Eight recipes to cater for every lockdown emotion

Put down the cannelloni shells and freestyle with this free-form puttanesca pasta bake.
Put down the cannelloni shells and freestyle with this free-form puttanesca pasta bake. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Eat your feelings with these recipes and ideas to help you ride the rollercoaster of iso-emotions.

As people in some parts of the country stare down the barrel of lockdown 5.0, it is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is not a mere blip, a stretch of rough country road that turns to smooth bitumen. Things have changed permanently.

Cooking has become our reprieve as we navigate these testing times. We cook and eat to fill in the days, to distract ourselves, to lift our moods and to provide some kind of structure to life in restricted form.

So, here are eight recipes to help you to enjoy lockdown, to find purpose in a task and to feel connected. The beauty of food and cooking is that it can be everything we need it to be at the time we most need it.

For cold, lonely nights when only carbs can comfort

Puttanesca pasta roll-ups with Quarantine sauce

When you are fighting the negative feels and only a cheesy layered carbohydrate will help battle the "this day feels like the last" drudgery. These carbs are soft, pillowy and plied with cheesy goodness. This is not lasagne but it does use fresh sheets, cut and rolled to save having to fill those pesky cannelloni shells – we all have our limits.

Using about 300g of fresh lasagne sheets, cut each sheet into thirds – the size of sheets can change. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Add 500g ricotta, 3 handfuls of baby spinach leaves, the zest of 1 lemon and 1 crushed garlic clove to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, give it a good stir and set aside.

Add 3 cups Quarantine sauce, 1 cup white wine (or stock), 1 cup pitted Sicilian olives (chopped if you can be bothered), ½ cup semi-dried tomatoes, 1 tbsp capers and 4 finely chopped anchovy fillets (optional) to a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, lay out your pasta pieces and fill each with 2 heaped dessert spoons of the ricotta mixture and roll it over roughly once.

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Pour 1 tbsp of olive oil over the base of a baking dish and add ½ cup of your sauce. Nestle a rolled sheet into the sauce and repeat until you have filled the dish. Pour over the remaining sauce. Sprinkle over ½-¾ cup grated mozzarella and put in the oven for 30 minutes.

Open the oven door, and throw a few cherry tomatoes and a pinch each of chilli flakes and dried oregano on top. Bake for another 10 minutes, then attack with a fork.

Serves 4

Chocolate puddings with Lotus Biscoff.

Chocolate puddings with Lotus Biscoff biscuits and spread. Photo: Katrina Meynink

For when only a chocolate hit can make things better

One-pot Biscoff choc puds

These are chocolate sauce-centred puds with Biscoff, that TikTok-led freak of a spread, in their centre. They are ease and indulgence when thoughts of restraint are zero.

Melt 50g butter and about 100g chocolate (I use mostly dark and about 30g milk) in a double saucepan (two nesting pans with the bottom one filled with water) over medium heat. Add 85g brown sugar and stir until smooth. Turn off the heat and whisk in 3 eggs. Once smooth and glossy, add about 45g plain flour and whisk until smooth. Pour into 3 greased ramekins and pop in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional) then add a generous spoonful of Biscoff spread to the centre of the puds, pushing it into the mixture, with its little caramel head bobbing just above the surface. Bake for 12-15 minutes – a crusted top and slight wobble means they are done, and the centre should be molten and glorious. Dust with cocoa powder and use Biscoff biscuits as dippers, for that extra love and care we all need.

Makes 3

Pastrami roll with chips and green peppercorn sauce.

Pub feed: Pastrami rolls with chips and green peppercorn sauce. Photo: Katrina Meynink

For when you're missing your pub meal with mates

Chips, pastrami rolls and green peppercorn sauce

In my opinion, Tom McHugo's in Hobart is the epitome of the perfect pub, so this is my homemade version of one of their best dishes, a pastrami brioche roll with chips and peppercorn sauce. It's chips and gravy for the new age.

Fill a supermarket basket (virtual or IRL) with frozen chips, pastrami, Kewpie mayo, brioche rolls and a tub of cheap green peppercorns. Spread the frozen chips across a large baking tray and shove in a 190C fan-forced oven (210C conventional).

While the chips are cooking, grate half a small brown onion into a hot frypan with 1 tablespoon each of vegetable oil, butter and green peppercorns. Let them get acquainted before pulling off the heat and adding 2 very generous tablespoons of brandy. Let it heat and steam while you inhale. Return to a low heat, add 1 cup beef stock and cook for 5-10 minutes or until reduced by half. Add 2 teaspoons of plain flour, and whisk to prevent lumps. Add ½ cup cream and another tablespoon of butter. Swirl and cook until it thickens gloriously then remove from the heat.

