Clear Out the Pantry and Try New Recipes

Every January, our family plays a game that avoids waste and saves us money and avoids waste. No coupon clipping or deprivation is required. We don’t even need to leave our farmhouse.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: John D. Ivanko

Every January, our family plays a game that avoids waste and saves us money. No coupon clipping or deprivation is required. We don’t even need to leave our farmhouse. What’s the secret? Eating through and clearing out our pantry, savoring delicious meals prepared with ingredients collected, preserved or stored on the back shelves over the past year.

Eating at home and focusing on culinary creativity with ingredients we already have is our kitchen-based New Year’s de-cluttering ritual. Here are guidelines we use for eating through our pantry:

1. Stop Shopping
Go cold turkey on buying food. This can be harder than it sounds, but it offers an easy way to rack up savings on your food bill. Unless it’s an absolutely essential ingredient for a recipe that maximizes those other accumulated pantry ingredients, we just say no.

In addition to the monetary savings, putting the kabash on food purchases for many winter weeks serves a higher environmental purpose: avoiding food waste. We pride ourselves in not wasting food on our dinner plate, but what about the quinoa lurking on the back pantry shelf, nearing its expiration date? Past-code pantry staples add up and contribute to embarrassingly high amounts of food waste: Americans on average waste more than 200 pounds of food a year, according to the 2011 report Global Food Losses and Food Waste. If you consider that, according to the USDA, individuals eat about 5.3 pounds of food per day, that amount of wasted food would feed us for well over a month.

2. Inventory
We assess and organize what we have. We find it easiest to take everything out of the pantry shelves and make a list of key ingredients to use up. Then put everything back so we can locate the rest of our staples. If we can see it, we’ll use it.

While focusing on clearing out the pantry, we remind ourselves to apply the same process to our preserved garden abundance. What did we zealously put up over last summer that needs some culinary dedication before spring rolls in? We had a bumper crop of basil last year and realized we have stacks of containers of delicious pesto in the freezer. To avoid tiring of pesto pasta, we also add pesto to grilled cheese sandwiches or as a filling for homemade ravioli.

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For more ideas on organizing and using up summer garden bounty, check out Lisa’s article “Taste of the Season” in the January/February 2012 issue of Hobby Farm Home.

3. Plan and Research Recipes
Once we identify our ingredient abundance, let the culinary games begin. Winter gifts us with the perfect time for recipe research—from Internet surfing to cookbook reading—to find new ways to use what we have. Get hardcore: If you have it in your pantry, do something with it. Still have Halloween candy? Think cocktails or a caramel-apple bar. When we found a big bag of leftover candy canes during our pantry clear our a few winters ago, we came up with the Peppermint Biscotti recipe below, which creatively uses crushed canes.

4. Repeat: Stop Shopping
This mantra bears repeating. The longer we can hold out before re-stocking up, the more money we’ll save. Plus, we’ll reap the benefits of having open space open on our shelves as spring rolls around, a symbolic way to create some room for the newness of the spring season to come.

Recipe: Peppermint Biscotti
From Farmstead Chef by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist

Yield: 3 dozen biscotti


  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (1½ sticks)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 3¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1½ cup crushed peppermint candy, divided (about 24 regular-sized candy canes)
  • white-chocolate bark for frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add extract.

In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in 1 cup peppermint candy.

Gradually add flour/candy mixture to creamed mixture, beating until blended. (Dough will be stiff.)

Divide dough in half. On baking sheet, roll each portion into a 12-inch by 2½-inch rectangle.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully move to wire rack. Cool 15 minutes. On cutting board, cut 1/2-inch slices at an angle. Place cut side down on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until firm.

For frosting, melt white chocolate. Drizzle over cookie in a swirled design.

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