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Do you have never-fail last-minute pantry dinners? Here are mine...

I'm always looking for tasty, easy, healthy dinners that only use things I always have on hand (the ultimate home cook challenge, as far as I'm concerned). I've figured out a few over the years, but I need to refresh my supply of emergency recipes. My whole pantry list is way too long to put here, but it includes all the stuff you might think, plus some odd things that have proved their value over the years.

The basic requirement for these recipes, as far as I'm concerned, is that they call for no fresh produce or meat, just things that can stay in the pantry for months, waiting to be called into service at the end of a long work day. I include frozen things that can be thawed quickly (no big hunks of frozen meat), and things that have a very long life in the fridge or cupboard (potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, lemons, eggs, hard cheese).

Here's what I make that I can think of right now(I can elaborate on the recipes if needed, but you'll get the idea)... A lot of these recipes can be improved a lot with the addition of fresh veg, but we eat them this way all the time. Hey, I'm not proud. Sometimes it's more about getting something that looks like it could be dinner on the table than it is about perfect planning and exquisite food.

BBC pasta:
whole wheat pasta, canned tomatoes, tinned sardines (little ones!), capers, grated parmigiano

Salmon Cakes:
canned salmon, egg, mashed potato, garlic, any handy seasonings
(served with whole frozen green beans)

Sausage-Lentil Soup:
individually frozen sausages, canned tomatoes, onion, lentils, frozen spinach, broth

Spinach Frittata:
frozen spinach, eggs, garlic, parmigiano, onion
(served with some sort of light soup or just toast)

Shrimp Curry:
individually-frozen shrimp, coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, carrots, onions

Egg and Pepper Pasta:
whole-wheat pasta, softly-fried eggs, garlic, jarred roasted red peppers, breadcrumbs

Arroz con Capetes (cooked like a paella):
salt cod, rice, garbanzo beans, jarred roasted red peppers, homemade broth

Spinach Pine Nut Orzo:
Orzo, frozen spinach, anchovies, garlic, toasted pine nuts

So, help me out! What do you make?

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  1. Defintitely pasta w/either a red or an herbed, garlic, olive oil sauce; beans w/sausages and frozen greens; and omeletes or frittatas.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rosielucchesini

      Soak rice noodles, whatever broth out of a box, frozen spinach, seasoning of your choice (soy, kecap manis, mirin, dashi, etc.) and quartered hard-boiled eggs.

    2. pasta with homemade tomato sauce
      fish tacos using fish sticks, sour cream, lime and cilantro--it really is good!
      ramen with lots of variations
      whole-wheat penne with chopped green olives, tuna, bit of lemon, olive oil
      WW penne with red pepper flakes, pine nuts, garlic, anchovies olive oil. YUM

      those are just a few!

      6 Replies
      1. re: IndyGirl

        IndyGirl, my husband loves fish tacos. What an interesting idea. Can you explain how you put those together? I haven't had fish sticks in the house in years!

        1. re: mrsmegawatt

          Here's the original recipe; it's adaptable to what you have on hand in most instances. YUM!
          Fish Tacos and Cilantro Coleslaw, 20 Minutes Max
          4 tacos
          25 min 5 min prep
          4 frozen battered fish fillets
          4 8-inch flour tortillas
          1/4-1/3 head green cabbage
          2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
          1 green onion, sliced or minced
          1 teaspoon chopped jalapenos or serrano chilies, to taste
          1 tablespoon mayonnaise
          1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
          1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
          salt and pepper, to taste
          Bake fish fillets according to package directions.
          Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and place them in the oven to heat.
          Or heat them at the last minute in a microwave in plastic wrap.
          Shred or chop the cabbage.
          In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage with all the remaining ingredients.
          Cut each hot fish fillet into 6-8 pieces, then pile into a hot tortilla with lots of slaw.

          1. re: IndyGirl

            Oh my god, i'm going to plan to make this dinner. yum!!!

