19 Cooking Projects to Do When You're Home All Day

Our favorite deep-dive cooking projects to stay busy and well fed.

Vicky Wasik

If you've been on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook at any point in the last two weeks, you've seen a friend or long lost relative making a loaf of bread. You've scrolled past batch upon batch of cookies. You can't even count the jars of pickling and fermenting vegetables that have graced your feed. The days of self-isolation cooking are upon us, and that means lots of deep-dive cooking projects, the kinds we used to actively avoid during the week because they simply took too long. But now that our home is also our office and gym, it's not too difficult to step away from the computer midday to proof dough or check on a slowly braising chunk of meat in the kitchen.

We welcome a distraction from the craziness of life, and oftentimes, that distraction comes in the form of an elaborate recipe. Without further ado, here are 19 cooking projects to keep you busy during social distancing.

Savory Projects

Simple Crusty White Bread

Vicky Wasik

It looks like 2020 is the year we all become semi-professional bread bakers. But you don't have to start with a terribly complicated loaf that'll have your head spinning. This simply white bread recipe will still demand all of your attention, and when the resting and shaping and resting (again) is done, you'll be the proud owner of a crusty, airy, perfect loaf of bread.

Fresh Mozzarella

Vicky Wasik

What if you used the loaf of bread you just made (from the recipe above this one) as the base for a grilled cheese sandwich. You'll be making the grilled cheese with homemade mozzarella, of course, because it's the kind of cooking project practically designed for days when you're stuck at home. And while it might sound like a production, making mozzarella from scratch is actually quite simple. An hour after you begin heating milk and citric acid in a pot, you'll have beautiful, springy balls of fresh cheese.

Ragù Bolognese

Vicky Wasik

By no means is ragù bolognese a weeknight pasta sauce, which is great, considering we've got all the time in the world to watch sauce simmer. You'll slowly cook down a mixture of aromatic vegetables, ground meat, tomato paste, and stock until the mixture forms a rich, comforting sauce. You can stop there and jar up the bolognese, or go a step further and use the meat sauce to make a classic Lasagne alla Bolognese

Mexican Tamales, Four Ways

tamales with green chili and pork
Joshua Bousel

Tamale-making is a production often reserved for family gatherings, because it takes quite a few hands to efficiently form, wrap, and cook a large batch. But if you've got the time, tamales can be a great solo project, too. A variety of meat, cheese, and vegetable fillings are carefully placed at the center of a dollop of masa dough, then wrapped in corn husk like a present to be cooked. As a bonus, tamales freeze well, so you can make lots, and reserve a batch for later.

Miso Tori Paitan Ramen

Vicky Wasik

When we talk about ramen, we're not referring to the stuff you heat up in a Styrofoam cup (okay, sometimes we are). We're talking about a lengthy process of making noodles and broth from scratch. Start by making your own springy, chewy ramen noodles, which you'll add to a bowl of creamy Miso Tori Paitan Ramen. And once you've gotten the hang of these two recipes, try your hand at one of our other ramen recipes.

Traditional French Cassoulet

Traditional French Cassoulet
Cassoulet is overwhelmingly simple. It's made from the homeliest of ingredients that are elevated to an almost untouchable level. It's just the thing for novice cooks looking to impress. Get the recipe » [Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Cassoulet is a wonderfully simple dish, but it is not quick to make. Salt pork, chicken thighs, and garlic sausage cook along with herbs, garlic, and vegetables until every ingredient in the pot is meltingly tender. You'll want to soak the beans overnight in salted water before you start this project, so that they cook evenly and become creamy.

Low-and-Slow Pulled Pork (Smoked Pork Shoulder)

Vicky Wasik

If you're lucky enough to have a smoker, now is a great time to get outside and use it. Low heat, plenty of time, and generous seasoning transform pork shoulder into a tender, flavorful pile of pulled pork. Ideally, you'll season the shoulder a full 24 hours in advance, so the salt can deeply flavor the meat. Once that process is finished, you'll rub the shoulder with an even coating of mustard (and optionally, hot sauce), which will create a dark, crisp bark as the meat cooks.

The Ultimate Beef Wellington

20121213-beef-wellington-food-lab - 01.jpg
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Beef Wellington on a weeknight? Sure, why not! This elaborate and impressive dish features a perfectly cooked tenderloin, encased in a golden-brown puff pastry shell. You can use frozen puff pastry, or you can really lean in to the process and make it yourself. As if puff pastry and tenderloin weren't luxurious enough, this Wellington also features layers of prosciutto, foie gras, and an aromatic mushroom mixture.

Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut

Vicky Wasik

Now is the time to start one—or all!—of those fermenting and pickling products you were 100% sure you'd tackle in 2019. Maybe start with sauerkraut, which will take between three and six weeks to fully ferment but only requires three ingredients: cabbage, salt, and caraway seeds or juniper berries. Ideally, you'll combine the ingredients in a fermentation crock, but if you don't happen to have one, you can make sauerkraut in a Ball jar. You'll know your sauerkraut is ready when it tastes, well, sour. That means you could take it all the way to the six-week mark or if you like it a little more mild, you can dig in after just three.

