Cooking Under Quarantine: Delightful Cuisine, Without Fresh Ingredients

There is no getting away from it, this quarantine has only just begun for most of us. With the Covid 19 pandemic approaching its peak in the next few weeks, many of us are still at least a couple of months away from getting back to our normal lives, and in turn, our normal cooking habits.

You may be surveying your cupboards, and worrying about stock levels, or perhaps pondering how you are going to cook meals that don’t seem bland and uninteresting for your particularly picky children. 

If you find your morale dropping, remind yourself that eating well should be your first line of defence against the quarantine blues, and cast your eyes over some of the best recipe websites on the internet, many of whom are catering to the current issues we all face when it comes to the availability of fresh ingredients.

Feel free to use substitutes for the various food items if you don’t have the exact ones (quarantine cooking is all about using what you have available), and hopefully your mealtimes will become a highlight of what is possibly becoming a rather tedious and repetitive day.

Breathe deep, remind yourself that this will all be over soon, and get ready to be inspired! Whilst this whole situation is far removed from that of a world war, that old-time attitude of simply “keep calm and carry on”, whilst making the best with what you have available will serve you well over the coming weeks. Roll up those sleeves, and get to work, there are meals to prep!

Metal cans and frozen veg, as far as the eyes could see...

Tins of food are more than likely to form quite a large portion of your quarantine diet. At times when fresh ingredients are hard to come by (or at least hard to get delivered on a regular basis), the tinned variety will have to do, regardless of what we prefer.

If, like many of us you are getting fresh produce in a smaller volume, and are worried about running out after week 1 (and then have another 2 weeks before the next delivery), tinned ingredients can be used to ‘beef up’ recipes with fresh ingredients, making the meal go further, and still tasting better than a dinner containing purely tinned food.

Some ingredients in particular lend themselves well to being canned, such as spinach. Not only does tinned spinach taste pretty good, but the tinned variety also, strangely enough,  offers a higher concentration of vitamin C! Just because your pantry is full of uninspiring looking tins, doesn’t mean you won’t be getting the right nutrients.

The same goes for frozen ingredients. Frozen veg are generally thought to be as good for you as the fresh variety, with some actually being higher in nutrients than their more expensive counterparts.

While we have been conditioned to think that fresh is always best, it makes sense that ingredients frozen soon after harvest would retain more of their natural goodness than those that are transported hundreds of miles while chilled. This isn’t true for every ingredient, but it certainly is for a vast amount, so don’t feel bad about stocking up on frozen veg in the slightest. 

Where to look for the best recipes 

Frozen and tinned veg can go a surprisingly long way when combined with staples such as rice, or pasta. Good Food has some wonderful ideas for cooking with tinned ingredients (how to make 100 dishes from 10 tins), including tuna mornay pasta bake, corn soup (a combination of corn, beans, and chopped tomatoes), and chickpea fritters.

Jack Monroe has been hard at work creating a tinned food section on her website, that complements her taste for cooking on a budget rather nicely. Those of you who know about Jack Monroe will already be aware of her books that tend to centre around cooking on a budget, which means this lady knows just how to take a tin of tuna or a can of chopped beetroot, and turn it into a dish that delights the taste buds.

For the more budget-conscious meal preppers out there, she also handily lists how much each dish costs to make, a facet that is much appreciated in these uncertain times. 

You can take a wild guess at what Love Canned Food specializes in when it comes to recipes, and chances are you would be correct. From Salmon and bean salads, to sauteed peaches with lemon and yoghurt, these meal ideas are great for anyone who usually cooks fresh, and is scratching their head when confronted with only lines of tins currently residing in their pantry.

From well-known classics, to oddities that make you wonder why they aren’t classics, Love Canned Food has you covered for pretty much any eventuality during your quarantine.

Over at Refinery29, they have been asking us, the self isolators ourselves, about what we have been cooking since the lockdown started. Rather than set-in-stone recipes, this list consists of rough meal plans that can hopefully give you a little inspiration when you are looking blankly at the stock in your cupboards.

From fancy instant ramen to vegan coconut curry, it is interesting to see how different people are either falling back on tried and tested family recipes, or simply mixing it up with the only ingredients on hand, with some surprisingly good results! 

All Recipes is a website that now has an entire section dedicated to quarantine cooking. From what ingredients you should stock up on, to ‘how-to’ articles for baking bread and recipes that use canned and frozen foods, this website is well worth a browse when you are feeling low on inspiration.

With some rather gorgeous step-by-step videos to accompany their recipes, you can see just how good mealtimes can look even without the freshest of ingredients.

Store the leftover for later in the week

When considering any of these recipes, it is a good idea in times like this to double up on the recipes and cook in bulk. Bulk cooking often makes ingredients go that little bit further, and if you happen to meal prep ahead of time (you know which containers to use!), you also have the added bonus of making sure any extra food you make goes into a separate container, and becomes another spare meal (rather than just split between the family right there and then).

If you find yourself doing this once a day, by the end of the month, you will have had around 30 extra meals for someone in the household, which is always a good thing during times when you are looking to leave the house and go shopping as little as possible.

So there you have it, just because you are currently lacking the fresh ingredients that you usually have adorning your kitchen cupboards doesn’t mean you have to eat badly for the next month or so.

With so many websites now catering for this specific problem, you are bound to find a new meal or two that surprises you, and who knows, some may even make it into your ‘regular’ meals once your quarantine is over.

If we can take any positives from the current situation, learning new tasty recipes should be one of them!

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