Quarantine Week 11

We are still quarantining here in Chicago. Our city has entered “Phase 3” of reopening. This means people are flocking to restaurants with outdoor dining and getting their hair cut. We are not ready to take the risks involved with those activities, given the number of experts we still hear using the words “we don’t know for sure” or “maybe.” So we continue to trudge along in our new normal, and I continue my cooking adventures.

Thursday (6/4) started with leftover corn cakes and some fresh kiwi. I would say that it was not a bad weekday breakfast. There was a moment of panic when I realized we are almost completely out of maple syrup. We usually get it from Trader Joe’s, but since they are not offering curbside pickup, we have not gone there since this started. I ended up later ordering some with our curbside pickup from our local grocery store and paying way more. However, I have discovered that I may be able to get it delivered from Costco. Still checking into that option for the future. Coffee is also getting low, so I am going to have to do something. You do not want to deal with my husband if he has no coffee!

But I got to do one of my favorite past times on Thursday, smoking meat! I had thawed out the Polish sausage I got from Whittingham and Son’s and my bacon was ready to be smoked. I also had a little bit of Italian sausage I had forgotten to cook up with our manicotti, so I threw it on the smoker as well. I also tossed some broccoli into a foil packet with fresh sliced garlic and olive oil and tossed it on the hot side of my grill for the last half-hour. I made up a nice potato salad from a recipe I found on the Food Network Kitchen app. We ate the Polish sausage, broccoli and potato salad for dinner and put the bacon and Italian sausage in the fridge for later.

Friday (6/5), I got to slice into that lovely uncured smoked bacon. It was beautiful. It’s still slightly saltier than I want, but damn close. It made a lovely bacon and cheese on English muffin sandwich. This was a nice treat after we had to pick up the 10-year-old’s things from her school. That was a total mess! We had a set pickup window, but when we got there, they were not ready, so we had to wait. And to make matters worse, the staff person working the pickup area was not wearing her mask or keeping distance as advertised. But it’s done.

I baked another loaf of sandwich bread using half whole grain bread flour and half unbleached AP flour in my instant pot. I know the bread baking professionals out there are probably gasping or rolling their eyes, but it works. And I get to bake and have fresh bread without heating up my kitchen, so judge me as you must!

For dinner, I was super excited about some wild rice we ordered in our last Imperfect Foods order. I’ve never cooked wild rice, so there was a lot of googling to understand this particular ingredient. In the end, I cooked the wild rice in my instant pot and then cooled it and refrigerated it for a few hours. I also cooked up half the quantity of basmati rice and chilled it. I made a lovely stir-fry with diced carrots, zucchini, shallots, peas and toasted pine nuts. It was delicious. Even the kid cleaned her plate. The pine nuts were an extravagance, as those things are super expensive now, but it was well worth the splurge.

Saturday (6/6), being a Saturday, meant I had to get adventurous. We started with breakfast on our deck which consisted of homemade buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy. I cooked up some “flat eggs,” our daughter’s term for Japanese style eggs, for her to eat with her biscuits since she doesn’t eat meat and would probably make really weird faces even if I made a white gravy without the sausage. These biscuits were some of the best I have ever made. Seriously, check out this recipe. Note, I grated the butter because I have been watching all the fancy chefs do that, and I did them by hand, but the recipe stands.

In the afternoon, I decided to make homemade chewy sea salt caramels. This is kind of a tedious process, I’ll warn you. It takes forever for the mixture to reach the proper candy temperature. Of course, most people have more patience than me, but it was a bit of torture standing around waiting for that thermometer to reach the right temp. Also, don’t chill them in the refrigerator. I had to then leave them out on the counter for hours before I could cut them! But they are pretty!

For dinner, I decided to make Chinese. Okay, American “Chinese.” I had planned to make an orange chicken-style cauliflower, but when I unwrapped the cauliflower, it was gross! Black yuckiness running all through it gross! So, I took a pause and looked around the kitchen. I found one last can of chickpeas. I’ve switched completely to using dried beans and cooking them myself to avoid all the sodium, but I still had one remaining can. So I turned it into orange chickpeas. I had made these before, and the kid liked it but said it was a bit spicy. So this time, I left out the red pepper flakes. She didn’t like them this time. So we’ve established a “bit spicy” is better than “dull.”

