Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge – Week 4

This week didn’t hold as much progress as last week on the challenge. We were out of town for Thanksgiving and had a few days where we ate meals elsewhere – at friends’ houses, etc. But I’m happy with the things we did use – and we didn’t add anything!

One evening for dinner, we cooked up the Ohio City Pasta – I believe we had red pepper and some sort of basil/spinach mix. It tasted great mixed (especially with a glass of leftover wine from Friendsgiving!).

ohio city pasta collage

We also needed another quick dinner one night, so we baked one of the frozen Pizza Joes pizzas. Pizza Joes is a local chain that’s centered around the area where I grew up, and I love them. My favorite pizza place ever. So when Mark travels to one particular site for work, he ends up near one of their locations and he will sometimes pick up half baked pizzas that we finish off in the oven. Much better than fully cooked pizza that’s frozen after the fact. We had the veggie ranch one.

pizza joes collage
We also gave a jar of the Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly to a friend who was visiting to try, so that took one of the jars in the pantry. Though I’m less worried about using those up now that I know of a great marinade recipe.

So after week 4, here’s where we stand. Going to kick it up a notch this week.

Brown rice 2 portions beef stew Pizza Joes pizzas (2) (1)
Dark chocolate bar (56% cocoa) 1 portion corn and poblano chowder Cortland apples
Dark chocolate bar (75% cocoa) 1 portion mushroom bolognese Swiss chard
Unsweetened chocolate bar (1) (.5) 1 portion venison chili Thai veggie gyoza (half bag)
Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly (3) (2) (1) 2 portions stroganoff Kaiser rolls (8) (4)
Penn’s Corner strawberry jelly 5 portions bolognese sauce Alexia french fries (1) (.5)
Penn’s Corner dilly beans (2) Hog jowl bacon Pork gyoza (half bag)
Evaporated milk Slab bacon Coconut chicken tenders
Bag sundried tomatoes Hot dogs Venison jerky
Stuffing mix (1.5) (.5) Hot sausage patties Roasted hot peppers
Honey buffalo sauce Venison sausage Roasted sweet peppers
Dried cherries with pits Hamburger patties Raspberries
CRO Bloody Mary Mix Pork shoulder Ripe bananas (1 million)
Chuck’s Hot Salsa Blueberries (3) (2) Frozen basil
Cinnamon applesauce Strawberries Apple cider
Pearl couscous Cranberries Pierogies
Maifun rice sticks Corn (2)
Rice Ramen Peas Grape juice
Orzo Macadamia nuts Homemade whole grain pancake mix (4) (3)
Braised eel Spinach and ricotta pierogies Fresh tomato sauce (2)
Coconut milk Harvest bread Roasting chickens
Whole tomatoes (2) Hot dog buns Chicken wings
Red enchilada sauce French bread Lamb chops
Whole canned jalapenos Ciabatta roll Ground lamb
Butter crackers Cheese tortellini Duck legs and thighs
Graham crackers (2) (1) Pizza crust Ham shank
Black turtle beans Ohio City pasta Kale sausage
Dried chick peas Pitas Pork neckbones
Dried kidney beans Puff pastry sheet Pork liver
Arborio rice Bear claw Pork heart
Partial dark chocolate bar (70%) cocoa PB donut Ham hock bones
Beef marrow bones Rhubarb thumbprint cookies Pork breakfast sausage
Beef neckbones Potato and pea samosas (2) (1) Country style pork ribs
Beef round steak Pork and vegetable dumplings (half bag) Chorizo
Beef soup bones Naan Puddin’
Catfish Green onion pancakes Beef heart
Beef hot dogs Oxtail (3) (1)
Beef mock tender
Beef shank Beef shank Beef cross cut roast
Beef stew meat Beef liver

 

 

Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge – Week 3

This week we chipped away at more items from the pantry and freezer, making more progress than I anticipated. We were able in some cases to strategically use recipes for the things we wanted to eat that included some ingredients we already had. Which I guess is exactly the way you do this!

