COVID-19 Cooking | #millicookinit

My wife and I enjoy cooking. The stay-at-home order issued on March 20, 2020 by Governor Pritzker to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic moved our work to our home, and all of our evening commitments were canceled for the foreseeable future. With no going out to eat and a little more time in the evening, we found we had more time to do something we enjoyed — cooking. When our schedules are busy, we still try to cook at home, but it’s usually pretty quick and thrown together. Cooking in the kitchen together has always been our way to decompress for the day, talk to one another, and have one thing in our day to control when so many daily events are out of our control. Food connects us, it nourishes us, and it should be enjoyed rather than inhaled like a Hoover vacuum. We like fresh ingredients, but our meals are in no way calorie free 🙂 This is why we also exercise a lot.

Many of our recipes start from something out of a book or magazine and end up modified based on what we have on hand, or we found ways to make the recipe better. We see recipes as a starting point, not a rigid set of instructions. We have collected thousands of recipes over the years from magazines, cookbooks, and the web. We have converted everything that isn’t in a book on our shelf to a PDF and we keep them stored on Google Drive for easy reference in the kitchen on an iPad.

I started posting pics of our dinners with titles just before the stay-at-home order to Twitter and Facebook and started to get positive comments, such as “when I can I come over” and “how are you not 50 lbs. heavier.” We keep a pretty stocked cupboard so we can easily come up with meals without a lot of fuss. We also did a reasonable (not hoarding) amount of food purchasing the prior two weeks in case things got weird (they did). So, some of this is was also a challenge to see what our meals looked like from the beginning of this pandemic to the end of this pandemic. After the first week, two of my former students challenged us to a virtual cook-off with a colleague suggesting the #millicookinit hashtag. So, to expand on this, here is a timeline of the meals prepared during the stay-at-home order along with recipes or links to the recipe with notes on how we modified it. Enjoy!

March 19, 2020 | Day 1
Sausage and pierogi stew with sweet potatoes and mushrooms + cabbage

pierogi squash stew

We found this recipe through Food Network Magazine and used it as a starter, and we’ve fixed it numerous times. We didn’t like the idea of the pierogis being all mushy by being simmered in the soup, so we just baked them in the oven following the package directions (Mrs. T’s). In this particular version, we didn’t have butternut squash so we used a sweet potato. To make sure the sweet potatoes were cooked through, I sauteed them beforehand rather than just simmering them.

March 20, 2020 | Day 2
Blackened trout with lima bean smashed taters and roasted veggies

trout with smashed taters

Another Food Network Magazine recipe for this one. We didn’t have salmon at the time, so we used the large piece of trout I purchased at Sam’s to break down into portions and freeze. We also didn’t have lima beans, but we had mukimame (like edamame) in the freezer so that did the trick. I’m a big fan of homemade smashed taters. They are super easy to make if you don’t fuss over them. Chop up some potatoes (leave the skins on — too much work, plus the skins have vitamins), boil them (along with a clove or two of garlic) until fork tender. We threw the defrosted mukimame in for a few minutes before draining. Then, use a potato smasher to mash them up while adding some butter, milk, salt, pepper, and herbs. Whip them up by hand with a rubber spatula. That’s it! For the trout (or salmon), I prefer to sear in a skillet for a few minutes per side and then finish in the oven for another 5 minutes at 400 degrees. We had the oven on already to roast the broccoli and carrots.

March 21, 2020 | Day 3
Zuppa di fagioli con cotiche ‬(ham and bean soup)

ham and bean soup

This comes from a wonderful cookbook called Zuppa!, appropriately, that focuses on rustic Italian soups. We’ve cooked several recipes from here and we love the simplicity of the recipes. Cooking soups on a wintry Sunday afternoon is something we enjoy. I scanned in the recipe that we used as a starter. We used what dried beans we had on hand along with a leftover ham bone from Honey Baked Ham we had in the freezer.

March 22, 2020 | Day 4
Lamb ragù simmered in red wine

lamb ragu summered in red wine

We had some ground lamb in the freezer from the Moweaqua Packing Plant that needed used. You can’t go wrong with meat simmered in red wine from this Giada classic. A quick rule on using wine with food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. The pasta is bucatini that came from Eataly in Chicago. We didn’t have ricotta, so we used some shredded mozzarella.

March 23, 2020 | Day 5
Breakfast scrambler with orzo, spinach, asparagus, peppers, and chicken sausage

breakfast scrambler

This is a go-to dish we have frequently. You can have it ready in well under 30 minutes. In short, it’s scrambled eggs with whatever you have on hand with some orzo to give it some body. Original recipe is courtesy of Giada DeLaurentis and the Food Network. There are only two of us, so clearly we didn’t use 10 eggs like in the recipe. Four eggs did the trick, we used the 4-chesse Sargento shred mix we had in the fridge, and I wilted in some spinach during the last 3 minutes of the eggs cooking (no need for a salad now).

