There’s a handful of things you can count on in just about everyone’s pantry: pasta sauce, canned beans, a box of mac and cheese, rice, and a boxed cake mix. Although fine on their own, each can be improved upon in a matter of minutes with one of the quick flavor hacks we’re sharing below. Don’t hesitate to take our ideas and try out different ingredients or techniques—after all, cooking is supposed to be fun!
Premade pasta sauce is a weeknight lifesaver when you need dinner on the table stat. But with just an extra few minutes, you can turn a “just fine” sauce into a really great one! Try simmering the sauce on the stove for about 10 minutes to concentrate its flavor. Then throw in a handful of your favorite fresh herbs, like rosemary and basil, for the last 60 seconds. Or consider stirring in garlic for more punchy aromatics, red wine vinegar for a kick of acidity, or shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese to add a layer of umami.
You can’t go wrong with canned beans. We love Goya’s wide variety and recommend keeping a few different cans, including at least one chickpea and one white bean option, in your pantry at all times. Boost the flavor of any beans by simmering them with chopped onions, stirring in a tablespoon or two of condiments like Worcestershire sauce or ketchup, or mixing in diced bacon for a meatier flavor. Baked beans are an easy way to use up a few cans or try Food & Wine’s recipe for Mushroom-Chickpea Pozole.
Everyone’s favorite childhood meal is great for dinner, even when you’re all grown up! Some of our favorite ways to improve upon the classic include using the macaroni as a filling for grilled cheese sandwiches, sprinkling bread crumbs on top to improve the texture, and stirring in chopped-up steamed veggies like broccoli and red bell peppers for a healthier bite.
Good rice is passable on its own, but a few simple mix-ins will take it to the next level! In this recipe from Shelf Cooking, turn white or brown rice into a party-worthy side by adding lime juice, lots of fresh cilantro, garlic, and a few other basic ingredients. Don’t be afraid to try parsley in place of cilantro, curry powder in place of lime juice, or shallots instead of garlic. Rice is a blank canvas that works well with nearly any flavor profile!
Boxed cake mixes are versatile, easy to use, and always delicious. If you want to go above and beyond when baking your next sweet treat, try adding thinly sliced fruit—like strawberries and peaches—to the bottom of your pan before pouring in the batter. You can also add simple mix-ins cinnamon or grated orange zest, like in our Aperol Spritz Cupcakes!