Well, here we are then, uncomfortably poised on the edge of history and waiting for the other shoe to drop. What should we do now? Probably cook — I subscribe to the sentiment offered by Madeleine L’Engle: “That’s something I’ve noticed about food: whenever there’s a crisis if you can get people to eating normally things get better.”

You have likely stocked up your kitchen. The first thing to do is put things away properly — fresh meat should be cooked or frozen, fruit and vegetables stored properly so they will keep, packaged goods put away behind whatever was already in the cabinet so the old things get used first. If you bought extra bread, butter or cheese you may want to freeze the excess so it’s fresh when you want it. Anything that you’re freezing should be double-wrapped, dated and labelled clearly.  If you have a big freezer, you may want to keep a list of the contents on the front of it.

If you haven’t stocked up yet, or if you realize you forgot things, take a few minutes to make an inventory. Check your spices, condiments, oils, vinegars. Make a modest list of things that you’ll want in the next two or three weeks. Even if you can afford it, please don’t overbuy — we’re all in this together, and we all need groceries.

If you’ve already bought more than you need in a panic (and who could blame you?) consider dropping off a bag of extras to the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC) at 1712 Picasso Avenue, Suite D, Davis. (If you haven’t already bought food but want to help, you can make a donation to the Food Bank at https://yolofoodbank.org)

Once you’re all tucked in safe at home with your groceries, you can consider what to cook. Comfort food is grand: soup, macaroni and cheese, pot roast, lasagna.  I’m cooking extra and freezing a couple of portions of each dish in case we do come down with Coronavirus. No one likes to cook when they’re sick, and good nutrition is always going to help speed recovery.

Baking is also comforting. If you’re a fan of “The Great British Baking Show,” now is a great time to try one of those complicated recipes, which are available on-line. I’d suggest choosing a recipe that produces individual servings so you can freeze some rather than one of the “showstopper” recipes that make enormous amounts — remember, you won’t be taking baked goods to work to share. Choux paste would be a great choice.

Here are a few recipes I’ll be cooking in the next week or two:

Chicken Fricassee

This is great served with mashed potatoes or noodles. Freeze extra chicken covered with gravy to help keep it moist. Serves 4.


1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 chicken legs, disjointed, or 8 chicken thighs
½ cup onion, diced
20 mushrooms, trimmed
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1½ cups water
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks
¼ cup cream
(1 teaspoon fresh thyme)

Putting it together:

In a heavy dutch oven or skillet with a lid, heat butter and oil. Dry chicken and add to fat. Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until nicely browned. Add onions and mushrooms and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When mushrooms and onions have started to color, spoon off excess fat from pan. Add garlic and thyme and stir. Sprinkle flour over top and stir to mix. Add water and carrots and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let cook 20 minutes. Turn chicken and cook another 20 minutes until tender.

Remove chicken and vegetables from pot and keep warm. Increase heat to high and reduce liquid by half. Turn off heat and add fresh thyme and cream. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Cranberry Bread

This is a quick batter bread.  Avoid beating the batter, as it will develop the gluten and make a tough bread.  It freezes well, tightly wrapped, and is great toasted with butter. Makes 2 loaves.


3 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¼ cup melted butter
¾ cup orange juice
1½ cups canned whole cranberry sauce
¾ cup roughly chopped walnuts

Putting it together:

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Mix a little of the dry ingredients in with the orange zest.  Toss until zest is coated and bits are separated.  Stir into dry ingredients.  Mix eggs, butter, juice and cranberry sauce together and pour into the dry ingredients.

Mix thoroughly, then stir in walnuts. Spoon into two greased bread pans and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, or until brown and toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.  Turn out of pans and cool on a baking rack.

Chili Cornbread Hot Dish

You can substitute canned beans for the ground beef in this dish if you like. This dish will freeze very nicely after baking — just portion into individual servings. Reheat in oven or microwave. Serves 4 generously.


1 pound ground beef or substitute
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 can (14-15 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained (fire roasted if you have them)
(1 teaspoon hot sauce or to taste)
1½ cups grated cheese – I like smoked cheddar
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup masa flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Putting it together:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook ground beef in a large skillet until barely done, crumbling it well in the process. Remove from pan and reserve. In the same pan, adding a bit of oil as needed, cook onion and bell pepper over medium heat until barely tender.

Add garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes and cook briefly to develop flavors. Stir in tomatoes and hot sauce. Pour into oiled 8×8 casserole dish. Top with cheese.

Mix cornmeal, masa, sugar, baking powder, salt and chili powder together. In a separate bowl, mix sour cream, milk, egg and vegetable oil. Stir well. Spread over top of cheese. Bake about 20 minutes.

This dish will freeze very nicely after baking — just portion individual servings into Ziplocks or freezer boxes. Reheat in oven or microwave.

Julie’s Mom’s Comforting Potato Soup

This is quick and easy, and possibly the most comforting food I know. It doesn’t freeze, so only make what you want for tonight.

Per serving:

1 large russet potato, peeled and cut as for mashed potatoes
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion
¼ cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Putting it together:

Cover potato and onion with water and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.  (If using peas, add to the pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.)  Drain carefully, so the onions don’t go down the drain.  Add milk and butter and heat gently until milk is warm.  Add salt to taste and a good grinding of fresh black pepper.

Chowder Hot Dish

If you substitute noodles for the potatoes, you have a classic tuna casserole. This won’t freeze very well, but is easy to cut in half if you’re only serving 2 people. Serves 4.


1 onion, minced
2 cups sliced celery
2 tablespoons butter
½ pound red potato
2 cups whole milk
a good pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 cans tuna, well-drained and flaked
1 bag frozen peas
16 Saltine-type crackers
1 tablespoon butter

Putting it together:

Scrub and dice the potato into ½ inch cubes. In a small sauce pan, cover diced potatoes with milk and bring to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and bay leaf and let cook 10 minutes. In a separate pan, sauté the celery and onion in the butter until barely tender.  Reduce heat and add the salt and dill. Reduce heat to low and add oil. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Drain potatoes, reserving hot milk. Remove bay leaf. Stir hot milk into celery mixture in a thin stream. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens. Stir in tuna, potatoes and peas and pour into greased casseroled dish. Crush crackers to form irregular crumbs, not too large, and spread evenly atop mixture. Dot with butter. Bake until bubbly and browned, about 25 minutes.

Cheater’s Chili

This one’s handy when you’re getting down to the end of the pantry. Serves 4.


1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oil
2 cans plain pinto beans
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried ground cumin
2 teaspoon dried oregano
dash of hot pepper sauce

Putting it together:

Drain and rinse beans under running water. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Sauté onion and pepper until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, tomatoes and spices. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

— Julie Cross is riding out the social distancing at jacross@dcn.org or on Facebook at The New Home Ec. Reach out with questions or comments!

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on March 17, 2020| Printed in the March 18, 2020 edition on page A3