Given the times in which we live, what use is a blog devoted to the passions of eating out healthily? Can such a thing even exist during a pandemic?
Hobby bloggers run hot and cold when it comes to posting regularly; this blog has been in the deep freeze since Spring 2019. Of all the times to unwrap and thaw, why choose now? For starters, we all have time on our hands as we stay home to dodge the Covid-19 virus. Another reason is that I have learned a valuable lesson about eating out.
Home is still better.
Like others, we have turned to the comforts of cooking in this great Covid-19 pandemic. Boy have we. Our home is full of food that we would never have had around a year ago. We are inside constantly and potentially tempted to consume out of stress or boredom.
And yet, my husband and I have not gained a pound.
One reason is that we are getting exercise — walking or biking with new E-bikes we purchased. The other reason, I have to believe, is that the food made at home is just plain better for us.
The focus on real food — free of the additives, flavor-enhancers, salt, sugar, and unpronounceable ingredients — first really hit home with my reading the New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. He says we need to make food from scratch, using fresh and raw ingredients.
Now that we aren’t in cars commuting between the office and home, we have more time than ever to cook. It’s given us a reason to support a great local butcher, Chop Shop in Atlanta.
During downtime between Zoom calls, my husband watches bread and pastry videos on YouTube. He’s mastered a perfect sourdough, canelles, no-churn mint chip ice cream, peach galette and some pretty mean cakes. Every single night, we have some kind of dessert with a glass of wine (him) or a cup of decaffeinated Darjeeling (me). We find we are satisfied and not binging on snacks until it’s time to turn off tonight’s movie and go to bed.
We plan and post a weekly menu. We’ve made everything from company-fare pork loin with a cherry wine sauce to tater tot casserole that was sinfully good. We’ve had Italian nights — tagliatelle with prosciutto and butter (3 tablespoons per serving) — and German feasts laden with bacon, bacon, bacon. We are making our own vegetable stock from the produce scraps.
There is one recipe that, more than any, reveals how our lives have changed during this pandemic: Black bean chorizo casserole with pickled onions from The New York Times Cooking website. The recipe made eight servings and took 2 1/2 hours — something I missed when I put it on the menu. It had 11 steps in the recipe and involved things like:
- Grating a lime for zest and mixing it with sour cream to make a lime crema
- Chopping and pickling red onion slices
- Toasting dried chiles and broiling garlic cloves for the sauce, then soaking the dried chiles until soft.
- Processing the soaked chiles and garlic into a paste, adding oil and cooking it all into a sauce.
- Poaching the chorizo because I brought fresh instead of pre-cooked; my mistake.
- Chopping cilantro stems and onions for saute.
- Sauteing the stems, onions chroizo, black beans.
- Layering all of the above into a casserole dish for baking
This recipe was cooked on a weeknight. Are we insane?
Maybe. But we are also gratified by how wonderful food such as this actually is; how it tastes good without that ton of salt that is in restaurant food, regardless of whether it’s an Applebee’s or fine dining.
We’ve managed to eat a couple of meals out — and by that I mean truly outside “out” — and mostly it’s been disappointing.
Yet we are absolutely cheering for the restaurant industry to survive. Going to a restaurant is about so much more than the food. It is theater. It’s an experience. It’s a communal byproduct of the great and advanced society we live in. We get to be out and among people, something we all miss.
As soon as there’s a vaccine and we feel safe enough to venture back, we’ll be there. But I don’t think we’ll forget what we’ve learned about the value and goodness of a home-cooked meal.