Getty; Inset: Courtesy Alie & Georgia
Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark, a.k.a. Alie & Georgia, host Cooking Channel food-travel series Tripping Out with Alie & Georgia. Visit PEOPLE.com every Thursday for their playful spins on celebrity recipes, cocktails, entertaining ideas—and, of course, lots of laughs!
Daylight savings time is almost back! Sure we spring forward and lose an hour of sleep, but we gain a new start. Blossoms are budding, grass is peeking up from the soggy mud, spring is springing and… pantries are cluttered. Yes, it’s time to clear out the winter kitchen chaos and make way for a new season.
Every year, we do a major clean out, but instead of tossing food (and money) into the garbage, we get creative. Skip the heavy grocery shopping for a few weeks and instead clean out those cabinets, pick through that tundra known as your freezer and make the most of what you’ve already bought. You’d be shocked how much money you save and space you discover by getting creative with the food in your house.
Plus, there’s something kind of thrilling about making a meal with ingredients you forgot you had. Just pretend that you’re camping or surviving in an outpost like a pioneer! We swear it’s fun — especially when you realize you have more money to go buy cute new spring sandals.
Here’s what to make with what you’ve got lying around:
Cans of Soup
How many cans of soup do you have taking up space in your cupboard? How many have been there for more than six months? Okay, pull out that low-sodium chicken noodle or that bland tomato soup and use it as a base for a better meal. Sautee some veggies and add them to chicken soups, or crush up some fresh garlic and add some cheese on top of that bowl of tomato and suddenly, you have a pretty decent lunch and more room in the pantry.
Let us guess: You have a small collection of canned green beans, kidney beans, corn and tomato paste, right? One word: stew! Add some chopped onion or garlic powder, salt and pepper, and then stir in that tomato paste and whatever’s in your dusty stash of canned veggies. Let it cook on low in a slow cooker for a few hours and voila: You have a practically free yet totally hearty veggie stew. And a recycling bin full of tin. Win!
We all have that bag of frozen chicken frosting over in the back of the freezer. Slow-cook it and not only will you reclaim some freezer space, but you’ll also have a great meal that works for lunch, dinner or leftovers. We love Chicken Vesuvio: a super simple stew of chicken, white wine, bouillon and a little lemon juice. It’s savory, tart and easy to cook. Giada’s recipe is our favorite, and it’s so simple to toss in some frozen lima beans or other veggies you have lying around. Bonus: You can also get rid of that half-bottle of white wine in the fridge you didn’t finish this weekend. (Wait, who are we kidding? We always finish our bottles of wine.)
If you still have frozen burger patties from that Labor Day barbecue, we won’t judge you. But eat ‘em already before it’s grilling season again! One great way to save over-frozen ground beef is to thaw, crumble and brown it for enchiladas, lasagnas or tacos. We’ve never turned down a taco.
Is there a sad half-loaf of bread in your freezer? Do you avoid making eye contact with it because you don’t want to throw it away, even though sad loaves of bread don’t have eyes? Two words for you: bread pudding! Thaw it out, sweeten it up and bake that sucker. You’ll fall in love all over again.
Every pantry in the world probably has at least one bag of neglected beans. Just because you don’t know how to cook beans doesn’t mean they should go in the trash. Beans are a great source of protein and fiber, and as long as you put a little time into it, they can transform into a wonderful dish. It’s a great idea to soak the beans by putting them in a bowl or pot the night before cooking, and covering them with about an inch of water. Let them soak for 10-12 hours, then drain. Transfer to a big pot, cover with an inch of water again and keep them on a very low simmer for 1-3 hours, checking on their done-ness occasionally. When they’re about the softness you want, add some salt and then reward yourself by making a plate of nachos.
Oh, rice. You’re always there for us. Like, all year round. The same bag. So let’s eat you. Look up a new recipe and use up that container of curry powder for rice and curry night — no delivery necessary! Or toss some rice into a soup and let it soften. Or make a rice pudding. Get weird with rice and you’ll find it has your back.
There’s always a box of crackers with just a few left: not enough to put out on a plate for guests, but too many to toss the box. Put those puppies in a zipper bag and take out your winter aggression by crunching them into crumbs. You now have an excellent binder for meatballs or a lovely breading for meats. And more cabinet space. Boom.
Freezer vegetables can be great and so healthy because they’re frozen right after being picked and have tons of nutrients. But staring down a bag of them can be… blah. Unless you make a great healthy meal like a stir fry. Stir fry saves everything: All you need is a little garlic, soy sauce maybe a few strips of meat to brown. Then toss in those thawed frozen veggies and you have the cheapest, tastiest way to make your pants fit come summer. Bonus tip: If you have salad dressing you haven’t used up, this can work well to flavor a stir fry in a pinch. Just toss it in at the end, stir to make all the flavors mingle and consider dinner done.
In writing this piece, I discovered that I had a bag of mini marshmallows in my cabinet, probably left over from those wintery holiday hot chocolate indulgences. And now they’re getting, well, a little crunchy. Make the most of those ‘mallows by heating them up with butter and making cereal treats, with any cereal you want. Mix up a few cereals! Who cares? You’ll wind up with a new take on a classic dessert — oh, and way more pantry space.
See! Working with what you have on hand becomes a fun and experimental way to save money while spring cleaning. Pretend you’re on Chopped, only the prize at the end is better kitchen skills plus all the money you saved in groceries. And then buy those new shoes.
Alie & Georgia