Cooking with Ingredients First, Not Recipes

I've transitioned to more of an ingredients based style of food preparation based on what's available and more importantly, what I have on hand at home in my pantry, fridge and freezer. This is a stark contrast to cooking from a recipe, which many of my friends do and I've done for years, more for inspiration and to give me ideas for creating meals.

The shift to cooking this way for many of us was fairly swift as we quickly discovered frequently used supplies and basic items which we took for granted became limited or non existent (who knew flour and yeast would be in this category). What we've got, in some households, are foods in boxes, tins, cans and jars that were the "just in case" items. Now is "just in case" and I've been asked by so many people how to make this work. I'm shopping from my current stash of staples which has been a blessing. No one will ever ask me again about my deep freezer which has been feeding us all along.

A pot of black eyed peas and collard greens is a traditional food served to bring good luck in many African American homes on New Years Day. We're eating greens (collards, kale, mustard greens) which I cooked and froze last year. Add some cornbread to the mix, and we’ve made a simple and tasty meal.


If you're still able to go out and grocery shop, select from what's available and on hand. You may long for asparagus, but there's only Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, greens, peppers or root vegetables. Don't fret--these veggies can be made easily and deliciously. Soups, stews and casseroles are good ways to make one pot meals and can often be flexible to accommodate ingredient substitutions. 

This beautiful sweet potato was baked, and served mashed with a little maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger and butter. Yummy. Or mash them and top with a little crunchy granola. Even better!


A pot of veggie soup--this one has sliced kielbasa (from my freezer) and kale was a welcome treat and used frozen veggies and canned crushed tomatoes. Score!

Are you one of the lucky ones who has flour and maybe some yeast? You’re almost a rock star as there seems to have been a dearth of these two ingredients. Some folks are trying their hand at baking having never baked before and some have returned to this as a way to feed their families who are sheltered in place. King Arthur Flour recently posted an article on their website called What to bake if you run out of ingredients. There's a list of foods you can make even if you have no eggs, butter, milk or flour!

What vegetables can you find? Roasted carrots flavored with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup or brown sugar are a terrific side to enjoy alongside any dish. Roast them on a sheet pan in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 25-30 minutes. Try roasting halved Brussels sprouts the same way—I added diced bacon for flavor, and some sliced almonds right before serving.

Take a good look in your pantry for canned beans, fish, jarred sauces, marinades, vinegars, spices and the like. A dash of spices or squeeze of lemon or lime juice can add needed flavor to a pot of veggies, beans, rice, roasted pan of potatoes or plain 'ole roast chicken. I've been making New Orleans-Style Red Beans and Rice frequently. Have had red beans in my cupboard for months and had only been using them for chili con carne. Glad to find another use for them.

I'm a home cook who has learned how to make food out of necessity. Some days, I can only muster the strength to scramble eggs, open a jar of marinara sauce for a dish of spaghetti or eat a bowl of granola, fruit and yogurt at the end of a long day. It's all good.

1 comment


Great ideas, Pat. I have sweet potatoes on hand…they’ll appear on our plates tonight, mashed with some really special granola on top!

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