Food and Drink

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. 

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 55 - Making Room

Yesterday was one of those days where I did a bit of taking stock -- does anything need to be eaten soon? How much room is in the freezer? What did I order already?  Let's start with the last question first. I have two food orders coming my way. First, a relatively small Fresh Direct order, with some dairy (milk, half & half, yogurt, feta), a bit of produce (tomatoes, mangoes, avocados, lettuce, shallots), some random pantry items (rice for risotto, cannellini beans, flour, crackers), and a box of rose (cheap and cheerful!).  Second, I placed an order from Pierless Fish, which ordinarily is a wholesaler for restaurants but is doing home delivery with a minimum order of $60. Their seafood prices are much better than Fresh Direct, and even with the $10 delivery fee on orders under $100, I think I made out pretty well. That's coming on Monday and includes a bunch of frozen items, a pound of mussels, and some sushi-grade fish. I have been craving sushi but haven't yet ordered it -- I somehow got the idea in my head that I was going to make it. I have had a rolling mat and rice paddle for years, but haven't made sushi in ages (I also have to find them). I placed another order that arrived yesterday from Sunrise Mart through Mercato and got my favorite fresh ramen -- the Tan Tan Spicy Ramen from Sun Noodle (my other major craving that I haven't yet satisfied), some sushi rice, mirin, and nori, so now I'm ready to rock when my fish arrives.

Knowing I have a bunch of things coming, I decided to make some room in the fridge and freezer. First, I took some chicken thighs out of the freezer to thaw for Saturday night, then for breakfast, I had a quesadilla with homemade refried beans (from Tuesday's nachos) and cheese topped with salsa. For lunch, I took the last of the lettuce and made a "kitchen sink salad," by taking a bit of this and that from what was lingering in the fridge: a slice of pepper jack, some pepperoni, chopped up sweet potato fries, some chickpeas, shaved carrot, fried shallots (I have a jar of these in the cabinet) and some pepitas.  For dinner I continued my quest to empty the freezer: I ate half of a Trader Joe's frozen chana masala with brown basmati rice, and a Trader Joe's malabari paratha. In the before times, I often kept a frozen TJ's Indian meal of some sort lying around. I'm a big fan of the lamb vindaloo with a handful of spinach. They're great for times when you have zero interest in cooking, although I like the garlic naan better than the paratha, if anyone's keeping score.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 53 & 54 - Impulse Control or Lack Thereof

20200506_201045So I was plugging along on Tuesday with a fridge (and freezer and pantry) full of food. For lunch I had leftover Dinnerly kung pao chicken with jasmine rice with some mediocre but easy scallion pancakes I made last weekend, and I was all set to make this Smitten Kitchen sheet pan meatballs with crispy turmeric chickpeas, but as dinnertime approaches, all I wanted was Thai food. So I caved and ordered from Uncle Boon's -- khao soi and fried chicken laab. I'm so glad I did -- I missed Thai food so much. Yes, I had some of the very tasty Watcharee sauces, which are good, but khao soi is my ultimate favorite, and Uncle Boon's version is so good. Being back in the city, there is much more temptation to order in/take out -- there are so many options. I'm going to try to limit myself to once per week, max.

20200507_200313Yesterday I had leftover Thai for lunch (just as delicious the next day!) and then went back to the ground turkey that was scheduled for Tuesday's dinner. Before ordering Thai, I had double-checked the expiration date on the turkey (all good until the 9th) -- this is crucial for meat and I always err on the size of freezing something if I don't think I'll use it quickly enough. I also revisited that sheet pan meatball recipe and realized that I was not at all in the mood for that, so instead I made a Skinnytaste inside-out turkey cheeseburger with pepperjack and air-fryer sweet potato fries with Everything but the Elote seasoning from Trader Joe's (it's also amazing on popcorn, FYI). I used 1/4 lb of turkey for the burger, wrapped another 1/4 lb as a burger patty and put it in the freezer, and froze the remaining 1/2 pound for those meatballs or in lieu of the ground pork in this recipe I've been eyeing for spicy-sweet sambal pork noodles.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 52 - Trying to Tone it Down

20200505_203329As I mentioned yesterday, I ordered a LOT of food from Fresh Direct, including things I don't usually buy or keep in the house -- some healthier than others. For example, I don't ordinarily go through a lot of fruit, so when I shopped in the before times, I'd get some cut pineapple, maybe two bananas or two apples, a grapefruit, and potentially some clementines. This would last me for about two weeks. In my pandemic FD orders, I got a bag of clementines, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, and apples, and I have to say, I've been eating a log more fruit. There is nothing as tasty as a perfectly ripe mango. I'll be getting those again for sure. I've also been getting things I don't normally keep in the house because I love them and will eat more than I should, namely chips (in this case Cheetos, tortilla chips "for Cinco de Mayo," and potato chips), and cheese. I also got some candy (Reese's peanut butter cups), which is something I just don't usually have on hand. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but one a day hits the spot. After this round, no more chips and candy. The cheese hasn't been a problem -- I'm eating normal portions of it, so that's good. 

