25 Quarantine Kitchen Conundrums—You Asked, We Answered

From substitutions to how to cook with what you've got.

April  7, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

It's day I-don't-even-know-anymore of quarantine, but like us, you've probably been cooking up a storm.

Also like us, you've likely been tackling new kitchen projects—and getting creative with the way you use your pantry and freezer. Think: attempting a sourdough starter (finally!) and turning canned beans into a delicious dinner.

Naturally, questions have popped up along the way. That's why we recently joined Community, an app that lets you text the Food52 team directly whenever you need a cooking, cleaning, or organization question answered. Or if you just want to say hi!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“in addition to freezing milk, you can also freeze half & half, heavy cream, leftover canned coconut milk, lemons/limes -freeze small amounts in ie cube trays or larger containers for drinks (I even keep a couple of whole lemons in freezer & zest when needed) fresh ginger knobs & galanga, pancetta, bacon, etc are great flavor boosters to have in your freezer”
— Janice L.

Since then, we've received hundreds of texts (our digits are 917-540-5370) about all sorts of kitchen conundrums—how to bake bread, what to cook with what's on hand, the best way to store spices, you name it. We've answered each one, but we also thought it might be helpful to highlight a few stand-out questions (25 to be exact) that you might need answered sometime in the near future. Because even though we might be quarantined at home alone, we're all in this together.

What can I substitute for...

Heavy Cream

The best heavy cream substitute depends on what you're making. For instance, if you're making a savory soup, Greek yogurt would add the richness you're looking for (plus, a hint of tangy flavor). But if you want to make whipped cream, you probably want to use coconut cream or coconut milk.


Want to make a recipe that calls for pancetta, but can't find any? No problem. Here are a few substitutes that can fill in: bacon (which will add a bit of extra smokiness), guanciale, and prosciutto.

Maple Syrup

There's nothing worse than making a stack of pancakes or waffles only to find you're low on (or fresh out of) maple syrup. Two quick fixes: honey or agave.

Coconut Milk

We've seen questions about substituting coconut milk pop up in our Hotline before, and it turns out there a few different options for achieving a similar consistency: half-and-half, sour cream, Greek yogurt, heavy cream, and nut milks (which are best for hot drinks).


If you've got whole milk and lemon juice or white vinegar on hand, then you can make a workable buttermilk substitute in about 10 minutes. Here's how:


There are dozens of ways cornstarch gets used in cooking and baking, as a thickening agent for pudding and for marinating stir-fried meat or seafood, just to name a few. Our top five substitutes: all-purpose flour, rice flour, arrowroot powder, potato starch, and tapioca starch.


When do I start feeding a sourdough starter and how?

Now's a great time to take on a project like making sourdough, but if you've never taken care of a sourdough starter before, the whole process can seem a bit mysterious. Luckily, we've had a few expert bread-bakers share their best tips for making a sourdough starter, as well as maintaining it.

How easy is it to substitute self-rising flour for all-purpose?

The trick to swapping in self-rising flour for all-purpose flour is to look for recipes that call for 1/2 teaspoon baking powder per cup of flour. Since self-rising flour is typically a blend of 1 cup all-purpose, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon fine salt, any recipe that calls for those ingredients should make a good swap. When making the substitution, you can leave out the baking powder and salt the recipe calls for (or make up the difference).

Do you have any bread recipes that don't need yeast?

Just because there's a yeast shortage, doesn't mean you can't whip up your own homemade bread. You can make a simple sourdough starter with nothing more than flour and water (which you can turn into bread, cookies, and more), or try Irish soda bread, flatbread, or olive bread.

How can I tell if yeast is still good?

There's a simple test you can do to see if your yeast is still active: First, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water. Then stir in 1 packet (or 2 teaspoons) of yeast, and see what happens after 10 minutes. If the mixture is bubbling and smells yeasty, then it should be good to go. If not, then it's no longer active.

My bread is undercooked—how do I finish the baking process?

If it seems like your bread isn't cooked all the way through, here's a fix we found from Taste of Home: Preheat the oven to 350°F and cook the bread for about 10 to 20 minutes longer.

Can I over-knead dough?

Yep, it's possible to over-knead dough. A sign that it's been over-kneaded is that it feels dense and tough. Here's our guide for how to knead dough by hand (in just three easy steps):

Here's what I've got on hand—what can I cook with that?

