Quick Meals

Getting The Most Out Of Your Pantry Ingredients

I don’t fancy myself a cook. Don’t get me wrong, I can follow a simple recipe. But when it comes to understanding flavor combinations, and throwing together a meal on the fly, my skills are limited. That is why I have always been fascinated with cooking shows like Chopped. I admire their ability to take the most random ingredients and turn them into award-worthy entrées.  But now, with the COVID-19 Stay-Home order in place, I find myself living my own version of the Chopped kitchen as I try to make the most of the ingredients I have in my pantry. And since my latest foray into homemade pasta was a fail, I decided it was time to get some advice. So I turned to the one person in my life that seems to be able to turn water into wine (metaphorically, although that would be a great skill to have right now): Jamie Mitchell.

Mitchell is not an expert chef. She is a teacher and a mother of two. But she knows flavors and she is a confident improviser. I have seen her churn out delicious meals for impromptu gatherings using only the ingredients on hand in her kitchen. And she makes it look easy! So, I knew she would be the perfect person to turn to for ideas on getting the most out of my pantry during social distancing.

ANW: What are your must-have pantry items?

Mitchell: Crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. You can make so many things with that as the base. I will add tomato sauce to a pan with onion, garlic and basil and will make a tomato soup. I will have bread or tortillas around, and I’ll make grilled-cheese or quesadillas for some comfort food. I have kids, so I try to make sure I have things that kids will eat.

Sometimes [my husband] uses the tomato sauce to make a salsa by adding lime, onions, chunky tomatoes, chopped peppers, corn, something vinegary and a bit of sugar.

I also usually have a seasoning mix. You can add onion soup mix to just about anything. You can add it to meat with beer to make pulled pork. Or add it to some yogurt or sour cream for a chip or veggie dip.

ANW: Is there a key to understanding flavor combinations?

Mitchell: You can make a lot of things if you have a tangy and a sweet. Lemon, lime and vinegar are tangy.  Maple syrup, sugar, agave, or honey are sweet. You can easily pull together a vinaigrette to go on a salad or become a meat marinade. You can make shish-kabobs with honey, lime and garlic. And the same types of concepts and ratios are used to make teriyaki with soy, garlic, something sweet, ginger and sesame oil.

ANW: What advice would you give to someone getting started in the kitchen?

Mitchell: Having a stocked spice cupboard is key because you can blend so many different spices to create different ethnic flairs. Oregano, basil, and thyme for Italian food. Tomato, cumin and garlic for Mexican. Use onions, tomato, carrots and rosemary for traditional American. And Asian food combines soy, ginger, sesame oil and something sweet.

ANW: Any final insider-tips for a novice in the kitchen?

Mitchell: On Allrecipes.com, you can put in the ingredients that you have on hand, and they will show you what you can make with those ingredients.

Mitchell’s Shopping List:

  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Tomato Paste
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Bread or Tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Coconut Milk
  • Fresh Veggies (onion, garlic, carrots, peppers, cucumber)
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Frozen Corn
  • Noodles
  • Potatoes
  • Soup spice mix and/or well-stocked spice cupboard.


Photo Credit: filadendron