Looking for delicious ways to pass the time at home? We've got you covered.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 28, 2020
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

These days, a lot of us are spending more time at home. That doesn't mean everyone has more time to cook, but I certainly do. I've been spending my extra time this week tackling new cooking and baking projects. Though these recipes may take a little bit more time in the kitchen, they help save me money in the long run, since I'm preparing them from scratch. Here's what I've been making—from sourdough bread to a whole roast chicken—to help inspire you to spend some time in the kitchen.

1. Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is having a moment right now. Whether it is from yeast being sold out at many stores or people looking for a baking challenge, I can't say for sure. What makes sourdough bread so special is the starter: a leavening agent that takes the place of yeast and is made with just flour, water and time. Because the starter should be living, it needs to be fed (it's basically my pet right now).

I am not, and never have been, much of a baker—but I did start making sourdough bread a couple years ago after an inspiring conversation with a local bread maker. If you have the time to spend (and it will take several days), you can make a homemade loaf of bread as well. Check out our Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread recipe to get started.

One tip: last week when I made the bread pictured above, I opted to let the dough proof overnight in the refrigerator, rather than for a few hours at room temperature. Game changing. The dough was much easier to handle from the extended proof.

2. Kimchi

My roommates and I share a winter CSA (learn how to find, join and enjoy a CSA near you), so we have plenty of cabbage. Maybe as a result of some sibling telepathy, my brother sent me the Korean spice, gochugaru, that is similar to red pepper flakes and used in most kimchi recipes. I have very little experience fermenting anything, so kimchi felt intimidating. But after watching a few YouTube videos and reading our Homemade Kimchi recipe, I felt ready to take on the challenge. Similar to sourdough bread, the steps to making kimchi are actually simple and accessible. The biggest factors are time and attentiveness as the process goes on. At this point, my kimchi is 24 hours into the three to five days it needs before it's ready to eat and refrigerate. Already I can see bubbles forming—so far, so good.

3. Whole Roasted Chicken

I know, this one might feel a little intimidating, but I promise once you try it you'll be hooked. Buying a whole chicken is a great value—the chicken I used was less than $8 at my local store. If you know how to prepare them, they can be the most delicious as well. To save some time, I usually spatchcock a chicken before roasting it and leave it salted (a dry brine) in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before preparing. This makes the chicken so moist and tender, you could eat it plain. Also, learning to spatchcock will make you feel like a butcher, which is a fun confidence boost. One of my favorites right now is our Lemon-Herb Roasted Spatchcock Chicken & Potatoes (the recipe video walks you through the process). Leftover roasted chicken can be used to make chicken salad, chicken stir-fry, or chicken soup.

4. Dried Beans

Canned beans are not exactly a luxury item, but some grocers are selling out of them right now. That leaves dry beans, well-stocked and ready for the taking. Personally, being in quarantine has led me to totally love dried beans, because I can infuse them with flavors that canned beans just don't have. If I am going to make bean tacos, I can cook them with jalapenos and white onions. If I want to make a French bean stew, I'll toss in a few bay leaves, fresh herbs and garlic. The possibilities are endless, flavorful and affordable if you have the time to soak and cook them yourself. To get started, check out How to Cook Dried Beans.

5. Cured Salmon

One of my favorite things to do on weekend mornings is to walk to a local bagel shop for a breakfast sandwich. My all time favorite savory bagel sandwich: classic lox. Lately, that hasn't been much of an option, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Curing is different than raw because the extended time a meat or food is exposed to salt, the more it will dry, flavors will develop and the salt prevents bacteria from entering the meat. Cured salmon is delicious and, in some cases, can be ready in one day, like our Cardamom-Cured Salmon Gravlax. I opted for another flavor profile with my dill-beet cured salmon, pictured above on our shockingly easy Two-Ingredient Bagels. I mixed one medium-sized raw beet, kosher salt, sugar, dill and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Then, I spread this on a skin-on salmon fillet and refrigerated for three days. It had a beautiful deep red color, and nice earthy flavor. All this is to say, try to cure salmon and make your own lox if you are interested in a fun breakfast (or lunch or dinner).

6. Pantry Desserts

When I get groceries, I don't typically buy a lot of snack foods or desserts to help me save money. Lately, though, I have made a few pantry desserts out of desperation for something sweet. One of our food editors inspired me with a gorgeous Instagram story making our No-Oat Apple Crisp in individual ramekins for a solo serving. Another night, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had all of the ingredients for our Mug Brownies, which are also one serving and ready in just 15 minutes. Up next on my list are our Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (which is only five ingredients, folks), as well as some Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups to finally use up the bananas I have hoarded in my freezer.

Bottom Line

It is totally normal to feel anxious in times like these, when we don't know what tomorrow or next week will look like. However, we can do ourselves a favor by filling our time with things we love and that make us happy. For me, that's cooking and I (clearly) have been taking advantage of all of the time I've had to do it. Trying to make something from scratch that you normally wouldn't have the time for is nourishing, physically and mentally, and can also even save you money. For more, check out 10 things I try to always keep in my pantry.