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Discovering recipes we’ll keep

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Tiffany Smith

TURNING STORE-BOUGHT INTO HOMEMADE Tiffany Smith perfected her recipe for Trader Tiff's Paleo Plus Almond Meal Muffins, a riff on Trader Joe's Almond Meal Muffins, during quarantine.

It’s the comment heard on every neighborhood street corner, from an acceptable social distance, of course: “I have never used my dishwasher more than I have this year.”

That’s because the pandemic and quarantine have confined us to our homes, and to our kitchens. It started when restaurants began closing in March, and here is September, and we are still running our dishwashers. We never even got to “close the kitchen” for the summer, as many of us aim to do each year.

Sure, Houston restaurants have worked hard to make things easier with family-dinner take-out menus. (Thanks for the migas kit, Goode Company Grocery!) Still, we can’t pick up every breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we can’t supersede the need to cook, a lot more than we were used to. 

Six months in, we need some recipe inspiration. Enough with the sourdough and the baking and the sheet-pan dinners. Let’s inject some new life into our kitchens. Here, we’ve asked readers and neighbors what recipes they’ve found and loved during the pandemic. We hope their sharing will light the fire that keeps you cooking this fall.

When talk first started about stocking up our pantries and freezers, my sister Julie Walter and I talked frequently about the conundrum of what to buy. Julie has three kids and a husband – that’s three big boys to feed (plus herself and a not-so-big daughter). So she took stocking up pretty seriously. Eventually, she was left with a surplus of frozen food.

“To use up all the frozen spinach I bought early on, when I didn’t know if we would be able to get to a grocery store,” Julie says, “I started making this dip.” It’s one of her family’s favorite quarantine finds.

The Best Spinach Artichoke Dip

From TheKitchn.com

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 14-ounce can or jar artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and chopped
3 medium scallions, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided (1 cup total)
1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup sour cream 
½ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
Crackers, tortilla chips, baguette slices, crostini or crudité

Arrange the oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler element. Heat the oven to broil. Coat an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Microwave the frozen spinach in 1-minute bursts until defrosted. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze the excess moisture from it. Place the spinach in a large saucepan, and add the artichokes, scallions and garlic. Add ½ cup of the mozzarella, all the parmesan, the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to the saucepan. Cook the dip over medium heat, stirring frequently until the cream cheese is melted and the dip is evenly combined and steaming, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the dip from the heat and stir in the lemon zest.

Transfer the dip to the baking dish and spread it in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of mozzarella over the top. Broil until the cheese on top is melted and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm with crackers, tortilla chips, baguette slices, crostini or crudité.


Tina Pyne is known to be a fabulous gardener, entertainer and cook. She says her favorite pandemic meals have been meatloaf and meatballs “that I can make and freeze for many meals to come. It’s instant meals, or meals to share.”

When we asked for her recipe, she answered, “Are you kidding?” but gave us her best guess at measurements, encouraging us to use our own taste as a guide.

Tina Pyne’s Meatloaf and Meatballs

1 package of Italian sausage
1 3-pound bag grass-fed ground beef (from Costco)
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large onion, chopped
Chopped fresh herbs, like rosemary and oregano
Salt and pepper
Tomato paste

Remove the sausage from its casing and mix it together with the ground meat. Add the breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, herbs of your choice and salt and pepper. Pour some tomato paste into the bottom of a couple of small, disposable meatloaf pans. Divide the meat into meatloaves and place in the pans, on top of the tomato paste (the tomato paste makes a glaze when you turn the cooked meatloaves over). Cover with foil and freeze. When you are ready to cook the meatloaves, bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or so.

Roll the rest of the meat into meatballs for pasta. If you’d like, add chopped bacon or grated parmesan. Freeze in zip-top freezer bags. When you are ready to cook the meatballs, add them to pasta sauce or bake them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.


Jennifer Kalinsky is feeding a husband, a 17-year-old daughter and sometimes a 24-year-old stepson. “I’m so sick of cooking,” she says. “I didn’t like it much in the first place!” But this shrimp scampi has been “a huge hit” with her family.

“It is easy and quick and everyone loves it. I like to pick up fresh pasta at Fresco [Café Italiano] to go with this recipe,” she says. “Helps support local restaurants, and it’s delicious.”

Lemon Garlic Shrimp Scampi

From TheRecipeCritic.com

3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup butter
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp peeled and deveined
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
8 ounces linguine, cooked (or pasta of choice)

In a 10-inch skillet, sauté the garlic in the butter and oil for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook and stir until the shrimp turn pink.

