Before the Virus (BTV), one of our favorite activities was relaxing in a restaurant while reading the menu, even if each of us knew we were going to order what we always did anyway. Although sometimes the chef would offer a stellar special that I had to try. Now, instead of telling the server which item on the menu I want, I speak directly to the chef, me, who will then prepare the nightly meal.
Without years of culinary school training, and with a palette that only ranges from sweet to sour, and occasionally salty, I am a poor substitute for the professional chef. My from-scratch dishes include omelets, tuna salad, and grilled steak. But even if you rotate those, you donâ€™t get a full week of meals. And meat every third night would quickly harden my arteries.
So, as the kitchen commander I turned to recipes. It turns out there is a small bookcase in our kitchen nook with books filled with recipes. They are called cookbooks. We used these books extensively in the early days of our marriage. Oh, what fun it was to spend an evening trying a cookbook recipe, even knowing our efforts would not match up to the photo in the book. We even had a binder with our own variations on recipes we found in magazines such as Bon AppÃ©tit, an issue of which I have not seen in years.
Then came kids. The cookbooks were relegated to the bookshelf in the kitchen. Neither baby food, PB & J sandwiches, Mac â€˜n Cheese, or pizza, delivered, required referring to those cookbooks. We culled them with each successive house move but were still left with a shelf and a half of them when we got to our current home.
One day, during the stay-at-home, I was walking around the house, adding up steps on my way toward 100, when I passed by the bookshelf with cookbooks. â€œReading is a legitimate stay at home activity,â€ I thought. â€œWhy not read a cookbook?â€ I dusted off the books, opened a few up, and decided it was time to reheat my acquaintance with recipes.
It turns out that when I followed the recipe from a cookbook, the resulting meals were better than okay. No, they still didnâ€™t look as pretty as the picture in the book, but they did provide an edible meal.
I avoided the recipes calling for â€œexoticâ€ ingredients. That is, spices I either couldnâ€™t pronounce or that would have to be bought at a specialty store. But I did find some spices I had forgotten existed, like cardamom.
Other items from my pantry lazy Susan spice rack were also called into action. Coriander and Cumin Seed, anyone? Sadly, some of these spices had expiration dates from long ago and far away and had to be replaced. Thatâ€™s when I learned that the price of â€œnormalâ€ spices are what I used to pay for â€œexoticâ€ spices. Seems like spice harvesting is now a lucrative business.
Digging archeologically into my pantry also revealed other items many layers deep. I found Hard Sauce still in its shiny plum colored box. Not that I know what Hard Sauce is used for. There was a square red box of Goulash Hearty Beef Mix, just add 1 Â¾ pounds of meat. And a box with onion mix to be combined with sour cream for those onion dips one puts out at cocktail parties we havenâ€™t held for years. Best if used my March 30, 2015.
My wife insisted we throw out not only expired spices, but all expired items. Iâ€™m not so sure. What if this shelter-in-place thing goes on for a while? Does beef goulash go with onion dip?