A conundrum that I frequently have while in the kitchen, usually when I run out of groceries, is deciding what to make for dinner while hardly having anything to cook with. I open cupboard doors and let my eyes scour the shelves for some sort of inspiration.
There are good times and bad times, times where I feel I make a very delicious dish out of almost nothing at all and times I microwave frozen French fries, add a slice of American cheese and spit it right back out. Cooking is an adventure; cooking with barely anything is more survival of the fittest. Sometimes you have to weigh two thoughts: "Is this technically edible?" with "Will this taste good?" I think it’s quite possible to scrounge the very bottom of your food reserves and be able to make something that is not only edible, but also quite delicious as well.
I don’t know what you have in your kitchen, but in mine, I usually have a stock of uncooked pasta that’s left over from a spaghetti dinner. A simple recipe that I do quite often to use the leftover pasta is to sauté butter with slices of garlic and a finely chopped onion in a stainless steel pan on medium heat. With this, you can add the butter to the cooked pasta. Top the pasta with parmesan cheese, fresh cracked pepper, and paprika.
The best thing about this dish is that you can add sautéed leftover vegetables in with it, and you don’t need to have any one ingredient besides the pasta and butter - the rest is optional.
Another thing I seem to have quite a bit of is macaroni shells. Obviously, the best use for these would be to make good old mac and cheese, which is actually quite easy to make with stuff lying around and can be done all in one pot. First, boil and then drain the macaroni when al dente, return to the pot and add 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter (depending on how much pasta you’re making). Toss to coat the pasta in melted butter. Whisk together an egg or two (again depending on however much pasta), with 1/4 cup of milk, a dash of salt, a dash of pepper and ¾ Tbsp. of mustard (dry, yellow, or whatever you have). Stir into the macaroni shells and add however much you want.
Again, there are a variety of ingredients you can add or subtract from this recipe, but all you need really is macaroni, butter, milk and cheese (not American cheese slices). You can throw some shredded lunch meat or leftover cooked hamburger into the pasta if you want to make it Hot Ham, Mac and Cheese or Cheeseburger Macaroni.
Not knowing what everyone has in their pantry or cupboards means that it’s up to you to try to make a meal out of thin air. The most important part is trying out what you have available to you, and using that to make a meal or dish. Potatoes? Mash em’. Eggs? Make an omelet. Leftover potato salad? Slap on a piece of bread with a slice of ham and have a sandwich. You can make a barebones meal into something great with a little bit of clever thinking.