6 Easy Things to Cook at Home with Basic Pantry Ingredients

At this point in the global pandemic, you no doubt have been asking yourself not only “what the heck can I make today,” but also “what can I make from what I can find in the market?” 

We feel you. We’re frustrated, too. We know our local grocers and markets are doing the best they can to source what we need, and we salute the store employees who are making it possible for us to safely shop. 

Still, shortages happen (please stop hoarding, by the way!) and home cooks continue to seek solutions. We had a virtual chat with Swarthmore CO-OP board member Jennifer Smuts who shared her love for all-things-food-related, and a few pantry ideas to make the most of what you find in the store.

But first, a little about Jennifer! She’s in professional service marketing at Connolly Gallagher LLP,  a full-service law firm based in Wilmington, Delaware. She says, “Being able to parlay my marketing talent for the CO-OP’s benefit is a privilege and, in turn, I get to learn from other very accomplished board members.” Jennifer joined the board in 2019 after living here for nearly 15 years. She adds, “It’s not unusual for Swarthmoreans to be very engaged in our community. Depending on the season of your life, there is a worthwhile effort for you to engage in here! The Swarthmore Co-Op is one of the oldest Co-Op’s in the nation and, admittedly, I simply wanted to learn more about the co-op model: policy, economics, community, etc. Also I am an advocate for women on boards. The co-op really is the nucleus of the community.”

Here’s some welcome advice on making the most of pantry items!

Visit Delco, PA: Times are tough right now — what basic pantry ingredients should we be able to source?

Jennifer Smuts: Look for these great staples: nuts; butter/shortening; tuna, chicken or vegetable stock; oatmeal; pasta/noodles; peanut or other nut butters; chocolate chips; soda water; and yeast — yeast for baking!

What else are must-haves to round out kitchen basics?

Fresh fruit and veggies are essentials that afford your staple ingredients variety! From an avocado to spaghetti squash to whatever’s in season, fruits and vegetables are good for you and are delicious alone and can enhance most recipes, too.

What are your top dishes to cook at home with basic pantry ingredients?

These are hearty and tend toward the comfort-food category, yet can be made with an eye to being “more healthy.” You can sub gluten-free noodles or bread, use lower-fat cheeses, choose turkey bacon — whatever your preference, and whatever you can find at the market. My two favorite recipe sites are Barefoot Contessa and Allrecipes.

Baked oatmeal

Tuna noodle casserole 

Spaghetti Bolognese

BLT sandwich

Chicken noodle soup


Chocolate chip cookies — use the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag!

What are three cooking basics that home cooks should remember — especially beginners.

These are super simple but make a big difference:

  • Add a pinch of salt and a dash of oil to boiling water when cooking pasta. (This brings out the pasta’s flavor and keeps it from sticking together.)
  • Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to boiling water when making hard-boiled eggs. It makes the shell easier to remove.
  • Use ice cube trays to make “right-sized” seasoning proportions for soup or chili. This is a great way to eliminate waste when using fresh cilantro, basil, parsley, etc. 

Back to the yeast: Are that many people baking?

You would be surprised how many closet bakers are in our communities! The reality of living through an epidemic — needing comfort food, plus holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and more all at home — has brought out the baker in all of us. When you see yeast, grab it. You may find you really love to bake!

The Swarthmore CO-OP is a community-owned food cooperative with a brick-and-mortar market that’s available to everyone for shopping. More than 1,800 households within the community help to financially support the CO-OP, which allows it to offer locally farmed food options to the table, educate children about sustainable farming, and feed local families in need.

Current store hours are Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. Note: Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. are limited hours to allow only for personal shopping/delivery and curbside pickup to occur. When going to the CO-OP, please note the current policies, and watch the CO-OP’s website for the latest COVID-19-related updates:

  • There are limits to the number of people allowed in the CO-OP; please expect to wait in line.
  • You are not permitted to use personal reusable bags at this time.
  • Utilize the hand-washing and sanitizing stations set up outside of the store.
  • Face masks are required while in the store — no exceptions.
  • Please submit only one order per day for home delivery or curbside pickup. View the available items under the Shop links on the CO-OP’s website.

Want to know more about everything Delco? We’re more than just your source for good eats — we’re your source for Delco From Home Experiences and where to get takeout and support local businesses in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We’re Visit Delco, PA, and we’ve got you covered during the coronavirus crisis (and beyond). Contact us at (610) 565-3679, by email or online.

Nina Malone