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Fun food projects (that don't involve cake!)

  • Elster Mar 20, 2013 03:55 PM

I've just quit my job and am loving the upcoming few weeks of idleness before I start my next venture. However: I am a born baker and used to spend a lot of free time baking cakes, cookies and the like. Now that I don't have siblings/sweet-toothed-flatmates hanging around the place, that kind of stuff ends up going mouldy and having to be thrown away these days :(

I'm really getting into pickling and making jams as a new way of hobby-cooking which doesn't fill the place with perishable desserts! I'm looking for other fun, culinary projects I can absorb myself in to produce more everyday, staple items (home smoking meats or making my own crackers are two I'm thinking about). I LOVE hacks that you can put together from reused items in particular, but anything interesting and maybe complicated will be awesome. Do you chowhounds have any other ideas?

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  1. Cheap and easy (or as high-tech and expensive as you want to get): sprouting. Results are edible, fresh, and nutritious. Get bored with alfalfa? Then try flats of sunflower seeds. Sick of sunflowers? Heart-healthy broccoli sprouts.

    Dehydrating is also fun with edible, storable (and giftable) results. You can build your own if you really want to go pioneer, or you can start small with an inexpensive commercial model. Can also make dehydrated crackers in one.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DuchessNukem

      How do you sprout sunflower seeds? Love the sprouts, but can't get them anymore.

      1. re: cheesecake17

        It's really not hard: tray w/drainage holes, dripcatcher tray below, some type of growing medium (coir, potting soil, I use Sure-to-grow mats). You can make the trays yourself from plastic takeaway boxes or salad clamshells (I have some going in a pie clamshell right now). Some folks just use shallow pie plates with a thin layer of soil.

        Here's a site that shows some examples and videos:
        http://www.rawlawyer.com/2011/07/how-...

    2. Cheese or yogurt making
      Gardening
      Homemade pasta

      2 Replies
      1. re: Tara57

        Oh, I'm all about gardening already, have been growing and pickling my own gherkins this year among other things!

        Cheese making would be really interesting, how do you do that? I've never really seen the point of yogurt making, since you have to buy yogurt to make it and you end up with...well, just yogurt, right?

        1. re: Elster

          For the yogurt you could make labneh.

      2. Fruit curds and compound butters
        Flavored vinegar and/or oils
        Infused salts
        Is candy making out of the question? I've been on a caramel binge or sorts (flavors so far: pumpkin, apple cider, coffee, rose and cardamom)
        Potting edible flower seeds
        I don't know where you live but if I had a few weeks off I'd visit a farm or two

        1. I'm wanting to try making my own beef jerky and also dry-aging steak.

          Make a sourdough starter and work with that.

          Bagels.

          Sushi

          1. Is bread baking to close to cake/sweet baking? I am thinking about if making crackers interests you how about foccacia, sourdough, baguettes, rolls, etc. you could try no knead, starters, mother and others.

            4 Replies
            1. re: foodieX2

              Bread baking's another one I've already been playing around with, though I would LOVE to try sourdough, any tips?

              1. re: Elster

                http://www.food.com/recipe/nancy-silv...

                this is my favorite starter - it makes a great bread, pancakes, etc.

                1. re: Elster

                  Some might consider it cheating but my go to for sourdough is King Arthur. Works great and I have had mine for a long time. Their website has a wealth of information as well.

                  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/i...

                  1. re: foodieX2

                    Thank you, these both look brilliant and I love sourdough...

              2. Bacon jam!

                1 Reply
                1. re: LaLa

                  Actually, the one thing I'm really not keen on is bacon and bacon-related crazy project like maple-candied pretzel-coated xyz :D I can see the appeal, but have never liked bacon enough to join in this sudden universal baco-love! Thanks for the suggestion though!

                2. Fermenting is fun: sour dough, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, etc.
                  Canning is also lovely: jams, pickles, relishes, salsas, chutneys, etc.
                  How about building a solar cooker? Use sunlight to essentially crockpot your food. Building a solar cooker is a fun DIY, repurpose/recycle hack, and trying recipes in one is always amusing.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: PBandT

                    I'd love to try fermenting but there are two things currently stopping me: 1) The people I live with are not cool with the thought of a jar of room-temperature wet edibles gradually being allowed to froth away somewhere in the house and potentially bursting and 2) I'm concerned about the safety of home-fermented pickles. How do you stop the jars overfrothing and getting stinky liquid everywhere? And how can you be sure you're breeding the right kinds of cultures rather than the ones that make you puke?

                    1. re: Elster

                      These are kimchi recipes
                      http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/02/...
                      http://www.chow.com/recipes/29505-bas...

                      The key to smell is a jar that can be sealed well. As long as you operate cleanly you should have no problem. So much salt you should get much bad bacteria it seems. Many nice articles re: fermenting out there.

                  2. With the coming arrival of spring perhaps you could candy some violets?

                    Last summer I really enjoyed experimenting with a variety of shrubs (vinegar syrups). It was interesting to try several methods and taste test them.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: meatn3

                      Wowww, that does sound interesting! Could you give a bit more detail perhaps please?

                      1. re: Elster

                        violets or shrubs?

                        1. re: meatn3

                          Is 'shrubs' the official name for the vinegars you were talking about? If so, then yes, those :) Sorry, 'shrubs' to me means small bushes or plants!

                          1. re: Elster

                            There are a number of methods for making shrub. Some involve heat others are cold processed. All involve fruit, sugar and vinegar.
                            I made several dozen last year. Rhubarb was my favorite!

                            These links will get you started:

                            http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/06...

                            http://www.chow.com/food-news/122231/...

                            Perhaps we can start an on going shrub thread and post our experiences there?!

