photo by Eliza Sohn

So hard times have forced you to an emergency food pantry and you've come home with a busted ego and a box full of ingredients you have no idea what to do with. After all, before you went broke, you were used to the finer things—now you must make do with chicken livers and a bag of rice. Well, you know what they say, "When life gives you an emergency food box, cook like a gourmet."

Lisa Schroeder is the executive chef and owner of the comfort food emporium Mother's Bistro and Bar. In the past, she has taught classes on how to cook healthy meals using emergency food. We gave her a list of ingredients from the emergency food pantry and asked her what she would do with them in order to feed a family of three for a week.

All of the ingredients used are from the food pantry, except for oil, vinegar, and onions—all things you might have in your at-home pantry. Here are a few ego-repairing recipes from her menu.

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Apricot Muesli

2 cups oatmeal
1 cup yogurt
1 cup buttermilk
1 can apricots, drained and juice reserved

(1) In a large mixing bowl, combine oatmeal, yogurt, buttermilk, and juice from apricots. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

(2) Finely dice the apricots.

(3) Combine the diced apricots with the oatmeal and serve.

Serves three to four.

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Potato-Parsnip Pancakes with Applesauce

3 potatoes, peeled
2 parsnips, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup oil for frying

(1) Using a box grater or grater attachment on a food processor, grate the potatoes and parsnips. (Do not wash the potatoes—the starch in them will help the cakes hold together.)

(2) Squeeze out as much liquid from the potatoes as possible and combine them with the parsnips, salt, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl.

(3) Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, use an ice cream scoop to scoop out a portion of the potato mixture and place it in the oil. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Flatten each cake with a metal spatula so they are thin.

(4) Cook over medium-high heat (being careful not to have the heat so high that the cakes brown before they are cooked) until golden brown on one side and then flip over and brown on the other side. (Don't try to flip them until they are golden, or they will stick to the pan).

(5) As the cakes are removed, place them on paper towels to drain. Serve with applesauce.

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Schroeder also suggests the following menu items:

Chicken Pot Pie with a Stuffing Crust

canned chicken
cream of mushroom soup
canned corn
green beans
stuffing mix on top

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Black Bean Soup with Dogs

½ package dry black beans (cooked)
canned tomatoes
diced pimentos
hot dogs

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Chili Macaroni 'n' Cheese

1 box mac 'n' cheese
1 can chili with beans

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Chef Scott Dolich is the culinary genius behind the acclaimed Park Kitchen. He is also a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Northwest. He was kind enough to take time from a busy schedule to offer his own menu suggestions when cooking with emergency food. Scott suggested that there are some things that would help augment the rudimentary supplies, including eggs, shortening, lemons, Swiss chard, chili flakes and cheese. In looking at the ingredients offered by emergency food programs Scott noted the lack of fresh vegetables, "This makes for an unhealthy diet. This will cause trouble way down the road for [those relying on emergency food] when they are diagnosed with diabetes or become obese and can no longer work and can't afford health care."

Here is Scott's menu based on a week's supply of items from EMO emergency food pantry:

• Rice pudding with apricots
• Hot dogs with bread buns
• Tofu and parsnip salad with soy dressing
• Beef neck stew with butter beans and green beans

Save braising liquid and extra meat for sloppy joes. Cook all the butter beans and use leftovers for refried and bean salads. Use only 4 oz of green beans.

• Pumpkin pie

Save half for breakfast in the morning.

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• Pumpkin pie (leftovers)
• Peanut butter and apricot jam sandwiches

Jam made with half can of apricots and sugar, cooked down

• Simple salad, lemon vinaigrette, sliced tomatoes

1 head of lettuce and 1 tomato

• Tortillas, refried black beans, green beans and rice

Tortillas made with bought lard and flour. Make lots for the rest of the week. Cook all of the black beans and use the leftovers for bean salad and refried beans. Garnish with salted diced tomato and grated store bought cheddar cheese.

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• Huevos rancheros with tortillas, refried butter beans and cheddar

Store bought eggs, 2 each

• Sloppy joes

Leftover shredded beef neck, stewed with 1/2 can of tomatoes and 1/2 pound of beef patty mix.

• Pasta casserole with cream of mushroom soup, chard and ground beef

Use all of the pasta. Sauté and chop the chard and use the remainder of the shredded beef neck.

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• Oatmeal and yogurt
• Peanut butter and apricot
• Simple salad
• Leftover casserole

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• Rice pudding with apricot
• Chicken tortillas with sautéed corn and rice

Use half the chicken and save half for Shepard's pie.

• Mac and cheese with sautéed chard

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• Oatmeal and yogurt
• Fried tortilla salad with shredded cheese, refried beans and lettuce

Fry remainder of tortillas. Refried beans as dip. Lettuce and tomato salad.

• Shepard's pie

Mashed potatoes, butter beans, leftover chopped chicken, ground beef topped with cheddar.

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• Oatmeal and apricots with yogurt
• 3 bean salad.

Green beans, black beans, butter beans.

• Matzo ball soup
• Bean and corn stew with rice

Remainder of the beans stewed with corn, served over rice.

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For information on how to donate to the Oregon Food Bank go to