By Larry Levine –

If you are reading this food magazine, it’s a good bet you don’t need someone to teach you how to shop for groceries. Good chance you do that frequently. But in the spirit of the we’re-all-in-it-together times in which live, I’m going to offer some tips from what I’ve found while shopping during the last 11 days.

Most important: If you are a high risk person, have someone else do the shopping for you. If you are a senior citizen, shop during hours set aside for seniors only. If your regular market doesn’t do that, ask them to and if they won’t, find another place to shop.

Always start with a shopping list that includes things you know you will need, both food and soft goods. Be prepared to be disappointed when you don’t find everything on your list.

Be flexible. You may see something on offer that surprises you. For instance, I have everything I need to make a great split pea soup except the peas. When I walked by the meat counter several days ago, there was a good supply of smoked ham hocks. That wasn’t on my list or on my mind. But I knew Jennifer and I like split pea soup, so I grabbed one of the hocks. But there were no split peas on the shelves. None there on a subsequent market visit either. I’ve gathered everything else I need for the soup and someday, hopefully soon, I will walk into the market and find the peas. Then we will have dinners for at least two night. (I use the recipe from the original Joy of Cooking. Jennifer says it’s the best pea soup she’s ever had.)

Tonight, we will have a beef stew that will feed the two of us for two nights. I gathered the ingredients over 10 days. One day it was one pound of stew meat. At other times I harvested russet potatoes, a sweet potato, a turnip, carrots and onions. Yesterday, bingo, a second pound of stew meat. Flexibility. I didn’t start out this shelter-in-place thinking of beef stew.

I’ve picked up a good number of skinless / boneless chicken thighs on one shopping trip and eight thighs with the skin on and bone in on another trip. Chicken offers extraordinary flexibility. I’ll make fajitas, marmalade chicken, stovetop barbequed chicken, etc. I have a whole chicken, also. I’ll roast it and one-half will be one dinner and I’ll make a mushroom sauce for the other half using dried porcini mushrooms that await in the pantry.

Produce presents a different set of challenges. It won’t always keep long enough to wait for other ingredients to catch up with them. I bought an eggplant with the intention to make eggplant parmigiana. Here’s where I make a shortsighted mistake. The market did not have the cheese I needed. Didn’t have it my next visit either. So, I used the eggplant to make a Romanian eggplant salad. I usually serve this as a dip. This time it was a dinner, served with crackers. Flexibility. (The recipe is in my book Cooking for a Beautiful Woman –

Potatoes, onions, carrot, celery … things like that will keep. So, I accumulated different kinds of potatoes and enough onions to last a week. I wrapped the carrots and celery in wet paper towels, put them in plastic bags and then into the refrigerator to prolong their freshness. Flexibility.

I retrieved a package of rainbow pasta from the bottom of the pantry, where it had been from before the pandemic. It became several lunches. The recipe is below.

I think you’ve probably figured it out by now. The trick is to be flexible. See something that looks interesting? Buy it? There’ll be plenty of recipes online to help you figure out what to do with it. And if you can’t figure it out today, something will present itself on your next visit to the market. Or the one after that. I’m trying to do all my shopping with two trips to the market per week and always during the senior citizen hour from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. On my last trip, I forgot to get oranges. For breakfast today, I squeezed the last two on hand. We’ll do without our morning orange juice for a couple of days.

We like Quaker Oats oatmeal for breakfast. We’re out of it and there hasn’t been any on the shelves. So, I bought some Irish oatmeal. We don’t like it as much, but it will serve the purpose for the duration. Flexibility.

Here’s a look at what we’ve done for dinners in the last nine days based on limited trips to the market, the bottom freezer in our kitchen refrigerator, some stuff that had lingered in the pantry, a bit of ingenuity, and a lot of flexibility.

Monday – Grilled Italian sausages with Heinz vegetarian beans, grilled onions, sauerkraut and roasted red peppers

Tuesday – poached wild-caught King salmon with sautéed asparagus and vinegared cucumbers (Shopped today, so it’s fish day. The fish counter has been well-stocked throughout.)

Wednesday – Pollo a la crème – chicken thighs with mushrooms, pearl onions, carrots and small potatoes in chicken stock, white wine and half-and-half (had no cream) (Recipe based loosely on the one in Jacques Pépin’s Heart and Soul in the Kitchen.)

Thursday – Ham steak prepared with the Pépin baked ham recipe, with yam and sweet potato (I cooked it too long. It tasted very good but was beyond moist.)

Friday – Sautéed petrale sole and steamed broccoli. (shopped today, so it’s fish day)

Saturday – Skirt steak with yellow squash

Sunday – Romanian eggplant salad

Monday – Ribeye steak with roasted Brussels sprouts

Tuesday – Homemade chili

1 package of multi-colored rotini or a similar pasta.
2 Scallions, cut into half inch pieces
Red onion, about ¼ cup slivered, or to taste
5 white mushrooms, washed and quartered
2 Medium tomatoes, diced
Dried oregano and basil
Anything else you may think of
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Good quality balsamic vinegar

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and let cool. Add the scallions, onion and mushrooms. Dress with ¼ cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Crush half a teaspoon of oregano and basil in the palm of your hand and add it to the pasta. Toss. Add the tomatoes. Toss well. Taste a piece of the pasta. Adjust the amount of olive oil and balsamic to your taste.

Use this recipe as a suggestion. Remember, flexibility. If there’s something else you would like to put in, do it. Red bell pepper, chopped? Sure. Shaved carrots? Should be fine. Green peas? Why not?

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