                            My ex using them in a soda stream thingy in place of the syrups.

                            1. re: meatn3

                              How else would you use them? Salad dressings? They sound great, I am a big fan of sour, tangy flavours :) How viscous is the end result?

                              1. re: Elster

                                Not very viscous but you could cook it down if desired. You could use them for the water portion of a dressing mix - I haven't tried that. I've used them mainly for beverages. I've also used them with good results added to cut fruit (strawberries dressed with a balsamic/rhubarb shrub) and in baked veg. such as sweet potato, delicata squash, apple mix topped with a spiced nut and chutney-ish toppping.

                                Once you taste them you'll find uses! Oh - had some not great white wine and added shrub plus ?? to make a decent spritzer!

                                Just keep notes so you can repeat it again! Rhubarb, strawberry were great. Fig just so-so...I have strawberry-lavender on my experiment list for this spring.

                    2. i second the ideas for sourdough and cheese making...

                      making your own sausages
                      grinding your own flours

                      also fun to go to the store and pick out a fruit or veggie you don't use or have never tasted, then play

                      or let someone else pick out three items from your pantry and create a dish from there... a la chopped.

                      or pick a cookbook and cook every dish in it from start to finish.

                      1. Try the cookbook called The Homemade pantry. It has while sections on things like this. Personally I was to try cheese making (the fresh varieties).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: melpy

                          Hm yes that sounds perfect, I would love to make staples and pantry-fillers that I can use to make my everyday cooking more exciting - thanks!

                        2. Have you considered baking crackers? Not as caloric, and keep better for longer.

                          Somewhere on CH - I think it might be a CHOW Recipe - there is a simple recipe for pickled seedless black grapes. These are nice alongside a grilled cheese sandwich. I "lost" the jar in the back of the fridge for probably 2 years but they were still fine when I found and finished them.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: greygarious

                            Yeah, that's the first thing I was going to try - I like the look of Alton Brown's ultra-seedy multiseed crackers, and pickled grapes sound like they would be gorgeous with some homemade crackers and goat's cheese!

                            I expect you can also freeze cracker dough pre-cut into squares?

                          2. Pasta!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: susan1353

                              Way ahead of you - prawn, chili and coriander ravioli!

                            2. Limoncello or other long infused alcohol drinks are fun but they take a looooong time.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jangita

                                yes but most of that time is hands off, so its a pretty boring project.

                                I make infused vodkas to give as gifts each Christmas. It involves one busy day in late Oct/early November to prepare and one busy day in mid Dec to assemble/bottle. That's it.

                              2. Apparently you can make homemade ricotta cheese if you like it. As well sauces like ketchup, mustard, relishes might be of interest to you.

                                1. Pho is a nice daylong project. It take a long time to get the broth just right, but is very rewarding at the end.
                                  Enjoy your little break!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: alliegator

                                    That's a GREAT idea! I've been to Vietnam and weirdly never once had a good pho there, even though I had it every day :( Do you have a good recipe for the real thing? Maybe I could also have a crack at miso soup...

                                    1. re: Elster

                                      I've had this pho recipe at SteamyKitchen.com bookmarked since forever: http://www.steamykitchen.com/271-viet...

                                      Haven't made it so if you do, I'd love to hear how it comes out.

                                      Another "labor of love" is the xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings) also on that site. http://www.steamykitchen.com/88-xiao-...

                                      Again, looks fun but soooo much work so I haven't made that one either. I guess I'm not hardcore enough. :-)

                                  2. I'm hacking together my home hot-smoker at the moment and I wondered whether any of you might have an idea for how I can home-smoke some sea salt like the kind you can buy for a thousand bucks a kilo in the supermarket - thoughts?

                                    1. I love "diy" projects in the kitchen. I don't have a lot of free time for it but I have a few things on my list.

                                      Basic cheesemaking (ricotta/paneer and mozzarella) is pretty easy. I took a class, but there are a number of tutorials online. I've successfully made ricotta at home and the mozzarella turned out OK. I didn't take good notes in my class so I missed a few steps with that, but I've studied up so next time it should work out. I purchased my rennet and citric acid from a home brewing store so I didn't have to pay the shipping costs online. Also avoid "kits". No reason to spend the money on them.

                                      Here's a few tutorials I have saved.
                                      http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

                                      http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-...

                                      http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/02/ho... (this covers making ricotta in the microwave, but the other information before the how-to part is good).

                                      Also, as soon as I get the proper equipment, I'm going to look into curing my own meats (like salami). I need a wine fridge basically, as that's a good place to cure meats. Also interested in sausage making.

                                      Also, my retired uncle makes wonderful sourdough bread and makes stuff like apple butter and mustards. The mustards especially intrigue me.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        Surely it's quite simple to make a mustard? Don't you just grind the seeds up in a pestle and mortar (as long as you don't want too fine a grain) and blend with vinegars, sugars, herbs etc?

                                        What I think would be interesting is to have a go at the Austrian mustard-fruit-jellies that they make over there. They are simultaneously so fiery and so intensely fruity, and I wish I knew how they were made!

                                        1. re: Elster

                                          You know, I've never really looked into it. He sent me home w/ a jar after I visited them last, and now that I've eaten it I was planning on asking him questions about it when I see him on Easter. His had cranberries in it also, so it's extra interesting.

                                      2. You mention that you'll be starting a new venture - how about making granolas and mueslis that will last and allow you to grab a quick, healthy breakfast that you wouldn't get in a box? All right, it's not as involved as some of the other projects, but it does have practical applications, and loads of lovely ideas have been mentioned already.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: limoen

                                          Sounds good - I'm a yoghurt-for-breakfast gal myself, but making some custom sprinkles would be fun!