Humble but yummy: Cooking with what you’ve got

Yesterday I had an eye-rolling moment as I listened to an NPR interview.

The subject was Sam Sifton, founding editor of NYT Cooking – of which I am a fan and paid subscriber. Sam talked about how he enjoys going to his pantry and conjuring creative meals with available foods that don’t require another risky trip to the market.

And then Sam described a delicious dinner he made for his family, featuring a fresh roasted black sea bass, which just happened to be dropped off on his porch by “a friend … very carefully, with great social distance.”

In the age of coronavirus, many of us are trying to be creative in cooking with limited ingredients, as every trip to the supermarket could potentially expose us to the virus.

However, fresh fish hasn’t shown up on my porch yet. These days, my fish comes from a $1 packet of tuna.

I love fancy cooking. I love gourmet markets and watching cooking shows that blow my mind with the extravagance and effort invested to procure and serve unusual foods. I truly enjoy buying and cooking special ingredients and trying new recipes.

But on most days, my husband and I like the challenge of using ingredients that are more humble and already in the house. That experience has come in handy during these last few weeks of limited shopping and dining at home.   

In the last few weeks, we have prepared:

Tuna melts – made with sliced Roma tomatoes on whole-wheat English muffin slices, topped with Swiss cheese slices melted under the broiler.

Tuna quesadillas – made with shredded cheese, melted and toasted in lightly greased skillet, topped with salsa and sour cream.

Potato salad – made with a few aging potatoes, boiled, drained, and tossed with olive oil, and chopped roughly before cooling to room temperature. The salad was then tossed with chopped onions, chopped bell peppers and a dressing of sour cream, apple-cider vinegar, dried dill, salt and pepper.

Dried beans in the crockpot – with bacon strips for flavor. The beans were sided with cornbread (made from a mix) on one night. Another night I added spices and then used the beans to make nachos with cheese in the microwave.  

Pasta dishes — made with dried noodles, boiled, drained and tossed with canned mushrooms and any chopped fresh vegetables or frozen peas. My favorite sauce is jarred Alfredo, heated and doctored with white wine, fresh lemon juice, lemon pepper, and shredded Parmesan. Mike likes simple olive oil or butter with “sprinkle cheese” (grated Parmesan).

Those are just a few examples. I’ve seen many other tasty creations from friends on social media and in my favorite cooking publications.  

Here also is a simple sweet bread baked for Mike, who loves raisins.

I realized lately I rely a lot on digital recipes, when I have shelves of old cookbooks that lend themselves well to basic ingredients. I picked up a 1980s cookbook from Maine and found a recipe that looked easy.

Spiced Raisin Cake

1 cup seeded raisins
1 ½ cups water
½ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon soda

Cook raisins and water together for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and place raisins and ¾ cup of liquid in a bowl. Add shortening, sugar, spices and salt. Mix thoroughly. Cool slightly and stir in beaten egg, flour and soda. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Mike especially likes his raisin bread for breakfast, warmed and spread with a little butter.

Send your coronavirus cooking ideas to me at

And to be honest, I really want to buy Sam Sifton’s new cookbook, See You on Sunday, for the day when we can all be physically around the table again.

2 thoughts on “Humble but yummy: Cooking with what you’ve got

Add yours

  1. Beautiful looking raisin cake! Like your list of meal thoughts, especially doctoring the Alfredo. I often add things, wine, mushrooms and such, to jarred spaghetti sauce, but I haven’t done much of that with Alfredo. I look forward to trying that out. It has been a good exercise during these ‘Rona days to see how far the pantry can be stretched. This is something I usually do to some extent, but not stepping into grocery stores any more than I can help has pushed me to do better and for more people in the house as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laura … Thanks for responding! Let me know what you think about the Alfredo. As much as I love adding the wine and parmesan, which I do, I sometimes try to add lemon juice only which waters it down {perhaps too much} but reduces some of the calories.


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