Kitchen Challenge

If you read the blog recently Kalissa and I are working together on a kitchen challenge.  Both of us have full cupboards and full freezers and want to use things up.

Our goal is to only spend $100 on groceries from April 15th to May 15th.  We aren’t allowed to buy meat and we both want to focus on using that money on perishable products like milk, fruits, and veggies. I’ve been doing good on my kitchen challenge.  I’ve been working hard to try to plan meals around what I have and what I can use up.

Here are some things I used up this week.  I went to the freezer and pulled out some steaks for Karl and me after we had worked so hard and accomplished so much outside.  I figured we had worked hard enough to warrant steaks…so steaks it was.

While I was digging in the freezer I told myself to grab something a little less desirable to have the following night.  Lookie what I found…Oxtail.


For those of you who haven’t heard of that, it’s basically the tail.  It’s very boney with not a lot of meat.  I typically make soup with it…and that’s what I did.

I put the meat in the Instant pot along with water.  Remember I have lots of dried beans??  Well, half of this jar went in with the meat.


I am out of my favorite Better than Bouillon but I did have bouillon cubes so…I used up six of the cubes in this batch of soup.  I am determined not to buy and use any of the others until this jar is used up.  (Admittedly, previous to the challenge I think I would have just left these in the cupboard and bought the Better than Bouillon that I love)


I threw in some chopped onion.  I set the Instant Pot for 62 minutes using the meat button.


Once that was done I pulled out the meat and deboned it.  I added it back to the pot.  Then I chopped celery and carrots too.  I checked the refrigerator for any other stray veggies that needed to be used up.  I found some frozen zucchini and some chopped cabbage so I added that too.   I did add some spices, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Then back in the Instant Pot for 4 minutes on manual.

The soup was FABULOUS!!  Karl was over and ended up having some.  He raved about it too.  Seriously, any soup or stew is WAY better in an Instant Pot.

Sorry, there is not a real recipe.  This is just how I cook.  Especially with soup.  Whatever needs to be used up gets thrown in.

Something else I used up is…two cans of Chicken Gumbo Soup.

I was in the grocery store one day.  I saw Chicken Gumbo soup.  I remembered that my sister-in-law uses it to make Sloppy Joes (Maid-rites).  I remember her talking about it and raving that it’s her favorite way to make them.  So when I saw them I bought them thinking I’d try making Sloppy Joes that way.  Well…the cans went in the cabinet and sat.  I forgot about it.

I saw them because of the kitchen challenge and the other night for a big family supper I made Sloppy Joes using THIS RECIPE.  It’s a super easy basic recipe.  They were good but I still prefer my “throw whatever I have here recipe” for sloppy joes better…but the two cans are used up.  YAHOO!!

Everyone thought the Sloppy Joes were pretty good.  If you haven’t tried it, it is worth a try.

So far the Kitchen Challenge has been really good for me.  It has me thinking “use it up” vs convenience.  Here’s an example.  Keep in mind, I’ve said I’m a “throw it together cook”.  This is another example of that.

I have long made Calico Beans.  I started making these when we first were married.  Here is the recipe.

My sister-in-law gave me the Tummy Tickler 4-H Cookbook as a bridal shower gift back in 1986.  The recipe was in that book.  It’s been a recipe that stayed with our family for years.  I am actually known to bring these beans to potlucks and get-togethers.

I don’t use a recipe anymore.  I loosely follow it, but not to the letter.  I was in a mood to make the beans and thought it would be awesome to use up some beans from the cabinet being I was doing the challenge.  I looked and didn’t have enough beans.  Bummer.  Then I thought NOPE.  You are going to challenge yourself.  You’re going to make the beans only this time use dried beans.

…and that’s what I did.

I had lots of partially opened bags of beans.  Being this recipe uses several kinds of beans, I just threw a bit of this variety of beans together.  I covered them with water plus some extra water and put them in the Instant Pot for 45 minutes on Bean setting (Multigrain setting works too)

While that was cooking I went to get some meat.  This time I used pork sausage rather than hamburger.  DARN.  I didn’t have bacon.  Hmm.  Then I remembered having some beef jerky in the cupboard.  I opened it up and tasted it.  Oh, it was a bit spicy.  Perfect.  I chopped that up and threw that in the pan too along with an onion.

