Cooking with Covid

Cooking with Crisco and Sudsing with Dreft. You have to be someone of a certain age to remember that old jingle, but here’s a 2021 twist.

With restaurants shut down during the pandemic many of us have had to re-up our cooking skills. One extreme example would be that of my literary agent. Alice and her husband were stuck on Kawaii for a number of months. For her it was either learn to cook or starve, and to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she’s become quite adept at rattling those pots and pans.

The same is true for me. Years ago, during the course of my first marriage and later as a single mom, I cooked, of course, and in the early years of Bill’s and my marriage as well. But then, after Bill retired, he took over most of the cooking responsibilities, and why not? He’s better at it than I am. I was still in charge of Thanksgiving dinner and when it came to baking rhubarb or pumpkin pies, but for day to day meals, he was the one doing the cooking.

A year or so ago, I wrote about being a fan of plain Jane French toast—the kind made with plain white bread that hasn’t been jazzed up with cinnamon or vanilla or lemon zest or powdered sugar. Why anyone would slice up a sweet roll, coat that with batter, and call it French toast is beyond me. But it turns out most restaurants only cook the fancy kinds, and so for a long time, I did without. Then, after paying all of forty bucks for a non-stick griddle from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I was off to the French toast races. The griddle sits out in the open and in a place of honor on our stovetop. It’s good for French Toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and grilled tuna sandwiches as well. It’s so slick that the only cleaning required is a wipe down with a damp paper towel.

Bill loves to watch Cook’s Country. My problem with that is they always seem to make things harder than they need to be. In the one we saw last night, they slathered a beef roast with rosemary before putting it in the oven. I found myself wondering “WHY?” Who needs rosemary with roast beef? And then they sliced up some skinless chicken breasts, coated them in a beer batter that included chopped almonds, and deep fried them—something that took two quarts of oil and a thermometer attached to the pan! What did they do with all that leftover grease?

Here’s my idea. I melt a cube of butter and pour it into a pie plate and mix in a tablespoon or so of minced garlic. (I keep a jar of that in the fridge.) I make a breading mixture on a paper plate—Panko, some Wondra Flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion power, and paprika. Then I use our very old cast iron frying pan. I put some of the butter and garlic mixture in the bottom of the frying pan before lining things up on the counter, left to right—frying pan, breading mix, and butter/garlic. If you have those close enough together, there’s no muss/no fuss as you coat the chicken first in the butter mx and ,then the crumbs before placing it frying pan. After pouring the remaining butter around the sides of the pan, I add in a couple of quartered waxy potatoes and maybe a vegie or some sort. This week I decorated the edge of the pan with potatoes and frozen Brussel sprouts before cooking he whole shebang for an hour and fifteen minutes at 375. It was a wonderful one-pan meal.

I’m Scandinavian through and through, but I’ve developed enough secret ragu short cuts that people might suspect me of being Italian. Newman’s Own Marinara sauce is fine as far as it goes, but it’s a little bland. I add in some ground round, some of my minced garlic, salt and pepper, some ground Parmesan cheese, and my secret ingredient for all things Italian–a couple of tablespoons of Pesto Classico! I’ve been known to go so far as to mix IKEA Swedish meatballs into this handy-dandy version of ragu. Talk about fusion cuisine! As for my favorite pasta? That would be angel hair. Once it’s in boiling water on the stove, I know for a fact that if I walk 180 steps, it will be done perfectly!

And speaking of steps. On Sunday morning, I was out walking and wondering what we were going to have for breakfast. I was thinking about French toast, but then a memory from long ago popped into my head—Monte Christo sandwiches. Remember those? We just happened to have the very last four pieces of our Easter ham still sitting in the fridge. Isn’t that what was in those Monte Christo sandwiches—French toast, ham, and melted cheese? So into the house I went and mixed up some French toast. What’s my recipe for that? Two egg, a literal pinch of salt, a heaping sugar spoon of sugar, and enough milk until it looks right. Once the French toast was cooked on one side, I piled on slices of ham and cheese while the other side cooked. Once the cheese started to melt, I slapped them together and served them with Lingonberry jam not strawberry. (I’m Swedish, remember?)

