Lose the bleak midwinter blues and get excited about cooking again

Gif: Natalie Peeples

There have been days this winter when I can’t unload the dishwasher one more time, and if I see another left over Christmas cookie or remnants of my last loaf of banana bread, I’m going to scream.

But, as my mother always said, “People have to eat.” And while I can mix things up with delivery food, my house at times feels like it’s been invaded by black plastic containers. I’ve realized that $45 carry-out order can buy groceries for several days of homemade meals, if I buy wisely.

So, I’ve been finding ways to get excited about cooking again—and I’ve actually been learning some new things in the process. Here are some ideas that seem to be working for me.

Try some unusual flavors

For me, this has meant getting into Korean food. Last year, I read Hooni Kim’s beautiful cookbook, My Korea, which includes both the story of his journey to becoming a Michelin star chef and many flavorful recipes.

My friend Luke Song, the hat designer, subsequently turned me on to two video series. The first is from Maangchi, real name Emily Kim, the charming Korean-American YouTuber and cookbook author who’s been getting all kinds of attention lately for her upbeat and encouraging cooking demonstrations. Here’s her broccoli and tofu, which is a nice starter dish.

The second is a series called Welcome, First Time In Korea?, which can also be found on YouTube. It’s a kind-hearted reality show in which groups of friends from outside Korea visit the country to see historic sites, visit parks, and eat, accompanied by someone from their country who now lives in Korea.

Bag of tteokbokki and tteobokki sauce
Not everything has to be made from scratch!
Photo: Micheline Maynard

By far the most popular series has featured four young men from Finland. One of them, Vilppu Leppanen, has become a breakout star for his endless appetite for Korean food. He’s even gotten his own set of episodes within the Welcome series, which are currently running on Korean TV. He’s game to try any food, and the show allows you to see what specialty cuisine from cities such as Daegu like look like up close (the program has been included cooking lessons as well).

Since reading and watching, I’ve been visiting Korean markets in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area. I started simply, with the Korean chili sauce called gochujang, but I’ve since branched out to prepare dishes like seaweed soup, tteokbokki (rice dumplings), and Korean chicken soup.

Along with Korean food, I’ve also been exploring Greek dishes through the delightful Canadian blog Mia Kouppa. I’ve always loved attending Greek festivals and eating in Greek restaurants, but since we can’t do that right now, Mia Kouppa is like a visit to all the Greek spots that are out of reach. I’ve tried their Lemon Ricotta cookies, and they also have wonderful recipes for soups and main courses that make for perfect winter comfort food.

Sample an eating plan

In January, people in Great Britain and Europe have always gotten enthusiastic about Veganuary, when people give up meat and dairy for the entire month.

Veganuary hasn’t caught on as much in the U.S., but it’s become a major opportunity overseas for brands to roll out new products and vegan recipes. I was going to try Veganuary this year, but I forgot on January 2 and ordered chicken fingers at Culver’s. Still, I’ve been getting back into the vegan swing of things for short bursts of time, and it’s kind of a relief after months of giving into whatever I wanted to eat.

So, if there’s an eating plan that interests you, try it for a short period of time. Have a vegan weekend, or a vegetarian week. If you have been interested in Keto, or gluten free, or a Mediterranean diet, just give it a go.

I found in my brief vegan encounter that advance planning and lots of choices make a big difference in whether you stick to it. That should be a nice distraction from simply pulling up a delivery app on your phone.

Make something you would usually buy

Perhaps you’re a fan of cinnamon rolls, or you like to pick up a loaf of rye bread when you go to your favorite bakery. Why not make them instead?

It’s okay to cheat with a mix (King Arthur Baking sells good ones). The last thing you want to do is invest $50 in ingredients that you might use once. And please don’t get discouraged if your efforts don’t come out Instagram-ready. Your friends will happily take food gifts, if you feel safe sending them over. I often swap baked goods with my across-the-street neighbors. My nephew has been sending us cookies, and my brother makes terrific soup.

Unless your friends are food snobs, nobody is going to turn their nose up at pale pumpernickel or slightly misshapen biscuits. As Julia Child said, never apologize.

Take a cook-along class 

Cooking classes have become ubiquitous on YouTube and Instagram during the pandemic, but they’re no longer just “I teach, and you watch.” They’re morphing into participation events, where you cook along with the chef.

Some chefs and cooking instructors are selling kits in advance, which can either be delivered to your house or picked up at their restaurant. For instance, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans has weekly wine and cheese tastings. It’s offering a National Mardi Gras party on February 10.

Even if you decide not to get your kitchen dirty while the chef is talking, they will still provide the recipe for what they’re cooking. Some chefs are storing their recordings so that you can re-watch the demonstration for a set period of time. I find that I’d rather watch them do it first, instead of getting distracted by trying to cook along. That way I have the benefit of having seen it done properly.

All these ideas should get you past sourdough and lentil soup—unless you like them, in which case, please set some outside the door for me.

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DISCUSSION

winglessvictory
WinglessVictory

I love Maangchi. Also look into Palin’s Kitchen (for Thai food) and Seonkyoung Longest, and Future Neighbor. I’m also really into - and have always been into Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. Refika’s Kitchen presents some Turkish dishes I’d never heard of and want to try.

Recently discovered this recipe for eggplant in yogurt sauce and it wowed both me and my family, as we aren’t huge eggplant fans. I did make some minor adjustments, but I serve it with naan, a couscous or quinoa salad with lots of chopped fresh vegetables and feta, a fenugreek tahini slaw and - sometimes - smoked paprika and garlic shrimp or a similarly spiced salmon filet.