3 cooking projects to keep you busy during lockdown. Picture: Flora Westbrook from Pexels
3 cooking projects to keep you busy during lockdown. Picture: Flora Westbrook from Pexels

3 cooking projects to keep you busy during the lockdown

By Lifestyle Reporter Time of article published Dec 29, 2020

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Call it “lockdown” or “quarantine” but almost everyone is home right now with quite a bit of free time.

Below we have a few suggestions from experts for anyone looking to start a new kitchen-related project or wanting to use this time to hone their skills.

These ideas will help you figure out your next hobby during the “new normal”.

So, save yourself from boredom in lockdown with these foodie projects and cooking skills to master.

Tips on how to grow fresh herbs for home cooking by the founder of Growbox Renshia Manuel.

Start small

Use small pots or containers with drainage holes so that excess water will be able to drain.

This would ensure that they are also easier to handle and can be moved for more favourable weather conditions or lighting positions (for instance, better sunlight).

Select your herbs

Choose herbs that you use regularly. Unless you are an experienced gardener, use seedlings instead of seeds.

This will save you two to three weeks of grow time and increase your chances of a successful harvest.

Get the right soil

When it is time to plant, use potting soil - not garden soil. Potting soil drains water well, whereas garden soil does not.

The former is lighter and porous, while the latter is dense and traps (or blocks) moisture inside containers.

Care and harvesting

It takes constant, regular care for herbs to flourish. That means you must water them on a consistent schedule.

Use a trigger sprayer for smaller plants. This way the soil will stay moist, and you can just spray the soil as needed.

You will need to harvest them often, too, since this primes them for new growth.

Larger herb plants can also be harvested and be stored in dry form.

Tips on how to make fresh pasta by chef Samin Nosrat.

Rolling the dough

The pasta-making process can be time-consuming at first. A pasta roller is a huge asset; it’s worth buying one.

Think of rolling by hand as an advanced technique: Once you’ve developed a sense for working with the dough, you will have a much better understanding of how it will respond.

Using a pasta machine

When you’re working with pasta, you’ll need all of your senses.

You’ll quickly learn that every batch is different, depending on everything from humidity and weather to the type of flour and size of your eggs.

If pasta threatens to stick, dust both the pasta and the work surface with flour. If it’s too dry, add another yolk.

Watch as it enters the machine, using one hand to ensure it goes in straight and doesn’t ripple or overlap onto itself.

Rolling by hand

Before you begin, line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly dust with semolina flour. Set aside. Cut off ¼ of the dough.

Rewrap the remaining dough and set it aside. Place the portioned-off dough onto a large lightly floured surface.

Pushing out from the centre with the heel of your hand, flatten the dough into a circle.

Next, use a long rolling pin to push the dough out from the centre, without going all the way over the edge.

Continue rolling outward, moving the dough a quarter-turn after each roll to preserve the circle.

If the dough starts to stick, lightly dust it with flour and work quickly to prevent it from drying out.

When the dough is smooth and round, lay the rolling pin across the top of the circle from 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock.

Wrap the shorter end around the pin and roll it a single turn toward yourself to create a tube.

Rocking the pin back and forth, use your hands to pull the two edges of the dough away from each other, stretching the sheet until it’s about the length of the rolling pin.

Unravel the sheet, move it a quarter-turn, and repeat the whole process until you’ve gone around the circle.

If necessary, repeat until the entire sheet is translucent.

Cut the pasta into sheets, and dust lightly with semolina flour.

Stack pasta onto the prepared baking sheets and cover with a clean, lightly dampened kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Cooking and storing

Unlike dry pasta, fresh pasta must be just-barely cooked through.

At first, the only way to know when the pasta is done is to taste it repeatedly, so stand by the pot, tongs in hand, and be vigilant.

To cook pasta, bring heavily salted water to a rolling boil.

For 4 servings, you’ll want to use at least 5 litres of water seasoned with ½ cup kosher salt or 6 tablespoons of fine sea salt.

Don’t worry about how much salt it takes: Most will go down the drain.

You just need a salty cooking environment to season the pasta. Add the pasta. After about a minute, stir with tongs or a wooden spoon to encourage them to separate.

Pasta cooking water, full of salt and starch, is a gift. It seasons and thickens sauces and helps them cling to the pasta.

Sneak out a cup or two before draining the pasta.

Fresh pasta cooks quickly, often in 3 or 4 minutes. Cooked pasta should always be tossed with warm sauce - raw pesto is an exception - to ensure it is coated properly, so have your sauce warm and ready.

To refrigerate, store your pasta in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Refrigerate for up to one night.

Tips on how to make the ultimate homemade pizza by self-taught cooks and recipe developers Becky Krystal and Bonnie S. Benwick.

Crank it up

Heat is crucial. It helps give your crust the right colour, texture, and rise.

So preheat your oven - as hot as it can go - for at least 30 minutes.

Cook the pies on a surface that has been preheated, ideally one that will retain and share the heat well, such as a pizza stone or cast-iron skillet.

Heating your cast-iron pan on the stovetop for a few minutes before baking works well.

Just be sure to keep an eye on your pizza when it's in the oven because, at such a high temperature, it can burn quickly.

Give it time

Up to a certain extent, more time means more flavour.

The yeast needs time to work, consuming sugars, and creating the by-products that make pizza dough taste so good.

Time is also crucial for providing structure and lift. You can extend the process, and therefore the flavour, by allowing the dough to rest in the refrigerator for a few days. If your recipe calls for just a few hours, don't cut it short.

Your patience will be rewarded.

Stretch it out

Shaping the dough takes some getting used to. Stretch it on the counter first and then drape the dough over your clenched fists.

A less elastic dough requires more care because it tears easily.

Regardless of your dough, use enough flour to keep it from sticking to your hands or work surface, and frequently rotate.

When it's gluten-free

As bakers with gluten-free expertise know, working with wheat-free pizza dough calls for different techniques and methods. Its consistency is spongy and damp; wet your hands to keep it from sticking.

Resting times are in minutes, rather than hours. Because the dough is so wet, it's best to par-bake the crust before you add toppings.

You can refrigerate the dough for a day, but freeze it only after it has been parbaked.

Top it right

Your standard delivery pizza may be loaded with toppings, but less is more when it comes to your homemade pizza.

An abundance can lead to a soggy, dense crust that isn't cooked through. Precooking the toppings also cuts back on their moisture and ensures that they're not still raw by the time the crust is done.

You can always add freshly grated cheese, herbs, greens, honey, and or olive oil when the pizza comes out of the oven.

Don't sweat it

It sounds cliched, but the adage "practice makes perfect" is particularly apt when it comes to pizza. Whether you're a novice or a veteran, things can go wrong.

The humidity affects the moisture of your dough, you tear a hole in the dough, your crust flops over when you try to transfer it to a skillet or pizza stone.

It takes time to learn your dough and your oven.

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