Booklist: Cooking from Pantry Staples

As more people are cooking at home, we highlight several books to help readers make the most of the available foods in their pantries and stock the freezer with convenient, comforting meals. 

With much of the country staying at home to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, many people, some inexperienced, are cooking more at home, and many are making do with limited groceries and budgets (not to mention juggling kitchen duties with telework and/or full-time child care. These titles (all available electronically) will help readers make the most of the available foods in their pantries and stock the freezer with convenient, comforting meals. 


Comfort in an InstantClark, Melissa. Comfort in an Instant: 75 Comfort Food Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot. Clarkson Potter. 2018. ISBN 9780525576150.

Clark thoroughly explains why electric pressure cookers are not just a fad before sharing recipes that play to the multipot’s strengths. Tested on three brands, most recipes use the pressure feature, though some use the slow-cooker function. Over 50 recipes finish in an hour (including prep and pressure-release time). 

From Freezer to CookerConner, Polly and Rachel Tiemeyer. From Freezer to Cooker: Delicious Whole-foods Meals For the Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, and Instant Pot. Rodale. 2020. ISBN 9781635653120.

All recipes here work in both the Instant Pot and slow cookers. Color-coding distinguishes each method's instructions in recipes while handy icons and lists help quickly identify recipes that are gluten-free, vegetarian, kid-friendly, dairy-free, and dump & go. Brief "freeze for later" and "prepare from frozen" notes are included.

The Make Ahead Vegan CookbookMcMeans, Ginny Kay. The Make Ahead Vegan Cookbook: 125 Freezer-Friendly Recipes. Countryman Pr. 2015. ISBN 9781581573046.

McMeans advocates tucking healthy, frozen meals away so eating well is easy on difficult days. Following her introduction to freezer basics, she includes vegan recipes for daily meals and snacks with details about freezing and reheating. Look here for egg substitution ideas.   

Prep Ahead Meals from ScratchMilham, Alea. Prep-ahead Breakfasts & Lunches: 75 No-Fuss Recipes To Save You Time & Money. Page Street. 2018. ISBN 9781624145629.
Milham, Alea. Prep-ahead Meals From Scratch. Page Street 2016. ISBN  9781624142048.

Milham re-defines convenience food to put readers in control. Since having a plan reduces stress and temptation, she recommends premeditated leftovers—making just a bit extra of her flexible, themed recipes on weeknights or weekends and freezing it in convenient, customized portions. Bonus: includes recipes for pantry staples. 

Take One CanMilne, Lola. Take One Can: 80 Delicious Meals from the Pantry. Kyle. 2020. ISBN 9780857837189.

Food stylist Milne proves inexpensive canned foods are springboards to easy, interesting meals. Pulling inspiration from places like Sicily, India, and Vietnam, these meat-free recipes often have less than ten ingredients and several offerings are appropriate for small households.

Scraps, Wilt, and WeedsRefslund, Mads & Tama Masouka Wong. Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food Into Plenty. Grand Central Life & Style. 2017. ISBN 9781455536153.

This professional chef and forager promote low-waste, economical cooking ideas useful in a time of declining incomes and shopping trips. Organized by ingredient, it demonstrates using typically wasted items (trimmings, seeds, fish scales) for deep, layered flavors in recipes. Pragmatic use of leftovers, mastering versatile recipes, and foraging are briefly discussed.

The Nimble CookWelsh, Ronna. The Nimble Cook: New Strategies For Great Meals That Make The Most Of Your Ingredients. Houghton Harcourt. 2019. ISBN 9780544935501.

Eschewing wastefulness, this experienced cooking teacher shares dependable ingredient storage techniques and advocates prepping "starting points" that are useful later in her creative, improvisational cooking style. Illustrated with flowcharts, the book is particularly good for when cooks only have a small quantity of an ingredient or feel in a rut.  

Hack Your CupboardWiegand, Alyssa and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books. 2019. ISBN 9781541578548.

For those suddenly cooking, this primer offers four distinct sections geared toward cooking in a parent’' kitchen, college-type digs, apartments, and first solo kitchens. Fundamentals (knife skills, recipe reading, and kitchen etiquette) are presented along with appropriate pantry and equipment suggestions, budget tips, and easy recipes.  

Cool BeansYonan, Joe. Cool Beans:The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-based Protein, with 125 Recipes. Ten Speed. 2020. 9780399581489.

This Washington Post editor reminds readers how beneficial beans are, discusses their varying characteristics, and provides an overview of cooking methods. Then, he shares his meatless, globally inspired recipes that mostly start with pre-cooked beans (dried ones prepped earlier or canned). As some ingredients may prove elusive locally, he includes sources and substitutions.  

Bonnie Poquette is a writer living in Milwaukee

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