Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Apocalypse Kitchen: Eating Well Helps

Food is one of my love languages, so here in our time of crisis, I've turned to my kitchen to prepare comforts for myself and my family. Even though I didn't learn to cook until I was in my thirties, I've become a pretty decent and adventurous home cook in the intervening years. I never would have expected to take so much pleasure in preparing food for my family, but I really really do.

I don't always get to cook the way I want to. We're busy people, and often have to plan a meal based more on speed of preparation and facility of reheating than on taste or nutritional value. Since I teach for a living, the amount of standing time is usually a factor, too--I can't handle something that requires too much on-my-feet-time when I've just been on my feet for eight hours already. I'm getting old, y'all. The feet can't take it!

But without commutes and evening commitments, we have more time. Teaching from home is *way* easier on my poor little feet, too.

I've collected a fair amount of ambitious kitchen equipment that doesn't usually sees much use in the hurly burly of my lightspeed life. Standing mixer, fancy blender, food processor, insta pot, etc. Now I finally have time to play with all my kitchen toys!

We also have a good collection of spices and herbs, bought a jar at a time over the past few years as we tried out culinary experiments. And we managed to get our deep freeze and pantry stocked with meats and other useful things before the crisis hit.

All this together means that we're eating well during the Corona Crisis!

Here's what we've been having:

Week One: The Dinner Plan: We comforted ourselves with current favorites, mostly from The Dinner Plan cookbook by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. I've been a devotee of this cookbook for a year or so, ever since taking a class with one of the authors at A Southern Season (a fancy kitchen store near us that recently closed). 

It's a great recipe book for a busy household. Recipes are categorized and tagged with helpful headers like "staggered" (for meals that can be served in shifts without loss of taste), "make ahead" (for when you can't cook tomorrow, but you still want to eat), "one dish" (when mess matters as much as taste), and "extra fast" (when speed is your top priority).

We also love this one because the dishes are diverse and interesting enough to please my husband and me, but not so fancy or alien that the picky twelve-year-old won't eat them.

Sheet-Pan Fajitas, Japanese-Style Fried Chicken, Turkey Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce, Crunchy Pork Cutlets, and Beef Stew in a Hurry found their way to our dinner table in the first week of school from home and work from home.

Each can be prepared in a half hour or so (though it always takes me longer the first time I make a new recipe). Even after a year, there are still some wonderful sounding meals in these pages that I haven't yet tried making, and we've only had one or two that didn't have the family excited.

Week Two: Curry and Experiments:  When we moved into the second week, I pulled out 660 curries by Raghavan Iyer, a cookbook I bought shortly after I married my husband and found out that he loves Indian food. Even though that's "been a minute" now, I haven't made even a third of the recipes in this book yet. 

Our youngest, as mentioned, is picky. So, in the past, we've mostly made curries on "just us two"
nights--which didn't happen all that often. I made Yogurt-Almond Chicken, something I make a couple of times of year and never fails to please us. We were prepared to give the kiddo a frozen pizza or something if she didn't like it, but she surprised us by enjoying it, too.

A plus side of making curry is how wonderful it makes the whole house smell. It's high prep, requiring grinding of spices and blending of marinades, but well worth it!

I have come to enjoy making something more complicated. On top of pleasing our palates, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and pride in my kitchen skills. Indian dishes often have me reaching for seldom used kitchen equipment as well, which is like getting to play with new toys.

Because trying new things is part of how I stay interested in cooking, I pulled out Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion, the same authors who put together The Dinner Plan. I bought it at the same time, but hadn't yet used any of the recipes inside. They always looked just a little too fancy for the youngest Bryant, or too long in prep time for a week night.

But my parameters have changed! So, we've now tried the Chicken Pot Pie recipe (delish!), Miso-Lime Chicken Lettuce Wraps (tasty, if less wow-ing), Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo (the kiddo LOVED these), and Sausage and White Bean Gratin (a new favorite for the adults).

We have plans to try Chicken and Rice with Ginger-Scallion Sauce and Japanese Style "Meat and Potatoes" in the next few days, assuming our next foraging trip to the grocery store can fill in a few ingredients.

A lot of things are hard about staying at home, even for a group of introverts like us.

I'm so grateful to have this way of taking care of myself and my family. When the house smells of cooking spices, we know that happiness follows.

What are you eating during this time at home? Were you already a cook? Are you learning? Do you lean toward easy comforts or daring experiments when you need comfort and distraction?

I'd love to hear about your apocalypse kitchen in the comments!


  1. Everything sounds so good! I have always loved to cook. Now that all five of us are home, it can be challenging to find something everyone likes, but thank goodness the kids' taste buds are maturing as they get a little older.

    Let's see..last night and the night before we had kalua pork. Tonight it will be stuffed long hots. My husband and I enjoyed salmon three nights ago while the kids ate leftover Chili Mac casserole. Last week I made a delicious peanut butter pork tenderloin that was a huge hit. I can't think of all the meals we've had right now, but I've been pleased with the apocalypse kitchen so far.

    Good luck with your continued kitchen experiments and fallbacks! Stay safe.

    1. Oooh. The Kahlua Pork sounds good! I have no idea what a stuffed long hot is, though. I'll have to look that up.