Eat From The Larder Challenge 2015

Maybe I didn’t plan very well when I enthusiastically committed to doing another Eat From The Larder Challenge this April.

We already had a scheduled a family vacation. Non-negotiable. We already had a scheduled dinner-date with friends. Non-negotiable.

We were completely out of butter. Clearly, running out of butter is a dire failure of larder maintenance. I offer no excuse beyond, 9 months of book writing and editing distracted me from butter. (That should give you some idea how all-encompassing a book is. I forgot butter, which I consider a major food group.)

Anyway, all this to say that  Eat From The Larder 2015 has already gotten off to a rocky start. My internet pride is slightly less important than my son’s inexplicable joy at complimentary breakfast buffet steam-table bacon, so for the 4 days we were on vacation early this month, we ate from the hotel’s larder, ate from the Thai restaurant’s larder, ate from the burger place’s larder.

Honestly? It was pretty nice, other people doing the cooking for 4 solid days.

What I learned last year is that the practical aspects of eating from your food storage are actually not that tough. I actually like the creative aspect of ingredient restraint that comes with eating only from your larder.

In culinary school we had tests like this: “Here’s four random ingredients. Tell me what they are accurately and make something delicious. Go!” Or, “Walk into the freezer. Turn whatever leftovers you find into something people will willingly pay good money for.”

I loved that kind of thing. Other culinary students were excited by refined techniques and complicated multi-step sauces and I was scanning the freezer for leftovers, muttering stuff like, “How about duck confit chalupa? That seems legit, right?”

The creative, duck confit chalupa culinary improvisation aspect of working with food is (for me) a blast. So that’s not a challenge.

The challenge in the Eat From The Larder Challenge is just showing up, day after day. Cooking when you’d rather not. Making something with rice, again, because that’s what you have. Planning ahead. Finding a way to enjoy simple meals of staples when we’re told every meal should be a food court, Whole Foods deli counter experience – an international buffet of options – all the time.

The vacation, the planned dinner out – those are all release valves in the mental pressure of cooking from the larder. 6 days on/1 day off or something similar might be a good long term cooking strategy, but it’s not really a challenge.

So, that’s where we are. I’m mentally re-starting our 1 month long, Eat From The Larder Challenge today. We haven’t been in a grocery store since sometime in March, and we aren’t restocking. Butter’s gone, milk nearly so. I think I have a cabbage still in the fridge, but otherwise fresh food is pretty much whatever I can pick from my garden. So in a way, from a “use up the stores” perspective, this is a 6 week challenge for us.

But mentally, it’s a month, which only seems fair.

» Read more about The Eat From The Larder Challenge here. «


What We’ve Been Eating

Breakfasts

Lots of egg-based breakfasts, naturally. We are long on eggs right now and they are a major protein source around here.

black-bean-omlette

Omelettes get stuffed with whatever is hanging out in the fridge. In this case, leftover black beans, cheddar and cilantro.

bran-muffins

When I bake, I tend to make large batches of things and freeze them. The kids have eaten down a bag of pumpkin muffins and are working on these bran muffins right now.

egg-burrito

I found a package of store-bought tortillas in the freezer so even though they taste a bit like wallpaper paste compared to my homemade tortillas, they are convenient and we’re using them. Eggs and some of my home-cured ham were scrambled together and served as breakfast burritos.

Lunches

I spent yesterday making a bunch of mason jar hearty salad lunches that we can grab as needed. I like turning meal prep into a project – and often will spend several hours on Sunday getting food made for the upcoming week. There’s something about having a homemade deli case in my fridge that makes me happy!

mason-jar-lunches-3

Mason jars everywhere!

lentils-arugula

This salad is marinated French lentils with mint and oregano, topped with garden arugula. I adore lentils. I could eat this every day.

mason-jar-tuna-salad

Tuna salad! Nothing says “pantry” like canned tuna, right? The tuna was mixed with homemade mayo and homemade sweet relish, then topped with garbanzo beans, roasted tomatoes (made last summer and frozen) and garden lettuce.

peanut-noodles

This one doesn’t look so nice in the jar, but it’s filling and kid-friendly once we pop it into a bowl. This noodle bowl is whole wheat spaghetti mixed with peanut and coconut sauce, topped with cooked chicken breast, shredded cabbage, thai basil, cashews and water chestnuts. I used up a TON of stuff from the pantry making this.