March 24, 2020 | Day 6
Dill Dijon chicken 🐓 with potatoes 🥔 and asparagus.

dill dijon chicken

Yeah, so I bought a lot of asparagus last week at Sam’s. It’s a recurring theme through many of the recipes this week. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. This is an old Rachel Ray recipe from her 365 No Repeats book. We ran out of dried thyme (make up your own puns), so we substituted dill instead. I generally don’t like searing whole chicken breasts on the stovetop, so I cut up the chicken into bite-sized chunks and seasoned them before searing in the skillet. It probably saved at least 5 minutes off the total meal preparation time.

March 25, 2020 | Day 7
Spice-rubbed grilled pork tenderloin, quinoa salad, and grilled asparagus

pork tenderloin

Pork tenderloins are a great lean protein. They are somewhere around a pound each, so great for two people and sometimes a little extra. I combined smoked and sweet paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper to make a rub. Rub a pit of olive oil over the pork tenderloin and then massage in the spice rub. Place over a grill turning once or twice for about 20 minutes. I like to pull these off the grill when the thermometer hits between 145 and 150 and let it finish cooking as it rests for 5 minutes. We grill asparagus quite frequently. It’s a simple rub of garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes rolling around at least once. Don’t forget to lay them perpendicular on your grill grates 🙂

The quinoa was prepared according the package directions, but using chicken broth with dried shallots and garlic to add some flavor. Some sliced green onions and a drizzle of sherry vinegar brightened it up just before plating.

March 26, 2020  | Day 8
Grilled Moroccan flank steak with herbed millet salad and foil-packet Brussels sprouts.

flank steak with millet salad

Wow, I didn’t realize how many recipes we use from Food Network Magazine. This recipe was really just one to give us an idea, the rest was like a jazz ensemble. For the meat, I made a rub consisting of cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, granulated garlic, a little hot paprika, and smoked paprika. I grilled it until pink in the middle and sliced it against the grain. Instead of pearl couscous like the recipe called for, we used millet. Instead of just cooking in just water, we use chicken broth plus dried shallots. The millet was dressed with marjoram, oregano, and basil and then drizzled with sherry vinegar to brighten things up. The Brussels sprouts were grilled in a foil packet for about 20 minutes tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

A note on spices

Don’t buy the overpriced no-flavor over-dried stuff from the supermarket. We get all our spices from Penzey’s. I never really knew what a bay leaf smelled like until we purchased a bag from them. You can buy their spices in bags and re-use your own glass containers to save on waste. They are a really good company who cares about their employees and the environment. They shutdown their stores and warehouses and are paying their employees during the pandemic.

March 27, 2020  | Day 9
Foil packet tilapia over red lentils with wilted spinach


This meal took no time at all when we really didn’t want to put forth much effort on a Friday night. The tilapia was grilled in a foil packet with pepper and onions and dusted with turmeric and cumin. The red lentils came from this recipe, which we also prepare frequently. The spinach was wilted in a saute pan with salt and pepper and a splash of lemon juice for a few minutes.

March 28, 2020 | Day 10
Cajun Jambalaya…. keep it spicy my friends.

cajun jambalaya

This is an old standby recipe for no-fuss jambalaya that really doesn’t take much time at all. It’s not as good as an all-day affair, but definitely hits the spot. Adjust the spices to make it as mild or as spicy as you like. This recipe came from an old issue of Prevention magazine. I couldn’t locate it on the web, so here is our scanned copy.

March 29, 2020 | Day 11
Baked sage risotto with pumpkin and chicken


So, we had a pumpkin in the house that was still from Halloween. It was in great shape so we decided to carve it up and eat it. In a dutch oven, heat olive oil and saute a boneless skinless chicken breasts that has been cut into 1-1.5 inch chunks for about 5 minutes. Add some diced onions along with dried sage and a bay leaf for about 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add chopped garlic and stir constantly for 30 seconds to a minute. Add in 1 cup arborio rice and stir to combine for about a minute. Stir in 2.5 cups chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add in the cubed pumpkin the transfer to the overn at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with some more dried sage and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

March 30, 2020 | Day 12
Spiced beef patties with couscous + the last of the asparagus (grilled)

spiced beef patties

No hamburger buns? No problem. This is a fun take on a bunless hamburger by mixing in some green onions and Middle Eastern spices into the meat and serving on top of couscous. Food Network gets all the credit for this one. We still had plenty of asparagus, so we grilled that up to go with.

