Pantry Challenge Day 21: Playing a Game of Chopped

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This is Day 21 of my month-long Pantry Challenge series  where we’re eating down the pantry (and freezer and fridge) to use up what we have, rotate stock, and save some cash. I played an at-home game of Chopped and hubs said I moved to the next round!

The variety of ingredients is getting slim around here. There’s some fun stuff (like puff pastry) mixed in with not-so-fun stuff (like chicken thighs). Somehow I’m making things work together in some odd way. We’re getting there. Not sure I can make it another 11 days, but we’ll see.

Today was a lazy day at home and meals were my biggest accomplishment. Here’s how:


Who doesn’t want breakfast in bed? No matter that I had to go downstairs to get it, I did get to sleep in until 8 am. This is major after so many years of early rising with babies. (I did have my 4yo “baby” in bed with me, but I got to sleep in.)

I went down, brewed a cup of coffee, and laid out a breakfast bar of cranberry bread, oatmeal, and granola. Then I headed back up stairs for a leisurely morning, looking over my calendar and planning for the week.


A few hours later I headed down to make chili with the leftover beans and pork from the last two days. I am not as big of a chili fan as my family. So, under the pretense of using up the broccoli raab, arugula, and spinach from the previous week’s produce box, I sauteed a pan of greens and fried a few eggs in it.

I added a few extras like dollops of goat cheese. It was an experiment. The google told me that arugula’s bitterness is offset by the creaminess of goat cheese. I wish I had added more, it was so so good!

Another “extra” was to mix up some seasoned bread crumbs. I read in the latest issue of Bon Appetit about using bread crumbs on anything. For some reason that came to my mind while I was making the eggs. I didn’t have any bread for toast to serve with the eggs, so the bread crumbs were a perfect crunchy foil.

I had two wimpy, sad, hard slices of baguette leftover from breakfast yesterday. I ground those up and sauteed them with butter and seasoned them with garlic salt. It was quite good! Much better than chili.

For lunch dessert, we had little puff pastry turnovers, two kinds filled with plum jam and applesauce, like these. Yum!


I had thawed chicken thighs that I needed to use. Hubs doesn’t like dark meat. I knew he probably wasn’t going to be thrilled. I told him it would be like a game of Chopped. He was skeptical that I would make it to the next round. And he said so! (In a joking way…)

So, I made a saute of chicken, mushrooms, garlic, and white wine, seasoned with thyme and thickened with cream and a bit of cornstarch. It was a total winner.

Especially when he looked at me and said, “You made it to the next round.”

Ha! I’ll be making this again — with chicken breast and a few other tweaks. It was really good.

Day 21 Menus

Breakfast: Breakfast Bar with Granola, Instant Oatmeal, and Cranberry Bread
Lunch: Chili, Skillet Eggs and Greens, Apple Turnovers
Dinner: Chicken and Mushroom Saute, Rice, ButteredCarrots

So that’s the day.

How was YOURS?

This post is part of a month-long Pantry Challenge series. You can read more about my goals for the challenge here.

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  1. Tonight I spent a couple of hours baking. I made hot cross buns, chocolate chip bread and orange-cranberry granola. That will take care of breakfast for this week. Next week may be a bit more of a challenge. We are down to 2 cups of all purpose flour and 1 cup of brown sugar. Most of my recipes have been passed down from my grandmothers and none of them call for whole wheat flour. However, since I have an unopened bag I will be looking for some recipes. We still have several cups of white sugar and plenty of powdered sugar. I also found two bottles of molasses in the back of the pantry today that I missed during week one’s inventory.

    Today’s menus
    B: French toast and applesauce
    L: Leftover turkey for me and the kids; leftover chili dogs for my husband
    D: Hamburger-potato soup and hot cross buns
    Evening snack: chocolate chip bread still warm from the oven with a tall glass of milk — smiles all around the table

    • @Janet, I pretty much always use half AP flour and half WW in all my baking. It sometimes make the product slightly more dense than if it was all white flour, but otherwise is not a problem. Full wheat only will definitely produce a denser product. If you want to stretch your AP, just mix it.

      • @Sandi, Thanks for the information! I am trying to incorporate more whole grains into our diets, hence the purchase of whole wheat flour. I feel like I bought a treadmill and am now using it as a clothes rack lol. Need to start using some of these healthier additions in my cooking.

        • @Janet, I’ve found that whole wheat works really well in recipes with yeast. But I use whole wheat pastry flour in quick breads and pancakes and such. Gives them a lighter texture than the straight whole wheat. That said, there are different grinds of whole wheat, so you may have an all-purpose one. Do what sandi said, and start with half and half. The wheatiness of 100% can be overpowering if you’re not used to it.

