I’m used to cooking by recipes and buying ingredients each week based on the recipes I chose on the weekend. Now I can’t do that because grocery times for curbside or delivery are not only scheduled 2 or 3 weeks out but in general a third of the things we try to order aren’t available (generally things like eggs, flour, etc., but also random things like Swiss chard) What have other people been doing in this “era of unprecedented recipe substitutions“?
Recipe substitutions are definitely one thing– depending on what you’re trying to make, spinach or really any green will work in place of Chard. I actually used the greens on beets recently because I was craving something and I was reminded how chard-like they are. The internet will help if you’re not used to making substitutions. Of course, it’s nice to know that you’re going to need to make a substitution when you’re doing the grocery shopping– I’ve been using the “comments” space for my preferred substitutes, but some personal shoppers are better than others. Still, in a week when you’re going to be making chard, you might just get some loose leaf spinach for a salad earlier in the week (this is something we did this week) or frozen spinach to keep in the freezer as part of your pantry (we do this with broccoli, though frozen broccoli has only been available once for us and fresh broccoli has been pretty reliable).
Another thing you can do is stock up your baseline pantry and then do the menu planning *after* shopping. Here’s a post about what’s in our pantry (or at least what we try to keep in there… back in the days when we left the house). That can get a little difficult in terms of perishables though, because you generally don’t keep perishables in your pantry and if you’re not doing menu planning before, it’s hard to know what refrigerated things you should get. But you may be able to keep things in your pantry such that you can always make bean chili, for example.
So that leads to flexibility. Go ahead and menu plan your week (I guess 2-3 weeks in advance?), but also have back-up meals that you can make if you get, say the leeks but not the eggs you wanted for your leek and egg dish (that you’re hoping to make from Ottonlenghi’s Simple this week, just as a non-random example). Keep in your back pocket flexible recipes like stir-fry, things in sauce over a starch (if you can find pasta or rice) or over a piece of meat, sandwiches, and so on. If you’ve been able to get any frozen veggies or chicken, these are something you can add to fresh to use up extra veggies. Standard flexible things can be rough because there’s so much demand for things like rice and bread, but you can often substitute carbs (as @scalzi demonstrates, anything can go in a tortilla, like sauteed beet greens with some cheese) or even just not have the carb.
We’ve personally been playing grocery store roulette with things like milk, butter, sugar, and flour (have I mentioned DH’s stress-baking? I was wrong when I thought he was going to stop doing so much). I just ask every week and say we’ll take any substitutions. And some weeks we get it and some weeks we don’t. Some weeks we have a bit too much and some weeks I worry that we’re not going to make it through the week. (I’ve also ordered flour online, but nuts.com now seems to be out.) And for things like free and clear dishwashing liquid, instead of saying “any free and clear dishwashing liquid” which resulted in something with scented with red dye last week that had “gentle” in the title (DC2 gets hives, and I get hives with most fragrances), I’m trying to pick one of every brand but say “no substitutions”. If I end up with four dishwashing liquids then we’ll be set for a little while. If I end up with zero, at least I’m not getting one I’m allergic to.
Of course, flexible meal plans take a higher mental load than what you’ve been doing, most likely. I’m not sure how to get around that if you also want variety. (If you’re ok with just eating the same food and it’s the same food that the grocery store has, then you could do that…)
Here’s another post on different cooking systems from back in 2010.
Grumpy nation, how have you been dealing with menu planning during the pandemic?