of like coleslaw but without the cabbage (unless you have the remnants of a cabbage head rolling around your vegetable drawer). To this concoction I add my favorite dressing, cashews, and croutons (made from leftover bread). Not only is this a great way to use what you have, it’s low in calories and makes a huge salad that you can eat for days.

This weeks chopped salad (pictured) is carrots (our garden is lousy with them right now), cucumber (not sure where this one came from since cucumber season ended a month ago, but it wasn’t too rubbery), the small center stalks that no one wants to eat left from two packs of celery, mystery peppers (the peppers that were supposed to be hot pablano red peppers but turned out to be slightly misshapen sweet green peppers in disguise), the first of my second batch of green beans, and a gorgeous sweet red pepper plucked fresh today. I use a hand chopper that I purchased from pampered chef, but you could probably use a food processor. The dressing I love is the recipe featured in my post about lettuce a few months back (now you have to go look up that post if you can’t stand not knowing!). If you’re not going to eat the entire salad in one sitting, I recommend leaving the dressing, nuts, and croutons out until you’re ready to use it.

Our dinner tonight will be chicken, chopped salad, and something from the back of the pantry. I don’t know yet what this mystery side dish will be, but I’m thinking there is probably some couscous back there from my couscous phase or maybe some red quinoa leftover from when I was dabbling with different kinds of quinoa. Or maybe some random pasta purchased for a recipe that never saw the light of day. Who knows? That’s the fun and the challenge of creating something using what you have! So I’m laying down the gauntlet – go search through your cupboards. Use what you have. I’d love to hear what you come up with! You never know, it might become your new favorite recipe!


  1. Cheese and eggs are miracle workers. Favorite leftover at my house: "fried spaghetti." Soften garlic in a little olive oil in frying pan. Lightly coat bottom of pan with dry bread crumbs (makes removal easy). Add leftover spaghetti. Add chopped cooked veggies -- no cukes! We usually have left over broccoli. You can use fresh peppers if you like, but it's not as good as coooked veggies. Scramble eggs and pour over spaghetti. Too few eggs and spaghetti is dry on top. Too many and spaghetti is swimming. Top with whatever cheese you have around. Cook slowly on stove top. When almost cooked, put under broiler briefly to brown cheese, cook any uncooked eggs. My kids like to use leftover spaghetti sauce on this

  2. I actually call this spaghetti pie. A friend calls it "fried spaghetti." I knew it didn't sound right!

  3. I actually have left over spagetti in my fridge... may just try this recipe! I love the challenge of using what you have! Oh, and orange marmalade DOES taste like Motrin! ;-))Oh... and I vouch for the chopped salad with cashews, croutons and her dressing! It rocks, I can eat it all week long, AND it's filling!