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CHALLENGE: A Real Dinner From the Convenience Store

I'm pretty sure we've mostly all got some approximation of the neighborhood convenience store, be it a bodega, a mom-n-pop, or a liquor store. So here's my challenge: it's late. You're tired. And when you get a few blocks from home, you twig to the realization that there's really nothing in the house for dinner. And you want a real dinner, not a foil-wrapped burger or a nasty hotdog that's been circulating on the roaster since 4 a. m. last Wednesday. What to do, what to do.
My local convenience store is heavy on the icky lunchmeats; the processed cheeses; candy, chips and soda. Of course. But when I take a good look around, there are a few possibilities for a real meal, made of real food. Luckily enough, they do stock some fresh foods: dairy, a very few veg. like tomatoes, onions, potatoes, citrus, etc., which is a bit out of the ordinary, but they seem to be trying to be the "all things to all people" store, so I've no complaints there. Here's what I came up with:
(Seasonings and spices from home are allowable for the challenge, also flour.)
Black beans (canned), over white rice, w/
Salsa (a small jar canned, mixed with fresh-chopped tomatoes and onion. Spice adjusted at home.
Shredded cheese (they do carry two unprocessed cheddars, one sharp; one mild.)
Sour cream (which I assume they have on hand for the dip packets they sell)
Fried bananas, squeeze of lemon
Alternatively, I guess I could make:
Homemade mac and cheese (they carry dried noodles, the aforementioned cheese, milk, butter, etc.)
With a delicious side of canned, stewed tomatoes and
I guess an iceberg salad w/ bottled dressing. I think they have Ranch. It's possible that they carry an oil that I could use in a dressing with some of their lemons, and spices from home. I'll need to re-check that. I'm also unsure that there are canned beets on the shelf (doubt it) but if there are, I'd put those onto that salad, with chopped tomatoes and onions.

What would you make? Just off the top of your head?

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  1. Right off the top of my head? OK, but this is influenced by my just coming from the "foods unfairly maligned" thread...

    How about:
    • Spam or canned "luncheon meat" scrambled with eggs (they must have eggs, wouldn't you think?), maybe sprinkled w/ some oregano or thyme;
    • Frozen whole-leaf spinach from the freezer, or frozen peas (I'd look for the fresher one via the "date packaged" info), which I'd cook appropriately (these can be surprisingly good; don't mock them)
    • Some dry pasta? Thin spaghetti or whatever "thin-ish" variety they have. Cook in the usual way, dress with whatever I have suitable on hand - even something simple like olive oil or veggie oil or butter plus black pepper + salt.

    That sounds like a quick whole dinner to me...

    In actuality, my "convenience store" would be a full-featured small supermarket, really, less than a mile from my home, and I would have a number of fairly gourmet items to choose from as well as fresh produce (limited, but still there) etc etc. I've also been fortunate enough to never have had "nothing" at home from which to craft a full-scale dinner, whether from canned stuff or meats/etc in the fridge. Maybe fresh veggies might on occasion be deficient or have got pretty sad, but in that case I've always had preserved/pickled veggies around (e.g. "Harm Choy" [salted pickled Chinese mustard] is almost always in my cupboard and a quick "boiled soup" or stir-fry with it can be whipped up in no time).

    1 Reply
    1. re: huiray

      Huiray, they definitely have eggs. And Spam. Spaghetti, definitely. For veg., your choices are frozen peas, and frozen corn; no spinach. I would not mock anyone for using frozen peas; they are, IMO better than fresh 9/10 times. And I hear ya: "nothing to make" is a very, very unlikely event in my household, but I frequent that store and it popped into my head, "What would you do if....."
      And yes, you'd be choosing from a fresh veg. selection of: onions, potatoes, cilantro, green onions, green bell peppers, tomatoes, English cucumbers and.......that's about it. But boy, could one ever do a lot with that, actually....vegetarian stuffed peppers (or even w/ meat, if I used, as you mentioned, Spam, or alternatively, packaged ham. Hmmmmm....

    2. There's a similar thread started on Home Cooking. You two should get together with your ideas!


      1 Reply
      1. This is a great thread. My town's grocery stores AND delivery places (pizza, etc, all mom and pops) shut down before I get out of work 4 nights out of five. If I don't plan ahead, I can't make anything.

