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‘Cooking Is Gonna Get More Strategic... and Maybe Even More Fun’

We’ve never been cooking more, but ingredients are getting harder and harder to come by

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Judging by Google searches, bean sales, and every other photo on your Instagram feed, folks are cooking a lot right now, stuck at home while social distancing. That includes lots of bread making (has sourdough ever been so popular??) and baking (as Eater’s Jenny G. Zhang put it, “Just scroll through Instagram or do a quick Twitter search for “anxiety baking” or “stress baking”).

And yet in some ways, it’s tougher than ever to actually cook. Many grocery stores are closed, items are selling out, and the extent to which we can physically shop depends on how much we can leave our houses or get delivered.

Which is why, at our latest Eater Talk on “isolation cooking,” part of our Eater @ Home event series in which we bring Eater editors and food world voices together, the conversation turned to MacGyver cooking. As Meghan McCarron, Eater special correspondent, put it, “It’s literally socially responsible to do MacGyver cooking right now.”

Lesley Suter, travel editor: “The first couple weeks, it was pretty easy to just cook what I felt like or what I had a craving for, because I had all the stuff... But now I’m starting to run out. Like, I’m rationing eggs — like, I currently have three eggs in my refrigerator, so if I need to make something I need to, like, dredge, I’m not going to make it.

I feel like now is when the cooking is gonna start getting more strategic, and maybe even more fun... The wheels are currently falling off, as we speak.”

Matthew Kang, Eater LA editor: “I very regularly one to three cans of tomato sauce whenever I go to the market and experiment with dried pasta. Lately, I’ve been trying to make what I call ‘cheater marinara,’ where I add in chopped anchovies, fish sauce, and soy sauce as these umami bombs, and then make a very basic pasta that you can eat fresh and then keeps really well in your fridge. Simple pasta is always my go-to when I have nothing else.”

Lesley: “I’ve been saving all the nubs of the bread I have had, either stuff that I’ve made or not. And then I made something that needed panko, so I had breadcrumbs, which I did not have in my fridge, to make the meatloaf I made yesterday. I always just had a thing in panko in my cupboard, and I didn’t. So that was sort of a hack.”

Jenny G. Zhang, staff writer: “Now more than ever is the time to substitute, make alterations, basically embrace ‘no recipe’ cooking, or riffs off of recipes. Stuff like stews and soups I’ve been able to stretch a little bit further by bulking it up. If a soup calls for just carrots and chickpeas, maybe I’ll add some potato or sweet potatoes in there and then it can last for another extra meal or two. If I have tomatoes that are going bad, I’ll throw those in the soup first instead of using my tomato paste or my canned tomatoes.”

Matthew: “One of the things that I started making in the last month was a Korean dish called jangjorim... You take a random cut of beef and boil it in a large amount of water with some vegetables, and then you pull it out and sort of let it marinate in soy and mirin and maybe some other things, and let it sit there for a while. Then you can let it cool and keep the meat in your fridge. Just take out slivers whenever you need — chop it and eat it with rice or porridge or anything.

And when you boil it in that water, the resulting broth is super flavorful. So I’ll reserve that broth, you get a soup out of it, and then you also get this banchan [with the beef] you can use over and over again.”

Meghan McCarron, special correspondent: “I actually just had a radish that was going bad in my fridge. So I mandolined this watermelon radish, poured some rice vinegar and a little sugar and salt on it, and now I’ve just been eating it with random things. Those quick pickles definitely help stretch your fridge.”

Matthew: “It’s sort of this puzzle of: what is in my fridge, what can I do with it, and how can I maximize. It’s like my favorite challenge.”

Watch the full Eater Talk below and check out upcoming virtual events:

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