Planning, preparing and eating a nice dinner can be a small source of joy during lockdown days.
The endless days with not much on the calendar are the perfect excuse to branch out and try some meals you haven’t considered cooking before. Is there one meal you always go for at a certain restaurant? Or that Thai dish you only ever eat when you spruce for takeaway?
If, like me, your life has started revolving mainly around what’s for dinner, here’s how to make it a little more interesting.
Travel with your taste buds
Choose a country at random and plan a themed dinner with food, music and drinks.
For example, you could choose Italy and make homemade pizza with your favourite toppings. Source an Italian wine and make tiramisu for dessert.
Pop on some traditional music from the area you choose and set up a slideshow of photos to really make it feel as though you’re there.
Recreate a restaurant atmosphere
Get dressed in your favourite (comfortable) outfit and dig out the fancy plates and the special tablecloth. Make everyone sit around the table with no distractions and have a meal as though you were at a restaurant.
It makes it easier to have serving bowls filled with food beforehand so everyone can help themselves and one person isn’t doing all the serving.
There are plenty of YouTube videos with ambient restaurant sounds which you could play in the background.
Recreate a special meal
I once shared a duck risotto with my partner at a restaurant in Toledo, Spain, and have been chasing the recipe ever since.
Lockdown has given me the chance to try multiple duck risotto recipes and, although I haven’t nailed it yet, I’ve got closer every time I’ve tried.
What’s the one meal you always dream of? Now’s your chance to try to recreate it.
Do the longer version of your go-to recipes
Many recipes have shortcuts that are appealing on busy weeknights. If you have the time now, though, why not try the longer versions?
Instead of regular beef stew, try Julia Child’s six-hour Beef Bourguignon recipe.
Try making ramen with homemade stock, or even homemade noodles if you want.
Whip up some dim sim from scratch. You can fill them with whatever you like, from ground pork to prawns to vegies – they’ll be the freshest you’ve ever had.
Ever fancied curing your own salmon? It takes a good chunk of time but the vast majority is just a waiting game. The salmon must marinate in a mixture of salt, sugar and spices in the fridge for 36-48 hours, but just imagine how good it’ll taste when it’s ready.
Have a street food picnic
When you can’t travel, the next best thing is surely bringing street food into your home. From deep-fried comfort food to healthy vegan options and delicious desserts, anything you can eat on the move can be on the menu.
Experiment with different cooking methods
Have you heard about the woman who can cook a full lasagne in her dishwasher? You don’t need to go that far but try roasting vegies you’d typically steam or see how far you can push your microwave.
Ask family and friends to share their favourite recipes
This is a great excuse to reach out and start a conversation too. You could either ask what they’re having for dinner that night or ask them to share their favourite recipe with you.
Join live cooking classes online
Big name chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gabriela Camara and Philippe Conticini have been releasing classes on their Instagram pages.
Watch educational cooking shows
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix really gets you thinking about the elements in a dish and how each one is important. Each instalment of the series focuses on a particular element, with chef Samin Nosrat travelling to a different location to demonstrate how the element is used in local cuisine. It’s really informative and packed full of helpful tips.
In the Mexican beach town of Playa del Carmen, there’s a very special little restaurant that uses chocolate in every dish on the menu. Some of the more unusual items include chocolate salad, chocolate ceviche and chocolate lasagne.
Now, not everything tastes better with chocolate but some things, like mixed bean chilli, do.
Choose the cousin of a popular dish
Instead of whipping up a homemade pizza, try out a Turkish pide stuffed with feta cheese, parsley, mozzarella and sprinkled with nigella seeds. You can also fill it with lamb to make it similar to Lebanese lamb fatayer.
Research Jamaican curries to mix up curry night or try out meat-free versions of your favourite dish.
Order something special from a local restaurant
Splash out every once in a while, and leave the cooking to someone else.
How have you kept your dinners interesting? Have you discovered any new recipes during lockdown? Share your favourite dish in the comments section below.
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