Published on March 12, 2020

“So often we come home and say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing to eat here,’” says recipe developer Dawn Perry. “When actually there’s so much you can cook.” She knows a thing or two about making good use of the things you already have on hand—she’s currently working on her first cookbook, which is all about pantry staples. So while the CDC recommends you keep a decent stock of nonperishable foods in your home in light of the threat of COVID-19, you likely have plenty of essentials already—you just might not be using them to their full potential.

Perry encourages people to turn to the basics, which are more versatile than you’d think. “This is a time when every meal does not have to be an event,” she says. “We’re cooking for comfort, we’re cooking for sustenance, and that’s enough right now.” Here, she shares a few ideas for cooking with the most common things in your cabinets and freezer, now or anytime you’re hard-pressed to figure out dinner.

Flour

“There’s so much you can do with one five-pound bag; you can make crackers, biscuits, bread, basic tortillas. Flour, water, salt, and a little bit of fat (like butter or oil) go a long way.”

Rice

“Rice is great because it bulks up and doesn’t take up a lot of space in your cabinet. Even if you’re cooking for one, I’d recommend always making at least a cup; you’ll use it all. You can stir roughly a cup of cooked rice with one egg and a little cheese of any kind until it’s mixed evenly, and when you fry that, you have a little rice pancake. You can also make fried rice by heating some oil and stirring in an egg and some frozen vegetables—I always have peas on hand.”

Beans

“Once they’re cooked (or rinsed and drained), toss any beans with olive oil, salt, and dried oregano if you have it. If you can add Parmesan cheese or some lemon juice, that’s amazing, too. But even just with salt and pepper, they’re good. Put them over a salad, in rice and pasta to add protein, or mash them into a dip if you need a snack. You can also cook them with an onion, some garlic, and water or stock, and blend that for a creamy soup. They’re inexpensive and they’re filling.”

Canned Tomatoes

“Make an easy tomato sauce with an onion, a couple garlic cloves, and a can of tomatoes—just dump it all in a pot with some olive oil and let it simmer. If you want to turn it into a soup, add some stock. If you don’t have that, water and salt will get you there, too. With this quick sauce on hand, you can also crack an egg into it and let it poach to make eggs in purgatory.”

Bread

“I always have sliced bread in the freezer—it lasts forever in there. Grab it to make toast—which you can put some beans on—or something comforting like French toast or grilled cheese.”

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