After the beans were cooked I threw it all other.  I added ketchup, mustard, horse radish, brown sugar, salt and pepper, and vinegar and stirred it all up.  Oh, my word…the beans were awesome with a wonderful amount of spice from the jerky.

Sadly I’ll never be able to replicate those beans again…but oh my, we sure did enjoy them.

I sometimes think people aren’t good cooks as they are afraid to experiment.  They think a recipe is “hard and fast”…not deviating from it.  I deviate all of the time.  I come up with some of the best food because of that.

I honestly doubt I will ever use canned beans to make calico beans again.  This was easy and cheaper.

I’m still doing great on the challenge. I did buy some milk, strawberries, and some soy milk this week but that was it.  I spent $86 for the four weeks that we’ve been doing this.  I am continuing on.  I’m happy to be starting with a new $100 to spend.

I’ve made a little alteration to the challenge.  In the $100 that I’m allowed to spend, milk and soymilk aren’t going to be tallied in the $100.  I have Gannon and other childcare kids here that need milk.  It’s not something I’m stock-piling.  I’m also not putting other beverages on the $100 list.  I’m not stockpiling that either.

I found a recipe for a cherry rhubarb dessert.  It uses a can of cherry pie filling.  I have two so I have plans to make that soon.  If it’s good, I’ll share the recipe.

If you’re doing the challenge with Kalissa and me, share some of the things you’ve made in the last week.  Oh…and don’t forget to check out Kalissa’s progress at her blog, The Pink Shoelaces.

20 thoughts on “Kitchen Challenge

  1. Edna I Gerrans

    Thanks for sharing! I’m vegetarian, and your beans sound delicious. I will be looking to cook some beans. Last week I cooked, I guess you could call it a black bean chilli. I soaked a pound of black beans overnight, then cooked them 40 minutes in the instant pot using the beans setting. I cooked butternut squash and sauteed onions and added those to half of the beans along with taco seasoning. We used this in tacos and burritos and now I plan to use the other half of the beans and clear out more leftovers as you suggest. We’ll see how that works!

    Reply
  2. Kate

    I can tell your cooking is as creative as your quilts. So fun to hear you tell of the yummy foods. It sure sounds like the instant is a big help. I’ve never used one, but might have a chance some day.

    Reply
  3. Hedy

    I make variations on my recipes too, but because I forget what I did, I write it on the recipe or copy the original and then write down what I did different. I’m following the clean out the cupboards ,but not with a specific budget each month. I have an instant pot but we have not been as ecstatic about it as you are. We find the flavor just is gone compared to my regular cooking. I will try it again but I’ve been really disappointed with it.

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  4. Stearns Carol

    Yes a creative cook and a creative quilter. When you dont have an ingredient, sub something else. We dont have an instant pot. No room in the cupboard so I would have to purge casserole dishes to buy one. I inherited all my MIL’s dishes as well as what I already had. Soaking beans is not a fun activity and the instant pot sounds great for that. Love reading these updates.

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  5. NJ

    I’m making ham & bean soup right now with ham bones I pulled out of the freezer. We’re having cooler weather so it’s a good time to use it up. It’s a big batch so I freeze some of it too.

    Reply
  6. Barb

    I love Better than Boullion too. When I do meat in the Crock Pot (I don’t have an InstaPot), I have found that browning the meat first develops the meatiness of the flavor. Or it could be that browning the meat just makes it look better.

    Please keep writing about your instapot. I am interested about how real people use their appliances. We recently downsized, and I am trying to be disciplined about what will go into this kitchen, not adding anything that won’t be used. Of course, my kids sometimes decide mom needs this or that. A win when my son gifted me with a Keurig!

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  7. Brenda

    I’ve wondered if you ever added some sauerkraut to your souls????? Since we are smaller in numbers,we have used our pantry cleaning to add to the items we share with shurch and towns pantry.

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  8. Beverly Douglas

    Don’t you have to thaw the meat and soak the beans? I don’t have an Instant Pot but maybe I should get one. All your recipes sound yummy.

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  9. Elle

    Great job Jo! And under budget as well. I’m with you on scratch cooking rather than cans. I have very little canned food. I had a can of black beans and used those a few months ago. Hubster and I agreed they did not taste good. They cook up on the stove in less than 1 hour so no more canned.

