Thursday, August 25, 2016

What To Do With So Much Food

I came home from my shop yesterday, shopping cart loaded with groceries. I walked in the door, and realized I couldn't walk any further. The entrance to my home was filled with food, piled high. If I squeezed through, I could fit myself past, but certainly not the large amount of groceries I'd just bought.
Mike showed up, and tells me he's reorganizing and rebuilding our pantry, so it is more user friendly and has more available room to put it, so in the meantime, all the food that had been in our pantry was spread out throughout the entire upstairs of our house, which is what was stopping me from being able to come inside. (Don't worry, just as soon as he finished building, he put it all back.)

I cleared off the table so I can put all my groceries on display, and then slowly my husband and I managed to transport the groceries through the very confined space.
The table was packed and photographed, and then I tried to put it all away.
Didn't work.
The fridge was too full.
Or was it?

No, it just was disorganized.

I went through the fridge, shelf by shelf, removing things that have spoiled due to neglect, combining like with like, and tossing bulky mostly empty plastic containers that used to be filled with fruit.

Eventually, there was room in the fridge.

Bit by bit, I filled the fridge with the food from the table. And then I reached an impasse. Because despite having sorted and organized and emptied out the fridge from extraneous things... there wasn't room for that last box of fruit to go in the fridge.

Too much food and not enough space to keep it all.
Blessed first world problems.

Meanwhile, Mike, who finished building the new shelving for our pantry called down to me "Penny, do you have any idea how much food we actually have here? There is an insane amount of food. When will you ever get around to using most of these stuff?"

He's right.

So I need to figure out what to do with it all.

Because I still had all that fruit and the large amount of chicken parts that I got free that had to be dealt with. With no room in the fridge.

I think it's at that point that I decided that a pantry challenge needs to be done.

People do pantry challenges for all sorts of reasons. Often it is for financial reasons (like if money is short, so people just use what is in their pantry instead of buying new). But my reason for doing one now? Because I have just so much stuff that I never get around to using, because I keep on buying new things, using them, and buying new of the same items again, instead of using what is sitting on my shelf, picking up dust. I have no business buying any more food when I have no room to store it, when my husband needs to make more shelving units to store food that has been remaining and would still remain uneaten if I don't do this pantry challenge.

How long can I go without buying any new groceries?

I may make a slight exception for milk (for cereal) and tomato paste (if I run out, since I use it so much to add flavor to foods my family may not be so keen on eating otherwise).

But in short- my goal is to use up those items that are currently just clutter but were bought with the purpose of being used for nutrition.
A friend pointed out that, if we're moving in a few months, it may be a good idea to try to use up all those things in our pantry before the move, so we don't have to move all that food with us. I'm not sure if I want to use it all up and have to buy everything from scratch right when we have all the other expenses of moving... but there's so much food that I don't even know if I can use it up before we move (which may be November, but who knows).

A difficult aspect of this pantry challenge is that my family eats a lot of rice. White rice in particular. And I don't have white rice anymore. I do have lots of other pseudograins, like buckwheat, both toasted and untoasted, brown rice, quinoa, and corn (not to mention lots of instant mashed potatoes). I think I'll just have to get creative and find ways to replace the standard rice with these other foods.

So, what am I doing with all this food?

Well, yesterday I rendered a huge amount of chicken skin and fat. Took all the skin and fat that were in the bag, washed it well, then filled an entire dutch oven with it. Added some water and set it to boil away and melt the fat.
I bagged 5 separate large freezer bags of chicken frames to use for soup, and put them in the freezer, save for one, which I boiled until cooked, then removed the meat to use for meals.

Supper needed to be made, so, pantry challenge in mind, I took some buckwheat and lentils and decided to cook them up with some fried onions in my pressure cooker. Since the huge dutch oven of boiling water and chicken skins was threatening to bubble over, I used some of the liquid in there to cook my buckwheat and lentils, as well as some of the broth from the chicken frames. Tasted yummy. I enjoyed the few bites I had (unfortunately, more than that and my sensitive stomach would protest) and the kids enjoyed it enough, or at least tolerated it (who knows- they ate it, that's what matters, yea?) with ketchup and a salad.

When the chicken skins released most of their fat, I strained it out, and set aside most of the chicken skins, leaving only some in the pan. I wanted the skins to crisp up, and couldn't imagine it happening in a pot packed to the brim with the skins. I added a little of the rendered fat and the skin in the pan crisped up and turned into delicious crackings, rendering more fat and filling the pan with more delicious shmaltz. Then I strained that, set it aside, added more chicken skin and repeated that (three batches total).

I strained the shmaltz and now have two large and one small jar filled with that liquid gold.

Somehow, I found room in the fridge for all that.