I made a delicious winter squash chowder with some butternut and acorn squash and kale from our CSA, and I toasted up the one remaining ciabatta roll for us to split as a side to dip. It actually went really well with the chowder!

winter squash chowder

When I posted last week that I was having trouble finding ways to use hot pepper jelly, Penn’s Corner tweeted me this link to a recipe for Spicy Pepper Jelly Marinated Pork Tenderloin. So I made that, with some roasted turnips and brussels sprouts and some bagged stuffing  from the pantry as a side. I highly recommend the marinade if you like spicy, flavorful marinades.

stuffing and pepper jelly collage

Friday night, I roasted two heads of garlic and took the leeks from the CSA and the bacon from the freezer and made toppings for Mark’s sourdough pizza crust. (He’s the pizza guy in the house.) Delicious, but let’s just say that using two heads of garlic as sauce, where we each virtually ate a whole head of garlic, was a bit….much.

bacon and leek pizza

One night we had burgers and fries, so we used up half of the kaiser rolls and half of the bag of fries.

fries and buns

Sunday night we had our annual Friendsgiving dinner with our best friends. Instead of a turkey, which we will all be eating this week, we decided to make prime rib. Mark did the prime rib, and chose a recipe that required roasting some other meat with it – so we used an oxtail, a beef shank and beef soup bones.

I did the dessert, and sort of lost my mind. I decided to make pumpkin brownies, which used up half of the unsweetened chocolate bar. And that’s when I jumped off the deep end and decided to make 3 homemade ice creams from the Jeni’s cookbook: salty caramel, maple with buttered nuts, and sweet potato with toasted marshmallow. And then make them into terrines. But I forgot that a mini loaf pan might be “mini” when it comes to breads, but when it comes to ice cream, it’s a LOT. And so it looked kind of like a giant brick on the plate. But it was delicious – just ridiculous.

We were so hungry I didn’t take much time to take good photos, but it was all great.

friendsgiving

So here’s where I stand now after three weeks. Made a lot of progress this week, for sure!

Brown rice 2 portions beef stew Pizza Joes pizzas (2)
Dark chocolate bar (56% cocoa) 1 portion corn and poblano chowder Cortland apples
Dark chocolate bar (75% cocoa) 1 portion mushroom bolognese Swiss chard
Unsweetened chocolate bar (1) (.5) 1 portion venison chili Thai veggie gyoza (half bag)
Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly (3) (2) 2 portions stroganoff Kaiser rolls (8) (4)
Penn’s Corner strawberry jelly 5 portions bolognese sauce Alexia french fries (1) (.5)
Penn’s Corner dilly beans (2) Hog jowl bacon Pork gyoza (half bag)
Evaporated milk Slab bacon Coconut chicken tenders
Bag sundried tomatoes Hot dogs Venison jerky
Stuffing mix (1.5) (.5) Hot sausage patties Roasted hot peppers
Honey buffalo sauce Venison sausage Roasted sweet peppers
Dried cherries with pits Hamburger patties Raspberries
CRO Bloody Mary Mix Pork shoulder Ripe bananas (1 million)
Chuck’s Hot Salsa Blueberries (3) (2) Frozen basil
Cinnamon applesauce Strawberries Apple cider
Pearl couscous Cranberries Pierogies
Maifun rice sticks Corn (2)
Rice Ramen Peas Grape juice
Orzo Macadamia nuts Homemade whole grain pancake mix (4) (3)
Braised eel Spinach and ricotta pierogies Fresh tomato sauce (2)
Coconut milk Harvest bread Roasting chickens
Whole tomatoes (2) Hot dog buns Chicken wings
Red enchilada sauce French bread Lamb chops
Whole canned jalapenos Ciabatta roll Ground lamb
Butter crackers Cheese tortellini Duck legs and thighs
Graham crackers (2) (1) Pizza crust Ham shank
Black turtle beans Ohio City pasta Kale sausage
Dried chick peas Pitas Pork neckbones
Dried kidney beans Puff pastry sheet Pork liver
Arborio rice Bear claw Pork heart
Partial dark chocolate bar (70%) cocoa PB donut Ham hock bones
Beef marrow bones Rhubarb thumbprint cookies Pork breakfast sausage
Beef neckbones Potato and pea samosas (2) (1) Country style pork ribs
Beef round steak Pork and vegetable dumplings (half bag) Chorizo
Beef soup bones Naan Puddin’
Catfish Green onion pancakes Beef heart
Beef hot dogs Oxtail (3) (1)
Beef mock tender
Beef shank Beef shank Beef cross cut roast
Beef stew meat Beef liver

 

Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge – Week 2

This week was a bit crazy when it came to meal planning, since we had to do a lot of unexpected changes at the last minute. Mark’s aunt passed away, and we had some out of town days and some takeout days. But life is always throwing you something unexpected, so we rolled with it and still managed to get a few items checked off the pantry/freezer list.