  2. Oooh, that meal you had for dinner is definitely a favorite around here! I had fun with breakfast. I found a bottle of Bisquick just-add-water pancake mix that I had bought quite a while ago (read: a couple of years) for a camping trip. I was going to just throw it away, but I could not find anything on it that indicated a ‘use before’ date. I’ve never used Bisquick, so I did not know if the stuff went bad. There was no tell-tale rancid smell. Since I didn’t have to risk any other ingredients besides water, I thought I’d give it a shot. I will testify that yes, the stuff goes bad.

    Breakfast: L/O cran-pumpkin bread, bacon, Bisquick pancakes (threw away)
    Lunch: L/O pork ribs, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes
    Dinner: Chipotle – if you bought a gift card last month and had your receipt showing the purchase, you could get a free entree until the end of Jan. We had two (one I bought for myself since I knew I would use it and might as well get a free meal to stretch the value) and decided last week to use them today since we would be out late tonight anyway.

  3. Without a singular focus or reason, fully embracing the Pantry Challenge has not been my MO this month. However, I do want to express my appreciation for the sharing of stories, ideas, inspirations and difficulties. Thank you to all for doing so. Jessica, I am glad I found your site (as well as your freezer cookbook).

    Here’s to the start of a good week here–using food we have on hand and getting creative with the leftovers.

  4. I have a question for you about the dinner you made. What was your original intention in buying the chicken thighs? I often come across things that are good deals but that my family may not love and I feel that I need to buy it anyway. Do you have a plan instead of just cooking the thighs like you did with the sauerkraut dinner? I would love to see a post about what to do with healthy and cheap ingredients when you don’t love them in the original form. Like bone in chicken thighs or bone in chicken breasts, i enjoy the b/s ones but not bone in ones. How could I use these cheaper ingredients to get the best value?

    Thanks and I love your pantry challenges! I am not following along exactly but I am trying to use what I have before I buy more. And I don’t enjoy going to the store with a wind chill of -5 so I am trying really hard to stay home!

    • @Dana, And this week at Kroger they have drumsticks, thighs and bone in breasts for 0.99 a pound. So I will be buying some of course!

    • @Dana, Hi, Dana, I buy the bone-in chicken and pork when it is clearly cheaper or there is a big sale, and will skin and bone the chicken myself if I need to, and cut apart my whole chicken to pieces, also. My family will eat most anything, though I have one child who doesn’t care much for chicken, so I try to make it extra tasty so he will eat it.

    • @Dana, I often buy sale cuts of meat without a plan. My target price is $2/pound or under. So, when I see meat for those prices, I’m happy to take a chance on it. I knew hubby didn’t like dark meat. But, it’s a cheap meat. I bought it for the idea of recipe testing and experimenting.

  5. I do like a few dishes that are dark meat based like, chicken in oyster sauce served over rice (but its very salty) and chicken and rice. To make some items stretch when I have unexpected company, I’ve made Haitian rice and beans add in shredded chicken, salsa and shredded cheese and baked it.

    This morning was oatmeal and pumpkin scones and hot chocolate (its -16F here right now with a high of -2F), due to the cold weather the boys have no school so lunch will probably be chili, and supper is hotdogs with baked beans.

    Yesterday I made up the pumpkin scones and 3 loaves of pumpkin cranberry bread, and I also put together 6 cake mixes (3 chocolate, 3 yellow).

    • @Heather, What recipe do you use for the cake mixes? Thanks!

      • @Tiffany R, For the yellow cake mix its 2c flour, 1 1/2c sugar, 1Tbsp baking powder, 1/2c powdered milk and a pinch of salt all in a qt ziplock. cooking directions add 3/4c water, 1 tsp vanilla 1/2c butter (melted) 3 eggs. If you want that to be a white instead of yellow omit the egg yolks. I found this one on’s blog.

        For chocolate its 2 3/4c flour, 1 3/4c sugar, 1/4c coco powder, 2 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt to bake add 1/2 c oil, 1/4c water, 2 tsp vanilla and 3 eggs. but this way turns out dry IMO so instead I add in 1 chocolate pudding mix, 1 c sour cream, 1/2c water, 1/2 oil, 4 eggs. And yes you can add the pudding mix into the mixture and have it all fit into the quart sized bag, but it barely fits. I do not remember where I found this one.

  6. My husband’s job is ending on Thursday and his next job isn’t starting for at least a month. So we’re a bit scared to say the least, even with our emergency fund. With that said, I am excited about the pantry challenge to save cash and be creative in the kitchen! I started last week {so a little late} but it’s been great so far. I pulled out a stack of our cookbooks and am going to find new recipes to use with the food we have. Thank you for your inspiration and encouragement throughout this challenge!

