food pantry

Food Pantry Creativity #1

Beef Stew Ingredients

In late May 2017 I was contacted by the coordinator of a campus food pantry at Metropolitan State University. Their previous relationship with an educator who taught classes using under-demanded products from the pantry had unexpectedly gone silent and they needed classes quickly - within a few weeks. I had some distinct reservations about using TEFAP items that represent a support of unsustainable farmers and continuation of subpar food given to those who are hungry and often suffering from the effects of a diet full of calories that can be purchased with the least amount of money. I asked if we could address this briefly in the class and received permission. That was the easy part. Finding  a way to use certain items that weren't exactly flying off the shelves was a different story. For my first class, I wanted to focus on five of the items from the pantry:

Mashed Potato Flakes

Beef Stew

Canned Carrots

Canned Applesauce


For all my curriculum and research projects I start with a blank Google Doc to hold all my brainstorming ideas, links from Internet searches, etc. I found one reference to mashed potato flake chocolate cake and then a recipe for brownies and in my head nothing could cover up commodity beef stew better than a bunch of Moroccan spices and dried fruit... to add more veggies I decided on sauteeing the carrots in spices and using this as the base for a rice dish for the stew.

One week of recipe testing later and I added a beef bone for flavor, opted for a coconut flake addition to the brownie to compliment the flake texture, and reduced the fat of the brownie by adding applesauce to increase the moisture content (the first round of brownies was really dry since I used flakes only, not prepared mashed potatoes). Finally, the recipes were ready to teach:

Moroccan Beef Stew

1 Packet Beef Stew
1 beef stew bone
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 medium yam, diced
1 large carrot, diced
7 whole dried apricots, chopped
¼ cup raisins
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz. tomato paste
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt
1 cups water
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
1-2 Cups cooked garbanzo beans

Stew Preparation:

*If cooking the beans in the slow cooker up to 4 days ahead:
Soak beans overnight in enough liquid to cover 3-4 inches above beans. Drain. Slow cook with enough water to cover by 2 inches and a tablespoon of ground epazote (to reduce gas later). To maximize effort, consider cooking enough beans for multiple meals and freezing or refrigerating extra. Beans will keep 4-5 days in the refrigerator. Alternative uses include bean spread or hummus, adding to salads, or bulking up sauteed vegetables or to compliment meat or grains.
Dice onion, sweet potato, and carrot. Mince garlic and shop dried apricots. These ingredients can be pre-cut the day or two before cooking to make it easier/faster.
Combine spices in a jar or small bowl and stir briefly. This can be done up to a week or two ahead of time or make a large batch of the mix and keep handy.
Add all ingredients except beans into the crockpot. Stir well.
Cook the stew for 8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high - vegetables should be tender.
Remove soup bone. Add cooked beans to finished stew and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with plain rice or aromatic carrot rice...

Aromatic Carrot Rice

1 Can Low Sodium Carrots
2 Tbsp. canola, vegetable, or coconut oil
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1 tsp salt
1 cup long grain brown rice (or substitute Bhutanese red rice if you’re feeling fancy)
1 cup basmati or Jasmine white rice
3 cups of water

Rice Preparation:

Drain and rinse carrots. If time allows, pat dry with a paper towel.
Combine spices in small bowl or jar and mix lightly.
Heat oil in a medium sized pot (with lid) over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrots heat for 2 minutes without stirring.
Sprinkle spices on carrots and stir well to cover evenly. Cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Use potato masher to mash carrots as they continue to cook. (They may be sticking slightly, that’s normal but reduce your heat if they are smoking)
Add water to pan and stir to remove any spices from the bottom of the pan.
Add brown rice to the pot and cook 15 minutes on a low simmer.
Add white rice to the pot and cook another 20 minutes without stirring.
Check the rice for doneness after 20 minutes. If tender, turn off heat and leave covered 10 minutes.
Fluff rice and serve with beef stew. 
This can be prepared the day before and heated up in the microwave.

And of course... the most popular...

Mashed Potato Flake Coconut Brownies

3/4 cup mashed potato flakes
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped pecans


Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder & salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, coconut, sugars, oil, eggs, applesauce and vanilla.
Gradually add flour mixture to potato mixture, stirring well after each addition. Fold in pecans if desired. Transfer to a greased 9-in. square baking pan.
Bake for 24-29 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar if desired. Cut into bars. Yield: 16 servings.

 All these recipes were made with simple tools, though participants all went home with their own crock pot, an incentive made possible through grant funds. Youth present with their parents were engaged with a worksheet to fill out when given small tastes of ingredients as we used them: unsweetened coconut, sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, & the brownie. For many this was the first time they were exposed to purchasing in bulk to save money and the beans were a huge hit... almost as much as the coconut brownies.

I'm so proud of the work done in this class, even if the ingredients give me pause and challenge my participation in a system that benefits unsustainable growing practices, increases environmental impacts, and further marginalizes those who are food insecure. I'm excited to see many pantry managers and the Minnesota Food Action Network creating initiatives to overhaul the way pantries are presented as a shopping experience, with TEFAP goods supplementing, and not being the center of the distributed grocery list. Stay tuned for my June update soon!

You can download a pdf of all my recipes here