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    Five Pantry Upgrades to Instantly Elevate Quarantine Cooking

    By David Landis–

    The Gay Gourmet–

    Let’s face it. Seven months into the pandemic and we’re all going stir crazy.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband (we just celebrated 31 years together); and I love Gaston and Alphonse, our adorable pound pups, who are having the time of their lives with us. It’s just—well—it’s A LOT of together time.

    And I really miss the restaurants. I miss the camaraderie, the social get-togethers, and the first-rate, innovative cooking. It’s just not the same at the Landis/Dowdall household.

    So, I decided it was time to upgrade. And lucky for me, I heard from food connoisseur and promoter Kim Elwell (The James Collective) that it’s really not that hard—with a few quality ingredients—to make your quarantine dinners sing.

    So, here are 5 great ingredients that are readily available to help:

    Premium French mustards: Maille

    Certified organic, estate-grown olive oil from California’s Central Valley – Enzo Olive Oil

    Classic phyllo dough + shells – Athens

    Premium salts: Jacobsen Salt pure flake finishing sea salt

    Gourmet chocolate: Guittard

    With that in mind, I asked Kim and her colleagues for some advice. Here goes:

    Why should people upgrade their pantry ingredients (especially now, during a pandemic)?

    “Upgrading your pantry ingredients is a great way to add value, versatility, and flavor to your kitchen and cooking. With the current health situation we’re experiencing, it’s important to stock up ahead of time and be prepared no matter how current shelter-in-place orders change—while having everything on hand to make easy and delicious meals at home without unnecessary trips to the grocery store. A well-stocked pantry (with quality ingredients) also helps us eat healthy right now.”

    —Vincent Ricchiuti, Enzo Olive Oil

    “Keeping staples such as Maille mustard and quality olive oil like Enzo on hand means you’ll always have what you need for quick and easy marinades, salad dressings and more.”

    —Devinne Zadravec, The James Collective

    Does quality really matter? Why?

    “Quality definitely matters when it comes to your pantry goods. It can be the difference between an average meal and a fantastic one. When we’re spending so much time in our kitchens, cooking for ourselves and our families, using quality ingredients in simple meals is a way to make our daily routine feel more special and really elevate any meal.”

    —Vincent Ricchiuti

    Will these ingredients cost more?

    “Premium ingredients plus small pantry upgrades may cost a little more, but it’s worth it. For our family, it’s important to know where our food comes from. So, we’re happy to pay a little more to support farmers and makers who care about the process, their products, and the land.”

    —Kim Elwell, The James Collective

    I’m not a great cook, can I still make these recipes?

    “These recipes are user-friendly and don’t require hours or advanced kitchen skills to make. With quality ingredients and key pantry staples, you can’t go wrong!”

    —Kim Elwell

    So, here are some great recipes that use these premium upgrades. With these ingredients, you have a complete dinner: an appetizer (spanakopita); two entrée choices (chicken and flatbread); a side dish (slaw); and dessert (chocolate). The Gay Gourmet and his husband tried both the sheet pan chicken (absolutely moist and delicious—but we recommend leaving out the garlic) and the Athens phyllo dough for a tasty spanakopita that made us think we actually were dining at a fine San Francisco restaurant again.

    And Gaston and Alphonse did get some tasty leftovers.

    Greek Spanakopita from Scratch (Appetizer)

    Recipe from The Mediterranean Dish

    Spinach and Feta Filling16 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
    2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped
    1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    2 tablespoons Enzo extra virgin olive oil
    4 eggs
    10.5 ounces quality feta cheese, crumbled
    2 teaspoons dried dill weed
    Freshly-ground black pepper
    Athens phyllo dough sheets (recommended by The Gay Gourmet), properly thawed
    1 cup Enzo extra virgin olive oil (recommended by The Gay Gourmet), more if needed


    1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

    2. Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well drained, and squeeze out any excess liquid by hand.

    3. To make the filling: In a mixing bowl, add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined.

    4. Unroll Athens phyllo sheets and place them between twoslightly damp kitchen cloths.Prepare a 9 1/2″  x 13″ baking dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with olive oil.

    5. To assemble the spanakopita: Line the baking dish with two sheets of phyllo, letting them cover the sides of the dish. Brush with olive oil. Add two more sheets in the same manner, and brush them with olive oil. Repeat until two-thirds of the phyllo is used up.

    6. Now, evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the phyllo crust. Top with two more sheets, and brush with olive oil.Continue to layer the phyllo sheets, two-at-a-time, brushing with olive oil, until you have used up all the sheets. Brush the very top layer with olive oil, and sprinkle with just a few drops of water.

    7. Fold the flaps or excess from the sides (you can crumble them a little). Brush the folded sides well with olive oil. Cut spanakopita only part-way through into squares, or leave the cutting to later.

    8. Bake in the 325 degrees F heated oven for 1 hour, or until the phyllo crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven. Finish cutting into squares and serve. Enjoy!

