How To: Cook When There’s Nothing in the House to Eat

Posted by on Wednesday Jun 13th, 2012 | Print

Here’s one thing quarter-lifers are not: responsible moms who keep fridges and pantries stocked full of all the goodies their families like to eat. Would it be nice to come home to always full boxes of cereal, milk in the fridge, and dinner on the stove? Sure, maybe. But lives are busy, pantries are small, and fresh vegetables are expensive if you leave them to rot.

But a near-empty fridge leads to great resourcefulness, as I believe we’ve insinuated in every post since starting this blog. I can’t really help you if all you’ve got is a jar of mustard and a sixpack of beers (oh, wait: I can! Go get some chicken thighs, marinate them, and bake them. Or read this guide to see how your pantry could potentially become stocked). But if you’ve merely forgotten to run to the market every day for the last week but you still own a package of pasta, a dried-out slice of bread, some anchovies and olive oil…then you can cook something out of virtually nothing instead of groaning, picking up the phone, and ordering in.

**How to Cook When There’s Nothing in the House to Eat**

1. Hit Up the Pasta. Here’s what I ate in the dining hall of my high school: Pasta with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Know what? It was fantastic. And if plain pasta is that good, then pasta spruced up with anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes - Linguine Aglio con Olio y Acciuga - is even better. There’s a reason it’s a staple dinner of the resourceful Italians. Switch out the garlic and anchovies for lemon and bacon, and you’ve got this gorgeous fettucine. Get resourceful with the rest of the grains in your cupboard too, and don’t forget about cous cous.

2. Raid the Antipasti Bar. I always seem to have a half-empty container of olives, capers, and/or sundried tomatoes in the back of my cheese drawer – they really keep for months in the fridge. The pungency of these ingredients can bring depth and freshness to a dish that otherwise consists of pantry staples–like Pasta Puttanesca, Antipasti Grilled Cheese, and Sundried Tomato Pesto Panini. Add polenta, and an egg, and you’ve got Polenta with Capers, Red Peppers, and a Poached Egg. Damn.

3. Resort to Grilled Cheese. And I don’t mean just plain grilled cheese. I mean grilled cheese with any bread (even pita or tortillas) you can scrounge up and the best cheese your fridge has on offer. Even Parmesan can contribute to a grilled cheese sandwich! So can zucchini, pecans, and onions.

4. Make Breakfast for Dinner. Lots of people on twitter told me that breakfast for dinner is their meal of last resort. And it’s true: if you’ve got flour, eggs, milk, and baking powder, you’ve got pancakes and muffins. If you’ve got eggs and bread, you can make an egg sandwich or an egg quesadilla. And, worse comes to worst, you can always just eat toast with butter and salt. Yum.

5. Love Sardines. Comine pasta and elements of the antipasti bar with the anti-tuna: sardines. I’m not quite up to eating sardines plain on a bagel or sandwich, but if they’re diluted with other ingredients I love, they make for a great, protein-rich dinner. And you can keep tons of cans in your pantry; they take up barely any space and will get you through the apocalypse.

6. Reinvent Peanut Butter. I bet at least some of you are peanut butter addicts (or the roommates/significant others to said addicts). That means you’ve already got the signature ingredient for BGSK Peanut Sauce. “But that’s just a condiment,” you might protest. Not so. BGSK Peanut Sauce can turn any old leftovers into a meal. Top rice or noodles with peanut sauce, or pour it on top of plain grilled chicken. Steam whatever vegetables you can find and toss them with peanut sauce. Miracle upon delicious pantry miracle.

7. Open a Can of Beans. Here’s one way to make beans: open a can, pour it into a saucepan, put it on the stove, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. The beans will get soft and rich and you can top with olive oil, salt, and dried thyme. Done. To get fancier, make yourself some hummus or bean dip and eat with cut-up crackers, bread, pita, or whatever. 

8. Call It Tapas. We can all learn a lesson from Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess: if you believe you’re a princess, you might really be. If you make a plate of leftovers: cheese, crackers, some cut-up vegetables, some sort of dip, you could call it a scrounged-together meal or a mixed-up crazy dinner. Or you could make like you’re in Spain, open a bottle of wine, and call your miscellaneous spread “tapas.”

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  • kelsey

    GREAT POST!

  • http://myscientificlife.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth

    My boyfriend and I have pasta with olive oil and parm like 3 nights a week.  Now that we get a CSA, we throw in whatever veggies haven’t been eaten yet.  It’s our favorite meal!

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/NibblesNFeasts Ericka Sanchez

    I love this!  Thank you!

  • Jessica

    Good reminder with good tips. I did this last night. Store bough gnnochi and pan fried it till crispy in clarified butter. In blender I whipped up a lemon, basil, onion chive dressing/pesto of sorts. It was a total hit.

  • http://umamigirl.com/ Carolyn

    For the record, responsible moms find ourselves in this situation more often than you might hope as well! Great advice. I think I’ve done every single one of these over the years, and the kids have bought into it. It’s all in the attitude!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Carolyn – that is good to know for the future! I was mainly thinking of the mom of a friend I had growing up who just had the best stock of goldfish crackers and granola bars I’d ever seen. It was pretty amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kirsten-Meeker/100000699649512 Kirsten Meeker

    My standby is cornbread pancakes topped with canned pinto beans and stewed tomatoes. It’s quick and almost always in my pantry.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      That sounds really good! How do you make the cornbread pancakes?

  • http://twitter.com/xtinaluvspink Christina Bauer

    My go-to is oatmeal! Sweet or savory, topped with fruit & nuts or a fried egg and roasted veggies, it’s the easiest, cheapest, and most staple food in our pantry. And so customizable!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I have to admit I’ve never made savory oatmeal. Just throw an egg on top?

  • http://twitter.com/passthesushi Kita

    Love this post – I often let myself get stumped (and call in a pizza) when I know there’s something to be had in the kitchen.

  • jass

    I don’t have any of this stuff at home :/ all I have are condiments. No bread,, no cheese, no milk no vegetables or fruits…. hard times

    • Q

      Me too. Ugh!!

  • http://www.ooooiiii.com/ Romelo Lucas

    NO!!!!! NOTHING TO EAT MEANS ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOTHING, TO Eat!! ZIP, ZILCH! NOT. A. THING!!!!!!!!!!! p.s. i frikin HATE sardines.

  • kayla jhonson

    its really good and i lost 10 pounds…….try it

    • Kimberley Jimenez

      Lost 1O by what ?