Pandemic Pantry: Nine tips for aspiring cooks from a gourmet pro

click to enlarge Keely Garrity, owner of Ampersand Oil & Vinegar Taphouse in Moscow and Lewiston.
Keely Garrity, owner of Ampersand Oil & Vinegar Taphouse in Moscow and Lewiston.

Pandemic Pantry is a column offering kitchen advice during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you have a recipe or tips you’d like to share, contact us at editor(at)

By Keely Garrity

Social distancing has left most of us homebound, and many of us are returning to the kitchen and cooking for ourselves or our families. If the thought of cooking at home is daunting, or you are looking at your stocked goods — pasta, beans, flour — and wondering what to do, I want to assure you that cooking doesn’t have to be hard; it can be a fun and creative outlet.

Creating something in the kitchen can be extremely therapeutic, with finished results that are tasty and rewarding. Get your entire family involved. There are tasks for all abilities: from prepping the food, to learning new techniques, to setting the table and, of course, cleanup, which will only take a few minutes if everyone pitches in.

Over the years, my staff and I have learned a few keys to kitchen success that can make cooking at home easy and fun. Here are our top nine tips.

  • Get organized: Disinfect your counter and get everything out that you will need for your recipe, including kitchen tools, bowls and ingredients. Keeping things organized and clean will help everything go smoothly.

  • Prep work: Prep is key to success. First, wash your vegetables. Then, chop what you need, whether it’s vegetables, garlic or herbs. They can all be measured in advance. Keep chopped veggies on a cutting board or place in one bowl together so that they can be pulled out when necessary and thrown into the pot. Why use more dishes than necessary?

  • Keep those knives sharp. Nothing is worse than chopping with a dull knife. It is not only dangerous, it adds time.

  • Trash and compost. Keeping a big bowl near your cutting board to dump your trash or stems, seeds and peels saves time so you won’t be walking back and forth to the garbage can. Then you can compost or throw it in the trash when you are all done making cleanup quick and easy.

  • Clean up as you go. This is a must for success and for a general overall feeling of happiness while you are cooking. Done with that milk? Put it back right away.
    Done with that jar of dried herbs? Put it back after you use it. Done with the cutting board and knife you used to cut chicken? Throw them in the sink and wipe your counter down immediately.

  • Don’t fear salt, acid or fat. The key to every successful recipe is making sure you taste and season your dish at EVERY stage of cooking. Add an acid, which could be a vinegar or a citrus, to your dish to brighten the flavor. Finally, don’t be afraid of fat. We recommend using olive oil, which is the healthiest fat you can consume. It brings bad cholesterol down while elevating good cholesterol.If you are going to use butter, make sure it is real butter and use sparingly because of its saturated fat content. Margarine is not butter; it is a factory-made product created from plants and other ingredients that are high in trans fats. Real butter comes from a cow. Our bodies are meant to process whole foods. The less processed, the better.

  • Quality ingredients equal a quality dish. It is true, and using quality ingredients usually allows you to use less.

  • Trust yourself. I don’t subscribe to the idea that cooking is an exact science. I think it is more creative than that. There are plenty of substitutes for ingredients. If you don’t like, or have, something that a recipe calls for, substitute! But remember: You can always add more but you can’t take it back. So like rule No. 6 says, taste every step of the way.

  • Have fun!


Our staff recently cooked this linguini dish together to comfort one another as we had to make some tough decisions at the shop. This recipe is easy, delicious and comforting.

Pasta Aglio e Olio 

(Translation: Pasta with garlic and olive oil)

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

1/2 pound dry linguine (or your favorite pasta)

½ head garlic, cloves sliced thinly

1/2 cup olive oil (we like the Sicilian Lemon or Tuscan Herb oil we sell at our shop)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ cup reserved cooking water

1/2 lemon

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)

Salt and pepper

In a large pot over high heat, heavily salt water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until slightly underdone while completing the steps below.

  1. Slice the garlic cloves thinly, and set aside.

  1. In a large saute pan over medium-high, heat olive oil until barely shimmering. Add sliced garlic, stirring constantly, until softened and turning golden on the edges. Add red pepper flakes and lower heat to medium-low.

  2. Drain pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water.

  3. To the saute pan, add the cooked pasta and ¼ cup reserved cooking water to the other ingredients. Squeeze lemon juice over the top, add the parsley and mix into the pasta. If sauce is too watery, continue to cook for 1 to 3 minutes, until the pasta has absorbed more liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Garrity opened Ampersand Oil & Vinegar Tap House in 2014 in Moscow and opened a second location in 2016 in Lewiston. In response to COVID-19 regulations, Ampersand's hours changed to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, with shopping available online or by phone for curbside pickup. The store is offering hot meal delivery for two with a salad, main dish and dessert for $38. It comes with instructions and ingredients to make your own salad dressing at home. Orders can be placed online at

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