Pandemic Cooking Adventures

I've always loved cooking. I grew up spending a lot of time in the kitchen watching and learning from my mother. She was not any kind of classically trained chef mind you, but out of necessity for feeding a family of 5 on a preacher's income and a reflection of the time most of the food was homemade and she not only tolerated my presence but allowed me to participate and learn. As I've grown older and the convenience life has consumed us it's been a lot easier to just order delivery or hit up restaurants, and if we did make something in the kitchen there was a decent chance it came from a box in the freezer.

An exception to this rule would be whenever my good friend GNA would come to town. We've had the pleasure of her company several times in the past few years and each time she has not only graced us with her incredible culinary skills, but she always manages to ignite that fire in me again. In addition to the food being excellent, GNA is a master at raiding the pantry to pull together ingredients and menu planning in a way that uses practically zero waste (She'd be frowning at my lack of a stock bag currently). For me I've always loved the process of cooking, but not the menu planning or preparation and mostly wrote it off as not having the time.

As it turns out time is something I have a lot of these days, and so with that I've taken to the kitchen pretty much every day to cook for and sometimes with my family. We are eating dinner together every day and many days for lunch as well and it's been a great moment in time to experiment with new recipes and methods. I figured it was high time I document some of those here on the blog.

New York Bagels

My Christmas present from Emalee this past year was a standup mixer and it's been glorious to be able to do various doughs without the tiring step of hand-kneading. New York style bagels are well-known for their dense chew and I wanted to give it a shot. I have no access to bread flour but did get my hands on vital wheat gluten which I'm learning can be used to boost the protein content in AP flour. I used this method/recipe:

A few things worth noting are the hand roll method, the overnight proofing in the fridge, and the baking soda water boil all being crucial to the overall texture and taste of a NY bagel. While mine ended up looking great including a nice looking crumb, I found after a day or two they were so dense as to be less than enjoyable.

Basic White Bread

It's surely a sign of the times when we run out of bread and my wife says "Just bake some, it's easier than a grocery order". Well who can argue with that, and turned out to be a fairly simple process. I used this recipe but I only have a single but rather large loaf pan so I made a 3/4 size single loaf rather than 2 smaller loaves. This bread is decent enough for sandwiches and toast, great for a grilled cheese.

Sourdough Pretzels

We love a good soft pretzel here in the Owens household, and I happened to be working on a sourdough starter at the time and wondered if sourdough pretzels were a thing. Of course they are. My starter had only been going for 6 days when I baked these so I'm not sure if it had enough vitality. They were amazing right out of the oven but as quickly as the following day they were almost inedibly dense. I've sense given up on my starter for now as it wastes so much flour and I had a lot of trouble remembering to keep up with it (and frankly the overnight proofing of most things using it versus yeast is not ideal). I plan to try pretzels again using Alton Brown's recipe which came highly recommended from GNA.

Cinnamon Rolls

I got a wild hair the other day and decided I wanted to make homemade cinnamon rolls. I went with a recipe directly from King Arthur flour and they ended up being absolutely delicious. Lots of proofing and rising but it was a weekend and I had the time, and the whole family would agree it was absolutely worth it. I liked that this recipe didn't add any sugar to the dough because there was more than enough in the filling and glaze.


I find myself becoming a lot more comfortable with just scanning the pantry and fridge and making impulse decisions on what to cook. Time is less of a concern at the moment but of course grocery delivery is a bit more complicated so I have to sometimes be creative. We hadn't yet made dinner plans and with a late lunch we weren't yet hungry by 5 so I decided to quickly throw a dough together and get it rising for homemade pizza. My goal here was not any kind of traditional style, I knew I needed a very quick rise so I boosted the yeast with some sugar and warm water, mixed it all together and it was doubled in size within 35 minutes. I've done pizza before using my cast iron as a stone but it's on the smaller side and difficult to slide a pizza into so this has encouraged me to grab a Lodge flat stone to use for pizza and other breads that benefit from it (plus I plan to attempt some pizza making with the smoker I have and this stone will help hold that heat in for the crust).

Biscuits and Gravy

We made a ham for Easter this past Sunday and have since been trying to incorporate leftover ham into just about everything (see above for ham on pizza, normally not my style). Well I decided to do biscuits and gravy for a treat one morning and made a homemade sawmill gravy using chopped up bits of ham as a sub for sausage. The biscuits were done quickly using a method of grating frozen butter learned by, you guessed it, GNA ;). The recipe doesn't really matter here as the methods are going to be pretty identical in most any case but I used this for biscuits and this for the gravy (but added diced ham in with the butter and cooked it up before making the roux).

Ham and Corn Chowder

Like I said, ham for What's great about this one is that Emalee thought it up, found the recipe, and even joined me in the kitchen to help which is happening more and more and I love it. We used this recipe but didn't bother with the bacon since it already had ham in it (I know, I'm evil). We also have some final plans for that ham bone involving navy bean soup today. I should have taken more process photos, I often forget to do that, and while this isn't super photogenic it was tasty AF.