Call it “lockdown”, “Isolation”, “Self-Quarantine” or whatever else the fact is just about everyone is home right now with quite a bit of free time. Those with families are now coping with a lot of mouths to feed more frequently and a dwindling supply of recipes to keep them happy.
Although I am not among those bunkering down I do have a few suggestions for anyone looking to start a new kitchen-related project and I also know quite a few industry folk who are using this time to hone their skills while hey wait for the food service world to start spinning again.
I’ve collected some of these ideas below along with a handful of links to articles (a few by yours truly) and resources that will help you figure out your next hobby during the “new normal”.
Start A Garden
Having the lockdown start in early Spring means it gave a lot of people time to start their first vegetable patch. Gardening is zen-like in both it’s capacity to calm the mind and also stimulate it with logistical puzzles and little surprises, plus the end result is you make something you can eat from nearly nothing. If you have limited space and a black thumb like me you can still get in on this very pleasant pastime by starting an herb garden in your window.
Pickling and Preserving
Now that your gardening, you better have a plan to deal with all the extra veg you’ll have around the house. Whether fermented over a long period of time, doused in vinegar or simply salted there is a whole world of techniques for preserving vegetables out there and most of them are remarkably easy.
It takes serious technique to shape flour, eggs and sweat into a dough nona would be proud of and the vast majority of us never had an Italian Grandma to show us the way, so now we can to figure it out. Start without any fancy equipment, shapers or cutting tools, just your own two hands and a couple hours. Remember: Its about the pasta, not the sauce.
Simmering bones and vegetables during the afternoon has always been one of my favourite day off activities. It only takes a bit of prep to get it going and then you are free to roam your house for 4-6 hours while it makes everything smell amazing.
Properly Sharpen Your Knife
This is one of the most fundamental skills of a cook and yet I know very few that can actually work a whetstone and get their gear honed to perfection. It’s a remarkably simple process that only takes a bit of practice to get the finger-feel down. Nothing will enhance your overall cooking experience like a really sharp knife.
Practice Your Knife Skills
While you’ve got your knife out, there are some basic techniques you can practice that will make you a better cook long-term. Choose a couple vegetables each day and really focus on your technique. In no time you be able to brunoise with the best of them and any veggies you mangle can just go into the stockpot.
This is the one every single person I know is doing. Thanks partly to the unavailability of dried yeast in stores and a slew of high profile articles on how breadmaking can lower anxiety the amount of people making their own boules has skyrocketed. Just make sure to feed your starter.
- Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe
- Toronto’s bread-loving bakers share their sourdough-starter origin stories
- A Sourdough Safari
Admittedly this one takes a bit of specialized gear to get started, but if you took my advice last Christmas and picked up a sausage stuffer you are 90% there. This has been one of the most rewarding adventures in my culinary career and produces a freezer full of great tasting and long-lasting product that can either be given away as gifts or hoarded and consumed with Germanic relish… I think that was a double pun?
Spring is a paradise for foragers no matter where in the world you live. There are many resources online that can help you identify and properly harvest many indigenous plants that will add a whole new demension to all of your other food-related exploits. Why not go hunting for morels? Or pull some ramps from the creekside? Social distancing is easy when your the only one out there.
Really Nail That One Recipe
You know what I’m talking about: Everyone’s got that one meal that they just can’t figure out, that one thing that always tastes better in a restaurant. Well, there aren’t any restaurants right now and you’ve got time enough to figure it out. My personal white whale is really, really fluffy Chinese bao buns like you get at a Dim Sum joint. I can nail the pork, but that dough still eludes me.