Using Leftovers & Pantry Staples

Last updated: June 5th, 2024

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Wondering how to use leftovers and pantry staples in your cooking? We’ll walk you through our thought process for a few recipes to inspire your next dinner.

This month, we’re reflecting on how to make the most out of leftovers and pantry staples. From reducing food waste to building budget-friendly meals with ingredients you already have, there are plenty of reasons why we’re excited about this topic – and you should be, too! To learn about our experiences cooking with leftovers and pantry items, keep reading below.

Fresh Ingredients & Experimental Cooking

Last month, Alex and I did some experimental cooking with fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market. While we were able to use most of what we purchased for the meals we had planned, we ended up with a few ingredients in need of a recipe. Mainly extra tomatoes, bread, and fresh rosemary.

So we made two separate meals that weekend that incorporated those ingredients:

  1. Budget-friendly charcuterie board
  2. Rosemary and white wine chicken over penne pasta

Each of these recipes was built around using up these leftover ingredients while highlighting them in a new way. We’ll break down our thought process for each dish below, which we hope will inspire you to get creative with your leftovers and pantry staples too!

Two charcuterie boards with cheese, fruit, nuts, and spreads
Incorporating Leftover Ingredients & Pantry Items Into A Budget-Friendly Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie boards are a plethora of cheeses, meats, nuts, jams, spreads, and other delicious items – which makes them the perfect canvas for any assortment of ingredients. While we didn’t already have any cheese or meat for our spread, we did have all the extras. Knowing we could easily incorporate the tomatoes, bread, and rosemary with other ingredients from our pantry and fridge, we built a charcuterie board around these components and supplemented it with budget-friendly cheese and meat selections.

Here are the components we used in our charcuterie board, only two of which we purchased solely for this meal:

  • Rosemary roasted almonds: We made this simple snack to use up the fresh rosemary we bought at the farmer’s market.
  • Fresh tomato slices: We definitely wanted to incorporate the fresh tomatoes from the market, so we sliced them for pairing with bread, pesto, and mozzarella.
  • Bakery bread: Bread is always a good addition to a charcuterie board. We enjoyed our remaining fresh ciabatta with pesto, mozzarella, and tomato, in addition to our dipping oils.
  • Basil pesto: An ingredient we already had in the fridge, which paired perfectly with our fresh tomatoes.
  • Green grapes: Another ingredient we’d purchased earlier in the week. Most fresh fruits go well with cheese, so you can use whatever is in your fridge.
  • Fresh mozzarella slices: We bought a small ball of mozzarella specifically for this charcuterie board to pair with the fresh tomato and ciabatta bread.
  • Aged cheddar cheese: We also purchased cheddar specifically for the charcuterie board, since you can’t have charcuterie without an assortment of cheeses! Aged cheddar is more budget-friendly than other cheeses and pairs well with pepperoni and green grapes.
  • Pepperoni slices: Fresh pepperoni from the deli tastes great with cheddar cheese and grapes, plus it’s more affordable than some other common charcuterie meats like prosciutto. We bought this to use on our charcuterie board and for a pizza we planned to make later that week.
  • Olive oil & balsamic vinegar: Two more ingredients we had in the pantry, perfect for dipping with fresh bread.
  • Balsamic fig jam: Jam is another great refrigerator staple for charcuterie boards. You can use any flavor, really!
  • Spice blends: Spices are a unique addition to charcuterie boards, but one we love (read more about it here). We had two spice blends ready to go that pair well with cheddar.

As you can see, it’s not hard to throw together a beautiful and delicious charcuterie board with ingredients you most likely already have. Charcuterie doesn’t have to break the bank (nor should it, because we like to eat charcuterie more often than we probably should). While you will have to select some fresh cheeses and meats, there are plenty of affordable options that still give you that high-quality flavor!

A dish of rosemary white wine chicken and pasta
Pairing Pantry Staples With Fresh Herbs

Our rosemary and white wine chicken was actually a spontaneous Easter dinner. It was just the two of us celebrating, so we had big plans for an Easter brunch cooking experiment (mango pancakes with coconut cream glaze). The recipe didn’t work out as expected, so brunch was a little bit of a bust – saved only by a few delicious pineapple mimosas. As dinnertime approached, we felt we needed redemption in the form of an Easter dinner-worthy meal. So we scoured the fridge and pantry to see what we could come up with on the fly.

Here are the ingredients we pulled together for this recipe:

  • Chicken
  • White wine
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Rosemary
  • Penne pasta

Nothing too complicated, and we’d been looking for a reason to use up the rest of the rosemary. Inspired by the lessons we learned in Alice Waters’ MasterClass, we felt we could build a flavorful dish by pairing fresh rosemary with simple pantry staples. While this dish also didn’t turn out exactly as we’d hoped, it was still a delicious Easter dinner and our first true “success” building a legitimate meal out of the random ingredients in our kitchen. Definitely an accomplishment for two people who like to plan every meal down to the last ingredient 🙂

So when it feels like you don’t have many ingredients available, think again. One or two delicious flavors, like fresh herbs and a high-quality olive oil, can liven up a dish more than you might think!

A rack of barbecue grilled pork ribs
Repurposing Leftovers

We recently played around with repurposing dinner leftovers as well, and learned that with a little bit of creativity, you can turn what seems like nothing into something great.

Alex and I grilled a rack of St. Louis-style pork ribs for the first time last month, and it was an experience. If you’ve never grilled ribs before, we suggest looking up a few tricks ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard like we were. (We found this article pretty helpful). Since we were a bit overwhelmed with the prep and technique that goes into grilling ribs, we opted for a simple barbecue dry rub and glaze.

The barbecue flavor on these ribs was delicious, but the meat was a little overcooked. So we enjoyed them with a side of steamed cauliflower and sweet potatoes for dinner, and ended up with some leftovers. Naturally, we wondered what we could possibly do with leftover, over-cooked rib meat.

By the next day we were down to very little groceries and didn’t feel like running to the store. We were craving some kind of wrap or sandwich, and we had whole wheat tortillas, so we sliced the rib meat off the bones and cut it up into chunks. I told Alex I could make us rib meat cheesesteak wraps, and he was skeptical (rightly so), but we didn’t have much else to work with.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Warmed the meat in a skillet
  2. Added extra barbecue sauce to put some moisture back into the overcooked meat
  3. Melted cheddar cheese over the meat
  4. Portioned this out into two tortillas and wrapped them
  5. Toasted the wraps on our cast iron griddle with a grill press

And you know what? It was delicious. So much better than I even expected it would be. The extra barbecue sauce and melty cheese helped cover up the dry texture of the rib meat, and the whole wheat wraps toasted beautifully.

The moral of the story is to waste nothing, because you can turn even the saddest or smallest amount of leftovers into a tasty meal! We could have thrown away our leftover ribs because they were overcooked and it was just two ribs. But instead, we salvaged the meat and brought life back into it in a totally new way, with just three other ingredients. So next time you’re debating throwing away those leftovers, think twice and see what new dish you can create with it the next day!

If you have any questions regarding the information presented in this post, please refer to our Nutrition Disclaimer here.

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