One day last week, I took the leftover corn and poblano chowder as my lunch one day. And I remembered why it is that we bothered to save it. It’s delicious.

corn and poblano chowder

 

One night we had a quick taco dinner, and instead of opening a jar of our homemade canned salsa, we tried out the jar of hot salsa we had picked up at a Farm to Table event a very long time ago. Delicious, with a hint of peaches.

hot salsa collage

Before we left for Cleveland, we were exhausted from running around all day and neither of us really wanted to cook. So we ate a ton of appetizers, including gyoza, green scallion pancakes and some samosas. Mark made fried rice from some leftover Chipotle rice and we made a dipping sauce from mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil. My phone photo doesn’t make it look too appetizing, but it was. Especially because it just took a few minutes to make. Which is exactly why we bought that stuff in the first place. I didn’t quite use up all the gyoza in the bags, but we’re getting close.

asian appetizers collage

Last but not least, Mark made his grandma’s cheesecake to take to Cleveland to share with family, since it was one of his aunt’s favorite. We used graham crackers from the pantry for the crust.

grandma's cheesecake collage

So at the end of week 2, here’s where we stand.

Here’s where I stand now with pantry and freezer items. I can’t wait to see more of these crossed off.

Brown rice 2 portions beef stew Pizza Joes pizzas (2)
Dark chocolate bar (56% cocoa) 1 portion corn and poblano chowder Cortland apples
Dark chocolate bar (75% cocoa) 1 portion mushroom bolognese Swiss chard
Unsweetened chocolate bar 1 portion venison chili Thai veggie gyoza (half bag)
Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly (2) 2 portions stroganoff Kaiser rolls
Penn’s Corner strawberry jelly 5 portions bolognese sauce Alexia french fries
Penn’s Corner dilly beans (2) Hog jowl bacon Pork gyoza (half bag)
Evaporated milk Slab bacon Coconut chicken tenders
Bag sundried tomatoes Hot dogs Venison jerky
Stuffing mix (1.5) Hot sausage patties Roasted hot peppers
Honey buffalo sauce Venison sausage Roasted sweet peppers
Dried cherries with pits Hamburger patties Raspberries
CRO Bloody Mary Mix Pork shoulder Ripe bananas (1 million)
Chuck’s Hot Salsa Blueberries (3) (2) Frozen basil
Cinnamon applesauce Strawberries Apple cider
Pearl couscous Cranberries Pierogies
Maifun rice sticks Corn (2)
Rice Ramen Peas Grape juice
Orzo Macadamia nuts Homemade whole grain pancake mix (4) (3)
Braised eel Spinach and ricotta pierogies Fresh tomato sauce (2)
Coconut milk Harvest bread Roasting chickens
Whole tomatoes (2) Hot dog buns Chicken wings
Red enchilada sauce French bread Lamb chops
Whole canned jalapenos Ciabatta roll Ground lamb
Butter crackers Cheese tortellini Duck legs and thighs
Graham crackers (2) (1) Pizza crust Ham shank
Black turtle beans Ohio City pasta Kale sausage
Dried chick peas Pitas Pork neckbones
Dried kidney beans Puff pastry sheet Pork liver
Arborio rice Bear claw Pork heart
Partial dark chocolate bar (70%) cocoa PB donut Ham hock bones
Beef marrow bones Rhubarb thumbprint cookies Pork breakfast sausage
Beef neckbones Potato and pea samosas (2) (1) Country style pork ribs
Beef round steak Pork and vegetable dumplings (half bag) Chorizo
Beef soup bones Naan Puddin’
Catfish Green onion pancakes Beef heart
Beef hot dogs Oxtail (3) (1)
Beef mock tender
Beef shank Beef shank Beef cross cut roast
Beef stew meat Beef liver

 

Read more on the Pantry/Freezer Challenge

Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge – Week 1

Yesterday I fessed up to the crazy amount of excess food we have stored in our pantry and freezers and created my own Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge.

