A lot of people are finding themselves in a strange predicament during this COVID-19 quarantine; they are having to cook for themselves.
The broke and the self-sufficient among us will be annoyed to see a number of people looking for advice on just what to cook with these bare bones ingredients now that lavish restaurant meals and delivered goods are off the menu.
But despite my judgement against these people, I’m here to help. Not to mention that these are meals that help when you’re depressed, meals that help after a breakup, and food that makes you feel good emotionally, regardless of a global pandemic or not.
I’ve tried to include meals that are easy, cheap, and quick to make while being wholly comforting and good. Recipes are NOT included as you might want to zhuzh up or scale back as you see fit, and if you have allergies and the like, you can figure out some substitutions better than I can.
Gnocchi, pesto, parmesan
Gnocchi is amazing. It can be vegan, gluten free, dairy free, ALL the frees depending on what you do with it, and it can be frozen or cooked straight from scratch. You can have it with some cheese and a bit of oil, some veg, some sauce, whatever your little isolated heart desires! The ultimate staple is the combo above, but seriously, gnocchi goes with pretty much everything. It’s cheap to buy or you can make your own if you have potatoes, eggs and some form of flour. Gnocchi should be the president. Gnocchi, for your consideration.
Fish Finger Butty
Now, bread might be scarce but I’ve been told it’s possible to make your own without a breadmaker and using realtively common ingredients. But if you have a loaf stowed in the freezer or manage to get your hands on some, make sure you get a pack of fish fingers to go with it. Doorstop white bread and cheap, cheerful fingers are the ideal stock, but do what you like if you fancy being a hipster or a health nut about it. Vegan options do apparently exist as well as vegan sauce alternatives, but as long you have the fingers, the bread, the spread and some sauce (Salad cream or liberally peppered mayonnaise is my pick), you have a winning teatime meal on your hands.
Potato smileys, beans, turkey shapes
While we’re in the realm of school dinners, you cannot feel more taken care of than when you’ve just finished a plate of the above. Potato shapes and breadcrumbed shapes come in all sorts of entertaining forms and can be frozen for eons and should be in your freezer regardless of an epidemic. Baked beans may be in sort supply, but if you can’t find a dusty tin at the back of your cupboards, any saucy tinned pasta will do the trick. Healthier options do exist if you want it, but my pick would be the standard McCain’s Potato Smileys, Heinz Baked Beans, and Bernard Matthews Golden Drummers or Turkey Dinosaurs.
In the iconic words of Christopher Duncan Turk in Scrubs (2001), “It’s kind of hard to beat brinner”. For those of you unfamiliar, ‘Brinner’ is simply breakfast for dinner. And who wouldn’t want to explore that world of possibilities? A fry up, toast, cereal, fruit and yogurt, the world truly is your oyster when it comes to brinner. If there’s a few of you in quarantine together, why not make a brinner banquet? My only rule would be you have to bring eggs. Speaking of which…
Huevos rancheros, shakshouka, menemen, whatever you call it, baking a few eggs in some tinned tomatoes has never felt more upmarket. You can customise this to feature additional veg of course and I personally like to get plenty of balsamic vinegar in the tomatoes, but it’s really up to you what you want to do here. Ideal with some crusty bread to dip straight into the pan, it’s a great dish to share with your isolation pals as well, and for all its impressive presentation warrants, it’s mega easy to make.
Another egg-based dish, an omelette is ideal for using up fresh ingredients about to perish or maybe a little worse for wear already. Do you remember those adverts for BEIC? The ‘Red Lion Eggs’ and how versatile they could be when it looked like you had nothing in? The adverts (Directed by Tom Hooper in case you’re interested) showed families looking in near empty fridges but managing to cook up something wonderful with eggs and a couple of other ingredients. They were basically always omelettes, but it is still something that rings true to this day that even if it looks like there’s nothing in, you can probably make an omelette.
Vegans and non-vegans, unite! I don’t need to tell you how many varieties of soup there are. Fresh, tinned, homemade, you can make anything into a decent bowl of soup if you blend and season enough. In fact there are so many different flavours and forms of soup that I didn’t want to put a picture on this entry, but instead chose one of my favourite adverts from the king of soup, Heinz, that perfectly encapsulates how a hot bowl of soup puts everything in its place after a crummy day.
