I hope you had a chance to review your pantry last weekend and get stocked up for a while. The Instacart team did their usual good job and brought me some things on Friday. Not everything I wanted was available.
Some real staples and ideas to use them are my thrust this second week of confinement cuisine.
Rice, pasta and beans are real workhorses of the panty. Add tomatoes and many meals can be made — both interesting and affordable.
Rice is easy to prepare. A basic ratio of 2 parts of water to 1 of rice works most every time. I sneak in an extra spoon or two of water if I’m cooking Basmati. Also make sure to salt the water.
The key to rice is cooking low and slow. Plus, don’t stir after the initial one. It should take 18 to 20 minutes, plus another five to rest. If yours cooks quicker, turn down the heat.
Now that water doesn’t have to be water. It could be chicken stock. That bouillon paste comes in really handy. Or the liquid could be juice from tomatoes or orange juice or soup.
Your imagination makes for variety.
There’s nothing wrong with sautéing onion and garlic in your pot before cooking rice. Scallion rice is a very good dish. Plus, it’s tasty and attractive. It battles sameness for you.
Tomatoes themselves can go in and use Southwestern seasoning. Curry powder makes for great rice.
A major resident at our household is pasta. Maybe it’s all that Italian singing.
Pasta is so versatile, plus it’s fun. A few different shapes make for variety. So do various sauces. You can have it every day and not repeat a dish all month. Wow.
Cook your pasta in salted water. And not with the heat too high. More like a fast simmer.
Take care not to let the larger shapes tear. A key to success is to let your cooked pasta simmer in the sauce to finish. Add cooking liquid if you need to.
When most of us think of sauce for pasta, tomato comes to mind. And tomatoes are a perfect pantry item. So are jarred pasta sauces. Take care when you buy those. Look at the list of ingredients.
If you see water, especially in the first three, don’t buy it. Many of the major brands are guilty of this. The ones without water may cost more, but not really. You aren’t paying for water. Plus, you’re getting more flavor and nutrition.
Those tomato-based sauces also work with rice. Use their liquid instead of water. Or mix the sauce in after the rice is cooked, just like pasta. You can also simmer meats in those sauces. It’s the liquid rather than stock. Very handy to have around.
The other staple on our list is beans. Dried ones are great and so are the canned varieties. Lots of different kinds make it easy to make many dishes. They are a good source of protein and quite inexpensive.
Beans can be found in pasta sauces. They also go well with rice. There’s no better confinement dish then Hoppin’ John. Rice and black-eyed peas.
You can serve the peas on top of the rice or mix them together. If you have some fresh tomato or some from a can, serve around the side. Sure is mighty good.
For those of us who work from home, the draw of the kitchen is there, but it’s easy to dismiss. One key to making confinement cuisine work is limiting snacks. Two per day max.
And don’t go for chips and crackers. Try a few olives or slices of fruit. Even some tasty cheese. These are satisfying and long-lasting.
And don’t eat fueled by emotion. It causes urgency hunger. I’m bored. How ’bout a plate of loaded nachos?
There are more options we’ll look at next week in our final installment of confinement cuisine. Stay home. Be safe.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.