Favorite weekday recipes you can make without fresh ingredients?
October 24, 2016 8:39 AM   Subscribe

What are some great recipes that take less than 30 minutes and can be constructed using ingredients from tins or that live in the pantry? I'd like to increase my repertoire of tasty things I can prepare without either a trip to the grocery store or carefully planned fridge-stocking in advance.
posted by simonw to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 112 users marked this as a favorite
I present to you: grown up spaghettios.

-chicken sausage (the pre-cooked ones, I try to always keep a pack in my fridge) cut into chunks
-can of diced tomatoes
-handful of spinach (if fresh, awesome, but just fine if it's frozen)
-anelli pasta (I mean, you can use any pasta, but this way you can call it grown up spaghettios)
-seasoning as you see fit

Cook the pasta until it's about a minute from being al dente, you want it underdone. Drain it, then just dump everything in the pot until it's hot. At the end you have something resembling real food and only one dirty dish.
posted by phunniemee at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


The overlord of all "omg no food in my fridge" dishes. And moderately nutritious.


Cook lentils (whatever kind, green or brown are best) in whatever stock, with small chunks of whatever vegetables you have lying around, and if we're being strict about pantry-only, these can be chopped up sundried tomatoes or preserved artichoke hearts or olives. Cook until the lentils are al dente and then add whatever cheese you have, but parmesan is best, and this can be the driest, been-in-the-fridge-for-forever cheese, it doesn't matter because all it has to do is to increase the gooey, umami goodness of the dish.

Serve with salad, steamed veg, roast veg... or just in a big bowl with more cheese on top!
posted by greenish at 8:56 AM on October 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

One of my favorite meals is something I call "Couscous 'n' Things." Near East mixes are reliably good, and I can generally take whatever's in the flavor packet and add more of it from frozen or cans. For example, the broccoli cheddar flavor gets some frozen broccoli florets and maybe extra cheese if I've got it. The curry flavor is really good with chunks of firm tofu mixed in. When I get really crazy, I add Goddess Dressing to the mix and put it back in a saucepan for a minute to get a chewier texture from the couscous.

Trader Joe's meals are also great. One of my favorite combos there is frozen shelled edamame mixed with their Japanese-style fried rice (which is vegan, if that matters to you or your guests) and some soy sauce or liquid aminos. And Sriracha. Also goes great with avocado and/or kale if you've got it on hand.
posted by witchen at 8:59 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

· 2 cans clams
· Oregano
· Basil
· Box linguine (or whatever pasta)
· Garlic
· Olive Oil
· Salt & Pepper
· Parmesan Cheese

· Put some olive oil in your pot.
· Add the clams (and their juice), oregano, basil, salt and pepper, garlic into the pot.
· Add four cups of water.
· Add the pasta!
· Bring to a boil and stir frequently until the water's almost all evaporated.
· Serve!

This is Martha Stewart's one pan pasta with pantry ingredients. It's super adaptable--I've also done it with other fresh combinations.
posted by mchorn at 9:01 AM on October 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

greenish, I'm laughing because that sounds like EXACTLY the kind of weeknight meal I make. I need to make me some cheesy lentils.

Here's my go-to, no-effort hot weeknight meal: Pasta & pesto with frozen veggies.

- Boil water
- Add pasta to water
- After 4 minutes, add frozen veggies to water
- After another 4 minutes, remove from heat and drain
- Mix with pesto in a bowl. Add some parmesan on top if you're feeling fancy.

Takes 10 minutes start to finish. Not the most gourmet meal but it's hot and healthy.
posted by mekily at 9:01 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ok, so at first glance you're like "girl, this recipe calls for fresh bacon/pancetta, that don't live in a pantry." Here's the trick, though. You buy all the ingredients for this recipe, and SAVE half of them. So in your pantry, there's half a bag of beans, and an extra can of tomatoes, and in your freezer there's a ziploc with chopped up bacon and some rosemary and a parmesan rind or whatever.

You will feel so smart and genius when you dump your frozen ziploc and beans and can of tomatoes in a crockpot before going to work and come home to soup.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lately I've been doing a simple dinner with rice (get a rice cooker if you don't have one), fried egg(lightly fried so it acts as sauce when mixed in), and furikake seasoning. This is good enough on its own, but you can top it with pickles or canned sardines to add more flavor.
posted by monologish at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chickpea curry (nice basic example) is a good one that may not be in your rotation right now, although it does contain yellow onions and I don't know how strict you're being here in your definition of pantry staples.
posted by drlith at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You need The Storm Gourmet (which I discovered thanks to a comment on here!).

You can see two of the recipes, Gazpacho "Martinis" and Salad Nicoise on the NPR review.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:04 AM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pasta tossed with olive oil, pepper, garlic and cheese is always good and before you complain about the cheese, a block of a good cheese to grate lasts a long, long time in the fridge. Frozen stir fry vegetables mixed with rice and assorted appropriate condiments (soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, sriracha etc.) is another easy staple.
posted by mmascolino at 9:08 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pasta, beans and pesto. This is enough for one, easily doubleable..

1. Boil a couple of handfuls of pasta (tubes, twists, etc, not spaghetti).
2. Rinse the contents of a tin of cannellini/navy/haricot beans in a colander/sieve. Empty into a bowl.
3. Once the pasta's boiled, drain it in the colander.sieve. Put the beans into the hot pan and warm through.
4. Add a dessertspoon or more of pesto.
5. Add the cooked pasta to the pan.
6. Add a bit of olive oil if you want it all a bit looser. Add pepper if you like.

Done. Nice with a chopped tomato on top if you're feeling fancy. I have this about once a week as it requires no thinking and I always have the minimum ingredients handy.
posted by fabius at 9:15 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Intense tomato "sauce" for short pasta -- inspired by a Marcella Hazan Recipe. You won't believe how good it is.

Can of peeled, whole tomatoes -- 28 oz
Olive oil
Sliced garlic (optional), I use 3 cloves
Chopped rosemary (optional), I use about 1/2 teaspoon

Chop the tomatoes into 1/2 to 3/4" inch pieces. Thoroughly drain after chopping. (If you don't drain, it'll take a long time to reduce the liquid.)

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into frying pan on medium heat. Add the garlic or/and rosemary if you wish. Add tomatoes, salt them lightly and stir to coat them with oil. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you want the tomatoes to be extra intense, turn heat down to low after 15 minutes and cook them till they're as sweet and dehydrated as you want.

Serve with as much or as little of the oil as you want. Very good with penne rigate.
posted by wryly at 9:19 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Pseushi," an ActionPopulated original
-Rice (doesn't have to be actual sushi rice; Chinese takeout leftovers will do)
-One can tuna or salmon
-Nori; you can get this in big sheets if you have an Asian grocery nearby, or a fancy regular grocery store may have individuak packs of "seaweed snacks"
-Soy sauce and sesame oil to taste

Cook your rice if that's not done already; if you make enough you can save some for future dishes. Mix a bit of sesame oil into the rice.

Open and drain your can of fish, dump over rice, mix in, add soy sauce and possibly more sesame oil to taste.

Tear nori sheets over the bowl for garnish. If you have large sheets, you can also wrap your rice and fish mix in them like a mini-burrito.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:28 AM on October 24, 2016

Butterbean and chorizo stew-
200g chorizo
2 cans butter beans
2 cans chopped tomato
However much pesto you care for

Chop and fry the chorizo, add the tins, cook until you think it's cooked, stir through the pesto.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I got a lot out of this cool cook book https://www.amazon.com/What-Think-Theres-Nothing-House/dp/0060955597 what to cook when you think there is nothing in the house to eat. by Arthur Schwartz. What i like is that his recipes truly assume you have close to nothing at home, nothing fancy require d.
posted by 15L06 at 9:45 AM on October 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I just made mushroom risotto using dried mushrooms. I made mine in my instant pot but you could easily make it on the stovetop. So, sauté an onion (I had a fresh onion but if not I also keep frozen bags of chopped onions, and doing this increases my weeknight get dinner speed and versatility no end). As you're sautéing, dump a stock cube and a bag of dried mushrooms and whatever other frozen veggies you like (I like peas) into a measuring cup, then fill with boiling water until you have 4 cups liquid. Add two cups short grain (arborio) rice to the instant pot, then deglaze with a generous splash of wine (white or red is fine, frozen or fresh wine). Add stock and vegetable mixture, then cook in the instant pot under high pressure for six minutes or, if cooking on the stove, add liquid gradually and cook on the stovetop stirring for however long the rice says on the packet if cooking another way. Release the pressure, stir in some butter or olive oil if you have either of these. Serve and top with grated cheese, preferably Parmesan.
posted by hazyjane at 10:01 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I LOVE eggs poached in tomato sauce. Heat a half inch of sauce to a low simmer in a small saucepan, then crack in two eggs, cover, and cook to desired doneness. You can add meat to the sauce (I like frozen sausage, defrosted and browned in the pan beforehand), or top with goat cheese, or top with avocado... it's very versatile. And fast!

I recently made a fried sardine sandwich for dinner and now I'm in love. Somehow a can's worth of breaded fried sardines feels so much more substantial and like 'real' food than just a can of sardines.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:02 AM on October 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Pantry items:
- Can of chopped tomatoes
- Tin/jar of anchovies
- Tin/jar of olives
- Jar of capers
- Dried chilli flakes
- Spaghetti
- Olive oil
- Garlic (I mean, yeah it's not technically a pantry item, it's such a staple item in our house we always have it on hand and also, I give you permission to have a small jar of pre-chopped garlic in the fridge)

If you can be arsed for any fresh ingredients:
- Parsley
- Parmesan
- Lemon

Get your spaghetti cooking. Sautee minced garlic. Add minced anchovies. Simmer tin of tomatoes. Add seasoning ingredients, capers, olives. Simmer some more. Drain spaghetti except for a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Toss with the sauce.

Keep some garlic bread stocked in your freezer for these occasions.
posted by like_neon at 10:04 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pasta and beans, pasta and chick peas, pasta with tuna and tomatoes, pasta with puttanesca sauce, pasta with clams, etc.
posted by fixedgear at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

This can hardly be called cooking, but Tasty Bite makes incredible shelf-stable packaged meals. They're available at the grocery store, usually in the "ethnic" section, plus often at Costco and rebranded at Trader Joe's. I love the Madras Lentils. Often I scoop some with pita chips, or just eat as a soup/stew. Throw on some shredded cheddar cheese if you have it.

There are a lot of great crock pot recipes that are mostly "open can and dump in." Often they require meat, but if you keep frozen chicken breasts in the freezer and then thaw them out in the fridge, there's really very little work involved!

Chicken with Artichokes.
Teriyaki chicken (pair with microwaveable frozen rice, found at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)
posted by radioamy at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Couscous: Use couscous as a side for everything. Bring 1 c vegetable broth to a boil, add 1 c couscous, stir thoroughly, cover, turn off heat, wait 10-15 minutes, et voila. If you're feeling fancy you can toast the couscous in some olive oil first.

Chana masala: 3 Tbsp coconut or vegetable oil, 1 small onion, 6 cloves garlic, 1 Tbsp each ground cumin, coriander, and garam masala, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp cardamom, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 2 tins chickpeas, 1 tin diced tomatoes. Fry diced vegetables and dry spices in oil until fragrant. Deglaze with tomatoes, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chickpeas, cover, and simmer 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Salt to taste. Finish with 1-2 Tbsp of lime juice or apple cider vinegar.

Brown lentil soup: 2 Tbsp olive oil, 3 carrots and 2 stalks celery if you have them, 1 small onion, 6 cloves garlic, 4 c vegetable broth, 2 c brown or green lentils, 1 tin diced tomatoes, 1 tsp each thyme and oregano, 1 bay leaf. Fry diced vegetables in oil until fragrant. Deglaze with broth and bring to a boil. Stir in lentils, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until soft. Salt to taste. Finish with 1-2 Tbsp apple cider or red wine vinegar and a liberal amount of nutritional yeast. Blend with stick blender if desired.

Red lentil soup: 2 Tbsp coconut or vegetable oil, 2 carrots if you have them, 1 small onion, 3 cloves garlic, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp turmeric, 8 c vegetable broth, 2 c red lentils. Fry diced vegetables and dry spices in oil until fragrant. Deglaze with broth and bring to a boil. Stir in lentils, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until soft, adding water by the 1/4 c to thin it out as necessary. Finish with a dash of sumac or a splash of lemon juice. Blend with stick blender if desired.

Orzo soup: 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 carrots and 1 stalk celery if you have them, 1/2 small onion, 6 cloves garlic, 1 tsp each basil, oregano, and thyme, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1 tin fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 6 c vegetable broth, 1 tin white beans or chickpeas, 1.5 c (~8 oz) orzo pasta. Fry diced vegetables and dry spices in oil until fragrant. Deglaze with tomatoes, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add broth, beans, and orzo, return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until orzo is al dente, adding water by the 1/4 c to thin it out as necessary. Finish with a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Vegetarian chili: 3 Tbsp olive oil, 2 carrots if you have them, 1 small onion, 6 cloves garlic, 1/4 c chili powder, 1 Tbsp Mexican oregano, 2 tsp ground cumin and coriander, 2 tins each fire-roasted tomatoes and chopped green chilies (or 2 tins Ro-Tel), 2 c vegetable broth, 1 tin each corn niblets, black beans, pinto beans, and chickpeas. Fry diced vegetables and dry spices in oil until fragrant. Deglaze with tomatoes, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until heated through.

TVP tacos: 1 c water, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 c TVP mince, 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, 1 packet taco seasoning or 1 Tbsp chili powder, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp each onion powder, garlic powder, and Mexican oregano, and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Bring water and soy sauce to a boil, add TVP, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until TVP is soft, drain. Fry dry spices in oil until fragrant, then add rehydrated TVP and a splash of water. Cook 5 minutes or until heated through, adding water by the tablespoon to deglaze the pan as necessary. Serve with tortillas or chips.

Peanut noodles: 8 oz linguine or soba noodles, 1/2 c peanut butter, 1/3 c water, 1 clove garlic, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp lime juice or rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp brown sugar, a squirt of Sriracha or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Add salt to taste. Boil pasta, drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside. Add remaining ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, adding water by the tablespoon to thin it out as necessary. Dump sauce on pasta. Top with crushed peanuts or sesame seeds.

Buffalo tofu: 16 oz (1 block) extra-firm tofu, 1/4 c Frank's RedHot or Crystal Hot Sauce, 2 Tbsp softened/melted refined coconut oil or Earth Balance, kosher salt, MSG. Preheat oven to 425F. Slice tofu diagonally, then diagonally again to make 4 triangles, and cut into <1/2" thick pieces. Whisk together the hot sauce and oil//Earth Balance in a large bowl. Lay tofu pieces on a lightly oiled baking sheet and sprinkle them liberally with kosher salt and MSG. Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy, flipping once. Toss tofu pieces with sauce when they are fresh out of the oven.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2016 [13 favorites]

1 can diced tomato (don't drain)
2 cans beans (black or kidney or pinto), drained.
1-2T chili powder

The minimal chili recipe is pretty darn tasty for being as simple as it is, but for best results add one or more of the following:
1 onion chopped and sauteed in the bottom of the pan before you dump all those cans in
1/4c dry TVP (textured vegetable protein, it's like tofu emulating scramble-fried ground beef)
1/2 c frozen corn or 1 can hominy (drained)
1 can (or half a can) peppers in adobo sauce (dump onto cutting board, chop medium-fine)

Another simple soup:
2 cans pumpkin
1 can coconut milk
1 boullion cube + 2c water
1-3tsp curry powder or paste (to taste)
1-3 Tb honey (to taste)
posted by aimedwander at 10:07 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nancy Silverton wrote a terrific book on this-- Twist of the Wrist.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2016

Based on the date of the blog post, I've made this for 9 years. It's delicious every single time: Rachel Wharton's bodega beans.

Tip: you can freeze bacon and cook it from frozen which essentially turns bacon into a pantry (freezer) staple).
posted by kitkatcathy at 10:09 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seven can taco soup (there are tons of recipes for it) is shockingly tasty. I usually throw in a shredded grocery store rotisserie chicken and garnish with cheese, crushed up tortilla chips and sour cream but those ingredients are optional.
posted by Aquifer at 10:23 AM on October 24, 2016

Easy tortilla treat.

1 can black beans
1 can corn
1 can diced tomatoes- drained

Warm these up together. Put on torillas with some cheese and salsa.
posted by advicepig at 10:23 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pantry salad: equal parts black beans, chickpeas, edamame, diced canned tomatoes, frozen corn. Good with various kinds of dressings. You can drop and add ingredients.
posted by mskyle at 10:45 AM on October 24, 2016

I'm a single dude (who cooks 90%+) and live where meat is generally pretty pricey. So, when meat goes on sale (usually in larger "family packs"), I'll stock up, wrap each piece in cling wrap and freeze.

For produce/fruits, I go shopping once a week. Onions, potatoes, beets, all store well (weeks) in the crisper drawer in the fridge.

I decide in the morning (or night before) what meat I want that night (pork chops, pork fritters, chicken thighs, chicken breasts, turkey thighs, steak, prawns, fish fillets, whatever) and take it out of the freezer, plop it on a dish, and let it defrost during the day/overnight in the fridge.

1) Seafood pasta
- cook a pasta
- while that's going, pan fry prawns/fish with some chopped up onions/shallots, set aside
- open up a can of clam, drain nectar into pan, add some (whipping) cream, reduce
- drain pasta, return prawns/fish/shallots to reduced sauce, toss in cooked pasta, toss in the can of clams
- add garlic powder/white pepper to taste, toss, eat

- if I'm lazy, I'll cook the seafood in the nectar/cream sauce, remove once it's cooked and continue reducing the sauce (it tastes better pan fried on it's own as you get some Maillard reaction products)

2) Pork Fritters
- boneless pork chop or pork tenderloin (for tenderloin, cut cross-grain into a medallion ~1.5 to 2" thick), bash with the coarse end of a meat tenderizer until 1/2 height 2x area
- scramble an egg, pour flour into a tupperware container, add salt + white pepper, close container, shake, dump into a plate
- dredge the meat in egg wash, dredge in flour, return to egg wash, dredge in flour, press flour into meat until it's no longer damp
- secret trick: put the "dry" battered meat in the fridge for 5 minutes, flip, return to fridge for 5 minutes (up to 10 minutes per side if you have the time) - this dehydrates the batter and it shrinks a little and stick to the meat a lot better
- shallow fat pan fry the meat at medium-high until golden brown on each side, set aside
- pour off all but ~1tbsp of oil, lower to medium heat, sprinkle in leftover seasoned flour and stir with a silicon spatula until you get a golden roux, slowly pour in cream and continue stirring until you get a white gravy, add salt + pepper to taste

- while this is going on you can get a pasta/other-carb and vegetables going. Stir frying a chopped up sweet bell pepper is super simple (sprinkle some salt and garlic powder) as are beans like snap peas

3) Chow Mein
- boil some dried chow mein puck(s), drain, set aside
- chop up some carrots into julien-like strips, open up a can of straw mushrooms (drain first), open up a can of bamboo shoots (drain first), stir fry together (+salt, +garlic powder), set aside
- chop up some chicken thighs, season (soy sauce, white pepper, garlic powder, sesame oil), pan fr
- mix ~ 1 volume oyster sauce (start with 2 tbsp), 1 volume Chinese cooking wine, 1 volume mirin, 3 volumes water, mix well
- return veg to pan with chicken, bring up to temp, pour sauce into pan, quickly dump ~ 1 heaping tsp of tapioca starch (cornstarch or potato starch can be used, but will be more opaque and less translucent) into bowl, add about 3 tbsp cool water, mix well, pour half into pan and stir, add remaining (or more) to achieve desired sauce thickness
- pour meat+veg+sauce over drained noodles

The trick to getting a meal done in 30 minutes depends a lot on timing all of the prep work and knowing how long it takes for each ingredient clade to be done.
posted by porpoise at 10:49 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

This isn't a recipe, but a suggestion to expand your options: I try to keep the following on hand at all times in order to facilitate pantry/freezer meals:
  • frozen chopped onion (look in the frozen vegetables section of the store for these)
  • frozen veggies (I find spinach, broccoli, sliced mushrooms, and pearl onions are the most versatile), and
  • minced squeeze garlic (stocked in the produce section at my grocery store, take a careful look at the ingredients and you can get a kind with only garlic and a trace preservative--no corn syrup or other ingredients)
  • canned diced tomatoes
  • canned beans (chickpeas, white beans, black beans)
  • bullion or stock (in cubes, cans, or jarred like "Better than Bullion")
  • lentils, rice/quinoa, and pasta

    With the above items, you can make all manner of soups, stews, or starch with vegetables (with or without a sauce). For me, the key item is the first one--I hate chopping onions, but feel like I'm really *cooking* something when I saute one, even if after that I just dump in a bunch of cans of things and let it simmer.

  • posted by msbubbaclees at 10:55 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

    To me, eggs make all the difference between real food and "what can I scrounge out of the pantry." Eggs keep a ridiculously long time in the fridge, and just about anything you can make out of a pantry will be improved by a fried egg. Once you get past the usual omelette and/or frittata, there's still quite a lot of range to eggs.

    Tomato sauce? Throw whatever veggies you have on hand in, spice it up a little, add some eggs and call it lazy shakshuka.

    Pasta? With some panko or breadcrumbs, you have basically everything you need for spaghetti pangrattato sans the fancy fresh herbs and lemon zest. A fried egg just rounds it out.

    Even just dropping an egg into boiling instant noodles makes a tasty, nourishing dish that keeps students alive everywhere.

    I've never used a recipe, but egg fried rice is cheap and easy if you have leftover rice around. At its most basic, you just add cold cooked rice (This is key! Fresh rice is NOT a good substitute!) to a little hot oil, add in some beaten eggs, and season the whole thing with soy sauce, but you can add just about anything to it. I frequently use frozen vegetables, but tinned might do in a pinch, and if you add some diced Spam, you have a firm favorite of Hawaiian cuisine. Here's a simple recipe similar to what I often make.

    Speaking of Spam, fried eggs with a splash of soy sauce over rice with a side of thinly sliced fried Spam is practically a food group in Hawaii. Not especially healthy, but easy, delicious, and the go-to lazy meal in the Diagonalize household.
    posted by Diagonalize at 11:26 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

    May I present to you Noodles and Eggs!
    posted by wittgenstein at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

    We try to avoid a lot of carbs, and cauliflower rice out of the freezer is one of the best go-to, little to no prep options. Its super versatile and can be done up like an Asian fried rice with some egg and soy or fish sauce, I like to take it indian and fry up some ginger-garlic paste out of the fridge, a little turmeric and or garam masala. it also goes great with chicken sausage or frozen ground meat. it is greatly improved by fresh ingredients (green onions, cilantro, curry leaves) but also totally acceptable without any of that. Trader joes sells it (though its not always available) for next to nothing.

    The best part is that it is basically cooked as soon as its hot, so its just a question of what else youre tossing in - two weeks ago I had a lb of ground beef defrosted so I just browned it up, drained it, added the cauliflower rice and we were eating in maybe 15-20 minutes total.
    posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:23 PM on October 24, 2016

    Pasta dishes are the obvious solution here, the simplest ones are aglio, olio & pepperonico (boil spaghetti, meanwhile heat oil, add garlic and chili. When pasta is ready, add pasta and some cooking water to the oil with spices. If fancy, sprinkle with parmesan cheese when serving). And burro & salvie (Boil egg-pasta, like tagliatelle. Meanwhile, heat butter with leaves of sage and some pepper. If fancy, sprinkle with parmesan cheese when serving).
    I regret that I do not eat these simple pasta dishes more often.

    Ful medames is a North African/Middle Eastern breakfast staple, but it is also very useful for food when you are home late and just need to eat well. In a pan, heat some olive oil, add crushed garlic. Before the garlic browns, add a tin of fava beans, rinse the beans with water before cooking. Cook till the beans are warmed through. Just before serving, add the juice of 1/2 lemon. (You really should always have a lemon in your fridge). Eat it out of the pan, or serve it on a plate with some yogurt and chopped parsley with some bread on the side.

    Lentils have been mentioned above, for me, this is the most delicious and simple fast food: I finely dice onion, carrot and celery (which I always have in my pantry), sauté them in olive oil, add garlic, add a tin of lentils, half a tin of tomatoes, thyme, bayleaf, salt and pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Eat. Lemon will make this even better, add lemon juice for the last five minutes. Did I say you should always have lemon in your fridge?

    Now it seems like I am vegetarian, which I am not. I'm vegetarian for pantry-food. But there are several nice things one can do with cans of (sustainable) tuna. If you have a blender or mini-processor, blend a can of tuna, butter, mayo, capers, 1 mini tomato, 1 tiny shallot, a bit of chili powder, pepper, lemon juice to make a paste. Let it cool, or don't. spread on toast or french bread. Dress with tomatoes, cornichons, red onions, lettuce. (well, this is almost a tuna melt, you can make that, too). Lemon can improve the taste of everything here.
    Pasta with tuna: Boil some pasta. Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat some olive oil, add slices of onion and cook till they are soft. Add tomato (fresh or canned, not too much), capers, olives, pepper, and a can of tuna. Add the pasta and some of the water to the skillet, stir, eat. No cheese. Fish and cheese tastes like vomit, with some delicious exceptions.
    posted by mumimor at 12:48 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

    A couple of soups:

    Tortellini en brodo: Bring some chicken stock-in-a-box to a boil, add meat or cheese tortellini (I like frozen ones, but you can get dried cheese tortellini, too) cooking until they float, add a handful of fresh/frozen spinach and top with grated Parmesan. It sounds (and is) quite simple, but it's much more than the sum of its parts.