Dinners

We’ve been working eggs into many meals. We frequently eat Egg Rice, which is just fried rice that’s extremely heavy on the egg.

chicken-egg-soup

I love egg drop soup, and with duck eggs it’s even better. One chicken breast was stretched across 4 servings of soup, but because there are so many eggs in there too, it was very satisfying.

chicken-veg-stirfry

The last of my non-garden fresh veg went into this big green stirfry. There’s some chicken breast in there (I was using up a thawed pack of chicken breasts, clearly) and I sauced the whole thing with a Thai-style mango sauce I canned several months ago.

spaghetti-chili

Here’s a classic cheap but filling food – pasta and chili. I have several jars of canned pork, beef and bean chili from last year that we are eating down. It’s a bit spicy for the kids as-is, but if I serve it as a pasta sauce, the spice is distributed over the plain noodles and they chow down.

Snacks, Treats and Miscellany

popcorn

Family movie night with Big Hero 6 and stovetop popcorn? Yes, please.

rhubarb-crisp

The rhubarb is producing well! This rhubarb crisp suffered a teeny bit because I didn’t have butter for the topping so I used lard. It was good, but a bit porcine. Next time I’ll try coconut oil.

Are you doing Eat From The Larder Challenge this month? How’s it going?

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Comments

  1. Janet says

    I must have missed the 2015 challenge email somehow, but I have been concentrating on that general approach anyway and always because the nearest organics store is 40 minutes away. I can’t believe how similarly we eat. Lots of eggs, lots of muffins (lots of squash to deal with…). I even made leftover chili last week with black beans and my canned tomatoes. For the last little bit of it we had it on mac ‘n cheese/pasta. So good.

    My take-away here is your salads-to-go idea. I want to eat more salads, but the prep time to chow-time ratio is depressing, so I like this project tact very much and will give them a go. I’m already storing garden lettuce in the frig so why not just do it on top of other fixings in a jar, especially since I love leftovers, but I hate soggy/slimy lettuce. Is there a reason why you cover them with plastic wrap instead of a spent canning lid and ring, or a plastic lid?

    Thanks as always for the inspiration, Erica, and have a great week.

    • says

      There are a lot of good tutorials for mason jar salad lunches. It works just like your’d think: heavier/goopier stuff on the bottom, lighter greens up top. The plastic wrap is just because I am inexplicably out of my plastic mason jar lids (they’re all in play) and I wanted to get these things in the fridge. :) If I were less lazy I would have tracked down old canning jar lids, but….yeah…lazy, basically. :)

      • says

        That’s really funny – I was wondering about the plastic wrap, thinking that there *must* be some secret trick about how the salad stays fresher better like that than with a lid.

        Interesting challenge. Zero possibility I could go 6 weeks. (6!) Especially since I have not graduated to chickens and winter gardening yet (except for some chard that accidentally worked). But I think I’m inspired to go through the pantry and see what’s gotten forgotten in there, and see how I can use it up. If my creativity fails, I resolve to donate to the food bank before things get too old to use. (Don’t the mailmen pick up canned/packaged stuff to donate sometime around Mother’s Day? Am I inventing the timing?).

  2. Barb Stork says

    The challenge is “Cooking when you’d rather not. ” You have no idea how happy I am to hear this from you…..a chef, of all people. Love you! Imagine not being a chef, or even moderately creative in the kitchen. It sucks to be me!

    Your scrounged up meals look so yummy! Well to me anyhow…I think your kids are little more culinarily mature than mine (is that a word?).

    Should the zombies arrive tomorrow, I’ll make my way to your house! With my 5 chickens in tow of course, so I can contribute!

    Barb

  3. Laurel says

    I should totally do this and get rid of a lot of canned goods before the new crops arrive. We’ve got lots of grape juice, pickles, canned & frozen peaches, green beans, pickled beets, frozen corn, etc to eat up. Luckily I just stocked up on butter at Easter time and have 20 lbs frozen. I’ve got a couple of pie crusts that I made and froze, and tons of local grass-fed beef & pork in the freezers. We COULD do this. The raw milk is a weekly commitment that we can’t get out of. Oh darn.

    • says

      I’d encourage you to just exempt your raw milk share and give it a shot. It’ll be time to restock pickles and peaches and corn before you know it.

  4. Tamara Reid says

    I think this should be your next book project. 365 days of eating from your larder. With canning recipes and final meal recipes. I’d preorder it now! :-)

    • says

      It would be epic, but knowing how much work a book with only 110-ish recipes was, 365-days of complete recipes would take YEARS to complete. :)

  5. Gabrielle says

    I NEED that lentil recipe– please?! Of all the things we overstock, it was the quantity of lentils that made my mother call me a prepper, and the little French greenies are my favorite. (Doesn’t everyone have a favorite lentil?) ;)

      • thegoblinchief says

        For whatever reason the French lentils we have make my stomach imagine there is a ball of razor blades inside it. Not fun. I’m going to try one more time, only pre-soaking them for a day or two first, but otherwise I’m pitching them.

