Food Bank Feast
December 29, 2006 9:57 AM   Subscribe

What interesting and nutritious meals can I make out of items regularly given out from the food bank?

It's been a tough year-end for my family and we have found ourselves relying on the food bank more than we would like. We are running out of ideas on what to do with what we get. A couple of notes: I love to cook and am pretty good at it, we have a good collection of spices, and we can occasionally supplement the below items with fresh food (milk, eggs, meat, cheese) although this is limited.

The food bank generally gives me:
Canned vegetables (corn, green beans)
Canned fruit (peaches, pears, mandarins)
Canned soup (all kinds, usually cream of mushroom, tomato)
Tomato products (sauce, paste, diced)
Pasta products (all kinds of noodles, SideKicks)
Canned meat (tuna, ham, salmon)
Canned and dry beans (all kinds)
General (peanut butter, crackers, jam, oatmeal, granola bars)
Fresh (bread, sometimes ground beef, rotten potatoes)
posted by arcticwoman to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Tuna Noodle Casserole, Peachy Bread Pudding, Salmon Pasta Carbonera (I always add peas to this), Three Bean Salad, Navratan Korma, Probably a lot of other Indian food, which is a great way to use up lentils, kidney beans and rice... and casseroles, casseroles, casseroles! My formula: Starch+Meat+Fat+Veg+Baking+Crumbs on top=Casserole!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:13 AM on December 29, 2006

Can't go wrong with pea soup. This a traditional recipe from Maine's Quebecois population and the additonal requirements are inexpensive:

One pound of dried green peas
One celery rib (celery is the most costly ingredient), chopped
One medium onion, chopped fine
One carrot, chopped fine
One tablespoon of marjoram (you can generaly get a container of marjoram at a dollar store/christmas tree shop/cvs for not much money)
8 cups of water
little handful of salt
black pepper to taste
ham, cut up (I omit this, but it soundsl ike you eat ham and have some on hand)

Combine everything in big pot or slow cooker and simmer until everything falls apart. Tastes great, very healthy (fat free without ham) and very filling and satisfying.

If you don't have peas, you can use white beans for a slightly different but still nice soup.

Hope your next year is better, economically.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2006

Surprisingly, Jacques Pepin's show Fast Food My Way on PBS is sponsored by some trade group of canned goods producers, so he often uses canned chicken & tuna, tomatoes, peaches, etc etc in his recipes.

It sounds to me like picking up the accompanying fancy coffee-table sized cookbook won't be in your budget, but you could probably check it out at the library. It might give you some good ideas that you haven't thought of.

As an example, here's his Chickpea Ragout. Hopefully they have onions at the food bank--they're going to be pretty much a requirement in anything!
posted by bcwinters at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2006

No big recipe here, but I have to pass along a great tip for canned green beans my aunt gave to me this Christmas. Don't drain them, bring them to a boil, and then stir in about an eigth of a teaspoon of Baking Soda. They will kind of froth up, but just stir and then continue cooking them however you like (I add sea salt, Nature's Seasoning, dry minced onion, and lemon or citrus pepper and keep them boiling for about 20 minutes or more). The Baking Soda removes the metallic, canned taste they have, making them taste so much better. I'm planning to try this with other canned goods, hopefully with equally good results!
posted by hankbear at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2006

Holy cow, you could make a darn good soup (or maybe stew) with all that. Also homemade chili. Mmmm.
posted by zek at 10:31 AM on December 29, 2006

You can add an awful lot of stuff to those Lipton Sidekicks.

Years ago, they printed a recipe on the back for something that was supposed to be akin to lasagna.

More or less: alternate layers of prepared 'Sidekick' (in a fairly plain and cheesy flavour) with spaghetti sauce, and bake. I've added (frozen) spinach, and/or mushrooms, depending on what's around. My sister called it 'slop,' which is an apt term, but it's a surprisingly tasty pasta bake.

You can also just stir in whatever tinned veg you have in the last few minutes of it cooking the 'Sidekicks' -- stretches it out, and makes it healthier.

Weird side note on Sidekicks: in Canada, the directions call for a cup of milk rather than a half cup. If you get powdered milk aplenty, that'd be a wee nutritional boost...

The fruit and oatmeal suggest 'cobbler' to me, but you probably already thought of that. Recipes for fruit sorbets using tinned fruit aren't unheard-of. Beans, with a collection of spices on hand and cooking ability, mean vegetarian Indian stuff.

If you have some surplus veg (though meat apparently works, too), ditch the rotten parts of the potatoes, and make bubble and squeak -- great for breakfast.
posted by kmennie at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2006

Visit Recipe*Zarr There's a slight learning curve, but you can search for recipes using ingredients, and more. It's great for finding something to make solely based on what in your cupboard.

