What the lockdown has taught me about cooking

Efficient cooking takes more planning than you think

I always try and plan my meals to some extent before heading out to buy groceries, as I find that that way it’s rarer to find half a cucumber frozen against the back of the fridge because I bought it on a whim. However, with fewer trips to the supermarket it becomes more important that all the ingredients in my fridge and cupboard work hard, especially when they’re perishable. With me and Harry both spending so much time in the flat there’s the need to worry about ingredients for lunches and snacks as well as dinners and various weekend cooking projects.

Because of this I’ve become a great fan of planning for and reinventing leftovers, which would normally disappear in a flurry of second and third helpings the first time round. Now though, when guarded, they have become new and interesting things. Last night’s chilli becomes today’s burrito and the stock from the poached chicken, that’s become a nourishing soup.

Lunch is a thing

This brings me on quite neatly to my second point. Lunch exists. And what’s more, if you’re used to only eating dinner in and only ever buy enough groceries for 7 dinners each week, that’s no longer going to be enough food to cut the mustard. This will result in bigger and more expensive grocery shops. I think we’re spending almost double on ingredients than we were before lockdown began.

Chicken liver pâté on homemade sourdough bread with bite taken out

However, there’s also a reason to smile. Every lunchtime I now have access to an oven and hob. I don’t need to queue for the microwave, tupperware in hand and nor am I ignoring the niggling sense of guilt for eating out for the 3rd time that week (and therefore ultimately saving money too). When I worked in London my office had a kitchen with enough workspace for food prep and I got pretty good at whipping up some quick and interesting meals, but in the last couple of years in Berlin that habit has been kicked to the curb. It’s been a great time for lunch and I to get reaquainted.

Cupboard food is underappreciated and does a great deal of the work

When the lockdown was first announced it was not surprising to see which ingredients took most of the brunt of the panic buying. However, the extent to which stocks were depleted was shocking. Aisles of almost bare shelves holding nothing but the most obscure flavours of tinned soup were common in most supermarkets and with good reason. Faced with the prospect of quarantine we went back to old reliable, the cupboard not the fridge, where you can guarantee that no one will go hungry and everyone will be nourished.

With grains, pulses and tinned toms (see below) suddenly at a premium it became clear how they went from important to everyday cooking to vital for ensuring quarantine survival in the minds of many. It made me realise the extent of how many of my meals include cupboard foods and not just a splash of worcestershire sauce as a flavour enhancer. Instead some kind of rice, pasta, legume or tinned tom features almost daily in my cooking.

Tinned toms are versatile and delicious and must always be on hand

Pasta, soup, chilli, curry, sauces, there is no one cupboard ingredient that works quite as hard as tinned tomatoes. They can be found in corner shops, supermarkets and fancy delis the world over, which makes them super accessible, they’re cheap and nutritious and my respect for them is huge. Long live the tinned tom.

Turns out I quite like baking cakes as well as bread (and so does everyone else/where the hell is my flour)

Speaking of bare shelves, there is one that has remained empty in my local supermarket for some time now: the flour shelf. Whole wheat, rye and spelt flours haven’t been in stock for weeks. All that remains (after a period of disappearance) is bog standard white flour.

Chocolate olive oil cake from above

With people turning their hands to kitchen projects, baking seems like a natural choice, as it’s outside the realms of everyday meal prep and often results in a slightly naughty treat, so it’s no real surprise that stocks should be dwindling. I’m afraid to say that I too have been amongst that number.

Whilst I normally stick to sourdough bread, I must admit that the social media whispers of various baking projects infiltrated my subconscious until I broadened my horizon and baked cakes. Plural. They even turned out quite well. I’m most pleased with the chocolate olive oil cake that even found its way onto the blog, but the rhubarb cake I put on instagram has legs too. I came to the decision that while it would be detrimental to bake sweet treats on a weekly basis, now and again is no bad thing – it turns out there’s something incredibly satisfying about whipping up a batch of cake batter.

However, with that in mind if anyone has any recommendations for buying flour in bulk in Berlin/Germany then please let me know!