What to Do in Your Kitchen All Day: Beans, Baking, and Braising

When life hands you isolation, make bread.

Person making bread in kitchen

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Millions of us have taken to our homes during this unprecedented global pandemic. Social distancing is tough, but we all have to do our part in slowing the spread of the virus. If you’ve considered yourself a neophyte in the kitchen, this could be your chance to bone up on baking and slow cooking. Since you’re going to be home for days at a time — and you’re likely cooking anyway — you may as well get some gourmet food out of it. When life hands you isolation, make bread.

Sourdough Starter

Drop everything and mix up a sourdough starter, or levain, right now. In less than a week, you’ll have all you need to bake a wonderfully chewy, crusty loaf of bread.

Sourdough starter is a gooey paste that captures and activates wild yeast to be used for baking. It’s so easy to start, and once you have it you can keep feeding it indefinitely or gift some to friends.


  • 1 scant cup flour (x5)
  • ½ cup warm water (x5)


  1. Mix up the flour and water in medium-to-large glass bowl. Make sure it is mixed thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and set somewhere warm (around 70-75 degrees).
  2. Every 24 hours, “feed” the starter with one scant cup of flour and ½ cup warm water and mix it in thoroughly. By the third or fourth day, your starter should be bubbling and smell sour. After the fifth day, discard half the starter (or use it) before feeding. To keep it longer, keep it in the refrigerator, feeding it weekly, or dry it out by smearing it on a cutting board and keeping the flakes in an airtight container.

Walnut Cranberry Loaf

Now that you have your sourdough starter, you can put it to use baking some tasty loaves. Since you won’t be using active dry yeast in this bread, giving it the proper time to rise is crucial. Once you’ve made your first loaf of bread, you can dive into the intricacies of breadmaking. This one is perfect for morning toast or a heavenly turkey sandwich. You’ll be the envy of everyone on your video conference call.


  • 1 ½ cups sourdough starter
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup shelled walnuts


  1. In your mixer (or with a wooden spoon), combine the starter, flour, water, and salt. Cover and let it sit for an hour.
  2. Knead the dough using your mixer (or your hands) for five to ten minutes. Add the cranberries and walnuts and lightly fold them into the dough. Let it rest another hour.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and place it on an oiled pan or cooking stone (the one you will use to bake it). If your kitchen is hot, cover the dough and place the pan in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Otherwise, it can sit covered overnight on the counter.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and place a pan on the bottom rack. Pour two cups of water into the pan once the oven is hot. When the water starts boiling, put the dough in the center rack. Bake for 30-40 minutes, watching closely for a golden-brown crust. Let the bread cool on a cooling rack.

Baked Black-Eyed Peas

These beans are so versatile you’ll never run out of uses for the leftovers. Make them spicy or tangy and sweet. Substitute any medium-sized bean like adzukis or white beans. Put them on toast with a fried egg and chopped scallions, or serve them on a bed of coconut rice with a cut of pork.


  • 3 cups dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • ½ head cabbage, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon (or vegetable bouillon)
  • ½ cup fresh grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Soak the beans overnight in a large mixing bowl with two extra inches of water. Drain and rinse them when you’re ready to cook.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  3. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium heat and add onions. Caramelize the onions (you have time, right?) by cooking them until they are a deep tan color (about 45 minutes).
  4. Add the carrots, celery, and cabbage and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Deglaze the pot with the white wine. Cook for about a minute, then add the chicken bouillon, beans, thyme, bay leaves, chili powder, and enough water to cover it all. Bring the pot to boil, then cover and put into the oven. (You can instead transfer the contents to a slow cooker at this point if you’d prefer.)
  6. Cook for four to six hours, covered. Uncover, stir in cheese, salt, and pepper, and bake, uncovered for another half-hour to an hour.

Khara Masala Braised Leg of Lamb

This recipe was adapted from an old Indian cookbook I found in a used bookstore years ago. If you’re reticent to cook lamb, this will make a believer out of you. I serve it with curried cauliflower and super spicy cabbage.


  • 1 6-8-pound leg of lamb, bone in
  • 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 6 whole dried red chiles
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cloves
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Turn on oven broiler. Salt and pepper the leg of lamb and place it on a pan on a rack in the center of the oven. Brown each side, about 20-25 minutes total.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a dutch oven, heat oil on medium and add onions. Cook for five minutes, until translucent. Add ginger, garlic, and chiles, cooking for another five minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and add cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cilantro, leg of lamb, and chicken stock. Cover and place in center rack of oven.
  4. Cook for around five hours, or until fork tender, occasionally spooning the stock over the leg of lamb. Serve with fresh cilantro. Strain the stock from the dutch oven to make gravy or refrigerate for later.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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