As a food photographer and stylist, I’m the person everyone always assumes loves to cook. But the truth is, sometimes, an activity that started as a passion before I was lucky enough to turn it into my job, cooking feels more like work and less like the adventure it used to. When COVID hit in 2020, my work hit a lull. All of the sudden, cooking for the sake of cooking again sounded realistic. My husband and I dug out old cookbooks, tried new recipes, and exchanged favorites with friends across the world as we awaited the end of lockdown.
Of course, that lockdown has ended and the reality of the pandemic as a series of ups and downs has hit time and time again. As we stare down another holiday season followed by inevitable shutdowns thanks to a new variant, I can’t but help feel like I need a few good recipes to get me through.
As a new year dawns and you consider scaling back on dining out (though please — continue to support your local favorites with lots of takeout!), here are five new cooking adventures to try at home to entertain, enjoy, and savor the season.
1. Make laminated dough.
If you haven’t already fallen in love with The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, consider this your long-overdue invitation to do so. Once you do, you’ll find yourself suddenly starving for all manner of baked goods, most of them obscenely complicated and nerve wracking to recreate. One of the most tempting treats that the bakers tackle is laminated dough, which serves as the basis for croissants and other flaky pastries. Find a solid recipe (I love the ones in Melissa Weller’s A Good Bake), and get rolling.
2. Learn how to make sushi.
Sushi is one of my all-time favorite treats. Learning to make it at home will at once make you grateful for your favorite spot and the artists who make your favorite rolls and impressed with yourself for even attempting to tackle such a recipe. Not so sure you can handle it on your own? Join The Chopping Block for a virtual workshop and let the pros help out.
3. Make pasta from scratch.
No matter what tools you have in your kitchen, you can make pasta from scratch. From gnocchi to angel hair spaghetti, the world of pasta is vast and delicious. Start with this recipe for homemade pasta dough, then branch out on your own to explore the flavors, shapes, and textures of your new favorite dinner.
4. Become your new favorite bartender.
During the initial lockdown, I stopped drinking liquor all together. Not because of any problem or concern, mind you, but just because I quickly realized that I am no bartender. In fact, I had been spoiled — the amazing Chicago bar scene set me up for disappointment when I am faced with drinks of my own creation. With classes from beverage professionals everywhere available online (and mixology classes with The Chopping Block coming up!), I’m starting to cozy up to a few simple drinks again.
5. Make it up as you go!
Some of my favorite dinners come from staring at a refrigerator or pantry and grabbing ingredients at abandon. People always insist that they don’t know how to cook well enough to improvise, but I disagree. Go with your gut, and see where the night takes you. Most importantly, have fun, and eat well in 2022!