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Cooking in Isolation

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We are in strange times. So what do we cook if we need to go into self-isolation? Kate Freeman has some tips for making something out of nothing.

If you’re like me. You haven’t done ANYTHING about stocking up on food—and now, thanks to the panic buyers, there isn’t any food left to stock up on.

It’s all good. I’m not worried. Apart from feeling confident that my existing toilet paper stores will suffice for now, I also feel confident that my cooking skills give me the ability to make ‘something’ out of ‘nothing’.

The reality is, having a modern, Western kitchen is that—although it seems like I don’t have any food—I actually DO and I just need to be creative. And you can be creative too!

Even better news is that if we do end up in self-isolation we have the time to be creative. 

How to make your current stores last

If you’ve found yourself with a surplus of food or (like me) you want to make the most of what you’ve got here’s what you can do with all your food to make it last:

Peel and freeze bananas

Smoothies, stewed bananas and banana bread can then be in your future.

Finely chop leftover vegetables

Think onions, capsicums, garlic, celery, carrots, etc. and mix together. Store in snap-lock bags with the air removed and freeze. You now have a flavour combo to sauté making the perfect base for heaps of meals!

Chop and freeze any kind of berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. Great for baking, smoothies and chia puddings.

Don’t throw old bread away

It can be processed into bread crumbs—a perfect filler for meat and or vegetable patties.

Power up your meat with veggies

Add your shredded vegetables to mince and make up batches of Bolognese sauce or rissoles and freeze.

Make mini quiches

Whip eggs, cheese and vegetables together and freeze for meals.

Keep fresh herbs longer

Fresh herbs can be blended and frozen in ice cube trays to be added to stews, curries and pasta for extra flavour.

Easy meal ideas

Stuck for some easy meal idea that use up pantry staples? Here’s what to cook for yourself and the family while you make the most of isolation.

Mac and Cheese 

If you were lucky enough to snap up a bag of pasta or 20 (Mum, I’m looking at you), then Mac and Cheese needs to be on your isolation meal plan. Mac and cheese is not discriminatory, you can use any old pasta if you don’t have macaroni.

All you need is pasta, cheese and white sauce (butter, flour, milk—Google a video tutorial on making béchamel sauce—it’s a valuable lesson that all home cooks should know, you won’t regret it!)

Then add in your favourite flavour combo:

  • Sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled feta and dried basil 
  • Frozen vegetable mix: peas, corn, carrots
  • Garlic (sauté first), baby spinach and ricotta
  • Shredded chicken, broccoli and wholegrain mustard.

Mexican Black Beans 

Legumes are the perfect isolation food. They have a long shelf life, they’re full of complex carbohydrates for long-lasting energy, and the smelly probiotic effect of happy bacteria (aka farting) isn’t a problem because you’re at home—so let it rip!

To cook the Mexican Beans just simmer one tin of black beans with 1/2 cup water and 1/4 sachet taco seasoning until liquid reduces and thickens. 

Then, make up a delicious bowl of brown rice and Mexican Beans and top with cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, shredded lettuce, a drizzle of lime juice, and cheese and sour cream (if you like).

Eggs and Toast

Now don’t roll your eyes. Eggs on toast is a fabulously versatile meal and can make any home isolation super duper exciting. Look at all the amazing things you can do:

  • An omelette with a slice of toast is a great way to get some vegetables in and can be an easy breakfast, lunch or dinner! Try this recipe and serve it with a slice of wholemeal sourdough.
  • French toast. Whip that egg up with some milk, coat your toast and fry in a non-stick pan. Serve savoury with avocado and feta, or sweet with stewed bananas.
  • Scrambled eggs on toast. This one never fails and can be gussied up with mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes or avocado.
  • A soft boiled egg with toast cut into thin ‘fingers’ will bring you back to being child of the ’80s—spread the fingers with avocado for a healthy fat and fibre boost.

Pikelets

I guarantee that if you announce to your family that you’re making them pikelets for dinner, they will place a golden wreath on your head and hail you as queen (or maybe it’s just that my family are a little deprived… #jokes).

Pikelets are so easy and a great way to use up pantry staples. An addition of a few different ingredients and you can make them into a meal.

All you need is milk (1 cup), flour (1 cup) and an egg. Beat together to make a batter. At this point choose one of the following flavour combos and you’ll have the perfect way to fill hungry, in-isolation tummies.

  • Add a tin of creamed corn or whole kernels + salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add baby spinach, ham and cheese for a savoury pikelet sandwich thing.
  • Add frozen blueberries and desiccated coconut for a sweet twist.
  • Add mashed banana and choc chips for a sticky dessert option.
  • Add sautéed grated carrot, zucchini, garlic, onion and Middle Eastern spice mix. Serve cooked pikelets with tzatziki dip.

Soup and Stew

If you are a panic buyer (stop it), but if you’ve found yourself with a bucketload of food, especially fresh produce, please do solemnly swear that you will not waste it.

Soups and stews are the perfect way to use up vegetables that are on the wilted side of fresh and it’s so important that this crazy round of food hoarding doesn’t turn into a crazy amount of wasted food in landfill.

Soups can be frozen in individual portions to pull out on the days when you’re too pre-occupied with monitoring global COVID-19 graphs that you ran out of time to cook!

You can make:

  • Blended soups—throw vegetables into a big pot, boil and then blend.
  • Broths—cook vegetables and shredded meats in a broth-based soup, add noodles if you’ve got them.
  • Slow cook tough vegetables (carrots, potatoes, etc) with tough cuts of meat for a tasty, tender meal.

A few things to remember

Try to think creatively about food and don’t waste it. You can 100% find a recipe on the internet that can show you how to use it up and/or store it.

Make the most of having extra time to learn new cooking skills—this will never be a waste and will serve you long into the future.

Stay active and distract yourself with other tasks out of the kitchen if you have a tendency to boredom eat or overeat.

Do your best to keep eating your vegetables, but don’t stress if they’re unavailable—just get right back into it when things go back to normal.

Check out The Healthy Eating Hub’s recipe collection for some inspiration. Happy cooking!

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