I’m not going to lie: when all of this started close to a month ago, I was, like many people, under the assumption that a shelter-in-place mandate would mean stocking up on essentials that would allow us to live in confinement (more or less) for weeks, maybe even months at a time. But before I had the opportunity to get on the hoarding bandwagon, the FDA quickly came out with clarification around the safety and practicality of grocery shopping, advising folks to only buy enough groceries to last about a week at a time. (Obvious disclaimer: a weekly grocery outing should only be considered if you’re healthy, not showing any symptoms related to the virus, not immunocompromised or especially at-risk — and complying with the current regulations to wear a mask.)
In theory, scheduling a well-thought-out grocery trip every one, perhaps two, weeks prevents the hoarding of popular staples, ensuring there is enough food for everyone, while also allowing home cooks to plan meals that actually fall quite a ways outside of the pantry-driven menus we were all envisioning back in early March. Now, I said in theory, mind you, because clearly not everyone is following this advice, which has led to stores in my area to being almost constantly depleted of common pantry and freezer staples: flour, rice, grains, dried and canned beans, peanut butter, frozen veggies… And I’m sure the same is true where you are, too.
Happily, however, that leaves plenty of produce and protein for the (mindful) taking — and with a little careful planning, those staples can be stretched over the course of a week or more, too. Below, I’ve compiled a list of 10 readily available ingredients we’re shopping for weekly (or bi-weekly) and some of my favorite recipes to go alongside.
Quarantine Shopping List: Ingredients To Shift Our Pantry From Panic Mode To Comfort Food
- Alliums, Aromatics…and Citrus // Onions (red/white/yellow), shallots, garlic, green onions and/or leeks, plus woody-stemmed herbs that tend to last a little longer in the fridge, like thyme, rosemary, oregano and bay. (Obviously dried versions of those are easy and tasty, too, if you have them on hand.) Oh, and I’m throwing citrus fruits on this list, too. I mean, sure, they’re abundant enough that you could bake lemon bars until the cows come home, but what I really love them for is finishing savory dishes and adding a bit of brightness in the absence of fresh herbs. Whole lemons and limes will keep in a zip-top bag (or a Stasher bag) in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.
- Cruciferous Veggies // These guys can actually last weeks in the fridge. Yes, they might get a little wimpy, but it’s nothing you’ll notice drastically if you’re planning to cook them anyway. (If you’re anxious about the virus living on your fresh produce, cooking isn’t a bad idea, anyway.) Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and brussel sprouts all hold up relatively well inside a produce bag in a crisper drawer. If the cauliflower develops a few little brown spots, just trim them off.
- Root Veggies // Potatoes (all kinds, waxy and starchy), sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets. We store our potatoes in a basket on the floor of our pantry (well away from our onions, which sit in another basket a couple of shelves up — for some reason the two don’t get along too well in close proximity). Carrots are washed and trimmed and stored in the fridge in an airtight container, covered in water (change it every couple of days) if you want them to be really snappy for snacking. Same with celery, which is not a root veggie, I realize, but it’s great for mindless snacking — I’m doing SO MUCH MORE of that these days — and is a staple of savory cooking as part of mirepoix.
- Frozen Corn // For some reason, even when the veggie section is completely wiped out at the market, there still remains at least a few bags of frozen corn. Lana snacks on it straight from the freezer, but it also blends up into an easy, silky soup and makes for a summery pasta any time of year.
