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As people around the world are staying in their homes as much as possible due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Gail Simmons' first piece of advice for those looking to stock up on food is simple: stay calm.
"You’re not going to find every single thing [at the grocery store], but this isn’t the time to be worrying about very specific ingredients," the Bravo's Top Chef judge told BravoTV.com exclusively, noting that people should be going to the grocery store as little as possible. "Cooking is flexible. There are a lot of ways to substitute and a lot of ways to make variations of things. Make the most of what you have and be a little bit creative to make things work."
As people are concerned with staying healthy while self-isolating, Gail suggests a spin on the standard salad for the time being. "Lettuce is great, but it wilts and it gets soggy," she said. As an alternative, she is making "big quinoa salads with beans, celery, and chopped carrots," noting it's best to use "vegetables that will go a long way, are hearty, and will last." She also recommends pasta salads, grain salads, and bean salads.
For those looking to assist the restaurant industry amid the crisis, Gail notes that people should channel late legendary food critic Jonathan Gold, who was honored on Top Chef's March 26,episode, by supporting a wide variety of eateries. "It feels incredibly poignant and vital at this moment to make sure everyone is thinking about all restaurants, no matter their ethnicity or their size," she said. "From a food truck to a hole in the wall to a fine-dining restaurant. Every restaurant is suffering right now so it just feels like the right moment to do what Jonathan would do and that is to champion restaurants, be a voice of positivity, be a voice of innovation, and be a voice of solidarity."
While a new $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law last week offers notable assistance to restaurants, among other small businesses, many individuals are still looking for ways to monetarily support their local restaurants. "Anything you can spare is wonderful and a bonus, so don’t feel badly if you can’t give right now," Gail said prior to the package being signed into law. "Or if you don't know where to begin to give, you can give to the James Beard Foundation Relief Fund, Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, [and] Meals on Wheels."
Here, Gail shares more of her top items to stock up on amid the pandemic:
Long-Lasting Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
"Get the fresh fruits and vegetables that aren't going to wilt or rot quickly," Gail said. "Things like apples, oranges, and grapefruit." She suggests buying green bananas, if possible, and to avoid tossing them when they begin to brown. Instead, she says, "Peel them, put them in a Ziploc bag, and freeze them. You can eat them later, you can bake with them, and you can put them in smoothies."
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Noting that frozen fruits and vegetables are often more nutrient-dense than their canned counterparts, "they are really good alternative," Gail explained, specifically mentioning frozen peas, frozen broccoli, and frozen spinach. "They are really nutrient-rich, with a lot of vitamins and minerals. They are really easy to just freeze in bags and use in so many different ways."
"Frozen berries are something that we use a lot in our house," she continued. "We bake with them and we put them in our smoothies." Additionally, she says, they make a great sweetener for oatmeal, porridge, and chia pudding.
"Just to keep things a little bit more interesting in my house, I stock up on things like bulgur, wheat berry, quinoa, chia, and lentils," Gail said. "They can be put into salads, they can be made into soups, and they can be eaten on their own with just seasoning and spices."
"Eggs are a great source of protein. They should last three to four weeks if you buy them fresh and store them properly," she explained. "Store them on the shelf of your fridge, not on the fridge door. Sometimes the fridge door comes with a side shelf for eggs, but if you’re using it, every time you open your fridge, the temperature is shifting on that door and the eggs won’t stay as long."
While noting that canned anchovies, sardines or tuna aren't always at the top of people's wish list, "they are great sources of protein," she said. "They can be used to flavor dishes as much as become their own dish themselves. Those are really great."
Canned Whole Tomatoes
While shoppers have the option to get canned tomatoes in crushed or diced form, among others, Gail suggests buying them whole. "That way it doesn’t matter what the recipe is. You can use them in bigger chunks, you can crush them, you can puree them yourself," she said. "Whatever the recipe calls for, you can adapt starting from whole tomatoes, as opposed to buying them crushed and finding out that the recipe that you want calls for them to be larger or whole. That’s a canned item we’re using a lot of."
Pasta & Rice
In addition to keeping standard pasta in her pantry, "I also keep things like soba and rice noodles, as well as rice itself," Gail says.
"Bread freezes really well. You can thin-slice it and freeze it or buy it pre-sliced and keep it in the freezer," she explained.
Among other items, Gail also recommends stocking up on canned beans, hard cheeses, lemons, limes, and dried fruits.
Want more of Top Chef? New episodes air every Thursday at 10/9c or catch up on this season through the Bravo app.
For the latest, most accurate information on coronavirus, go to the World Health Organization (WHO) website.
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