The Pantry Diet


By Louise Ure


The ‘Rati troops seem to have been fairly consumed with food issues these last few weeks. Rob wrote about his Post-Hawaii Diet. Cornelia sang the praises of “Lobster Pie” at the Maine Diner (and gave an even earlier shout out to a “Lobster Prozac” recipe). Alafair, in yesterday’s post, bemoaned the temporary loss of her favorite lunch at Otto’s Enoteca Pizzeria in NYC.

I’m continuing the theme today with my own new diet plan: don’t buy any food.

Times are tough, we hear on the news. Folks are going out to dinner less often and packing their own lunch for the office. That’s all good advice, but many of us stopped going out long ago and making my own lunch is nothing new.

Ergo my new calorie and cost saving diet: stop buying food.

With three exceptions (milk, eggs and bread), I’m not going to buy any groceries until I’ve cleaned out the freezer and the pantry.

Now I’m not one of those folks with a full-size freezer stocked with venison and a whole flock of chickens. The stuff that’s in the freezer is there because I didn’t want it before. Some of it is so old that I can’t tell what it is. Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? I’ll take my chances.

And the can-laden shelves in the garage are not “earthquake supplies,” as contractor I hired so graciously suggested. Oh no, that’s mini-Costco. One thing I’ve learned in hindsight: I should never have sent Bruce to Costco when he was hungry. He invariably came home with a case of kidney beans or a gross of cans of tuna. Or both. I have enough cranberry juice on the shelves downstairs to cure a sub-continent of scurvy.

At first it was fun and full of variety. There was shrimp in the freezer. And steak. Frozen haricots vert and corn. The supplies dwindled as my favorites disappeared. And my names for each of these recipes changed. Soon I was eating “Home Alone Macaroni and Cheese” and “Assisted Living Chicken,” which is probably not what the folks at Stouffers would have called that breaded chicken cutlet.

There’s “Party of One Smoked Oysters” (and why did Bruce ever think we’d need fifty cans of it?) and “Thousand Year Old Pot Stickers.” I need about twenty new recipes to use up all the cans of water chestnuts and little bottles of clam juice.

Tamales have their own pride of place as my relatives think they are the Arizona equivalent of a covered dish brought home after a funeral. I had four dozen at last count and that’s about 48 meals-worth.

There’s a pecking order to my choices, of course. I’ll use the butter up first and then move along to the olive oil. When that’s gone, I’ll resort to the vegetable oil, the peanut oil and finally to that least-favorite-of-all-the-lipids, PAM spray. If I break out the lard, you’ll know I’m close to the end.

The coffee will go first and then I’ll attack those half-dozen, half-filled boxes of tea bags. And I don’t even like tea.

I have enough pasta to live through any amount of time in a bomb shelter and enough brown rice to start my own commune.

Desserts will prove challenging, although I still have a jar of applesauce, and a box of popsicles. Of course, there are all those boxes of Jello pudding and the Peeps from last Easter on the top shelf of the cupboard.

Sometimes when I’m putting together a meal I feel like one of those chefs opening a basket on “Chopped.” Anchovies. Dried apricots. Bush’s Baked Beans. Count Chocula cereal. “You must use all of these ingredients in your final dish.”

What about you guys? If you had one of those “No Way I’m Going to the Grocery Store” days, what would you pull out of your pantry for a meal?

Oh, and I may add one more ingredient to that “must buy” list. Wine. I think I’m going to need it.



42 thoughts on “The Pantry Diet

  1. Catherine

    I recently tried my hardest to get the best value I could out of a BBQ chicken so it’s not a pantry item but I think it’s similar thinking. I went into a sort of retro rations mentality where that sucker was going to give up all that it had.

    The first meal was roast chicken, and roast vegetables and gravy. Then I made a chicken roll and gravy for lunch. Had a toasted chicken and cheese sandwich for dinner…and then went about really getting some worth.

    I made two containers of chicken stock by browning the bones and adding celery, carrot and onion, then draining and freezing. Actually my plan from there on out was to freeze anything else chicken based as by that point I was a little bit over eating chicken.

    The frozen stock will become a risotto and the other a base for soup. Making the stock also helped lift all the little bits of chicken out. So I had enough to make a pasta sauce and then still had more.

    So I made some pastry from scratch, made a white sauce and mixed in the remaining chicken. My Dad had given me some greens from his organic garden and I added that to the mix too. So in the end I had two mini pies.

    For a while yet, any time I don’t want to go to the grocery I have something from the never ending chicken to defrost.

    Yes Louise, wine helps.