For the final few minutes of the chips' cooking time, throw halved brioche rolls onto the tray to warm through. Remove from the oven, layer the buns with slices of pastrami and a squirt of Kewpie mayo. Warm the peppercorn sauce for 30 seconds, then pour over the chips and eat straight from the tray, beer in hand, and dream of your return to the pub.

For Netflix binge-watchers whose snack game needs saving

Couch-potato trail mix

It's important to DIY your TV snacks. You control the quantity, the level of sweet, salty and crunch. And did I mention the quality?

Hit your supermarket confectionery and cereal aisles and throw the following into a bowl: 1 cup each pretzels, smoked almonds, puffed wheat and Crispix honey cereal. Add 170g Flake chocolate, roughly broken. Melt 300g Caramilk chocolate (or chocolate of your choice), and drizzle over. Toss to coat in the chocolate – imperfect is the aim here – and pop in the fridge for the chocolate to set, about 20 minutes. Break into chunks and consume at will.

Chicken tikka curry.

Chicken tikka curry with smooth and creamy sauce. Photo: Katrina Meynink

For when you can't face (or afford) yet another takeaway

Cheat's chicken tikka

This tastes like the real deal, with all the carby, spicy, creamy highlights we want from a takeaway without the effort and expense of ordering it in.

Add 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh garlic and ginger, ground turmeric, garam masala, ground coriander and ground cumin to a bowl with 1 cup yoghurt. Mix together then add 800g cubed chicken breast, toss and pop in the fridge for about half an hour.

Add 1 small brown onion and ¼ cup tomato paste to a blender and blitz to a smooth paste.

Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil to a frypan, and once nice and hot, add the onion paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the paste becomes sticky and dark at the edges. Add the chicken and cook, turning, for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes and ½ tablespoon ground cardamom along with a 400g can of crushed tomatoes. Stir gently and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add 2 cups of cream and continue to cook until the sauce has warmed through and the chicken has cooked. For a smooth, velvety sauce, remove the chicken and quickly blitz the sauce in a blender, then return everything to the pan and cook until warm. Divide among four plates and serve with chopped coriander, steamed rice and fluffy naan.

Serves 4-6

For when you're fearing the onset of the "COVID 5" (kg weight gain)

Coconut, apple and ginger dhal, aka rein-it-in soup

If you've done days of eating your feelings and want something nourishing, wholesome and healthy for a change, this soupy dhal – high in fibre, protein and taste – is it.

Heat a few tablespoons vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 heaped teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, ground cumin and ground turmeric and cook until fragrant. Add 1 small grated brown onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger (reserve some extra to serve) and cook for about 3 minutes. Add 1 large green apple, also grated, and 1½ cups rinsed red lentils. Stir to coat then add a 400ml can of coconut milk and 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer until the lentils are soft and the dhal is thick but still soupy-ish (about 20 minutes).

Squeeze over the juice of 1 lime and add a tiny pinch each of ground cardamom, salt and pepper. Dollop with yoghurt and a few fresh coriander leaves, and extra ginger (optional).

Serves 4

For when you need energy to survive yet another online meeting

Zoom snacks – date and rosewater power balls

It is crucial a Zoom snack meets the following key criteria: it must leave no crumbs on your camera-facing top half, it can easily be hidden in one hand and it must be soft enough to be swallowed at a moment's notice without you spluttering at the screen. Enter the date and rosewater power ball – soft, bite-sized, crumb-free and delicious.

Throw 2 packed cups of pitted dates, 2 cups roasted cashews, ½ cup desiccated coconut, 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste and ½ tablespoon rosewater into a blender with ¼ cup cocoa powder. Pulse until a dough-like texture. Roll into balls and throw in the fridge. Coat in melted chocolate for a little extra oomph. They last in the fridge for a week.

Makes 12-15

Avo toast with dukkah and ras el hanout.

Warmly spiced avo toast with dukkah and ras el hanout. Photo: Katrina Meynink

For when you're missing your regular brunch date

Can't-go-out avo on sourdough

Take your avo toast to new heights with this rendition. Get some decent sourdough. Chop an avo into cubes and add to a bowl with 2 tablespoons of Persian-style feta, 2 tablespoons of dukkah, 1 teaspoon of ras el hanout spice mix and ½ tablespoon of finely chopped chives (or flat-leaf parsley or coriander). Toss, then add to a slice of toast in a glorious mound.

Season with salt and pepper and a few herbs, and you can pretend you are sitting in the sunshine with your nearest and dearest, chatting away the weekend.