Pandemic Life

November 30 – December 6, 2020

Monday:                   Skillet Vegetarian Chili with Eggs and Cheddar

Tuesday:                   Sausage and Peppers Pasta with Broccoli

Wednesday:            Chicken Miso Meatballs with Rice and Greens

Thursday:                 Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostata, Salad

Friday:                       Baked Cod with Bread Crumbs, Salad

Saturday:                  Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle-Orange Butter

Sunday:                     Skillet Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, Salad

Life during the plague is odd -disrupted – at a lull.  I remember one similar lull in my life – a glorious week in high school when a group of us were stranded in Philadelphia for 3 or 4 days, a massive snowstorm having closed the entire Pennsylvania Turnpike.  We were staying at the LaSalle Brothers seminary and we had no schoolwork but plenty of good food.  We spent the mornings shoveling snow and chopping and moving fallen trees, the afternoons playing hours of basketball – the brothers had a great indoor court – joking and hanging out, and our evenings, after dinner, playing cards or reading anything we chose to pull off the shelves of their extensive library.  It was better than school but, I imagine, if we had been there for a whole month, we’d have walked across the turnpike to get back to family and friends and, perhaps, even to school.

Well – it’s been a lot longer than one month with this damn plague – and while we have no moral right to complain (no one we know has died), we can’t help it.  Life has this sameness from week to week.  This is a serious by-blow of Covid-19.  But we still have our friends and family and those of you who follow this blog so that, although, from time to time, we feel quite alone, we know that we are not.  On dark, chilly days, that’s good to remember.

Also, on dark, chilly days, you should cook comfort food like we did last week.  Really, all of those dishes will warm your heart and fill your stomach.  But the most unusual dish was sweet potatoes with orange-chipotle butter.  We’re going to throw in the smashed burger recipe we cooked with it, since we want you to have a balanced meal.  Beez has pointed out to me that a martini and a sweet potato is no more balanced than my general approach to life.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle Orange Butter

(adapted from Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food)

We have always loved roasted sweet potatoes.  Hit them with a little butter and salt and you’ll find me eating the potato, skin and all.  But the chipotle orange butter in this recipe raises the sweet potato to new heights.


1 hour, but take out a stick of butter early in the day you’re going to cook this, so that it will be at room temperature by the time you cook.

Ingredients:            Serves up to 6, if you’re cooking for 1 or 2, save the butter for other uses. 

6 sweet potatoes (choose smallish potatoes, if you can, all about the same size in order to cook at the same time)

1 stick of butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce from a can

1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can

½ teaspoon grated orange zest

Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a sheet pan with foil.

Pierce potatoes with fork or sharp knife to prevent them from exploding.  (It can happen.)

Place on the sheet pan and roast for one hour until tender.

While potatoes are roasting combine the butter, maple syrup, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, orange zest, one teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.  You can do this with a fork or use a mixer.  Cut a piece of parchment paper and place the butter on one edge, then roll away from you to create a log of butter.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes or longer.

Finish and Serve:

Cut a slit in each potato and squeeze the ends to open the potato.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a pat of the butter in the opening and serve hot . . . and, if you want some protein, serve alongside the stovetop burger recipe below.

Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions

(adapted from Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food)

The key to these juicy burgers is the caramelization of onions, which takes some patience, and freezing the formed burgers for 15 minutes – no kidding.  Of course, the grated Gruyère doesn’t hurt.

Timing:                                                                 40 minutes

Ingredients:                                                        Serves 4

Canola or Grapeseed oil

4 cups of ¼-inch sliced red onion (about 2 onions)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons Colmans mustard power

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 ¼ pounds ground beef (20% fat)

4 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

4 sandwich rolls – Ina recommends Martin’s potato rolls)

Ketchup, for serving


   Caramelize the onions

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan (12 inches – smaller pans will increase cooking time) over medium.  Add onions and cook for 8 minutes or a bit longer, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown.

Add the sugar, reduce heat to low and cook for maybe 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are browned and caramelized.  Add the vinegar and cook for 30 seconds while deglazing pan.

While onions are cooking, combine the dry mustard, 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl.

    Form and cook the burgers

Place the beef in a larger bowl and sprinkle with the mustard mixture.  Lightly work the mustard into the meat with your fingers and shape into four 1-inch thick patties.  Place the patties on a plate and freeze for 15 minutes.

Now heat a large cast-iron skillet (one that can hold all the burgers with space between them) over medium to medium-high.  [If you have high-btu burners you’ll want to back off a little or you’ll burn the burgers.]  Add 1 ½ tablespoons of oil.  Now add the burgers directly from the freezer pressing each one firmly into the pan with a metal spatula (smash them a little).  Cook for about 3 minutes, without moving so that the bottoms get well-browned.  Flip the burgers and, as quickly as you can, place the onions and the grated cheese on top of each one.  Place a lid on the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, until the cheese is melted and burgers are medium rare.

Serve on buns with ketchup on the side and a lovely roasted sweet potato, swimming in chipotle orange butter on the side.

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