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With Kentuckians stuck at home, UK chef offers tips on turning those pantry staples into delicious meals


By Bob Perry and Danielle Donham
University of Kentucky

Many people have been trying their hand at baking and cooking new recipes in recent weeks, given all of the extra time spent at home.

Baking bread has become one of the most popular quarantine activities for those looking to add new skills to their kitchen repertoire. That is, if you can find the ingredients at your grocery store.

UKNow spoke with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Bob Perry to learn about some easy and delicious dishes you can make with many items you already have in your kitchen.

(Getty Images photo from University of Kentucky)

Perry, a chef for more than 30 years, is the Foods Lab coordinator in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, teaches Civic Gastronomy: Our Local Food System, and co-instructs Quantity Food Production, which runs and manages the Lemon Tree restaurant. He also conducts food system research.

Here is what Perry has to say:

There is no doubt that Kentuckians love their soup beans, but canned beans are truly one of the great pantry staples. Canned beans are incredibly versatile. Whether you have chili beans ready for a quick pot of comfort, or cannellini that can be rinsed and used on salads, many varieties can be quickly gussied up as a side dish.

Vanessa Oliver, a registered dietitian for UK Health and Wellness, taught me to sauté onions, peppers and garlic before adding canned beans and spiking it with a little vinegar. This works with many other beans and I frequently do this with black beans for taco night.

Condensed and evaporated milk are also great pantry items, and not just for desserts. I make a quick and delicious mac and cheese by cooking and draining a pound of pasta, then adding a can of condensed milk and stirring in one-half to one pound of shredded or diced cheese. It is quick, easy and only messes up one pot. You can use any cheese you like, but the trick is to melt, not cook or boil, the cheese. You can also transform one can of milk, one can of corn and potatoes to make a quick chowder, and if you run out of fresh milk you can simply dilute condensed milk.

Grains are another great staple that can be transformed into many recipes. I always keep several kinds of rice, pearled barley and wheat berries on hand along with couscous and a variety of pastas. Any rice, especially barley, can be cooked risotto-style with whatever vegetables you have on hand. An Instant Pot makes cooking whole grains foolproof, so try mixing and matching them.

Whether you take the dive into making your own sourdough or just use instant yeast, now is the time to play with dough. Any simple bread recipe can be turned into loaves, rolls, burger buns or focaccia. Once you get the hang of it, you will not need a recipe for it and can scale it up or down easily. Patience is your friend here, as most doughs are very forgiving if you give them enough time to hydrate and rise.

To craft rolls, punch down the dough and then form it into balls. You can also roll marble-sized balls and put four in each compartment of a muffin pan to make cloverleaf rolls, or shape thick strings for breadsticks. Then, roll it out thick and cut circles for burger buns. To produce focaccia, roll it out onto an oiled baking sheet. Make dimples all over with your fingertips (kids love this) and then drizzle olive oil and your favorite herbs all over. Bake it in a very hot oven to get those crispy edges.

Why cook twice when you can cook once? Transform leftover potatoes into potato salad or hash browns. Cook extra rice and grains for bowls, which can be consumed hot or cold and topped with any leftovers.

Remember, you can make a taco out of anything, and you can always put an egg on it.

Bob Perry is the Foods Lab coordinator in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky. Danielle Donham writes for UK Now.


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