I decided to keep my “Cooking Through a Pandemic” series going through the rest of the summer. While it seems like much of the country is back to business as usual, we definitely aren’t there yet, and won’t be until school begins again. So I’ll have at least one more of these posts to finish things out in August, assuming school does return as planned.
In the past month, we’ve had another birthday (mine), plus Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, so we’ve had some special meals. We’ve also enjoyed some family favorites, including one of our summer staples, homemade tomato soup.
We’ve kept up with our “quarantine cookies” every Sunday, and made a few other things, as well, including a birthday cake made by my girls, zucchini bread, pies for Father’s Day, and strawberry shortcake for Independence Day:
We have another birthday coming up in the next month, plus a few other special family days planned…it’s always nice to have something to look forward to!
Time for a new recipe! I made this a few weeks ago, and it was an even bigger hit than chicken piccata, which everybody here loves, so it’s definitely going in the permanent collection!
2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin medallions
Salt and pepper
Flour for dredging
4 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup lime juice
2 limes, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp. capers
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge in flour. Heat large skillet over medium and melt 2 Tbsp. butter with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Pan fry chicken until brown and cooked through, about three to four minutes per side, and keep warm. Replace butter and olive oil about halfway through, and finish cooking chicken.
After all the chicken is cooked, deglaze pan with wine. Add lime juice, lime slices, rosemary, capers, and salt and pepper, and simmer for several minutes. Pour over chicken and serve with rice.
Like pretty much everything else this year, Summer School 2020 isn’t what it was supposed to be. This was supposed to be an Olympic year, and we were really excited about Tokyo 2020, and all of the fun things we were going to do that involved learning about Japan and Japanese culture. But you have to roll with the punches, so I came up with a new theme to tide us over until next summer, when we’ll hopefully have our Olympics-themed unit. Instead, this year, we’re going to do something very hands-on and practical, and learn how to cook!
Instead of our usual reading selections, I’ve come up with a list of cookbooks that we’ll be using this summer. Most are old favorites of mine (and not listed is the giant binder of family recipes I put together myself), but the first one is a recently-published book that I bought for this summer. I thought that having a kids’ cookbook would be a helpful jumping-off point for me, as far as figuring out where we should start, and what cooking basics I should cover first.
Here we are, almost three months after everything started shutting down due to COVID-19. At this point, some places are starting to open back up, but not like they used to be, so things definitely aren’t back to normal. I’m especially feeling that lack of normal, as I’m still only going grocery shopping once every two weeks, and pretty much no where else, and that’s hard. But cooking is fun, and something normal I can do, so I’ve continued to do a lot of it. Here’s a look back at some of the meals we’ve been enjoying in the third month of lockdown life (including one amazing dinner from Beast Craft BBQ!):
We’ve kept up with our baking, too. Sunday afternoon “quarantine cookies” are definitely a thing! We’ve had fun trying all sorts of different combinations of baking chips, but the base recipe is always the same. I’ve also made some other things, including blueberry muffins, and even quite a few cakes…a carrot cake for our 19th wedding anniversary, a red ale strawberry cake for Pentecost, and a red velvet cake for Trinity Sunday.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other special treats we’ve enjoyed in the last month, too. Eli’s Cheesecake kindly sent us an original favorites cheesecake sampler, which was a huge hit with everybody here, and I was blown away by the lovely gesture! We also indulged in another Chicago favorite, Frango mints…since we couldn’t go to Chicago, I had an extra little bit of Chicago sent to us!
I can’t say I care much for shopping every two weeks, and having to plan our meals so far ahead and in such great detail, but I do have a routine, so there is that. My refrigerator Tetris and pantry Jenga games have also reached a whole new level of expertise, so that’s fun. And we all enjoy having some extra-special meals to look forward to!
I don’t know if I’ll have another “Cooking Through a Pandemic” post next month…things will maybe be closer to our old normal by then, but who really knows? And even if they are, I think some things have changed for us permanently!
So it’s been almost two full months since we got the call that Moose’s school was moving to distance learning. I figure that’s about the time our period of isolation began, even though it wasn’t fully official until a week or so later. Anyway, I’ve continued to do a lot of cooking, and I’ve continued to try to make some family favorites as well as some new things. Most of what I’ve made so far has been pretty popular (although the pork chops weren’t a huge hit), and we’ve repeated a few meals that were especially enjoyed (cheese and chorizo quesadillas are a new favorite!).
Baking has also been a favorite pastime…we bake cookies almost every Sunday afternoon. I also made a loaf of bread (not really from scratch, because I used frozen bread dough, but there was some effort!), plus a chocoflan for Cinco de Mayo, and a cake for Ladybug’s birthday.
New this month: We were actually able to support a few businesses, as well! We did carryout from two local favorites (The Wine Tap and Beast Craft BBQ), plus mail order from two others (Portillo’s and Eli’s Cheesecake). It was nice to have a small break from cooking on those occasions, because I’ve been going pretty much non-stop for the last two months!
