Pantries and the Mothers of Invention

April 13 – April 19, 2020

Charleston Red Rice (2)

Charleston Red Rice – courtesy of Larry and Leslie Mayfield

Monday:                   Leftover Lamb and Greek Salad with Charleston Red Rice

spaghetti and meatballs (2)

Tuesday:                   Spaghetti and Meatballs

Chicken and potato chowder

Wednesday:            Chicken and Potato Chowder

Bratwurst (2)

Thursday:                 Grilled Brats with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans – and cole slaw

crab cakes

Friday:                       Crab Cakes with Oven Fries and Cole Slaw

risotto with mushrooms (2)

Saturday:                  Risotto and Mushrooms

Roast Chicken with Polenta and Lucali Salad

Sunday:                     Roast Chicken with Polenta and Lucali Salad

chicken salad (2)

Chicken Salad – what to do with leftover chicken

“Pantries and the Mothers of Invention”

Well, of course, that title brings to mind Frank Zappa’s band, which was strange, vulgar and transgressive back in the day, but would be considered par for the course in 2020 – which is, I suppose, progress of a sort.

But, hey – this isn’t about Frank Zappa.  And that skew opening paragraph is Frank’s fault, may he rest in peace, for co-opting the adage.  The title was meant to emphasize the necessity of adapting your cooking to your pantry so that you can put food on the table every day.

Let me begin by suggesting that most of us – and certainly me* – aren’t that creative.  In the days before the internet, we had to rack our brains or search in The Joy of Cooking or The New York Times Cookbook to come up with something other than mac-and-cheese or Stouffer’s pizza.  Or you could riffle through those stained index cards with the smeared ink that you inherited from the true mothers of invention:  your mother or your mother-in-law, or grandmothers or great grandmothers.  [What about men?  Only the mobsters in The Godfather cooked back in the day – though I suspect that they had all that pasta and sauce catered.]

*Yes, strictly speaking, “I,” the nominative is called for here.  But imagine that you are writing a play and one character, hearing a door open, asks, “Who’s there?,” and another character answers, “It is I.”  What would be your initial impression of that second character?  Exactly.  Hence, the “me” above.

Nowadays, with an internet connection, you can simply type your ingredients into your browser and immediately come up with a recipe that will work.

Though, we actually did a bit better than that last week.  We’d been to the store on Monday and were trying to avoid another trip until the following Monday.  We had crabmeat in the refrigerator for dinner on Friday, a chicken for Sunday and figured we’d coast with pasta or rice and a salad on Saturday.  But her we were – it being only Thursday – with no plan for dinner.  However, in the back refrigerator, beneath a packet of bacon and a bag of lettuce, lurked a packet of bratwurst.  We also had some sweet potatoes (do those things ever go bad?) and a cupboard full of cans (diced tomatoes, tuna fish, beans of various sorts.)

And we had me – our family’s secret weapon – always on the lookout for likely recipes and prepared with scissors and notebooks to keep track of interesting things that come our way.

Now, I’m not saying that you need anything more than grilled brats, mustard and coleslaw to make a fine and tasty meal.  I’m just saying that, if you’d been here last Thursday for that strange-seeming combination of sweet potatoes and black beans, you would have been quite content to sit with us afterwards and talk about the day, or watch television or read a book.  And you would have had just a little extra joy because of that dinner and that dish.

And you can even lose the bratwurst – I think that the sweet potatoes and beans would go a little more naturally with a nice green salad.  I’m not sure that the Godfather’s soldiers would have gone for this.  But Beez, Andrew and I sure did.

Oh – the potato and corn chowder was not only excellent in its own right, we used the left over corn and peas in the sweet potato recipe.

sweet potatoes and black beans (2)

Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans

(adapted from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank* recipe, printed in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/26/2020)

*They called it ‘Sweet Potato and Black Bean Bowls,’ but I can’t do that, nor can I call sandwiches ‘sammies’, and you’ll never get a “patty” at our house.

*Which reminds me – contribute to your local food bank – there are many folks who need a hand with food these days.

Timing:         1 hour – includes 15 minutes to heat oven – actual cooking 40 minutes

Ingredients:                                         Serves 4 or 5

5 cups of chopped (to bite-size) sweet potatoes – 2 large potatoes
1 can (15 0z.) black beans, drained
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
½ cup canned or frozen corn, drained
Note:  we had some frozen corn and frozen peas bagged together and used them all – maybe a full cup or more.
½ cup chopped onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon or more, to taste, of chili powder
2 teaspoons of oil (we used extra virgin olive oil, but any vegetable oil will work)
Cilantro or Parsley for garnish


Preheat oven to 400 F, at least 15 minutes before cooking

Chop sweet potatoes
Chop onion
Drain beans, tomatoes, corn
Measure out garlic powder and chili powder
In a large mixing bowl, stir the sweet potatoes and the oil to coat the potatoes.


Spread the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes – they should be browned and tender.

While potatoes roast, make the salsa:

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, corn, onion, garlic power and chili powder and toss or stir to combine.

Heat the black beans in a saucepan over low until warm.

Assemble and Serve:

When the potatoes are cooked (a knife should go through each piece easily), place about half in a serving dish (bowl, gratin plate, etc.), top with half the salsa and half the beans – repeat with remaining ingredients.  Garnish with cilantro or parsley.  Serve.

Rusty wondering if he can fill Max's paws (shoes)

Rusty wondering if he will ever be able to fill Max’s paws (shoes) – depiction of Fionna MacDuffy Stewart (Max), our beagle, on pillow

One thought on “Pantries and the Mothers of Invention

  1. Hi Bill, Barbara and Andrew!
    You are more creative than most people! Meals look delicious. I love your Rusty just as he is. Love to all with a smooch for the pooch!!!
    💜💙💚💛Kathy Murray

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