COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every routine of daily life from how we work (Zoom, Zoom, Zooooom!) to how we socialize (hello, Facetime!) to how we buy groceries and cook. The silver lining of all this mayhem? According to Slate writer Rebecca Onion (nom de plume?), “This terrible, weird, cooped-up time is also a chance—at least for some of us—to make fundamental changes in the way we think about home cooking.” (Her April 1 article is a thoughtful meditation on cooking in times of food scarcity.)
As we make fewer trips to the grocery store, stocking up on bulk items and root veggies to make our haul last two weeks rather than a week or three days, a new landscape emerges in our pantries and our fridges. New neural pathways are formed as we are forced to off-the-cuff not only dinner but lunch and snacks and dinner again. As New York Times food editor Sam Sifton wrote in March 25’s NYT Cooking newsletter, “It’s good to cook this way—without recipes, with only ingredients and a running idea of how you might use them—particularly if you’re cooking a lot and right now you probably are. Cooking this way is the translation of ideas into action and, because it’s inexact, it rewards your personality particularly. It results in food that is inescapably yours.”
It was pre-end times when we asked Chronogram staffers to send in their favorite meals to cook at home. Like everyone, by now, most of our staff has gradually transitioned into freestyle mode. So think of these less as direct recipe suggestions and more as meal inspo for your #quarantinecuisine (a real Instagram hashtag with over 16K posts already), tasty nuggets of what’s possible, seeds of ideas, left to germinate in the dark, humid corners of your mind until the next time you find yourself leaning against the open door of the refrigerator, spaced out, waiting, as Sifton says, “for the muse to arrive with her gift.”
OK, I’ll go first. Stir fry is my time-tested, drawing-a-blank, delicious dumping ground for fridge leftovers. First of all, it’s actually BETTER if you make it with leftover rice. Second of all, what doesn’t go in a stir fry? Nothing. But if you’re just back from the grocery store and you’re flush on fresh vegetables (fancy!), here are some classics: onions (duh), broccoli, carrots, peppers, and snap peas. But anything from asparagus to kale to mushrooms works. The real ticket to making any stir fry actually taste good, whatever else is in there, is fresh garlic and ginger, oh, and soy sauce. This is a great way to upcycle leftover chicken or steak. Fry up your veggies in a good high-heat oil, like sunflower, peanut, or coconut for a tropical twist. In a separate pan (re)heat your rice on high in hot oil, leaving to crisp for a couple minutes on each side. Then combine.
You can also combine your veggie stir fry with rice noodles, soba, udon, or regular pasta. Or save on the carbs, just eat the veggies. Basically, do you. And if you have a curry paste at home—red, green, Korean, or Thai—add a dollop for extra flavor. And crushed peanuts, walnuts, or sesame seeds make for an extravagant garnish when you need some quarantine luxury.
Believe it or not, we had two different staffers say this is their go-to dish to cook at home. Random, right? But delicious! Office manager Molly Sterrs uses this recipe and says of this dish, “Makes me feel like I’m on vacation.” Depending on what’s in your fridge, instead of chicken, you can also make it with shrimp, scallops, fish, or go meat-free, and double up on the veggies (bell peppers are a good pick). Sterrs usually serves hers over spaghetti squash or cauliflower rice, “because they both soak up the sauce perfectly.” Editorial intern Abby Foster is more of a traditionalist, serving her coconut lime chicken with basmati rice. She says of the combo, “It’s very tangy but also creamy and delicious!”
Upstate House editor Susan Piperato heartily endorses Italian cooking titan Marcella Hazan’s pasta with tuna, black olives, and tomatoes. The recipe isn’t on the internet (*le sigh*), but think of it as a prompt to order her canonical book just to have. Here is a similar recipe, here is one from Hazan with tuna, tomato, and anchovies, and here is another of hers with cream and tuna.
Rural Intelligence advertising administrator Paula Boyajian gives her pasta a Greek twist, using chili flakes to make her tomato sauce spicy and adding chopped Greek olives and a sprinkling of feta.
Production manager Kerry Tinger is used to cooking a lot, with two hungry boys. One of her go-to dishes is the hearty Three Sisters Stew, which takes its name from the traditional Native American interplanting of corn, beans, and squash. Ready in just under two hours, this stew offers a full meal in one dish with veggies, pork, broth, and a mix of sweet, salty, and spicy flavors. Get around the leftover blues, when you freeze extras to eat at a later date.
Sales manager Lisa Montanaro is all about the chicken pot pies, which she first got into this past winter. “They are so delicious and creamy,” she says. “I use store-bought pie crusts to save time, but the filling, that's all me!” Pro tip: stock up on a couple of pie crusts and leave them in the freezer: They’re good for everything from pot pie to pie pie to quiche. While the classic chicken pot pie recipe calls for a good mirepoix of carrot, celery, and onion—SURPRISE!—you can put whatever you want in there. Save that broccoli from jaundiced despair, or that bell pepper from flacid tragedy. No chicken? Why not turkey? Or beef, or tofu, or or or.