Those of us on the East Coast will spend most of our Monday like shut-ins, glued to our TVs as we watch the latest mega-forecast for this Frankenstorm, Hurricane Sandy or whatever our local stations are calling it. Here in NYC, we can’t even leave our neighborhoods, since the subway’s closed, buses aren’t running and the chance of being clobbered by flying debris increases dramatically once we step outside our homes.
So. What to do? Here at Food Republic, we’re always looking for ways to be more productive in the kitchen, and since we all live in small apartments that are pretty much like 20 percent kitchen anyway, we were thinking we’d spend some quality time amongst the pots and pans. Which got us thinking further: Let’s figure out 10 things to do to avoid boredom during a hurricane (provided that we don’t lose power). Or anytime really. We’re sure Martha Stewart would approve.
1. Throw out old spices
Did you know that dried spices can go bad? Well, they won’t kill you, but they will certainly offend your tastebuds. How can you tell? Pull all the bottles out of the spice rack, shake ’em around and open them. If your oregano smells dusty or your tarragon looks similar to sawdust, toss the spice. Many dried spices have a shelf life of about six months.
2. Practice your mashed potatoes
When it comes to mashed potatoes, practice makes perfect. If you’re a newcomer to the kitchen, your first efforts may come out to lumpy, too milky, overly salty. Whether or not you’ll be enlisted to make a mashed potato dish this Thanksgiving, it’s good to work on your technique; you may get so good at it turning out creamy, delicious mashed potatoes, you can help out a friend or relative if their batch comes out like a starch bomb. Get started with our Easiest Mashed Potatoes recipe, then go deeper with other “practice potato recipes.”
3. Read a cookbook
Seriously, have you ever just sat down and read the introduction to a cookbook? Usually, you’ll learn a few tricks; then, leaf through and find some recipes that appeal to you, bookmark them, and come back to them when the storm passes and you have time to go to the supermarket when it’s not packed with people hoarding bananas, D batteries and beer. Chances are, you have a cookbook or two lying around the house.
4. Speaking of beer, study your craft beers
Use this opportunity to try out a new craft beer, if you can get to a beer store, or at least study up on the movement so you know what’s up. There’s just no excuse to drink the watery stuff anymore (well, maybe if you are forced to pick up your six packs at a truck stop because you’re geographically challenged). Our craft beer power rankings are a great place to start.
5. Have a hack attack
We so rarely get an opportunity to experiment in the kitchen, what with all the work and the socializing and such. Now that you’re confined to your home, why not comb through the cupboards or dig into the back of the fridge and see what random ingredients you’ve got lying around. Try employing that wasabi paste or chop up those anchovies (tip: soak anchovies in lemon juice for 10 minutes to tamp down that fishy flavor, then use them as an accent in a salad dressing) that have been hiding in plain sight. Need inspiration? Here’s 10 lunch hacks dreamed up by our associate editor, Jess.
6. Hone your mixology skills
Do you know how to make a martini? An old-fashioned? A Manhattan? If you answered no, then this is a primo opportunity to learn something that everyone should know: How to make a decent cocktail. It’s become a lost art and it shouldn’t be; if you have a guest over, the first thing you should do is offer them a drink. If they request a martini, by gum, they should get a martini. And you should make it. Hopefully, you’ve already outfitted your bar. Next, try making single cocktails (we’ve got tons on this site, but if you’ve got some bourbon and some other fixins’, mess around with 35 new ways to make an old fashioned). Next time you’re entertaining, whether it’s friends or a special date, you’ll be glad you know your way around a cocktail shaker.
7. Pledge To Go Veg
Not down with Meatless Mondays yet? You’ve probably got some vegetables lying around. Try one of our countless vegetarian recipes and see if you can become a convert to this noble cause — which is about your own health, but also about reducing the world’s intake of meat. The environmental impact of everyone avoiding meat one day a week is staggering. Just do it.
8. Sharpen your knives
“Most people have never actually used a truly sharp knife,” says master knife sharpener Albert Edmunds in this video. Locked inside, nothing to do but hear the wind howl? Now’s the time to pull those knives from the block and whip those blades into shape.
9. Make a pot of chili
If you’re like us, you saw the weather reports and made a run to the butcher this weekend. And you already own a big spoon and an even bigger pot. Now you’ve got what you need to make an awesome vat of chili con carne. What? You need a recipe? No you don’t. Just read this primer and get started, and you’ll have enough chili to eat all week if this crazy storm really wreaks havoc (though you may wanna fire up the generator to keep that fridge and stove running). Or better yet, invite some friends over and share the wealth — if they can make it to your house, that is.
Ok, we hope we’ve inspired you to work on some cooking and drink-mixing techniques, whether or not you’re shut in due to weather. Let us know how it all goes in the comments.