What to eat? That depends on your fridge and pantry

ELIZABETH KARMEL via APGet creative with foods that have been sitting uneaten, like jars of nuts that can be candied.

Just about now, you might be tired of cooking and eating what’s in your refrigerator. We are all used to asking what’s for dinner? What are we in the mood for — pizza, sushi, Mexican? And then going to a restaurant to get it.

Now, with the coronavirus forcing many of us to stay home more, it’s time to look at mealtime and cooking at home a little differently. Instead of asking, “What I am in the mood for?” I am looking more closely in my pantry and my refrigerator and letting my ingredients dictate what I make.

For example, a few months ago, I was lured to purchase a big bag of mixed unsalted nuts because they were labeled “Omega-3 Nut Mix.” I thought I would eat a handful of “antioxidants” a day for my health, but they have gone largely uneaten.

So, this week, I mixed up my favorite sweet and savory spices with both brown and white sugar and made baked candied nuts. Sure, the sugar adds a few more calories, but now they are a delicious and welcome nibble instead of sitting unused in the pantry.

Likewise, I had a head of broccoli in the refrigerator that needed cooking. I couldn’t bear the thought of steamed broccoli, so I decided to roast it simply with olive oil and kosher salt at 400 degrees until the tips were deeply caramelized. Broccoli is addictive roasted this way, as is cauliflower, and any leftovers are delicious the next day with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.

If you have a pork tenderloin and a package of bacon in your fridge or freezer, you can make a simple two-ingredient main dish. A bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin dresses up your pork preparation with few ingredients and only a little more effort.

If the bacon is room temperature, it will stick to itself as you overlap each piece and wrap the tenderloin. I do this with beef tenderloin, as well. The smoky flavor and fat of the center-cut bacon both protects and bastes the lean meat as it roasts. I grill mine indirectly, but you can roast it in a 350-degree oven set on a rack in a sheet pan.

When the bacon-wrapped tenderloin is done, sprinkle it with your finishing salt and carve into thick slices to enjoy the benefit of the bacon crust.

Finally, while you are cooking dinner at home, think about each meal in simple terms: a main (usually an animal protein or a bean or hearty vegetable dish), a green or other nonstarchy vegetable, and a starch. That menu combination is easy enough to prepare and still very satisfying.

During this time of uncertainty, ease and comfort are equally important. If you are making a stew or a pot of gumbo that has vegetables and protein in it, all you need to add is a starch like rice or fresh, hot cornbread.

And enjoy the cooking. A friend of mine sent an email this week and reminded me that “good food equals good mood.” Pass it along!


What are you making?

Has the current situation spurred you to get in the kitchen more? Whether you’re trying something new, improvising with what you have on hand, getting the kids involved, or breaking out tried-and-true family recipes, we want to know what you’re cooking up at home.

Send your ideas, recipes and photos to areily@northofboston.com, and we may share them in next week’s edition.

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