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

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...