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Posts from May 2020

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 73-75 - Plugging Away

Just plugging away at using the food I have. My last Dinnerly box dish was beef shawarma, so I've pretty much been eating that and leftovers from the earlier Dinnerly meals, and adding on slightly with what is in my freezer/fridge/pantry. I have a produce box from Imperfect Foods arriving on Wednesday, and the goal is to try not to buy much of anything between now and then to make space. Yesterday was my first non-Dinnerly day all week -- breakfast was a scrambled egg and toast, lunch was tuna in a pita with shredded carrots and sliced cucumbers and a side of onion rings (freezer). Dinner was Budget Bytes pork and peanut dragon noodles, made with ground turkey instead of pork and fresh (not dried) ramen noodles, both from the freezer. There finally seems to be some room in there!

The thing with meal boxes like Dinnerly or Blue Apron is that they are designed for two people, so there are always leftovers. One box basically takes over my entire week. Although that means zero meal planning, it doesn't really allow for much flexibility, and it does lend itself to a bit of meal fatigue. I rarely want to eat something for three meals during the course of a week and I definitely had to do that with this last box. I'll probably keep them on hold for a while and stick to other grocery/food options.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 70-72 - What's My Problem?!

20200525_200701This is a rhetorical question - please do not leave your guesses in the comments.  In the before times, I really didn't have much difficulty regulating my food shopping/consuming in the same way I am now. I'm thinking that it's because it was always easy to just pick up a thing or two, as compared to now, when the goal is to stock up/shop less often/only go into a store if/when necessary. But as one person with limited storage space, there is a very fine line between stocking up in an appropriate fashion and not having room to store things you've purchased, and potentially engaging in food waste. I'm still figuring it out, three weeks in to being back in my apartment. I mentioned in my last post that I got a Wegman's order, but I also got a Dinnerly box on Saturday. This is a very simple and inexpensive meal box containing 3 meals, each meal consisting of at least two portions. Between that and trying to eat through everything I have, I am all set for this week and potentially into next. The only thing I'll really need at some point early next week is fresh vegetables. I even scored some yeast so can (theoretically) make bread when the loaf in my freezer is done.

20200526_195929Despite my bounty, I keep looking at shopping options. I've signed up for deliveries from Butcher Box (meat/poultry) and Imperfect Foods (produce) but keep pushing them back so that I'll have enough room in the freezer/fridge. I'm also looking at Farm to People and Fellow Farmer for produce box subscription options, but I fear that even the minimum will be too much for one person (although I really should be eating more veggies). I also miss my faves at Trader Joes -- if I get some of these delivery options, I'd still want to go there for certain things, not to mention it's the most affordable option for pantry items and more.  And then, like many, I'm looking for variety in my meals, I want to support the businesses I care about, and sometimes I really just don't feel like cooking. For some reason, all of this has become somewhat paralyzing to me, and I'm not sure why. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging through what I have so that when I pull the trigger on the Butcher Box order in particular, I'll have space in the freezer to handle it.

Dinners and lunch/brunches these days included beef and corn quesadillas and pork tenderloin with buttery corn and tomatoes, both from the Dinnerly box, leftover dim sum from Saturday brunch, tomato and cucumber salad, scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese served with crisp bacon, and lots of fresh pineapple and mango. I have one more recipe to make from the Dinnerly box, and then can get to work on the freezer. 

I will also note that this weekend I got an unexpected and generous gift from some dear friends -- a GrubHub gift certificate -- which gives me a bit of flexibility if I don't feel like cooking every single day. Many thanks and much love to J&D. Not as much fun as eating with you, but it'll have to do for now.


COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 66-69 - Cooking for One

Here's the thing about cooking for one -- there's a fine line between having/wanting leftovers and making sure you don't make so much of something that you get sick of eating it. I was a little off-base in my calculations this week. The Indian butter shrimp, delicious as it was, ended up being lunch for 2 days after the initial dinner (and I had halved the recipe), so I was kinda bored of it by the 3rd dose. In some cases, I would have frozen a few portions (like the adult spaghetti-os), but I didn't think it would freeze well, especially because the shrimp were previously frozen. Because I'm making a concerted effort to make a dent in the food I have, I attacked the freezer bit by bit this week. That said, I of course ordered more groceries because, well, because I was running out of some things so I might as well. It was my first experience with Wegman's via Instacart; the other Instacart orders I have done were quite limited, but this was a proper grocery haul. My experience was very mixed. It was easy to get a spot and I was very happy with the quality of the items, especially the produce (I got a perfectly ripe pineapple, much to my delight) but they made a number of weird, non-approved substitutions (garlic pierogies instead of pork dumplings?). Probably won't be doing that again, although now I have some credits from them, so it's tempting. 

A few months back I purchased a Mealthy CrispLid, which effectively allows me to use my Instant Pot as an air fryer. I've been playing with it a little and I'm not sure I see how it's wildly different from the oven, except that it's a bit quicker due to the convection. Anyhoo, Wednesday I made an air-fried chicken sandwich and served it with some frozen onion rings. Due to poor planning I had taken out some hake from the freezer to make air-fried fish and chips Thursday night. I should have made something else with the hake -- partly because I had just had the fried chicken sandwich and partly because when I took the hake out of its package, I noticed it had skin on one side. For some reason (maybe because I had already cut up the potatoes, seasoned the flour and breadcrumbs, and cracked an egg?) I skinned the hake filet (poorly) and went on my merry way. I also realized that a pound of hake is a lot for one person, resulting in leftovers. Friday night I was cranky and in need of some comfort food -- so I made carbonara, one of my go-tos. Saturday morning, I treated myself to an order of dim sum from Nom Wah Nolita. Any other meal I didn't mention (except breakfast, which was either a slice of toast and pineapple or I didn't eat it) was leftovers of something I mentioned above, sometimes with a spinach salad.  Once I finish up all the leftovers I can continue trying to dent the freezer, except I've already made that challenging for myself. I'll explain tomorrow.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 64 & 65 - Iron Chef Freezer/Pantry Edition

20200518_200700As I mentioned in my last post, I need to start making a dent in my freezer/pantry before doing too much restocking, so I made a concerted effort to start digging in. I think I mentioned a while back that in order to make it through all the milk before it spoiled, I made Greek yogurt in my Instant Pot, so breakfast on Monday was some yogurt, fresh mango, and a drizzle of honey. For lunch, I made one of my faves -- a tuna melt, using sliced sourdough from my freezer, tuna from my pantry, scallions, shredded carrot, and the last of the gruyere, with chips on the side. For dinner I thawed some of the frozen scallops I got pre-pandemic from Butcher Box, and seared them to top off some risotto with (frozen) peas and lemon (made with chicken stock from the freezer as well). Before bed I took out the frozen shrimp that I got from Pierless Fish and put them in the fridge to thaw for Tuesday night's dinner. 

20200519_203716Breakfast Tuesday was a quesadilla (like I said, I love a Mexican or Asian breakfast) with the last of my small flour tortillas, lunch was a hodgepodge of a bit of leftover tuna, the last scoop of risotto, and a mixed green salad. For dinner, I made one of my Instant Pot favorites: Indian Butter Shrimp from Melissa Clark's Dinner in an Instant Cookbook, using the shrimp I had thawed, and served it with some brown basmati rice from the freezer that I had also defrosted and reheated. Pro tip -- any time you make rice, make extra and freeze it in small portions. 

Before bed I took stock of the fridge and freezer again, and took out a lone frozen chicken thigh left over from the ones I bought to make chicken shawarma a few weeks back, and left it in the fridge to thaw. . . 

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 64 - Am I Even Hungry?

