Recipes from the back of boxes, packages or cans are godsent for an Easter dinner and can tug at your heartstrings in any year, but especially this one.
They are minimalists, featuring easy-to-find ingredients and simple-to-follow directions. And that is exactly what is needed during the gloom-and-doom days brought upon by the COVID-19, which has disrupted so many holiday festivities.
So while we are still cooped up in our homes, why not turn to recipes found on staple items in the pantry cupboard, refrigerator or freezer for some of the best tried-and-true dishes.
Some of the cans, boxes and packages feature the recipes in their entirety. Others feature photographs of entrees, sides and pies along with the product's website to learn how to make them.
Not only are most of the recipes budget-friendly for these uncertain times, but also they don't advocate complicated techniques.
The recipes do not judge you for the gadgets and kitchen tools you own, or don't. So when they call for something to be mixed, you can use your faithful rubber spatula, cheap or pricey blender or state-of-the-art food processor.
Being product-based, the recipes' sole aim is to shamelessly tout the manufacturing company and the other products made by it. This does not mean that you have to do that, too.
If you don't have King Arthur flour for the bread, cake or cookie recipe, use Pillsbury or the store-brand one already in your pantry. The chocolate chip cookies will come out just fine whether the semisweet morsels are made by Ghirardelli or Nestle Toll House. Other than the difference in price and preference in brand, one company's sweetened condensed milk is no different from another.
Also, with travel restrictions, there is no need to make a grocery store run just in order to follow a recipe verbatim. Stay within the parameters, and you will have a winner in your hands.
The best part of following the recipe on a can or box is that you already have one of the ingredients — you are looking at it.
Here are some recipes that have won likes and hearts:
* Upside-down pineapple cake: I will buy canned pineapple slices and maraschino cherries just to make this King Arthur flour recipe that I first came across on the back of a 5-pound bag. The cake does not take much effort to make and plops out of the pan perfectly — all with just one egg and not too much butter, sugar or flour. If you want the cake to look bright and cheery before taking it to the table or if you are posting a pic on Instagram, place a candied or maraschino cherry on top of the ones already on the cake.
* One-bowl brownies: The recipe was first printed inside the box of Baker's Chocolate some 20 years ago, and it has been a keeper since. That's right, you need just one bowl to make the brownies. Two cups of sugar might seem too much for one cup of flour in Baker's recipe, but the sweetness is cut by the unsweetened chocolate. BTW, the straightforward recipe does not call for any embellishments; the pecans do the work. But it is Easter after all, and why not top the brownies with Reese's eggs to make them look festive.
* Raspberry gelatin cake: "There's always room for Jell-O" was a popular slogan in the 1950s and '60s. That jingle holds true even today at Easter when gelatin-based "salads" crop up in some fashion on the table. If the word "salad" can be used loosely with Jell-O, why not "cake"? Make a Raspberry Angel Cake, featured on the Kraft Heinz Co. website, with just three ingredients — frozen raspberries, raspberry gelatin and angel food cake. In the event, you can't find prepared angel cake in the store, don't go hunting for it; just use ladyfinger cookies or any other light and airy cookie. Whether it is served in the beginning or at the end of the meal, the "cake" will get the hashtag #whatsnottolike.
* Lemon pie: Thick, sticky and sweet, the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk by Borden Inc. was introduced in 1856. In 1931, homemakers were paid 25 cents for submitting recipes to the company, which received 80,000 in all. Over the years, recipes for smoothies, fudge, cakes and pies were printed on the labeling around the can. The luscious lemon cream pie on a graham cracker crust is classic 100%. Sweet, tangy and straightforward, it is a reminder that there is something to savor during these times.
* Crescent roll pie: In 1980, Pillsbury came out with an easy-peasy replacement for a pie crust — crescent rolls. And they have been popular since then with rookie bakers and those looking for shortcuts. Start by popping open a can with an image of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Then separate the premade perforated crescent dough into triangles and place them in a pie plate, pressing them down and together. And voila, you have a crust. All you do next is pile on a filling, savory or sweet, and you'll have a ta-da moment.
* Tortellini soup: Upgrade a soup by tossing in some tortellini, whether it is stuffed with cheese, meat or both. Missouri-based Louisa Foods, the longtime maker of the famed St. Louis Style Roasted Ravioli, features a recipe for pasta soup with broccoli to promote its tri-color frozen tortellini made with tomato, spinach and fresh egg dough and stuffed with a blend of cheeses. When combined with a made-from-scratch broccoli soup, it makes for a satisfying side or can be a meal in itself.
Lemon Cream Pie
The recipe calls for spreading the pie with whipped topping or cream, but a dollop does the trick. The pie also does not suffer if the cream is totally omitted as it is creamy by itself.
3 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 (16 ounce) prepared graham cracker crust
Frozen whipped topping, thawed, or whipped cream
Lemon zest for garnish
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat egg yolks in a medium bowl with a mixer.
Add sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice until well mixed. Pour into crust.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven. Cool for 1 hour on a wire rack. Chill for at least 3 hours.
