Those of us still working from home these days are likely running out of ways keep entertained, while also avoiding going outside unless absolutely necessary. If you’ve got extra time and energy on your hands—and if you still appreciate home cooking—why not maximize your efforts in the kitchen? Perhaps you’ve already made sourdough, banana bread, and focaccia galore, so maybe it’s time for some cooking projects that will help your home-cooked food feel more like a fancy restaurant meal. These simple methods and recipes will help you make the most of your groceries and stop tossing those half-used bunches of herbs, while also giving new life to any recipes you’ve added to your quarantine routine.
How to Make Your Own Stock
There’s nothing more comforting than homemade soup, and stock is the base of most. The simplest stock is just bones of some sort boiled with vegetables and water. But you’re better than that. Don’t throw away your chicken carcass after your next roast. Throw it in a pot with some carrots, onion, celery, and garlic trimmings, maybe 10 whole black peppercorns, and a bay leaf for luck, cover with water, and simmer over low for at least an hour. Add more water if it’s getting low, and be sure not to season with salt. As the stock reduces, the flavor will get stronger, and if you season with salt, that’s sure to get a little too salty as well. Cool your stock completely before packing up in containers, labeling, and freezing.
How to Blanch and Freeze Extra Vegetables
Freezing vegetables at their peak if you can’t use them straight away is a gift to your future self. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add vegetables and cook until bright for green vegetables, al dente for root vegetables. Drain the vegetables and place directly in an ice bath. Once cooled, remove from the ice bath and dry, then place in a sealed plastic bag and freeze. Vegetables will keep for 6 to 12 months.
How Make Herb-Infused Vinegar
Fill a clean, heat-proof glass jar ⅓ full of herbs such as basil, tarragon, oregano, or thyme (or a mixture). Heat vinegar just to a simmer (don't let it get to a full boil). Pour the hot vinegar over the herbs, leaving an inch of space at the top of the jar. Cover tightly. The herb vinegar will last in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
How to Make Your Own Flavored Oil
Fill a clean, heat-proof glass jar ⅓ full of either dried chilies, crushed chile flakes, garlic, or herbs. Heat olive oil over medium until it begins to smoke. Remove from the heat and allow the oil to cool in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes, then carefully pour over into the gar, leaving an inch of space at the top. The oil will keep in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
How to Dry Your Own Herbs
Hang a bunch of herbs (about 1-inch in diameter) upside down from strong thread, secured with string. Be sure to use herbs that are similar in length so they dry consistently. Allow to dry for 1 to 2 weeks, until herbs crumble easily.
How to Make Pickles
A basic pickling ratio we like to use is equal parts sugar and salt dissolved in 1 part water to 2 parts vinegar. To make a very simple pickled onion, for example, simply dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons of both kosher salt and granulated sugar in a small saucepan with ½ cup white vinegar and ¼ cup water over medium-high. Bring to a boil, then add in the thinly sliced onion and cool to room temperature before transferring to a container with a lid and refrigerating.
No need to throw away the ends of your scallions—give them a second life. Cut the scallions a couple inches above the roots (after using the top green and white parts to cook with). Place the bulbs, root side down, in a jar with just enough water to cover the roots. Place the jar in direct sunlight and change the water every 2 to 3 days.
How to Make Compound Butter
We’ve got a secret: Compound butter is simply butter with flavorings mixed in. Not only that, they’re the perfect addition to pastas, steaks, and vegetables. Simply soften a stick of unsalted butter to room temperature, then mix in whatever additions you’d like. Herbs and garlic are some of our favorites.