            1. re: amyvc

              :) I hope you enjoy it! I'm so glad people saw it and it made their mouths water. My SO hates this meal but I love it....more for me!

            2. re: IndyGirl

              Thanks Indygirl! I'm going to try it and surprise my husband!

          2. re: IndyGirl

            I recently bought frozen breaded haddock fillets from Whole Foods that I bet would be delicious in your version of fish tacos!

          3. in our house pantry dinners equate frittatas, pasta, soups, or once in a blue moon, sandwiches.
            Recently I've made a sweet potato, black bean, and habanero frittata then an apple, caramelized onion and cheddar one. My husband tried a pesto, spinach, tomato, bread, garlic and parmesean concoction that was great. Soup-wise our favorite is roasted red peppers (canned for fast dinners, though fresh is better!), onions, veggie broth, salt and pepper, and cream. It's a nice and tasty roasted red pepper soup.

            4 Replies
            1. re: odkaty

              Recently I've made a sweet potato, black bean, and habanero frittata then an apple, caramelized onion and cheddar one.

              these both sound SO good. Could you help me out a little with the measurements--even just guesstimations would be fine. I can (and do) wing it quite a bit.

              1. re: nissenpa

                I "wing" everything :D That said ...

                The black bean frittata recurs regularly. Heat 2-3 tbsp corn oil in the cast iron skillet over med/high then add finely diced habanero and 1/4-1/2 onion (upward if feeding 2 or more). Once that's sauteing I add cumin, coriander, red pepper, and salt to taste. Chop a sweet potato (which if isn't a left over roasted has been microwaved to 1/2 cooked) into small-ish bite-size chunks. Toss that with the pan's contents. Add a 15 oz can's worth of black beans (drained) - I use pre-cooked/frozen occasionally too. I let those simmer for a few minutes while I prep the eggs. I figure 2 eggs per person if it's a starch/protein heavy frittata (veggie heavy gets 3) so those get mixed with a bit more salt, sometimes a bit of pepper jack if I'm in the mood.

                For 3 people as the only dish the apple, caramelized onion, cheddar frittata is 3+ big apples. Last time I think I used jonagolds. Plus 1/2-3/4 red onion or vidalia (I prefer the red, others in the household prefer the vidalia, the goal is not too acidic!) I add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheddar to the eggs. The first time I made it I was a bit timid about the spices, since then ... cinnamon and salt are great, cumin (my favorite!) is good, thyme was really nice. Just go with the flow. Oh, and after caramelizing the onions, just before adding the eggs I turn up the heat to add the apples so they're slightly crisp in the final product.

                1. re: odkaty

                  Thank you so much!! I'm going to try both these out next week. I can't wait!

                2. re: nissenpa

                  That sounds so very good. Recipe please! I love frittata's.

              2. Pasta puttenesca and pasta with tuna and beans are my favorites.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JasmineG

                  puttenesca is a killer pantry meal.

                2. Pasta with butter and some grated parmesan on top. Oh wait, not terribly healthy, but it is good.

                  Tuna and chickpea salad - canned tuna fish (drained if you have the tuna packed in water, undrained if the tuna's in olive oil) mixed with chickpeas (drained and rinsed, if canned) and a diced onion (I like it sauteed, although I have friends who like it raw). A squeeze of lemon juice if you have it. Olive oil if you used the tuna packed in water. Salt and pepper to taste.

                  I also like making a tomato sauce with canned tuna and red pepper flakes.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jacinthe

                    I'm a pasta with butter and parm girl as well. Or you can add some beaten egg and some bacon (I usually have bacon in the freezer) and make carbonara. I almost always have frozen peas, which are good tossed with pasta and cheese, and I also try to keep frozen artichoke hearts (sautee with some butter and garlic, toss with pasta and cheese). Other things that are good with pasta that are commonly found in my fridge are roasted red peppers, olives, and some kind of sausage.

                    When I'm really scraping the bare cupboard, rice with canned tuna (toss it with the hot rice to heat through) and a generous dollop of soy sauce is real "comfort food."