Those last few weeks before you PCS can be difficult, in every way, right down to what to feed your family.
You don’t want to waste money by filling your fridge with foods that won’t get eaten, and you’d really like to use up what you have rather than tossing it all out. But you can’t exactly expect your kids to eat a ketchup, cornmeal, and spicy pickles casserole. I mean…can you?
Also, you’re tired. And stressed. And even though cooking is usually fun and interesting, you’re not looking for a job as a Food Network host, at least not this week.
Here are a few easy and delicious (we promise!) ideas for using up what you’ve got. Save your money for all that new stuff you’re going to have to buy in your new home and save your energy for all the work yet to come. Sigh.
Fried Rice & Stir Fry
This is a perfect clean-out-the-fridge recipe because you can use nearly any vegetables and meat you have left. You can even omit the meat. (Or the vegetables. We won’t tell.) It’s completely customizable. Just cook the rice according to the package instructions. If you’ve got a large family, you can stretch this recipe by using more rice. While the rice is cooking, chop and cook your veggies and your meat, and scramble your eggs in advance.
Chopped veggies, whatever you have in the fridge
1 lb (or more) ground beef or turkey, or cubed chicken breasts or thighs
4-6 cups cooked rice (or more)
4-6 eggs, scrambled
Soy sauce or coconut aminos to taste
Scramble the eggs and set aside. Brown your meat in a wok or large pan. Drain most of the grease. Cook the vegetables (adding oil if you need to). Add the rice and eggs and mix to combine everything. Add soy sauce to taste. If you’ve got the last remnants of any Asian condiments left – teriyaki, hoisin, sriracha, etc.—this is a great way to use them.
Slow-Cooker Burger Soup
It’s hard to beat the set-it-and-forget-it-ness of a slow cooker meal, especially when you’re supervising the packers, or rushing around to say goodbye to friends. This one is a soup, but it’s also kind of a hamburger. Not quite a chili, but approachable enough for even picky kids to eat. Best of all, it uses a lot of those canned foods in your pantry.
1 lb ground beef, browned and drained (or turkey)
2 (10.5-ounce) cans Rotel (or other brand of canned tomatoes with chiles)
1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 1/2 cup dried beans soaked overnight)
4 cups chicken broth
Shredded cheddar cheese (to add later, optional)
Brown the meat in a skillet on the stovetop and drain, then add it to your slow cooker. Add the whole cans of tomatoes and chiles and corn. Drain and rinse off the beans and add. Pour in the chicken broth.
Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until the flavors have melded. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and buttered bread.
Quiche in a Blender
We love this recipe because it’s so easy, it’s really delicious, and it gets rid of foods from the freezer, the fridge, the pantry. The PCS trifecta! If you want to add a meat that’s already cooked, like chopped deli meat or canned chicken, you can easily add that with the broccoli. Pop it in the oven and 45 minutes later, you’re eating.
1 cup milk
½ cup Bisquick
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
¾ cup grated cheese (any kind)
1/2 cup frozen broccoli
(Frozen spinach also works well, but thaw for a couple of minutes in the microwave before placing in a pie pan.)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients, except broccoli and meat, in a blender. Blend on low speed for one minute. Lay broccoli in a greased pie pan. Pour blender mixture over broccoli. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until quiche does not jiggle. Serves 4.
Breakfast for Dinner
If breakfast for dinner is not already in your repertoire, PCS season is the time to add it. Kids love the novelty of breakfast foods at night, you can customize it for your family’s preferences, and you can use up whatever you have left. This is a great opportunity to finish all those half bottles of jams and syrups.
Some foods to consider:
Eggs (scrambled, fried, boiled, however you like them.)
Bacon, sausage, ham, beef, chicken
Breads – pancakes, frozen waffles, toast, muffins
Fruit – fresh or frozen
Frozen hash browns
Chicken (or whatever you’ve got) Pot Pie
This kid-favorite couldn’t be easier, and you can modify it based on what’s left in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. If you have a large family, this can be easily doubled to make two pies.
1 box (2) refrigerated pie crusts
1 can cooked chicken (Or cubed deli meat, or cooked meat leftover from another meal.)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups frozen vegetables, thawed. (We like to use mixed vegetables, but you can use whatever you have.)
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 425 and press one crust into a pie pan. Mix all remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Spoon the mixture to the pan, then top with the second pie crust, pressing the edges together to seal. Make a few slits in the top of the crust to vent. Bake for 35 minutes. After 15 minutes of baking, cover the edges of the crust with foil to keep them from over-browning. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Frogmore Stew, aka Low Country Boil
If military life has taken you to the Carolinas, you’re probably already familiar with Frogmore Stew. And if not, hang around long enough and you’ll live in the Carolinas eventually. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard all have bases there, so you may as well get to know Frogmore Stew now. Also… it’s amazing. And easy. Basically, you just dump everything into a pot and cook it for about 30 minutes. The end.
3 quarts water
1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer
2 teaspoon crab boil seasoning (ahem, Old Bay)
1 bag frozen corn (or fresh ears of corn broken in half, or you can even use frozen or canned kernels, if that’s what you have)
1 head celery, 1-inch dice
1 large onion, 1-inch dice
7 pounds red potatoes, quartered
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined
Bring the water and beer to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the Old Bay. Add corn, celery, onion, and potato and cook 12 to 15 minutes. Add sausage and shrimp and cook 15 minutes more. Serve in bowls with cooking broth. Or serve it the (fun!) way it’s served all over the Carolinas, by dumping everything onto a picnic table covered in newspaper and letting everyone just pick out what they want.
This is another recipe that’s still pretty tasty even if you don’t have all the ingredients. You can skip the celery and you probably won’t miss it, and this dish will still work if you only have sausage or shrimp, but not both. If you have white or yellow potatoes that need to be used, those will work fine. Just cut them into approximately 2-inch cubes. The corn, onions, potatoes, and Old Bay are non-negotiable, though.
Quick and Easy Tuna Noodle Casserole
This one brings back memories, doesn’t it? Turns out all our moms knew that Tuna Noodle Casserole was a great way to empty a pantry. This recipe comes together in a pinch, kids generally like it, and it’ll have you seeing empty shelves in no time.
1 (12 ounce) package egg noodles
2 cups frozen green peas (can also use canned, or substitute another green vegetable)
2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 (5 ounce) cans tuna, drained
1 onion, chopped
10 slices American cheese
Black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and frozen peas. Cook until noodles are al dente, drain well. Return noodles and peas to the pot. Mix soup, tuna fish, onions, cheese, and pepper into the pot. Stir constantly until all of the ingredients are well mixed and the cheese has melted. Serve.
You really can’t go wrong with tacos. There are endless variations based on what you have on hand. Beef, chicken, fish, pork, or veggie are all great base ingredients for tacos, and you don’t have to stay authentically Mexican. If you’ve got Asian condiments still in your fridge, make Asian tacos. The same is true for Greek or Middle Eastern – grilled meat, feta, cucumbers, olives, and tomatoes in a tortilla? Yes, please! Cook your proteins, then dice up some toppings, and set everything on the table with corn or flour tortillas and any sauce that suits your ingredients. Winner, winner, taco dinner.