Pantry Lessons From The Pandemic

I make most of my meals from scratch and shop at a big box store, Sam’s Club, so setting up a pantry made sense for me. Despite being somewhat prepared for the pandemic, I ran into a few problems.

  1. Toilet Paper – Although I buy enough toilet paper to last us three months, we had only one month’s supply when the lockdown started. I purchased a few emergency rolls before I could get the 45 rolls of toilet paper.
  2. Beans – I keep dried beans on the shelf and I ran out of black beans. I did not realize that my supply of beans was low. Surprisingly, I found some black beans in the gourmet section of the grocery store. I found canned black beans in the Hispanic food section.
  3. Diced Tomatoes – I buy diced tomatoes by the case and the case lasts about two months. When the lockdown started I had only one can in the case. I waited for two months for Sam’s Club to restock. I finally gave up and bought it online.
  4. Spaghetti – I typically buy a six-pound package and it took Sam’s Club three months to restock.
  5. Chicken – I typically like to buy large packages of boneless chicken breasts and thighs. I use part of the chicken in one meal and freeze the rest. The availability has been so unpredictable I have been buying it whenever I found it in stock.
  6. Beef and Pork – Surprisingly, beef and pork availability was great at the beginning of the lockdown. Now it is terrible.


  1. Do a better job of keeping track of inventory levels when things are getting squirrely. Checking your inventory after the government has announced a lockdown is too late. A six month supply looks like a reasonable tradeoff between shelf space and cost. If I had increased my inventory levels to six months in February, I would have not run out of anything.
  2. Availability is the problem. Adaptability is the solution. When chicken breasts, beef, and pork were not available, I switched to organic chicken, frozen fish fillets, and frozen hamburger patties.

Hoppin’ John 2020

Hoppin John

It is January 1 and I am making Hoppin’ John again to bring in the New Year. My wife says this year’s version was the best ever so I had to tell you what I changed. I cooked both the black eye peas and the rice separately. When I folded the peas and rice into the dish with the scallions and bacon, everything was already cooked so I could lower the temperature to warm and avoid muddling the flavors by overcooking. The scallions and bacon were able to step up and step out flavor-wise. I think she like the crunchy-ness of the scallions. This was a very nice way to make use of some excellent turkey broth from Thanksgiving and extra Christmas ham. A fresh interpretation of leftovers that impressed my better half.

Crispy Oven Baked Buffalo Wings

Crispy Oven Baked Buffalo WingsI was tempted to get Tyson’s pre-seasoned chicken wings for our Super Bowl meal but these crispy oven baked buffalo wings were so good and easy. Some times pre-seasoned wings have so much sauce that it makes it hard to enjoy the wings. I found a five pound bag of frozen, plain wings on sale this week. So I opted for a little bit more work. I used half of the bag, 13 wings, for two people. It took about an hour and a half to prepare using the recipe from RecipeTins Eats.

Modern Steak and Potatoes

Steak and Potatoes
I used two of my favorite kitchen gadgets to prepare this meal, the Anova Sous Vide and the Instant Pot Duo. I use the Sous Vide to thoroughly cook the meat to 125 degrees. Then I sear the steak on a very hot, cast iron griddle. This method is consistently better than grilling.

My favorite mashed potato dish is Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Root Vegetables. This is an old America’s Test Kitchen recipe that involves browning the root vegetables in butter for 14 minutes. I typically use carrots and parsnips as my root vegetables. I left the skins on the Yukon Gold potatoes for a bit more flavor. The Instant Pot Duo does a pretty good job at cooking the potatoes while I am caramelizing the root vegetables and frees up a burner.

Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Cannellini Beans

This is a Cannellini version of Real Simple’s recipe, Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Butter Beans.Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Cannellini Beans I substituted Cannellini beans since I had beans on the shelf. With chicken thighs at 99¢ per pound at Sams Club, this meal is delicious and inexpensive.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 pound cooked Cannellini beans
  • ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill, plus sprigs for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. ?Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon each ?salt and pepper. Cook, skin-side down, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add the leeks and garlic to the Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the leeks are just tender, ?6 to 8 minutes. Add the broth and sour cream and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, skin-side up, and simmer over medium-low heat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest piece registers 165° F, 12 to 14 minutes.
  3. Stir the beans, peas, lemon juice, and chopped dill into the sauce and simmer until the beans are hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve topped with dill sprigs.

Fettuccine With Asparagus And Smoked Salmon

Fettuccine With Asparagus And Smoked SalmonThis recipe from the NY Times is very similar to one of my favorite recipes from America’s Test Kitchen, Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Peas. Instead of prosciutto and peas you substitute smoked salmon, asparagus, and home made fettuccine. Here is the ingredient list:


  • ½ pound fresh asparagus, medium thickness
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 9 to 10 ounces fresh green fettuccine noodles
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill


Double Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham for Easter

IMG_20160327_153458Last week spiral sliced ham last week was on sale at Meijer for $1.15 per pound and Jeff Phillips sent me a newsletter about his Double Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham recipe. It was either a remarkable coincidence or it was meant to be. The recipe is pretty simple. You drizzle honey in between the slices and apply Jeff’s rub on the outside. So I prepped the ham and stuck it in the smoker before going to church. When I came back I brought it upstairs to finish it off in the oven.

That somewhat boring ham had transformed into a interesting combination of smoky flavor, spiciness, and sweetness. My wife wanted cheese grits with jalapenos so I balanced the meal with some green peas.  It probably took me no more than thirty minutes to put this meal together. This is an easy, fun change of pace from the traditional Easter meal.