  7. Success is still the theme at our place 🙂 Menus for the past couple of days have been like this – –
    Day 20
    B – French Toast Bake, Sausage Links
    L – Cleaned out the fridge of leftovers
    D – Minestrone soup (in the crockpot)

    Day 21
    B – Cereal or leftover French Toast Bake
    L – Tuna salad in pitas, chips, or potato salad, oranges
    D – Sloppy Joes, Potato Salad

    Day 22
    B – on your own
    L – the last of the tuna salad in sandwiches, potato salad
    D – leftovers / on your own (we’ve got basketball so no time to cook)

  8. We watch CHOPPED with our 3 1/2 year old all the time. It’s our favorite family show. Thanks for showing us your pantry challenge!

    Des Moines, IA

  9. Everything looks awesome! I love the challenge of making something from almost nothing. I cook mostly from scratch, and therefore have a lot of ingredients and components that just need the right way to come together. I love your “Chopped” comparison! We call it Iron Chef, but it’s the same idea. You’ve inspired me to make some cranberry muffins with some cranberries I have before they can’t be saved. Thanks!

  10. Jessica, that lunch of greens and fried eggs looked so good!!

    Monday, the 21st ended up being much more successful than I anticipated. I was up early when the hubby left for work before daylight (ah, the news business on inauguration day). He only took 3 banana muffins for the day. He was hungry when he got home! I went back to sleep, and the kids and I lounged in bed until late morning.

    Breakfast was mostly nonexistent. I had a piece of cornbread. 16yo slept through until after lunch. 11yo just waited until lunch.

    Lunch was french bread pizza from the HS chorus fundraiser this Fall. We still have about 8 pieces left in the freezer, even after cooking up 4 today. Also apple slices. The 16yo ended up at a friend’s for dinner/evening.

    The rest of us ate a homey chicken spaghetti casserole. I’d never made one before (not big casserole people, for whatever reason). Oh but it was good. It was really a linguine dish, since we have no spaghetti noodles left. Also, I used leftover chicken from a week ago. 2 cans of cream of chicken/mushroom from the pantry. I buy these and they end up sitting forever. I so rarely make anything with those soups(except to use as a base for a heartier soup). But I always feel like we should have them in case. Worked out this time! It also called for red bell pepper and celery, both still in the crisper from Costco last week. Also deviated from the called-for cheese. I only had mexican mix, italian cheeses, or colby-jack mix. No cheddar. So we went with the colby-jack mix to top it. So so good. I was a little surprised the hubs liked it so much, since it seemed too simple for his taste (as in, no heat). But, he LOVED it. Perfect for a cold evening. Oh, we had pineapple with it.

    One more unusual day… hubs at work, kids off, dentist, kids have things going on, but I’ve planned meals. I also tallied up grocery-only spending so far and we are at about $300. Which is so so good for me. So good. The freezer is no longer stuffed. The cupboards are stil pretty full, and so is the fridge. We’ll see how much more of a dent gets made by Jan. 31. And how well I do carrying into February. By then there will have to be protein purchases made. We are down to chicken breasts(2 meals), salmon(1 meal), ground turkey(4 lbs), ground beef(2 lbs), and one pork tenderloin. There might be a few other random things, but that’s what I can see. At least in the freezer. Wish I could stock up more than I do, but no space for a second freezer… just the one.

  11. This dinner looks so good to me – and I am menu planning for the upcoming week as I stumbled across it! Can’t wait to see your finished recipe on this one!

  12. Breakfast-same old stuff: cottage cheese and fruit (me), PB and Chocolate chip sandwich for the college kid and the men had cereal and pop tarts.
    Lunch-packed lunches for everyone
    Supper-meatloaf, beefy rice and triple succotash

    It has turned really cold here-20 degree drop in temps. Never leaves the 40’s during daylight. Therefore I think I will make a pot of potato soup tomorrow night for supper.

  13. Sounds great – I love it when an “I’m not sure about this” turns into “Yum!”

  14. Your meals look awesome! I may have to make the brocolette & eggs dish soon.. Yum!! I have everything I need on hand.. Whoohoo!!

    I had oatmeal for breakfast with coffee, tamales for lunch and leftover chili with a little bit of mashed potatoes for supper. I had the munchies all day and had all sorts of goofy things here & there to snack on.

  15. I was following along with the Pantry Challenge without “officially” joining in.. then i realized that i was “unofficially” doing a pantry cookdown since we’re moving at the end of this month and I was cooking everything down to minimize how much i have to take to the new place.. we’re only moving across town but still!

    And it’s funny that your family doesn’t care for dark meat since my family doesn’t care for the breasts! i got whole chickens for 59 cents a pound three months ago. brought them home, cut them up and packaged them for the freezer. I’ve got nothing but breasts left and trying to think of how i’ll prepare them so the family will enjoy them.

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