I didn’t waste a lot of time, deciding to ride the wave of motivation and start using up some items this past weekend.

On Sunday, we made waffles using the frozen homemade whole grain pancake mix. This mix actually comes in handy when you need a quick, weekend breakfast. But our problem is that we let the mix sit there unused because we rarely take the time to eat pancakes. This weekend, we decided to test the mix as a waffle instead of a pancake. (Finding that it works just great if you add slightly more mix to make the batter thicker.)

I opened a pack of frozen blueberries and we put half in the batter for the waffles and I put the other half in yogurt.

blueberry waffle collage

For dinner on Sunday, I was going to be home long enough that I could make something that took a few hours to cook, so I took two of the three packages of ox tail that we had and the two cans of whole tomatoes in the pantry (leftover from when we didn’t have any more of our home preserved ones last season) and a bunch of CSA items and made Braised Oxtail over Rigatoni from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.

braised oxtail collage

So that put a miniscule dent in the pantry and freezer stash. But that’s how I’m going to chip away at the excess!

Here’s where I stand now with pantry and freezer items. I can’t wait to see more of these crossed off.

Brown rice 2 portions beef stew Pizza Joes pizzas (2)
Dark chocolate bar (56% cocoa) 1 portion corn and poblano chowder Cortland apples
Dark chocolate bar (75% cocoa) 1 portion mushroom bolognese Swiss chard
Unsweetened chocolate bar 1 portion venison chili Thai veggie gyoza
Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly (2) 2 portions stroganoff Kaiser rolls
Penn’s Corner strawberry jelly 5 portions bolognese sauce Alexia french fries
Penn’s Corner dilly beans (2) Hog jowl bacon Pork gyoza
Evaporated milk Slab bacon Coconut chicken tenders
Bag sundried tomatoes Hot dogs Venison jerky
Stuffing mix (1.5) Hot sausage patties Roasted hot peppers
Honey buffalo sauce Venison sausage Roasted sweet peppers
Dreid cherries with pits Hamburger patties Raspberries
CRO Bloody Mary Mix Pork shoulder Ripe bananas (1 million)
Chuck’s Hot Salsa Blueberries (3) (2) Frozen basil
Cinnamon applesauce Strawberries Apple cider
Pearl couscous Cranberries Pierogies
Maifun rice sticks Corn (2)
Rice Ramen Peas Grape juice
Orzo Macadamia nuts Homemade whole grain pancake mix (4) (3)
Braised eel Spinach and ricotta pierogies Fresh tomato sauce (2)
Coconut milk Harvest bread Roasting chickens
Whole tomatoes (2) Hot dog buns Chicken wings
Red enchilada sauce French bread Lamb chops
Whole canned jalapenos Ciabatta roll Ground lamb
Butter crackers Cheese tortellini Duck legs and thighs
Graham crackers Pizza crust Ham shank
Black turtle beans Ohio City pasta Kale sausage
Dried chick peas Pitas Pork neckbones
Dried kidney beans Puff pastry sheet Pork liver
Arborio rice Bear claw Pork heart
Partial dark chocolate bar (70%) cocoa PB donut Ham hock bones
Beef marrow bones Rhubarb thumbprint cookies Pork breakfast sausage
Beef neckbones Potato and pea samosas Country style pork ribs
Beef round steak Pork and vegetable dumplings Chorizo
Beef soup bones Naan Puddin’
Catfish Green onion pancakes Beef heart
Beef hot dogs Oxtail (3) (1)
Beef mock tender
Beef shank Beef shank Beef cross cut roast
Beef stew meat Beef liver

Introducing the Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge

Have you ever tried to put away groceries and realized you have no idea why there’s no room for anything in your pantry or your freezer? Or opened the cupboard to stare at a bunch of food and say “there’s nothing in here to eat!”

I’m ashamed to say that this happens to me a lot. For all that I write about how we use our CSA items (and we do), I too am guilty of the over-full pantry and freezer. We make a concerted effort to eat leftovers, and we rarely throw food out anymore. But part of that is because we have created a hoard in the freezer(s) and pantry.

