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

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

A closeup of a cut loaf of simple crusty white bread.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

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For a brief period in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, you probably encountered many posts on social media of friends or long lost relatives making loaf upon loaf of bread. As everyone coped with self-isolation and lockdowns, batches of homemade cookies proliferated on our feeds, along with countless jars of pickled and fermented vegetables. The days of pandemic cooking were upon us, and that meant a lot of deep-dive cooking projects—the kind we normally avoid during the week because they simply take too long. During that difficult time, our homes became offices and gyms. Many of us discovered that stepping away from the computer midday to proof dough or check on a slowly braising chunk of meat was a manageable task, even during the week.

Ever since, work-from-home jobs have become increasingly common. So, even though the worst months of the coronavirus pandemic have (hopefully) passed, many home cooks still 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 tackle on lazy weekends—or during the week, for those of you who work from home and don't mind a little multi-tasking.

Savory Projects

Simple Crusty White Bread

A closeup of a cut loaf of simple crusty white bread.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

2020 was the year we all tried our hand at baking bread. You don't have to start with a terribly complicated loaf that'll have your head spinning. This simple white bread recipe still demands some 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

A ball of fresh mozzarella on a cutting board, sliced to reveal the interior.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Homemade cheese might sound like a production, but making fresh 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

A portion of lasagne alla bolognese served on a black plate.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Ragù bolognese is not a quick weeknight pasta sauce, but the moderate amount of effort and long simmering time really pays off. 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 serve the bolognese with pappardelle, or go a step further and use the meat sauce to make a classic lasagne alla bolognese.

Mexican Tamales, Four Ways

A tamale with green chile and pork

Serious Eats / 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 a big batch and save for busier days.

Miso Tori Paitan Ramen

A black bowl of miso tori paitan ramen.

Serious Eats / 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

Overhead view of a traditional French cassoulet, served straight from the Dutch oven.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Cassoulet is a wonderful, comforting 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)

A sandwich filled with low-and-slow pulled pork and coleslaw, served on a paper plate with wavy-cut potato chips.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Low heat, smoke, 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 slowly cooks in the smoker.

The Ultimate Beef Wellington

Closeup of a thick slab of beef Wellington, served on a porcelain plate with a tangle of dressed frisée.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

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 Sauerkraut

Closeup of homemade sauerkraut in a mason jar, submerged in its own brine.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Sauerkraut may take between three and six weeks to fully ferment, but it's light on prep and 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 canning jar (preferably with a lid that has an air lock). 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 milder, you can dig in after just three.

Choucroute Garnie à l'Alsacienne

Overhead view of choucroute garnie à l'Alsacienne, served on a large porcelain platter.

Serious Eats / 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, and smoked 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

A bowl of homemade yogurt, topped with granola and a few fresh raspberries.

Serious Eats / 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

A stack of tortillas on a tea towel.

Serious Eats / 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

A bowl of no-waste carnitas served in a white bowl. A rectangular plate of dressed tacos is visible in the blurred background.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-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)

Overhead view of cochinita pibil, partially unwrapped in its banana-leaf cocoon. A patch of the pork roast has been shredded with a fork.

Serious Eats / 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

Closeup of a tray of homemade plain, pistachio, and chocolate-flavored cannoli.

Serious Eats / 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

Overhead view of chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet.

Serious Eats / 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

A mocha mascarpone icebox cake, set on a marble cake stand.

Serious Eats / 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 mocha 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

Overhead view of easy old-fashioned apple pie, sliced and served on a small porcelain plate.

Serious Eats / 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

A slice of triple coconut cake served on a plate. The rest of the cake is visible in the blurred background, resting on a cake stand.

Serious Eats / 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.

March 2020