Pop Culture Care Package, Pt. 11: Cooking In The Time Of Covid-19

So you’ve got seven pounds of beans...now what?

Darling Dames Nationals, we bring you a very special guest issue with a beloved returning Guest Editrix, none other than Cassie Niespodziewanski. You may know her work as half of the dream team continuing to bring you updates about the lads of One Direction. Or you may be familiar with her brilliant cook-along videos on Instagram. If you don’t know her yet, well, today’s your lucky day! Take it away, Cassie!

With lockdowns increasing all over the world and most people self-isolating (flatten that curve, baby!), many a kitchen cabinet overfloweth with beans, rice, and pastas to last a few weeks. But even as so much comes to a halt, the grocery stores are still open and will remain so! - Thank you to all grocery store workers! -  From what I’ve seen so far, while the dried goods shelves are barren but for a few boxes of lasagna noodles (although, we certainly have the time for a sheet cake made of pasta right now…), the produce section is fully stocked.

We do need to limit our trips to the grocery stores, and be conscious of the hours at which we go, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have fresh produce in your kitchen to help make the most of those dried goods. We all know the merits of a Plain Plate of Noodles With A Little Bit of Butter, but wouldn’t it be so much better if that butter were browned and you added a little lemon? I’m here to help you find and store the produce that will last longest between visits (or deliveries!) to the store, and I’ll provide recipes and resources for what the heck to do now that you are the proud owner of a new-born baby’s weight worth of dried beans. 

Fresh Food That Lasts At Least Two Weeks:

  • Hearty or bitter greens - the tougher the leaf, the longer they last, just be sure to keep them dry. Buy two bunches: one for raw eating - smoothies, a kale caesar, add to quinoa salad, and the other for a giant pot of soup or stew.

  • Lemons & limes - Citrus kept in the fridge can last more than two weeks. Add to your water, make a fresh margarita, a vinaigrette, squeeze on, oh, just about everything you make. 

  • Parsley - dry when you get home from the store and treat it like flowers -- trim a bit off the ends and put in a shallow cup of water in fridge

  • Cilantro - this doesn’t do as well in the fridge, even with the parsley treatment, so you can chop the leaves and tender stems up and freeze in a tupperware or in ice cube trays.

  • Hearty stemmed herbs like rosemary and thyme - If you're buying cheap staples like beans, rice, pasta these pricier fresh herbs are worth the cost for flavor if you can swing it.

  • Romaine lettuce - Buy the big whole head and wrap it in wrung-out paper towels in your crisper.

  • Onions, garlic, leek, shallots, green onions (!!!) - alliums keep in the pantry for a good long while and make any dish feel more complete. Sneakily full of nutrients and benefits. Year round I keep at least three onions and two heads of garlic in my pantry.

  • If it grows underground, buy it: carrots, turnips, beets, potatoes of all kinds. These are wonderful roasted simply with a little olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. And po-tay-toes? As our darling heroic Samwise Gamgee would say, “boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew”.

  • Hot peppers - jalapenos, serranos, poblanos pack flavor, heat, and freshness while lasting a good while in your fridge

  • Bell peppers - these do ok in the fridge for a few days, but cut into strips or diced, they freeze pretty well. They won't be crisp but work for sofritos, curries, shakshuka, etc. 

  • Ginger - fresh ginger is an MVP pantry staple. I always have a large hunk of it on hand. You can leave it in a cool, dry place and it will last about a week, but frozen, you simply take it from the freezer, grate a little, slice a few medallions, or chop off a thumb and Bob’s your uncle. Fresh lemon, honey, ginger tea, add it to chicken and rice soup, add it to curries, grate it with some soy sauce and scrambled eggs and put on rice. 

  • Tomatoes don't have a long shelf life, especially because you shouldn't refrigerate them (really!). So what should you buy to make: pasta sauce, chili, stews, braising liquid? 28oz cans of peeled whole tomatoes in sauce.You can just use the tomatoes and save the sauce for future use, or use both. But these have the least amount of added preservatives that can mess with flavor.

  • Heavy cream - because of the high fat content and ultra-pasteurization, heavy cream lasts forever in the fridge.You can have a little dollop of whipped cream on your coffee, as a treat! Or use for a decadent macaroni & cheese, fettuccine alfredo, or to make frosting for your stress baking.

  • Finally, the accouterments I couldn't live without: soy sauce, kosher salt, whole black pepper, good hot sauce, at least one good vinegar (white/red wine, rice wine, apple cider), good olive oil, unsalted butter, and a solid hunk of parmesan cheese.

Ok, I have all that, now what? 

Bon Appetit’s newsletter, instagram feed, and website have pivoted hard to helping you make the most out of these pantry staples.  Here’s a roundup they did of eighty-nine (89!!!) recipes requiring only 5 ingredients or less! The humble bean is food editor at-large Carla Lalli Music’s favorite food, watch her show you how magnificent beans can be.

NYTimes Cooking, while a paid subscription, is also dedicating themselves to rounding up recipes that work well with all the pantry and produce staples listed here. $5 for four weeks of recipes seems like a good deal for these exact times. If you do sign up, be sure to sign up for their newsletter that may help take care of some of the agony of ‘too many options’ for you.

Ina Garten, queen of accessible gourmet, is dedicating her Instagram to pantry-staple recipes that also hold up well to substitutions. I would say this is also a perfect time to try her Perfect Roast Chicken

Tan France just posted a video of his recipe for dal, a red lentil stew that’s an Indian food staple. It would be a great time to try red split lentils if you haven’t, and dal makes such a wonderful main with rice or bread (like his roti or tortillas), or with a fried egg on top like I love to do.

If you’re in the mood for a cocktail (or even a non-alcoholic delight), my wonderful friend Josh, who is a cocktail connoisseur and a sound and video supervisor at a Chicago theater, will send you a cocktail recipe based on what you have on hand. Send him a DM on his instagram (linked above) and for the way- less-than-a-fancy-cocktail-price of $5, he’ll get you mixing like a pro!

There are inevitably going to be times where the idea of cooking a full meal is simply too much. Please consider turning to your favorite local restaurants if you can. Services like Grubhub take a commission on all sales, and aren’t exactly being transparent on how they are dealing with those commissions in this crisis. Even before the restaurant shut-downs swept across cities, restaurants sometimes offered incentives to order directly through them. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to know that 100% of your dollars are going directly to that restaurant and its workers. So be wise! I’ve also been referring to this Atlantic write up from Amanda Mull on the ethics of ordering food right now.

If you’re stuck at the store and don’t know what to get, need tips on a good vinaigrette, need substitution advice, or just want to talk food, I’m always available on Twitter and Instagram where I’m either posting about what I’m cooking and drinking or posting photos of my dog ZouZou.

Thanks for reading! Every time you Every time you tell a friend to subscribe, this newsletter’s Official Dessert Person Claire Saffitz gets to read out loud the ingredients list.