I'm trying to get into the habit of scanning fridge daily and trying to determine what needs to be eaten first, so I can plan around that on Plan to Eat, and what needs to get frozen so it doesn't go bad.  Today I put half of my milk in the freezer because all I use it for is coffee and I can't get through it before it goes bad.  The freezer is your friend, but it's important to keep track of everything in there, lest it turns into a black hole. Gotta eat at least some of it before buying more! I label containers with masking tape/painters tape and a sharpie with the contents and date on each.

Going back to toning it down, there's one thing I'm trying to ramp back up -- my exercise routine. I have been using Aaptiv, an audio workout app that I have been using for quite some time, for most of my workouts, and managed to do ok when I was up in CT. It was waaaay too hilly to run, but I went on decent walks most days, and sometimes did strength training, yoga, or going up and down the stairs from the road to the lake. Since I got back home, I have gone running a few times (with a mask) but allergies are making that challenging right now, so I've primarily been doing bodyweight-only strength training, yoga, pilates, stretching, and meditation, and in the before times, I've done all of that plus spinning and strength training in the gym where I have access to dumbells and kettlebells. Who knows when I might have access to those again. I have also tried a few Zoom workouts, both through ClassPass and with Circuit of Change -- both were great. There are also tons of free workouts on Instagram -- haven't tried those yet. I just ordered some kettlebells because I feel like I need an extra boost -- stay tuned. 

Yesterdays meals (Cinco de Mayo themed): Breakfast taco (egg, hash brown, bacon, pepper jack, salsa, scallion, cilantro) for late breakfast/brunch,  Margaritas and nachos with homemade refried beans and leftover steak (pictured above) for dinner.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 51 - Pantry and Planning

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Now those of you who know me know that I like a well-stocked pantry in normal times. I don't feel comfortable without it. I had an amazing pantry at my disposal in CT and frankly, I think I have a pretty incredible pantry in my studio apartment as well, considering I have a fraction of the space. After my week of fried chicken, pizza, spaghetti-o's and Dinnerly box meals (kung pao chicken w/rice, crispy shrimp tacos, and sesame ginger beef with string beans) (there were some salads in there as well, never fear), I continued to utilize my Fresh Direct groceries along with my pantry/freezer stash. One tool that I use (and have used even in the before times) for grocery lists, recipe clipping, and some meal planning (to the extent I do it) is Plan to Eat. It's not free (maybe $20/year?) but it's worth every penny as far as I'm concerned. 

Since late last week, I have been using it to meal plan, partially just to ensure I'm not letting things go bad that need to be cooked and partially so I don't overcook -- I really feel like I went a bit haywire there with the VAT of spaghetti-o's that I had to eat more of than I wanted because I had no room in the freezer for leftovers.  Now that things have calmed down, I think it will be helpful to see when I really need more food, what exactly I need, and how to best incorporate what I have. Another thing to note as I talk about my planning/eating is that my breakfasts are generally minimal -- a slice of toast and some fruit; fruit and yogurt, etc. Sometimes I don't even eat breakfast because by the time I get around to it it's already 11:30 and I might as well wait a tad longer and have lunch instead. On weekends I'll make more of a brunch. At one point prior to the pandemic, however, I had made waffles from the Trader Joe's protein pancake/waffle mix and had frozen a few waffles -- so I had a waffle with strawberries and raspberries (2nd FD order) Saturday morning, and a full on spinach, mushroom and cheese omelette with hash browns (shredded Trader Joe's potatoes from freezer) and bacon on Sunday.

Last Friday night, I used the cod that arrived that morning to make roasted cod with tomato cream sauce (I had gotten grape tomatoes in both my Fresh Direct orders, plus heavy cream from the spaghetti-o's recipe) and served it over sauteed spinach (from first FD order; had also been using it for salads and omelette filling). Weekend dinners were Dinnerly stir-fries. Monday I cooked a Butcher Box NY strip from my freezer (used Plan to Eat to remind myself to thaw it), with creamed spinach (gotta use that cream and spinach up), sauteed mushrooms (from 2nd FD order), and some herbed horseradish butter I had in my freezer. Amazing. Lunch that day was the small bit of leftover cod atop some white rice. The leftover steak will be repurposed as well -- stay tuned!

