Reflects on ways to spice up dinner, desserts during lockdown

[Editor’s Note: This is the second and final part in a two-part column by New Milford High School sophomore Alyssa Shelton about cooking while in quarantine.]

Last week I wrote about what it’s like being a high schooler during this pandemic.

During my time home, I’ve had time to explore new flavors and recipes for drinks and foods.

I’m going to talk about food this week.

Try to find variations of family favorites

Taco casserole

OK, yes, the word casserole should be omitted from the world of food entirely.

And while we’re at it, maybe the dictionary all together.

It rolls off the tongue weird, makes you think of a strangely colored sloppy muck of things that don’t belong together bubbling in a deep-dish pan. I get it.

But don’t tune out yet because for all of the ways casseroles have royally ruined the game for themselves, I think there may be hope for them yet.

In my family, a weekly favorite has always been tacos, so you can imagine our curiosity finding a recipe for taco casserole.

We’ve had it twice more since the first time and it puts a fun spin on a classic taco.

Multi-step projects are a good way to get all of the people in your household involved in something together.

There's something to be said for sitting down for a meal you’ve all pitched in to make.

Start it like normal, chopping peppers and onions and adding it to ground beef that's cooking in a wide frying pan.

This is when you can season the meat to your liking.

I find that almost everything goes better with garlic, onion and a touch of pepper.

Once the meat is nearly browned and the onions and peppers caramelized, I add taco seasoning to give the meat that classic flavor.

While all of this is going on, someone stirs a pot of boiling pasta beside me.

My family likes to use penne pasta, but it really won’t affect your end result.

Once both parts are cooked, we add them both to a deep glass pan and mix them together, covering it with a blanket of cheese.

We then baked it for 20-25 minutes to melt all of the cheese and flavors together until the top has a nice golden color.

I have mine with a touch of sour cream.

It is a refreshing activity to take a family favorite in a new direction.

Something for a sweet tooth

Cinnamon buns

I am a sucker for baking. I love it.

If my counter is covered in flour, I’m probably somewhere close by.

But I find that I get stuck in a loop of making the same five things that I’m really good at because I’m comfortable with them and I know they’ll come out well.

My excuse before for not trying to make new things was always, “Well, I don’t want to waste my time making something that might not turn out well.”

And now with nothing for that excuse to stand on, I am sort of forced to embrace the possibility of failure.

I was recently scrolling on my phone - something I’ve been doing way too much during quarantine - and stumbled across someone making cinnamon buns without one of those pre-rolled can things that twist for a satisfying pop.

I decided there wasn’t a huge margin for error making something that was mainly sugar.

While we should be mindful of our junk food consumption during this time, it’s equally important to indulge once in a while.

Here’s the link for the recipe I used because there are more technicalities involved than that of the previous treats: ,

Basically, the preparation was divided into three steps: preparing the dough (yeast and rising time are accounted for in this recipe); the yummy cinnamon sugar mixture that is used to line the pan and the dough before rolling it up and cutting it into that classic cinnamon bun shape; and after baking, adding one’s choice of varied frostings.

I used a cream cheese, butter, vanilla and confectionary sugar recipe I’ve used in the past and it made for the perfect glaze.

You can also use a glaze like this for waffles if you don’t love the way berries taste with syrup. I find it as a good alternative.

The hardest part was waiting for the frosting to melt over the cinnamon buns.

My family and I were more than pleased with the result.


All in all, everyone deals with things differently, whether your quarantine has been structured and you’ve managed to keep a solid productive routine or, like many of us, you've found yourself in a sort of creative rut.

It’s important to take care of your mind and find things that you enjoy to adapt during these trying times.

Positivity is a practice, not a privilege.

I encourage you to take this as an opportunity to slow down, try something new, embrace the potential for failure, and get your creative juices flowing.

Remember to reach out and check in on friends and loved ones as even in the distance we’ve been spending apart.

We’re really all in this together.

A special thank you to all the first responders who have been working around the clock to save lives. All my love and support.