Self isolation, week 3: anything goes!

We used to do most of our grocery shopping in the shops in the area, but since the ‘outbreak’ and the ‘lockdown’, it all has been really messed up, with shops packed with people but devoid of food.

Now that most of our fresh food shopping comes from erratic and unpredictable home deliveries, and is complemented with whatever we can find when we venture onto the shops once a week, we’ve had to “change our paradigm”.

Or in other words, instead of going from recipe to ingredients, we’re now going the other way: here’s the ingredients, what can you do with them?

These are some of the ‘things’ that have emerged from our kitchen in the last weeks.

There’s a lot of “continuity” to this, where parts of what you cook are used on the next thing you cook, so you never quite start from zero:

Rice dishes

Arroz al horno, with black chickpeas

Arroz al horno, with black chickpeas
Arroz al horno, with black chickpeas

This was such a great confluence of circumstances:

things that we kept for a special occasionthings we somehow managed to find in the shops
* morcillas de cebolla (black onion sausage) I got vacuum sealed from a deli in a market in Spain
* juicy BIG garlic cloves I brought from Spain as my prized treasure
* baking potatoes
* pork belly
* black chickpeas

This is normally cooked using normal chickpeas, but we couldn’t find any (neither can or dried) as everyone had gone into STOCKPILING MODE and there was nothing left to do but to get these mysterious black Italian chickpeas.

They turned out very tasty, even if they looked a touch awkward in the context of this dish…

Chao fan with pork belly and seaweed

Chao fan with pork belly
Chao fan with pork belly

I wanted to use the rest of the pork belly we didn’t use for the Arroz al horno, so I cooked some round rice to stir fry it the next day. I was very excited to use some kelp seaweed I had found in the Korean shop back in February, so I added a piece before cooking the rice.

We don’t normally make this dish with pork belly; it’s more like bacon or sausage, so that was strange enough.

Then, we haven’t been able to find spring onions in several weeks (“might” have to do with Kenya not having flights anymore). But I wanted some sort of green on the dish. So I rehydrated some dried seaweed from the cupboard, and added it to the mix.

It was very comforting, even if the kelp and seaweed made it more Japanese than Chinese!



We were feeling utterly miserable due to a combination of work, stress, uncertainty, cold… and I remembered that ochazuke was the first thing we had when we landed in Tokyo almost a year ago, and it comforted us greatly. So why not try to replicate it?

I used the remaining kelp-flavoured rice I cooked the day before, topped with the rest of mushrooms, pan fried, an omelette, some seaweed topping, a dash of hojicha tea, and some millet and sesame topping that I made following the recipe in the Bento Power book that I got back in January, when I was all excited about having the chance to prepare lunch boxes! HA HA, if I had known…

Overall, it was such a comforting dish that it almost made us tearful ?

Pimientos al horno

Pimientos al horno
Pimientos al horno

These are rice stuffed peppers, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven (a bit like jacket potatoes).

I made these right before the peppers started to go “too wilted”. I used half the amount of meat and tomato we’d use normally, so that we could use the other half for something else. It still turned out to be really yummy!

Lentejas (lentil stew)

Lentil stew
Lentil stew

My mum gave me the idea for this one!

It’s another staple-driven dish, using:

  • pre-sliced and frozen vegetables
  • frozen ham bones
  • a piece of frozen Spanish cured sausage
  • a generous spoonful of the amazing toy-looking paprika I got in the market a few months ago
  • a bay leaf (my mother gave me a bunch a few years ago)

This was radically tasty. And I kept thanking past me for stocking such useful things for future me.

Spinach, spinach everywhere

I had bought a big bag of spinach, and I made it last by distributing it between various dishes:


The veg and fruit box with random contents we got came with a squash and cauliflower amongst many other wonders. I roasted them both and then we ate them during the week in all sorts of combinations: in salads, wraps, and… (why not?) in a sort of ramen which I concocted with…

  • the liquid from cooking chickpeas for the curry
  • sesame oil
  • some egg-noodles that were sitting on the cupboard
  • and thinly sliced bacon from the Korean grocery store that was in the freezer
Pumpkin, cauliflower and korean bacon ramen
Pumpkin, cauliflower and Korean bacon ramen

Things that we said good-bye to for a while

Some stuff went out of the shelves for a few weeks. So we treasured every bit of them that we had in our fridge. Things like…

halloumi cheese, which disappeared really quickly—we normally use it in wraps, but they were all gone from the shops and we didn’t have flour to make them, so we just had a really tasty salad, with the last cherry tomatoes and lettuce

Halloumi salad
Halloumi salad

Fresh fruit and oats also flew out of the shelves, so this porridge with our last banana and blueberries was something to appreciate!

