Creative Cooking

I couldn’t help but start this cooking blog with the following quote from Barbara Johnson. It makes me laugh and feel good all at the same time: “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”.

With that sentiment in mind, what is a person to do when they want to cook or bake something and realize that they don’t have an ingredient and going to the grocery store is not an option?

Surprisingly, there are a lot of things you can do to either substitute or be creative in your cooking if your cupboard is bare like old Mother Hubbard’s. To find some ideas for a great list of pantry basics and healthy options check out WPL’s Download Library and these websites for ideas:

With the basics you can make many things. Now, if stocking up is not an option, take a look around your pantry and see what you have. The has a great cheat sheet for common cooking substitutes using things you probably already have.

A few things that came to mind for me are what I like to call “old school cooking”. This personal principal is based on simply cooking with what you have. Previous generations lived by this motto during wars. Check out theses nostalgic links for war time Canadian recipes and thrifty ways of cooking with basics. Also, never underestimate the power of leftovers or using “basics” to substitute or make things you might not normally make. You might be pleasantly surprise by just how good they taste.

With the following basics you can make wonderful things:

Black beans can be used to make the moistest brownies you’ve ever tasted. Other legumes can be added to salads for a punch of protein and, in the case of canned chickpeas, they can be drained. This canned bean liquid is called aquafaba and you can use it to make egg whites or as a direct replacement for them in some cases in the making or meringues and marshmallows, macaroons and so on.

Have leftover frozen or fresh vegetables? Add them to soups and stews. Only a handful is needed. Old package of cauliflower in the freezer? Add it to curry or mash with some butter as an alternative to mashed potatoes. Why not try adding a handful of vegetables to your scrambled eggs. Mash a few vegetables and add to a baking batter or fill a tortilla. Vegetable water can be kept and used as a vegan option for soup stock, too. Have too much spinach or Swiss chard in the fridge? Worried it’s going to go bad? Simply wash, chop, put in small freezer bags and pop it into the freezer. When you need some the next time you make that favourite pasta dish, soup or omelette, it’s all ready to add that extra zip.

Leftover mashed potatoes, even the smallest amount, can be used to make sweet or savory dumplings, top meat pies, add to bread dough or to make pancakes. A leftover baked potato can be diced and added to eggs for a tasty breakfast scramble. Want your own chips? If the peelings on your potatoes are good (no eyes), clean and scrub the potatoes well and peel. Use the potato for your meal but toss the skins in some olive oil and sea salt, place on a prepared cookie sheet, bake and voila, homemade potato chips! Leftover potato water (the water that potatoes have been boiled in) is full of starchy goodness and can be used as a substitute for milk or added to bread dough which makes the resulting baked goods very moist. It can also be used as a thickener and is naturally gluten-free.

I’m sure everyone knows about using over ripe bananas to make banana bread, but did you know that the old peels are good for your rose bushes? A dried up apple rolling around in the fridge? Peel, dice ad add to pancake or muffin batter. Better yet, cut a wedge and put it in a seeled container of cookies to keep them soft. Odd pieces of fruit rolling around? Chop, combine and enjoy a fresh fruit salad. Have an orange that is past its prime? Cut it into wedges and put it out for the wild birds. There are lots of options.

Leftover meat can be used in sandwiches, of course, but it can also be diced and added to soups or stews. A little bit can go a long way. Meat bones can be used to make stock for soup. Cooking bacon and don’t know what to do with the bacon fat? Don’t throw it away! Pour that liquid gold into a clean glass jar, let it cool, then refrigerate. Later you can use it when cooking diced potatoes or in savory biscuits.

Pasta, Noodles, Rice
Made too much spaghetti or other noodles? Why not make baked spaghetti! Same principle as lasagna but instead of lasagna noodles use the leftover spaghetti. Leftover rice? Add to soup or make a rice pudding.

Dry bread can be added to ground meat to give homemade patties structure. Grate for homemade bread crumbs or dip in an egg-milk mixture and you have French toast! Want a simple yet delicious dessert? Make bread pudding. Yummy!

Canned Foods
Have some canned soup in your pantry? Use creamy versions to add to meat for a sauce. Top your meatloaf with tomato soup. Make your own mushroom alfredo sauce with cream of mushroom soup. Top those pork chops with a creamy soup and bake them in the oven. Have some canned clams? Add them to a can of cream of potato soup and you have the quickest clam chowder. Have canned green beans? Add a can of creamy soup and bake in the oven top with some crunchy fried onions for a classic, mighty tasty side dish. Can of tuna or salmon on hand? By adding some breadcrumbs and an egg you can make patties. A lonely can of pineapple tidbits? Pop those tidbits onto a skewer. Add some diced sausage and peppers and you have satisfying shish-kabobs or use those tidbits to make sweet and sour meatballs. Even better, bake an upside-down pineapple cake!

Want to know more about vegan options? Here are just a few of the many resources out there.

The options are endless and these examples are no where near exhaustive of what you can do with what you have on hand. With a little imagination it will feel like your fridge is full and your pantry is plump. Happy cooking!

— Teresa N-P