Inventive meals from bare cupboards

Posted July 21st, 2013 by Claire S

I love the fact that some of our best meal ideas have been created in hard times. I guess there's something about just having to use whatever you have available that results in some amazing meals! Often, a meal idea is sparked by the leftovers of whatever we had for dinner the night before. Although, in all honesty, we don't often have left overs (given the appetites of my hubby and teens!), so it's a matter of thinking ahead and cooking a little extra (and then hiding it away before it's found and scoffed!).

A few weekends ago, we had a huge pot of mashed potato and corn left (DS didn't come home for dinner - hence the plentiful bounty of leftovers!). So come Saturday, I wracked my brains trying to think up a tasty way to use them for lunch. The cupboards were a little bare, but we did have a small tin of smoked tuna in the pantry which inspired me to make tuna and potato fritters. I'd never really made them before, but I figured they couldn't be that hard. I threw in a few tablespoons of flour, an egg and some chopped herbs from the garden and fried them up with a salad on the side. They were totally delicious, and the cost of the tuna was about $1.60c! I've since used the same recipe but with chopped mussels instead of tuna (a bag of frozen mussels from the supermarket costs about $5.00 - you get heaps!). Also totally delicious! The fritters are really filling and the kids love them too. I've now decided that whenever I cook mashed potato, I'll make a little extra and pop it in the freezer for weekend fritters.

Another 'left over' meal maker we've been having a lot of lately is frittatas. I usually do a roast chicken with roast vegies on Sunday night (I always cook up two chickens for our family!). Before I serve up dinner, I put aside half a chicken for the kids' sandwiches, plus a bowl full of pumpkin, potatoes, kumara and whatever green vegies we're having to make a frittata. Then it's just a case of chopping them up, adding a few extras like chopped tomato, pouring over some mixed eggs, cooking it all up in the frying pan and voila! A healthy, hearty lunch for work the next day!

One of my absolute favourite 'creations' is one I came up with about 18 years ago, when my son was just a baby and we were living on $80 a week. I discovered that our local supermarket sold meaty chicken frames for a few dollars (and they still do!), and wondered what I could make with them. The result was a meal that has become a family favourite, especially during winter or if someone has the flu. It's so simple, so tasty and costs just $5.00 to feeds our family of five for dinner (with seconds) plus lunch the next day! The chicken does need to cook for an hour or so, but I promise it's just so tasty that it's worth it!

Claire's Chicken Noodles


  • 5-6 chicken frames (we get meaty frames with the necks (these add lots of flavour) from the butcher or supermarket for about $3.00 a pack)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 pack of spaghetti noodles
  • Plenty of pepper (this is the 'secret' ingredient!)
  • Salt to taste


  • Put your frames in a large pot with the onion, salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for at least an hour, until the meat falls off the bones.
  • Here's the fiddly bit - once the frames are well cooked, you need to pull the bones out of the water, allow them to cool and pick off the remaining meat. You'd be amazed at how much meat you'll get - especially if they have meaty necks. The meat and stock is super tasty - don't be tempted to try the easy route and use breasts or thighs - the flavour just isn't the same.
  • Bring the water back to the boil (I sometimes top the water up a little if needed). Add the spaghetti noodles and boil until cooked. Add your chicken meat back in with a little extra salt and pepper if desired. I like plenty of pepper!
  • If you leave it overnight, the noodles tend to soak up the stock, so be sure there is plenty of stock. Delicious the next day!

I recently showed my mum how to cook this dish - it's now one of her favourites. And because it's just her to cook for, she freezes the rest in batches which means she has loads of lunches and dinners for the weeks ahead.

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January 2013