My plans for today involve turning the fruit that won't fit into my fridge into a delicious cake called blitz cake- a recipe I got from friend Michelle (from my makeover post). I'm still attempting to perfect that recipe, and then I'll share it here with y'all.

My goal with all the food in my house right now is, firstly, to appreciate it, and realize that many wish they were in my position. Secondly, it is to not waste what I have. That means repurposing leftovers so they don't sit in the fridge uneaten. It also means keeping an eye on what I have, and use up the produce that has a shorter shelf life first, and only then use the things with a longer shelf life.
Thirdly, it's to get creative. I may take inventory of everything in my pantry and lay it out for you, so you can give some suggestions for what to make with it...

Wish me luck!

Have you ever done a pantry challenge? Why did you do it? Ever do it because, like myself, you simply don't have any more room to store food?


  1. I am in the midst of one now. Can't shop any of the sales because the fridge freezer and the chest freezer are still full. Also have lots of canned and boxed items. Have to allow room in the freezer for bagged ice as I have elected not to fix the ice maker for almost $400.

  2. Yes, I'm guilty of this too. My husband says I have a food hoarding problem... He might be right, oops! When something is on sale I can't just take 3 or 4, I have to take 20. Because, we NEED 20 jars of spaghetti sauce.... yeah. My fridge broke last Monday and we had to carry stuff at my mom's place because my chest freezer is full to the max so I could not store my food there. So I have a full chest freezer, a fridge+top freezer, a full pantry and whatever is in the cupboards. It's just too much food (yes, 1st world problem indeed!). I have to do an inventory list (for the 100th time!) and use what I have at home instead of always buying more and more. I've kind of done it before but got anxious when I say my stockpile getting smaller, so I started buying too much again... I have to say that a third of the chest freezer is taken by beef that we buy at the farm (1/4 of cow - lasting about 18 months), so this is a good thing.

  3. I think that many of us go through this. I thin it is especially true whne it is the summer growing season and we are relishing in the fresh produce at great prices.
    In looking at your photo, I want to make a suggestion. I buy some things in bulk. If I have a big bag of beans, I put it in a food safe 3 or 5 gallon bucket with a gamma seal lid. Anything that you have in bulk can get bugs in it if kept in the paper bags, or even plastic. You can get buckets for free here, by asking at bakeries. I give them a good scrubbing when I get them home. I know that some families have a bucket for beans, rice, oatmeal, flour, sugar. The buckets are kept on the floor, because they are heavy. Smaller items are kept up higher on the shelf. I have gotten many free baskets and bins from Craigslist. I organize like things together in them, such as Asian foods and spices, gluten free, dairy. At eye level, these are easier to find. I am saying this because if you look at your shelf and see space, it is unused space. It is a matter of organization. I think we all struggle with this.

  4. you can make this cake with some of the fruit http://overtimecook.com/2015/07/06/stone-fruit-cornmeal-cake/

  5. I agree with your friend that its a good idea to continue the pantry challenge and use up the food before you move. The money you save on grocery shopping can be divided in two, half to pay back the vacation fund and half will be used to make a new stockpile in the new house.

  6. I enjoy your blog Penny. I don't think there is anything wrong with having a full pantry of food as long as you are using the food and not wasting it. It really is smart to have a cushion of extra to be prepared for the unexpected. You are right that it is good to use up the older items. The chicken frames were a great find! When I make chicken or turkey broth I pressure can it for later use. Can the extra fruit be dehydrated, canned or made into jam for later use if it unable to be eaten now? What about making fruit leather? I think the idea of using your pantry instead of shopping to save money before your move is a good one...and it will save work hauling it to the new place. Good luck with it! --Julie V

  7. I've been doing good working on my dry goods pantry stuff. When I had to trash 2 boxes of cake mix I decided "no more waste."

    I've changed my diet which means eating more fresh veggies and fruit and have found smoothies are a lifesavers when it comes to fruit about to go to the compost. Right now my freezer is packed, I've spent way too much money this pay period on groceries so I only plan to purchase what's absolutely needed, not wanted. Stupid stock up sale at Kroger was my undoing but I got 8 boxes of scalloped potatoes ($2.00 total) for the winter and plan to use all of them.

    Going to be making more cupcakes for the hubby and finally work on getting rid of some dry beans for chili which makes a easy quick lunch at work.

    I've also stopped buy junk food for me (except a bag of mini Almond Joy cos a craving must be sated) and I've cut back on per-processed carbs...no more cheez-its or Cheetos. I view those as poison now which helps my hand from grabbing them from the shelf.

    Between my pantry challenge and weight loss (5 lbs gone and stayed gone for 3 weeks now...whoopie) I think my winter months will be easy on the pocket book.

    Good luck Penny and keep up the great job of this blog, love it!


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