March 31, 2020 | Day 13
Teriyaki Salmon Quinoa Bowl with  Sauteed Cabbage Salad


Through this Food Network recipe, we learned that making your own teriyaki sauce tastes way better than something out of a bottle — especially when you make it with sake. Searing the salmon in the skillet with the sauce makes for a nice glaze. We made up the cabbage salad by sauteing the cabbage with carrots and red peppers with coriander and a splash of apple cider vinegar.

April 1, 2020 | Day 14
Italian Sausage and Brussels Sprouts over Parmesan Polenta Drizzled with Honey and Orange Juice


Polenta is an underrated grain, in our opinion. Bob’s Red Mill makes some great polenta/grits, as do the folks at Carolina Rice Plantation. To keep them creamy, cook them with a combination of milk and chicken broth. Melt in freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Cheddar is also a good mix-in. For the Italian sausage mix, I sauteed the sausage along with a bit of diced onion and garlic along with some multi-colored peppers. Once the sausage was browned, I added the Brussels sprouts (cut in half) to get them seared (about 5 minutes). Add a bit of chicken broth and cover with a lid to let them steam for another 5 minutes. I finished it with about a tablespoon of orange juice and a drizzle of honey to thicken up the sauce and to take the bite out the spice from the sausage.

April 2, 2020 | Day 15
Barbecued Chicken Thighs with Broccoli-potato Foil Packet


Pretty easy here. Salt and pepper the boneless skinless chicken thighs along with some garlic powder. Cover in Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. Go grill them for about 12-14 minutes. For the veggies, mix together the potatoes and broccoli with olive oil and herbs like oregano, basil, and marjoram, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and grill for about 20 minutes.

April 3, 2020 | Day 16
Spinach, Mushroom, and Garlic Pizza (Freshetta)

We needed a break. Frozen pizza. No more explanation needed.

April 4, 2020 | Day 17
Vegetable Dal with cauliflower, pumpkin, and potatoes. Served with Turmeric Flatbread

We’ve still got pumpkin to use. This recipe calls for butternut squash, but the pumpkin was a great substitute. This recipe came from Eating Well and accompanied what was way easier to make when we thought, turmeric flatbread. We may be making some more of this in the future by substituting other herbs and spices in place of the turmeric.

April 5, 2020 | Day 18
Slow cooker beef over garlic horseradish mashed potatoes finished with a red wine reduction

This beef turned out amazing. A small roast was in the slow cooker all day along with carrots, mushrooms, celery, garlic, and onion. I poured in beef broth until it was about 1/2-2/3 covered. I pulled out about a cup and half of the cooking liquid and transferred it to a small pot and threw in a glug of red wine. I brought it to a boil and let it simmer until it was reduced by at least half. While that was simmering, I shredded the beef and kept in warm in the crockpot while we made the mashed potatoes. It was like eating shredded pot roast over mashed potatoes. Great comfort food.

April 6, 2020 | Day 19
Baked Burritos


We had plenty of shredded beef leftover, and the flavors weren’t so different that we couldn’t spice them up and transition it to a Mexican dish. We were originally going to make enchiladas, but the tortillas that were delivered to us were these large ones. Oh well. I sauteed some peppers and onions with Penzey’s Fajita Seasoning then combined with the beef to make the burrito filling (add cheese). After arranging in the dish, we topped with enchilada sauce and more cheese, then baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

April 7, 2020 | Day 20
Tahini-dressed Lentil and Quinoa Bowl


We subscribed to Blue Apron for a while and enjoyed it off and on for about 6 months. We mostly selected recipes for things we hadn’t tried before. We eventually canceled our subscription because most of the recipes were things we knew how to make, so the value was lost. This one, however, was one of our favorites. You can’t go wrong with a soft-boiled egg on top of anything. The original recipe calls for a delicata squash. We still have pumpkin to use, so that was an easy substitution.

April 8, 2020  | Day 21
Stuffed Baked Potato and Arugula Salad


This was a repurposed leftover night. We had a little bit of the quinoa salad leftover so it got mixed in with arugula and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. We still had shredded beef leftover from the slow cooker night. I warmed up the shredded beef with a couple of sliced red peppers and then we stuffed them into potatoes that had been baked in the oven for an hour at 350 degrees. Top with cheese, sour cream, and all the fixins.

April 9, 2020 | Day 22
Baked farro & pumpkin with Italian sausage and sage


This pumpkin is the gift that just keeps on giving. This is a great Ina Garten recipe. We didn’t have bacon, so we just used our Italian sausage instead and made for a great variation in the recipe.

