A few years ago, I was fortunate to do a "cooking class" in the summer kitchen of one of my Italian friends' aunt's house. Zia and Nonna taught us how to make pasta, gnocchi and lemon cookies AND sent us home with bags of delicious gnocchi for our dinner. (Thank you Cathy!!) Since then, I've branched out from the basics I learned from them and adapted their recipes. Well, not really recipes, since nothing was written down, but I did my best to capture the "cups of" this the "pinch" of that and the the feel of the dough when it's been worked enough.
We stocked up on dried beans of all sorts as part of our pre-COVID-19 quarantine provisioning. I often use canned chick peas to make hummus or to add to curries and salads, but I had only ever used dried on canoe-camping trips. I made this felafel recipe a couple of times, and the freshness of the re-hydrated (but uncooked) peas makes a tasty difference.
It might sound strange to put lettuce on the grill, but once you've tried this, you may never go back to regular Caesar salad again. I've included my dressing recipe, but feel free to use your favourite. Plan for about 1/4 to 1/3 of a head of Romaine per person, but this can vary depending on the size of the head (and the appetites of the persons -- when feeding Pendziwols, I use a half head per person.)
These came about out of necessity -- I had planned my weekly grocery shopping around our menu so that we could have fresh buns on hamburger night. And then I forgot the hamburger buns. (Typical Jean E move.) Instead of going back to the store (which I would have done pre-COVID) I opted to try making buns. They turned out to be delicious. This brioche style bun has ruined us for store-bought forever.
Pretzels are super delicious and quite easy to make. Since it's easier to find fresh yeast right now than traditional or instant, I decided to try out the fresh to see how it worked. Fresh yeast requires "proofing" and making a "sponge" is also recommended. This takes a little bit more time, but the results and taste are worth it. We also decided to add prosciutto and Thunder Oak Gouda to our pretzels to make them a great picnic pack-along. For the plain pretzels, we made a sharp cheddar cheese and Sleeping Giant Brewery dip that was also delicious.
Hummus is quick and easy to make, and switching up just a few ingredients can give you some tasty variations. Our favourite is charred pepper, with lots of garlic and lemon juice. Serve with fresh pita bread or veggies for dipping. I also added a dash of local Heartbeat Hot Sauce to this batch for a bit of zing.
If I had to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life it would be pizza. I love making it, I love eating it. And I love getting creative with the toppings. Recently, I looked into our depleted pantry to see what we had to work with and ended up with this amazing pizza that combined roasted butternut squash, Thunder Oak Gouda and crispy sage leaves. I've also included here the recipe for two standards, Margarita Pizza and a simple Proscuitto-arugula. I'd love to hear what you've come up with based on your Covid-19 pantry options!
Switching up added ingredients can turn this basic scone recipe into something sweet or savoury depending on what you want. Right now, I'm limiting my trips to the grocery store so try to work with ingredients that I have on hand. The basic recipe can be easily doubled, or prepared as a "biscuit mix" (don't add the wet ingredients) and stored in the fridge (if using butter) or cupboard (if using vegetable shortening). I use a (cold) baking stone to cook these on, which helps create an nicely browned bottom and fluffy texture, but a cookie sheet works fine, too. Any scones/biscuits not eaten the first day should be frozen - scones stale very quickly.
I've made naan bread a few different ways over the years, including cooking it over the campfire, but no matter how you cook it, fresh warm naan is yummy. A traditional East Indian bread, naan is perfect with dishes like butter chicken, dal (I'm think we all still have bags of lentils on hand?) or as the base for "unwraps". If you're cooking at home, it's best to use a cast iron or other heavy frying pan. You can use partial whole wheat flour for extra nutrition and flavour. After cooking, brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt and, if you want and have them on hand, herbs like cilantro or parsley. Did I mention how yummy these are?
Theoretically, the inspiration for our COVID-19 Easter dessert was my grandmother's grasshopper cake that pairs chocolate and mint and was a perennial special occasion favourite. But in reality, there were two main reasons I thought of it. The first was that SOMEBODY ate all the Mini eggs and the only chocolate in the house was a couple of packages of wafer cookie. The second was that we had lamb planned for our Easter dinner, and I usually serve it with mint jelly and didn't have any. While I was trying to figure out how to make mint sauce with the Crème de menthe, it jumped into my whipped cream, and... voilà!
These are super easy to make and look gorgeous. If you don't have Crème de menthe, use peppermint extract and a hint of food colouring. I figure if the Easter bunny didn't hop into our house with chocolate eggs, the grasshopper might as well hop into our dessert.
The aroma alone is worth the work to make these, but the taste is ah-mazing! When I met my husband, his Finnish grandmother, Aune, taught me how to make pulla, a braided loaf of sweet bread flavoured with ground cardamom. It became a staple holiday favourite at Christmas and Easter, and while the smell and taste of homemade bread evokes a sense of comfort, this bread brings with it the sense of family and celebration.
When I was a teen, I lived on a boat with my family for 14 months and we had to get creative with food. One of my favourite memories is fresh bread, tuna and sprout sandwiches. We used alfalfa and radish to make the sprouts, but I have lentils (LOTS of lentils). There different types of lentils. I have spouted both green and brown lentils successfully. I haven't tried red.
Why is it that we seem to collectively be turning to bread-baking as a way to cope with a global pandemic? Bread is the ultimate comfort food, the essential foundation of sustenance for millennia, and almost every culture in the world has some form of bread in its cuisine. It is simple to make, delicious and only requires a bit of time. Which we now seem to have. Baking also provides us with a sense of accomplishment - I may not have gotten dressed today, brushed my teeth, or made any significant progress with my work, but look what I did - I MADE THAT!
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Jean E. Pendziwol
I live on the north shore of Lake Superior where I write books for kids and adults. I express love and care through food. Since I'm unable to feed friends and family during this period of COVID-19 isolation, I thought I would share some of my favourite recipes instead. Hope you enjoy!