Banana and blueberries porridge
Banana and blueberries porridge


The “accidentally Nordic”

The week before the lock-down was officially declared, we tried getting some white wheat flour for making bread and it was impossible. So I settled with what we could find, which was spelt flour.

I was confident that it would be a good substitute, as I had used spelt in the past… but in the midst of the confusion I didn’t notice that this was wholemeal spelt, not white spelt!

I went ahead with the bread making anyway. It tasted nicely tangy and moist. Like one of those dark rye breads I tried when I was in Stockholm or Berlin some years ago. Except it was mostly spelt. What an interesting accidental discovery!

Wholemeal spelt loaf
Wholemeal spelt loaf

It didn’t expand much when proving or cooking, and stayed mostly flat, but it was delicious regardless.

Wholemeal spelt loaf cut in two
Wholemeal spelt loaf, cut in two

The “Whatever it takes”

the "Whatever it takes" bread
the “Whatever it takes” bread, proving hard and overflowing the banneton

This is part of my list of experiments to come up with The Ultimate Sourdough Bread recipe, but with a ‘finish bits and pieces’ flair. It has equal parts Dan Lepard’s white sourdough starter and my own rye starter, plus the ends of the Emergency Spelt Flour, some Stoates rye flour, and the Emergency Italian Manitoba flour that I got from Bakery Bits a week ago.

In this experiment I used the quantities of ingredients detailed in Dan Lepard’s “the handmade loaf” book recipe for white sourdough, but I used the method we used in his workshop last November. I wanted to create a loaf that was a bit easier to handle (the workshop amounts create a dough which is too liquid for me). I think this worked out really well!

I also doubled the amounts to minimise time baking. So this is a 1800 grams beast of a loaf.

the "Whatever it takes" bread
the “Whatever it takes” bread

I cut it in two parts, then sliced each quarter and froze three quarters of the bread. Then we can toast and defreeze as we need, and nothing ever goes stale.

… paired with a left-over cheese omelette

We made a cheese omelette as we had to use our last Burford Brown eggs which we were carefully treasuring but didn’t want to allow to go off. We used a bit of blue cheese that was also being treasured in the fridge but had to be used. This also had some of the last olives from M&S which I got a few weeks ago, the last cucumber and rocket, all “on toast” over slices of the MEGA BREAD.

The combination made us extremely happy—with the sun entering the room and some jazz records on the player, it almost felt as if time had passed and it was summer already and things were back to normal

Cheese omelette on toast
Cheese omelette on toast

Alternative proteins

Thai green curry with tempeh

I hadn’t used tempeh before, but other than smoked tofu, this was all there was in the shop. Since the smoked flavour would clash with the green curry, I decided to try out this soya based protein to replace the tofu I normally use.

I wasn’t a big fan of its ‘beaniness’, but Devvers loved it!

‘German’ style salad, with smoked tofu

German style salad with smoked tofu
German style salad with smoked tofu… and a chicken liver

We normally make this with German sausages (often from Borough Market’s German Deli, or from Herman Ze German). Now that I’m not near Borough during the week and that Herman is closed, this is the closest I could come up with!

I actually like this tofu a lot; it works great in salad lunch boxes. Although this time I sliced and pan fried it to give it a charred look.

Ironically, it’s made in Freiburg, where I once gave a talk and I remember I also had a vegan sausage from the market stalls on the lunch break. Premonitory times!

I also added the liver because the vegetables had been cooked with the chicken bones and giblets and I don’t like wasting stuff in general, let alone in these times ?

The mighty chicken that kept on giving

We rarely get meat and then I always try to get organic and grass fed, etc which was a next to impossible task in the last weeks. But this week we finally got a chicken! And let me tell you, we used almost all of it.

It was roasted, the bones and carcass set aside, then boiled in the pressure cooker with some vegetables for stock. The meat we carved out was used in wraps, salads (twice) and soups.

Thank you chicken. We appreciated you.