April 10, 2020 | Day 23
Chicken fajita quesadilla with black beans and yellow rice


The boneless skinless chicken breasts that were delivered to us looked like they came from turkeys. They were enormous. I put one of them in the slow cooker, dusted with fajita seasoning, and used the rest of our enchilada sauce and a bit of chicken broth. I cooked it for about 6 hours and then shredded it. Then, I sauteed peppers and onions in olive oil with more fajita seasoning in another pan. In the same pan with some olive oil, I arranged the chicken and veggies on the tortilla, folded in half, and seared for about 2-3 minutes on each side. The black beans were cooked for 6 hours in a slow cooker using dried black beans, chicken broth, diced onions, peppers, garlic, cumin, and coriander. The rice was made according to directions along with a nice helping of dried turmeric. This honestly took the place of having to go out for Mexican.

April 11, 2020 | Day 24
Spicy tuna marinara with capers over bucatini


There’s nothing quite like spending an hour to make your own marinara. It’s worth the time. Sauteed onions, carrots, and garlic in plenty of olive oil along with a can of crushed tomatoes, then simmered for an hour with oregano and basil really gets the flavors to meld together. We took half the marinara to save for later, then added in canned tuna, capers, and some crushed red pepper flakes to serve over bucatini — big fat-sized spaghetti.

April 12, 2020 | Day 25
Shepherd’s Pie

This was a great Easter meal. We’ve made this recipe multiple times over the years and have varied it based on what we have on hand. We usually just do our own thing on the mashed potatoes, and will sometimes add prepared horseradish when whipping them by hand.

April 13, 2020 | Day 26
Mediterranean Grain Bowl with Harissa-roasted Vegetables and Lebneh Sauce

When we were subscribers to Blue Apron, we really enjoyed this dish. The service was a fun way to try foods and recipes we wouldn’t normally pick, and we would only really get a delivery once every 3 or 4 weeks. We eventually canceled because it started to seem like most of the recipes were easily replicable on our own. This reminds of me of an appropriate and hilarious McSweeney’s bit on Blue Apron. We improvised as lebneh is a little hard to come by in this area. Mandi improvised by mixing plain Greek yogurt with sour cream to get the tang and consistency close enough. We also didn’t have harissa, unfortunately. So, I mixed tomato paste with hot and sweet paprika and cumin — it came out close enough. This is a nice vegetarian meal with tons of flavor.

April 14, 2020 | Day 27
Seared Tilapia, Hoppin’ John Salad, Wilted Spinach

Hoppin’ John is a classic southern dish of rice and beans with a little kick. This version comes from Southern Living. This version uses black-eyed peas, but many versions of Hoppin’ John are made with cow peas. We bought a bag of cow peas the last time we ordered our rice from Carolina Rice Plantation. The tilapia was seasoned and seared in the skillet for about 10-12 minutes. Wilting spinach usually results in throwing what feels like fistfuls of leaves into the skillet with a little olive oil and lemon juice only to be left with a small pile of leaves after they have cooked down.

April 15, 2020 | Day 28
Ramen with Charred Pork

This is a relatively quick soup to make. The ramen broth is bolstered with soy sauce, green onions, ginger, and mushrooms, and gets nice and rich after breaking open the soft boiled egg. This has great flavor and you can add in what additional veggies you want as well. We found the ramen noodles at World Market. Kroger in town usually just stocks the Udon noodles.

April 16, 2020 | Day 29
Savory Oats

Savory steel cut Irish oats topped with bacon and a sunny side up egg. Brinner (breakfast for dinner) is a fun way to mix things up. Plus, breakfast is probably most favorite meal of the day contrary to this streak of dinners. We had never though that oatmeal could be savory, but this recipe proved wrong. You can’t go wrong with a sunny-side up egg on top. Not pictured: toast.

April 17, 2020 | Day 30
Broccoli cheddar soup with spinach provolone panini

This was a lazy Friday night meal. The broccoli cheddar soup was from a box mix we received as a gift. We used our Cuisinart Griddler to make the panini. It’s a fancy grilled cheese.

April 18, 2020 | Day 31
Slow cooker oxtail stew with pierogis

We get most of our beef from our extended family at Leeper Family Farms. When we go to pick up our beef from the processing plant, we sometimes ask for the oxtail to go with. It’s a super tough piece of meat that needs cooked low and slow for a long time. We cooked it the first day in the slow cooker for about 6 hours, then refrigerated it overnight. The next day, we scraped all the fat off, added more beef broth, corn, carrots, etc. and cooked on low for another 10-12 hours. This was rich and delectable. The pierogis were admittedly by Mrs. T. We haven’t ventured into homemade pierogies… yet.

April 19, 2020
Dried Cranberry Cake Cookies & Blueberry Bran Muffins

April 20, 2020

April 21, 2020

April 22, 2020

April 23, 2020

April 24, 2020

April 25, 2020

April 26, 2020

April 27, 2020

April 28, 2020

April 29, 2020

April 30, 2020

May 1, 2020

May 2, 2020

May 3, 2020

May 4, 2020

May 5, 2020

May 6, 2020

May 7, 2020

May 8, 2020