Since we have been preparing to go on vacation, we have been eating in a lot lately. Not only that, we have been eating in trying to use up odds and ends before leaving and trying to spend the least amount possible. So this inspired me to share with you what I have been learning about making something out of nothing: cooking with eclectic ingredients and coming out on top!

Idea number one: Stir Fry

I pieced together a stir fry (actually, it ended up being “sweet and sour pork”) using a cup of dry white rice, a small container of chopped onions left over from our gyro, a bag of frozen California blend veggies, some leftover frozen corn cut from the cob, some torn up lunchmeat (ham), dried ginger, sesame seeds, a few pieces of cut fresh cilantro, and about a third of a bottle of leftover Kikkoman brand sweet and sour sauce. I just pulled out the wok, heated some vegetable oil, fried all the ingredients except the rice (cooked in a microwave rice cooker), and had dinner for us that night as well as lunch the next day. And it actually tasted pretty good, for what it was.

Stir fry is an awesome way to use up any old veggies in your fridge you’re not quite sure what to do with, or utilize frozen veggies and leftover meat and/or rice. You can use any number of combinations of veggies, meat, and rice. Essential flavors include soy sauce and ginger (sesame seeds are a nice touch if you have them on your shelf), and the rest is up to what you have in your fridge. Don’t be afraid to experiment-I’m not sure I’ve ever made a bad stir fry. Easy, convenient, and cheap. Can’t beat that!

Idea number two: Brinner

Brinner stands for “breakfast for dinner” and this is a favorite of my husband. Brinner can take some time to prepare, but the results, in my humble opinion, are well worth it. I recently made a brinner using up some eggs in our fridge (can’t get a much cheaper source of protein than eggs), some turkey bacon (we keep this frozen and we both prefer turkey bacon to traditional bacon), and pancakes.

I have discovered the art of making pancakes without eggs or milk-yes, it can be done! My most recent pancakes used about three cups of heart-healthy Bisquick, a can of organic pumpkin, a cup of water, about two tablespoons of brown sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of ginger. Simply mix all the ingredients until well-blended and smooth, and then cook just like traditional pancakes. I used about a third of a cup of dough per pancake. They are a bit thicker than traditional pancakes but AWESOME.

NOTE: I had three pancakes left over, and packed them in my lunch the next day. They were just as tasty the next day, although I will admit they of course had that bit of rubbery texture.

No trick to the bacon-fry to taste, and my taste is extremely crispy! Then I fried the eggs in the leftover bacon grease (not much as I used turkey bacon, but still good).

For this brinner, I used up four eggs by scrambling them with more lunchmeat ham (made this go a little further, also), dried dill, a bit of fresh cilantro,  fresh cracked pepper, and a small amount of diced tomato left over from our gyro. I added shredded cheddar cheese just before removing from heat. Another good combination for these eggs is dill, cilantro, cayenne pepper, bell peppers, tomato, and feta cheese.

I also have made homemade hash browns with those huge bags of potatoes that just sit around the kitchen. Here’s how: take desired number of potatoes, rise, and poke holes with a fork. Microwave until done (will depend on number of potatoes, size, and wattage of microwave)-also, this is a perfect use if you already have leftover baked potatoes and obviously you can skip this step. Allow potatoes to cool and then shred on a grater over a bowl-I included skin and all. Heat about two tablespoons of vegetable oil on skillet over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add potatoes. Add desired seasonings such as salt and fresh cracked pepper, cayenne pepper, cilantro, and/or vegetable seasoning mix. Fry several minutes until they start to get golden. Add any desired ingredients, such as chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, or cheese, then continue to fry until potatoes are golden brown and crispy, veggies are slightly tender, and cheese is melted (in my case, I used peppers and tomatoes).

I happened to have all these ingredients-but you can take this idea and use whatever YOU might have in your fridge or on your shelf. Again, don’t be afraid to get creative! Toast would probably serve just fine if you don’t want to make pancakes and/or hash browns-it would certainly be easier! Remember, the point of all of this is to use up ingredients and save money, but still have something tasty to eat for dinner!

Idea number three: Quesadillas

Last night I made myself another “something from nothing” dinner by using leftovers in my fridge. I simply heated about a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Once the oil was hot, I added one whole wheat tortilla shell. Then I topped that with shredded cheese, a bit of fresh cilantro, and once again that lunchmeat ham! I topped this with another whole wheat tortilla shell, and fried both sides until brown and the cheese was well melted. The shell shrank a good bit in this process. I removed the quesadilla to a plate and cut into four sections. I then mixed some salsa and fat free sour cream, topped each section with the mix, and enjoyed! This is another meal that could utilize any number of combinations of meat, veggies, cheese, rice, beans…make it your own! Once again, the name of the game is to use up spare ingredients and save money! Don’t be afraid to get creative and try something new.

Idea number four: Crockpot soup

Although I haven’t made this recently, I do utilize this idea often to use up leftovers, especially when I am in school and have little time to cook but want a hot meal to help me study! This is another way to use up any number of eclectic ingredients you may have in your fridge/on your shelf that you just don’t know what to do with. You can take basically any combination of veggies, rice, barley, meat, beans, spices, etc. and make something delicious and plentiful! For the “base,” you will need one carton of broth (could be veggie or beef)-if you don’t have broth, you may also use bullion cubes and water-follow the ratio on the package to make the broth. I ALWAYS mix in one can of chopped tomatoes, with juices-usually the variety with Italian seasonings (in a pinch, I have used salsa). After that, your imagination is the limit. Use whatever veggies, meat (meat is really optional, I rarely put meat in my soup), spices, rice, beans that you want to get rid of….I have found that you can add dry grains such as rice or barley to the mix, and if you allow this to cook all day in the Crockpot on low (8-10 hours), the grains will cook nicely into the mix. Just make sure you have a good amount of broth (I usually add some extra water if I do this) so as to allow the dry grains enough liquid to cook. I also really like adding fresh spinach to the soup. I usually fill my large Crockpot almost to the brim, set it on low, and allow it to cook all day (again, 8-10 hours). This soup will last all week! I also like this because it makes a great, filling, low fat snack.

I hope these ideas have given you inspiration to look at the odds and ends in your fridge and see possibilities for dinner, not items that will fester until thrown away! And I invite you to share any ideas that you have found to turn “something into nothing.”

We will be leaving for vacation to the outer banks tomorrow, so I hope upon my return I have many reviews to share with you! Until next time, bon appétit!