    Sunday dinner: ratatouille from the freezer (one of my garden projects each year), some precooked Italian sausage/ground beef from the freezer (I cook ahead a few pounds for quick meals), and some spaghetti noodles.

    Monday dinner: scratch mac n’ cheese. I added some pulled pork from the freezer (we do 8-10 pounds of pork butt/shoulder on the smoker, shred it and freeze for quick meals).

    Tuesday dinner: grilled chicken breast diced over a spinach salad. Need to use up fresh spinach and tomatoes bought 2 weeks ago.

    Brunch: egg salad and pita chips. Each week I do a dozen hardboiled eggs. I have a lot of eggs from our egg lady so I may do a crustless quiche tomorrow using up the remaining fresh spinach.

    I have 2# of brussel sprouts that need to be roasted tomorrow. I’ll grill some salmon to go with tomorrow.

    I last bought groceries 4/29. The only thing I will need later this week is fresh fruit!

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  10. Roxanne

    Elle, we love roasted Brussels sprouts with salmon and serve it with pasta instead of rice. A little Parmesan too. Delicious!

    Reply
  11. JustGail

    As a late comer to the InstantPot, I appreciate your non-recipe recipes for it. I never thought about substituting jerky for bacon before. Though we are more likely to have bacon in the freezer than jerky in the pantry.

    Reply
  12. Margaret in North Texas

    Oxtail adds a lot of flavor– to beans & veggies. The challenge gets more interesting by the week. I think it’s good habit to keep. Have not tried Better than Bullion but plan to as soon as I use up what’s in the cupboard.

    Reply
  13. The Joyful Quilter

    You are doing a great job of using what you have, Jo! Thanks to your encouragement, I used recently expired chocolate from my pantry instead of buying new for the Instant Pot Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake that I made for Mother’s Day. (There was no signs of aging on the chocolate when I opened the package and the cheesecake turned out delicious!)

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  14. Ellen

    I’m also a throw-together cook using basic recipes as a guideline. I love how you use up canned stuff. Inspired by your challenge, I’ve also been cooking up what’s in the freezer and pantry. If I can’t figure out how to use an item, I donate it to our local food bank. Better that is gets used up rather than expiring in my pantry. Keep cooking Jo and inspiring us to eat what we have on hand.

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  15. Lorraine

    Your soup sounds delicious, Jo!

    For the sloppy joes, add 1/2 cup of ketchup and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce to that recipe. That’s how my husband’s Grandma made them.

    I make calico beans, too, and freeze them. Then take out one to heat up for a side dish.

    Reply
  16. Jody Randall

    I grew up eating Sloppy Joes made with Chicken Gumbo soup. My brother and I still to this day use this recipe. I looked at your recipe and ours is different. Along with the mustard add same amount ketchup, 2/3 of a small can of tomato paste, 1 tsp or so of Worchestershire sauce, teaspoon of sugar. Should have an equal taste of ketchup/mustard taste.

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  17. Lisa B

    I recently returned from visiting relatives south with a bad cold. I didn’t feel like cooking and was stuck at home quarantining for a few days so eating out was out of the realm of possibilities. I noticed bags of Taco Soup I made in the IP and froze for my return but that didn’t sound appealing. Then I noticed a bag that I thought contained frozen diced onion, carrot, and celery. I took that, a package of 4 chicken tenders, and a 2 cup container of turkey broth (cooked leftover Christmas turkey with vegies in IP) and set them on the counter to thaw for an hour or so. I diced the tenders, sauteed them in the IP with oil and seasonings, added the package of vegetables that turned out to be celery and red/orange peppers, then added the partial frozen broth, 2 cups water, a small handful of dried onion, and 8 ounces of bowtie noodles. Set the pressure to 4 minutes and the soup was done and wonderful! Tasted like “next day” soup, so good. And so easy when I wasn’t feeling well. I’m going to keep a package of diced vegetables in the freezer for times such as this. My freezer is full and I need to not buy meat for a month or two (or three!). Saturday night I thawed what I thought was 3 halibut cheeks that were a Christmas gift but turned out to be flat scallops! Great treat! I cooked 2 steaks on Mother’s Day for my son and myself. He did little fit-its around while I cooked! A fair exchange. I think my problem is I shop around the exterior of the grocery store and that is where the meat and produce are. I eat the produce in a week but not all the sale meat I buy.

    Reply

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