Coronavirus has us cooking at home to save our lives and to inject a bit of happiness into the days. Whether we gather as a family or eat meals solo, good food is a sop to hard times. The circle of pleasures may have contracted and that makes us relish the momentary comfort of a hearty, healthy dinner.
Here are a few ideas on how to turn dinner into breakfast, lunch, and even, another dinner. I’m not saying there aren’t problems with these ideas like low grocery supply online and in stores and low cash supply at home, but these strategies will stretch the available bread.
Think of mealtime as an opportunity to prep for meals that are in the pipeline.
Choose to employ this strategy for one to three dinners, depending on how many meals you are scratch cooking at home each week. This method creates leftovers, or nextovers (a favorite concept of David Tamarkin from Epicurious), out of vegetables, grains, legumes and animal proteins.
EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: STAY HEALTHY WITH CORONAVIRUS HOME COOKING
While prepping dinner, double-up on vegetables. If you are grilling, slice an extra onion and bell pepper or two, give them a brush of oil, season lightly, and cook on heavy-duty foil. Squash, in thick slices or coins, also grills and roasts well.
Carrots and green beans taste yummy when steamed or blanched. Asparagus is tasty with any cooking method; just watch closely to prevent overcooking. Roast, blanch, or steam cruciferous faves like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
What do you create with these extra vegetables? Here are three starter throw-togethers:
- English muffin pizzas: Place grilled onions and pepper on a pesto-smeared English muffin half, sprinkle with pizza cheese, and place under broiler to melt the cheese.
- Time saver for other meals: Store cooked veggies in a zip bag and quickly reheat with olive oil and seasoning of choice as a dinner side later in the week. Shower with chopped Italian parsley after heating to amp the flavor and freshness. (Freeze them, if you're not going to eat them later in the week.)
- Green bean side salad: Toss blanched or steamed (microwave is fine) green beans with shallots, toasted slivered almonds, and more parsley (optional) with bottled vinaigrette. Or, make your own dressing with a tablespoon of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Perk the combination with a bit of dry mustard or Dijon if you want more flavor.
GO HEAVY ON THE STARCH
Just what you’ve been waiting to hear all your life! During your dinner prep, double the amount of pasta, rice, barley, lentils, etc., and set aside half of what you have cooked. After it cools, freeze or refrigerate to use later in the week or if frozen, the months ahead.
Each starch can be transformed into another lunch or dinner.
(Note: To freeze pasta, boil only until al dente. The texture is better if you don’t let it get too soft when pre-cooking.)
Don't forget this double-starch strategy! If and when coronavirus lets up and we spending more time at the office, this type of home cooking can streamline your after-work evenings.
Three quick ideas for cooked starches:
- Pasta aglio e olio: Briefly sauté chopped or sliced garlic in a generous pour of olive oil and add the pasta (thaw first, if frozen), heating through. Off heat, liberally sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Optional but good add-ins include red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and toasted breadcrumbs.
- Satisfying soups: Add pasta or rice to soups to make them heartier. This is the perfect way to elevate canned tomato soup. Float some croutons, sprinkle with shredded cheese, add a thick slice of bread with spread -- this could be dinner.
- Grain salads: Use lentils, cracked wheat, barley (or farro, Italian barley) to assemble a salad. Put the grains in a bowl with halved cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shallot, chopped herbs. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the top; drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix and serve with feta cheese (optional) on the side.
EXTRA, EXTRA: MEAT, CHICKEN, FISH, AND EGGS
Center of the plate proteins can gobble up most of your time and money where prep and shopping are concerned.
When shopping online, and sometimes in the brick-and-mortar grocery stores, during the pandemic, meat choices may not be ideal. Depending on what’s available, here are three thoughts for making animal proteins work for you while you work from home.
- Steak: Grill any type of extra-large steak as a main for dinner. You could use flank, sirloin, strip, filet, ribeye – tender cuts work best for the purpose of having leftovers. After it's rested off the grill, set aside a large enough portion to add heft to a lunch-size bed of greens the next day (or to mate with your leftover grains salad).
- Salmon: Perform the same trick with a generously-sized side of fish. Wrap a portion in foil to make a lunch salad sing (especially if you add a sweet bite like mango or sliced Clementines).
- Chicken: Whole chickens always generate extra meals. Of course, extra meat can be made into a chicken salad with the usual mayonnaise or another type of dressing, but it can also be used for stews and soups, tacos and enchiladas, pot pies and casseroles. The list of uses for cooked chicken is endless, and the carcass can be made into nourishing stock or bone broth. Freeze those raggedy bones in a large zip bag to make the stock on another day!
- Eggs: Acceptable at any meal, this affordable protein is the perfect foil for those extra (leftover) cooked vegetables from last night’s dinner. Whip up an omelet, frittata, or scramble and flavor with smoky, grilled onions or chopped, cooked asparagus. You can also add your extra veggies to a quiche or an unconventional Benedict.
(This tip is another way to sneak in any leftover vegetables and add a dose of nutrition to your dish. Any time you add veggies, you’re increasing the vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants! For more info on vegetable nutrition and ideas on veggie cookery, read The Eyes Have It: Summer Salad Days.)
OTHER CORONAVIRUS HOME COOKING THOUGHTS FOR THE LONELY SCRAPS 🍞
- Vegetable trimmings: If you’re a gardener, you can always compost vegetable trimmings, but they can also be frozen in a zip bag to make vegetable stock or thrown in with the chicken carcass to boost the flavor of the stock.
- Bread: You can use the ends of leftover loaves for croutons or simply pulverize them in the food processor and store them in the freezer. You’ll never run out of breadcrumbs again. Toast them and toss into your pasta aglio e olio.
- Cookie crumbs: You can use leftover cookie crumbs for a do-over dessert. If you have enough of them, they can be formed into a crumb crust for pies. Even simpler would be to sprinkle them on frozen yogurt or ice cream. Try them in an easy yogurt parfait dessert.
This way of cooking might be labeled as “tail to snout” or “root to stem.” It saves more than time and money; it can also contribute to saving the planet. Food waste in landfills can generate large amounts of methane, which is a major factor in global warming.
We might all be thinking about ways to make our groceries last longer because coronavirus is keeping us out of the restaurants and stores. For personal and global health, it would be good to hang onto this cooking style once we’re no longer worried about COVID-19 (may that day come soon!).
The following sites offer loads of ideas on ways to make your food go farther. (Full disclosure: That phrase came from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and was the focus of 2019’s National Nutrition Month!)
Explore these sites for inspiration on how to get an extra slice out of your daily bread (or beef or beets) and to make every crumb count.
Copyright © 2020 Jani H. Leuschel