Pantry-salvaged recipes: Budget-conscious, waste-nothing meals you can totally make

Chicago is a food lover’s town. During this time spent sheltering in place, it can be hard to find joy in your kitchen after eating your own cooking for so many weeks, especially if you're on a tight budget. If you’re looking at a fridge or pantry with no idea what to make for dinner, here are some ideas for feel good recipes that make the most out of what you have. As part of See Chicago Dance's ongoing Dance Health Month—a series of workshops and resources focused on holistic health in the dance industry while quarantining—we're delighted to bring you the first of two recipe round-ups:


From the Loar Family Archives: Mushroom “Beef” Stew

This beef stew recipe was adapted from my grandmother’s 1960s Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I've swapped mushrooms for meat as a hearty vegetarian alternative. Not a mushroom fan? Use the two pounds of beef the original BH&G recipe calls for, or cook with turkey or chicken instead. If you’re on a plant-based diet, add potatoes, yams or any other root vegetable you have lying around for a comforting vegetable stew.


  • 1-2 packages mushrooms (or as many as you have), any kind
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, canola oil or butter, for sauteeing
  • Flour
  • 1Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, whole
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • Dash of allspice
  • 6 C. water, vegetable broth, chicken or beef stock
  • 1 bag baby carrots (or 2 large carrots, peeled), roughly chopped
  • 1 C. peas (fresh or frozen)

Dumplings (optional): I use this recipe for homemade dumplings, or you can use good ol’ Bisquick instead. You can swap for dairy alternatives in most dumpling recipes as a vegan option.



  1. After washing mushrooms using the method of your choice (I rinse mine, but some prefer to pat clean with a damp paper towel), separate caps from stems. Half or quarter the mushroom caps, and dice the stems.

  2. In the cooking oil of your choosing, sauté mushroom caps and stems in a large pot with a little salt and pepper, to taste, over medium heat until they release their moisture. Optional additions include just about any seasonings you have in your pantry (I like oregano). Add 1 tsp or so of flour, and stir for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire, garlic, onion, bay leaves, salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, allspice, and water, broth, or stock. Let simmer for 1-½ hours, stirring occasionally.

  3. After approximately an hour, hunt down those bay leaves and pull them out, or you can leave them in for an exciting scavenger hunt upon serving!

  4. Add carrots (chop ‘em however you like).

  5. Combine all the ingredients for the dumplings, making sure they’re able to hold a shape, but still drop from your spoon. Add peas, then drop in the dumplings (should make about 4-5)

  6. Leave the stew covered for 10 minutes, then serve! This stew freezes well; make sure to remove any leftover dumplings (those don’t keep).


You Too Can Eat Gravy 3 Times a Week

Gravy has been a life saver for me during this time, helping me view my time at home the same way I would think of holidays like Thanksgiving—warm and fuzzy and full of comfort foods.

Making homemade gravy starts by saving drippings and fat. Maybe you’ve noticed the can of bacon fat your grandparents keep on the kitchen counter? Now’s the time to adopt that same habit. Bacon fat, chicken schmaltz, and turkey drippings are all great things to have on hand for savory, old-fashioned comfort cooking. If meat isn’t part of your diet, butter, vegan margarine or olive oil are all great alternatives for making gravy.

  • My favorite mushroom gravy recipe is here, adding an additional teaspoon of dried sage. No mushrooms? No problem! Leave ‘em out entirely, without ruining the recipe.
  • For a great vegan gravy recipe, try this one that has just five ingredients.


Beans, beans, and more beans!

Making a large pot of black beans from scratch is a fantastic way to keep yourself happy and healthy on a budget, while using up any floppy, wilted produce hiding in your refrigerator. Follow this recipe for velvety frijoles negros (Cuban Black Beans). If you don’t have any ham hocks on hand, I use a healthy spoonful of bacon fat or schmaltz. Add a poblano pepper and 2-3 diced jalapeños.


Shepherd’s Pie

In my family, Shepherd’s Pie is normally reserved for just after Thanksgiving. Shepherd’s Pie is thrifty, versatile and fulfilling. It’s a good opportunity to use that gravy you just learned how to make, and an impressive dish that doesn’t require too many advanced skills. Here are some of my favorite Shepard’s Pie recipes:


When in doubt, blend it, roast it, pickle it, or toss it in a soup

Even if something looks beyond reproach, if it doesn’t have mold, don’t throw it out! Wrinkly peppers and tomatoes, floppy carrots, wilted herbs—if you have some less than perfect items around, they can easily be given a new life with sauces, salsas, soups, and smoothies. Even better news: in most cases, ingredients for sauces and smoothies can easily be swapped out for each other with fantastic results. Here’s a big list of some of my favorite last-ditch efforts to use everything I have in my kitchen:


As part of this week's focus on financial health, The Actors Fund presents "Strategies for Managing Your Finances and Career During the Pandemic" Tuesday, May 19, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Guest speakers include Rebecca Selkowe, who runs the Fund's financial wellness program, and career counselor Patricia "Patch" Schwadron. Visit the event page below to register for this free event and receive the Zoom meeting ID and password.


See Chicago Dance is still writing! Our editorial team continues to preview digital events and highlight the creative ways the dance industry is pivoting without the possibility of live performances. Don't forget to enter your events and classes in the SCD calendar, and let us know what you're up to.


Read more from our Dance Health Month series:

From Jordan Kunkel:

From Emily Loar: