It's not hoarding, it's planning: possible pandemic pantry edition.
February 28, 2020 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I already have three days' worth of shelf-stable emergency foods (soups, canned tuna/chicken, canned veg, crackers, nut butter, dried fruit, water, etc.) but would like to increase my store to 21 days' worth and plan possible recipes. Do you have meals that can be made from common shelf-stable pantry items that you could also use during non-emergencies? Hoping also to avoid purchase of foods I normally wouldn't eat, and to avoid food waste. Thanks in advance!

I am assuming use of my freezer/fridge and city water. Also, some long-expiration-date packages of cheese already in fridge, such as mozzarella, monterey jack, etc. If it matters, our household consists of two slightly smaller than average adults. I have the following recipes in mind:

* quesadillas: frozen tortillas, refried or pinto beans, cheese, thawed frozen veggies, chili powder, jarred salsa
* Chicken salad (canned chicken, mayo, spices), with crackers and dried fruit or applesauce
* Nachos: chips, jarred salsa, cheese, refried beans
* Pasta: dried pasta or frozen ravioli and pasta sauce
* Pita pizzas: pitas (from freezer), jarred pizza sauce, jarred mushrooms lightly sauteed in jarred garlic

And so on.

What would you store and make?
posted by metarkest to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I make a lot of Chana Masala - made with chickpeas and tomatoes and if you grab a package of garam masala spices you don't have to get finicky about a bunch of different spices. I serve it with rice; it is vegan and gluten free and the chickpeas are good for protein and vitamins. I just bought about a dozen tins of chickpeas at Costco for $5 so it is really cheap to make. I also make a lot of curries using frozen vegetables but I have upped my store of tinned vegetables just in case. I eat both with lots of rice. Eggs are another good source of protein and can be used in so many ways. Smoothies are a great way to get a lot of vitamins without making a huge big meal, so tins of coconut milk, frozen fruits, yogurts etc. (there are tonnes of good smoothie recipes out there).

If you get sick you won't want (or have the energy) to eat too much beyond comfort foods like soups, smoothies, scrambled eggs (YMMV), so think of what your easy to go meals are and have a good stockpile of them.
posted by saucysault at 12:24 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: See some previous ask.mes and ScientificAmerican blog post.

Canned fruit (in light syrup or juice), canned veg (I seldom eat canned veg, but I like beets, tomatoes, and pumpkin for soup or baking), polenta (with pepperoni and topped with tomato sauce). Oatmeal, rice, and dried beans are really inexpensive, so a good backup. Eggs keep well, winter veg like onions, carrots, cabbage, hard squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes. I like lentils a lot, even just cooked with butter, salt, pepper. Indian meals in shelf-stable packaging.

In a quarantine, boredom is real, so supplies for baking.

Hoarding is buying up lots of n95 masks that you don't really need. Preparing for quarantine is smart, and means you are less likely to need help.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I like this Red Lentil Dhal recipe. Everything in it is shelf stable, aside from the garnish. The curry paste and bottled lime juice are shelf stable until you open them and then they last a long time in the fridge.
posted by burntflowers at 12:32 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you'd like to bake over an extended period, powdered eggs and powdered milk work pretty well and let you keep a vast quantity in less space.
posted by advicepig at 12:42 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the few things that come in a box that I think is super delicious is scalloped potatoes. They are cheap. If you have a few ham steaks in the freezer (I think a good idea) you take ham cubes, drain canned peas and add to the mix. Bake.

(I haven't had this in years but I have been thinking about the same thing and this came to mind).
posted by beccaj at 12:46 PM on February 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If I were preparing this way I would make sure to have lots of "fun" foods like popcorn, chips, candy, and also some time-consuming recipes: bread from scratch, bean stews (from dry beans), etc. Being stuck home with just the contents of your pantry/fridge/freezer SUCKS and is just so tedious and boring. (I assume we're talking about a "supply chain interruption" kind of situation rather than a "sick on the sofa" kind of situation.)

Also lots of different seasonings and spice mixes - sure you're having chicken on a pita or rice again, but today it's Green Curry Chicken on a pita! Consider cans of tomatoes rather than tomato sauce, it gives you more opportunties to mix things up a bit.

And yes, scalloped potatoes, or seasoned rice mixes! Good with hard sausage.
posted by mskyle at 12:51 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had a big tin of sardines in tomato sauce that Mr. Botanizer mashed and mixed with finely chopped onion, plain canned olives and capers with a bit of lemon juice. It was fantastic spread on crackers or rice cakes. I also like plain sardines with some mustard. You could make just an olive spread but I would want more exciting olives for that.
Peanut butter or other nut/seed butters are handy too.
I also bought some vitamins D and C to make up for possible fruit and sunshine deprivation.
posted by Botanizer at 1:02 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: All kinds of bean and rice dishes! For example:

Butter Chickpeas

Mark Bittman’s Red Beans and Rice recipe. Can cook with frozen ham hocks and/or andouille sausage if you want meat, but it’s also great vegetarian-style. I often don’t bother with the coconut milk. The onions and celery ought to keep for 21 days; you can skip the bell peppers or use frozen if you need to.

Bean chili — this is very freeform and I don’t have a specific recipe. Use frozen ground beef or veggie crumbles if you like; use whatever beans you like (black, red, kidney, pinto, white); use canned tomatoes; use dried chilis, soaked and puréed into paste, or use chili powder.

I would also recommend preparing, portioning, and freezing a variety of meals, if possible. Things like pot roast, lasagna, enchiladas (veggie or meat), chili, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, the bean recipes mentioned above, etc. tend to freeze and reheat well. Get some frozen green veggies to have on the side. If you or a household member get sick and need to self-quarantine, having food that’s just heat-and-eat will help a lot for when you don’t feel up to cooking.
posted by snowmentality at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We like rice and lentils, cooked in a rice cooker; we sometimes make them with a cup of chicken broth replacing a cup of water. For quarantine/storage purposes, we'd use instant bullion (and go out of our way to find the non-MSG variety).

Rice & veggies in rice cooker is another favorite. "Veggies" can include non-veggie things like lemon slices; I don't think we've done apple slices, but we've considered it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I heartily support your resolution to stock up on things that you already eat often, rather than stocking up on a bunch of unfamiliar emergency foods that will just sit there until they go bad -- in my experience, your approach works much better. Here are some of the things that went into my meal plan:

Many variations of dried beans & rice. I love beans & rice and I eat some version of it at least once or twice a week anyway. Ideas: red lentil dal with coconut milk and kale (frozen kale works great, or just leave it out); instant pot black beans; sun-dried tomato, kale, and white bean skillet; cannellini beans with lemon and rosemary (sub bottled lemon juice for the fresh lemons if you like), etc. Keep spices and flavorings on hand to keep it from getting boring -- bouillon (or better yet, Better Than Bouillon), dried mushrooms, little cans of curry paste, sriracha, etc.

Soups/stews -- lentil soup, chicken soup, chili, etc. Most of these require fridge/freezer ingredients, but it's relatively simple to make up a big pot or slow-cooker-full and eat for days.

Oatmeal with fixings -- peanut butter, nuts, dried fruit, brown sugar, chia seeds, etc.

Fried rice -- all you need is some leftover rice, an egg or two, and whatever veg you have in your fridge. It's a delicious and easy way to use up leftovers -- and if you don't have any leftovers, you can always throw in some frozen peas. I always flavor mine with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sriracha (which are great flavorings to have on hand in general).

PB&J on fresh-baked bread (flour and yeast packets keep for a long time).

Pantry-stable proteins to build a meal around: canned tuna or salmon (makes tuna sandwiches or an easy, comfort-food pasta), peanut butter (savory spicy peanut sauce is easy), shelf-stable tofu packs (makes a great Thai-style curry with canned curry paste, mushrooms, baby corn, bamboo shoots, and coconut milk, all over rice), beans (see above).

Vegetables that keep for a long time: carrots (used in lots of dishes, great for roasting, making into coconut curry carrot soup, or shredding raw into a Moroccan carrot salad), onions and celery, cabbage (if you don't already love okonomiyaki, try it!), dried or canned mushrooms, frozen peas, frozen spinach or kale.

I always keep my sick comfort foods on hand, too: Shin Ramyun ramen packets, miso and some kind of chicken stock or bouillon, crackers, powdered gatorade mix, and plenty of my favorite herbal teas (including instant honey ginger tea).
posted by ourobouros at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Plant milks are shelf stable and can be substituted for dairy. Ground flax seeds can be used to replace eggs in most baking recipes. Directions are here. There are also commercial egg replacers. The kind you use for baking are shelf stable.
posted by FencingGal at 3:05 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can use canned tuna on pasta as well; season with a little garlic, a little lemon juice, and some capers. Or throw in a can of cannellini beans as well. You can also jazz up a plain tomato sauce with some chopped canned black olives, a couple of chopped anchovy filets, and some capers again; this makes a credible pasta puttanesca.

You can also totally use potato chips in an omelette. The original recipe I link there calls for chives as well as the potato chips, but I think I've only done that once - I opt for using a weird-flavored chip instead, so that all you need are the eggs and the potato chips and that's it. The first time I tried that recipe I used some sriracha flavor chips and it was delicious; I'm working my way through a bag of onion-and-garlic flavor chips, and when that's done I'm going to start prowling the delis in my neighborhood for Zapps's Spicy Cajun Crawtator flavor because I bet that'd be amazing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: I’d suggest having some interesting but yummy summer sauces on hand (Whole Foods has some great Indian ones) to be able to change up your flavors when you get bored. They’re all shelf stable till you open them.

And yes, if you have the freezer room, cook and freeze some heat-and-eat stuff. Something like the Silver Palate Cookbook ratatouille freezes beautifully and also gives you a veggie-laden meal when you might be out of fresh produce.
posted by bananacabana at 7:54 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: Quaker Oats Old Fashioned oatmeal can be blended with water and a pinch of salt to give you some oatmilk, and the solid leftovers can be cooked and eaten, just like regular oatmeal. It also doesn't take a lot of space to store.

In terms of canned veg, canned hatch chiles are small, don't take up a lot of space, and can spice up any beans and rice dish.

If you have access to a Korean grocery store, you can get large bags of kimchi salt for cheap, and it can be used in all sorts of dishes - not just preserving. It's just coarse sea salt with minerals in it.

If you're a coffee or tea drinker, also remember to stock up on those. Caffeine withdrawal can be brutal.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: The cookbook Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out, written by two food professionals who live in a hurricane-prone area, has good suggestions for building an emergency pantry and lots of recipes to cook from it.
posted by Lexica at 8:03 PM on February 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Forgot this in my last post - a bidet is really soothing, and can also reduce the need for toilet paper.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2020

Best answer: I've been having a fever and coughing all afternoon. It's already over, so no worries, but it got me thinking.
First of all, if I were quarantined it would be too late to shop. But we have a lot of grocery delivery services so I would be able to get stuff delivered at my front door with no need to even see the delivery person. If that service runs out it is still good to have a well appointed pantry, and here it is:
I would definitely get flour and yeast for baking my own bread. For three weeks, that would be something like two kilos of plain flour and two or three bags of interesting whole flours, like spelt, whole wheat, rye, barley. And maybe some durum wheat, for pizza and pasta. Corn flour for thickening wok sauces. Flour keeps, bread doesn't.
Oatmeal and/or müsli for porridges. Milk doesn't keep well, but a water-based porridge with a good helping of butter is delicious. Sugar mixed with cinnamon to taste.
I'd need a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of neutral oil and a pound of butter. Ideally also a small bottle of sesame oil.
A variation of pasta and rice, from Europe and Asia. Even with no pandemics I always have spaghetti, penne, risotto rice, basmati or jasmin rice, sushi rice, soba noodles, ramen noodles.
Low sodium chicken broth.
Canned coconut milk. A curry paste.
White wine or sherry for dishes like risotto, stir-fries, curries, onion soup, pasta sauces, green lentil stews and probably more I can't remember right now. I have rice wine, but sherry is an OK substitute if you don't have much space.
Sesame seeds and tahini.
Seaweed to taste. Dried mushrooms.
Soy sauce. Any vinegar you like.
Dried herbs and spices, not least salt and pepper. Two tins of anchovies. Tomato paste in a tube.
Plenty of onions, both yellow, red and shallots. I could live for a long time on dried goods and onions. And garlic. And potatoes and carrots.
Jars of tomatoes and two tins of beans plus bags of dried beans and lentils and chickpeas. Canned corn to taste.
Half a pound of hard cheese. A tin of olives. Bacon to taste. Whatever condiments and pickles you like.
Softer cheese for the first two weeks. I've heard cheese freezes well, but I've never tried it. Greek yogurt has a quite long fridge life.
Tins of tuna and perhaps sardines and mackerel.
Eggs easily keep for three weeks, maybe buy a dozen.
In the fridge: lemons, oranges, apples all keep well. Start out with lots of vegs even though you know they are only for the first week or maybe ten days. Broccoli, squash, aubergine, cucumber, cabbages, leeks, spring onions.
In the freezer: spinach, string beans and edamame and peas are the best things to freeze, a bag of each is probably fine. Bacon freezes well. I have frozen pie dough always because I love pie and don't care for making the dough. I'm not fond of all frozen meats, but most of the slow cooking recipes work well with frozen meat. Like maybe poaching your frozen chicken and then using some for a pie, some for sandwiches and some for salad.
Or frozen beef for chili con carne.
We like to have a frozen seafood mix for either pasta or risotto.

If you are quarantined, you will have a lot of time to google recipes, and with a well-stocked pantry you will be able to make a lot of different and interesting foods from all regions. Think of it as a time to indulge in home cooking. Don't worry if you don't have all the ingredients in a given recipe. The list above should take you a long way.If you don't have rice wine, use sherry. If you don't have sherry vinegar, use lemon and maybe a tiny bit of honey. There is good advice about this online.

I love a soba noodle salad with roasted sesame seeds, rehydrated seaweed, scallions or spring onions and a dressing of a tiny amount of sesame oil and lemon juice.
A Spanish tortilla made with potato, onions and eggs cooked in olive oil. You can reuse the oil.
A lot of simple pasta recipes based on olive oil, garlic and dried chili. You can stay with that alone, or add tomatoes, bacon, seafood, mushrooms, olives, anchovies, tuna. One of these or any combination.
Stir fries with whatever you have in the fridge, served with a bowl of rice and maybe spinach garnished with roasted sesame seeds and lemon. I really love kung pao chicken and I guess if I were isolated it would be ok for me to use frozen chicken breast because my cravings would be stronger than my demand for perfect organic produce. If you feel the same way you need to stock Sichuan pepper, ginger and peanuts, which is easy. Or more generally: if you have a favorite dish, make sure you can have it once a week.
Minestrone soup, made with whatever vegs that are beginning to wilt in your fridge + beans + tinned tomatoes + bacon + a bit of wine + pasta.
While your vegs are still fresh, make hummus out of canned chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. Bake your own pita bread and make a cabbage salad and maybe fried aubergines. Put all of this in the pitas with some yogurt and enjoy!

Oh, and remember to store lots of chocolate, and tea and coffee. You need joy in your life.
posted by mumimor at 11:24 PM on February 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Peanut sauce is really good on noodles and all the ingredients are shelf-stable. It's better with some fresh cilantro, cucumber, sliced red pepper, but you could make quick-picked carrots* or add jarred jalapenos.
Quick-pickle carrots (onion, cabbage, etc.) Save pickle juice. Add grated carrot. Refrigerate. Wait overnight. They don't keep a long time, a week or so is fine.
posted by theora55 at 6:10 AM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chickpeas and tahini for hummus
I buy meat in bulk, repackage it in the correct serving size for one meal, and freeze that.
Frozen spinach goes in almost anything. Frozen broccoli can be roasted and go with nuts or tahini sauce, or you can freeze chicken legs/thighs and roast them with the broccoli. Potatoes or sweet potatoes keep a while if you store them correctly.
Frozen bacon bits can be added in small amounts to things (like dal) that you might otherwise get bored of.
Ready for wok noodles are shelf stable and easy if people are sick. Keep some fish sauce, tamarind sauce, lime juice for various noodly preparations.
Tins of tomatoes cooked low and slow in the oven make really excellent tomato sauce. Chuck a tin of chickpeas in there and some smoked paprika.
No-added-salt shelf stable stock cubes liven up all kinds of otherwise boring pantry meals, as do anchovies.
Tinned beans, stock cube, frozen spinach and lots of butter and garlic (from a tube, or use garlic salt) makes a lovely meal.
Buy Jack Monroe's Tin Can Cook book!
posted by quacks like a duck at 6:16 AM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I always think to stock up on beans and rice but thinking it over, this time I’m stocking up on spaghetti and other dried pasta. I much prefer it as a meal and you can make classic dishes with canned tomatoes or long-lasting produce like onions, garlic, and lemons. Along those lines, stock up on olive oil.

Since you’re assuming use of your freezer - make a bunch of burritos (tons of recipes online, I love breakfast burritos for this). They are compact, super easy, and you could easily make the filling for 10-20 at a time. This way you could get some eggs in your diet.
posted by sallybrown at 6:29 AM on February 29, 2020

Best answer: Take a look at the type of cooked food you already like and see which ingredients aren't shelf stable. For example, suppose you like to make spaghetti sauce with chopped peppers and mushrooms - onions are fairly shelf stable and canned tomato sauce is easy, but what about peppers and mushrooms? - Then check your grocery store for a frozen version of those ingredients. Many stores will sell frozen pre-chopped veggies for spaghetti or soup. There are often different blends, or single ingredient types.

Look up how to keep perishables for longer. If you throw your celery into the fridge in the bag it comes in when you buy it, it will wilt slowly, but you could get two weeks out of it. However if you cut off the very end of it and stand it, in your fridge in a juice pitcher and keep trimming the bottom end and changing the water like you do with cut flowers you can probably get more than a month from it.

Rinse your perishables in a bleach water solution when you get them home - things like cucumbers will last longer because the bacteria that makes them mold won't grow. And of course if the produce clerk has a head cold and a bit of a fever but couldn't stay home without being fired, and then sneezed on your cucumbers, you will also be sanitizing them against any coronavirus germs.

Eggs keep a long time if they weren't washed. If they were washed dipped them in vegetable oil to seal the pores, and turn the egg box the other way up every day to ensure that the yolks change direction - often an egg won't go bad until the yolk settles against the membrane on the inside of the shell. If you flip the box it can't reach the membrane and will keep for several months.

For your raw vegetable salad fix eat winter keepers raw - thinly sliced turnip, apples, onions, carrots, and beets - they are all nutritious and taste good raw, and will give you the crunch you may start to crave when lettuce is not available.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:57 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure to always keep plenty of onions and fresh garlic on hand. Anything's better if you have access to those.

Canned fish stays good on the shelf for a surprising number of years, so it's a great staple for hurricane preparedness and now this. It's just getting ready for hurricane season three months early. My family likes:

Creamed tuna or salmon on rice, or on toast: make a white sauce, then warm the canned fish in it. My family really likes this with one tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning for two cups of white sauce and two 12-ounce cans of salmon. I used to season it with dried basil and paprika.

Poor Man's Crab cakes (tuna cakes): don't add the extra salt because Old Bay seasoning already has plenty of salt in it.

Salmon Patties: similar in concept to Poor Man's Crab Cakes, but a different taste.

Of course there's always Tuna Noodle Casserole. I have to avoid some of the additives in Campbell's soups, so I make a white sauce to substitute, but the canned soup version is easier and a classic.

I'm glad to see Lexica's recommendation for Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out, which otherwise I was going to have to hunt down and post.
posted by chromium at 12:25 PM on March 1, 2020

Response by poster: Oh my gosh, so many wonderful and helpful answers, everyone! THANK YOU!

Our biggest dilemma is that most of our meals center around fresh vegetables and fruit, and we tend to eat what's on hand until the fridge and freezer are bare, so this has been a shift in my thinking.

But in the case of a challenge, we now have:

* all the fixings for granola (which I do regularly make), but now we have a stock of ingredients in the pantry: lots of oats, nuts, dried fruit, etc.
* lots of beans (cannellini, chickpeas/garbanzos, refried), and simmer sauces to make the two former ones more enjoyable
* frozen spinach and broccoli; frozen fruit (for eating in yogurt and for baking)
* frozen pita and naan
* a variety of nut butters
* bacon bits (I never have those around, looking forward to using them!)
* pasta and rice
* flour and yeast
* another reason to use my ground flaxseed (baking!)
* shelf-stable UHT milk
* salamis (room temp storage)
* cheeses with a distant use-by date (most June or thereabouts)
* 2 lbs of coffee, and lots of tea
* a stock of fun foods: chocolate, popcorn, chips, salsa, some sort of spinach dip in a jar, tapenade
* a few cans of boring chicken soup in case we do feel ill.

And even more, but it was quite a lot of shopping. Bonus, though, is that we now have a pantry akin to what most folks just generally have, and I've set it up so we can rotate the non-perishables quite easily.

Thanks again!
posted by metarkest at 12:50 PM on March 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

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