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"Free" Meals -Use it Up

So, I always have all kind of odds and ends in my pantry, fridge, and freezer, pretty much all of the time. I'm wondering what kinds of unplanned meals you make out of odds and ends. Right now, I have so much pasta in so many different shapes. I have tons of dried lentils and beans. I have canned black beans--3 cans. I have brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet. I always have eggs and bread and about 5 kinds of cheeses. Sometimes I may have chicken that I got on sale and leftover frozen veggies. I always have tons of canned tomatoes. I also generally have bits of all kinds of fresh veggies lying around, plus lots of seasoning and condiments.

This doesn't have to be specific to my ingredients. I'm just trying to get some ideas and see what others throw together from stuff they have lying around. I'm sick of having unused stuff around all of the time.

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    1. Salads with either pasta or grains

      1. With extra beans and grains and eggs I make cholent
        Old veggies and chicken and rice I make chicken soup with rice

        1. The dishes I make to use up leftovers are: soup, salad, stir fry. You can also add all sorts of things to chili.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sueatmo

            I wish I liked chili with beans. I would totally do that.

          2. veggies, beans, meat, etc. go in omelets or tacos. You can stick anything in those and it can be good.

            Leftover grains that are cooked we do stir fry with.

            To use up beans I always cook a bunch, then freeze on a cookie sheet, break up and keep frozen in a bag. I take a handful here and there. I am almost vegetarian, and my kids/husband eat a lot of meat. It is handy to have beans.

            We also put everything on homemade pizza - we have rigged up our grill and generally keep pizza dough on hand. We stick veggies, different types of cheese, veggies, you name it...kids will always eat that.

            And lentil soup. Doesn't matter your veggies. Caramelize them and stick them with some stock and lentils - puree well and top with lemon juice. My family downs this like crazy and almost all my kids friends eat it too. Parents are shocked when we tell them it is mostly veggies.

            Only my kids eat pasta in this house believe it or not, so I only cook it for them.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jsaimd

              I have trouble cooking lentils. They always get mooshy. I want to make some sort of curry lentil thing. I have onion, potato and coconut milk. How long do you cook them so they are still firm?

              1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                Be sure to use green or black lentils- red and/or brown lentils don't hold their shape well.
                This lentil coconut soup recipe may be what you're looking for, just swap the spices for curry if you prefer:

                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                  In that case, cook them until they turn to mush, lower the heat to dry the mush out so it's the consistency of refried beans. Then mix with leftover mashed potato or cooked grains, add sauteed onion/shallot and garlic, diced peppers, your choice of spice/herb palette, and an egg.
                  Form into patties and saute. Serve as a veggie burger or top with poached or fried egg.

                  Or add overcooked lentils to your mix for meatballs or meatloaf. Unless you add a lot, you won't know it's there, but you'll be stretching your meat with lean protein and fiber.

              2. Your kitchen sounds like mine...I have all types of pasta, canned goods, grains, etc. I have three freezers full of meats and dry goods plus all kinds of seasonings & dried herbs, yet sometimes I'm at a loss as to what to cook for dinner. But to get to your question, I have a few suggestions...

                I like to make quinoa cooked in stock, chopped onion & garlic then serve it at room temperature (or chilled) mixed with cubed oven roasted butternut squash , roasted & peeled then chopped poblano chiles, rinsed & drained black beans, sautéed chopped carrots and celery, dried thyme & oregano, salt, pepper and a little grated orange zest. Toss in a Vidalia onion or other vinaigrette and this is fabulous by itself, served as a side or rolled into a wrap with some crispy lettuce and crumbled queso fresco or other cheese. You can also do this with brown rice as well.

                The second dish is a Tandoori spiced lentil soup with veggie or chicken stock, the standard mirepoix, garlic, diced sweet potato, coconut milk & lightly toasted then ground coconut, cumin, tandoori seasoning, finely crushed mustard seed, and if you like it spicy, some type of pepper, chopped (seeded or not). I love this soup; it's the combination of coconut, which I normally don't like, and the spices.

