We have, fingers crossed, just 8 days left in quarantine. We all need to be doing our best to only go out when it is absolutely necessary. So all y’all that I see coming back from the grocery store with a single bag of milk or a small bag of provisions for the day – BASTA.
Seriously, let’s think this one out. Of all the places we are allowed to go to, where are ALL OF US going? The grocery store. Do you really want to be visiting the place that holds the highest probability of interacting with someone that has COVID-19? Where people are touching everything? Should you really be handling money with that much frequency? No. It isn’t safe for you or anyone else so cut that shit out.
And I feel you. For inexperienced cooks, stocking up with a week or more worth of groceries is difficult. To be honest, after seeing all the stuff that some of you are making at home, I’m surprised half of you survived long enough to even see a global pandemic. Yesterday, I saw someone post what they thought was a food of their own invention: pancakes. For fuck’s sake.
Here are some tips for mapping out a solid grocery strategy and meal plan to get you through the next 8 days.
BEFORE YOU GO SHOPPING
MAKE A LIST. Except instead of making a list of ingredients, make a list of meals you want to eat. Be sure to take into account what you already have. A list will stop you from making random purchases and help you blend one meal into another. Vary up healthy meals with some comfort foods and cravings you are bound to have. Once you have your list of meals for the week, make your grocery list.
THINK ABOUT LEFTOVERS AND BIG BATCH COOKING. If you are someone that isn’t bored by eating the same thing everyday, lucky you. If you are like me and hate repeating meals, use this as a way to exercise your creativity in turning last night’s leftovers into a brand new meal. Big batches of something like a basic tomato sauce can be turned into shakshuka, lentils, huevos rancheros or pasta sauce. A giant pot of chickpeas can be thrown into salad, cooked into curry, smashed and rolled into veggie meatballs or toasted in the oven and turned into a healthy snack. A few bushels of spinach (or practically any vegetable for that matter) can be steamed, divided and thrown into the freezer to be used later. Try to find a few dynamic ingredients that can be turned into multiple meals and shop accordingly.
STAGGER YOUR PERISHABLES. Think about how long each of your ingredients will last and make a schedule. Purchase vegetables that are going to last a little longer like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, squash, potato, eggplant and carrots. If something is starting to go bad, steam and separate into freezer bags for later use. Don’t forget to stock up on things like onions and garlic to use across recipes. Non-vegetarians should plan for freezer space. Raw fish and shellfish tend to last 24 hours, chicken up to 48 hours and pork and beef between 3 and 5 days in the fridge. Once cooked, most food will stay good for an additional 3 to 5 days if stored in airtight containers.
DON’T FORGET THE PANTRY. Invest in a few dry condiments. If your budget is tight I go by my grandfather’s three spice rule: an herb (like thyme), something savory (like pimentón) and something aromatic (like nutmeg). Don’t forget basics like oil, flours and eggs and simple flavor enhancers like vinegar or soy sauce.
BUDGET. Making a plan is going to help you save money and avoid panic purchases. Additional ways to cut your budget is swapping dry beans and legumes over canned ones, limiting purchases of snack foods that don’t provide much sustenance and buying bulk items that save money in the long run.
WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL THIS FOOD?
ASK A COOK. Local Queen Narda Lepes started a social media movement recently where you can ask what to cook with whatever you have in your fridge everyday from 5 to 7pm on twitter and instagram using the hashtag #teayudo. A lot of other cooks have been fielding questions as well. I have been grabbing ideas on Instagram from Anafe’s Mica Najmanovich, cook Maggie Rovella and Chila’s Pedro Bargero.
LEARN TO PRESERVE. Leafy greens tend to rot quickly. Excess water or being packed too tightly is usually the culprit. Remove any ties, wash and thoroughly dry and wrap in towels to be stored in the refrigerator. You can also steam excess vegetables ahead of time, separate and save in the freezer for later use. Make sure to keep an eye on veggies, if one begins to rot it can spread quickly to other vegetables in your bunch. If something is beginning to turn, pickle it! Likewise, for sauces and salsas vinegar can add extra time to the shelf life.
USE EVERYTHING! Try to throw the least amount of food away. Scraps like bones, trimmed fat, vegetable skins and cheese rinds are the chef’s secret weapons. They can all be used to add extra flavor to soups, stocks and sauces. Leftover leaves from veggies like radish, fennel or beets can be eaten in salads, thrown into stir-fries or turned into pesto. And think twice before tossing mushy fruits. Brown bananas are the BEST for banana breads and softened fruits can be made into jams or chutneys.
WHEN IN DOUBT, GOOGLE IT OUT. Novice cooks often don’t realize just how dynamic most ingredients are. Look for inspiration with a simple google search. Today, food content is abundant but more so in English than in Spanish. I tend to stick away from bloggers with the exception of long time home cooks like Smitten Kitchen. Otherwise, I tend to trust large publications with more rigorous recipe testing standards. My ride or die is BonAppetit, which doesn’t just have excellent recipes but compiles a lot of their recipes into helpful listicles. Munchies has been developing a lot of great video content on Facebook and InstagramTV lately with chefs’ signature dishes. Famed Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi has a killer recipe column in The Guardian designed for home cooks. Munchies also has a lot of great video content on Facebook and InstagramTV with chefs and SeriousEats and theKitchn are excellent resources for people of all skill levels that really want to learn to cook.
This is going to be a long week. Let’s use every excuse to learn and exercise our brains — including in the kitchen. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don’t forget to buy chocolate and wine.