AnswerI'm trying to ask myself this question more and more. I think I tend to eat for many, many reasons -- sometimes because I am truly hungry, but other times because of one or more of the following: it's "time" to eat, it's comforting, I'm bored, I need a "treat" or a "reward," I'm bummed out, or I really like the taste of something (despite the fact that my body is telling me I am full). Given fewer external distractions, I'm really doing my best to focus on why and how I am eating in any given moment. Yesterday I wasn't really hungry until close to noon. I had an iced coffee, but that satisfied me for a while. At around 12:30 I ate the last of my Junzi food (I'm a huge fan of both Asian and Mexican breakfasts), and then wasn't hungry again until about 6:30. But I wasn't really that hungry -- so I fixed myself a board of cheese, crackers and salami and had some chips and dip, then waited a while instead of diving in and cooking a whole dinner. About an hour and a half later I was still hungry, but once again not hungry enough for a big huge thing, so I had the last slice of pizza in the freezer and a small green salad. 

I'm at the point where my freezer is jammed but I have very little in the way of fresh veggies, and my fruit supply is dwindling. I'm debating between ordering from Fresh Direct or one of the farm services (looking into Farm to People because it is somewhat customizable and will deliver less frequently than weekly) but, as I mentioned yesterday, grocery delivery comes at a premium, and perhaps it's time to head to Trader Joe's and/or the Greenmarket. For the rest of the week, however, I'm playing Iron Chef with what I have available. What will she cook on the first episode? Tune in tomorrow to find out!


COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 62 & 63 - Calm Down and Eat

Those of you who know me (and even those who don't) know that I think about food a lot.  When I go on vacations, I plan where I want to eat in any given destination, engaging in hours of online research. I subscribe to cooking magazines. I have an extensive cookbook collection. For 10 years I had a side hustle of writing about food and cocktails. I have been working from home for at least a few days a week since mid-August 2019, so that isn't particularly novel for me. I cook a good amount generally and have for years, so why does this time feel so different? Why is food such a HUGE, outsized focus? 

Perhaps it's because there's so much less to focus on outside the home. Little to no IRL social or cultural activities, no spin or yoga classes. No vacations to plan or spur of the moment barbecues. No weekends away. I also think there's a component of food and cooking being one thing we actually can plan and control at this time -- so that's what we do. At least where I am, smack dab in NYC, "the hot zone," I have no trouble getting groceries, toilet paper, etc. In fact, given the circumstances, I am rich in options.  As I've readjusted to city life I'm less fearful of venturing out, exploring our new world of to-go cocktails and going to a store or two where I've felt comfortable about their social distance/mask protocols. I haven't yet gone to a grocery store, farmers market, butcher, or the like, but as great as all of the grocery delivery services, farm share box delivery, and restaurant suppliers who are now doing home delivery may be, it's not economically sustainable for me over the long term. That said, I've also been shopping/ordering like a crazy person. At this moment, I could probably survive for a month without grocery shopping. I'd run out of eggs pretty quickly (only 5 in the fridge as of today), but I have canned and frozen produce, meats, my crazy-stocked pantry, some shelf-stable milk, a pile of root veggies and citrus, and a decent amount of coffee. I really have everything I need. 

So my focus right now is to make a mental shift from HOLY SHIT WE HAVE TO LOCK DOWN AND I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO GET ANYTHING to just calm the fuck down and shop/eat like a normal person, like you did in the before times. I am slowly steeling myself to take a trip to my beloved Trader Joe's, or the Union Square Greenmarket, but not until I need a decent amount of groceries. I can survive for a week without eggs -- I have plenty of other breakfast options for now. Takeout is a good option, but no more than once a week, and likely less often would be ideal, for budgetary reasons. I'll just keep managing the fridge/freezer and take some deep breaths. 

20200515_204325Speaking of takeout, I ordered some for Friday night from Junzi Kitchen. They're doing weekly events called Distance Dining that highlight the intersection between Chinese and other cuisines -- Friday's was Vietnamese, and it was a collaboration with the team from Madame Vo. They create a special menu and then do an Instagram Live to tell you more about the dishes and how best to reheat and plate them at home.  I couldn't watch the IG live (I had a conflicting Zoom happy hour), but the food was delicious and gave me Friday and Saturday dinner as well as today's brunch.  The rest of my meals for Friday consisted of yogurt with fruit and honey for breakfast and the very last of the sushi for lunch -- salmon hand rolls. Saturday "brunch" was a slice of pepperoni pizza from Joe's (taken from the freezer).

