Pantry foraging: how to make a meal out of almost nothing

By Elizabeth Atia

Lockdown. Who would have thought that we would be facing this as a response to the global coronavirus pandemic. As I type, from my remote North Sea island home, we’re in Day 2 of the UK government’s new ‘Stay at Home’ rule, but it’s Day 17 for our family with regards to social distancing.

Truth be told, because I am one of the fortunate ones who work from home this isn’t a big lifestyle change for me (although I am very much missing my fitness classes!). Also, because we live on a remote island, we’re used to spending long periods at home shut off from supplies. During the winter gales our transport links to the mainland are often disrupted, so we’ve always got enough food on stand-by, just in case.

A friend joked the other day that I’ve got an added advantage in coping with times like these – I could make a nice meal out of two sticks and a grain of rice.

So, I thought I’d share with you a few simple tips and tricks I tend to employ during those times when fresh ingredients aren’t as readily available. It’s quite amazing what you can make with just a few store cupboard ingredients, when needed!

First, you’re going to want to do an inventory of what you’ve already got at home. Now is as good a time as ever to empty out those cupboards and do a stock take.

Second, do the same with your freezer and your refrigerator. Freeze anything in your fridge that’s about to go out of date instead of wasting it - even that last little bit of cream in the bottom of the carton.

11 things you can freeze so it will last longer

1. Fresh ginger root – simply grate what you need straight from the freezer.

2. Sliced bread – it's easy to remove a slice or two from the bag, as needed, defrosting for a half hour or so to make your sandwich or toast.

3. Blanched vegetables – parboil your extra veg, like carrots, broad beans, etc. and freeze until needed. Often these can be cooked straight from frozen, saving time too.

4. Leftovers – leftover pasta sauce can be bagged up into individual portions, leftover roast meats can be chopped into pieces for use casseroles and leftover soup defrosts and reheats wonderfully.

5. Milk on its best by date can be frozen in ice cube trays for your morning coffee.

6. Blend yogurt that’s going out of date with over ripe fruit and pour into ice lollymoulds.

7. Cheddar cheese – cheddar often needs to be used up within 3-7 days of opening the packet, but you can prolong this by grating extras and freezing it. Use it straight from frozen to top pizzas, pasta and make cheese sauce.

8. Leftover coconut milk – recipes often don’t call for a whole tin. Freeze in ice cube trays and use as needed.

9. Wine – if you didn’t finish the bottle (and forgot to cork it before you went to bed!) pour the leftovers into ice cube trays in the morning and use in stews/sauces later.

10. Cream – freeze in ice cube trays and use in cooking. The fat may separate upon defrosting, but it’ll still be good for sauces, etc.

11. Bacon – freeze it in the pack and cut off what you need and cook straight from frozen.

3 things you can make with instant porridge oats

1. Porridge – use 40 grams of porridge oats and 250 ml of water or UHT milk (or a mix of both) per person. Cook over a medium heat until thick and bubbling – it'll only take a few minutes. Serve with nuts, seeds and a sprinkling of dark muscovado sugar.

2. Fruit crumble topping – add a handful or two to your favourite crumble recipe and use to top tinned fruit (peaches work really well). Tip: crumble topping can be frozen for later.

1. Homemade granola- check out how I make mine here:

3 things you can make with a tin of chickpeas

1. Hummus without tahini (see recipe below) - why not top it with some roasted vegetables like Corrie’s Rabbit Food suggests here:

2. Moroccan-inspired slow cooker lamb stew – use defrosted lamb from the freezer, store cupboard spices, a tin of tomatoes, some dried raisins/apricots/figs and a tin of chickpeas for a hearty meal

3. Spiced chickpeas: cook an onion in a little oil, sprinkle over a generous spoonful of baharat seasoning and stir in a few generous handfuls of fresh chopped greens (spinach, kale or chard) or some defrosted frozen spinach. Season well with black pepper and serve.

Easy store cupboard tuna & sweetcorn pasta

400 grams dried pasta, cooked according to the packet instructions

1-2 tins of tuna, drained

1 small tin sweetcorn, drained

1 400-gram tin of tomato soup

Mix together all the ingredients (no need to heat the soup, just pour it over the hot cooked pasta). Jazz it up with some mature grated cheddar and a sprinkling of hot chilli pepper, if desired.

How to make hummus without tahini

1 x 400 gram tinned chickpeas

4 tbsp lemon juice (from a bottle is fine)

60 ml olive oil (any mild vegetable oil will work too)

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed (or 1 tsp dried garlic granules)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

freshly ground black pepper

Cold water

Wash and drain the chickpeas. If you remove the chickpea skins you will end up with a creamier hummus. Place the chickpeas along with the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper in blender or food processor. Puree, adding some cold water, a few teaspoonfuls at a time, until the hummus reaches the desired consistency.

I hope I’ve given you a few new ideas here. Meantime, stay safe, stay at home and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home.

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