Quarantine Cooking Tips For Health, Joy, & Efficiency
1. Use what you have
We're all trying to make fewer trips out, and make the most of what we already have... and that's grounds for getting creative, trying out new stuff, and being mindful of things with expiry dates. Before you cook, take a look at all your produce and grab the stuff that's been sitting there the longest, to incorporate into something that day. Today I found the last third of an older bag of green beans hiding at the bottom of the crisper, and a giant beet that needed a home (every time Shane has bought beets they've just sat there and slowly gone bad--don't let beets intimidate you! They are good in so many things).
Using what you have will also teach you to shop smarter in the future--maybe you want to pick up a certain herb more consistently or stop buying certain things in bulk.
(Today's cupboard/fridge inspired me to make 3-Bean Veggie Chili)
2. Wash & Peel fruit & veg With Care
Obviously, we're all being more mindful to avoid coronavirus contamination, but I've also noticed, especially with leafy vegetables/herbs, that even organic varieties have a bit more course dirt/sand in their nooks and crannies when you look closely... that makes sense--farmers are meeting higher demands and probably working with fewer employees to minimize COVID-19 spread. Just give everything a good rinse, and give your hands a super wash before you start cooking.
3.Compost In your Freezer
Composting your organic scraps reduces landfill waste and provides free nutrients for garden soil! I avoided composting for so long because I thought it would be inconvenient and smelly. It's actually super easy. Just start a bag or a small plastic container in your freezer, which eliminates any potential smells or wasting of counter space. Then you can:
1. Give it to a friend who gardens or a community garden
2. Pay to have a weekly curbside pick up
4. Start your own little compost area and use it to grow stuff! Here's a convenient guide for getting started.
*I keep a handy container to throw scraps in next to the cutting board when I'm prepping. It saves a bit of time--you're not going to the trash/sink as much.
**Eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags can go in too! (Best to leave out meat/dairy)
4. Pre-Prep meals & snacks
Take a half day to chop up veggies, pre-make sauces or dressings, marinate proteins, and organize your fridge/pantry so you can more readily grab convenient things. I've definitely been experiencing burn out from spending so much time in the kitchen. If you do some chopping ahead of time, you'll cut down meal prep when you're hungriest and scale back the messes you make (unless you're Shane and you have to make a giant mess every time you go in the kitchen). Seal extra veggies in tupperware or plastic bags in the freezer. Make big portions when you cook so you can reap those leftovers and cook less.
5. Cook To Music
Music gets your mind in a peaceful, creative flow with the food you're transforming. It helps you get out of your head. Podcasts can be really great cooking accompaniment too!
6. Skip the oil once in a while
I recently gave up cooking with oil. I know it sounds controversial, but oils are highly processed, and even the healthier ones can raise your blood pressure after just one meal. If you already eat nuts, seeds, avocados, or meat/fish/eggs, there's a good chance you're getting enough essential fatty acids already. You don't have to quit oil altogether to feel the difference. Shane noticed a difference after a single oil-free meal. The cool thing I learned was you don't have to sacrifice texture and flavor in oven baked or sautéed dishes. Just pour a little water or vegetable stock in the bottom of the pan. It actually cooks veggies more evenly and works well in a nonstick setting. To infuse more flavor into your food--add a little soy sauce, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar to the water/stock.
7. Mix It Up: Food Is Versatile
This is a natural evolution from Tip #1: Use What You Have. Even your favorite dishes can be jazzed up with different sauces/seasonings or ingredient substitutions. Don't be afraid to try something new, especially if you're out of your usual stuff. Fusion cooking with your personal taste and style usually begets tasty results. It's how I perfected my Thai-inspired peanut sauce noodles and it's why I will put pretty much anything in a burrito. Today, for instance, I decided our surplus of canned beans and tomatoes would be the base for a veggie chili--and when I found that lonely beet, I didn't hesitate to chop it up and throw it in the mix. The result was a natural meaty color and a subtle balanced sweetness with a tiny bit of crunch. Would it be unanimously received by all chili purists? Probably not, but I loved it. Follow the things you love to new places! It might make your day.
8. Taste/Experiment with seasonings
Your seasoning cupboard is unique to you. Maybe you just have 2-3 staples you depend on and that's all you need. Maybe you've amassed a huge collection over the years that could use a little organization and familiarizing. Maybe you're like me and have something in between the two. It doesn't take too much time to experiment a bit--don't be afraid to taste/smell each spice or a couple of combinations. Toast your spices in the pan before the veggies/sauce go in, for a whole new flavor. Test the spices you never use and google their many properties and flavor uses. Many spices have incredible health properties even when used in very small amounts. When you ramp up the spices, you can cut back the salt, sugar, and oil, too.
9. Pickle things
This quick pickling guide from Imperfect Produce changed the game for me, AND I recently figured out that the sugar content is optional and the salt is flexible. Pickling is cheap, easy, fun, and a creative way to repurpose veggies/herbs before they sit in your fridge too long. Adding a little pickled veg to a salad or stir fry levels up your meal with a zest and crunch, and pickle vinegar is great in sauces/dips. Sometimes I cook a pile of mushrooms in pickle vinegar and use it as the 'meat' of a sandwich. F**k it's good.
*A mushroom banh mi with homemade pickled onions
10. Watch Things & Get Inspired
Cooking is simpler than it used to be. Cookbooks with complicated instructions that take up valuable counter space are less common, and real people are sharing recipes and video tutorials for even the most novice cook. You don't have to tune in to a celebrity chef to learn to make your faves, and the answer to any mistake, ingredient list, or curiosity is always a Google search away. Whatever your cooking level or food taste, there is a person or platform out there whose methods and personality suits your needs.
Some of the stuff that inspires me:
Epicurious is a website and app where you can search recipes by diet preference or ingredients-on-hand, and every recipe is reviewed by other home cooks, so you can get a real sense for how it will turn out.
The Avant Garde Vegan w/ Gaz Oakley is one of my favorite plant-based youtube channels, not just because he's adorable
Tabitha Brown on TikTok is hilarious, approachable, and making great, fast, vegan food.
Best of Vegan on Instagram has everything you need right in the IG posts to make delicious plant stuff. The best part is, you can comment your questions/issues and they'll get back to you in real time.
Mina Rome on Youtube has a great channel too, with a lot of easy, convenient ideas
Simnett Nutrition is a thorough, informative no-oil, plant based resource!
...OR, just google anything you want to try--there are a billion ways to make your next meal more healthy, efficient, fun, and fulfilling. Comment here or message me if you have questions!