Strange pantry cooking: Creative culinary concoctions from someone else’s kitchen

Guest post by stealmystapler

Every winter, I have the joy of working in a historic backcountry cabin that serves as an occasional seasonal warming hut. Skiiers and snowshoers, fresh from the trail, stop in for a warm place to eat their lunch and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. While the experience has helped me grow in many ways, perhaps the most surprising is how it has helped me become a more creative cook!

While cooking duties often fall to me, simply because I enjoy them, the grocery shopping is often done by someone else. At first I was frustrated by the surprise, but now I revel in it.

Cooking in another person’s kitchen awkward and daunting. Each of us have our own set points for what is normal in our pantries — and learning the layout of a new kitchen is always tricky. However, once you get the hang of it, the opportunity for creativity abounds!

Vacation rental kitchens are great for this. Random grains or spices left over from a previous tenant? Dried up feta? Strange condiment? All fodder for the most amazing meal (or at least an interesting creative experience).

Winter weekend cooking often comes with a general framework from the grocery shopper. Perhaps a chili, a stew, or a pasta. With a little of this and little of that left over from previous meals, or a forced substitute you’d never have made otherwise (Ginger instead of garlic in tzatziki? A new creation — ersatziki!). Once in a rental that saw plenty of turnover and left behind foodstuffs from other researchers, I found a can of tuna that reopened my eyes to its possibilities far beyond the tuna mac and cheese and sandwiches I’d been brought up with.

I’ve grown to learn that sometimes all creativity needs is a few restrictions or parameters. While I love a good recipe, these days I’m almost always starting with the contents of my pantry and refrigerator (especially now during CSA season!). You can get pretty far with a few pantry-based keywords in Google to find inspiration for how to use yet more kale and zucchini.

But I’ll admit, I’m curious what culinary adventures I’ll find in my next vacation rental or backcountry meal. Bring on the unpronounceable spices, unfamiliar vegetables, and items lost in the refrigerator tundra. I’m ready!

Now I’m curious about YOUR recent culinary adventures. What creative recipes have you invented using someone else’s pantry?

Comments on Strange pantry cooking: Creative culinary concoctions from someone else’s kitchen

  1. About once every other month or so, my husband and I declare a no shopping week. Sometimes it is because we’re out of money but generally it is because the pantry/fridge/freezer starts to get to that stuffed full of random crap stage. We generally always have rice and beans as the staple of the week but generally have at least one asian meets latino meets a dried up vegetable stew thing. We’ve never made anything inedible but sometimes we don’t save the leftovers 😉

    In all seriousness though, I think it’s one of the best ways to learn how to actually cook beyond the ability to follow a recipe. It also helps you learn how to use your spice cabinet and what your essentials are.

  2. Adventure? You mean when I turned over the bottle of mustard I’d used several times at my aunt’s house, only to discover that it was nine years out of date?

    I do a lot of cooking at my parents’ house, which presents the problem of a lot of tinned and boxed ingredients. Their pantry also leads to a lot of “HOW DO YOU NOT HAVE THIS?!??!” moments.

    • Yikes! While visiting family recently, I had a close call with a carton of half and half… it didn’t smell bad, but I peeked inside just in case and MOLD. ICK. I forget that things we constantly use up in our house don’t have the same turnover in other households.

  3. Love this! Yes! When I have been uber-broke (hello San Francisco rents), I have gotten really creative. Turned out with lemon cookies that tasted like play-doh, but hey – I tried!

    There’s something fun and childhood-memory inducing about mixing together whatever you have, to try and make something edible. Crock pots are great for this too. I get all excited about it and find myself saying “Work with what your mama gave you!” (this week that was actually really good stuff from her garden, but yeah..)

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