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Foolproof comfort food: Our expert chef says what you need is already in your pantry

In a time of uncertainty, we all seek comfort. And whether out of necessity or as a diversion, cooking can offer both order and pleasure (which may each be in all-too-short supply right now).

So whether you have an abundance of time on your hands or can hardly find 10 minutes to shower between video conferencing calls (or get your kids to do the same), here are a few of my go-to favorites, leaning heavily on pantry and refrigerator staples that many people keep on hand. I hope that they inspire you, or at least help you navigate the lockdown a bit better.


Skillet-Baked Pasta With Sausage

Pasta has flown off the shelves in recent weeks. I get it. It’s inexpensive, has a great shelf life and is convenient and filling. But the real question is: what to make with it? If you love pasta, and hate dishes, this recipe is for you. One pot, no mess, it does not get easier than this skillet-baked pasta.

This is another quick-meal option that can be made with a variety of types of sausages, meats and spices, or can easily be made vegetarian. The best part may be that it reheats easily for people on different schedules.


Pot Pie

Pot pies are a classic American comfort food that first became popular in the 1950’s. This old-time favorite may seem intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. These savory pies are extremely adaptable and help cut down on food waste by using up leftovers, which is one reason why I am such a big fan.

Made individual or casserole-style, pot pies are both freezer-friendly and a meal-in-one. Go ahead and skip the homemade crust; a store-bought one works just as well if you need to cut down on prep time. Assemble on a Sunday, freeze and then bake mid-week when your day is too hectic for cooking anything.


Chicken Piccata

This is considered a simple Italian favorite, and a few basic kitchen ingredients elevates plain old skinless, boneless chicken breast to a whole new playing field. The best part? This tasty main dish can be on the table in just 30 minutes.

There is nothing complicated, or fancy, about this chicken piccata. But it’s loaded with flavor and does not disappoint. A basic pan sauce of lemon, capers, garlic and wine come together effortlessly, making this quick dish a nearly foolproof masterpiece even for non-cooks.


Oven-Braised Pot Roast

The appeal of pot roast to most people is linked to two things: the predictability of comfort food, and the ease of preparation. There’s nothing wrong with that. This quintessential Midwestern favorite deserves a turn in your dinner rotation, especially at a time like this.

Made with nothing more than an inexpensive and readily available cut of beef (typically chuck roast), onions, root vegetables and braising liquid, pot roast is a hassle-free dish with soothing curb appeal that can unite the family even in a time of chaos.


Slow-Roasted Pork Burritos

Missing Taco Tuesday out with friends? I totally get it. But change does not always have to be a bad thing. Enter my latest obsession: slow-roasted pork burritos, a dish that I did not fully appreciate (or make) until recently.

Everyone needs options for non-fussy, go-to dinners. This slow-roasted pork burrito recipe is just that. Not fancy, but flavorful — and all it requires is some time. This slow-cooker, prep-and-forget favorite yields delicious, juicy, seasoned shredded pork that is perfect not only for burritos, but tacos, salads and sandwiches. So my best advice is to make extra. Its versatility has no limits and you could live on this for days.


Mac & Cheese

This is a dish kids love, and grow-ups love to hate, but only because they typically love it themselves and just can’t resist it. To be honest, what’s not to love? Mac & cheese is about as comforting as it can get. And let’s face it, comfort is exactly what we all want in a stressful time like this.

In addition to having full family appeal, this mac & cheese recipe is forgiving. Any type of pasta or cheese can work here without the flavor or texture being compromised. And if your stockpile provisions allow, you can easily upgrade this dish with lobster (if you’re lucky enough to have some) or a little black truffle oil to make it feel fancier.


Cod Cakes

Some would call them poor mans’ crab cakes but truthfully, I prefer cod cakes. If you are a fish-lover, cod cakes are a no-brainer and an easy recipe to whip up any day of the week. A real upgrade from the frozen fish sticks you had as a kid, these non-fishy, flaky fish cakes can even be appealing to those who think they do not like fish.

A straightforward recipe with only a few basic ingredients, what I love most about this cod cake recipe is it can be made with fresh or frozen fish, whatever you have available, without sacrificing texture or taste. These cakes also hold up well when made and frozen, so double the batch and make two meals in one.


Tuscan Tomato Soup

This is a rustic, hearty, slow-cooker soup based on Pappa al Pomodoro (also known as tomato bread soup), a traditional Italian favorite that has been around for centuries.

In this recipe I sub out the bread and add pasta instead. Sausage and greens round out the dish to make it more of a meal, suitable for lunch or dinner any day. Adapt this recipe as you see fit. Any type of pasta, sausage or greens can work without sacrificing the flavor. If you’re a vegetarian, simply omit the sausage and use vegetable stock. You can’t go wrong.


Muffuletta

A Muffuletta is one of the greatest specialty sandwiches ever created, but few know about this New Orleans classic created by The Central Grocery in the early 1900’s. For any non-cooks out there, this is the meal for you — since only assembly is required. Typically made using a large round loaf of bread, this sandwich is layered with Italian charcuterie and a spicy Creole olive salad that gives it its distinct, briny flavor.

There is lots of flexibility in making a great Muffuletta and a fantastic way to use up various deli meats you happen to have lying around. Any round bread can work well here and depending on how creative you’re feeling, you can make your own olive spread or purchase a store-bought one for ultimate convenience.