Comfort Food

15 Soothing Cooking Projects to Busy Your Hands & Nourish Your Soul

From fresh pasta to sourdough bread to a richly spiced lamb stew, here's what we're cooking to care for ourselves right now.

November  4, 2020
Photo by Jenny Huang

When the world seems like an especially confusing place, when everything feels out of our control, when we need something to help make our days a little brighter and better—we turn to cooking. Cooking channels our creative energy, keeps our hands busy and our minds clear, and gives us a satisfying end product to enjoy when we’re done.

Whether you prefer to meditatively roll and slice pasta sheets, stir a skillet of gently caramelizing onions, or lovingly shape and fold crusty loaves of sourdough, we’ve got some ideas. Here are 15 recipes to keep your hands busy and your stomachs full during even the most stressful times (like...right now).


Cooking Projects

1. Braised Onion Sauce

There’s a reason our Brand Partnerships Editor, Erin Alexander, only makes this sauce for people she loves: It takes two hours, a few tears, and a bit of elbow grease to make. But why not love yourself a little extra today by making it? The simple act of stirring the onions and watching them melt into a creamy, savory-sweet sauce is well worth the time investment.

2. Masala Dosa With Coconut Chutney

In Padma Lakshmi's family, masala dosa means pure comfort—and we're completely on board. To make dosa, a crepe-like batter of rice and lentils lightly ferments until tangy, then is fried on a griddle until crispy and golden. These pancakes are then stuffed with spiced and pan-fried potatoes and served with a cooling coconut and cilantro chutney to dunk the dosa into. You can spend the morning fermenting the batter, and the afternoon perfecting your dosa-flipping technique.

3. My Ultimate Chile Oil

Make this chile oil—and for a relatively brief but totally unforgettable time, plunge yourself into the intoxicating aromas of Sichuan chiles and peppercorns, cumin, coriander, and a whole lot of garlic. Recipe creator, Mandy Lee, has had a mind to bottle and sell this oil—but lucky for us, she gave us the recipe so we can make it at home and drizzle it on everything we eat.

4. Pot Roast With 40 Cloves of Garlic

Speaking of garlic...this intensely fragrant dish has forty whole cloves in it. Really! Lean into the gentle rhythm of thwacking each clove with the side of your knife, removing the bulb from its papery skin, and using your bounty to perfume a super-tender, falling-apart roast. When the dish is braising, make the butteriest mashed potatoes possible to serve alongside.

5. Braised Lamb & Okra Stew

If beef isn't quite your thing, how about this spicy, stick-to-your-ribs lamb stew inspired by the Eritrean staple, zigni? The marinating, spice-blending, chopping, and braising will fill your afternoon with gentle activity—and your kitchen with incredible aromas.

6. Mole Sencillo Recipe

Mole, one of the mother sauces of Mexican cuisine, typically has dozens of ingredients to give it its characteristic complexity and depth of flavor. Our newest video host, Rick Martinez, shows us how to do the job with 10 ingredients, each of whose flavors are coaxed to the fullest and carefully stewed together for an ultra-satisfying result.

7. Gnocchi Ripieni with Mushrooms, Parmesan & Thyme

Rounds of pillowy gnocchi stuffed with a hearty mushroom mixture and topped with browned butter-herb sauce? Yes, yes—a thousand times, yes. Mashing potatoes for the dough, then shaping and filling these beauties, is a simple and satisfying pleasure you'll be glad to take on.

8. Crunchy Lentil Chicken Tenders

For the crunchiest crust on chicken tenders, ditch the bread crumbs and grind up red lentils instead. And to send everything over the top: Old Bay–brown sugar dust to sprinkle on top, plus curry ketchup for dunking. (P.S.: We know this one is not quite so time intensive to make, but they'll certainly distract you once you're ready to eat 'em.)


Baking Projects

9. Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Sourdough

Is there anything more satisfying and stabilizing than baking bread? We think not—and judging from the last several months, our community heartily agrees. This foolproof recipe from our Resident Bread Baker, Maurizio Leo, will guide you through the entire process—step by step, with the most careful of instructions—to set you up for sourdough success. Knead, shape, and fold your way to deliciousness.

10. Meyer Lemon Galette With Sauteed Greens & Sweet Potato Mash

This delightfully buttery, savory galette will give your hands myriad projects without you getting bored. And a triumphant, extra-colorful dinner will emerge, filled with familiar comfort and intriguing citrusy flavor aplomb.

11. Rough Puff Pastry

If you don’t have the brainpower to make “real” puff pastry, rough puff is your next best bet. Put this ultra-flaky wonder toward any-fruit hand pies or make a melty baked brie to call, ahem, dinner.

12. Date Banana Bread With Date Jam

While you wait for the date banana bread to cool (you gotta), make a one-ingredient date jam to go with. (Psst: The extra jam was born to be put toward a grilled cheese.)

13. Guava Cream Cheese Rugelach

Reminiscent of pastelitos de guayaba—flaky turnovers filled with sweet guava jam and tangy cream cheese—but with double the cream cheese (it's in the dough, too!), these adorable little rugelach will give you vacation vibes while comforting you as you make them.

14. Preserved Lemon Meringue Cake

This towering beauty of a cake—with layer upon layer of a sweet and floral preserved lemon sponge, sandwiched with zingy lemon curd, then topped with a pillowy meringue top—will give you lots to look forward to as you spend the day making it. When do you, save us a slice, won't you?

15. Bread Banana (aka Baonana)

If you’re looking for a snack that will satiate you and make you smile, look no further. This steamed bun in the shape of a banana (bao-nana—get it?!) both tastes and looks like the real thing; the dough is scented with banana puree and has an outer layer that even peels.

What recipes are you cooking to stave off stress? Let us know in the comments.

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Brinda is the Editorial Lead at Food52, where she also edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants. Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

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