I like to cook generally, but I don’t like to cook always. This can potentially be a problem when you a) like regular meals, b) rarely eat out or buy frozen meals, and c) refuse to call a spoon and a jar of peanut butter “dinner.”

There are times when nothing pleases me more than following a long recipe closely and turning out a finely executed meal (hello, Julia Child). Then there are are the times when the thought of cooking while actually following instructions makes me gnash my teeth and gaze lovingly at the peanut butter jar.

I have three solutions for just such a situation:

  1. Make a salad while Jeff grills something.
  2. Prepare a recipe I’ve made so many times that I have it memorized.
  3. Make something so simple that a recipe isn’t needed.

Number three got dinner from stove to table in record time last night, thanks to a well-stocked pantry.* My inspiration was a can of olive oil-packed tuna from Trader Joe’s.** While I cooked some penne pasta, I quartered some kalamata olives (a pseudo pantry staple, since olives keep practically forever in the fridge) and a can’s worth of artichoke hearts, then threw them in a bowl with the tuna (undrained) and some walnuts. When the pasta was done, I threw that in the bowl, too, along with a little salt and pepper and some grated Parmesan cheese. I served it with some roasted mushrooms and broccoli on the side, but a green salad would have worked, too. Easy peasy, and delicious. And almost no brainpower required!

* Seriously…it’s too well stocked. I’ve hardly met a jar of curry paste, bulk bin of dried beans, or box of tomato-red pepper soup that I haven’t invited home with me. I’ve recently vowed to stop adding to the madness, and start shopping my own pantry.

**Tuna packed in olive oil is amazing, but it is even more amazing to me that I’ve let tuna in any oil into my house, ever. I still shudder in horror every time I recall the time when I was, like, five years old and an uncle made me a tuna sandwich from the old-school tuna-packed-in-tuna-oil without draining the oil. This was in the days before tuna packed in water was even a gleam in someone’s eye, and if you are of an appropriate age to remember those days, I’m sure you will appreciate the emotional scars I carry.