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Laid-off: how to spend my time cooking??

Long-time board user, first time poster...

So I've been axed, laid-off, terminated, sent packing, blah blah blah, but with a decent severance. Before I embark on the next chapter of my yet-to-be glorious corporate career, I plan on spending the spring focusing on my amateurish foodie hobby. I want to shop, cook, experiment, discover, eat and drink as much good food as I can. Between the necessary trips to the gym, my goal is to become a better and more efficient cook.

So, I am looking to the hounds for suggestions, tips, ideas and generally, inspiration. What would be your dream set-up? My food preferences run the gamut.

I'm not looking for restaurant recommendations necessarily, but recipe ideas, unique food experiences I can attempt to recreate at home (outdoor fire cooked paella, whole roast suckling pig, etc...). I want to spend my mornings in the markets, delis, cheese shops, butchers (which ones?), my afternoons in my kitchen cooking, preserving, marinating, experimenting and writing about it, and of course my evenings eating and drinking wine.

My first big project is a 5 course dinner party for Friday. Suggestions?

I know this is a very general topic, but I plan to use it as a blog/dialogue as I try to put my idle hands to better use than watching tv.

Thanks,
laidoffhound in Toronto

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  1. here are some things I would love to do, and mean to make time for:
    -croissants
    - pate (my uncle made one at home that ruined all others for me)
    - salmon jerky
    - duck confit at home
    - drying my own shitake mushrooms (because I can only find those from China)
    - master terrine making

    enjoy the pit stop en route to glorious career!

    2 Replies
    1. re: toutefrite

      Sorry to hear that you got laid off. But the severance-induced cooking time sounds pretty awesome.

      For me, it would be bread. I would crack open The Bread Baker's Apprentice and drown myself in bread.

      My only advice for a five course dinner party would be that at least 3 of those courses should be something you can make ahead and serve at room temperature, or something that slow cooks so you can just pull it out whenever you're ready for it. Like, say you served veggies and bean dip, slow-cooked duck breast, bread, and ice cream. All that stuff just requires plating, so you if you wanted, you could also roast or fry some potatoes when your guests get there, without spending the whole night in the kitchen.

      Here is a link to some make-ahead suggestions people made to me:

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/695872

      1. re: toutefrite

        now I can't stop thinking of what I would do!
        - striped ravioli with filling of my dreams ( I never like what is on offer at restos)
        - perfect the egg souffle
        - gnocchi
        - naan
        - all manner of chinese dumplings and buns

      2. I'm in the same boat as you. Over 20 years with the same company and Wham! Laid off. So - I have been taking time surfing a lot of the cooking boards, making up menus for a whole week at a time, shopping and preparing all manner of new things that I have never cooked before. My DH has been a gem with all these new foods. Some are really great keepers and some I would do again with changes. Its kind of fun to run the gamut.

        New things I have made are Chicken Cordon Bleu, Stuffed Pork Chops, Roasted Red Pepper Fettucine Alfredo, Pulled Pork, Stuffed Peppers, Baked Potato Soup, and the list goes on and on. Some of the fun things are creating the menu around some key ingredient. When I was working, it was usually something quick and easy, nothing big during the week. Enjoy your cooking and surf around - if it looks or sounds good, go for it and enjoy the experience. Don't limit yourself.

        1. Like beer? Become a home brewer!
          When I have plenty of time for cooking projects, I enjoyed making dumplings...chopping all the ingredients really tiny, very theraputic. Same goes for making sushi.
          I second the rec for making bread, that's always sounded like fun.
          Homemade terrines, jams, preserves...as spring brings more fruit and veg to work with.
          Gardening...perfect time to sow some seeds...and grow your own ingredients!

          1 Reply
          1. re: BeeZee

            Home brewing! I have not tried that!

            I'm a semi-CH as in I know what I like but I don't usually have the equipment to make it.

            This is what I've worked on when 'semi-retired'

            Cleaned out kitchen and re-stocked missing key ingredients.
            Made noodles
            Made bread
            Made sushi
            Made potstickers
            Canned foods - as in I canned foods (not bought them canned)
            Learned to follow a baking recipe and learned to improvise
            Annoyed my neighbors w/ all the "1st time" recipes
            I want to try gnocchi
            Never tried naan

            Still on the horizon is smoking a pork belly for bacon. I'm still hunting down the ingredients. I have the smoking woods / time.
            Repeat

            I have had more time to search the markets, etc. for the best ingredients, advice. Which was strange to me at first cuz' I'm usually in the "get in and get the eff out" mode. All store keepers are SO into their realm of departments. It's been inspiring even when I don't speak the same language. I could spend an hour in the produce department alone.

            LaidOffHound - Please keep us abreast of your adventures!

          2. When I finished grad school to an unforgiving job market, I got cozy with offals. Pig ears, beef tongue, chicken gizzards, chicken and pig feet. Along those lines I also challenged myself to work more with vegetables I was not familiar with like every squash not summer or acorn, Kohlrabi, Kale, Swiss Chard, Leeks, Cassava, and Mustard Greens. As a result I was drawn to many ethnic cuisines that I did not know too much about. Souse pigs feet, phoenix claws, tacos de lengua, ect.

            I also suggest starting a home-brewing hobby. I was making honey meads and apple cider for Christmas gifts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Crockett67

              Offal is definitely on my to-do list. There are a couple places in Toronto that will let you watch as they dissect a whole animal and show you how to prepare every last little bit of it in the most delicious sort of way! I don't have the space or tools to take on a whole pig for example, but I'm on the look out for the opportunity.

              But the innards are on my shortlist. My sister is pressuring me to prepare sweetbreads as one of my course on Friday.

            2. I'm sorry for your predicament but LOVE your attitude. I'd second the really finicky baking skills (like croissants, brioche, etc.) but I'd also love the time and patience to learn cheesemaking.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Beckyleach

                Thanks. It could be worse, at least I was fortunate enough to get not so much a golden handshake, but a bronze tip-of-the-hat. Cheesemaking is something I've never considered. I sort of was putting that off until I bought my first monastery or at least had a dark and cold cellar to age with, but I have thought about making my own buffalo mozzarella - mmmmmmmm.

                1. re: laidoffhound

                  Please don't put off cheese - I used to make this years ago (we had a farm and milked cows) - it is the most wonderful thing ever - you don't need that much space. Just give a couple of loaves a try. I also think the canning thing is fantastic. (On the same farm, I grew and canned anything I could get), although it has been years. I even canned meat. I don't know where you live, but if you have access to fresh tuna, that is also something to can and there is nothing else like it.