Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Autumn Pantry and Freezer Meals

Lately, we've been making do with a good bit that's in our pantry and freezer. Not only does this mean that we're not spending as much at the grocery store, but it also means that we're not using that fuel to go to the store. (We're also trying really hard to stick to that $100-150 a month grocery budget so that we can add more to savings.) Since we're avid couponers and sale shoppers, and have never met a freebie we weren't willing to try, our pantry and freezer are stocked with homemade or rock bottom staples to make almost any meal happen.

Last week, I found myself coming home with about a dozen butternut and acorn squash. (The kids harvested the seeds for a lab, but no one wanted the squash. Who was I to turn down free food?) So, I brought them home and cooked and pureed them. (You can cook them in the microwave, after you've seeded them, for about 15 minutes, or leave them whole and cook them in the crockpot for 6-8 hours. Then, just scoop the meat out with a large spoon.) Some of the puree I made into a butternut squash soup (evaporated milk, chicken stock, nutmeg, salt and pepper--no measuring). I spread the puree onto tortillas and made burritos with black beans, rice, and chicken/barbecue... add some sour cream and hot sauce and it's a tasty meal in a jiffy. Some of the puree was frozen for later use in chili as a thickener. I think some of the rest of it might substitute for canned pumpkin in some recipes, since the flavor and texture is almost identical. Do you have any suggestions for using up the rest? We're thinking of experimenting with mixing it with sour cream for a pasta sauce with cheese and keilbasa.

I found this recipe for a quick cream soup mix in Miserly Moms, which turned out to be a great base for tuna casserole for our supper club. It made a large batch, so as long as it's in an airtight container, it's great for soups and casseroles later. (Plus, it doesn't have all the preservatives that are in regular canned soups.)

We're trying to use up some stuff in the freezer so that we have room for a turkey when they go on sale in a few weeks. So, we've made many meals with sausage, which always seems to be a staple in our freezer, and are trying to use more of the homemade stock that's in the freezer. The frozen pizzas are regulars on Friday nights, and I've been making more homemade breads and muffins with the berries we gathered this summer that are in the freezer.

Here are some of our favorites to use up pantry and freezer finds:

  • Chili with beans (use dried beans for biggest savings and home-canned salsa or diced tomatoes)
  • Vegetable and rice/pasta soup (great use up for canned veggies and homemade stock)
  • Minestrone soup (use dried beans and ingredients above)
  • Chicken/turkey soup with rice (cook the carcass in the crockpot with celery, onion, and carrot... then shred the meat from the bones and add quick cooking wild rice at the end for about 20 minutes or until rice is done)
  • Baked potato night (add sauted veggies, leftover lunch meat or chicken, beans, cheese, or any combo)
  • Jazzy mac and cheese (add sauted veggies or sausage/meat; make it from scratch for best flavor and use whole wheat pasta)
  • Pasta with tomato sauce base (add any variety of veggies and/or meat to the can of tomato sauce for a quick meal)
  • Pizza night (use homemade crust and add your own veggies/meat/cheese for a fun dinner)
  • Stir fry (make your favorite stir fry sauce or buy a jar, then just saute the frozen veggies/meat and serve over cooked rice--we use brown rice for greater nutritional value)
  • Berry bread/pancakes (add frozen berries to bread, muffins, or pancakes for added nutrition and flavor)
  • Berry syrup (cook any mix of berries with some sugar and cinnamon for a quick pancake or icecream syrup)
What about you? How do you make meals out of your pantry and freezer to keep from having to go to the store or spend the cash? Does your family have any favorites? I'd love to hear from you!

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