The Cook’s Dilemma: How to Cook During a State of Siege, via Your Pantry

First, look at your pantry. If it is bare, you’ll need to act fast, as supplies – at least in my neck of the woods – are dwindling fast.

I’m going to assume that you’ve prepared for the coming weeks and months with swiftness.

The following list is only a suggestion. And to cook many Asian cuisines, you would need many things not listed below. Furthermore, I know that many people might not have the money or the space to lay in a large supply of food. If you should have extra of anything, do consider donating to a food bank or soup kitchen.

In Your Cupboards …

Canned goods:

Beans and legumes

Broths and condensed soups

Fish and meats, such as tuna, chicken, anchovies

Fruit, such as pineapple, pears, peaches

Tomato products, such as diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce

Jarred pasta sauces, jarred gravy, jarred paste blends for Asian/Indian dishes

Oils: olive, vegetable

Vinegar: red wine, balsamic, cider, white

Stuff to bake with: bread flour, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, vanilla extract, cocoa, chocolate, honey

Grains: Rice, bulgur, couscous, and assorted pasta shapes

Nuts and dried fruits: raisins, dates, prunes, walnuts, cashews, slivered almonds, peanut butter (I keep these in the fridge, BTW)

Bread: Dried Italian breadcrumbs and panko, stuffing mix

Sauces: Mexican salsa, soy, sriracha, Tabasco, Worcestershire (note: these must be stored in fridge after opening)

Jarred herbs and spices: most important — basil, oregano, dill leaf, celery seeds, mint leaf, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, chili powder, cayenne, curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, smoked paprika, sea salt and black pepper

Milk: canned, dried

In Your Fridge …

Vegetables and citrus: potatoes*, celery, rutabaga, onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, lemons, limes; tubes of garlic paste, cilantro paste, ginger paste, parsley paste, basil paste

Dairy: milk, heavy cream, sour cream, plain yogurt, butter, eggs

Cheese: Cheddar, Jack, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese, grated (either bought or done at home), feta, La Vache Qui Rit, cream cheese

Sauces: Mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, ketchup, anchovy paste, salad dressing like Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette

Pickled items: jalapeños, dill pickles, bread & butter pickles, roasted red peppers

In Your Freezer …

Vegetables: spinach, lima beans, okra, corn, peas, broccoli, French fries, etc.

Meats: chicken breasts, boneless chicken thighs, thin-sliced pork chops, hamburger in 1-pound packages, bacon, ham, fish, shrimp, pre-cooked meatballs

Fruits: concentrated juices, berries

Bread: breadcrumbs (homemade from stale bread, packed in small containers or plastic bags), burger buns, dinner rolls, sliced bread, pita, naan, tortillas (corn and flour)

Other: Pastry shells, puff pastry

So now that you have your pantry together, then what???

Let’s hope that the COVID-19 virus does not make inroads in the food supply chain, both for our sake and the sake of all the people whose livelihood depends on working to get food to the consumer.

In the beginning of quarantine, it’s wise to use the freshest food you have on hand, for obvious reasons. Leave the canned and dried foods and frozen stuff where they are for the time being. (You can use the meat, but try to stretch it out by using it more as a seasoning than the main event of a meal or dish.)

But let’s say, after a few weeks, you’re reduced to using only the stuff from your cupboards, plus some of the root vegetables and frozen vegetables. And a few forlorn packages of meat in the freezer, if you’re lucky.

As I wrote that sentence, I remembered a scene from the British TV series, “Foyle’s War.”

Someone has donated a large onion to the police station to raffle off for the war effort. Does that sound like a pretty weird thing?

Yes, to us.

But back then, thanks to the rationing and scarcity of WWII England, an onion was more valuable than a diamond to Samantha, Foyle’s driver. She approaches the officer behind the desk at the entrance to the station, who’s holding the onion.

“Can I just sniff it?” she asks him.

He hands it to her. She sniffs. Her face lights up as if she’s just smelled Coco Chanel’s most expensive fragrance.

You see, things like onion, garlic, herbs and spices, are ultimately more important than filet mignon or caviar when times are tough.

Bake, if you can. If you have an internet connection that’s working, check out King Arthur Flour’s site: and if you don’t, leaf through a basic cookbook, such as Joy of Cooking. (You DO have a basic cookbook, don’t you? It’s a good idea to have hard copy in case the electric and internet fails.)

Since I can’t know what you’ll have left to cook with, I’m only going to offer some possible combinations in general terms. But, always, cook according to your tastes.

1. Pasta

· Precooked frozen meatballs and jarred tomato sauce

· White sauce, ham, and spinach, Parmesan

· White sauce, tuna, peas

· Jarred pasta sauce of whatever type

· Olive slices, basil paste, thinly sliced onion, red pepper slices

2. Rice

· Black beans cooked with cilantro paste, garlic, onion, bay leaf, dash balsamic vinegar

· Red beans cooked with parsley paste, mashed garlic, and a pinch of cayenne

· White beans such as Great Northern with carrots, onion, bay leaf, ham or bacon

· Dill, mint, raisins, slivered almonds, onion

· Peanut butter, spinach, chopped turnips, chopped onion, cayenne, can of diced tomatoes

3. Potatoes

· Fried with onions, made into a frittata, with 6–8 eggs

· Creamed in a white sauce with fried onion and garlic, cooked peas stirred in

· Cream soup with bacon, onion, garlic, parsley paste, thickened with a bit of flour

· Mashed, with garlic paste, and jarred gravy. Or made into small patties with the addition of grated onion, an egg, and a few tablespoons of flour, then fried

4. Tortillas

· Quesadillas with mashed red beans

· Tacos with black beans and corn

· Enchiladas with bean filling, topped with red or green salsa and farmer or Jack cheese

· Canned chicken tacos with beans

So, you see, with just a few basic ingredients, you can combine ingredients in many, many different ways.

*Note: I know that potatoes ought not to be kept in the fridge, but I live in Florida and cockroaches LOVE potatoes. Another thing: I have decided to write a once-weekly summation of life, as I’ve been doing with my In a State of Siege series. I’m finally getting grounded enough to resume work on my next book.

Featured Image credit: Photo credit: © Garumart —

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