Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Pandemic isolation shifts the way we shop, cook and eat. Before Covid insulated us, food shopping was an enjoyable part of my week. As a committed foodie I have a well-stocked pantry and regularly plan meals. Thanks to local ethnic markets and my love of international cuisine, ingredients are diverse.
When sheltering in place became the norm, food and cooking were even more central to my mental well-being.
A Shift in the Force
Suddenly shelf-stable foods jumped to the head of line. People began buying in quantity and aisles were bare of rice, beans, pasta and canned goods. Not wanting to be left out, flour joined the party and soon supermarket baking shelves offered nothing but empty space.
I am not a food hoarder but—full disclosure—I can pull just about any ingredient from my pantry. My freezer also houses many different varieties of flour and grains.
The farmers market we rely on for weekly produce closed suddenly. Frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes took center stage, along with rice, quinoa, farro, and pasta.
A Sam’s Club membership proved to be an unexpected bonus. Bulk purchases I normally do not make—paper products, laundry detergent, and meat—helped limit shopping trips.
Cooking From the Pantry
Shopping for food makes for a fun outing and I have lots of options. As store shelves began reflecting the panic we were all feeling, I went less often and turned to the pantry and the freezer. Moving things along is key to not finding expired cans and boxes.
I tried on-line shopping and delivery and found the results disappointing. I like to pick my own produce, look at the meat, and chose expiration dates that offer flexibility. Stores require a minimum spend and many items are out of stock.
Weekly excursions became monthly, with staples purchased from a single store that limited shoppers, required face protection, and used one-way aisles.
Meal planning was based on what was on hand. I inventoried key ingredients, then Googled recipes. Plenty of ideas steered me in new directions.
Our favorite red sauce (a recipe shared by a dear friend) gets made every few weeks and stored in the fridge. Its normal pairing is pasta but I began using it on pizza and even as a base for BBQ sauce when I discovered we had none. Addingf spices and aromatics modifies the basic sauce for multiple recipes.
Sunday night became pizza night. We crank up the grill and in minutes we have a meal. Using this no-rise dough means a quick prep. Toppings, also called refrigerator cleanout, vary by the week. Items always on hand include jarred, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives. The freezer holds small packages of prosciutto, coppa and pepperoni.
A box of no-boil lasagna noodles becomes an option for this baked manicotti. You can literally stuff them with whatever is on hand to make a filling.
Tomato paste in a tube is something everyone needs! So many recipes call for a few tablespoons, leaving you with the rest of the can. I freeze it with good intentions, then forget it’s there. Keeping a tube in the fridge means always having the right amount. Same with anchovy paste. A little goes a long way but imparts great umami.
Use What You Have
Rather than stressing over empty shelves, I rely on a pantry filled with dry goods, a well-stocked freezer and my adventurous pallet. My mission, and I did decide to accept it, focused on using what I have. The deal I made with myself included no random runs to the store and no unnecessary additions to an already-full cupboard.
- Mango chutney and currants for a chicken curry
- Pomegranate molasses for BBQ sauce
- Multi-grain cereal as a base for whole-grain bread
- Dried fruits and frozen berries added into scones
- Lemon curd swirled into a pound-cake batter
- Jams and jellies made into these dessert bars
- Coconut milk used to make coconut rice
- Lentils and frozen spinach became soup
The on-line search for ideas is as simple as Googling recipes made with (fill in your ingredients). Results run from simple to complex and reflect cooking expertise against what’s on the shelf. This link is a great way to search for inspiration and ideas.
Avoiding Kitchen Burnout
Cooking a meal every single day is daunting if a) you don’t enjoy cooking and b) restaurants and take-out options are suspended.
Cooking generally defaults to one person, and in our house that’s me. My husband is an excellent sous chef, peeling, chopping and cleaning up. It’s just the two of us, but if you have minions, conscript them into service and share the tasks. Divide and conquer reduces burnout.
Prepare food in batches and in bulk. Cook chicken (or any protein) to use for a variety of meals. Make larger portions and divide them, freezing one for later. My crock pot is a good stand-by when I need to set it and forget it with this hamburger soup.
Food is Love
Food binds us together during good times and those challenging our tenacity. Throw yourself a challenge. Be bold, cook with what you have, and share the love.