Spread whipped topping or whipped cream over the pie before serving.
Garnish with lemon peel, if desired.
Yields 8 to 10 servings.
— Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
Baker's One Bowl Brownies
Make sure it is cooled completely before lifting it from the pan to cut into squares. I decorated the nutty brownies with Reese's eggs to keep them festive.
1 package (4 ounces) Baker's unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup coarsely chopped Planters pecans
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a 13- by 9-inch pan with Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. Spray foil with cooking spray.
Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on high for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and nuts; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely. Use foil handles to remove brownies from pan before cutting to serve.
Makes 24 servings.
— Baker's Chocolate
Raspberry Angel Cake
Heavy whipping cream can be used in the place of the Cool Whip and the light and airy ladyfinger cookies instead of angel food cake if that's what you have at home. To unmold the dessert, dip a blunt knife in warm water and run it around the edge to loosen it.
3 cups boiling water
2 packages (3 ounces each) Jello-O raspberry flavor gelatin
1 package (12 ounces) frozen red raspberries, straight from freezer
1 package (7.5 ounces) round prepared angel food cake, cut into 21 thin slices
1 cup thawed Cool Whip whipped topping
Add boiling water to gelatin mixes in a medium bowl. Stir 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Add frozen berries; stir until thawed. Pour into a 9-inch round pan sprayed with cooking spray.
Arrange cake slices in concentric circles over gelatin, with slices overlapping as necessary to completely cover gelatin.
Refrigerate 3 hours or until gelatin is firm. Unmold onto plate; top with Cool Whip.
Makes 16 servings.
— Kraft-Heinz Co.
Tricolor Cheese Tortellini With Cream of Broccoli
Remember not to cut the onion finely as it will be easier to remove the broccoli florets and tortellini without onion pieces sticking to them.
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 package (32 ounces) chicken or vegetable stock (4 cups)
1 cup water
12 ounces broccoli crowns
1/2 (19-ounce) package Louisa frozen tricolor cheese tortellini (about 38 tortellini or 3 cups)
1 large Yukon Gold potato (about 6 ounces), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
In a 4-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add broth and water; heat to boiling over high heat.
Meanwhile, cut broccoli stems into 1-inch pieces; set aside. Cut remaining broccoli into small florets.
Add florets and tortellini to broth; cook until mixture boils, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. With slotted spoon, transfer florets and tortellini medium to a bowl.
Add broccoli stems and potato to broth; cook 10 to 15 minutes or until broccoli and potato are tender.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Transfer broth mixture to blender. With center part of lid removed to allow steam to escape and with clean towel loosely covering center, puree mixture until smooth. Add cheese and cream, and puree to blend.
Return broth mixture to saucepan over medium heat. Cook 5 to 10 minutes until it is hot. Add tortellini mixture to the saucepan; stir to combine. Ladle soup into soup bowls.
Makes 4 servings.
— Louisa Foods
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Remember to use room temperature butter, egg and milk as that will result in a lighter and fluffier cake. The cherries will look tired after the cake is baked and so if you want them to look cheery, place a candied or maraschino cherry on top of the baked one.
The cake can be baked in an 8-inch pan but the seven pineapple rings would be crowded together.
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 (20-ounce) can pineapple rings in juice, drained
Candied red cherries or maraschino cherries
Pecans or walnuts, halves or diced; optional
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon coconut extract, optional
1 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
To make the topping: Melt the butter, and mix with the brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.
Space the pineapple rings atop the brown sugar mixture. Place a cherry in the center of each ring. If you're using nuts, scatter them in any empty spaces.
To make the cake: Beat the butter and sugar until fairly smooth.
Beat in the egg, then the salt, baking powder, vanilla extract and coconut extract, if using.
Add the flour alternately with the milk, mixing at medium speed and beginning and ending with the flour. Once the last of the flour is added, mix briefly, just until smooth.
Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges of the pan. It may not cover the pineapple entirely; that's OK.
Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, wait 3 minutes, then turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Wait 30 seconds, then lift the pan off. If anything sticks in the pan, just lift it out and place it back on the cake.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yields one 9-inch cake.
— King Arthur Flour
Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie
It's important not to overcook the zucchini as that could result in a soup top when the pie is baked. Let the pie rest for at least 10 minutes before it is cut to allow the filling to set.
2 tablespoons Land O'Lakes butter
4 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
2 Land O'Lakes eggs, well beaten
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Muenster or mozzarella cheese
1 can (8 ounces) Pillsbury refrigerated crescent rolls
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a 12-inch skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
Add zucchini and onions; cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
Stir in parsley flakes, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and oregano.
In large bowl, mix eggs and cheese. Add cooked vegetable mixture; stir gently to mix.
Separate dough into 8 triangles. Place in ungreased 10-inch glass pie plate or 12- by 8-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish or 11-inch quiche pan. Press over bottom and up sides to form crust. Firmly press perforations to seal.
Spread crust with mustard.
Pour egg mixture evenly into crust-lined pie plate.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. If necessary, cover edge of crust with strips of foil during the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
Let stand at least for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.