Iron Chef Pantry Clean Out: Tuesday Talk

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Heather says:

Yesterday at lunch I couldn’t face another PB&J (for myself, I’ve really been a slacker lately, the kids eat way better than I have been). I opened up the cupboards and freezer -and yes, I could hear my mother fussing in my head- and stared, and stared, and stared.

I talk about menu planning all the time.

Heck, I’ve written a menu planning primer.

I also frequently recommend and SavingDinner (Summer Menus), both are great tools if you just don’t have the mental bandwidth or time to create your own. (SayMmm creates shopping lists from your plans / chosen recipes and SavingDinner has complete menus with recipes and shopping lists.)

Still there are times when life just happens and you get off track.

I’ve written about that before, too:

I’m Overwhelmed
(reader question)
I Am Overwhelmed
(another reader question)
Overwhelmed by Mess
(sense a theme?)
Feeling Desperate
(If you’re new, I’ve updated a few times since this post, the woman who wrote the email is doing much better)
The Dangerous Comparison Game
(update – the kids will be going to public school this fall)


Where was I?

Oh, yeah, overwhelmed. In the past month I’ve been to Minnesota and back (23 hour drive there and ridiculously obnoxious flight home), upped my hours at the pub to nearly full-time, applied for jobs, and launched our home’s birthday season. And that’s enough and it’s okay that I’ve let things slide and become behind. It happens to everyone from time to time.

I’m working on getting my act back together. Are you?

Yesterday I decided to try to find my cooking mojo (have you seen it?) and I certainly did not want to head out into the ridiculous heat and humidity to go the grocery store. This limited me to what I could find in and around my house (the kids demanded a garden this spring, I planted a few herbs and said, “There, that’s all I can handle kiddos, happy?”  Now I’m kind of glad I did.)

I grabbed a few handfuls of neglected basil and tossed them along with some walnuts and olive oil into the food processor, this is a trick I call poor man’s pesto as pine nuts are ridonkulously expensive. (If I had to do it over again, I would have done this step last as it oxidized quickly, but the flavor was fine.)

I dug into the freezer and found some meatballs and broccoli. In the pantry I found a box of pasta, a can of olives, and a can of artichoke hearts.

And it turns out that some of my best cooking happens when I have no plan and I wing it.

I’ve always wanted to do an Iron Chef Special, family style. I think the challenge should have random children running on set with insane demands, the chefs should have to fold at least one load of laundry, unload the dishwasher, and convince a child to set the table. Additionally, at some point during the challenge someone should use up a critical ingredient -perhaps an inconsiderate teen will walk by and drink the last of the milk or someone will have put back an empty egg carton -why?! I ask, why?! Or maybe the garlic will have sprouted. The bonus challenge? Unexpected company with some health claim: lactose intolerant, gluten free, won’t eat green food (we all know some people have legitimate dietary needs and others are just a pain in the butt).

I think that would be way more entertaining than watching chefs with every tool and ingredient on hand.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by life and trying to get back on track? (I’m heading to the grocery store later today, don’t worry).


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21 thoughts on “Iron Chef Pantry Clean Out: Tuesday Talk”

  1. Oh I’d watch that show!!!  But no one would be impressed I suppose as it’s ‘Mom’ stuff LOLI’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed – I find it’s a tide around here – I’ve got things humming, then it gets busy or things change somehow, then it gets bad enough that finally I have to re-motivate and replangreat work getting that awesome dinner out

    • cherieamb thanks. @tastelikecrazy and I were discussing how the whole Iron Chef thing forces us to be creative. If we’ve got a full pantry and a stocked fridge, it’s easy to whip up something boring.But yes, life is exactly like that. And then? Then there are times where the tide is high and it feels like someone is handing you bricks.

    • imabug you know the two of you are always welcome to finish off our milk (unless it’s pre-coffee, even the kids know to leave that last splash there). The kids would sing your praises if you finished off the last tomato.

  2. I hope things get back under control for you soon. That overwhelmed feeling can completely take over.A few times a year in my house we do the pantry challenge. We only buy milk, and the rest of the food has to come from the fridge, freezer, cabinets and garden. Towards the end of the week it gets very Iron Chef: Today’s mystery ingredient is … canned beets.

    • TammyL you know, I don’t ever recall purposely buying canned beets, yet I know I have a couple of cans. I think the bag boys stick them in when we aren’t paying attention.

  3. Oh…my…word. That image of Iron Chef is quite possibly one of the funniest scenarios, ever!!! I cannot stop laughing!!! If the publishing industry continues to remain ignorant of the true needs and desires of its buying public—aka, books like yours—then perhaps you should check into screen/skit writing. I would pay to be a member of that studio audience!!

    • SouthernFriedTech thank you. I’ve been picturing that particular little scenario for years. I think it would be extra fun if it were still dubbed, you know, like the original Iron Chef.

  4. Heather, I truly think you should pitch that show to Food Network.  Seriously, it’s awesome.  I would love to participate!!!I was the freaky kid who liked beets…on beet day at school, everybody knew where to dump their unwanted purple discs, and I was happier than a pig in slop.  Arguably, I *was* a pig in slop on those days.  ;o)  So if you wanna get rid of your canned beets, you know where to send ’em.

    • KeterMagick oh, I just thought of another challenge. They should have to have donated to some random charity three years ago in the past and receive those phone calls throughout the show. (I once donated $20 bucks to a charity to feed Native American children and now they call me several times a week, send me crap in the mail, and beg me to donate to not only feed the children, but now their horses, too) They love to call during dinner prep and I know they’ve spent well over $20 bucks chasing me down for more. UGH

      • HeatherSolos ACK!  Animals underfoot and a husband who changes his mind about what he wants just after you have committed to what he said earlier are also really good tests.  I totally hear you about the random charity thing.  It’s why I literally never answer my land line.

  5. I completely understand feeling overwhelmed and have days when my children eat well and me, not so much. But I totally get how sometimes the best meals are made when you’re just throwing things together. 

  6. First of all what an awesome show idea. That would really test a chef’s
    abilities. And secondly, when I am feeling overwhelmed by life – as I
    am right now with a new baby – I cut myself some slack in the kitchen.
    We’re still eating healthy meals but we’re keeping it simple. Grilling
    things, egg dishes, pastas and every once and a while ordering take out.

  7. I would watch that show all the time!  I feel the same way.  I get creative when I don’t know what I want to eat but am determined to only eat what I have on hand.  That is why i am so interested in learning what flavors go best together. While menu planning is awesome, sometimes I just want the freedom to wing it!

    • MamaDweeb well there’s an idea for a series right there. So as a new cook you’re unsure what flavors complement one another? What spices are in what cuisines? Etc?

      • HeatherSolos Yes! Exactly.  I know basics, but would love to hear more.  Like what do you use Allspice for? What does Cumin do? And how can I make boring dishes more fun?

  8. I love the Iron Chef family style episode idea – hilarious. I actually might be able to win that one! 😉 I did the 6:00pm stare here tonight and I don’t know if it’s because it’s summer or what, but coming up with dinner ideas has been really tough lately. I have been stopping into local farmer’s market and picking up fresh local fruits & vegetables, so that’s been great, but the main courses have been severely lacking creativity….e.g. rotisserie chicken. I’m sure once the temperatures cool and I’m not able to enjoy the outdoors as much as I do in the summer, my cooking mojo will show back up. I hope. 


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