How to make amazing food when your cupboards are almost bare

When I was growing up my mum was a housewife and the cupboards were always stocked with ingredients, the fridge filled with food but I’m sure she wont mind me saying this – dinners were often bland and not inspiring at all. Things have changed a lot from back then in my house.  I no longer have a pantry cupboard since moving house and I don’t have nearly enough space in my cupboards or undercounter fridge for my liking.  For some people, their reality is pantries and kitchen cupboards bursting at the seams with enough ingredients to last for weeks at a time and sadly for others they don’t know what they will be eating that week until they visit the food bank.

Most households have ingredients in cans, bottles and jars.  I use a lot of dried beans and pulses, granted they are not as convenient as cans but they are a lot cheaper and take up less space when kept in a glass jar.  I also like to have tinned tomatoes on hand and of course a good selection of dried herbs and spices (purchased from asian supermarkets as you get so much more for your money).  Having a few things in the cupboard if you can means that you can put something together quickly if the need arises.

If I’ve got a really busy week at work I do tend to run out of things or lack inspiration when it comes to making lunch or dinner.  Sometimes a cupboard or bottom of the fridge lucky dip ends up being one of the tastiest meals we have had in a while.  I can never recreate these type of meals though as nothing gets measured and herbs and spices get thrown in haphazardly. I do consider myself to be a pro at the amalgamation meal as I like to call it and I always pretend that I know what I’m doing.

Here are my simple ideas on how you can cook with what is left in your kitchen and how you can serve some amazing meals that your guests will enjoy, it just takes a bit of creativity.

1 – Always have some dried rice or pasta in the cupboard, this can be the base for lots of dishes.
2 – Keep some dried herbs and spices to add amazing flavour to dishes
3 – Have a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for “emergencies”
4 – Keep the stock off boiling vegetables or boiling ham/chicken in the freezer to use as stock cubes if you run out of stock cubes.
5 – Stock cubes are a great way of adding instant flavour to dishes
6 – A packet of homemade or shop bought pastry in the freezer can be a lifesaver
7 – When you bake a cake, double up on the cake batter and freeze one (I do this a lot for drizzle cakes)

My top five dishes using leftovers, bottom of the fridge items or cupboard staples are:

Cous-Cous Salad
Cous-cous is my families favourite’s and I’m really bad for buying a packet before the previous one is finished so end up with a lot of 3/4 empty cous-cous packets in the cupboard. Cous-Cous is so quick and easy to prepare and it goes with everything. I add it to a bowl with a stock cube and some boiling water and leave to soak up the liquid.  Once it’s ready I add chopped celery, peppers, grapes, iceberg lettuce, spring onion, a spoonful of pesto (red or green) and either chopped turkey bacon or crumbled feta cheese.  I top it off with a handful of toasted almonds.

Fried Rice
Leftover rice is great for this recipe (fresh cooked works too but you really need to chill it). I add some onion, mushrooms, peppers and whatever else I have at hand into a frying pan, pop in the rice and cook through, crack in an egg if you wish and sprinkle with soy sauce to taste.  Instant fried rice.

Pasta and sauce
If I have fresh tomato I’ll add that to a frying pan with some garlic until it starts to break down, add some dried herbs and stir through pasta.  If I’m out of fresh tomato but have some tinned I’ll add them to a pan with a sprinkle of sugar, dash of balsamic vinegar, some garlic and dried basil and simmer then stir it through pasta.

Noodle Soup
This is like a really bad version of a Chinese noodle soup but my children love it so who am I to complain.  If you have any leftover miso you can use that as a base or a stock cube will do.  I usually add miso, tin of sweetcorn, dried noodles, pak-choi, leftover chicken and a splash of soy sauce and there is never a scrap left in the bowl.

Spanish Omelette
If you have some eggs and leftover or fresh vegetables, a Spanish omelette won’t be far behind.  I usually start off by frying the potatoes so they get nice and cripsy, I add the rest of the veg (usually onions, green beans and mushrooms), add beaten eggs and when it’s cooked through on the bottom/middle I pop under the grill to cook the top.  I really don’t like cheese in an omelette but feel free to add some if it suits your taste.  I like my omelettes sprinkled with chilli sauce!

What are your favourite cupboard or bottom of the fridge dinners?

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