I think it comes from a good place – the mentality of trying not to waste and to preserve and save food that’s perfectly good to eat. We’re good at eating up fresh food in the house because we know we’re racing the clock. But if it’s frozen or shelf stable? We’re actually pretty bad at that.

So I was thinking. Why not put it out in the open and make myself accountable to use this excess that I’ve accumulated? And the idea of the Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge was born.

I went through my pantry, main freezer and chest freezers to determine what needed to be “cleaned out.” The things that have been sitting around for awhile, waiting for a use. I didn’t include things like baking items, spices, oils or staples that we use frequently, because they rotate in and out of the pantry on a regular basis. For cuts of meat that we use frequently (such as ground beef, steaks or venison), I left them off the list. Some freezer items were left off too, if they are used regularly – like homemade chicken broth or nuts.

I snapped some photos, but I’m embarrassed to say this is only part of it.

freezer items

pantry collage

The whole list is daunting. And it’s really embarrassing.

Brown rice 2 portions beef stew Pizza Joes pizzas (2)
Dark chocolate bar (56% cocoa) 1 portion corn and poblano chowder Cortland apples
Dark chocolate bar (75% cocoa) 1 portion mushroom bolognese Swiss chard
Unsweetened chocolate bar 1 portion venison chili Thai veggie gyoza
Penn’s Corner hot pepper jelly (2) 2 portions stroganoff Kaiser rolls
Penn’s Corner strawberry jelly 5 portions bolognese sauce Alexia french fries
Penn’s Corner dilly beans (2) Hog jowl bacon Pork gyoza
Evaporated milk Slab bacon Coconut chicken tenders
Bag sundried tomatoes Hot dogs Venison jerky
Stuffing mix (1.5) Hot sausage patties Roasted hot peppers
Honey buffalo sauce Venison sausage Roasted sweet peppers
Dreid cherries with pits Hamburger patties Raspberries
CRO Bloody Mary Mix Pork shoulder Ripe bananas (1 million)
Chuck’s Hot Salsa Blueberries (3) Frozen basil
Cinnamon applesauce Strawberries Apple cider
Pearl couscous Cranberries Pierogies
Maifun rice sticks Corn (2)
Rice Ramen Peas Grape juice
Orzo Macadamia nuts Homemade whole grain pancake mix
Braised eel Spinach and ricotta pierogies Fresh tomato sauce (2)
Coconut milk Harvest bread Roasting chickens
Whole tomatoes (2) Hot dog buns Chicken wings
Red enchilada sauce French bread Lamb chops
Whole canned jalapenos Ciabatta roll Ground lamb
Butter crackers Cheese tortellini Duck legs and thighs
Graham crackers Pizza crust Ham shank
Black turtle beans Ohio CIty pasta Kale sausage
Dried chick peas Pitas Pork neckbones
Dried kidney beans Puff pastry sheet Pork liver
Arborio rice Bear claw Pork heart
Partial dark chocolate bar (70%) cocoa PB donut Ham hock bones
Beef marrow bones Rhubarb thumbprint cookies Pork breakfast sausage
Beef neckbones Potato and pea samosas Country style pork ribs
Beef round steak Pork and vegetable dumplings Chorizo
Beef soup bones Naan Puddin’
Catfish Green onion pancakes Beef heart
Beef hot dogs Oxtail (3) Beef mock tender
Beef shank Beef shank Beef cross cut roast
Beef stew meat Beef liver

So there it is. Each week, I’m going to show you what we’ve “cleaned out” from the pantry and freezer, with the goal being to use several things each week. It will take us awhile to work through the excess, but I have a few goals for this personal challenge:

  • Room in my pantry for things we use, so that nothing takes unnecessary space or gets wasted
  • New recipes that push me out of my comfort zone (what the heck is a beef mock tender?)
  • A new appreciation for eating food that we have instead of just food that we want

I’ll report back on Mondays to talk about what we used during the week. (Though since I got this idea on Saturday, I’ve already used several things, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.) I’ll also post photos on Instagram (@nextgenhouse) under the hashtag #cleanoutchallenge.