                The third suggestion is to cook barley for breakfast, like oatmeal. Basically, it's three cups of liquid to one cup barley, cooking in simmering liquid. It can be cooked in water, milk, juice, stock etc. depending on if you want it to be sweet or savory. Stir in barley, reduce heat to low and cook at least 45 minutes for pearl barley (55 minutes for whole grain barley)unless your barley is quick cooking. Stir in all kinds of sweet or savory items the same as oatmeal or jook.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Cherylptw

                  Yum. The quinoa thing sounds wonderful, as does the curry. I'll be trying those.

                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    The other thing I like to do with cooked quinoa and random leftover is making quinoa patties. Add finely chopped veggies, lentils, eggs and breadcrumbs and let sit for half an hour. Then pan fry. They freeze great so you can make a bunch. These are perfect with a salad.

                  2. Soups.
                    Bean based chili and dips
                    I've made this easy dal a few times and really liked it:

                    Casseroles,gratins and pot pies are great too.

                    1. rice: cook it in canned diced tomatoes, complete with tomato water. add spices. when cooked, stir in black beans (dried canned whatever) and canned or frozen (or fresh) corn, peppers, whatever you have. if you have chicken, chop it up, cook it in a skillet, and stir into the rice/veggie mix. this bakes up great in a greased pan topped with shredded cheese.

                      you can also make soup, stew, chowder etc with produce, meat, spices, and serve over steamed rice or quinoa. fried rice is a great fridge-cleaning dish and takes almost anything well. canned tomatoes + spices + simmering goes over pasta for a beautiful sauce.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: chartreauxx

                        That casserole sounds great. I'll try that. I have everything to make it. Thanks.

                        1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                          i also use my mom's quiche recipe: she does an all-butter crust, and fills it with beaten eggs, cream, canadian bacon (or ham), swiss cheese, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. recipe specifics can be provided if interested: also takes miscellaneous proteins and produce.

                        2. re: chartreauxx

                          I love this type of rice mixture- I use it to stuff squash or bell peppers, covered with cheese and baked.

                          1. re: Berheenia

                            A little tip that you may already know. I think it was a Julia Child recipe years ago where she cut the peppers in half stem to end and then stuffed them, laying them flat to bake. Bet a lot more stuffing that way :)

                        3. Anything and everything can go in a soup.
                          Anything and everything can go in a frittata.
                          Anything and everything can go in my belly.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: seamunky

                            Agreed, or in a skillet all combined with a sauce.

                          2. Ramen is good for using up small scraps of meat and vegetables. You can also dice leftover meats and add onions, beans, tomatoes, etc. for a chili or another type of stew. If you're feeling ambitious, leftovers can also go into a pot pie.

                            There's no reason I can see why different shapes of pasta can't be cooked together (maybe break long pieces up so they're all about the same size?) other than aesthetics. If you have tuna (or chicken, or mushrooms) you can make a bechemel sauce (with or without cheese added), add it to the cooked pasta, and make a casserole (some frozen veggies, like peas, are good to have here to give it some color).

                            With eggs and cheese you have a lot of options, from omelets to quiches to souffles. Black beans can give you soups, vegetarian chilis, veggie burgers, refried beans, hummous-ishy dips and spreads. Tomatoes make soups and sauces: pasta with a simple tomato sauce and a side salad is a fine meal.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tardigrade

                              I just realized I can make eggs ranchero with beans and eggs. I've never retried whole beans. I always buy them. I will try that. I love all of the bean ideas.

                              1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                Go for it! Refried beans take a little practice, and I've never gotten mine as good as the best ones I've ever had, but they're passable. I use a potato masher on them.

                            2. Rice and beans

                              Most of these things make good pancakes/fritters.
                              ie leftover frozen spinach, eggs, grated cheese, some soaked stale bread, blend it up, fry into crispy little cakes.