        I agree with huiray about the eggs. I LOVE eggs, and even the tiniest stores around me carry them. I'd pick up eggs, some type of cheese and chorizo (most grocery stores are Hispanic, small bodegas) and have a scramble.

        I also do a type of antipasto plate. Can of black olives, jar of green olives, chorizo/pepperoni, hard boiled eggs, tuna (ideally packed in oil), canned tomatoes or jalapenos or red peppers, cheese, whatever lunch meat is available, rolled prettily. If produce is available, I'll pick up a fresh tomato for sure, and a bell pepper if I can.

        3 Replies
        1. re: pinehurst

          Yep on the eggs. In these parts, you'd find no chorizo, but Spam, canned roast beef (which sounds utterly horrifying to me) and packaged salami, ham and bologna. The salami would probably be your best choice. (Thin-sliced salami from, I think, Gallo.) Would work on your antipasto plate, which idea I love. Yep, you'd find the olives, and aforementioned salami. Yep, you could do the eggs, they DO have Star-Kist oilpak tuna, and now that you mention it they have a reasonable assortment of jarred peppers: banana, pepperoncini, and I think, something else. Don't know how fresh they are, but I don't know that it matters with stuff like that. And yep, you'd find those veg. oh and even an avocado if you wanted. I would. :)
          Thanks for thoughtful answers!!

          1. re: mamachef

            If you've got eggs, you've got a party. They can be breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert if need be. The wild card in my area is the dairy stuff. All of them have ice cream, but some of them have good (like Daisy) sour cream, a couple of yogurt choices, decent cheeses (soft and hard), pints of heavy cream, etc. Others have single serve bottles of chocolate and white whole milk and that's it. I haven't even mentioned the expiration dates on those bad boys.

            1. re: pinehurst

              LOL. Agree totally about the eggs and dairy, and I'd have to say the pasta and beans too. That brought to mind a very retro "Cheese Fondue" casserole that my mom used to make: a custard base, w/ cheese, poured over cubed bread and baked. It was pretty good and maybe some sauteed diced onions and peppers would spruce it up. Even sauteed salami, for a heartier version. Interesting how other people's comments call things to mind, for whatever reason. :)

        2. Like most communities in my part of the world, our two village convenience stores are operated by major national supermarket chains. It means they are pretty well supplied - if push came to shove, I could easily cook several days "normal" meals. They do have fresh meat, veg, salads etc. - although much more restricted offerings than the main supermarkets. Heck, when I get old and frail, I may have to survive on what I buy there (although, in truth, I'm going to be buying my groceries online for home delivery and would only be using the convenience store for the occasional items, just like now)

          But I appreciate that's not playing mamachef's game.

          And, playing along, I'm going to buy whatever salad they have. If they have them, I'm buying potatoes and onions. I'm going to buy eggs. I'm making a tortilla/frittata. If there's any sort of bread, I'm having that as well. If there's any sort of protein - cheese, ham, etc, I'm putting that in the frittata (if there isnt, it's a tortilla)

          3 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            Harters, aren't you lucky!! Most convenience stores in this neck of the woods are independently owned and operated, and as such the variety of things that can reasonably be considered "real food" varies drastically. At one, you'll find nothing but packaged and processed foods and liquor; another (like mine) may be reasonably well-provided; in a tonier 'hood, you won't find fresh meats and veg. in any great variety at all (definitely not fresh meats, actually) but there will probably be a deli and a fresh foods section that would, as you say, feed one very normal meals for several days. For the fresh protein and a good variety of vegetables, you'd have to go to the regular grocery store, by which I mean a national chain store.
            Thanks for playing along! Sounds like you too will be having iceberg salad, perhaps topped w/ the fresh veg. mentioned above. You can make the frittata; they have processed and natural cheeses (mild/sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack), and packaged ham or salami. Um. Bread. Not so much. I don't know what the UK equivalent to it is, but I don't think you'd want to pay for Wonder Bread. :)

            1. re: mamachef

              Looking at Wiki for the Wonder Bread, I suspect it's similar to WonderLoaf - a very cheap, very crappy, sliced white (mercifully no longer produced), buit we still have a lot of mass produced nasty loaves around.