        But I digest regular green lentils just fine. For those, my favorite dish currently is mejadra. Haven’t finalized my recipe yet, but it’s a riff off of the one from the cookbook “Jerusalem”.

        • Greg says

          I love that cookbook it is one of my favorites, I forget though is this the lentil dish with the fried onions if it is that’s my favorite too?

    • says

      It’s super easy – not even a recipe. I just soak the lentils for a while (not necessary, but it cuts down on cooking time and therefore fuel use), then simmer until tender. Drain, then add olive oil, red wine vinegar and S&P to the warm, drained lentils. Everything should taste pretty punchy if the lentils are also the dressing for the arugula. Then I walked around my garden and found some herbs that seemed good – lots of mint, plus oregano and I think maybe some chives? – chopped them up and and tossed them in there. That’s it! Topped with washed, dried arugula but you could eat as is too – I do.

      • Becca says

        Yum! Just tried this with black eyed peas (what I had on hand) and it was great. Making a big batch to freeze in small portions as salad toppers.

  6. Austin says

    I always do some kind of a roast on Sundays (normally bone-in because–bone broth!), and then on Monday, at least, I make “glorified leftovers” with the rest of the meat. They’re some of our favorite meals! So I totally understand that love-of-challenge cooking thing.

      • says

        I do Fabulous Friday Dinner (most weeks) for this reasons. It lets me slow-braise a shoulder roast or similar with lots of veggies, and leaves me with enough left-over meat to be the (main source of) protein in at least two more dinners after that.

  7. Becca says

    The trick is going to be how to figure out how to do this without my family knowing this is what we’re doing. If I can make them think they’re not lacking, I’ll be ok. My garden is running behind but I think I can scrap some stuff together. The exception is going to be milk, because my family does not get by without milk.

    • says

      Sneaky, sneaky! You could also just give yourself an aggressive, challenging budget for fresh items, too – like maybe $10 or $15 a week? – and try to stick to that so you can still buy milk or whatnot. Make the challenge work for your needs! :)

  8. Emma says

    You are so right about the mental side of it. I was doing a modified version (buying milk and butter and flour as needed because I don’t store much) but only a couple of days in my parents in law turned up with no warning to stay for a couple of days. Was just too hard to come up with something quick and easy and acceptable while wrangling three toddlers and stashing all the mess so straight to the shops. We have been doing a 6/1 for the past couple of months buying meat for one meal a week and the test from the garden/freezer. That is easy so why is an extra day so hard?

  9. says

    It’s a neat challenge but I’m still learning pantry storage, and using a modified version of your FIFO/Par value inventory system. My climate (sans season extension) is also quite a bit behind yours, and no animals (yet). Definitely enjoy hearing about this, though :)

    Btw, have you ever taken the plunge on a grain mill? I’m three weeks into using only fresh milled grains (except for white bread flour, which I use at about 25% with wheat breads to lighten them up a tad). AMAZING. My pizza/calzone crusts in particular are to die for now, and literally the only switch was using freshly milled flour.

    For all the hype over heirloom/ancient grains, though, I’ll be honest and say that trusty modern (organic) hard red wheat beats the pants off of most wheat relatives for me, though. Fresh buckwheat flour is something special. I just wish my kids liked it as much as I do :)

    I have a NutriMill Harvest (which is basically their knockoff of the KoMo mills from Germany).

    • says

      I have years of industrial-scale food hoarding to fall back on. :)

      I have looked at grain mills about a million times and come **this close** but haven’t gone for it yet. I think part of it is the restaurant supply grocers up the road has Bob’s Red Mill ground whole wheat flour, $50 pounds for $23.27. So far, it’s seemed the best compromise of price, quality and convenience. Kamut is my favorite ancient grain – but I eat it cooked, in salads. It would be fun to try grinding!

      The other concern about grinding is just the noise/effort trade off. We hand grind our coffee, and I know how long it takes to grind a 1/4 cup or so for the morning pot of joe – can’t imagine how long it would take to grind, say, 2 pounds of flour for a big double loaf of bread. And the electric ones that are faster seem REALLY noisy – how much of an issue has this been in your house?

