Pantry Cleaning (Roasted Butternut, Dried Cherry & Quinoa salad)

This is one of those posts that has been lingering in my draft box for a while.

It's a little bit real life - as in, yes, this is a picture of my lunch sitting on top of a grocery list. Try not to read the list too closely... This is a no judgment zone.

Soooooo.... a couple of month's ago, I had a Saturday that went like this.
Runner Girl was off to her boyfriend's birthday party. Culinary Kid was off with her boyfriend's family for the day. The Dude was off with his daughter for wedding planning stuff.

And I was... well... I had no where to be.

After about an hour of feeling grumpy and unnecessary, I started rummaging through the cupboards for one of my periodic food viability checks.

Please tell me that I am not the only person who needs to do periodic viability checks. Cans of stuff that I passed over a thousand and one times. Finding a partial bag of rice in one cupboard and then finding its twin - opened - in another cupboard (usually a result of "help" putting pantry items away). Random ingredients whose intended purpose is long forgotten.

Please tell me that I am not the only one...

The good news is that there weren't too many casualties this time around. The bad news is that there were way too many "partials" hanging out. Especially in the grain/ legume/ rice/ seed category. If anyone in my neighborhood needs a cup of rice, I can definitely help them out... They can even pick their variety. Seriously.

Since I was all by my lonesome, I decided to take some of those pantry orphans and turn them into lunch. Two partial bags of quinoa (white and red), a partial bag of dried cherries, an almost empty bottle of balsamic and one sad, lonely butternut squash that was leftover from my CSA season. Yes, it had been there a while...

While I finished my purge spree, I roasted the squash and cooked the quinoa - feeling rather virtuous in my efforts. Once they were ready, I tossed the quinoa with the cherries, threw in the squash and added the balsamic and some olive oil.
I tend to get rather casual about meal times when it is just me. I consider it a point of civility that I managed to scoop some into a bowl before eating - the fact that I ate standing up while making out a grocery list probably loses me that point right off...
We won't mention the sweat pants and T-shirt I was wearing that I may or may not have worn when I took that grocery list to the store. That probably loses me another point or two. At the very least, it makes me a Stacey and Clinton intervention candidate.
Sometimes real life is just that.
Roasted Butternut, Dried Cherry and Quinoa salad

1 cup dried quinoa, rinsed & cooked according to package direction
1 small butternut squash, peeled & cut into 1/2" cubes
1-2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar*
Kosher salt (to taste, but I used about 1 1/2 tsp)
Freshly ground pepper (~1 tsp)
1/4 - 1/2 cup dried cherries

Total time: ~ 1 hour
Servings: 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

Agave nectar and additional balsamic vinegar, to taste (optional, but tasty)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Prepare quinoa according to package directions (If no directions, rinse well and in a medium sized sauce pan combine 2 cups of water per 1 cup quinoa used. Add a pinch of salt if desired) Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for ~20 minutes - until water is absorbed and quinoa shows a little white ring.) Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tin foil (or parchment). Toss diced squash, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a medium sized boil. Spread evenly on to prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for ~20 minutes (use a spatula to move squash around 1-2 times during baking period) - until squash starts to caramelize and can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool for ~10 minutes.

In a medium sized bowl, toss together cooked quinoa with squash and cherries. You can stir in some agave nectar or additional balsamic at this point if you like.

*This is a great way to use up some flavored balsamics that may be hanging out in the cupboard. This time around, I used up a tangerine-fig balsamic.


  1. Casual? This would be a gourmet meal at my house! Looks fabulous.

  2. I´ve been cleaning my fridge and freezer the same way for the last two weeks. It´s ridiculous the amount of food I have. So salads like this one have been a regular for me too. But girl, if you hadn´t told the real story it would pass as a wonderful sophisticated salad! It is a great combination of flavors, I love it!

  3. My pantry always has duplicate opened packages. (But I can't point the finger at anyone else, since I'm definitely the one who did it.) I'm getting better at dumping things right into glass storage jars, but I still find opened bags of rice and pasta in the nooks and crannies of my kitchen. I'm beyond help.

  4. Oh, yeah. I intend to do a thorough pantry-cleaning this weekend as part of spring cleaning. The husband and I are taking bets on how many partially-filled containers/bags we'll find. Not sure we could get such a decent meal out of our random pantry items, which is too bad. This looks pretty good!

  5. Cher! Sweatpants and t-shirt make for a perfect grocery store wardrobe choice! You are way more creative in the cooking for one department. I try to avoid my pantry when I'm alone--the mason jars of unidentified beans--SO many legumes--what was I thinking? I happen to have everything on hand you've used in this dish which sounds delish!

  6. You had me until dried cranberries. Though, I understand the cleaning of the pantry part. Great post!

  7. No, you're not the only one! I am currently trying to work my way through all the random foodstuff hiding in the pantry and freezer.

  8. Casually wonderful dinner- you've got a great pantry;-)
    Why is it that the times we go shopping in sweats we run into everyone we know????

  9. Definitely not the only one!! I know spring is in the air because I’ve been purging and cleaning out everything!! Your salad sounds like a perfect lunch…I love all the ingredients you added!
    Thanks for your input today, Cher! I went with QVC…and I’m very excited!!

  10. Cher, I certainly like the expression of "pantry orphans" - have to remember that! I have so many "unfinished" bags and cartons of pasta of all shapes and sizes that I will have to make left-over pasta salads until the end of this year, at least! Seriously, this sound like a very creative and delicious dish to prepare - the quinoa is very popular and it is quite versatile too.
    Have a great Thursday!


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