Do you have a freezer or pantry that’s overflowing? Join me and clean it out!

eating clean on a budget: aldi

My second stop on the discount grocery store tour was Aldi. Owned by a German family company, Albrecht Discounts, Aldi is one of the no-frills discount grocers who eschews fancy displays and wide product selection for low prices. Perhaps most interestingly, Aldi is owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s, its higher-end counterpart. While Trader Joe’s carries more organic selections and higher quality meats, when it comes down to the come down, they have similar products on the shelf. It’s heavy on the private label items, which means that the organic honey at Aldi might be the exact same thing as the organic honey at Trader Joes, only with less markup (because the cashiers at Aldi don’t ring bells or wear Hawaiian shirts?). I have issues with Trader Joes for other reasons, but if you’re going to buy private label stuff there, you’re going to pay extra for the fun stores and fancy graphic design.

But on to the bargains. I was really happy to see that Aldi had a significantly higher percentage of organic products than Bottom Dollar (more than milk!). The first one I happened across was honey, at $3.19. It was also sourced from U.S. producers, which is good. Definitely cheaper than I’ve seen it elsewhere. 

I also saw a few items like organic salad dressings, but they are still processed foods and wouldn’t be the greatest choice. Stick to salad dressings that have to be refrigerated, since they are usually made with real ingredients, or go with lemon juice or olive oil/vinegar. Remember that just because something says organic doesn’t mean it’s a whole food or healthy.

Just inside the door were bags of nuts at really reasonable prices. While they were all conventionally produced, nuts are among the products that are more protected from pesticides because of their shells. Organic nuts are another hard to find product, so these are a great alternative. And if you can bother to chop your own walnuts, you can really save on the price per pound by getting the bigger bag. 

Many stores carry generic K-cup single serve coffee pods now. While I think it’s better from a waste perspective (and a quality coffee perspective) to use a refillable cup, these K-cups were relatively cheap, but still fair trade. Wouldn’t be a bad thing to have on hand for guests, etc.


The produce section left a lot to be desired, since most of it was thrown all over the place. That could have been a product of the fact that we were there toward the end of a major shopping day and it might have been picked over by ravenous shoppers. It was mostly conventional, but the prices weren’t nearly as good as Bottom Dollar for the same items. 












I did find organic salad greens in the refrigerator case, but they were small containers and for $2.49, not any better than the prices at Whole Foods!

There were two decent options for milk, including Organic Valley 2%, which is a great buy at $3.48 for a half gallon. Organic Valley sources all of its milk from family farmers, and at Aldi it was a great choice. If that’s still too expensive, they also had an off-brand gallon of milk for $3.77 that at least was from cows that were not given rBGH, even if their diet wasn’t organic.

Aldi had good prices on staples, just like Bottom Dollar. Rice and oats were the primary ones I found, but Aldi has a more limited selection than Bottom Dollar in general.

The non-milk dairy and meat were not any different from Bottom Dollar and there wasn’t anything to recommend there. But Aldi had two options for sandwich bread – both 12 grain and whole wheat – that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup and were minimally processed.

Probably the best buy I found at Aldi was the organic canned tomatoes. A 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes was only $1.49, which is a terrific price. They also had organic marinara sauce for $1.99. I like to make my own sauces from regular tomatoes, but in a pinch, this would be a good, affordable choice.

It’s also important to choose organic tomatoes, not just because of the lack of pesticides, but because most organic tomatoes are grown in California, which is better than Florida, where the humid climate and poor, sandy soil make for poor growing conditions, which lead to the use of more chemicals. (If you want to know more about this, Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland is a great read.)

At the end of the store, Aldi also had a good selection of frozen fruit and vegetables at decent prices. It would be worth doing a real cost comparison on the frozen fruits and veggies at different stores to see where the best deals are, since they are essentially the same thing.

It’s also worth noting that Aldi starts their workers at well above minimum wage. We saw a sign for $11.75/hour starting out. I like to support stores that don’t hoard profits while condemning their workers to never make ends meet.

I’ll definitely be checking out Aldi for particular items on my grocery list. Plus, the more shoppers purchase their organic products, the more likely they are to start to carry more and expand their selection. It’s worth a trip!