And I forgot to mention -- earlier this week I made mason jar ice cream, from the recipe in the New York Times. I modified it with a packet of instant coffee and some chocolate chips. It's a great way to use up extra heavy cream, but the texture is definitely more buttery than normal ice cream. Tasty though!

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 60 & 61 - Race Against The Clock

When you live alone and get a delivery of amazing fresh seafood, you have to eat a lot of seafood. Quickly. For the past two days I've been working through the hamachi and salmon (more sushi! poke - but I forgot the scallions!) but wanted to make sure I didn't let any of the (non-freezable) leftovers of other things go to waste, not to mention keeping on top of fresh produce. Once again, this comes down to fridge/freezer management and regulating my shopping. This wasn't really a problem during the before times -- perhaps the need to stock up is a psychological response to the lockdown situation?

Anyway, in addition to improving my sushi rolling skills a bit, here are the food-related highlights of the last two days. First, I discovered, thanks to my local Nextdoor message board, a guy who was offering to deliver freshly baked organic baguettes to your doorstep. How could I say no? I got in touch and at 8:30 Wednesday morning I had two warm baguettes in my possession. I promptly ate 2/3 of the sea salt, onion & garlic one (more like light everything bagel seasoning). I highly recommend them, although I'm not sure of how far his delivery range is. Go to his Instagram and either DM or text him (the number is in one of the photos). Second, I made one of my favorite restaurant dishes with the mussels I got from Pierless Fish -- the mussels from Pearl Oyster Bar, which are made with a white wine, shallot, mustard, and cream sauce. I thought they were damn good and my friend Anthony, who was the former sous chef there, gave his seal of approval when I texted him a photo. The two were a perfect match -- how else would you sop up the delicious sauce!?

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 59 - Here Fishy, Fishy . . .

In the before times, I didn't cook a ton of fish at home. I often will have frozen shrimp from TJ's in the freezer and will sometimes buy some scallops or a piece of fish, but not particularly often. When I was in CT, we ate a good amount of fish -- maybe 2 or sometimes 3 nights a week. It really is easy to cook -- just drizzle with olive oil and your choice of seasonings and pop in the oven until it reaches an internal temp of 145 degrees. You can get fancy and grill or steam it depending on the fish/cut, but it's really fairly straightforward. During the pandemic, many suppliers that previously only delivered to restaurants expanded their services to include home delivery, so I decided to take advantage of that. Plus, I had to be on trend as reported by the New York Times and eat more seafood.

I had seen some people I follow on social media mention Pierless Fish, and their prices were less expensive than the seafood on Fresh Direct. They do, however, require a $60 minimum with a $10 delivery fee on orders less than $100. Even with that, the prices were the same if not better, so I took the plunge. I was super excited about the idea of making sushi -- I have a bamboo rolling mat and had done it a long time ago -- so when I got the order from Sunrise Mart last week, I included some sushi rice in my order. I also have cucumber, avocado and scallions on hand, ready to go. Instead of ordering their sushi packs, I ordered their poke cut salmon and hamachi, thinking I could do some sushi, some poke, and some ceviche. I also ordered some mussels, a fresh hake fillet, and then several frozen items: shrimp, Arctic char fillets, and salmon/swordfish burgers.  Although the order came on Tuesday rather than Monday as scheduled, everything looked great. I got input on how long the fresh items could last in the fridge and decided that yesterday was sushi day.  Lunch was some leftover frozen pizza, and dinner was DIY sushi, including a salmon avocado inside out roll, a yellowtail (hamachi) scallion roll, and a spicy salmon and cucumber hand roll. 

The extra bonus is that I served it on some of my Grandma Cookie's china that I unearthed from my basement storage unit. There are several plain rectangular plates, but also some gorgeous patterned china with black and gold floral designs. Good for a dinner party. Someday . . .