      • thegoblinchief says

        It’s loud, but not as loud as the impact mills (Wondermill, Nutrimill). When running without any grain in it, it’s just a gentle whirr of the motor and stones turning. Noise when grinding varies a lot depending on the grain. Wheat is loud (not hearing protection loud, though). Corn is pretty bad. Buckwheat is actually quite pleasant sounding.

        My three reasons I got sold on it:

        1. Complex, yet MUCH milder flavor. So much of the “strong” flavor we associate with whole wheat is from rancid oils. I’ve been able to take many of my 50/50 whole wheat/white recipes all the way to 100% with no problem at all. I even made absolutely delicious pasta that was (by mistake, actually) 80/20 whole/white, whereas even my previous attempts at 50/50 have earned massive scorn from my wife :P

        2. Increased nutrient density.

        3. The only way (for me) to afford using organic grains.

        I’ve put a calendar reminder in to write a review of it around the end of the month.

        • Katrina says

          I don’t eat wheat anymore on a regular basis, but when I did I had an electric grinder and it was the best. I would grind what I needed when I needed it, and it really wasn’t any extra time to ground some flour for morning muffins or pancakes. I would make 100 percent whole wheat pancakes, and literally all the neighborhood kids would come over demanding some. (My kids had a habit of slipping out of the house letting the other kids know I was making pancakes.) I had quite the reputation as the best pancake cook ever. As far as the noise, to my ears it’s not as loud as a vacuum cleaner, and you can walk away and do something else, so it’s not like you are chained to the grinder.

  10. Kate says

    I guess my question about mason jar salads is about how you eat them. I mean, if I were to make one to pack for lunch at work, do I also need a plate to dump it out on? That’s what always bugs me, so if there’s a solution out there, I’d love to hear it!

      • says

        Nah….I keep my homemade mayo a week, at least. But I’m using eggs from backyard chickens so the risk of salmonella contamination is pretty minimal….I think something like 1 in 10,000. It’s kept refrigerated, of course, but I’m pretty comfortable with my own judgement for when food has gone “off” – I definitely don’t remake homemade mayo every other day! :)

    • says

      I have the same questions as Kate and Austin. I’m going to Google it and see what the Internet recommends, but I value your thoughts on this, Erica.

    • says

      It depends on the density of the salad. For example, the tuna one is “fluffy” enough that you can get a fork or pair of wooden chopsticks in there to kinda mix it up. The noodle one is so dense, I could never mix in the jar. How I eat that one is, (1) dump cabbage and light stuff into a plate or bowl. (2) microwave mason jar with noodles, chicken and peanut sauce remaining in it (3) dump warm peanut noodles, etc. onto cabbage (4) eat.

      For taking dense type things to work w/o using a plate, I’d do smaller portions in wide-mouth pints, so it’s easier to just scoop from the jar.

  11. says

    YAY! I’m looking forward to blogging along with you again this year! :-)
    That said, my pre-planned multi-day vacation (this week, starting tomorrow and ending on Saturday evening) is totally part of my challenge month. No appologies, but it means that part of my challenge is coming up with Train Snacks (AKA “lunch”) that don’t contain common allergens (no peanut butter or other nuts) and that can keep in an un-fridge-enabled hotel room for a couple of days. I’m expecting to kiss my cortland apples and fresh carrots goodbye on that one, and my plan is to make some sort of garlic-heavy hummus-substitute using red lentils, sesame oil, cider vinegar, soy sauce, and nutritional yeast. We’ve got a couple of pitas in the fridge and I can definitely make bread or crackers or something to go with it. Heh. That’s today’s challenge, since we’re out of town for most of tomorrow, but taking the train on Thursday. Guess I should get on that. O.O

    I’m finding the Challenge a lot easier this year (HA! So far!) than last year, partly because I’ve been making a point of cooking with Rice And Beans over the 12 months and so (a) have fewer of each specific variety of grain or legume to use up (so VARIETY), but also (b) have put in some actual practice-hours to get better at using that stuff up. I also put up more tomatoes, greens, and diced eggplant last summer, which is definitely coming in handy now.

    I like your lentil salad-in-a-jar idea, and appreciate that you’re doing a month-long challenge starting late, even if you don’t have to. :-)

    Oh: Using veggie oil instead of lard/butter/coconut-oil will still work for your crisps. I do that when I’m trying to make a vegan dessert (I don’t tend to use coconut oil in cooking, it’s more of a soaps-and-balms ingredient for me) and it works fine (albeit for my non-chef standards).

