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My strategy for cooking in a crisis

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I found the ingredients for a super easy baked ziti at the grocery story Wednesday morning. Check your pantry and freezer and be creative with me.
I found the ingredients for a super easy baked ziti at the grocery story Wednesday morning. Check your pantry and freezer and be creative with me.
Lisa Boykin Batts | Times

Feeding the family has suddenly become a challenge for most of us as store shelves have emptied of food items we can usually find so readily: chicken breasts, ground beef, pork chops.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking of how I can best use some of the items in my pantry and items I’ve been able to put in my freezer and fridge.

We are lucky at my house to have an upright freezer. All year long, I stock up. I have field peas I purchased at local farm markets last summer and froze, homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken broth and some vegetable soup. It’s not enough to last for weeks, but it’s enough to help.

I’ve also bought a few things. Not a lot, but enough to feed Reggie and me and other family members who might be at my house.

I bought a package of hot dogs and put them in the freezer last week. Reggie and I have often wrapped a slice of bread around a weiner, added a little mustard and ketchup and made a meal out of it.

I found a bag of frozen, air-fried chicken breasts at the grocery store Saturday. One night, I will make an easy version of chicken Parmesan. The recipe is very simple. Place the cooked chicken breasts (chicken patties is what I’ve used in the past) in a baking dish; sometimes I microwave the chicken for a few minutes to start the cooking process. Pour marinara or spaghetti sauce on top and sprinkle on mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. It would be good with either of these cheeses if you don’t have both. Don’t overdo it with the cheese. Then bake at 350 degrees until cooked through, around 30 minutes. Easy peasy and very good served with pasta. Use whatever pasta you have in the pantry: spaghetti, rotini, even elbows.

I was also lucky to get a boneless ham on Saturday. I cooked it over the weekend, and we had a simple meal with homemade biscuits (I made sure to buy buttermilk), corn on the cob and fruit. Now I have lots of leftover ham slices. We will repeat the meal later this week with deviled eggs. I probably won’t make as many deviled eggs as I usually would because I don’t want to use all of my eggs. We have enough ham for sandwiches, ham and cheese muffins or maybe omelets. A boneless ham is a good purchase if you can find one.

As luck would have it, I bought a frozen turkey breast a month or so ago. Next week, I plan to thaw it and cook it in the slow cooker (It cooks most of the day on low. All I do is add salt and pepper, no liquid.). I have some potatoes and a box of stuffing mix and frozen green beans waiting to be eaten. I’ll make a cranberry salad with ingredients I usually have on hand, and we’ll have a feast, not to mention plenty of leftovers for turkey sandwiches, which we love. If you can find a turkey breast right now, it’s a good buy.

If you stock the pantry and fridge the way I do or can find ingredients at the store, maybe you can make an easy baked ziti.

I started making this easy dish when I was a newlywed. All you need is a jar of pasta sauce (with or without meat), a bag of mozzarella cheese and a box of pasta — ziti, rotini, etc. Cook the pasta and mix it with the pasta sauce and cheese and bake until heated through.

Equally easy, if you have pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese, you can make pizzas with leftover tortillas, hamburger or hot dog rolls, even sliced bread.

If you can find sausage patties and canned biscuits (or ingredients to make homemade), treat the family to breakfast for supper. A box of pancake mix or a from-scratch recipe can also make this possible.

Reggie and I have also done our part to support local restaurants these last few weeks and will continue to do that. Not only have we bought sandwiches for lunch and pizza for dinners, we’ve also purchased prepared foods from local folks, including chicken pot pies ready to bake.

I urge you to support our local businesses as well.

Lisa Boykin Batts has been writing a weekly food column since 2001. Her column includes recipes she and her family enjoy.