Choucroute Garnie à l'Alsacienne

Vicky Wasik

This feast of pork and sauerkraut isn't exactly a one-pan dinner, but you'll be well rewarded for your time and energy. To make this dish, you'll carefully cook various pieces of pork—shoulder, loin, slab bacon, sausage, chops—so that each cut is cooked to perfection. Once all of the components are ready, you'll arrange the meat on a large platter, along with tender potatoes and that sauerkraut you've been tending to the last several weeks.

Homemade Yogurt

Vicky Wasik

Making yogurt is a great cooking project because you most likely already have the two necessary ingredients in your fridge. With milk, just a tiny bit of store-bought yogurt (one that contains live active cultures), a little heat, and some time, you can make jars of your own sweet and tangy yogurt.

Nixtamalized Corn Tortillas, For Tacos

Vicky Wasik

We'll talk taco fillings in a minute, but even the best meats and vegetables don't make a great taco if the tortillas aren't delicious. The process of nixtamalizing the corn for these tortillas involves cooking and soaking dried corn kernels with some form of slaked lime. This process gives the tortillas their characteristic savory flavor, improves their texture, and ups their nutritional value. Once you've got corn tortillas down to a science, it's time to make tacos.

No-Waste Tacos de Carnitas With Salsa Verde

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

So you've made your tortillas, now you need to fill them! Crisp carnitas is a great place to start. The pork cooks slowly in a baking dish with oil, oranges, onions, and aromatics until the meat is impossibly tender. To give the dish its signature texture, the pork is then transferred to the oven where the broiler works its magic, evenly crisping the meat.

Cochinita Pibil (Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork)

J. Kenji López-Alt

Technically, you can't make cochinita pibil without a pib, a Mayan oven consisting of a hole in the ground, lined with hot stones. But you can imitate the earthy, smoky flavor of that traditional cooking method quite well. That's what we do here, blackening garlic, toasting spices, and rubbing the pork down with a flavorful marinade before the shoulder is wrapped in banana leaves. The banana leaves trap moisture and protect the tightly wrapped parcel as it cooks slowly on a grill. This might not be real-deal cooked-in-the-ground cochinita pibil, but once you taste it, you won't have any complaints.

Sweet Projects

Homemade Cannoli

Vicky Wasik

It is really hard to find good cannoli at a bakery. Luckily, with a little patience, they're quite easy to pull off at home. The trick is to start with the freshest, best ricotta you can find. That mild cheese will become a sweet, silky filling for crisp homemade shells. The process will take you several hours, but once the cannoli are fried and filled, you'll want to eat them immediately.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
It took weeks of nonstop testing and more than 1,500 cookies to develop this recipe. It delivers chocolate chip cookies that are just crisp around the edges, with a buttery, toffee-like crunch that transitions into a chewy, moist center, which bends like caramel and is rich with butter and big pockets of melted chocolate. They're cookies with crackly, craggy tops and the complex aroma of butterscotch. And, of course, that elusive perfect balance between sweet and salty. Here's how to make them. [Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]. J. Kenji López-Alt

We have an excellent fast and easy chocolate chip cookie recipe that will take you under an hour, from start to finish. This recipe, on the other hand, will demand some patience, and a little self-control (that means not eating all of the cookie dough). The trick here is browning your butter, then letting the dough rest overnight. During the rest, enzymes in the dough will break down large carbohydrates, improving caramelization and browning when you bake the cookies the next day. This might seem like a long wait time for a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but once you bite into one, you'll understand why we keep coming back to this recipe.

Mocha Mascarpone Icebox Cake

Vicky Wasik

This cake won't really take you very long to assemble, but you'll have to let it set in the freezer for a full day. You'll start by baking a batch of shatteringly crisp cookies. Once the cookies are ready, you'll alternate between layers of cookie and a whipped mascarpone filling until your elegant cake is fully assembled. Start the cake in the morning, and when you finish your work for the day, it will be perfectly set and ready to slice into.

BraveTart's Easy, Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

Vicky Wasik

This is a great time to make the classic apple pie you've been thinking about for months but never got around to baking. Between prepping, baking, and resting the pie, you're in for a project that'll take up the better part of an evening, but you won't regret a single hour spent. We don't stray too far from tradition for this pie, aiming to keep it as close to the one you might have grown up eating as possible. But little tweaks here and there—like macerating the fruit so more can fit into the pie and using a combination of warm spices to develop deep flavor—make for an apple pie unlike any other.

Triple Coconut Cake

Vicky Wasik

If you love coconut, this triple coconut cake is most definitely for you. Coconut flour, coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut frosting might seem like too much of a good thing, but the four ingredients provide taste and texture without becoming overwhelming. The cake itself is super-moist, and the layers of creamy coconut frosting are light enough that you'll look forward to finding a little bit in every bite.