When I was in high school, Miss Rosewarne gave me a bad grade in Home-Ec after I added three teaspoons of salt to a chocolate cream pie. It should have been three teaspoons of something else, and trust me, it was AWFUL! So the idea of my writing a blog filled with J.A. Jance’s cooking secrets is almost as unlikely as my routinely handing out exercise advice. I still remember the dismayed look on my doctor’s face when I told him a few years back that my major form of exercise was jumping to conclusions.

The BHS classmates who had to choke down that long ago chocolate cream pie would probably think that I have a lot of nerve for sharing cooking advice of any kind.

And they’re right—more nerve than a bad tooth!

So now you have my permission go rattle your own Covid pots and pans! Have fun. You might turn out to be better at cooking than you ever knew.

PS. By the way, for as long as Evie could get it Dreft was my mother’s favorite laundry detergent. No wonder that jingle is imprinted on my heart.

25 thoughts on “Cooking with Covid

  1. Loved it! I am also of a certain age and agree with you. Thanks for the hints. I plan on trying some.
    Scandinavian cooking is big here on the Iron Range of Minnesota. We are lucky to have many ethnicities to enjoy tastes of.

  2. I couldn’t even begin to top that! Maybe someone would want to try what I do with my unused pots and pans: beat them when the squirrels hit the bird feeder, or gang than at seven in the evening to thank the first responders!!!

  3. Covid has finally gotten me to love our Instant Pot! I was terrified of it when my husband bought it, but I decided to conquer my fears one day and made the most amazing pot roast, much more tender than the crockpot. I’ve also made several soups, perfect for a Colorado front range winter that just won’t give way to spring. ?

  4. In my accelerated math class ( we did 5 years in 4 ), there were maybe 3-4 girls. Our sophomore year we also had the homeroom, an additional 20 minutes. For some reason a couple of the girls decided to make some brownies for the class. Well, I guess tsp and tbs do look similar. Yep, tablespoons of salt instead of teaspoons ! Pretty awful.

  5. First time at a restaurant in a long time with family was my birthday lunch. Restaurant chosen because they serve Monte Christo sandwiches! Ready to go back. I grew up on plain food. My husband did as well. Cooking was done, cookbooks were used. My daughter and two of her girls are great cooks. Common denominators? Hubbies who appreciate their efforts and are willing to try almost anything! I like lingonberries on pancakes, but not Monte Christos. So many memories.

    As for Dreft, grandkids use it for baby laundry.

    • I was told to soak the cloth diapers using Dreft with my first baby about 55 years ago. I can’t remember if I used it for the rest of her clothes, too.

  6. My best recipe:
    Two pounds ground turkey
    One jar Ragu
    One jar Prego
    Sliced mushrooms
    Brown turkey, add mushrooms and cook til done
    Pour in both jars of sauce
    Fill one jar with water halfway, swish to clean jar, pour into second jar, swish, pour into pot.
    Season with Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic and Mrs. Dash Italian Medley.
    When it’s done, thicken with instant mashed potatoes.
    My children say we have turkey and mashed potatoes year-round!

  7. My daughter and her friend decided to make chocolate chip cookies all by themselves when they were about 10 or 11. They insisted they didn’t need help. It didn’t turn out well. They put in 1/4 CUP of salt, “just like the recipe said”.

  8. Nice article, made me smile and I picked up a couple of ideas from you. I am of German/English descent and demand recipes. When a dish turns out spectacular (haha), I can always repeat the event. My husband is Finnish. He is the better cook in our home and he cooks like you. No recipes for him. When we first got married he would come to the kitchen, chuckle as he watched me diligently following the recipe and told me I was cute. Still not sure how I should feel about that. Ah well. On a lighter note I finally finished all of the Beaumont books. Truly enjoyed them. Thx.

  9. I love your description of cooking and your enthusiasm for it. Thanks for the reminder of some of my favorite things as a kid! I’m wondering if the Hawaiian Island you were describing had a typo and should be Kauai rather than Kawaii?

    • Where is my copyeditor when I need one? I could ask my IT Gal to correct it, but this way people will know for sure that I’m not nearly as smart as I’d like people to think I am.

  10. Alas, I still make my Grandma Gambardella’s pasta sauce using chicken and Italian sausage.
    Always better the next day!

    In Clermont, FL there is a restaurant called Cheezer’s. Their Monte Cristi uses brie! To die for!
    Happy Cooking!

  11. I am grateful for your blog and regularly read it on Fridays…the first day that it is available.

    There are many points in today’s blog that impress me as I have become a bit of a cooking enthusiast over the years…. and COVID life style has inspired me to do a lot more home cooking.

