Eating in: How to transform pantry staples into comfort food

Why We Wrote This

During times of crisis, cooking for those you love offers comfort. A longtime Monitor editor and enthusiastic cook offers a primer on how to use your pantry to get through hard times. 

Kendra Nordin Beato/The Christian Science Monitor
Banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins

A well-stocked pantry is one way to ward off the uncertainty of events beyond our control, be it a spring blizzard or global pandemic. But what to do with those pantry staples once you’ve returned from the grocery store laden with bags of flour, cans of beans, peanut butter, and enough rice to last you until 2022?

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]

This is not to make light of the new coronavirus, which has spurred a frenzy of stockpile shopping at grocery stores around the world. But once you’ve organized your basement pantry bunker by alphabetical order, now is the time to actually get cooking. Here are a few ideas to get you started – plus a pantry-staple muffin recipe to sweeten your days in isolation. 

Stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit

Every time you make a grocery run, pick up a few more. Squashes, potatoes, onions, and carrots all have a long shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place. Roast them to add to salads, soups, and stews. Baby spinach and kale also will last for more than a week in your fridge. Tip: Adding a paper towel in with the greens will absorb any excess moisture. 

Freeze “buy 1, get 1 free” cartons of fresh fruit to add to smoothies, and throw in a handful of fresh greens. Same for overripe bananas. Just before they turn to mush on your counter, toss them – peel and all – into the freezer until needed. 

Lemons and limes will last longer in an airtight container in the fridge. Use a squeeze to brighten your teas and cooked vegetables. Spoon canned fruit as a topping for ice cream or bake them into a simple cobbler.

Discover the grocery store’s international aisle

I’ve found that staple items in the international aisle are often less expensive than American name-brand goods. There’s also a good chance these aisles aren’t as heavily picked over. Be adventurous: Take home an unfamiliar ingredient and see if you can find a recipe for it online. Coconut milk, used as a base in many African, Asian, and Caribbean dishes, is a pantry staple that will last up to three years on your shelf. A half cup will make your fruit smoothie even creamier.

Study the structure of recipes, then innovate 

Now is the time to be fearless. You may even invent a new favorite recipe in the process. When you are left with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, and capers, you’d be surprised how well they warm together in a pan with some olive oil and garlic. Or swap in olives for the capers. You could even toss in a can of tuna. Sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Settle it all next to a bed of greens for lunch.

Search for no-knead bread recipe online

This recipe has made the rounds online over the past decade. Plenty of home cooks share their own special twist for this easy homemade bread that requires only flour, yeast, salt, and water. (You can find the Monitor’s version here.) The trick is the long rise time – 12 to 19 hours depending on the recipe – and the use of a cast-iron Dutch oven. It’s simple enough that young children can make it, and it will fill your home with warmth from the oven and a comforting aroma as it bakes.

Learn something new

Want to brush up on your knife skills or take your cooking to the next level? Pass some time by signing up for an online cooking class, and many are now being offered for free. If you are dreaming of turning the children clinging to your sides into mini sous chefs, America’s Test Kitchen has moved its entire archive of “kid-tested and kid-approved” recipes outside of its paywall, including kitchen experiments and activities. ChopChop, a cooking magazine geared toward children, offers a free email newsletter with featured recipes.

Two staples we always have in stock at home are peanut butter and bananas and this recipe for flourless muffins comes together in minutes. They not only will help use up those five extra jars of peanut butter and three bunches of bananas you bought, but they also will pass both the kid- and teen-approval test – and that’s a true sign of comfort.


Banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins

Makes 24 mini or 12 regular muffins 

1 cup peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice)

2 ripe medium-sized bananas

2 large eggs 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sugar (or maple syrup or honey)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and grease your muffin tin.

2. Place all the ingredients except the chocolate chips into the bowl of a food processor or blender and mix until smooth.

3. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.

4. Spoon the batter into the greased muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. 

5. Bake for 10 minutes for mini-muffins or 15 minutes for full-sized muffins. Let cool for 2 minutes in the muffin tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. They are delicious warm, too!

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]


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