5 Cozy Cooking Projects

When you’re stuck at home, simmering stew or waiting for a bowl of bread dough to rise feels good.

Published Mar. 14, 2020.

Lisa McManus

It’s easy to feel trapped and frustrated when you’re not getting out of the house. I promise, if you get something cooking, you’ll feel better. Here are five simple, mostly hands-off ideas for recipes that will fill your house with good smells and feel like progress, even if you’re sitting on the couch. In the end, you get to enjoy homemade food that you created, which is always satisfying.

1. Bread takes a while, and you’ve got time. If you rarely (or never) bake your own bread, there’s no time like the present to do it. Most bread recipes take a few minutes to throw together, and then you have to wait while the yeast kicks in and makes the dough rise, 1 to 1.5 hours. Then you do something quick for 2 minutes, and wait another hour or so, then bake. It’s not hard; you just have to be around every hour or so. If you really want a project, try making your own sourdough starter, which takes 10-14 days. Or try No-Knead Brioche, which takes a day and a half, but makes your house smell all buttery. If you want more immediate gratification, try Ciabatta, which has a bunch of quick, interesting steps with waits between them. This satisfying recipe makes two loaves of surprisingly delicious crusty bread. Even less patient but still want to make something that’s fragrant and beautiful? Try this Cast-Iron Olive Bread, a quick bread you can whip up in 20 minutes in your cast-iron skillet.

2. Italian grandmas know something about cozy. If you make Italian Sunday Gravy, or as my Rhode Island mom called it, simply, “tomato sauce,” it’s going to take several hours to simmer to perfection, but the intense, complex flavor is worth every minute. You’ll also get enough hearty food to last for more than one dinner. For a simpler, even more hands-off version that takes 5-10 hours in a slow cooker, try this recipe from Cook’s Country.

3. Perk up your meals with homemade quick pickles or jam. Making quick pickles out of a variety of fresh vegetables, from carrots to cucumbers to fennel is not difficult. It’s a satisfying and simple project that will add bright, tangy flavors to your plate. Fifteen minutes of activity, a few hours of waiting and they’re done, and will keep for up to 2 weeks. Have even fewer ingredients on hand? These pickled red onions are even easier, and fantastic on tacos and more. If bracing tanginess isn’t your jam, make quick strawberry refrigerator jam with 1½ pounds of fresh berries, a bit of sugar and lemon juice. It keeps only for a few weeks, but if you're eating it throughout the day instead of just at breakfast, it won't last nearly that long.

4. Make stock. And use some in stew or soup. Simmer your own supply of homemade broth (for the classic multi-hour simmered style) or break out the multicooker and use this faster recipe. Both make plenty, so you can freeze some, and use some now to make a huge pot of old-fashioned chicken soup. Or if you prefer, bolster up your feeling of wellbeing with Hearty Ten-Vegetable Soup, and use this super-simple, amazing homemade vegetable base to make the broth.

5. Braising is your friend. Try a project like Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans, Swiss Chard and Marjoram for an hours-long oven-braised sensation, while using up some of those beans you’ve probably stashed in the pantry. Or try Cuban Roast Pork with Mojo for tender meat, with a citrusy, garlicky sauce.

For more cooking resources and recipe recommendations, check out these posts:

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