You bake, I bake…

Is it true that this lock-down is turning nations into bakers? I don’t know, but it is true that we’re baking a lot more these days.

There’s also a sort of loop where you think “well, if you’re turning the oven on, I might just as well bake something too…”

Devvers’ Matisse-shaped shortbreads

Matisse shaped shortbreads
Matisse shaped shortbreads

These shortbreads were fabulously melt-in-your-mouth melty, and another batch was requested (by me, obviously).

Rollitos de anís

While waiting my turn for the oven (?) I decided to prepare something shortbread style, something that would not require eggs as unfortunately most of the Spanish recipes do, so I decided to go for “Rollitos de anís”, i.e. anise rolls, as they only need anise, oil, sugar and flour. So no eggs or yeast!

Rollitos de anís, baked
Rollitos de anís, baked

Blurry picture in the best spirit of busy Spanish housewife doing one thousand things at once.


Because, I thought, I could maybe also make some saladitos, even if I didn’t have a recipe handy? I could probably make it up, which I did:


They aren’t the most appealing looking, but they are a fantastic snack and dead easy to make. They’re a very common snack in Valencia, a distant relative of grissini, picos, and many other “bready sticks”. Without eggs or yeast, all it takes is some flour, oil, water and salt to make this into a paste. Fennel seeds optional!

There’s something utterly satisfying about taking pieces out of the dough and rolling them into sticks and doughnut rings. I suppose it’s like Plasticine but for adults and you can also eat it without getting poisoned ?

Coca de chocolate

I made this on the week of Saint Joseph (19th of March).

We were meant to be in Valencia eating buñuelos dipped in deliriously thick hot chocolate, but since we couldn’t and I also didn’t want to cause the whole flat to reek of frying oil if I made buñuelos, I reached for the next best thing: a coca de chocolate, a great staple of my afternoons during university. Who could resist a big cup of milky coffee and a slice of this? Not me!

Coca de chocolate
Coca de chocolate

As I said on twitter, it is loaded with olive oil, so it is therefore very healthy ?

The drinks

Having bits and pieces around and not allowing things to go to waste has been fueling my ‘drinks creativity’. There are no rules anymore ?

Rosemary-infused gin with ginger

We brought some rosemary with us when we came back from Spain a couple months ago, and I wanted to experiment with infusing gin with it. I used a somewhat neutral Jensen Old Tom gin (so not one of those funky flavoured gins that people are coming up with lately).

I diluted the infused one with non infused gin (it was too strong after a month+ of infusion). I felt it needed a bit of citrusy aroma and the only thing in the fridge was a lump of ginger… and so I used a slice of that. And it worked well! Here for future reference:

Gin with ginger
Rosemary infused gin with ginger

Bastard mojito

I had some mint leaves and wanted to use them. I also wanted a cocktail. I somehow fancied a mojito but I didn’t have lime, only lemons. I also had a flavoured rum, with coconut. Whatever. Here’s my refreshing Bastard mojito:

Bastard mojito
Bastard mojito

With Aluna Coconut rum, mint leaves, lemon juice, Fever Tree tonic, some syrup and some sugar.

Bastard mojito
Bastard mojito

Raising this virtual drink to everyone’s health! ?

I recognise that we’re extremely privileged that we have a solid roof over our heads and we can still keep working from home. I’m grateful that we can get deliveries, even if randomly. The shops also seem to be coming back to normal, slowly and with anti-hoarding limits of “only two items of each type” per person, which seems more reasonable than limiting per section.

I am sharing these ideas in the spirit of optimism and for my own diarising and wanting to look back at these sometime in the future, as I already said.

I’ve also been buying music from artists which are now without a chance to do their gigs, subscribing to podcasts I did not support monetarily before, and paying yoga teachers who are also out of work now and whose videos I’m using to stay sane and fit. I don’t know if this is the BEST I can do, but at least this is something I can do, on top of this self-isolation which I’m finding quite taxing and that perhaps could have been avoided if our “dear government” had had their mind set to the task and not on stupid problems of their own creation such as the B-word, and had been way more proactive instead of ignoring the upcoming avalanche… but anyway…!

I keep reminding myself that each day we reduce interaction is a day that we reduce chances for the virus to spread, and we’re saving lives.

So cook and bake and share if that’s what makes you feel better while staying home. It seems to be doing the part for us!

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