              1. re: Harters

                Looks like it. The key is, if you can roll a slice of this "bread," aka balloon bread to my family, in a ball about the size of half a table-tennis ball, well; you've got it.

          2. Plenty of options.

            Thinking in the pasta vein, I assume there is some garlic with those onions. You have olive oil at home, how about pasta aglio olio? Mince plenty of garlic, saute with plenty of oil and red pepper flakes and toss with pasta. Top with the stuff in the green can you picked up at the mart. Better than no cheese.

            Pseudo carbonara. Get eggs, cream and spam. Cut spam into cubes (spamcetta?) and render til crisp. Beat yolks and cream with black pepper from the pantry, add spamcetta toss with hot pasta and top with the green stuff. Add some of the peas if you want some color.

            I could go on and on. Plenty to work with. If they had tortillas, I even have a use for the canned roast beef.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bkeats

              Hahaha, Bkeats!! Spamcetta. It could work, couldn't it? Might even taste...sorta, kinda familiar. I think I'd rather have the pasta aglio olio, though. But do tell....SOMETIMES they have tortillas - what would you do w/ the beef, if you feel like telling?

              1. re: mamachef

                This past weekend, I was making dinner for my son and myself. Hadn't been to the market and looking in the fridge, I found some left over roast, black beans and tomato sauce. Gears began to whirl. I shredded the roast and tossed it with some cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Got out the tortillas and rolled enchiladas using the shredded meat, some black beans as stuffing. Mixed the tomato sauce with some hot sauce and spicy salsa. Poured some of that sauce into a baking dish, put the enchiladas in and topped with more sauce and cheese. Into the oven. Came out surprisingly good. So swap out my left over roast for the canned roast beef. Since you're at the store, pick up some bottled jalapenos and sour cream too and it will be even better. If there is frozen corn in the mart, you could fry some up with onions and peppers with the appropriate spices for a corn relish.

                1. re: Bkeats

                  Now I get it! Thanks for the explanation!

            2. I would probably make a goulash of just about everything in there. Frozen veg with the stewed tomatoes, throw in some chopped ham, potatoes, and elbow pasta. Toast up some bread and go to town! hehehehe

              1 Reply
              1. re: Novelli

                That's definitely one way to handle the situation, Novelli. Each to his own, right? :)

              2. taken from my time in thailand, but... if you have rice... fried rice! rice. veg as you like: frozen peas, frozen corn, frozen carrots, onion, green onion, bell pepper. garlic in some form if you can, even powdered or something; maybe you have on hand at home? spam or ham. egg. sauce it however you like - a good convenience-store-available option is often ketchup, and soy if they have it. add sriracha or tabasco for spice. serve your fried rice topped with a fried egg (or scramble the egg into the fried rice, however you prefer). voila. supper.

                7 Replies
                1. re: chartreauxx

                  Good one, chartreauxx. I never think of making fried rice from scratch; it's always something I make when I have odds and ends and bits lying around. But this is a great option, and they even carry bacon, if one wanted. Sounds like the chartreauxx household will be having fried rice; every ingredient you mentioned except carrots is available there, even the soy sauce. Thanks for playing along!

                  1. re: chartreauxx

                    I second what mamachef said.

                    But, having said that, IF I was "cooking everything" that night and was tired, hungry, cranky etc and there was nothing in the house except what I was picking up from that convenience store, I would be more likely to make just steamed rice and a stir-fried dish and/or some other type of dish to accompany the steamed rice. For one thing, fried rice is better prepared using day-old rice, as fresh rice (which I would be cooking from the raw rice I just bought) is much "wetter" than is optimal for making fried rice and if I insisted on having fried rice I would be engaging in a two stage process where I also had to use a VERY hot wok and be more attentive than I might want to be or could be given my tired, hungry, cranky condition.

                    So - maybe that spam+egg scramble I mentioned (and that popped into my mind as I said because I had just come from a certain thread) plus whatever veggie stir-fry I might come up with using whatever veggies were available at the store, plus the steamed rice...