    Pumpkin-Asiago Soup: Saute some onion and garlic (I have both frozen chopped onion and garlic cubes in the freezer) in the bottom of a deep pot. Deglaze (scrape up the browned bits) the pan with a box of chicken stock-in-a-box. Add a large (28 oz?) can of pumpkin puree (plain pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling) and stir to combine. Top with a grating of Asiago cheese.
    posted by sarajane at 12:49 PM on October 24, 2016

    Fry up some garlic in some olive oil, add a can of tuna in water (drained) to the frying pan, salt and pepper, mix until warm, and then mix with spaghetti or rice. For added pizazz, add some spicy chili powder and squirt a little lime juice.
    posted by ChuraChura at 1:04 PM on October 24, 2016

    Couscous and quinoa make great pantry/refrigerator "glue". Couscous is like, stupid easy to make. I like mixing with marinated canned/jarred vegetables and a little olive oil. Think roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, hearts of palm. You can just heat the vegetables up in a pan with a little olive oil (or in the microwave) first. You could even throw in some leftover cut-up meat or even deli slices.
    posted by radioamy at 5:19 PM on October 24, 2016

    I've used the cookbooks mentioned in the comments above; here are two more: Vegan Unplugged: A Pantry Cuisine Cookbook and Survival Guide by Jon Robertson with recipes by Robin Robertson (for when the power goes out!) and its updated sibling (with new recipes, and using regular cooking methods) Cook the Pantry: Vegan Pantry-to-Plate Recipes in 20 Minutes (or Less)!

    Also: microwave baked potatoes with toppings of your choice.
    posted by apartment dweller at 9:04 PM on October 24, 2016

    What turns microwaved frozen peas from a blah side dish into something interesting is a pad of butter and some good salt--Trader Joe's Pink Himalayan salt, in this instance, but there are many interesting salts to be had from other markets. Consider stocking your spice drawer with a variety of salts. Salt lasts for decades, so it doesn't exactly count as 'planning'. (A smoked salt is a good addition.) A good dried Thyme can also make a huge difference in many quick meals.

    We fill in the blanks on quick meals with brown rice prepared ahead and and frozen in a silicon muffin pan. Microwave for a minute, blend with a dollop of your favorite pesto sauce, cover with shaved hard cheese, microwave again for 30 seconds, and you have a tasty side dish. The balance between pesto and cheese is a fun one to play with and match up with red wine. This one kind of counts as fridge-stocking, but frozen rice lasts for a months.
    posted by dws at 9:33 PM on October 24, 2016

    Get powdered milk and powdered buttermilk to rehydrate and use in cooking, since the fresh versions can be hard to keep around but are useful in many dishes. I wouldn't serve powdered milk as a regular beverage, but it is fine used in cooking.
    posted by soelo at 9:10 AM on October 26, 2016

    Oh - re milk, you can actually get shelf-stable milk and cream now that can last in the pantry for months! I know they sell it at Trader Joe's. I keep a thing of the cream around for when I run out of cream for my coffee in the morning.
    posted by showbiz_liz at 9:15 AM on October 26, 2016

    Intense tomato "sauce" for short pasta -- inspired by a Marcella Hazan Recipe. You won't believe how good it is.

    Seconding this - Marcella Hazan gives great results in my experience. I use another recipe which is simpler and has less ingredients:


    28oz (or 800g) of whole, peeled tinned tomatoes.
    4 or 5 tablespoons of butter
    1 brown onion
    9oz (250g) spaghetti

    (Butter keeps forever in the fridge, and everything else keeps long-term outside.)

    Chop the onion in half so you chop through the root. Throw butter, tomatoes and the two onion halves into a pot. Add a few pinches of salt, bring to simmer, and simmer for 40 minutes. After about 30 minutes, get a new pot and boil some water, salt the water (use a tablespoon or so), cook pasta til you're happy with the consistency. When the sauce has had the full 40 minutes, remove the two onion halves and discard, then get a slotted spoon or a potato masher and squish the tomatoes so you don't have any chunks left. They should squish easily after 40 mins. Add sauce to pasta, parsley and parmesan cheese optional.
    posted by iffthen at 3:26 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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