I don’t know exactly why they call it crimble crumble on Friday Night Dinner (2011) but it’s now the only name I shall accept for the low-maintenance dessert. If you have flour, sugar and fruit (fresh or tinned), you can make some sort of crumble. Hopefully you can make or have some custard, cream or ice cream to go with it, but even the most basic recipe and presentation will hit your sweet-tooth appropriately, and wrap around you like a hug.
If you want to be fancy you can call it a casserole, but a stew is a stew because that’s what your ingredients are doing. I love a stew because you can use anything. All you need is a big pot or a slow cooker, some dry ingredients, seasoning and liquid, and you’re good to go. This can be meaty, veggie, or vegan, and there is no limit on what weird and wonderful combinations you can come up with for stew. My only advice is that this is a leisurely dinner that should be cooked low and slow, so you’re best not leaving it until you actually need to eat. Leave it in the slow cooker all day or start the cooking as early as you can for maximum flavour and tenderisation.
Pasta, bacon, cheese
Like gnocchi, pasta can be used in a million and one combinations but I think the above is the best for a quick meal you won’t judge yourself for. If you’re Italian, look away now, because I fully expect you to come for my head if you read what I’m about to say; you do not have to respect pasta! One of my old favourite pasta dishes was penne, barbecue sauce, and cheddar cheese. Done in about 10 minutes, and very filling. You can go down this route of sacrilege, or you can keep it authentic with old Italian recipes that make use of ingredients lying around the house. Either way, there’s a reason pasta is in demand right now and I hope you can grab some for tough times ahead.
A superior comfort food if you have a toastie maker or sandwich press, but also acceptable by cooking on the stovetop. You can put whatever you want on a toastie and it will make you feel good. I require cheese on mine but I’m not fussy about what it’s paired with because in my opinion cheese goes with everything. I have seen people use brevilles to make desserts and pies out of chilled pastry as well, so it’s worth keeping that in mind during your self-isolation.
Ramen should not be disrespected. What is known as ‘ramen’ in the US and UK is not ‘ramen’. They are instant noodles okay? Even in Japan, they call it ‘instant ramen’. INSTANT. But anyway, instant noodles are a godsend and you can jazz them up with liberal seasoning, sriracha, and a boiled egg sitting on top. Just don’t call it ramen though.
I do not like that shepard’s pies and cottage pies are called pies because they are not pies. But regardless of this, they are a great way to use up ingredients and fill your stomach. These are basically less liquidy stews with potato on top, and who wouldn’t love that?
Mince and Tatties
If you know what you’re doing here, this meal is bound to snap you out of your funk. You should always look to the Scots and other cold countries when it comes to comfort meals with minimal ingredients, because they will without a doubt have the best recipes with the smallest fuss. It’s all about the seasoning with this dish, so don’t be shy with your salt and pepper and whack some soy or Worcestershire sauce in there for extra purchase.
Cereal and flavoured milk
I’ll be the first to say I’m actually not a cereal fan. It’s my least favourite breakfast and I never understood Jerry’s obsession in Seinfeld (1989) until I tried Nesquik with chocolate almond milk. Shit! It was amazing! Since then I’m queen of the cereal combos. Some of my favourites include Lucky Charms with strawberry milk, peanut butter Crunchy Nut Clusters with banana milk, and Golden Nuggets with white chocolate milk (it does exist!). Experiment and change your life! The crazier the better!
Like a lot of these meals, the best thing about a stir fry is that anything goes. If you are frying it on a high heat in a big pan and stirring as you fry, you are making a stir fry. Keeping it Chinese in flavour is my recommendation, with rice or noodles, vegetables, some sort of protein, seasoning and sweet chili sauce. Quick, easy, and super filling, I do not know how people survive without stir frys.
Cheese on Toast
The first. The last. Our everything. Cheese on toast might seem like a snack rather than a meal, but you’re not thinking outside the box. Even basic cheddar cheese on toast is great. Then add a bit of worcestershire sauce. Ooh? Little bit interesting? Then maybe put a little dijon mustard and ham underneath the cheese before grilling. Croque monsieur por moi? Ooh la la. Get really fancy and make Welsh rarebit! OH YES CHEESE ON TOAST, DO IT TO ME AGAIN! Never underestimate cheese on toast because it will never underestimate you. It’s a dish that’s truly what you want to make of it and it’s another great meal that lifts your spirits just when you need it
What do you reckon? Are these decent comfort foods or am I just a terrible cook? Let me know if I missed any or you’ve had these and they made you even more depressed!