Let unexpected and odd foods inspire you
This is the kind of attitude you need when you cook everyday meals in any circumstance, actually. When you have a bedrock of pantry staples, it’s easy to absorb fresh, unexpected, or just random ingredients that come your way. And, when you’re cooking regularly, unexpected and odd ingredients -- often in the form of leftovers -- are a regular occurrence. You’re never really cooking from a blank slate when you’re cooking every day.
It’s important to keep things exciting by incorporating new ingredients into your routine now and then. I’m talking something as simple as a bunch of fresh sage, which you might have never thought to buy before, or baby artichokes, or a box of walnuts. You can make brown butter sage pasta with baby artichoke and walnuts one night, or a savory tart with the same ingredients another. Still have some artichokes leftover? Try making a blended soup with a crunchy topping of fried sage and walnuts. Or, say you can’t find the same chicken pieces you’re used to cooking with? Get a whole chicken to roast one night, then use in a soup, in sandwiches, and to make chicken stock with. When in doubt, sautee any leafy green with garlic, and watch its mass shrink to just a few bites. Or add any leftovers to fried rice, including the day-old rice itself.
As I learned from my self-imposed two years of not going to restaurants, these kinds of ingredients really grease the wheels for everyday home cooking. They spark ideas, while shelf-stable goods provide the means. They can also make what might feel like work more like a fun process of discovery and learning.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world thanks to COVID-19. But making a tasty dinner out of whatever you swept through the supermarket with should be the least of your stresses. And there are ways to keep exciting ingredients coming that don’t involve a supermarket, too. If there is a silver lining to this virus, it could be that we’ll all be a lot more experienced in cooking satisfying meals for ourselves on a daily basis. Here are a few tips on what to buy, and how to shop for it.