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Cooking Tips For Self-Isolation

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of the things we all need to keep doing even as we self-isolate is eat and cook. But what to do if you go to the store, and the food items you really want aren't there?

Last week, we asked David Tamarkin from the cooking website Epicurious for some shopping and meal planning tips for these uncertain times. He had several. Like, when you go food shopping, have a plan so you don't end up panic-buying. He also shared his recipe for grilled chocolate sandwiches to help make us feel better. We thought you might want to hear some more of his tips today, starting with this one - think fresh, and get creative.

DAVID TAMARKIN: Pasta and frozen vegetables - those things are in short supply in grocery stores right now. But what's interesting is that all the fresh stuff is still there. And what people, I think, are not doing is they're not thinking about, oh, if - you want to go and get frozen greens. You can get the fresh greens, chop them up and put them in your freezer. You know, I mean, there are ways to get the fresh food and still preserve it at home.

So I think one recommendation I would make to people is not to overlook the fresh food There are lots of hardy fresh foods that will last several weeks like squash and sweet potatoes, onions, apples. Carrots will last a long time. But even shorter-life things like greens - you can, you know, chop those up, cook them down in a bunch of olive oil and put them either in your freezer or in your fridge. If, you know, there's enough salt and olive oil in there, they'll last a long while.

MARTIN: Tamarkin says that same approach can help home cooks keep their dishes tasty and colorful for long stretches of time.

TAMARKIN: This is the sort of chefy (ph) side of me saying this. It's not really important, but it's important to me...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TAMARKIN: ...Is if you have herbs, those herbs are going to go really fast. So blitz those herbs in the blender with garlic and olive oil and maybe some chili flake and some other spices - definitely salt - and make a sauce. Make a pesto-ish type sauce. Or make a real pesto. Throw some cheese in there, some nuts. That sauce is going to last you weeks, whereas the herbs only are going to last a few days.

And I know that when I'm, you know, self-isolating, like right now, I really want something fresh on my food. I want to see that bright green color on my food, and I just want that punch of fresh flavor. So those herb sauces are going to get me that even if I can't, you know, have access to the fresh herbs that I would normally use.

MARTIN: He also suggests stocking up on canned vegetables whenever possible because you can use them in so many ways. Take canned tomatoes, for example.

TAMARKIN: I prefer those big cans with the whole tomatoes. But if you only have room for smaller cans, those work, too. I'm going to make shakshuka with that - you know, that Tunisian tomatoey, peppery stew that you often put eggs into. I'm going to buy canned tomatoes. I'm going to buy jars of roasted red peppers. And assuming I have onions and garlic, I can easily make a shakshuka and slip some eggs into that.

If I don't have eggs, shelf-stable tofu will be fine there. I'm - I like the idea of shelf-stable tofu because when I run out of eggs, I'm going to want a sort of creamy-ish protein source. And soak-in tofu is sort of like an egg if you close your eyes, and you don't taste too much (laughter).

MARTIN: Sometimes, though, you might want to make something that just takes a long time to, you know, pass the time. Tamarkin has a suggestion for that, too.

TAMARKIN: If you have not gotten into bread-making, this could be a very good time to do that. I will tell you something. I'm in my sourdough phase right now, and it takes a long time. It's very distracting. You know, you have to fold that bread every 30 minutes for four hours. So there's no time to get into the news because every 25 minutes, your timer's going off, and you have to run to the kitchen and fold that bread.

MARTIN: And you can do it while you listen to NPR.

TAMARKIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: How perfect is that?

TAMARKIN: And I always do (laughter).

MARTIN: That was David Tamarkin of the cooking website Epicurious with some of his tips for everybody who's spending a lot more time in the kitchen during this crisis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.