- Smoked and Cured Meat // These are hit or miss at our store. Sometimes the shelves are bare, other times they’re fully-stocked. Bacon seems like it’s almost always available, and a little goes a long way in terms of satisfying flavor. One of our simplest pleasures around here is a breakfast sandwich for dinner. A fried or poached egg, a little of whatever cheese we happen to have around, hot sauce, truffle oil and a slice or two of bacon. (Here’s an actual recipe for almost that exact sandwich — forgive the pictures, it was early in my blogging career.) Hot dogs are a wildly exciting item in my house, too. Lana prefers hers plain on a bun, I like mine fried in an open-faced sandwich with an egg up top. Speaking of which…
- Eggs // OK, this is tricky because I’ve heard that eggs are all but impossible to come by in some places and fully-stocked in others, albeit with a purchase limit. As a household that typically eats a lot of eggs, buying two dozen at a time isn’t hoarding — it’s routine. That said, in the vein of leaving enough for everyone, we’ve cut back on our egg consumption quite a bit. We’ve swapped Lana’s daily breakfast of a poached egg, toast, and fruit for a bowl of savory oatmeal, and we’ve saved our eggs for truly special endeavors — like a simple pastry cream that we used for an impromptu fruit tart in one instance and then layered with strawberries and crushed cookies, parfait-style, for desserts over the course of a week. (Don’t even ask me when I decided that eating heavy dessert for a week straight became OK, but this is my life now.) Other than that, we’re stretching our eggs by choosing recipes that only average a single egg per-person. Three-egg scrambles and omelets are out; breakfast sandwiches (again, this one) and easy ramen bowls are in.
- (Traditional or dairy-free) Heavy Cream, Half & Half, Greek Yogurt and/or Sour Cream // All of these have been more reliably stocked at my local market than plain ol’ milk, and in many instances you can use them similarly in cooking and baking recipes. I use Greek Yogurt and Sour Cream almost interchangeably in dips (like the Greek Ranch on these zucchini fritters) and creamy Instant Pot casseroles (think mac and cheese). And they can even be thinned down and folded into muffins and cakes, too, if you don’t have milk on hand. We use half & half in our oatmeal every morning. I cook the oats with water and then add only a splash of half & half for richness at the end. I also reach for half & half or cream when making creamy soups, or even mashed potatoes — just dilute it a bit with stock if the recipe normally calls for milk.
- Pasta // Amazingly, I’ve found the shelves to be flush with pasta of all shapes and sizes. That said, while I would eat pasta for every meal, I don’t suppose I should. But it makes an excellent backdrop for some of the other ingredients here. Leftover pasta also seems to be pretty crowd-pleasing as lunch leftovers around here, which means one less meal to make start-to-finish.
- Ground Meat // While the fresh sausage case is almost always empty, there are plenty of ground meats in the butcher case that can be easily flavored to your liking — even homemade breakfast sausage is a cinch to make. And with ground meat, a little bit can be stretched to go quite a long way. Obvious faves for almost any ground meat of your choice is meatballs, but we’ve found these Lion’s Head Meatballs to be a particularly satisfying use for ground pork (the link is behind a paywall, but you can sign up for a free trial to the Cook’s Illustrated site, which I would consider a worthwhile endeavor during all this cooking at home) — and the leftovers can be sliced and fried like SPAM for breakfast. Just add hot sauce.
- Tempeh // If you’re vegetarian or eating mostly plant-based and you want to switch up your protein, tempeh is a great choice — and I’ve found it easier to come by than tofu, which is now non-existent in our local stores. This is a great starter recipe (follow the note to briefly boil the tempeh first — it results in a much milder product). And Eating Bird Food is a good site to start with if you’re looking for more tempeh recipes, too.
BONUS: Flax Meal or Ground Chia Seeds // if you’ve jumped on the baking bandwagon but you’re finding yourself being stingy with eggs, consider using a flax egg or chia egg. Mind you, this works best for relatively forgiving baking recipes — simple cakes, muffins, quick breads — or even fritters or meatballs, where the egg is a binder and nothing more. Basically, you’re not going to make an angel food cake with flax meal, but in a pinch it’ll get you across the finish line for simpler projects that just call for a whole egg or two. Bonus: both still seem relatively easy to get online.
And finally, here are 10 recipes we intend to make (or, in some instances, have already been making on repeat) with these ingredients on hand.
