Learning to Cook Under Quarantine: 9 Things I've Made Recently

Sunday, April 12, 2020

What are you up to under quarantine? I know we're all sick of being asked that, but I, for one, am a little surprised how I've been spending my time: I haven't been reading. I've barely been watching TV. I've been working & playing Words with Friends. And in between, I've been cooking.

I've never enjoyed cooking, & for the most part, I never needed to do much of it. Mike cooks at home, & we live in a restaurant-heavy area so until now, I got by on eating what he makes, going out, & ordering in.

But we're not going out or ordering in right now, & Mike can't be expected to do all the cooking under quarantine - so here I am, learning to cook, & feeling surprisingly enthusiastic about it.

Here are a few of the best things I've made lately, including links to recipes & behind-the-scenes tips where applicable. Tell me: Whatcha makin'?

1. Steel-Cut Oats
I had steel-cut oats in my pantry because I bought them a long time ago, for another recipe, thinking they were rolled oats. I had no idea what to do with them until @PaigePlates posted about them.

Inspired by her & using The Kitchn's instructions, I let these sit overnight & in the morning topped them with homemade blueberry/mango compote, sliced bananas, pepitas, & a little maple syrup.

Tip: Make a week of oats in advance by storing them in mason jars or other small containers. In the morning, add some extra water or milk, then reheat them & top as you like.

2. Apple Crisp Muffins
When quarantine began, Mike & I had so many apples, the little ones that come in big bags. We couldn't eat them all, so I started making muffins... then made them three Fridays in a row.

This user-submitted recipe from Food.com comes with a photo that looks sad & unappetizing, so trust me when I tell you that these are, in fact, incredible & moist & soft & sweet & delicious.

Tip: Dice your apples up teeeeeeny-tiny. The recipe calls for "three cups," which is about three to five apples, depending on their size.

3. Cheesy Quinoa Risotto
I've never tried to make actual risotto, which I think is supposed to be pretty difficult? This risotto-style quinoa, though, is anything but - & it tastes very similar, but is healthier!

I used Not Enough Cinnamon's recipe for a mushroom-based version, but I'm allergic to mushrooms - so I left those out & instead mixed in sauteed peas, broccoli, & butternut squash.

Tip: This reheats well if you add a little water to re-hydrate the quinoa. Microwave it on high for one minute, stir, & microwave again for two minutes.  

4. Rigatoni Bolognese
I confess that I had no idea, until making this, that "bolognese" just means "meat sauce." What I had actually Googled to make this was "add meat to a jar of sauce." Look, I told you I don't cook...

I used The Kitchn's instructions for browning ground beef then loosely worked from AllRecipes.com how-to for enhancing my sauce. It tasted delicious & the leftovers were even better.

Tip: Per my friend Lindsey's instructions, it's important to add salt & spices every step of the way - when you brown the meat, when you add the sauce, & again when you add the pasta. 

5. Salami Fried Rice
This is another recipe from my friend @PaigePlates; check her out! Her version used fresh vegetables & thick-cut salami, but I made mine with a bag of frozen veggies & thin deli salami.

I didn't have soy sauce at the time, so it probably wasn't quite as flavorful as it could've been, but it was still really good, so I'll definitely be making it again.

Tip: Leave it in the pan for longer than you think you need to. I actually returned mine to the pan to continue cooking it because the first bites were a bit mush. Really fry that rice!

6. 18-Minute Matzah
Matzah is unleavened bread eaten for Passover - basically a large, thin cracker. I usually just eat the boxed kind, but I couldn't find it online this year, due to the demand for it, so I made my own.

This recipe from BrokeAss Gourmet (via ReformJudaism.org) is quick & easy. It takes a lot of flour, but it makes six to eight huge crackers we've been using for flatbreads & matzah brei.

Tip: The recipe calls for ⅔ cup of warm water, but I found I needed more. I used 1 ¼ cups on my second batch of matzah, which turned out much better than the first.

7. Matzah Brei
I used my homemade matzah to make matzah brei, or fried matzah - a traditional Ashkenazi Passover breakfast meal. Tori Avey's simple recipe calls for just matzah, eggs, milk, butter, & salt.

To make a French toast-like version, I added sugar, Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon, & maple syrup. I know the pic looks gross, but trust me when I say: You need to make this immediately.

Tip: You can also make savory matzah brei, just changing up the last step & your topping. Try cheese, veggies, za'atar... lots of options! 

8. Sephardic Almond Macaroons
I wanted to make Passover-friendly cookies but didn't coconut for traditional Ashkenazi macaroons. Good news: Sephardic macaroons are made with almond flour, which I had at home.

This recipe from Jewish Food Experience makes cookies that are crunchy outside & chewy inside. Atop each, I placed a chopped almond... that I'd plucked out of a bag of trail mix. Gotta be creative!

Tip: The key to these cookies it to keep the batter really light & just barely mixed. I have an electric mixer, but hand-mixing seems to be a better option here.

9. Coconut Macaroons
A few days into Passover, my order of shredded sweetened coconut arrived, so I made Ashkenazi macaroons - & damn, these are way better than the boxed ones from my childhood.

This recipe from The Kitchn doesn't include sweetened condensed milk, as some do. I burned the bottoms (gotta buy a silicon mat), so I cut off the burnt bits & dipped 'em in chocolate to cover it up.

Tip: My friend Erin suggests that if, like me, you don't have a silicon mat or parchment paper, you can try doubling up on baking sheets to keep the bottom of the cookies from getting too hot. 


Annnnd there you have it. I may keep doing these little round-ups if I continue to make dishes worth sharing! I'd love to know what you're making &, of course, to hear your suggestions for & links to easy home recipes you love.

One more thing...

If you live in CLE, check out Love Local CLE, a project of Central Kitchen. They've partnered with local farms to create weekly bundles of fresh produce, meats, & more, originally intended for now-closed restaurants, & their no-contact pick-up means there's no risk of busy grocery stores.

This week's bundle, $72.50, includes chicken thighs, breakfast pork patties, kielbasa, French bread, spinach, carrots, apples, eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, oats, kraut, & mustard. There's a vegetarian bundle, too.

Tell me: Are you cooking under quarantine? Still ordering in? What do you miss most about going out to eat? And what else should I make?!

Disclaimer: I am one of a few local bloggers who was asked to spread the word about the new Love Local CLE project in exchange for one complimentary bundle, which I will receive later this week. More to come on that - but as always, all opinions are & will continue to be my own!

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