                    1. re: huiray

                      Sounds like making this rice would piss you off a lot more than not having dinner at all, huiray. :). The fresh-cooked rice was really my only sticking point: IMO, chilled pre-cooked rice is the way to go. But in a pinch.....
                      Maybe the best way to handle evenings like this is to just go the hell home, pour 3 fingers of Scotch (something nice and peaty and smoky), haul out the Triscuits and cheese, and call it good. :) Not particularly Chowhoundish in nature, but by the time you're two fingers down, who cares?

                      1. re: huiray

                        agreed! however, in a pinch... also, you can "speed up" the drying of the rice by using a little less liquid than you're supposed to, or cooking it for slightly too long, then letting it sit on "low" with the lid off for a bit (stovetop) or leaving it on "warm" with the top open (rice cooker).

                        1. re: chartreauxx

                          Heh. Well, using less water than usual would tend to give what is known as "sang kuat fan", don't you think? (uncooked hard centers in the grains) Leaving the cover off leads to the same. With a rice cooker - I dunno, as I don't use a rice cooker.

                          "Sang kuat fan" is one of the things I hate. Risotto with "al dente" (aka "sang kuat") centers I also find horrible, don't know why anyone would actually want hard centers in their rice grains.

                          1. re: huiray

                            no, the method took me a lot of those sang kuat fan, otherwise known in my world as "uncooked rice again dammit", to perfect.

                            a touch too little water CAN work, but i've only had it succeed using my fuzzy logic cooker. the cover isn't off DURING cooking - you remove it after the rice is cooked, and let very low heat evaporate off moisture. similar with opening the rice cooker after cooking completes.

                            i'm with you on undercooked rice though, huiray!

                    2. Since there's no law against having breakfast for dinner, I'd make french toast and bacon or sausage (usually the convenience stores around here have bacon or sausage).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Missy2U

                        How funny. With a well-stocked fridge, we have BFD all the time. But thinking inside this loop, I never even came close to thinking of it! (Yum. Around here, you could have either: Farmer John Links OR Brown n Serve OR Bacon. Ooh, the luxury of choice..... :)

                      2. The convenience store closest to me has a ATM that doesn't have a surcharge. I'd take out cash and order delivery. =)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JudiAU

                          <sputters indignantly> CHEATERVILLE!! (But oh so clever. :)

                        2. I assume that you have better "convenience stores," than we do. Here in PHX, you would be lucky to get a dried out breakfast burrito and a Big Gulp.



                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            I guess we do, and I think I know the reason why. This convenience store is a mom and pop store that accepts WIC and food stamps, and I just found out that as such, there are certain fresh items they are required by law to carry in order to participate in those programs. (Source: The American Way of Eating; Tracie McMillan). Makes sense to me.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Most of ours (Phoenix, AZ) are part of some chain, and many are just "snack shops," attached to a gas station.

                              I shudder to think about doing any meal from them, after the "breakfast burritos" are gone.

                              Thanks for the clarification,


                          2. Gosh, all of the convenience stores in Japan sell a variety of complete meals in the "bento" (lunchbox) format. In fact, many such stores have put little mom n' pop restaurants out of business.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Tripeler

                              LUCKY LUCKY LUCKY. I have one alltime favorite deli in Berkeley that sells an outstanding variety of bento, and I hit it whenever possible.

                              1. re: mamachef

                                Are they Japanese-style bento, or are they different kinds of food?
                                Surprisingly, convenience-store food in Japan is rather good, all things considered.

                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  Tripeler, it's a combo. restaurant/deli/take-away. Hot foods can be ordered at the counter or table, but there's a huge refrigerated section of bento and other items that can be taken home and heated if necessary. Great little place.

                            2. I have made a meal from a gas station convenience store (much more limited) on late night road trips. In this situation I go for V8, pretzels or cheddar popcorn, Rasinets, and roasted almonds or peanuts. Surprisingly it covers all the basics: veggies, carbs, fruits, sweets, and protein!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: WhatsEatingYou

                                Not what I meant, but yep; all food bases covered this way. Not what I consider a real meal, though; this to me is snacks. (Nothing wrong with snack-dinners, though.)

                              2. I guess I'm lucky that my 'convenience store' happens to be a Trader Joe's.

                                1 Reply