Refrigerator Game | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Refrigerator Game 

Making do with what’s at hand can result in creative and delicious cooking


What I’ve long called “the Refrigerator Game” stems from a situation familiar to most of us. Tired and hungry, you’re not going to spend the cash to go out, but you’re also not sure what you have to make a passable meal. After five minutes of staring into the abyss of your empty cabinets and fridge, noting potential ingredients, you make your choices.

Some nights this ends in eating plain toast or cereal, but on others it results in some of the most creative and delicious cooking you’ve done in a long while. This list is meant to help you stack your deck for such occasions, when your blood sugar is at an all-time low.

Most of these ingredients can be bought far in advance and sit on the shelves until you need them. Building an arsenal of spices and canned goods doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Shop a bit at a time and use the bulk section! This helps keep my grocery bill down. Pro tip: I find that keeping broth around serves me well. Soup is easy, hearty and can be made with almost anything. 

  • Miscellaneous: Canned crushed tomatoes, canned adobo chiles, canned green chiles, canned tuna, almonds, favorite seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), peanut butter, jam, sun-dried tomatoes, boxed broth or bouillon cubes, jarred peaches, applesauce, crackers, popcorn, pesto
  • Beans: Kidney, refried, black, garbanzo, cannellini, lentils
  • Grains & Pasta: Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, risotto
  • Baking: Unsweetened coconut flakes, maple syrup, honey, rolled oats, chocolate chips, flour, brown sugar, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, flour (mostly whole wheat, some white), vanilla
  • Oils & Vinegars: Olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, apple-cider vinegar, red-wine vinegar, rice-wine vinegar
  • Spices: Sea salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne, turmeric, basil, dill, rosemary, thyme
  • Refrigerator: Sour cream, yogurt, eggs, parmesan, butter, cheddar or other firm cheese, bread (one good loaf), tortillas, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, dark greens, apples, lemons

Do you have a different stable of essential ingredients? Email Celine Roberts at



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