    However, what inspires me the most about your blogs is your journey of going from someone who was a bit over weight to a little sedentary to someone who regularly walks at least 10,000 steps every day…and more on lots of days.

    I loved your method of cooking angel hair pasta…add to boiling water and then walk 180 steps. This is a good reminder that regardless of painful legs or of bad weather that walking can be done indoors.

    Today’s blog has inspired me to make getting an Apple type watch a project to be completely immently. I want to follow your example and walk more.

    Amazon Prime here I come.


    • My husband caught his toe on his cane yesterday and did a face plant. Scratched his face and hurt his pride, but everything else is fine. I was five steps away. Before I could get to him, his watch had already sent him a text saying that he had fallen and did he need help. Yes, get that watch!

  12. My husband loves toasted tuna sandwiches. But I need a slice of cheese in mine. Recently finished Missing and Endangered. Per usual Joanna Brady was excellent. Spent 19 winters in Cochise County, between Sierra Vista and Parker Canyon Lake, so I relate to the area. Spent one winter at Double Adobe, Read your Blog every week. Feel like I know your readers. Keep them coming…..

  13. My doctor says I should not eat Reuben sandwiches—I have high blood pressure–but I usually have one if I go out to lunch. I haven’t had a Monte Cristo sandwich in years, but like them too.

    A family running joke. My sister Ruth was in high school and decided to make a lemon meringue pie. It turned out nicely, but Mom thought the crust was a little tough. She asked Ruth how long she had baked the crust? Ruth didn’t realize she was supposed to. The hot lemon filling and baking while the meringue browned baked the crust a bit, but not enough. We ate the top part and gave the dogs the crust. She took a lot of teasing.

  14. Oh my goodness, I just got finished talking to my husband about old timey recipes namely Monte Christo sandwiches and I can’t wait to make them your way. Mine would have been to put the ingredients together on the bread and dip them in the egg mixture, which would have ended up being a disaster trying to flip over in the pan. Yay you!

  15. My Mama was the best cook and never used recipes. I once asked her how she made her luscious chocolate pie. She gave me a few ingredients without any measurements and told me to put in “enough milk until it looks right.” At that point, I threw away what I had written down and enjoyed her pie. I never made one of my own. Sigh.

    Why do you suppose people feel like it is their responsibility to correct every word and comma you write on your blog? I don’t get it but I do LOVE reading your blog every Friday morning.

    I’m reading Missing and Endangered now and enjoying it so much. I also live in Sierra Vista (three years now) and love it. 🙂

  16. Cooking and COVID, when all the whining started about having to make dinner every night with restaurants shut I just shook my head. My mom had a home based business, she created wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, cruise wear, evening gowns, suits and managed to make dinner 351 days every year till she was in her 50’s including Thanksgiving. She also baked each of us our special desserts on our birthdays.
    As a teenager I took over making dinner for the 3 of us. I had it easy, jarred spaghetti sauce, Rice A Roni, baked chicken, grilled cheese and tomato soup, tuna melts.
    I married a Dane who grew up helping his Grandmothers in the kitchen and had chiefs for friends, he is a wonderful if messy cook. He loves cook books and will spend hours reading them but doesn’t following a written recipe when cooking. He did most of the cooking the first 10 years, then we joined forces in the kitchen creating a fusion of Danish/American dishes. Over the years (we just celebrated 40 years together) I’ve expanded my cooking skills to include a number of Danish dishes on my own, my husband says my Danish red cabbage is the best he ever had. We pair it with the Turkey at Thanksgiving and my mom’s traditional bread stuffing.
    Last Christmas I gave us a pressure cooker and we immediately put it use, making carnitas. Of course I made my husband watch a YouTube video first.

  17. Thank you for sharing your new accomplishments and skills… excellent
    The Year of COVID has made me an expert in baking a variety of cakes using a box mix, eggs, milk and butter for a base and making small changes… Seriously Apple, Chocolate Chip, Spice, Lemon Poppy, Lime, Cookies and Cream. And figuring out how zoom a dinner party.

  18. My son found a recipe for a lemon pie that sounded delicious. It was in a British publication and called for corn flour for thickening. He translated the British corn flour to American corn meal. Of course it should have been corn starch. It made for a strange tasting pie.

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