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are exceptionally simple to make, last for about a month, and actually don't require that much time to make (here's how to do it in three days). Their intensely lemony flavor can add a bright, citrusy burst to all sorts of dishes, from roast chicken to salads.

Pork Butt

If a few pounds of pork butt was all you were able to find at the store, don't worry—there are plenty of different ways to use it up. Our top picks: a cozy pork ragu we think would freeze quite nicely; crispy pulled pork for sandwiches; and Genius carnitas that calls for just three ingredients.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

There are lots of delicious ways to use a bag of shredded Brussels sprouts that go beyond roasting, like pizza and salad.

Canned Black Beans

Like most, we've been relying a lot on beans for dinners on the fly. Luckily, it doesn't get any easier or more satisfying than canned beans. Black beans in particular are especially versatile, perfect for everything from a big batch of chili to vegetarian-friendly burgers.

Ground Chicken

The limits of a pack of ground chicken only goes so far as your imagination. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Apple Butter

A jar of apple butter makes a great spread for toasted bread, but it's also very good for baking with. Why not make yourself something sweet?

Sweet Potatoes

If you've got an abundance of sweet potatoes, and want to use 'em a couple of different ways, check out these recipe ideas:

General Cooking Questions

How do I ensure my fresh produce is coronavirus-free?

A question we've all been asking lately: Do we need to disinfect our groceries, especially fresh produce, right now? We asked an expert, and yes, there are a few tips you can follow to help keep your kitchen, food, and selves safe while in quarantine. For produce in particular, you'll not only want to wash it thoroughly, but you'll want to wash each type of produce separately. Most importantly, don't use soap.

What's the best way to store leftover soup? And the best way to reheat it?

Making big batches of soup and storing them in the freezer for later is a very tasty way to meal prep your week (or month), but what's the best way to go about it? Start by finding a freezer-safe, air-tight container for storage.

Can you freeze milk in ice cube trays?

Yes, you can! Associate Editor Coral Lee writes: "You can freeze leftover milk in ice cube trays for easy portioning. Once frozen, transfer the milk cubes into a freezer-safe plastic bag or an airtight plastic container." Just don't forget to label the milk cubes with the date you froze them, and use within three months.

What's the best way to store spices?

If you sometimes have trouble finding the spices you need in your cabinet, now might be the time for a quick refresh. Here's how we recommend organizing your spices, so that you can grab what you need in a flash (or don't accidentally buy an extra jar of garlic powder when you've already got one hiding in the back of the pantry).

Many recipes call for fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, etc. Can we just use the powdered version of these herbs without significantly affecting the outcome of the recipes?

Here's what we said: "Dried/powdered herbs tend to have a much more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs. A good rule of thumb to use is a third of the amount of dried herbs is equivalent to the fresh herbs you would use. Oftentimes a recipe will call for chopped fresh herbs in tablespoons for instance, so decrease the recipe instructions by about a third based on that unit of measurement. This method should minimize the impact on flavor."

What are the best staples to keep in your pantry?

A well-rounded pantry should include a mix of shelf-stable items. Think: canned goods, pastas, grains, oils and vinegars, flours, sugars, and more. Check out our tips for stocking up during a pandemic below.

If you've got a cooking, cleaning, or organization question, send us a text at 917-540-5370 and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sharon Campbell
    Sharon Campbell
  • Janice l Patton
    Janice l Patton
  • mdelgatty
Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Sharon C. April 11, 2020
Thanks you guys! It's things like this that make me a huge Food52 supporter!
Janice L. April 7, 2020
in addition to freezing milk, you can also freeze half & half, heavy cream, leftover canned coconut milk, lemons/limes -freeze small amounts in ie cube trays or larger containers for drinks (I even keep a couple of whole lemons in freezer & zest when needed)
fresh ginger knobs & galanga,
pancetta, bacon, etc are great flavor boosters to have in your freezer
mdelgatty May 8, 2020
I've frozen dairy products on occasion, but they're never really the same afterward. Heavy cream, especially, is always somewhat gritty, with tiny globules of fat that refuse to mix into the liquid. How do you avoid or compensate for this?
(Can't wait to try zesting a frozen lemon!)