COVID-19: A Food Diary Days 30 - 50 -The Blur, Relocation, and Recalibration

Twenty days. Yeah, I got bored writing. Or I lacked motivation.  Or I felt like our cooking was sort of uncreative.  Delicious, for sure, but not super-interesting. Some highlights? Grouper with asparagus and fish generally -- I have gained confidence in my ability to cook all kinds of fish (olive oil, S&P, any other seasonings, bake to 145 degrees, viola!). Spaghetti and meatballs with freshly ground meat for the meatballs. Carbonara. Scallops in a shit-ton of butter. A lot of cucumber/tomato/chickpea salads. A honey dijon yogurt dressing. Some really good fucking steak (thank you, Dellapietras). More perfect roast chicken and potatoes. And then . .  .


After 6 weeks living with my dear, generous, patient, hospitable, and amazing friends, we drove back into the city, and they dropped me off at my apartment. Of course, the first thing I had to consider was food. Mind you, I had done some stocking up on non-perishables before I knew I'd be in CT for that long, so I started with some frozen steaks and scallops from Butcher Box, some frozen veggies, a bag of rice, extra pasta, a few cans of beans and chickpeas, some canned tomatoes, a container of black bean soup, extra olive oil, and shelf-stable milk. But of course, I ignored/forgot about all that when I went online to place a Fresh Direct order. I had heard nightmares about not being able to get a delivery spot, things being unavailable, etc., so jumped on an open slot when it came up. I packed up the cart with all kinds of things, which would arrive the day after I got home. 

Before they went back to CT, R&N stopped of to drop me off a care package from Dellapietra's -- they apparently make fried chicken. So I had a 4pm delectable fried chicken "snack" and took stock of my kitchen. Fresh Direct was coming mid-day the following day, so I was pretty set until it arrived, with the exception of my morning coffee -- I didn't think it was necessary to bust into the shelf-stable milk for one cup of coffee when I had a half-gallon coming a few hours later. As the evening wore on, I was trying to figure out if I really wanted dinner. Turned out I did -- I ordered a pizza from Joe's to welcome me home. I ate two slices, kept two slices in the fridge, and froze the rest.

20200426_210155Saturday morning I went to Lena, a small coffee place around the corner and got a cortado, and had it with a slice of sourdough bread (from the freezer) for breakfast. Then the food arrived -- I had to figure out how to shove it all in my already typically full pantry (answer -- overflow on the kitchen counter), but I was well-set. Several of my meals that week consisted of salads, fried chicken, and/or pizza, but on Saturday night, I made an enormous pot of Adult Spaghetti-o's, a recipe I was eyeing for a while. I froze a bunch for later, but that was in heavy rotation the first week as well. 

Oh -- I forgot to mention -- I was so concerned that the Fresh Direct order would fail that I got one of my Dinnerly boxes delivered for the following Tuesday (I subscribe to that and Blue Apron, but basically cancel them every week; PS, let me know if you want me to send you a free box), so I cooked through those as well. I placed a much smaller Fresh Direct order for this past weekend, mostly produce and protein, and now I am taking a huge breath before figuring out how to recalibrate my food purchasing going forward. More on that tomorrow.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Days 28 & 29 - The Weekend!

20200412_185945Is it the weekend? Who knows, really. I came to the realization this weekend that I'm not really writing about pantry cooking. True, we are utilizing our pantry and freezer, but we have also been able to get ample groceries weekly including fresh fish, dairy, produce and goodies (dumplings! sushi! frozen pizza! artichoke dip!). What this means is that we do not really have to be super-creative, but it also means that these posts may get to be somewhat boring. This weekend we dug into that artichoke dip (great with homemade matzo, although I think that was Friday), and we had the sushi as an appetizer Sunday night. 

Saturday night we had a snack/appetizer of "bang bang" shrimp (frozen fried shrimp - from Whole Foods), and dinner was bacon cheeseburgers (ground beef from freezer) and rosemary garlic oven fries. Sunday brunch was an oven frittata/baked eggs with mushrooms and tomatoes with turkey breakfast sausage (from freezer) and mimosas (why? why not?! Easter, maybe?), and dinner was pasta with lobster (another grocery goodie), corn and scallions.  Lobster and corn makes me think of summer, which seems like ages away -- who knows what life will be like then? I didn't have a real recipe, so here's what I did. Sauteed a small shallot and the whites of two scallions in a bit of olive oil until fragrant, then added frozen corn and butter. A LOT of butter. While the pasta cooked (fresh, so pretty quick) added in picked lobster meat (thanks, Stew Leonard!), salt and pepper, and added cooked pasta to the "sauce" with pasta water as needed. I think lemon zest might have been a nice addition, but I didn't think of it, and maybe a touch of basil if you're in the mood.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Days 20 - 27 - This Weeks' Highlights

20200404_182438Um yeah. The daily thing didn't work for me this week. Oops. Instead, here's a highlight reel. On Saturday, R&N went out for groceries, both to Stew Leonard and to Halas Farm, so we were pretty flush this week. We dipped into the freezer and pantry for a few items, which I'll point out. Over the past few weeks we've had some discussions about foods that we miss, so from this weekend's haul, we had a crazy Saturday night banquet courtesy of Stew Leonard: sushi, fried chicken, and mac & cheese. It totally hit the spot.

