As a lover of food and cooking, I’ve been interested to see what others are doing in the kitchen to cope with the coronavirus, and especially what people buy when they get a chance to shop… Also what they don’t buy.
If you had asked me before the pandemic what I would panic-buy, I’d probably have said wine, cheese and chocolate. But the reality was different. I bought staples like pasta, oats, and flour, and coconut milk in cans (in case we couldn’t get our usual dairy or oat milk). I bought dry beans, and even dehydrated veggies, just in case fresh veg became unavailable. Now that the panic has worn off (in a relative sense, anyway), I am the slightly befuddled owner of a 5-lb bag of tomato powder and an 8-lb bag of mixed dried peppers, which I’ll have to figure out how to use up.
The single worst panic-purchase I made was a huge canister of that orange cheddar powder they put into mac-and-cheese packets. I was terrified of not having cheese, you see, and… I panicked. Still, I am secretly looking forward to neon-orange mac and cheese like I had as a kid.
The most desirable items for me now are fresh veggies and fruits. I’ve given up grapes in favor of apples, which store longer without spoiling. I only allow myself one grocery trip every two weeks (or if possible, three), during which I buy all the fresh veg I can, then blanch and freeze it.
So far, my cooking has not deviated drastically from the type of dishes I normally prepare, except that I’m doing a lot more carbs and rationing out the veggies. I used to build all our meals around veggies, and throw in a handful of pasta. Now it’s the reverse. That in turn means smaller portions, or inevitable weight gain.
I got an Instant Pot last year, and have used it semi-regularly since then. I expect to use it a lot more in the coming months, given all the dried beans I purchased.
The pandemic has been a good opportunity to work through all the odd bottles of wine we have sitting around, and drink them up before they go off completely.
And then there’s the baking. An unexpected consequence of the pandemic (in the US anyway) has been the revival of interest in homemade bread. Flour and yeast have been in high demand, and on my last visit to the store, the baking shelves were empty. I have three precious packets of yeast which I am hoarding. In the meantime, like many others, I’ve tried making my own sourdough starter.
I chose Nancy Silverton’s recipe, which involves submerging a cluster of grapes in the flour and water slurry. (I sacrificed the last of my grapes to the cause.) You’re supposed to wait seven days, but I lost my nerve and took the grapes out on day 5.
I’m not the only one who had this idea. Here is the top #sourdough post right now:
A sourdough starter is like a Tamagotchi–it forces you to take care of it constantly. I anxiously checked mine every day, and got nervous if it stopped bubbling or separated or smelled stronger than usual. In fact the scent is not unpleasant at all. It’s like sourdough bread, just a lot more so.
I’m using it this evening to try to make pita breads, to serve with yogurt dip, canned hummus and defrosted greens. Wish me luck.
Paul S said:
It probably do my health a world of good if I was locked down at your place. Enjoy the fruits of your cooking and stay safe!
Thanks Paul. I hope you can get some fruit and veg soon! The best thing for the immune system : )
I went a little crazy with the grocery shopping about a week before the pandemic hit. I wonder if it’s mostly women doing this? I will say, toilet paper didn’t even occur to me, luckily my husband bought some just in time.
Anyway, one of my best purchases was living lettuce. I got lucky and found butter lettuce at Sprouts on sale for a dollar per head, so I bought a few, tore off the outer leaves to make enough salad for the week, then planted the rest. They’re still growing in my little container garden.
For produce, you might want to look into local restaurants. Here in Tucson, the Congress Hotel is selling groceries like cheese, milk, eggs, a bag of fresh local produce for $7, wine, beer, tequila—you know, the basics. 🙂 What’s nice is, you can pick these up curbside after paying online and they put your groceries in your trunk. It’s a win-win situation, because restaurants are now stuck with groceries they can’t use up in time. I just got three pounds of cream cheese for six dollars—so cheap!— which I used to make orange cheesecake and raspberry cheesecake ice cream.
So right about the baking pandemic! That’s my big regret, not buying a ton of bread flour. I thought I had plenty at the house, but apparently not. Now you can’t even get flour from the King Arthur Flour website. However, you can use pancake mix for a lot of things. On a whim I decided to make scones with preserved orange and lemon rinds (that’s another thing I’ve been up to), and they were truly fantastic.
Now I’m hoarding butter and eggs…and keeping them out of my husband’s sight so I can use them for baking. 🙂
On the yeast issue, we’re in the same boat. I wonder what would happen if I used less yeast than a recipe calls for (total of 1 teaspoon for 3 loaves of bread)? Could I just let the pre-ferment go for longer? Any advice on that?
Thanks for the comment! To the extent that women have been more responsible for shopping and cooking, yeah, I think we are more likely to have foreseen a lack of supplies and stocked up. I gave the Long-Suffering Husband a list for his Costco trips, but we still didn’t think of everything, like batteries or Brita filters.
That’s a great deal on cream cheese! Something I’d love to have in the house. I’ll keep a look out for local restaurants. There is also produce company nearby that is now selling to individuals, because their restaurant business is so much reduced.
Your baking sounds delicious, especially the preserved orange and lemon rinds. I’ve been zesting my citrus and freezing it, but I’m not sure what to do with it.
As to using less yeast, I am not sure. I suspect that commercial yeast dies if you let it sit too long at room temp, though it can certainly go longer than most recipes suggest. You might try using less yeast and adding in some sourdough starter to bump it up, and also letting it sit longer. I am wary of wasting my flour though, so I worry about experimenting too much. I would try that with something like flat bread where the big rise is not as essential.
One thing you can do with lemons is preserve it in salt or sugar. It’s super easy and really lasts a long time in the fridge: https://toriavey.com/how-to/how-to-make-preserved-lemons/
I find the orange rinds can be a bit bitter if I don’t boil them a few times first. Grapefruit didn’t work at all for me. Maybe it has something to do with the local variety? I don’t know. All I know is they’re yellow in the outside and pale on the inside.
But try both the sweet and salty lemons. I’ve done this with regular grocery store lemons and it works just fine. It’s great to have both sweet and salty around, perfect for those times when a recipe calls for a squeeze of lemon but you don’t want to run to the store.
Alas, I have no sourdough starter. I’ve never been a big fan of sourdough bread, so I never got into that. Plus, it felt like a major commit…somewhat like owning a pet.
I tried making pizza with less yeast, about half as much, believe it or not. That turned out okay. The problem was the gluten free flour I used for half the recipe…a bit disappointing. Still better than a frozen pizza, but disappointing. Oh well. I still have enough bread flour for bread, and that’s what I’m saving it for.
Anyway, do try the preserved lemons. I don’t even mess with picking off the pith. It’s super easy, and useful to have a jar in the fridge.
Thanks for the tip on the lemons! And yes, sourdough starter is like having a pet. I enjoy the flavor, so I am persevering since I’m home anyway. But it’s a lot of work.
Well, you sure won’t go hungry. 😉 Food looks good!
Thanks, you too!