My Thoughts on Cooking During a Pandemic
This website exists for me to share meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists. In normal times, this is quite useful for my subscribers. Print the list! Take it to the grocery store! Buy the things! But when grocery store shelves are empty, it doesn’t work quite as well.
Instead of doing my usual meal plans this week, I wanted to share some thoughts and advice about cooking during a pandemic. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a grocery store worker, I’m not delivering food to your doorstep, so how can I be useful during this crisis? Maybe my little part to play is giving you some ideas for dinner.
What We Ate for Dinner This Week
I know a lot of people are stress baking and such right now, which is amazing to me because I absolutely cannot follow a recipe or think straight at the moment. I threw together some no-recipe dinners this week. Here’s what we had:
Note that some of these links are affiliate links, which means that if you order, I get a small fee for sending you over.
Saturday – Tropical Protein Pancakes
I like Birch Benders protein pancakes because you only need to add water to them, which is about all I can handle first thing in the morning. My oldest asked for pancakes for dinner, so I whipped up a batch of these and added chopped frozen mangoes and shredded coconut that had been sitting in our pantry for ages. I definitely recommend pancakes during a pandemic.
Sunday – Veggie Burgers with Caramelized Onions + Oven Fries
Veggie burgers and buns from the freezer. Onions and potatoes from storage. This is a great dinner option. There are a lot of fussy ways to make oven fries, but now that I have kids, I don’t want to bother with cold water soaking, paper towel absorbing, and all that. I just cut the potatoes into wedges, toss them in a generous amount of oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at 425ºF for about 40 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.
Monday – Old School Tacos
Another request from my oldest. I tried ordering tempeh for this recipe, but it was sold out at the grocery store. (Sidenote: who is hoarding tempeh? Now this is personal!!!) So I ended up using frozen Quorn grounds and a taco kit. Not as good as my homemade taco filling, but it was fine! If you can get your hands on a taco dinner kit, that’s another useful thing to have in the pantry.
Tuesday – Taco Potato Nachos
Whoa! Potato nachos! We had leftover taco filling and two leftover shells, which wasn’t enough for a meal. So instead, I sliced some Russet potatoes into 1/4-inch rounds, tossed them with oil and salt and pepper, then roasted them on a sheet pan for about 40 minutes at 425ºF, or until they were nicely browned and crisp on the outside. My daughter and I topped them with the leftover taco filling, cheese, taco sauce, crumbled taco shells, and diced cherry tomatoes. This was really good! And a nice activity for the kiddo!
Wednesday – Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Lentil Ragu
I somehow ended up with three spaghetti squashes I did not order with my groceries. I cooked the spaghetti squash, then sautéed some diced onion in a skillet. I added cooked lentils and marinara to the onion to get a nice, thick, ragu-like sauce.
I stirred the cooked spaghetti squash into the sauce, put it all in a baking dish, and topped it with mozzarella. (If you don’t eat cheese, you can just skip the baking part and eat the spaghetti squash with the sauce.) I baked it at 400ºF for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melted. I’m not a huge spaghetti squash fan, mostly because I developed an aversion during pregnancy that never totally went away, but this was surprisingly good.
Thursday – Leftover Spaghetti Squash Casserole
And it made so much, we’ll probably have it for dinner Friday night too.
Groceries I Bought This Week
I’m not hoarding food, but I am stocking my pantry with things that could potentially last a few months. I want to have a good variety because it seems like the produce and proteins we can get our hands on each week will vary.
I mentioned these packaged curries last week too, but I wanted to elaborate. These usually serve one or two, but add rice and a vegetable and you can stretch them out. One of my favorite ways to use them is to heat them up and use them as a topping for baked potatoes (sweet or not). Some of the saucier varieties can accommodate the addition of some beans too.
Namely, Indian simmer sauces. I love these. I use them to make this sheet pan curry. It works with a variety of vegetables, so you can plan this as a meal and then make it with whatever you’re able to get your hands on at the grocery store.
This enchilada skillet is made with a lot of keepers—produce that stores well and ingredients you can keep in the pantry. It’s also very versatile. Or, just make traditional enchiladas with your enchilada sauce. Black beans, refried beans, baked and mashed sweet potatoes, or your choice of vegetables all make a good filling if you’re able to find tortillas.