Sunday night we had oven-roasted salmon and pan-grilled zucchini, each seasoned with a pre-made spice blend. They have a bunch of them in their pantry, as do I, but I tend to forget about them. I'll definitely have to re-visit them when I return home.  On Monday, we defrosted a steak from the freezer (I can't remember what cut it was), but N seasoned it with a delicious chimichurri spice blend before pan-grilling it. 20200406_203530We served it with some pre-made (Stew Leonard) stuffed mushrooms and a salad (we generally have a salad -- I've stopped mentioning it). On Tuesday we made steamed cod with green curry sauce using one of the jarred sauces from the pantry. I served it on top of some sauteed spinach and alongside garlicky green beans. On Wednesday, we had lentil pasta with a marinara sauce (jarred) and chorizo (from the freezer). None of us had eaten lentil pasta before and it was good -- maybe not quite a match for regular pasta, but infinitely better nutritionally (protein! fiber!). Thursday N made baked chicken breasts seasoned with a spice blend, corn on the cob, and pan-grilled zucchini (I'm eyeing the leftover corn to make this pasta with corn, bacon, and scallions), and last night we had pan-fried breaded pork chops (thawed from freezer) with a side of sweet and spicy brussels sprouts with bacon.

20200408_110020The pattern has been to buy fish at the store to eat early in the week and dive into the freezer for meats -- when we went back to the city a number of weeks ago, R&N visited their amazing local butcher and stocked up. Luckily they also have freezer space. At home, I have ordered meat in bulk a few times using Butcher Box when they had one-off specials. It has been delicious, but their regular subscription was too much for one person with a tiny freezer. That said, this whole ordeal has made me consider re-joining Butcher Box (not to mention figuring out how to fit a tiny chest freezer into a studio apartment).

The other big highlight of the week was Passover, or lack thereof. When this is all done I want to have a proper seder, or at least seder food, but I was able to at least make matzoh -- given the olive oil I'm sure it's not technically kosher, but it was easy and hit the spot.


COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 19 -- Snacky Time

20200406_104507I know, I'm still a few days behind. Maybe I'll catch up later, maybe I won't. Like I said, trying to be very forgiving to myself around here -- mental health is the #1 priority at the moment. Friday was a "typical" quarantine day. I started out with some mini croissants for breakfast, and then decided to break into the canned goods again. I made a simple chickpea salad with a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas, a small minced shallot, a diced tomato, and diced cucumber. I dressed it with a simple lemon garlic bottled vinaigrette that R&N like to keep in the house. I wasn't feeling like a full-on lunch, so made sort of a snacky lunch: cheese and salami with crackers and a bit of the chickpea salad mixed with a little za'atar (like I said, well-stocked pantry), followed by an apple with peanut butter.

I had arranged for a video chat catch-up with a friend and was inspired to make a daiquiri to sip on during our virtual happy hour. The only rum we have in the house is a spiced rum, so I went with that. I used 2 oz rum and and ounce each of lime juice and simple syrup and it turned out a bit too sweet; need to adjust the proportions next time. I nibbled on some of these amazing mixed nuts (I think I'm going to get some of these when I return home).

We rounded out the day with some spinach and cheese ravioli with browned butter, garlic, and parmesan cheese served with grilled (on the grill pan) zucchini. I have started recently to keep a package of ravioli of some sort in the freezer -- it's a nice change of pace from plain dried pasta and there are many fantastic options available at Trader Joe's (I'm a big fan of their corn, burrata and basil ravioli) and elsewhere if you can't find fresh ones near you.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 18 - Variety

Generally when I cook at home, I sometimes fall into ruts -- leaning on the same recipes over and over, buying the same staples, making a huge batch of something and eating it all week. Being in someone else's home provides a window into someone else's eating and cooking habits. We are definitely on the same page with regard to having a well-stocked pantry, for sure. I have noticed that my pantry at home leans a bit more international -- I always have coconut milk and various Asian condiments, and I have way more beans (I love them, R doesn't eat them so this is a bean-free zone). One thing we have that most everyone has in their pantry is canned tuna. I love a good tuna melt, but sometimes you need more variety. 

My father introduced me to Flour Bakery & Cafe in Boston, where they make an excellent curried tuna sandwich (this link has recipes for other sandwiches too, bonus!). It has become a great option for when regular tuna doesn't quite cut it. I skipped the raisins and sprouts (don't have them) and used shallot instead of onion. I served it up with a side of pickles and chips -- a perfect lunch.

The rest of the day consisted of a small cheese omelette for breakfast and lamb chops with roasted broccoli for dinner. Yes, I forgot to take pictures. Sigh.