With experts now predicting that life won’t necessarily get back to normal until late 2021 or early 2022, it looks like we’ll be social distancing and masking up for some time to come. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a little culinary fun.
As we near the home stretch (hopefully) of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities are saying it’s still so important to follow best practices like social distancing, avoiding large groups, only doing take out or curbside service and masking up. As spring approaches and we’re getting stir crazy for new things to do, there are a few culinary themed things we can do and still be safe.
Take an online cooking class
Recently, a friend of mine and I took a Moroccan cooking class from Sur la Table. So much fun! They give you a list of ingredients to make two or more dishes — we made chicken tangine with dried fruit; lemon, mint and saffron couscous; and a carrot and feta salad. Once you’ve got them all assembled, you log in to the class and start cooking. The classes are about two hours long, but have a ton of great information and practical tips. And in the end, you have a feast for four, bonus!
Learn how to make mozzarella or ricotta
Enough with the sour dough bread and macarons, already! Learning how to make fresh mozzarella and ricotta is so rewarding — also, it’s cheese, so how can you possibly go wrong? It’s a really easy process, and what you get when you’re done is so much better than store bought. You can do it with pasteurized milk, but get whole milk. And if you can get unpasteurized milk, it turns out just as well.
Plan your garden
With everyone being home more, why not plant a garden out back? Or in containers on the patio? Or in hanging baskets in the kitchen?
Planning your garden now will give you a good start on lettuce, spinach, peas and other cold hardy vegetables. When they’re done, it’s time to throw in the tomatoes, radishes, beans and peppers. Why not be adventurous and try growing some sweet potatoes? Or some strawberries?
I like to put cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket and put them on my back porch. That way, when it’s warm out, I can reach up and grab a few for a quick summer salad, or just pop one in my mouth for a sweet little vegetable candy treat.
Forage for mushrooms
Being outside is a great way to get exercise while practicing social distancing. And if you’re looking for mushrooms — like morels or chicken (or hen) of the woods — so much the better!
Joe Lacefield, Private Lands Wildlife Biologist at Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, says morel hunting is spotty in Kentucky — sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.
“It will depend on soil moisture in late March and early April,” he said. “2020 wasn’t great, so ’21 could be a good year. Fall 2020 was awesome for hen of the woods though!”
Morels are known for their flavor and their iconic shape. Mostly living in and on the edge of the forest, you’ll find them near ash, aspen, elm and oak trees. Early on in spring, as the ground is getting warmer, you’ll find them on south-facing slopes. According to Field and Stream, you should look around dead elm trees whose bark is slipping off their trunks. And you’ll find them near sandy riverbeds as well.
One thing about morels though — Lacefield says never eat a mushroom you can’t identify, and always cook wild mushrooms before you eat them to get rid of any bugs and to make them more digestible.
But, if you’re not into going out and foraging your own mushrooms, try a mushroom growing kit. I did an oyster mushroom kit, and within three weeks went from a box of dirt to a huge batch of oyster mushrooms, perfect for stir fry, mushroom soup and even pizza with a gourmet kick to it!
There’s nothing like fishing for a fun, food-centered activity that puts you six feet or more away from the person next to you. Lacefield says for public access without a boat, the FINS lakes and Elkhorn Creek are the best places to go in Frankfort. They can be crowded on pretty days, he says.
Have a Zoom dinner party or cocktail hour
I know we’re all about Zoomed out, but having a Zoom dinner party or cocktail hour can be a great way to connect with friends and get together over food. Either plan on everyone making the same thing and sitting down together at the same time, or make it drop in potluck, with everyone making what they want and showing up whenever. For cocktail hour, try grabbing a theme that everyone has to dress up for and match their costume to their cocktail. You can even give out special prizes to the best costume/cocktail combo!
Just because we’re still in this pandemic doesn’t mean we can’t all still get together, have fun and find a way to connect. It’s just a little while longer. Let’s all be safe out there and find new ways to connect with our friends, with our family, with our planet and with our food. After all, we’re going to get through this together.
Spring pasta with morels, ramps and spring peas
12 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and very coarsely chopped*
4 ounces ramps, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or 1 medium leek, cleaned and thinly sliced, plus 1 clove garlic, minced)
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup diced cooked ham
¼ cup dry white wine
¾ cup whipping cream
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 ¼ cups frozen peas, thawed
1 ½ teaspoons snipped fresh thyme
Salt and cracked black pepper
10 ounces dried linguine pasta
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Shaved Parmesan cheese, optional
(*If you don’t have morels, you can substitute cremini, Shiitake or button mushrooms)
Cook morels and ramps in hot butter in a very large skillet for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
In the same skillet, add ham and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and add the white wine. Return to the heat and cook for one minute. Add cream and stock, stirring occasionally for 6 to 8 minutes until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Return morels and ramps to the skillet. Add peas and thyme. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until peas are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
At the same time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add linguine and cook according to package directions. Drain. Add pasta and parsley to sauce and stir to combine. Place in a serving bowl and serve with shaved or grated parmesan, if desired.
(Ramps are wild onions that come out for just a few weeks in the spring and taste like a combination of leeks, onions and garlic. If you can’t find them, substituting leeks and garlic is fine. You’re not going to find them at your local grocery store, but you may find them at your local Farmers’ Market.)