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    You can always donate it to a nonprofit kitchen, too.
    I’ve got steaks. We had gotten a side of beef after going in on the deal with my father in law. The hamburger went quickly. Then the cube steak. Sad to say my husband is not a big fan of roasts and steaks (he doesn’t like encountering fat/gristle) so I’m being creative with the t-bones and such by putting them in the crockpot all day until it’s shredded and then making sandwiches or shepherds pie. Next time, I’m just going to say "all hamburger" even though it may be sacrilege to steak eaters.

  3. Vicky

    You’re giving yourself a headache, not to mention indigestion, with all that stuff. I think you should call up your local Food Bank and ask them to send over a truck with a couple of muscular fellows to empty your stockpile. It’s time for a fresh start.

  4. Karen Olson

    Unlike me, my husband, who does all the shopping and all the cooking, does not come home with extras of anything. He buys only what we will eat each week and nothing more. So we do not have abundant supplies of anything, which is a problem if we decide that three nights of chicken stir fry is just too much in a week. We have nothing to fall back on. We do usually have a can of peanuts, we stopped buying tuna because it’s way too salty, and all that soy sauce and sesame oil are for the ubiquitous stir frys. Because we usually run out of things, there are way too many trips to Stop & Shop each week. Although I know if I did the weekly shopping, our pantry would look more like yours.

  5. Karen in Ohio

    Those Costco frozen haricots verts are the best.

    Ah, Louise. I do have a freezer full of venison, and three wild turkeys, and there’s no room for a single 3/4-gallon (since they no longer make full gallons, grr) of ice cream, in either the fridge freezer or the chest freezer in the basement. That’s just wrong, when there’s not enough room for ice cream! I was just thinking yesterday it could be time to get rid of those Popsicles. They’ve probably been in there for at least two years. Ugh.

    You have inspired me. If we don’t use up the food in our freezer and pantry I will be taking Vicky’s and Catherine’s advice, and donating stuff to a food pantry. It’s ridiculous, and two people, even two people who eat at home every night, cannot possibly use up all this stuff. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Cornelia Read

    I’ve been eating scrambled eggs, pancakes, and the last of the pasta in my pantry for the last four days. You *can* actually boil no-boil lasagna, but it’s kind of clumpy. I made that with eggs, EV olive oil, and sauteed garlic. Sort of a savory kugel…. One big pancake with coarse sea salt and some dots of Sriracha hot sauce is actually a pretty great dinner, if not exactly low-carb.

    I am REALLY looking forward to my bank taking the "hold" off that check I deposited Friday, though. Also glad I stocked up on chocolate whey protein powder for breakfast food when the local grocery had a two-for-the price-of-one sale a while back. Makes coffee into a decent breakfast, especially when you’ve run out of milk.

  7. Alafair Burke

    "Too" much is what I meant of course. Still no computer so all phone web access is interesting (though not as interesting as living off the freezer and pantry items!)

  8. billie

    It sounds sort of adventurous to me – living off all that stockpiled food – but at some point I would give it all to the food bank and hit the farmers’ market for fresh goods!

  9. Louise Ure

    Very inventive, Catherine. You stretched that chicken like it was rubber.

    PK and Vicky, I had no idea the food banks would take frozen food. And of course, I was embarrassed by the canned goods I had. Water chestnuts and smoked oysters? That has a "let them eat cake" odor to it, no?

    Karen, Chris is a wise man. Of course, shopping for one week requires PLANNING for a whole week ahead … something else I’m not likely to do.

  10. Louise Ure

    Karen in O, no room for ice cream? That freezer is simply not doing its job.

    JD, I love your logic.

    Cornelia, that sounds like a perfectly horrid meal. Except for the Siracha sauce.

    Alafair, I’ve heard that Peeps have a longer shelf life that plutonium. If true, I still have lots of time to get to them.

    Billie, you wise woman. What I miss most on this effort is the farmer’s market!

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    If the tamales are vegetarian, I’ll take them off your hands.

    I eat only pasta, and I eat it five nights a week. And I always eat out, unless I want cereal. Or I’ll eat two bags of sunflower seeds for lunch. Food is a strange and haunting subject for me.

  12. Sarah Shaber

    My mom recently moved from her 2200 sq ft condo to a retirement apartment. She is tiny and eats sparingly because of her diabetes. She had a huge refrigerator in her kitchen and a freezer and refrigerator in her garage! She could have lived for years on the contents. We divvied up the wine and beer, and gave the food to her cleaning lady and her sons, who helped her move. Quite a haul for them!

  13. Judy Wirzberger

    Louise, I think you should start doing Sunday Brunches and invite friends over. Everything should be served, of course, on that interesting table you wrote about.

    What a challenge. Perhaps you should do up a "care" box and send it to Cornelia.

