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Quarantine cuisine: Meals from your own pantry
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Quarantine cuisine: Meals from your own pantry

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In these uncertain times, it is comforting to know that we can turn to our pantries for sustenance.

The stores may be completely out of what you’re looking for, even if it is something that no one could possibly need in large amounts. But if you have a well-stocked larder, you should be good for several days.

In these Virus Days, I decided to make four meals from items commonly found in pantries, or at least in my pantry. Now that I think about the dishes I made, I see that they lean toward comfort food.

At this current point in time, that is not such a bad thing.

It also makes sense. Typically, we keep on hand things we use a lot of in cooking. It is the unusual items, the treats that we give ourselves, that require a special trip to the store.

At this point, I need to make a minor confession: I had to go to the store to pick up some of the items for this story. You may have to, too. But the items I bought were all in plentiful supply as of last week.

Then again, I already had flour and yeast in my pantry. Judging by the empty aisles at my local Schnuckbergs, an awful lot of people now have flour and yeast in their pantries.

And that is good, because now they will be able to make No-Knead Brioche.

A brioche is an exceptional, rich and slightly sweet bread from France; it’s like challah, but even better. It improves any sandwich it is used in and, with its high butter-and-egg content, it can almost be eaten by itself as dessert.

It doesn’t even need butter (trust me, it has enough butter in the dough). I just now had a piece of it toasted, with a drizzle of honey. That’s definitely the way to go.

This brioche takes a while to make, though, including a rising period in the fridge of at least 16 hours, and up to 48 hours. It also takes a bit more work than most breads — but less work than other brioches that require kneading.

In the end, it’s like having a baby: All the labor is forgotten when you see that perfect, golden-brown loaf.

If you are so inclined, the brioche goes particularly well with a steaming bowl of Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew, which may be the most comforting comfort food ever cooked. It is also the ultimate pantry food. You’re already likely to have everything you need to cook it, with one possible exception, as we shall see.

I used a pound of dried beans for mine, but if you happen to have enough cans of white beans on hand, they will work too, and will cut out one step of the work.

Beans are best when flavored with bacon, of course, and this recipe also makes the most out of a standard mirepoix — chopped onion, celery and carrots. White beans also love to absorb the flavor of garlic, and this dish uses a lot of it, along with chicken broth, a can of tomatoes and kale, collard greens or mustard greens.

If you don’t keep kale, collard greens or mustard greens in your fridge, don’t worry. Even in the shortagest of shortages, no one buys kale, collard greens or mustard greens.

If you’re like me, you keep a package of frozen shrimp in your freezer at all times; that’s what makes my next dish a pantry staple meal. If you don’t happen to have the shrimp, it is also an ingredient that was widely available last week. Scallops will work well, too.

Orange-Scented Stir-Fry Shrimp is fast to cook and easy to prepare, even though it contains a significant number of ingredients — 12, plus rice. So I guess 13.

As with all stir-fries, it is absolutely vital to have every ingredient prepared and ready to go before you begin to cook. There simply isn’t enough time between adding ingredients to measure out the ginger or cut the green beans into pieces. You’ll end up with overcooked shrimp, and nobody wants to end up with overcooked shrimp.

The secret of Orange-Scented Stir-Fry Shrimp is the orange-scented part. It is achieved by cutting thin strips of orange zest, which yields just the faintest hint of an orange flavor. If you want a less subtle taste of orange, just use more zest.

My final pantry-staple dish is a Tex-Mex favorite, migas. Unlike the Spanish and Portuguese versions, which mix water-soaked stale bread with eggs and many other ingredients, the Tex-Mex version is a relatively simple affair. It’s scrambled eggs with chopped tortilla chips mixed in at the last minute.

If you like, you can top the dish with any number of appropriate items. I used salsa, red onion, chopped avocado and shredded cheese, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Use whatever you have in the pantry.

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