    I’m having a good time this year. YAY! :-D

    • says

      You were the inspiration/reminder this year, so I’m glad you’re blogging about your efforts too! How did you preserve your eggplant last year? I love to grow it (so pretty!) but haven’t experimented with preserving it yet. Does it freeze?

      • says

        Glad I made for a good reminder! :-)

        Re: Eggplant: I freeze it.
        I roasted the eggplant (after salting – over-salting, in my case – and draining it for a while), then diced it. I packed the diced cubes into silicone muffin tins and just froze them as-is.
        I tend to use eggplant specifically as a full-amino-acids-complement addition to veggie chilies/stews/curries/etc, so I know it’s going to cook for a long time and am not worried about whether or not it’ll hold its shape or look pretty, or whatever.

        I wonder if you could pressure-can babaganouj…

        The red lentil “hummus” (with lots of curry powder thrown in) worked REALLY well. Definitely making that one again! :-D

  12. Kyle says

    I’m going on my first real vacation in three years. I am going to start on Monday, which I’m sure will feel good!

  13. says

    My household is 2/3 in (my toddler is the one out – she isn’t particularly picky but we have to pack lunches for her that she’ll actually eat) . We started at the beginning of the month when I realized a glacier is taking over my freezer, now is a good time to empty it before I fill it again with this year’s harvest. I have declared that coffee is not food – but an essential part of living. I’ve also allowed some dairy because I don’t tend to store it and my urban lot is too small for a cow, plus I feared being forced into making weeks of meals out of eggs topped with sundried tomatoes and candy sprinkles.

    So far, we’ve been eating lots greens from the garden along with eggs, lentils and rice – which is pretty much our normal diet.

    I’m very curious about your thai-style mango sauce – will you share the recipe?

    • says

      The mango sauce was a recipe test for the book that never made the cut. It tastes great, but some things weren’t book appropriate. I have an Indian Spiced Mango sauce, too. It didn’t turn out quite as well, sadly. :( I’ll see if I still have the draft recipe around somewhere.

      • Katrina says

        I would LOVE a copy of that mango sauce recipe as well! That’s too bad it didn’t make the cut cause it sounds great.

  14. Ravenna says

    I’m entirely inspired by the amount of food you keep frozen. I keep thinking that if I had enough stored away I wouldn’t have to leave the house all winter. Now there’s a goal I can get behind.

  15. Pam S. says

    Scrounging meals is such fun, at least on occasion. I love making “kitchen sink” soup out of random veggies, beans, whatever is lying around. Right now though, if I tried to live out of the pantry and garden we would be living on arugula, plum wine, and freezer burned chicken. Emphasis on the plum wine. There are worse things I guess! :D

    I’ll enjoy watching you come up with amazing meals this month. I really need to make and freeze zucchini muffins this year. Such a great idea!

    • Thegoblinchief says

      Pam, I’ve had great success just freezing the shredded zucchini (in pre-measured portions for different recipes) and then baking them fresh when desired. In fact, I just made a batch of almond zucchini bread for my wife’s birthday from our last 6-cup bag in the freezer. Zucchini alone takes up less space in the freezer, which is why I suggested it.

      • says

        This is great. Do you throw a little sugar in with the shredded zucchini to get the water out a bit, first? (I gather – from this blog, no less – that you can use a little salt to do the same if you want the shredded zucchini for savoury dishes instead of sweet ones…)

        • Thegoblinchief says

          You could try to get some water out before freezing but I think it’s far easier to thaw the bag out and drain off the liquid – way more water is released by the freeze/thaw than by mastication with either sugar or water. At least in my experience.

  16. says

    I wish you would do “Drink from the Larder” except that stuff is never going to waste at our place. If you have any canned apple juice to get rid of, I invented a cocktail for it, I call it Norman the Elder

    I have challenged myself to use up every bit of last year’s chicken in the freezer in the next 11 weeks, when the batch in the brooder is ready. Need a chicken liver recipe for DH who doesn’t like liver.

    • says

      Re: Chicken livers: Use an immersion blender to purree them (raw), and then add the purree to meat loaf, pot pies, casseroles, you name it.

  17. says

    Love this post. Yes, this year it somehow slipped my mind that we are not the extended household of six we used to be but are now a tiny group of three. You wouldn’t believe the meat I have left and I probably didn’t need to freeze 6 cases of strawberries… plus sliced apples, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, plums in brandy… Okay the plums are gone…

  18. Kyle says

    I started this morning. Oatmeal with a jar of my cherries in wine sauce….not very wine-y. Lentil soup with a curry drizzle.

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