Reviews of Neat on Amazon are mixed, but we’re fans. I like that it’s shelf-stable so I can keep it in the pantry. There are so many things you can do with this stuff.
Textured vegetable protein. Oh boy. I usually avoid this stuff like the plague, but desperate times! I’ve been having trouble finding our usual go-to proteins, so I bought some TVP. Rehydrate it in stock or broth, then cook with it like ground beef/ground vegetarian meat substitute.
I’m assuming you’ve already thought of these things, but I also bought frozen vegetables, pasta, beans and lentils, and grains.
Buying Produce That Lasts
If you’re not planning frequent trips to the grocery store and you can’t reliably depend on grocery delivery, it’s a good idea to stock up on enough fresh produce to last you a few weeks. Of course, this isn’t easy because most produce doesn’t last that long. Here’s some stuff that will:
- Winter squash, including butternut, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti, etc. Just keep it in your pantry or on your countertop. The squash available now was likely harvested last fall, but it should still last for a few weeks
- Potatoes, but not spring or baby potatoes. Mature potatoes are storers. Baby potatoes are not. Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes will last quite a while when stored in a cool, dark place. This is important. You don’t want your potatoes to sprout!
- Onions and shallots can be used in so many different ways when you’re improvising meals.
- Garlic is another good thing to have on hand. It can add flavor to so many sad packaged goods. Roast it too!
- Cauliflower will last for up to two weeks in the fridge. You may have noticed that I include cauliflower towards the end of the week in many of my meal plans. That’s because it stores so well!
- Cabbage is good for storing, unlike many other varieties of greens. You’ll also get several meals out of a big head of cabbage. I like doing a simple cabbage stir fry with a little bit of tamari and cashews.
- Carrots last a long time in the refrigerator too, as long as you’ve removed the greens. (The greens can be used to make pesto too!) They make a good side for sandwiches and such and you can roast them with oil and any number of spices. Kids love roasted carrots with a little bit of maple syrup. Cut carrots into thin sticks, toss them with oil, and bake them at 425ºF until they’re crispy to make irresistible carrot fries.
- Apples! There are a lot of vegetables that last a while, but not quite as many fruits. But apples will last for a month or two in the fridge. Just be sure to keep them isolated in their own drawer—they release a gas that can cause other produce to spoil.
- Lemons, limes, and oranges will also last for a month or two in the fridge. I recommend buying a bag of lemons that you can use for sauces, dressings, and adding flavor to some of the sad meals you’ll inevitably be eating. Thinly sliced lemons can jazz up roasted vegetables. Toss them in honey for a fun garnish to use in meal bowls.
Where I’m Ordering Groceries
Since my grocery store order didn’t really work out, I went to plan B of ordering online. Which is harder than I expected!
A lot of places sell cases and bundles of foods, but I didn’t want that. I’m going for variety, not 10 jars of peanut butter. I ordered some things from Amazon Pantry, but my order was scheduled for three weeks out, which wasn’t very helpful. I ended up placing a pretty big order with Vitacost for simmer sauces, grains, etc. They’re sold out of a lot, but as of yesterday, they still had enough to make ordering worthwhile.
I also signed up for Imperfect Foods for our produce. But again: my order was scheduled for almost three weeks out and came with a warning that availability would likely be limited. I’ve heard that there are local farms doing delivery too, so I might dig into that possibility a bit when I have the chance.
Some Pandemic Recipes to Make
- This Mediterranean Rotini with Toasted Garlic Panko is mostly made with pantry items. Omit the basil and onions if you can’t find them; add zucchini, eggplant, or any other fresh vegetables you’re able to get your hands on.
- I love these Carrot Walnut Meatballs. You can keep them in the freezer for two or three months and pair them with all the pasta dinners you’ll probably be eating while stuck at home.
- Beans can be added to pasta for protein. This Pesto Orzo with White Beans and Sun-Dried Tomatoes is made with pantry ingredients. Substitute any shape of pasta you have on hand.
- Stock up on gnocchi! It’s excellent roasted. If you have an onion and a butternut squash too, you can make this Crispy Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, or just pair the gnocchi with any vegetables you have access to.
- This Coconut Curry with Cauliflower and Chickpeas is the perfect comfort food dinner and it will make your kitchen smell amazing. I haven’t made it with frozen cauliflower, but I think it would work just fine. You can freeze any leftovers and stretch them out by serving them over baked potatoes.