    Actually, I don’t think Bruce bought all that food. I think sometimes it’s like the loaves and fishes and it just multiplies. Aren’t you happy he didn’t work for Del Monte – oh! those dented can sales, corn by the carton.

  14. Louise Ure

    Stephen, I know some of the tamales are green chile and corn, but I have no idea which ones! And your eating habits are weirder than mine.

    Sarah, what a good use of all your mom’s foodstuffs!

    Judy, I like the idea of a CARE box for Cornelia. If she can make a boiled dinner out of the no-boil lasagna noodles, just imagine what she could do with clam juice and Siracha sauce!

  15. Dudley Forster

    Going without coffee, that’s just nuts. It’s an essential food group.
    PK – I believe cooking a T-bone in a crockpot is still a hanging offense in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

  16. Rae

    Well, I usually have my groceries delivered 😉 Which makes the rare foray into a grocery store kinda fun…

    When I can’t think of anything else to eat, it’s popcorn for me.

    My other current favorites are Hormel Compleats and canned corn. No, I do not have a sophisticated palate 😉

  17. Louise Ure

    Dudley, it’s more of a caffeine thing for me than it is a love of coffee. I could probably satisfy the craving with a can of Coke in the morning.

    Rae, I had to go look up Hormel Compleats. And they’re microwaveable!

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh god, another food post! 😉

    I have barely any food in the house. Cereal is always my default meal. But I also always have cans of black beans and garbanzos and black olives for salads. When I remember to buy salad. And somehow I always have couscous, and Trader Joe’s Indian package meals.

    But as long as there’s coffee and milk, I’m good.

  19. anonymous

    WAIT !!! Don’t get rid of those peeps! My nephew, Sam, taught me some great defensive plays for Peep Wars. (Peep Wars= You put two opposing Peeps with toothpick swords in the microwave and turn it on. They joust for a few seconds before they both expire in great agony. The winner is the last one to melt his weapon to the floor of the micro.

    I just cleaned out my fridge and all the bottles of condiments that had a crystallized tablespoon of sauce left at the bottom. There was a turkey bacon petri dish that had grown several new colors for the Pantone palette. Is that mold in the Pt. Reyes blue cheese or is that MOLD? The pantry is today. That huge bag of basmati rice that’s been in there for two years since I embraced low carb. All those cans of black beans. And what’s with the cans of Thai coconut milk? Like SIX cans. Sacks and sacks of sugar and flour that I buy fresh every year to bake with but who am I kidding I don’t bake and I can’t make myself throw out the OLD. I mean does sugar GET old? There are no little white flies in the flour or rice……..yet.

  20. pari noskin taichert

    Beans and rice, Louise. We always have a lot of both. Canned. Dried.
    And we always have flour, sugar etc, so baking is a constant option.

    One time when I was in the NO WAY AM I GOING TO THE STORE mood, I even made tortillas. Or thought I did.
    My children didn’t agree.

  21. Susan Shea

    I love this post, Louise. You have a wicked sense of humor and it’s a pleasure to read. As to the topic, been there, done that, although with less space for a mini-mart where I live. Tim had a penchant for stocking cans of beef stew for when The Earth Stood Still, or something. Those definitely went into the Post Office’s collection bin. He shared Bruce’s fascination with the idea of smoked oysters, too. But I get overly enthusiastic about canned beans as Post-Earthquake food until I read the ‘best used by’ dates and decide it’s chile time. C’mon to my house and we’ll check out the accumulated bottles of wine to see what might need to be drunk! xx Suan

  22. Judy Wirzberger

    Louise and Karen – of course, you can freeze the leftovers (ha ha ha)

    Haricots Verts Lyonnaise

    Prep Time: 20 Minutes
    Cook Time: 30 Minutes Ready In: 50 Minutes
    Servings: 4

    "This green bean recipe is worth the extra effort! The beans are boiled, blanched then sauteed with garlic, red onion, thyme and red wine vinegar."
    16 cups water
    1 tablespoon sea salt
    1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed
    and trimmed
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1 large red onion, sliced in rings 1 pinch dried thyme
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    sea salt to taste
    ground black pepper to taste
    freshly ground nutmeg to taste
    1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley

    1. In a large pot bring salted water to a boil. Carefully drop, by handfuls, green beans into boiling water. Return water to a boil for 5 minutes. Immediately drain the beans and plunge them into ice water for 5 minutes. Drain and wrap in a clean cloth; set aside.
    2. In the same pot heat butter over medium heat. Lightly brown the garlic. Remove from heat and set aside for 20 minutes.
    3. Remove the garlic from the butter, and discard it. To the garlic flavored butter add onions and thyme. Cover the pot and braise the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until soft and transparent. Increase the heat to medium-high, uncover the pot and slightly caramelize the onion.
    4. Stir the green beans into the pot. After 1 to 2 minutes, de glaze the pot with red wine vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle with parsley.

