The Palatable Pantry: Our Eating Has Changed…For The Better

The Palatable Pantry: Our Eating Has Changed…For the Better

By Sydney Karp Poll, a local holistic health coach, chef and friend of Care for Real

The COVID-19 quarantine has changed my household’s eating habits more than I would have expected. And that’s a good thing.  

At the start of the pandemic, we were stocking up on non-perishable, high protein foods like nuts, lentils and beans. But as access to grocery stores became easier and less stressful, we didn’t feel compelled to buy in bulk or stockpile. But our new way of cooking and appreciating food have continued with three key results:

1.We’re cooking 95% more. Our lives have shifted. Before COVID, we would eat out a couple of nights a week or pick up prepared foods on the run. Now we’re cooking almost every night.

I try to cook enough food for more than one meal but alternate menu choices so we aren’t eating the same thing two days in a row. I try new ingredients and new methods of preparation. I also look for recipes with few ingredients and simple steps, like cooking salmon in parchment paper (see below) or making crispy chicken thighs in the cast iron skillet with veggies. Focusing on eating home-cooked food has helped us stay physically and mentally healthy during these stressful times.

2.We’re thinking outside of the pasta box. Thinking outside of the box doesn’t mean making an extravagant, time-consuming dinner. It’s finding new ways to incorporate foods already in your home. Many of us have extra ingredients after cooking a meal that can be combined with other ingredients in the pantry or refrigerator. For example, you can take leftover lasagna noodles and layer them with homemade or jarred pesto and mozzarella for a new take on lasagna. You may not hit a home run every time but testing different combinations and learning what you like is part of the process and can be fun.

Being creative is not only about what you eat but how you eat. Not every meal needs to happen at the dining room table or kitchen island. On some nights we have a picnic in a nearby park, or if we are feeling like staying in, we move all of our furniture aside and lay out a blanket for an indoor picnic on our living room floor. It brings back some of that excitement of dining out that we miss.

3.Higher grocery bills are a given. The fact is most people’s grocery bills are higher than they were pre-pandemic. But, on the flip side, you’re not spending as much on dining out or picking up fast food. Once you figure out your rhythm and what you like, you can bring the cost down a bit. Personally, I try to make sure that what I buy does not go waste. It can become a game to see how creative – and frugal – I can be.

Remember to always keep some of your favorite staples on hand so you can make a satisfying meal. My own “go-to” is to make a frittata with eggs (an absolute must in my refrigerator) mixed with herbs, cheese, and vegetables leftover from a previous dinner. I always make a large frittata so there are leftovers for breakfast the next day,

Below are two additional recipes. I hope you enjoy your adventures in the kitchen as you find new ways to be creative.

Salmon en Papillote

 “En Papillote” means a dish in which ingredients are wrapped together, usually in parchment paper, and then baked. If you don’t have parchment, you can use aluminum foil or even a clean brown paper bag for the wrapper. 

It is a simple yet elegant entree that you can customize based on what you like and have on hand. For example, you can add onions, diced tomatoes, zucchini or other vegetables for a one-dish meal. Or eliminate the togarashi, thyme and ginger and use Italian seasonings. It’s really about the cooking method which is fast, easy and healthy


  • 1 lb. salmon filet (or the fish of your choice. Wild-caught is the healthiest)
  • 1 tbsp sesame, olive or avocado oil.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Togarashi or another small dried chili pepper (optional)
  • Thyme
  • Lemon or lime slices
  • Chopped garlic
  • Chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • Vegetables if desired


  1. If you are using frozen fish, place in the refrigerator to defrost.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375.
  3. Cut a piece of parchment paper at about three times the size of the fish filet.   
  4. Place the fish on the parchment paper, coat with oil and top and season with salt, pepper and togarashi (if desired).
  5. Add the thyme, slices of lime, garlic ginger, shallot.
  6. Add any additional vegetables or seasonings you wish.
  7. Fold the parchment over itself sealing the ends so you form a tight little package.
  8. Let bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until fish is cooked through.

For a dinner party (when we can have them again), cut the fish into portions and wrap each portion of fish and vegetables separately. Then plate the packages individually and let guests open them at the table for a very impressive entrée.

Walnut Pesto Pasta


  • 1/3 cup of walnuts, almonds or pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic cut in half
  • 2 cups of fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 serrano chili (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for topping the pasta
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 box of pasta


Make the pesto

  1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the walnuts and garlic until it is finely chopped.    together but still has some texture
  2. Add the basil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and chili. Pulse.
  3. While pulsing, slowly add in the olive oil until well incorporated. The pesto will be fairly thick.

The pesto can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using

 Prepare the pasta

  1. Prepare the pasta according to the package directions.
  2. Drain the pasta, saving about ¼ cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary
  3. Toss the pasta with the pesto thinning the sauce with the reserved pasta water.

To serve, top with the additional Parmesan, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.