                              Check out Korean multi-grain pilaf.

                              Mujaddara (rice and lentils).

                              Also French toast sandwiches--croque monsier, croque madame, or just cheese on bread dipped into egg and milk and sauteed till golden in a skillet

                              Try also pasta fagiole--any kind of pasta and beans.
                              Season with garlic, onions, olive oil, Italian spices--check various recipe options online.

                              Curry works too.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: femmevox

                                I enjoyed this "tokyo five grain" recipe, i'm sure the grains can be adapted to what the OP has on hand:

                                1. re: femmevox

                                  Fritters, yum. I did that once with black-eyed peas. And it was so good. Thanks.

                                2. I'm on a big use-it-up kick right now.

                                  The other night, I made a great soup with the bones from the Christmas roast beef, some frozen stock, a can of tomatoes, the end of a bottle of red wine and an assortment of veg from the fridge and freezer.

                                  Another night was one lone Italian sausage, a can of tomatoes, a box of mushrooms on their last leg, the end of a carton of cream and a handful of frozen peas, with half a box of bow tie pasta and a frozen loaf of garlic bread.

                                  Last night was roast chicken. I made a little pan of dressing with half a pan of leftover cornbread and a couple of sad, stale hoagie rolls. (I'd made the cornbread when we ate up the container of ham and beans from the freezer.) We also had some cranberries left over from Christmas (cooked with lots of booze, they keep forever in the fridge). Tomorrow, the chicken will be repurposed into enchiladas with the tomatilla sauce I stuck in the freezer a month ago. I'll use up a can of beans that night, too, for charro beans.

                                  Later in the week, more cranberries will marry up with a bunch of onions and garlic for a sauce on the pork tenderloin that's hanging out in the freezer.

                                  I'm making some serious progress in my quest! :-)

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: onrushpam

                                    I want to come to your house for dinner. You are imaginative!

                                    1. re: onrushpam

                                      That's the exact way I cook:) bits of this and that to make a great meal, to feed my family. I am a food hoarder, I easily spend $100 + a couple times a week. not much ever goes to waste though!

                                    2. Pasta primavera with the pasta, vegs, and tomatoes or an Alfredo with vegs and chicken.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Njchicaa

                                        A primavera Alfredo sounds so good. Both sauces together. Yum.

                                      2. Soup with the pasta, beans, etc

                                        Cheese omelette

                                        Tomato/veggie gloop to go with pasta/rice/barley/etc

                                        Best way of avoiding all these leftovers is not to buy so much in the first place. Or make a larger version of whatever it was and freeze it away for later. Personally, I can't afford to have the OPs level of stuff sitting around and I'm certainly envious of a situation where there's five cheeses in stock.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Harters

                                          That is the problem. We spend too much on food and have it sitting around. We could use that money for savings for so many things. I want to build meals on what we have and then buy less overall.

                                          1. re: Harters

                                            Only five cheeses? I think I currently have leftover bits of feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, parmesan (a staple), cheddar, ricotta, manchego, ementaler and a few I can't recognize. I mix them in quiches, fritattas, Welsh rarebits, sauces, quesadillas, and other dishes.

                                            1. re: tardigrade

                                              Same here, I always have at least two types of cheddar, American, hot pepper cheese and Italian shredded, along with blocks of Parmesan & gruyere. And that's not even counting the blue and feta I have too. Or the cheese stick snacks my kids snack on.

                                          2. Beans, grains, pasta and tomatoes can be combined for a hearty soup (with the help of a few cans of beef broth). Just get some crusty sourdough and butter to serve alongside it.
                                            Eggs, cheese, veggies and chicken sound like the makings of a great fritatta, one of the very few egg/breakfast dishes that can be refridgerated and re-heated (in the oven, not microwave). And there you go. Breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner for quite a few days.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: schrutefarms

                                              I will try the frittata. My family loves egg dishes. I often just end up making a fried egg on toast with cheese and bacon or some other lunch meat that is about to expire. The frittata would take care of the veggies.

