The Pandemic Cooking School

By Abhimukth Chaudhuri and Sharon Kattar

 

It’s 2021 and if your new year’s resolution is “I’m going to cook more and eat out less,” we are going to help you. This is a great resolution because it has so many layers to it. Firstly, by eating out less you are going to save so much money. Like a lot. Secondly, you are going to develop a very easy skill that is infinitely useful, will make you score with anyone you are trying to impress, and will help you survive in life (I’m talking about cooking). Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and omnivore, or lactose intolerant, there are a multitude of recipes out there that you will love for their simplicity and taste. Before we dive into our top four recipes, here are some guidelines for your first time in the kitchen: 

  1. Recipes are literally just instructions on how to use your kitchen. Read them through before you start cooking and then again while you are cooking. 
  1. Find a recipe before you go out shopping! Find your grocery flyer, see what kind of protein is on sale (ex. chicken breasts, ground beef, chickpeas…), look for a recipe using that ingredient, then go buy the rest of the stuff you need. 
  1. Meal prep. Yes, cooking is great and fun and we all love it. But to have to do it every day for every meal? I don’t think so. By making AT LEAST THREE portions of a recipe you found (I find that four portions is the sweet spot – including the one for right after you make it), you are guaranteeing food in your fridge for at least three meals. Lunch or dinner, here you come! 

 

There are so many more tips I can give, like “you don’t have to follow the recipe down to a T,” “I use Pinterest,” and “food blogs have arguably the best recipes,” but for now, let’s dive in. 

 

Recipe 1: Honey Garlic Chicken Stir Fry 

First things first, anything with “stir fry” in the title is my bread and butter. To me, stir fry just means “protein and vegetables in a kind of sticky sauce served over rice.” When gyms were open and I was a lifting machine (ha ha) (it hurts so bad), this is the number one dish I used to make. BONUS: it is very easy to replace chicken in any stir fry with tofu! I have never cooked with tempeh, but that might work too. In the case of replacing chicken with tofu, sauté or bake the tofu until it is at a likeable consistency, then add it to the recipe the same way you would chicken. My favorite recipe for tofu stir fry? Thai Pra Ram Tofu (Peanut Butter Sauce): https://vegetariangastronomy.com/easy-thai-pra-ram-tofu-peanut-sauce/  

Back to honey garlic – this recipe is easy, delicious, and you can add any vegetables you are in the mood for. I find that broccoli is always a good add, but sometimes I don’t feel like cutting the carrots. I make Calrose white rice on the side (bring the water (1.5 cups) to a boil, add salt, add rice (1 cup), and stir until boiling, then cover, lower the heat to 2/low, and cook for 16-18 minutes) and serve the dish with the stir fry on top. De-lish-ouse.  

 

Recipe:

https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/honey-garlic-chicken-stir-fry/  

 

Recipe 2: Vegan Mediterranean Meal Prep Bowls 

Yummy! When you cook for yourself, you might find yourself getting tired of meat faster than usual. In my case, it was chicken breasts that turned their annoying head on me first. For the life of me I could not bring myself to eat another bite of chicken. Later when I told my mom this story, she admitted that she would only cook with non-hormone chicken breasts back when I lived with her. These go on sale once every 3-4 months I find, and when they do, I pounce on them. Otherwise, I take breaks between eating meat (including chicken breasts) and cooking vegan recipes! Thankfully the Internet is a wide and wonderful place, full of vegan enthusiasts willing to share their recipes. As I mentioned earlier, you can make a recipe vegan (or at least vegetarian) by simply choosing tofu as protein alternative. However, there are those weeks that I really and truly need a break, and that’s is when bowls come into play. 

Tofu bowls are good as well, but the simplicity with a chickpea bowl is unparalleled. I use canned chickpeas, but you can go the whole nine yards and start from dry chickpeas. This recipe calls for a lot of different vegetables, but you could make this recipe with just sweet potatoes, spinach/kale (or both), and chickpeas and that would be enough! I suggest you try this recipe as-is and make adjustments on your own. The lemon tahini sauce is definitely the main character in this story, so don’t miss out. For those of you who don’t know, tahini is sesame paste. It is super delicious and super fatty. Once again, you have your main food elements in this recipe: chickpeas = protein, sweet potatoes = carbohydrates, and tahini = fats.  

 

Recipe:

https://www.hummusapien.com/vegan-mediterranean-meal-prep-bowls/  

 

Recipe 3: Oven Baked Chicken Thighs 

Want to eat something fancy for dinner, but you are too lazy to cook? Don’t worry about it! Just let the oven handle all the hard work for you! 

The dish calls for very little preparation time; about 10 minutes to season the chicken with salt and pepper, and to make the sauce! One of the best things about this recipe is that you don’t need to make a separate grocery list to make it! All the ingredients that you require to prepare the sauce – olive oil, mustard (regular or grainy Dijon), honey, garlic and red pepper flakes – are items you will find in a regular kitchen and also use for other recipes on a day-to-day basis. This means you can cook this as many times as you want and whenever you want! 

Moreover, you are not limited to just chicken thighs! Due to its versatility, you can substitute chicken thighs for any other cuts of chicken. The only thing to keep in mind is that different cuts of chicken such as breasts, drumsticks or wings have different cooking times in the oven. That’s the only thing that changes! Everything else remains the same! 

 

Recipe: 

https://www.jocooks.com/recipes/oven-baked-chicken-thighs/  

 

Recipe 4: Quick and Easy Pasta Salad 

This is one of my favorite dishes to prepare when I am feeling creative and I want to make something quickly and easily!  

Yes, there is a recipe that you can follow exactly and it will taste great. But what I really love about this recipe is that you can substitute in whatever ingredients you want and it will taste just as amazing! Want to add in a can of corn niblets or variety of beans to get some color and sweet crunchiness? Why are you holding back? Add it in there! Or you love tuna and want to mix it in with the salad? Umm… why haven’t you opened the can yet? 

Honestly, you can add whatever you want and truly make it your own pasta salad! At the end of the day, you are just limited to your own creativity with this recipe! 

 

Recipe: 

https://www.inspiredtaste.net/38019/easy-pasta-salad-recipe/  

 

Some parting words: don’t shy away from any recipe! Try your hand and the worst thing that can happen is you won’t make it again. And remember, your food needs to have at least three elements: protein, carbs, and fat. By taking the decision to cook more and eat out less, you are responsible for fueling your body with the necessary things it needs. Happy cooking! (Fires are not uncommon and grease fires should be covered to be put out).  

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