For example, under the Search box, click Ingredients - then type Tuna in the box & hit Go. You'll end up with a list of the most common types of tuna. Check off Canned Tuna and hit Show Recipes. You can then sort again (called 'Sift' on the site) - choose Ingredients again & you can eliminate foods you don't have in the cupboard. Sifting by Categories can also be helpful.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:13 PM on December 29, 2006

My favorite meal for years has been this:

Heat a few tablespoons of oil (preferably olive, but almost anything works) in a pan. Add tomato paste and fry until a few bits of the hunk of paste are browned. Add canned diced tomato with the water in the can, mix well, and simmer. You might need to add some more water if it's too chunky. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is really great spaghetti sauce, and it's how it's supposed to be. Plus, it's remarkably superior to canned sauce, though the ingredients tend to be cheaper. And you can add to it if you want: hamburger to make a meat sauce, peppers if you like, onions, et cetera. You can add pasta and top with cheese for baked ziti/whatever.
posted by koeselitz at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2006

Also, it's not exactly what you asked for, and I haven't used it much, but the Hillbilly Housewife seems to have a real knack for cheap and good family meals. I really like her site; stuff like this great $45/week four-person emergency menu are pretty unique. She's been talked about here before, though not very well I admit.
posted by koeselitz at 12:39 PM on December 29, 2006

Here’s a recipe that can use up the potatoes after you trim off any unpleasant bits. If they’re a bit soft, that’s just fine; you’re going to cook them down into a soup anyway. It’s one of our favorites for a cold winter night, with a sandwich or veggies or almost anything on the side. We don’t eat meat, but I imagine it would be delicious with little bits of that canned ham in it.

It’s a very loose recipe, one that’s different each time I make it. I keep a three-dollar bottle of dry sherry on the shelf--- just a splash provides real depth and roundness, making a huge difference in potato or bean dishes as well as any canned soup.

Tuscan bean soup:

2-3 onions
3-4 potatoes, cooked & mashed roughly
garlic to taste (I use up to six cloves)
2-3 cans beans, or 1 lb. soaked and cooked beans (cannellini, navy beans, garbanzos, or a mixture)
chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper
oil or butter
a splash of milk (optional)
a splash of sherry (optional)
nutmeg, rosemary (optional)

Dice onions, sauté in oil or butter until aromatic. Add garlic, chili powder, oregano, and (if desired) nutmeg and rosemary. Toast briefly in oil; add sherry if desired and simmer a few minutes. Add potatoes and beans; add water almost to cover. Let cook at low heat for several hours, until beans dissolve slightly and thicken soup.

Thin as necessary with water or a splash of milk. (Evaporated milk is great here, as is dry milk.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

I like to stir in a small handful of blanched greens --- spinach, beet greens, chard --- just before serving. If you get canned spinach, it might be nice in this.

After years of trying and failing to make a really delicious vegetarian black bean soup, I stumbled upon the following while throwing together dinner from my mother's pantry. It, too, would be good with bits of ham, or with a ham sandwich on the side:

easy black bean soup: Dice and saute one onion in fat. Add minced garlic, chili powder, oregano, and, if available, a splash of sherry and a sprinkle of cumin. Add two cans black beans, rinsed, and one can chopped tomatoes or tomato puree. Let simmer until flavors meld.

My ex’s mother, a virtual non-cook, taught me her truly delicious recipe for food bank corn chowder: an onion, and chunks of potato (equal to two large potatoes), two cans of creamed corn, one can of evaporated milk, water to thin as necessary, and black pepper to taste. She never even sauteed the onion, just dumped everything in together, salpped a lid on, and let it cook until the potatoes were done.
posted by Elsa at 1:02 PM on December 29, 2006 [5 favorites]

I hope things get better for you but one key with food bank stuff is getting the best nutrition out of what you get. It is not a recipe, but more of a cooking tip. When you cook your pasta, don't discard the water. Use it as the water for soup or something else you are making. Same when boiling veggies.

There is a lot of good stuff in those liquids and you will add tons of flavor to the meal by using that liquid for the other dish.

Also, try making something simple at the beginning of the week that can be used to make something else for leftovers later in the week.

Start with Mashed potatoes.
The next evening, add some onions, a bit of milk and maybe some flour and make potato pancakes).
Or, stuff in a fresh green pepper and eat like an apple for an easy and filling on-the-go meal the next day.

Also, search google for "Ramen Recipies." College students have gotten VERY creative in using that $0.14 staple over the years. I used to scramble the cooked noodles with eggs, dried onions, dried mushrooms and terriayki sauce.

I hope this helps. Also, if you have a spot to do it, I would recommend trying to grow a few things this spring. A fresh pepper or tomato here and there can make the difference. I have a friend growing tons of stuff on their balcony.
posted by slavlin at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I can't add much to the recipes already listed here, but just a tip with making the bean soups (and you may already know this) - take some portion of the beans (we use about 1/3) and blend them up. It thickens the broth, makes the whole thing more stubstantial.

Good luck, and I hope your 2007 is better.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:07 PM on December 29, 2006

Peanut butter stew (W. African) from the peanut butter, perhaps? This one looks closer to the one I was taught, if you leave out the beef. There seem to be a lot of variations. I like it over brown rice, but any carb will do.
posted by QIbHom at 2:03 AM on December 30, 2006

Response by poster: I can't pick a best answer, everything looks so good! Thanks for all the suggestions, I can't wait to try these recipes and tips.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:01 AM on December 30, 2006

Late to the game and somewhat adjacent to your topic, since you didn't ask for ingredients that you would have to buy, but I srongly seconding the cheapo sherry for cooking. Alternately, I use cheapo vermouth as a cheat for white wine for cooking. It really really doesn't matter that the stuff would be rotgut to drink -- it's damn near miraculous in canned soups and sauces.
posted by desuetude at 5:44 PM on December 30, 2006

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