  23. Eika

    We’d never empty out my pantry- eventually, we’d be left with flour, sugar, and other unappetizing baking supplies that can’t be mixed to make anything. Fridge and freezer, though…

    In my household, once every two months or so, we don’t buy groceries for as long as we can stand. Usually, it means we have a shopping trip four days late. It’s a solid week in teh summer; in about a week, the tomatoes will start ripening, and we’re already up to our eyeballs in cucumber and zucchini. The peas and beans don’t seem to be doing well this year, unfortunately. (And it’s lucky I’m not the one who has to deal with the garden; I have a brown thumb!)

    Some information that may help: Flour Tortilla’s. I learned this in Spanish class during a unit on culture: mix flour and water in a bowl. No exact amounts were given, but when you can roll the flour up into a ball in your fist, it’s good. Store the flour-balls in a tupperware in the fridge. Want to use them, flatten them out, put them on a frying pan, and wait for them to start turning brown. They taste a bit like unsalted tortilla chips, but without the crunch. If you have any remaining sauces to put on them, it may help prevent you trying to rub them on chicken or something.

  24. Allison Davis

    Howling at the humor, gagging at the food (Stephen…there are other vegetables besides sunflower seeds). My food habits changed greatly three years ago when I became single again — I do all my shopping at the farmer’s market in SF on Alemany. it’s huge, plentiful and cheap. Thus, if I don’t eat what I bring home, it isn’t left over, it’s compost.

    Fast food? Eggs and whatever veggies exist. I do keep packaged gnocchi, canned bean dip (I love it, who knew) and I live 30 seconds from two great taquerias, thai food, chinese and barbecue. When in doubt, go out. I haven’t been to Safeway in months. When you’re single, going out by yourself is at least at cheap as throwing out the food you don’t eat at home.

    Ah — but last resort with the veggies? Soup, soup and more soup. Lots of soup with whatever is in the veggie drawer, and maybe the last dregs of some wine.

  25. Rae


    Hormel Compleats are just yummy. And they don’t have to be refrigerated. And they don’t have very many calories. And I can get them at the Walgreen’s near my office.

    They’re the perfect food.


  26. Louise Ure

    Judy, that recipe sounds fabulous! And Eika, I’ve never made tortillas (my mom always made them) but now I’m going to try.

    New recipe name for me, Allison…Last Resort Soup.

    They don’t even have to be refrigerated, Rae? That’s my kind of road food.

  27. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Yup, donate it to a homeless shelter and start again. Why put yourself through it ando eat stuff you avoided eating for long enough to reach this stage in the first place?

    LOL at the Peep Wars, but what’s a Peep?

    Last-ditch meal? Pasta and either canned tuna with pesto, or canned tuna with condensed mushroom soup and curry powder.

    I’ve love to shop at farmer’s markets, but we’re away so much and they’re never open when we’re passing. We always try and work our way through the fresh stuff so the fridge is empty when we leave, and we stock up with new at a 24-hr supermarket on the way home.

  28. anonymous

    Zoë. Just google "peep wars" and see what geeks do while at work………..there are lot of YouTube peep war clips

  29. toni mcgee causey

    Louise, this concept scares the hell out of me. The odd things in my pantry, from the six (?) jars of pickle relish to the dozen (??) cans of corn… and the… okay, never mind. I just found chocolate. I could survive.

  30. JT Ellison

    I am starving now!

    There’s an iPhone app that lets you put in the ingredients you have and it gives you a recipe, but I can’t remember what it’s called.

    You’ve shamed me from going to the store today. : )

  31. Fran

    Hmm, we can’t drink coffee and we love tea. Perhaps a trade is in order here. . .

    We’ve got a stockpile too, but even with that, there are days when I wander from fridge to cupboard and back again, and there’s just "nothing in the house". I admire your purpose, but I’m going to add my voice to the "donate to the food bank" chorus.

  32. Dudley Forster

    The only app I know of on the iPhone that uses an "on hand" recipe selector is the Whole Foods Market Recipes. There is also one for the dorid os called something like Cook it for Android. But when it comes to food I just stick with my Starbucks app. 🙂 I am sure there are apps for tea drinkers and I know there are lots of apps for wine lovers and at least one for beer drinkers.

  33. Mikaela

    If you had one of those “No Way I’m Going to the Grocery Store” days, what would you pull out of your pantry for a meal?

    Oh. Depends on the mood. Sausage and pasta. Fried rice with vegetables and egg( yum!) Corn con carne with rice ( my own recipe). Maybe some meatballs.

    If I was really lazy, I would mooch off my parents. 😀


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