    Tips for Working with Phyllo: Remember that phyllo is paper thin and will break as you are working with it. For best results, place phyllo dough sheets in between two very slightly damp kitchen towels before you start working with it (unless you think you will work fast enough that the phyllo will not dry out.) Also, be sure to brush each layer with oil; don’t skimp.

    Make Ahead Tips: You can make spanakopita the evening before. Follow up to step #7, cover, and refrigerate. When you are ready, go ahead and bake according to step #8.

    Leftover Storing and Freezing Tips: Already cooked spanakopita will keep well if properly stored in the fridge for 2 to 3 evenings. Heat in a medium-heated oven until warmed through. You can also portion cooked leftover spanakopita and freeze for a later time. Warm in the oven; there is no need to thaw it in advance.

    Recommended for this Recipe (by the Gay Gourmet): Athens Phyllo Dough Sheets and Enzo extra virgin olive oil

    Mustard Glazed Sheet Pan Chicken (Entrée)

    Recipe by Cathy Roma of What Should I Make For…

    1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
    1 bunch whole young carrots with tops, peeled and tops trimmed
    1 bunch scallions, ends trimmed
    1 lb. baby potatoes, halved
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (The Gay Gourmet thinks this could be optional)
    1/4 cup extra virgin Enzo olive oilJacobsen’s gourmet salt
    1/3 cup Maille Rich Country Mustard
    2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
    2 tablespoons honey
    2 1/2 lbs. chicken th
    ighs, bone-in, skin on
    10 sprigs fresh thyme


    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scatter the asparagus, carrots, scallions, potatoes, and garlic (optional) evenly on the tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl whisk together the mustard, brown sugar, honey, and a pinch of salt. Nestle the chicken thighs on the sheet pan and season them with kosher salt and pepper. Brush the chicken liberally with the mustard glaze and drizzle a little glaze over the vegetables as well. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the vegetables and the chicken. Roast for 30–35 mins, rotating the pan occasionally to be sure the vegetables roast evenly. Remove when the chicken is cooked through (an instant-read thermometer should read 160 degrees F) and the skin is browned and crispy. Serve immediately.


    Line that sheet pan! Parchment paper or nonstick foil are ideal to prevent sticking and for easier clean-up. Skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs are recommended for optimal flavor. Skinless or boneless can be substituted, if you prefer. The look of whole carrots, scallions, and asparagus is a great visual, but they can be chopped into 1–2″ pieces if you prefer. Be sure to drizzle a little glaze over the vegetables for added flavor. If you’re not sure when the chicken is cooked through, use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness.

    Greek Phyllo Flatbread Pizza (Entrée)

    Recipe by Gavin & Karen from A Couple in the Kitchen blog

    16 sheets Athens® Phyllo Dough (9″  x 14″ ), thawed
    Olive oil spray (Use Enzo Olive Oil)
    1 cup mozzarella cheese
    ¼ cup crumbled feta
    6 kalamata olives, halved
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
    2 pieces of roasted red pepper, sliced
    Spinach & artichoke dip
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    Fresh thyme, for garnish


    Start by removing one roll of Athens® Phyllo Dough from the freezer to thaw, following thawing instructions on the package. Unroll and cover phyllo sheets with plastic wrap and then a slightly damp towel to prevent drying out. Preheat your grill or oven to 375°F and spritz a baking sheet with olive oil spray, preferably using Enzo Olive Oil. Lay a sheet of phyllo dough onto the baking sheet, lightly spritz with olive oil, then top with another sheet of phyllo dough. Repeat this with 16 sheets of phyllo dough, spraying the top of each sheet with olive oil. Place the baking sheet on the grill or in the oven and cook for 5 minutes until the phyllo dough begins to crisp up and turn a light golden-brown color. Remove from the grill or oven. Spoon a number of dollops of spinach & artichoke dip on the crust and gently spread it evenly. Next, top with garlic, cheese, roasted red pepper, tomato, and olives. Return to the grill or oven for another 15 minutes until golden brown. The tomatoes should be softened and the cheese should be melted. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Then, slice and devour!


    If using a grill, carefully grill the phyllo crust on indirect heat to ensure it doesn’t burn. If you have a traditional gas grill, consider turning on one burner to medium-low heat and placing the pizza onto a baking sheet on the grates that are set to “off.” This will heat the grill without the risk of burning. The temperature gauge on your grill will act as your guide.

    Dijon Slaw (Side dish)

    Recipe by Chef Brandon Collins, Mustard Sommelier, Maille

    1/3 cup Maille dijon mustard
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/4 cup sherry vinegar
    1/4 cup avocado oil
    1 red onion sliced
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 head large fennel, sliced thin
    1 large celery root knob, julienned
    ¼ cup chopped chives


    Mix everything except for the fennel and celery root—set aside. Put fennel and celery root in a separate bowl. Mix fennel and celery root with desired amount of dressing and serve. 

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: or visit him online at:

    Published on September 10, 2020