Pretzels aren't just for snacking, and peanut butter does more than just make a great PB&J. Here are some of our favorite unexpected pantry ingredients and how to use them for dinners, drinks, and more.

By Samantha Lande
July 20, 2020
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No-Bake Crispy Potato Chip Mac and Cheese
Credit: Stirring up Trouble

We are all spending more time cooking our way through our pantries these days. With some ingredients being harder to find, it's a skill to be able to find substitutions on a whim. The great news is that many creative ingredients are already in our pantries. Items like peanut butter, pretzels, even La Croix may make for a great snack, but they can pinch hit at dinner time in creative recipes you may not have considered. Here are 9 of our favorites.

1. Potato Chips

Potato chips aren't just for eating out of the bag. The salty, crunchy snack is actually a great addition to both savory and sweet dishes.

Use it instead of bread crumbs on top of macaroni and cheese. (Don't worry if you only have cheddar or sour cream and onion chips. They'll work, too.) Potato chips can be a coating for chicken or even consider using them in the place or tortilla chips in a pinch for a nacho-like dish.

Looking for a salty contrast to your chocolate chips? Potato chips also make a great addition to cookies.

2. Sparkling Water

If you have any LaCroix or Bubly in your pantry, it's a great tool for stirring up something different. Cocktails are the obvious choice, but you can also use sparkling water to lighten and fluff up your pancakes (just sub in where you would use milk or water).

Sparkling water is also a great addition to a tempura batter, again to make it light and airy. Some people even add a splash of plain sparkling water to make those matzo balls fluffy.

3. Peanut Butter

This pantry staple isn't just for stellar sandwiches. It can be used in a variety of different savory and sweet dishes.

Turn it into a Thai peanut dipping sauce to use with chicken satay. Make it the base of a peanut curry. You can even use it in a chicken vegetable soup.

Looking for some sweet peanut butter ideas? It's a perfect addition to a smoothie, and it's hard to resist any peanut butter in dessert like cookies, peanut butter frosting or peanut butter pie.

4. Instant Coffee

If you have instant coffee hiding out in your pantry, bring it out. It's good for more than just this trending Dalgona whipped coffee. Instant coffee is a great addition to a BBQ rub, steak rub, or even a marinade like in this coffee and cola skirt steak or this brisket. Add it to any chocolate desserts to enhance the flavor of the chocolate or even make coffee liquor.

5. Pretzels

Honey Mustard Chicken with Pretzel Crust
Credit: nathanyerian

We love pretzels as they are, but they are also super versatile in a variety of recipes. Use them with honey mustard for an awesome chicken dish. They make a great a crust for fried pickles. Use them as the bottom of a pretzel salad or really any pie crust. (Add to one with graham crackers for a little extra salt.) They are also awesome in these all dressed up cookies.

6. Oreos

Like pretzels, Oreos make a solid pie crust for pudding, ice cream cakes, and cheesecakes. They are also yummy as cake balls, in fudge, and even in a dessert lasagna. Nobody will turn down crushed Oreos as a topping to ice cream, as a mix-ins to milkshakes or to make dirt pudding.

7. Jelly

Jelly is an obvious addition to sandwiches or stuffed French toast but it's also great in savory dishes as well. Grape jelly meatballs are always a fan favorite recipe and so is slow cooker cocktail smokies, also made with grape jelly.

Chicken wings get a little tang with orange marmalade, and jam is a great way to elevate baked brie. It's even a great add to a coconut shrimp dipping sauce. And then there is dessert — jam thumbprints and raspberry oatmeal cookie bars each benefit from a little dab or spoonful of jelly.

8. Coca-Cola

If you have any cola taking up space in your pantry (or sitting cold in your fridge), you'll want to use some for cooking. Desserts like this Coca-Cola cake are super moist with the addition of cola. It's also good when making pork chops or chicken. Baked beans, pot roast, BBQ sauce and so much more.

9. Oats

Oats aren't just for breakfast, although they do make a delicious and hearty one. You can use them for the obvious oatmeal cookies, or turn your oats into oat milk. Use them to bind meatballs or meatloaf. Throw them into sweet and savory bread, or make granola or granola bars.

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