I really love cooking at home, and one of the joys of the past 11 months has been rediscovering this. As I’ve grown though, I’ve neglected a couple of sourdough starters and added new staples to my cupboard (I don’t know how I lived without chana dal/yellow split peas for this long).
I also now know that this glow wears off. I’m as ready as anyone to sit in a bustling restaurant again, soaking in the clinking sounds of glassware and a new song I haven’t heard, while trying to figure out how the first date at the table beside me is going.
Most importantly, I can’t wait for a dishwashing break (raise your hand if you don’t have a dishwasher). But until we can do that again safely, I’ve spent the past months trying to get myself back into the excitement I was feeling last summer, with a few tricks and tips. I hope they can reignite a little culinary spark in you, but if not, get yourself to Banh Mi Givral Deli.
Borrow a cookbook, or three, from your library
Cookbooks are often way more expensive than I can afford, especially if I’m just looking for one special recipe. But I love flipping through and seeing the story that ties all of the dishes together. It’s also a great way to discover a new type of cuisine you’ve been meaning to try. Currently, my favourite cookbooks are Indian-ish by Priya Krishna from the WPL, and Zahav by Michael Solomonov from the KPL. These libraries even have hundreds of options available online on their ebook app, so you could try a new one each night.
Create a fresh ‘cooking playlist’, listen to an audiobook or podcast
Nothing puts me in a cooking or baking mood quite like Jazmine Sullivan’s album. On days when I feel my to-do list is too long to spend an hour simmering and shimmying, I’ll switch to an audiobook. This lets me tackle my prep and reading lists at the same time! I’m currently listening to Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. If podcasts are more your speed, I’ve been really liking How To Save A Planet lately.
Reorganize your spice shelf
I try to rotate out dry ground spices yearly (looking at you, nutmeg jar). The general rule is, if it no longer smells sharp and pungent, it probably doesn’t taste that way. This does not have to feel like a boring chore. Reacquaint yourself with the spices you have. Lookup a new recipe for the chaat masala you bought last summer. Try making your own spice blend, like Xawaash, from pg. 74 of Hawa Hassan’s book In Bibi’s Kitchen (available at the WPL).
Batch cook and trade portions with friends
There are countless recipes that are way too time-consuming and labour-intensive to make for my partner and I on a weekday. Instead, we’ve been trying to dedicate one afternoon each weekend to making a large batch of dumplings or pierogies, soups or curries and more recently, trays and trays of brownies. We are all struggling to find inspiration and motivation. Give your friends a night off and drop a portion on their porch.
The following recipe is a great way to use root vegetables in your fridge. It also makes enough to feed four to six people, or to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Pinch of chilli flakes, more if you’d like it spicier
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup toasted, unsalted almonds or hazelnuts
½ cup milk or dairy-free alternative
½ tablespoon miso
Salt and pepper to taste
1 box dry pasta (I prefer rigatoni but rotini or macaroni would work too)
½ cup goat cheese, ricotta or cashew cheese
¼ cup panko or breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter or vegan substitute
2 teaspoons thyme
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, toss parsnips, onion and garlic with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment and dump your vegetables onto the tray. Bake until soft, tossing with a spatula after about 15 minutes.
While the parsnips are baking, slightly warm up milk and pour over toasted nuts to soak and soften them. Remove parsnips from the oven once softened, to blend. While the veg mix is still warm, blend with chilli, lemon, miso, milk and soaked nuts. If the mixture is a little bit thick, add a splash of water or more milk to loosen. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Set parsnip cream aside.
Boil pasta to al dente, drain and rinse. In a large bowl, mix together pasta and parsnip cream sauce. Pour into an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast iron, and top with crumbled goat cheese, dollops of ricotta or dairy-free alternative. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. During that time, melt butter and mix with panko and thyme.
Increase oven temp to 450. Top skillet with panko and return to the oven for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until panko is golden. Remove and top liberally with freshly cracked pepper. Serve with lemony-dressed greens and a thick slice of garlic toast.
*Note: This recipe is quite versatile. You can sub in most sweet root vegetables like carrots, squash and celeriac. Experiment with additional spices if you decide to change up the veg!