Austin, Texas—As we approach the end of the second month of quarantine, I’m taking a look back at the past seven weeks, as my husband and I pass the long days enjoying nature and time with our pets.
Adventures in Cooking
I began my quarantine on March 13, and I quickly realized I needed a hobby to distract from the monotony of day-to-day living without leaving my house. I have always enjoyed cooking, when I have time to spend a couple hours in the kitchen, languorously preparing a complicated meal on a Sunday afternoon. Despite all the fears and anxieties around COVID-19, the extra time at home did present an opportunity for more home cooking. My husband usually handles breakfasts, and we’re on our own for lunch, and dinner and dessert are my domain.
I was lucky to have been fairly well-stocked with baking essentials a few weeks before I began staying home, and I had purchased a new cook book in February that I had barely cracked open, Alison Roman’s Dining In. I decided to start with her desserts, knowing she was a former pastry chef and seeing that I already had the ingredients for many of the recipes. I immediately gravitated towards a Honey-Yogurt Pound Cake recipe to satisfy my need for carbs and sweets. I subbed frozen blueberries for the fresh raspberries the recipe called for. This baked good was easy to execute and perfectly moist and satisfying. It didn’t last long in our kitchen.
Later that month, I prepared a few meals of handmade pasta with a homemade marinara sauce from Roman’s book. Anchovies are her secret ingredient that provides the perfect complexity to the sauce. I hadn’t cooked with anchovies before, but I was amazed to watch how the oily fish melted away into the sauce. Thanks to a Costco-size can of whole tomatoes, I was able to cook enough marinara sauce to freeze and use for the next six weeks. This sauce came in very handy on the nights I grew tired of the repetitive cycle of prep-cook-clean.
March also saw me making a Lemon Shaker Tart and the famed Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies. The tart had a wonderful flavor, but I’m not convinced the whole lemon slices were necessary. Maybe I should have let them soak overnight, but they ended up being tougher than expected. The cookies, however, cannot be praised enough. Use this recipe for perfectly crisp and addictive chocolate chip cookies. I gave away batches to my sister and mother-in-law to prevent me from eating them all in one sitting.
By April, I was ready for more involved recipes. I made a layered Vanilla Cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction website, adding my own berry compote at the last minute. The cake was wonderful, although the berries ended up dying the cake and dripping down the sides. Still, they were the perfect complement to the vanilla icing. Again, the cake didn’t last long.
On Easter, I made a piece crust for the second time ever using an Apple Pie recipe my sister had from a cakes and pies cookbook. The crust ended up a bit tough, but still flakey and delicious. The apple interior was lovely. It had the perfect amount of cinnamon, although I might add more apples next time.
Beside the anchovy endeavors, I began exploring new ways to cook seafood. I follow a pescatarian diet, and typically we eat fish once or twice a week, but I quickly grew tired of my simple baked fish routine. We had a few Costco-sized bags of frozen salmon and tilapia that we needed to get creative with. Thus, I used my broiler for the very first time! And wow, I will never cook salmon another way again. We’ve also boiled crawfish, sautéed shrimp, and made a few seafood pasta dishes.
Where I am Now
More recently, I have been craving more comfort foods that remind me of the outside times. I made a 13 by 9-inch coffee cake last weekend that was gone in a matter of days, having been eaten as both breakfast and dessert.
Now, in week nine of my quarantine, I returned to the pound cake. This time, I chose to follow the Iced Lemon Pound Cake recipe from one of my favorite websites, Sally’s Baking Addiction. I added extra lemon zest, and the results were perfectly tart and sweet. I think a pound cake will be my go-to from now on. Maybe next time with poppy seed?
I thought I might be tired of baking and cooking after doing it for nearly every meal the past two months, I haven’t yet. I try to do batch cooking some nights so that I’m not starting from scratch each evening. But I’ve found that I have come to relish the time in the kitchen, where I can turn off my brain, ignore the news, and just focus on the task at hand. I highly recommend it if you need a break from the world.