I also made pork pot stickers, veggies spring rolls and some tempura fried vegetables. Okay, the vegetables turned out to be just carrots and one piece of zucchini. I had tried to air fry them and started with the zucchini slices. This resulted in a mess of gooey zucchini stuck to my air-fry baskets. With most of dinner ready, I just pivoted and fried the remaining slices on the stove top in the oil I used for the spring rolls. The kid seemed to love the fried carrots the most, though she did also eat the spring rolls. My husband was a bit annoyed that I put some shredded zucchini in his pork pot stickers, though I am sure he could not even taste it!

Sunday (6/7) was another smoker day! I had purchased an almost 8lb hunk of pork shoulder from our local grocery store a month or so ago, and it had been taking up space in my freezer. So I took it out to thaw during the week, and I brined it overnight Saturday in some salted water. I managed to get it on the smoker about 6 am and keep it around 190-210 degrees. I pulled and wrapped it just in time to ride along with the husband to take the kid back to her mom’s house. About a half hour after we got home, I unwrapped and pulled it. Some of it pulled easily, some of it was more slice-able. It was an uneven piece, which I could have done something about, but in the end, I kind of like having both options. I had done something a little odd here and rubbed it with a blueberry mustard. It created a sweet but tart bark that was really good, despite how odd it sounds.

Monday (6/8), I didn’t really cook or do much at all in my kitchen all day. My husband said this frightened him. When I inquired, he said that when that happens I tend to try to make it up by cooking all the things the next day. I guess to avoid scaring the man, I’ll just make sure I cook everyday. In reality, I was having a creativity block. It was hot, and so I didn’t want to run the oven or do anything that would further heat up our house. And I just couldn’t think of anything creative to cook. But then it came time to figure out dinner, and creativity once again hit. Or I should say surfing the Food Network Kitchen app worked its magic. I ended up making a green lentil and tomato salad for dinner. It was delicious, but I served it warm, and I decided it might be better cold. I tried it after it had chilled, and I was definitely right. Later Monday evening, I received a delivery from Taste of Home subscription box I ordered, so now I have some new toys and recipes to play with!

Tuesday (6/9) was all about that smoked pork! I made some tomatillo salsa. I usually include jalapenos, but I didn’t have any fresh ones, so I just left it out. It made a very citrusy refreshing topping. For dinner, I chopped up some tomatoes, lettuce and red onions, and we had some delicious smoked pork tacos! I have to confess. The filling was excellent, but the tortillas not so much. I have frozen corn tortillas in the past and thawed and used them in enchiladas and not noticed an issue. However, using them for tacos was a mistake. They were way too dry. I really should have gotten some fresh ones when we picked up curbside from our local grocery.

However, Wednesday (6/10), that smoked pork, salsa and the other taco fixings with some tortilla chip crumbs made a lovely taco salad for lunch! For dinner, I tried my hand again at Cacio e pepe, using a JZ recipe from the Food Network Kitchen app. (Am I advertising enough for that app? Seriously, I love it!) The 10 year old even ate her side salad just so she could get seconds on the pasta! We ate on the deck again, and it was a bit windy, but that made for more adventure as part of my salad blew away!

Wednesday afternoon before getting the kid, we also did a couple of curbside pickups, and I want to make a shout out to two great establishments. First, we picked up an order from Binny’s. If you are not familiar, this is an awesome Chicago-based liquor outlet. We have been ordering from them using Instacart, but we have had some questionable delivery interactions. I found out that if I order direct from the store and pick it up, I can use my Binny’s rewards card and get a discount, in addition to not paying all the fees charged by Instacart. They were great. We pulled up to a designated curbside pickup slot and called, and they brought everything directly to our trunk! We also picked up spices from Savory Spice Shop through curbside pick up. They were awesome as always, and it was great to see one of my favorite spice gurus, even if from a distance!

Another week down. I don’t know how many more there will be, but no one really knows much for sure about this pandemic. I’m trying to be at ease with not knowing. What I do know is that I can cook and that cooking makes me feel better about most things. I know it is a little thing, but it’s a thing, and I’ll take it.

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