Combine the remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper, oregano, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley in a small bowl. Sprinkle on top of the shrimp and broil for 2 to 3 minutes until the topping starts to brown. Serve with hot pasta.


Although I really enjoy cooking, it has been a challenge to keep everyone fed and on their particular dining schedule,” says Margaret Young, director of alumni affairs and annual giving at Episcopal High School.

Her solution: She stocked her refrigerator with a variety of pre-cooked ingredients that her children pick and choose to make “bowl” meals. 

Meals-in-a-Bowl Ingredients

Grilled chicken, cubed
Grilled shrimp
Chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Black beans, drained and rinsed
Quinoa, cooked
Corn, grilled and cut off the cob
Steamed vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces
Carrots, celery, cucumber, cut into sticks
Snack-sized containers of guacamole (from Costco)
Cherry tomatoes that have been sautéed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shallots or onion, with basil added after turning off the heat. (Margaret says that makes a good dressing.)


When Tiffany Smith left her job at The Kinkaid School three years ago, “I was 54 and thinking I needed to focus on living a healthier lifestyle,” she says. She started following a Paleo diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables high in vitamins and antioxidants, lean meats, nuts and foods containing probiotics.

“When we got the stay-at-home order in March, I decided to use some of my time to work on recipes that fit my lifestyle, and I sort of created my own ‘Paleo Plus’ diet incorporating oats and limited dairy into traditional baking recipes,” Tiffany says. 

“One thing I love but didn’t want to go out to buy is Trader Joe’s Almond Meal Muffins. They’re basically a carrot and zucchini muffin made with almond flour, so I looked at their list of ingredients and then looked up similar recipes online and came up with my own.” 

Trader Tiff’s Paleo Plus Almond Meal Muffins

2 cups almond flour
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
½ cup oat flour or bran
¼ cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
½ cup maple syrup and/or honey
½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly (can substitute coconut oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups grated zucchini (about 1 large), press with paper towel to release some moisture
1 cup grated carrots (about 3 medium), press with paper towel to release some moisture
½ cup grated apple (about 1 small), press with paper towel to release some moisture, or ½ cup applesauce (can use individual serving cup of applesauce)
¾ to 1 cup dried cherries and/or cranberries, to taste
½ to ¾ cup walnuts and/or pecans, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray large muffin tins with cooking spray or line with paper cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside.

In large bowl or KitchenAid mixer, mix together eggs, maple syrup, melted butter and vanilla until well blended. While the paddle is running, stir in zucchini, carrots, apple, dried fruit and nuts. Gently add dry ingredients to wet mixture and stir until combined, but don’t over mix.

Scoop batter into muffin cups; fill to the top if using traditional-sized muffin cups. Bake 30 to 35 minutes (if baking at 350 convection, bake 20 to 25 minutes), or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let muffins rest in baking pans about 15 minutes. Remove to rack to cool completely. Best if kept refrigerated.


It might not be a recipe you can feed the entire family, but this is one that you can use to keep yourself smiling while you are feeding everyone else.

From The Defined Dish, Watermelon Poptails are grown-up popsicles that marketing executive Dena Prasher says she started making early in the pandemic. “Now, we and a lot of our friends keep them stocked in the freezer!”

Minty Watermelon Margarita Poptails

From The Defined Dish

5 cups seedless watermelon, cubed (about ½ of a large watermelon)
¼ cup lime juice (juice of about 2 limes)
¼ cup agave nectar
5 large mint leaves
½ cup tequila
Dixie cups
3 limes
Popsicle sticks (preferably “craft spoons,” which can be found at Joann’s or Michael’s)

Place watermelon, lime juice, agave nectar, mint leaves and tequila in a blender. Blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a mesh sieve or fine strainer to remove the watermelon pulp. Line the cups on a baking sheet, and distribute the strained mixture evenly by filling cups ¾ full. You will have about 8 to 10 poptails.

Prepare the limes by slicing 4 to 5 slices from the middle section of each lime (discard the ends). Insert short popsicle sticks or craft spoons through the center of each lime. Place the lime sticks on top of the poptails. Carefully transfer the dixie cups, on the baking sheet, into the freezer and freeze the poptails overnight, or for at least 4 hours. When frozen, sprinkle the lime ends with salt just before peeling the dixie cups off the poptails and serving.

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