Lock Down Menu Planning and Gumbo

I was interviewed by a college radio station recently about cooking during shelter in place. I sort of live shelter in place sometimes on a remote part of Lake Superior so I know this routine well and you could almost say business as usual in some ways.

I look at lock down cooking from a view of abundance, not scarcity. I have long stockpiled Trader Joe condiments and fancy pastas for everyday cooking. Our restaurants are good basic fare in the north woods so if I want something upscale, I have to cook it myself.

It's a great time to learn a new cooking or a baking skill like sourdough baking and master it. Lots of time to research and practice till perfect. Here are some handy tips I have learned along the way about cooking at home all the time.

- Know what's in all of your cupboards and freezer. Take a written inventory.

- Label and date ALL foods in the freezer and fridge. Marking the expiration dates on dry goods with a black marker is also a good cue. Use the FIFO method- first in first out.

- Place all the ingredients that need to be eaten next or soon in a designated spot. I sometimes keep a small plastic box or basket in the fridge with bits of leftovers to be used up so they won't get lost in the shuffle.

-Have a few theme nights complete with music, décor, movies, etc.- think of menus with Italian or Indian dishes that can easily come together and make a ethnic quick bread to accompany- like Naan or breadsticks. Play Italian music or watch a film from the country like the 100 foot journey after an Indian dinner.

-Make the long version of a dish instead of a shortcut. Making your own pasta is time consuming, but the benefits of the taste are worth the trouble. This can also be a teaching moment for young chefs.

I am sure everyone knows the benefits of a well stocked larder by now. The items I use all the time like coconut milk, tomato paste and canned tomatoes I buy by the case from my warehouse club. My second stop is always Aldi's for cans, produce and frozen. I am a big believer in private label now that they are NBE (name brand equivalent) a term I learned a few years ago. I do promote local small specialty shops and buy on a regular basis and I hit the farmer's markets in season when possible as well.

I won't go into what one could have in their pantry and freezer, however I would advise taking the time to inventory exactly what you have so none of your precious foods go to waste because they get lost in the back of the freezer.