I’m going grocery shopping on Thursday, and I have a whole new lineup of meals that I hope we’ll all enjoy!
It’s the rare Taco Tuesday that falls on Cinco de Mayo! To celebrate, I made beer-battered fish tacos with a spicy sauce from scratch. Now, it might not be the most elegant-looking member of the taco family, but it certainly was delicious!
In some ways, our lives during the COVID-19 shutdown haven’t changed a whole lot. For example, we didn’t go out to eat very often before, so that no longer being an option doesn’t have much of an impact. I have, however, been trying to cook more of our favorite meals, because it’s something I can do for my family during a time when it feels like there’s not much any of us can do, and that makes me feel like I’m being somewhat helpful. Throw in a couple of birthdays and holidays, and we’ve actually been eating pretty well for the last month…here’s a look back at some of the highlights:
Of course we’ve been baking, too, both for the aforementioned birthdays and holidays, and because it’s fun, delicious, and keeps us busy!
What have your eating habits been like since life turned upside-down?
My new favorite assembly line style dinner is shawarma. I found a great quick marinade from Wild Garden at our local Asian market that makes it super easy to prepare, and it even comes in both chicken and beef varieties (we’ve tried them both). Sometimes we have pitas and sometimes flatbread, and I always provide a variety of toppings from vegetables and homemade tzatziki sauce to feta cheese and tahini, so everyone can choose what they’re in the mood for and make their own.
Here’s a look at creations from two different shawarma nights:
I’m really enjoying adding some new international dishes to our menu, and this one is definitely a favorite!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my grocery shopping habits, how they’ve changed over the years, and how they’ve influenced how I cook.
When Ryan and I were first married, our number one priority in buying groceries was sticking to a (small) budget. And really, that continued to be the driving force behind how I planned meals and wrote my shopping list for at least a decade. I shopped sale ads and clipped coupons. I was shopping at our local grocery store chain for the most part during that time, because Walmart Supercenters weren’t a thing in St. Louis back then, but if I could have shopped there, I would have. I did whatever I could to spend as little money as possible.
In recent years, while I still have a grocery budget (who doesn’t?!?), it is bigger, and I have more flexibility in what I can buy and where I shop. I do the bulk of our grocery buying at Walmart (now that we have Walmarts with groceries), because it’s both convenient and helps me save money. But I’ve added in some stores that I visit at least semi-regularly, which has really changed how I cook.
One store that you would have thought I would have shopped at during my more budget-conscious days was Aldi. Apparently, that would have made too much sense. I have to confess, I used to be a snob about Aldi. I thought that they sold items of lower quality. But a few years ago, when a new store opened in our area, I decided to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised! Now, it’s my go-to store for cuts of meat that I either can’t easily find other places (lamb, I’m looking at you!), or can’t afford at other stores (like the standing rib roast we had at Christmas and the tenderloin I prepared for Ryan’s birthday).
The other store that we’ve been visiting regularly for the last few years is the Asian market. Actually, “Asian” really doesn’t begin to cover it, because they carry other ethnic food items, as well. But we’ve encountered so many new items, some we’d never even heard of before, and that has really broadened our culinary experiences. Now one of our favorite things to do is just wander through the store for a while, looking for new things to try!
Here’s an example of some of the meals we’ve enjoyed in the last week, all influenced by my current grocery shopping habits. There’s gyros (which I’ve made before, but only after Easter with the lamb leftovers we sometimes have, because that was the one time of year I knew I’d be able to find lamb pre-Aldi!) made with lamb from Aldi and served on pita bread from a local bakery that Pan-Asia stocks. A new recipe of Moroccan lamb tagine (again made with Aldi lamb) appears in the center, prepared with some spices with which I don’t usually cook. And finally, beef shawarma, again served on pita bread from Pan-Asia, and also prepared with a marinade and topped with tahini I found the last time we wandered through the store.
I’m so glad I was both able to branch out and try new stores, and that I was finally able to let go of some (wildly incorrect) preconceived notions about where I shop…we’ve definitely benefited from both!
Today is Ryan’s 40th birthday (and Epiphany), so of course I had to make a special dinner!
He hadn’t yet decided what he wanted for his birthday dinner when I ran across whole beef tenderloins on the cheap at Aldi, so I made an executive (chef’s) decision, and bought one, telling him he could choose what I would turn it into.
He picked Beef Wellington, which I’ve only made once before. I think I did an excellent job this time, from the trimming to the preparation, and the sides of mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, asparagus, and sautéed mushrooms were the perfect accompaniment!
It really was a lovely dinner (if I do say so myself):
Ryan requested birthday pie for dessert, so I made the peanut butter pie that has been a new favorite this holiday season, and our family’s favorite s’mores pie. It’s hard to see, but the candles even “spell” out 40!
Thus endeth another season of festive meals. I’m both relieved and sad that I won’t have another fancy dinner to make for a while…as of now, the kitchen is closed!