Pandemic Cooking: 10 Recipes To Make With Grocery Store Ingredients We Can Actually Find
1) Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Apples, Bacon and Balsamic
(via The Pig & Quill)
This is about as involved as a recipe of mine gets, but it truly makes the most of just a few ingredients, and the gnocchi even uses whole wheat flour, which I’ve found more readily available than all-purpose. If you can find ready-made gnocchi, sweet potato or otherwise, feel free to take the shortcut.
2) BBQ Tempeh Bowls
(via Running on Real Food)
These employ so many of the ingredients discussed here: tempeh, cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes — even frozen corn could be subbed for the fresh. And the rice is optional.
3) Mexican Street Corn-Inspired Loaded Sweet Potatoes
(via Chelsea’s Messy Apron)
I love a loaded potato situation for an easy dinner, and a loaded sweet potato? So much the better. These are topped with something akin to Mexican street corn, which always gets my vote. (Assuming you could use charred frozen corn here — our Trader Joe’s carries it.) And if you’re the kinda person, like me, who just likes having baked-off potatoes or sweet potatoes on hand, this is my favorite method.
4) Instant Pot Hamburger Helper
(via The Pig & Quill)
The strategy here is borrowed from my Instant Pot Mac and Cheese recipe, but this is amped up with loads of nostalgic flavors. If you shared the same weakness as me for the boxed stuff, this is the quarantine dish of your dreams. Ground beef, onions, pasta, cheese and sour cream — and some basic pantry spices. So easy. I could easily stand in the kitchen and eat the whole pot.
5) Brussel Sprout Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce
(via Naturally Ella)
This was put on our menu for the week as soon as I stumbled across it. I love the short ingredient list, and it sounds like comfort food heaven — while still being mostly plant-based. Erin also offers an alternative using roasted cauliflower here. Both sound phenomenal.
6) Korean-Inspired Ground Beef and Kimchi Bowls
(via The Defined Dish)
This is an item I’m almost certain I’ve alluded to before, but the recipe is so worth another mention. Really easy, REALLY flavorful. All the taste of the take-out I’m missing so much these days. (Because yes, we’re supporting local businesses when we can, but we’re also still trying to limit our exposure.) You can buy cauli rice frozen, if you can find it, or blitz it yourself in the food processor. We pick up our kimchi at Costco and it lasts ages in the fridge. Such a bright addition to bowls, grilled meats, fried rice, you name it.
7) Creamy White Miso and Cauliflower Soup
(via The Pig & Quill)
You can skip the candied prosciutto and chive oil that’s recommended as a topping for this soup — it’ll still be delicious. White miso paste is available in both of our local grocery stores. It lasts forever in the fridge, offers the health benefits of fermentation and has a sweet, savory, salty flavor that amps up loads of my favorite dishes (see also: this miso butter linguine and this red bean stew).
8) Pan Fried Singapore Rice Noodles
(via Nosh & Nourish)
I think I’ve discussed these here once before, too, but they’re made in such frequent rotation that I’m bringing them ’round again. Loads of long-shelf-life veggies, rice noodles, and a few eggs stretched across several servings. Even if you’re not typically into curry, I urge you to give these noodles a try. They’re dry fried — not saucy — and subtly sweet. Lana is a huge fan.
9) Slow Cooker Potato Broccoli Corn Chowder with Bacon
(via Oh Sweet Basil)
This is admittedly a pretty rich recipe, but I know many of us are turning to comfort foods while we hunker down at home, and to that I say: if not now, when? I imagine that this could be lightened up quite a bit by replacing the milk with more stock — it just wouldn’t have that same optic white appearance.
10) Smoked Sausage and Potato Skillet
(via Eat Well 101)
This is more or less the camping hash of my dreams: just simple, straightforward, hearty eats. I’d serve the sausage and potatoes over a bed of wilted kale with a little lemon juice to round out the meal — or pile them into a wrap with eggs for a breakfast burrito situation. You could easily use a veggie sausage here, too.
Would love to know what else you guys are finding in the stores and some of your favorite recipes, too!
Stay healthy, friends.
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