A few weeks ago my former boss and now dear, dear friend, text me to say that she would be driving through Raleigh and wanted to stop for dinner. Of course I said, “fantastic! Let me know, when and where, and we are totally game!” Earlier this week I heard from her and she said that they were hoping to be in town around 5:00p on Friday. I was over the moon. Then it occurred to me, spending freeze. We did not allocate any funds for this dinner, we are making zero “quick-trips” to the grocery store and as tempting as it is to meet up for a nice dinner with old friends, I have to stick to the agreement. So as any good Frugal Fowler hostess would do, I invited them over to our place, enticing them with a home cooked meal. Of course they were on board, she and her husband are no muss-no fuss, amazing individuals who truly would’ve stopped by for a smile and a hug. Although I quickly realized that bypassing dinner out was only half the problem because now, I had to come up with something to make and not to mention they were planning on being in town at 5:00p and I work until 4:30p. :::head in hands:::
For those who don’t know, we plan our dinners out by the month accounting for leftovers, brinner, and make-your own (MYO) nights. Fridays at our place, are usually laid back and often the girls get to pick our MYO dinner evenings, so I was really uncertain what to do; and I realize the argument here but I’m that girl that when we have guests I like to make something a little special. I was going through my freezer and pulling out one thing after the other, contemplating my options for making something even borderline fantastic, when it dawned on me that Jennifer has a gluten-allergy. CRAP!! I have never made anything gluten-free and usually I associate these allergies with expensive specialty products. Double crap!! So, just to recap here are my issues:
- Dinner for 4 adults and 2 children in less than 24 hours
- No budget
- No planned meal
- potential 30 min window of time to actually “cook”
- No special trips to the store can be made
- No Gluten can be included
What.the.heck. hmm I have no idea, then it dawns on me, I have no other options, the challenge awaits… my very first pantry raid. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is, a pantry raid is when you cook primarily utilizing pantry products. This could work, I just had to be cautious not to select items from other meals already planned out for the remainder of the month. I found chick peas, black beans, red kidney beans, tomato paste, tomato sauce (all gluten-free) and tons of spices. Any guesses where I went with this???
Crockpot Chili. (BAM! as Emeril would say) I ended up adding half a lb of hamburger (being sure to leave enough for the meatballs for later next week) but it was perfect. I let it cook all day and my house smelled amazing when we got home. Thank goodness I did it this way too, because Jennifer and Alex were waiting for us in the parking lot when we arrived home from work.
- 2 cans tomato paste
- 1 can Kidney beans/chick peas/black beans
- 1 24 oz can Tomato Sauce
- 1 16 oz can low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbsp Cumin
- 2 tbsp Paprika
- Chili powder to taste
- 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 lb ground beef, chicken or turkey (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp garlic and onion powder
Mix ingredients well into slow cooker. Brown hamburger if using and then add to sauce, cook low and slow for 8-10 hours.
For dessert, because there has to be a dessert, I did a super easy flourless chocolate cake/torte that was a one-bowl, one hit wonder that took thirty minutes from start to finish. I used leftover chocolate chips, baking cocoa, eggs, oil, and sugar. Sooo unbelievably easy and perfect for the chocolate lover.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
- 1/4 package chocolate chips (you know, when there are too many to eat but too few to use)
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 3 eggs beaten
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder
- 1 tsp vanilla
Melt chips in the microwave then mix ingredients well and pour into a cake pan dusted with cocoa instead of flour, bake at 325 degrees for 15- 20 mins.
I admit, before this challenge I would’ve run out to the store the minute I knew we had guests coming and spent a ton of money trying to put together the same caliber meal and justifying every penny…”because it’s for everyone else.” I wouldn’t have paid hardly, if any, mind at all to what I already had at the house. It’s not far-fetched to say that I probably would’ve wound up with way more than I needed both before and after our guests arrive ending up with way less in our bank account. As a Sicilian, we overfeed just about everyone and that means we shop with the intention of “having plenty.” Tonight, I am proud to say that I still have plenty of yummy leftovers of both chili and chocolate. I had a wonderful visit with our friends and entertaining did not cost us a single cent. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
Tip: Challenge yourself sometime, do your own pantry raid…you might surprise yourself!