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 57 & 58 - Managing the Freezer/Fridge

As I've mentioned, I'm really trying to take stock of what I have and what's missing before I go ahead any get any more food. Each day, I do a scan of what needs to be frozen/thawed/moved around/eaten quickly/consolidated, etc.  One thing I've been having some challenges with is milk. I put milk in my coffee but don't really use it for anything else. In the before times, I would buy a quart of organic milk and sometimes have to throw some of it out because I couldn't get through it before it went bad. When I ordered from Fresh Direct, I could only get half gallons, so I froze most of it in smaller containers so that I could take out pints when I needed them. I may just switch back to half and half because it doesn't go bad as quickly (calories be damned). Scanning the fridge, I made a scrambled egg and a hash made of  the last of the sweet potato fries cut up, onion, mushroom and scallions (scallions go on everything now, so I can keep up with them), and thew them in a tortilla with refried beans, cheese and salsa. For dinner I had chana masala and brown basmati rice leftovers

Sunday night I also took out some ground turkey with the intention of eating it on Monday, but then an hour later remembered I had a delivery from Pierless Fish (normally a restaurant supplier but now offering home delivery) so put it back in the freezer. I've been pretty excited to order from them -- their prices are great and based on their instagram, their fish looks fantastic. Alas, my delivery slated for Monday never arrived, so I had to find something different for dinner (supposedly my order will arrive Tuesday). Monday's breakfast was a slice of sourdough toast, lunch was leftover chicken shawarma with cucumber, tomato, and feta salad, and dinner was tonkotsu ramen (from the freezer) topped with a 7-minute egg, scallions, and furikake.

Back to the milk. I froze a pint of milk and used about a half gallon (from my newly delivered milk and the last of the milk from the past order) to make yogurt in my instant pot. It's really easy to do, I had just stupidly forgotten that it needs to incubate for 8 hours before going in the fridge to chill, so I had to set an alarm for 2 am in order to put it in the fridge. Sigh.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 56 - Old Favorites

20200510_125116I'm trying to get into the mindset that food is readily available and that I don't need to shop differently than I normally do. At least not yet. I've been working from home since mid-December, and although I usually have social plans that involve food and drink at bars and restaurants periodically, I've been watching my spending. What that means that even in the before times, I was doing a lot of cooking at home. Not quite this much, mind you, but a lot more than I did when I was going to an office every day. Even when I switched jobs years ago, I got into the habits of making coffee and bringing breakfast and/or lunch into the office.  That all is to say that I generally shop for a good amount of cooking. Before the pandemic I often said that I could be trapped in my apartment for at least a month and be just fine, food-wise. At some point I'd be eating nothing but grains and rice, but still, I wouldn't starve.

There are certain things I buy quite frequently, regardless of meal planning: chicken thighs, tortillas, ground beef, frozen dumplings, eggs, milk, bread or english muffins, onions and garlic, cheddar or swiss cheeses (not fancy cheese, which I tend to overeat), scallions (which I and everyone else will apparently never buy again -- see picture), tuna, canned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, lettuce or spinach, black beans, bacon and probably a few more things I'm not remembering. If I don't have those things in my fridge/freezer, I generally will get them on my next scheduled grocery visit. Note: I don't have all of these things right now -- I'm lacking dumplings and ground beef, but I'll get them at some point, freezer space permitting. There are also things I cook fairly regularly, one of which is this NY Times recipe for chicken shawarma. It's simple, delicious, and I always like having the leftovers. I often serve it in a tortilla, or over rice, with a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and feta. That's exactly what I did last night, but I skipped the tortilla/rice and just ate it right off the plate. My only issue was that I had brought some of my favorite spices up to CT -- cumin, smoked paprika, curry powder, and garam masala, and I mistakenly left them there. That said, I did have cumin seeds on hand in NYC, so I toasted them and ground them -- now I have ground cumin! The rest I have ordered from Penzey's, which I highly recommend (and R&N will drop mine off the next time they return to the city).

Also, when I cook, I make things in batches and often freeze portions for later so I don't have to eat it all week. For example, I still have a quart and half of adult spaghetti-os that I can revisit at some point.  Before the pandemic I made a batch of waffles with Trader Joe's protein pancake and waffle mix and froze a few of them. For brunch yesterday, I ate the last of those waffles with strawberries and a side of bacon. Many thanks to past me for making them.