                                              I did make a soup with leftovers. It was a minestrone type soup. I had some leftover croutons and parm to put in it. I need to be more imaginative with soup.

                                            2. We did fried rice this week with lots of leftover stuff. It was a hit.

                                              1. Tacos or taco dip will help use up the beans, tomato, cheeses and miscellaneous meat (chopped up). Just add corn chips or put the mix on tortillas -- if your fridge/cupboard is like mine I just know you have those, too. Grin.

                                                How's your spice cupboard? Once you've used up what's on hand, there's no need to buy packets of taco seasoning - there are easy make-your-own versions online.

                                                1. A slight viewpoint shift can turn "stuff laying around" into "prepared for the next emergency" as the shopping list mentioned in this thread indicated.

                                                  And if some of the shelf-stable food was purchased at a discount, you may also want to think about "tuna futures" as a financial investing strategy. Prices here have ranged from 80 cents to 1.60 per can during the past year - with some explanatory background info found here http://www.tunafortomorrow.com/tft/ab...

                                                  1. Thank you for starting this thread, Sister! I have a bigger problem - household of one with freezer/pantry stuff enough for at least two families. I started to really focus on using things up about a year ago. I made freezer inventory in a spreadsheet and that helped a lot. I keep it up to date by printing a fresh copy and putting it on the fridge and crossing things off/adding things to it as I use the freezer. Once the sheet gets messy, I update and print a fresh one. I am slowly empting the freezer of old things but the pantry is out of control.

                                                    I am now very conscience of what I buy and how much of it but still lousy at menu planning. Last weekend I baked oatmeal to use it and blueberries that've been sitting in the freezer for a long time - it was delicious. I bought a lg pack of portobellos without a purpose and made mushroom lasagne to use them up.

                                                    Lots of good ideas in this thread that I will be using in my kitchen.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: herby

                                                      Herby, I'm the same--it is just me, so it is too easy to have too much food! I'm even worse at it because I buy mostly fresh veg--it goes off too fast. I need to plan better! I love portobellos--I stick them on my george foreman grill and they are so good!

                                                      1. re: herby

                                                        I've got the same problem. I need to go in and make a spreadsheet of what is what, as well as probably defrosting some of the big bags of fruit, etc. that I have in there. I find I'm a lot more willing to use frozen stuff if it's in easily defrostable serving-sizes. Otherwise, I get frustrated and go buy fresh.

                                                      2. Chili is my favorite--just made a big pot! I like to use quinoa to stuff different veggies. I cook the quinoa in either a chili sauce or tomato sauce, and add various bits of veggies in, and chicken, and stuff it in roasted zucchini or eggplant.

                                                        1. I like to do a hash: heat whatever leftover bacon or chicken fat I've hoarded (use it up, right?) in the cast iron skillet and brown the leftovers in batches, then throw it all back in the pan to marry.

                                                          1. Here's a frittata-omelet hybrid that I do regularly. This one was with leftover salad :)


                                                            1. I forgot to post before that I "skim" a few beans off before cooking a pot, and add to a bean jar, the contents of which will become multi bean soup at a later date. I consider that a mostly free meal.

                                                              1. I'm a big fan of doing a simple pasta dish with leftover veggies. I'll make a pot of pasta, then saute or roast whatever fresh veggies I have leftover that need to be used up. If I have a protein, or a sauce that also needs to be used, I throw that in, too.

                                                                I'm doing that tonight for dinner. Leftover teriyaki sauce, plus leftover mushrooms and broccoli with rice noodles. Add in some extra cooked chicken from a bird I roasted earlier in the week, and an onion from the pantry, and there's dinner.

                                                                Also, I do a leftover fried rice, too. Replace the pasta with leftover rice, saute it all with a mix of veggies, call it a day.