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  • Katie Stilo

Pantry and Freezer Cooking Ideas

Hi from my self-quarantine! Since were all at home on our phones, computers and glued to the TV, I figured I would answer some questions I got about cooking with items from your pantry/freezer. I think a lot of people are worried they will run out of food/ideas to feed themselves or their family, its a real fear, but there are TONS of ways to get creative in the kitchen !!!

The ideas I'm posting may or may not work for what you currently have on hand, but thats the fun in it! Get creative and take a risk in trying a new ingredient you wouldn't normally. If you're intimidated on how to cook rice because you've only ever microwaved a hot pocket, don't fear, we have something called the internet and you can get advice in seconds!!


Last night I posted on my Instagram a Q&A asking people to write in their cooking questions/concerns. Im going to answer a few below so you can refer back to this post when cooking these next few weeks. Stay healthy and wash your hands !


Q #1: HOW DO I ELEVATE MY PANTRY & FREEZER ITEMS?


Im sure a lot of people are asking themselves this same question right now. As a professional chef and food stylist, people think I come home from work and whip up a 5-star dinner. Spoiler alert: Im a lazy cook! I really just try to think of a meal that will have enough protein/carbs and greens that can be prepared quickly. Typically, Ill purchase the frozen rice from either Whole Foods or Trader Joes because it reheats super easily and doesn't require any stove-top space! Ill cook up some chicken, add veggies, spinach and thats pretty much it. Top with hot sauce, sour cream, harissa, any vinaigrette or sauce you like and you're good to go. Its not ground breaking but it gets the job done when you're exhausted and just want to stuff your face.


So if you've purchased any frozen grains or dried grains, add some spices you have in your pantry to them! Any type of dried spices such as thyme, basil, oregano, cumin, turmeric, or even a pinch of cinnamon to bring in a Moroccan flare. If you have za'atar or sumac, even better! Im not mentioning fresh herbs because I don't think most people have stocked up on them but by all means, add them if you have them!!! I think on of the major differences between home cooks and restaurant chefs is that chefs add tons of herbs while cooking. Its an easy way to elevate any item, canned beans, frozen spinach, frozen corn, etc. I think it adds life to a dish and brings some freshness. Also, add a splash of some vinegar you may have or a squeeze of lemon juice to give your grains brightness.


If you bought canned or jarred fish, you can make endless pasta dishes, salads, even stews. You can literally toss the canned tuna, salmon, whatever fish you bought, with lemon zest, capers, garlic, chopped parsley, olive oil and whatever pasta you have to make an instant dinner or even lunch. Check out this recipe from Bon Appetit for more inspo. Have eggs, potatoes, frozen green beans, olives, tomatoes and fish? Make a Nicoise salad! Sounds fancy but you can easily make this with any pantry/freezer items. Put your own twist on it with substitutes you have. This is a rough guide to follow but again, do you!


Bought sun-dried tomatoes, capers, olives, or anchovies? Make a sun-dried tomato aioli and add it to your sandwiches or even stir it in soups! Add them to pasta or make a sun-dried tomato sautéed chicken. Capers, olives and anchovies provide endless options. First thing that comes to my mind is a puttanesca sauce! Check out this recipe for inspo.


I think this question could be answered differently by so many people, but really just take a realistic approach to what you have. You don't need to be a fancy chef right now, just think logically about your stock and how you prefer to eat.


Q #2: WHAT CAN I DO WITH CANNED CHICKPEAS?


What CANT you do?! Toss some with evoo, spices, s&p and roast till crispy. You can add these to any salad, grain bowl, top your pasta with it, or just have for a snack! You could make hummus to use as a snack for veggies or as a spread on sandwiches. Make a chickpea soup! My mom always does this and its delicious. Heres a link to that recipe. Add a parmesan rind to this while simmering if you have one in your fridge or freezer. She also has a great recipe for chickpea "tuna" ! Check it out here. She has a ton of vegan and vegetarian options using chickpeas, including buffalo chickpea burgers. Its all up on her website so be sure to check them out. You can also bake with chickpeas, go over to my girl Samah Dadas website for endless inspo.


Q #3: WHAT ARE FUN DESSERTS TO MAKE BESIDES COOKIES AND BROWNIES?


I think a lot of people are "stress baking" or something along those lines right now because the stores were wiped out of flour and sugar! I would bake something that could sit on the counter for a few days and be an easy snack. Make some home-made granola or energy bars, any type of shortbread, or biscotti! I think that biscotti would be so yummy and a great treat for dipping in your coffee. Biscotti is actually really easy to make even tho it sounds intimidating. You can flavor how ever you want too; add some chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruits or leave it plain.

Try making some type of pudding or no-bake dessert to keep in your fridge as a midnight snack. Or really an anytime snack because time doesn't exist in this self-quarantine! If you're really feeling up to it, make some home-made cinnamon buns and let them rise overnight so you can bake them fresh in the morning so your house will smell like a bakery. You could make scones or muffins and freeze the leftovers. Just re-heat whenever you want!



Q #4: EASY MEAT RECIPES WITH GRAINS BESIDES CHICKEN?


Most of the grocery stores have been wiped out of popular cuts of meat that people are more familiar with. It might seem intimidating to buy something you don't know how to cook but just keep an open mind and search the Internet! If you've bought ground meat, you can make meatballs, taco meat, meatloaf, burgers, patty melts, layer it in lasagna, bolognese sauce, the list is endless.

You can cook whatever grains you've bought and serve with any number of these dishes. If you've got a slow-cooker or pressure cooker and were only able to buy a tougher cut of meat such as stew meat or a roast, use these appliances to make your life easy. It will cook all day on your counter without you having to do a thing and you'll have a delicious meal with minimal effort. Serve it over rice, farro, quinoa, or any grains you were able to get your hands on.

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