What's for dinner? Depends what's in the fridge, pantry

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Just about now, you might be tired of cooking and eating what's in your refrigerator. We are all used to asking what's for dinner? What are we in the mood for — pizza, sushi, Mexican? And then going to a restaurant to get it. Now, with the coronavirus forcing many of us to stay home more, it's time to look at mealtime and cooking at home a little differently. Instead of asking, "What I am in the mood for?" I am looking more closely in my pantry and my refrigerator and letting my ingredients dictate what I make.

For example, a few months ago, I was lured to purchase a big bag of mixed unsalted nuts because they were labeled "Omega-3 Nut Mix." I thought I would eat a handful of "anti-oxidants" a day for my health, but they have gone largely uneaten. So, this week, I mixed up my favorite sweet and savory spices with both brown and white sugar and made my baked Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts. Sure, the sugar adds a few more calories, but now they are a delicious and welcome nibble instead of sitting unused in the pantry.

Likewise, I had a head of broccoli in the refrigerator that needed cooking. I couldn't bear the thought of steamed broccoli, so I decided to roast it simply with olive oil and kosher salt at 400 degrees F until the tips were deeply caramelized. Broccoli is addictive roasted this way, as is cauliflower, and any leftovers are delicious the next day with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.

If you have a pork tenderloin and a package of bacon in your fridge or freezer, you can make a simple two-ingredient main dish. A bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin dresses up your pork preparation with few ingredients and only a little more effort. If the bacon is room temperature, it will stick to itself as you overlap each piece and wrap the tenderloin. I do this with beef tenderloin, as well. The smoky flavor and fat of the center-cut bacon both protects and bastes the lean meat as it roasts. I grill mine indirectly, but you can roast it in an 350 degree F oven set on a rack in a sheet pan. When the bacon-wrapped tenderloin is done, sprinkle it with your finishing salt and carve into thick slices to enjoy the benefit of the bacon crust.

Finally, while you are cooking dinner at home, think about each meal in simple terms: a main (usually an animal protein, or a bean or hearty vegetable dish), a green or other non-starchy vegetable, and a starch. That menu combination is easy enough to prepare and still very satisfying. During this time of uncertainty, ease and comfort are equally important. If you are making a stew or a pot of gumbo that has vegetables and protein in it, all you need to add is a starch like rice or fresh, hot cornbread.

And enjoy the cooking. A friend of mine at Traeger Wood Fired Grills sent an email this week and reminded me that "good food equals good mood." Pass it along!

Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling, barbecue and Southern foods expert, and the author of four cookbooks, including the newly released "Steak and Cake." Her website is www.elizabethkarmel.com.

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