Piri-Piri-ish Chicken with Roasted Potatoes by Molly Baz in her latest, Cook This Book.

A Year of Quarantine Cooking

Erica Lovelace Cooks
6 min readMay 24, 2021


Reflecting on the best things we cooked or at least tried to cook in a year of isolation.

Tuesday, March 17th San Francisco Mayor London Breed ordered the first of several stay at home orders. At the beginning, it felt like we were getting a temporary reprieve from long working hours and commutes. My husband, then my boyfriend, was looking forward to working from the apartment. Personally, I was looking forward to being closer to my new sourdough starter, being able to feed it every 24 hours.

Cooking seemed like the natural way to pass time, to slow down. In the very beginning of the lock down, many restaurants were closed, therefore, it felt like the right time to try to experiment with dishes I’ve never cooked before — it was time to put my massive cookbook collection to the test (I managed to inventory my collection during quarantine as well. Follow me on Eat Your Books!). The small, albeit, mighty kitchen became a haven for quiet, disciplined meditation. Chopping alliums, kneading bread, or washing dishes became monotonous coping mechanisms.

In the present moment, I’m writing this piece after I just received my second vaccine. I’m thumbing through my iPhone to find examples of things I have cooked in the past year, counting my blessings. Then, I realized there were some obvious themes to the dishes that I cooked in my tiny 55 sq. foot kitchen this past year. Below are some of the best (and a few of the worst) things that came to be:

May St. Lawrence bring your kitchen happiness, harmony and heaps of company this year.

Viral Recipes I Cooked Because I Saw Them on TikTok

The Blended Zucchini Pasta aka Spaghetti alla Nerano. As seen on Finding Italy with Stanley Tucci.

Fried zucchini, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers…oh my. Blend the vegetables together with a little of the pasta cooking liquid, et violà, a simple yet satisfying pasta formula that became wildly popular on TikTok.

Assembling at-home shabu shabu & KBBQ with appropriate side dishes.

I bought an embarrassing amount of kitchen equipment during the pandemic. In my mind, it was easy to justify the expenses. Case in point, an electric stove top and two-part pot specifically for hot pot. One side can have a mild broth the other something spicy for those inclined. Plus, we became intimate with our local Asian grocery stores many of whom provided meat and vegetables pre-sliced for our dipping delight. Missing: the viral hot pot restaurant robots that bring food to people’s tables. Maybe next year.

Dalgona Coffee — the reigning queen of quarantine dishes.

I hunted far and wide for the kind of ground instant espresso needed for this beverage. It’s the kind of instant coffee that you would normally put in a Moka pot but instead you whip the coffee granules with sugar and hot water to make a bitter foam. Pour milk of your choice into a glass of ice and top with the coffee foam. I think in the future, I’d rather just invest in a whipped cream canister to save on time.

Lifelong Skills that Take Time and Patience

A crosscut of my first successful sourdough bread using oddly a more complicated recipe from Josey Baker Bread that included both Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
A failed loaf I attempted on a ski trip. I blame it on the altitude in Tahoe City, California.

Sourdough baking was certainly the most challenging hobby I picked up during quarantine. Back in February, I took a sourdough baking class with the team at Josie Baker Bread. We learned about the importance of creating a starter from scratch, feeding the starter, working the dough until just enough gluten strands form, and making sure we apply steam to the bake in order to create a good rise. My initial experiments were failures. After a few months of flat, frisbee-looking loaves, screaming fits in the kitchen and endlessly pouring over professional recipes; I managed to cobble together some crusty, airy sourdough loaves. Side bar: I am not ashamed to say that I enjoy using recipes that call for additional artificial yeast from Apollonia Poilâne.

Homemade tagliatelle using my new pasta making attachment for my Cuisinart stand mixer.

Cutting the pasta was not hard, especially when you have the fancy KitchenAid contraptions, learning when to stop kneading the dough so that the gluten was elastic enough was the hardest part. I had to relearn how to trust my instincts; know the ratio of eggs to flour, memorize the touch of a dough that is too dry and how long to let the dough rest.

Overhead shot of a meal I helped my grandmother and auntie prepare. Nothing makes dinner like cheesy placemats purchased in bulk.

Cooking with my maternal grandmother has always been a challenge. Like most immigrant parents, they can’t find the patience to teach. They’d rather do it themselves quickly and sit down to eat faster. In this session, I was able to get my grandmother to slow down and actually demonstrate a few recipes including the stewed oxtail with black bean sauce (top left), steamed garlic and ginger shrimps (bottom left) and water spinach cooked with stinky tofu (bottom right).

Cooking for the Open Road

Grilling steaks became a standard go-to meal when we were on the Whole30 diet in the wild.

When travel was limited, we took to the woods. Literally. In 2020, we completed over seven camping trips all across Northern California. I had to learn how to start and maintain a fire in addition to cooking with the proper tools like this portable grate. No where near the level of precision as Francis Mallmann but perhaps next year.

Showing off my head on U10 shrimps I picked up from Water2Table, a wholesaler of fish that turned direct-to-consumer business during the pandemic.

Camping trips became my opportunity to show off my newfound cooking skills. Loading up was a three-day preparation sprint. I had to plan the menus, shop for ingredients, chill the ice packs and stack everything inside the coolers so that the ingredients stayed optimally chilled in the warm California weather. It was, as I previously wrote, an art form.


Jars and jars of Strawberry, Balsamic and Black Pepper Jam. The strawberries were picked at a farm in Watsonville before making it into the sterilized jars.

My paternal grandmother was a child of World War II. Therefore, nothing went to waste when you had to live through a period of national rationing. Canning is already commonplace in the South — we can everything from okra to ham. California has some of the sweetest strawberries around. In June, we came home with over 10 lbs of berries that we picked ourselves. I ended up writing a recipe that doubles the amount of pectin and halves the amount of sugar called for in most — I think it renders a superior, less cloying product.




Erica Lovelace Cooks

Hapa Southerner living in San Francisco | North Beach. Documenting recipes, collecting cookbooks, and writing. Marketing by day.