How does a chef whose restaurant is closed in the off-season pass the time? "Winter is a wonderful time for culinary projects," says Annemarie Ahearn, chef and owner of the Salt Water Farm restaurant and cooking school in Rockport, Maine. In the state's famously cold months, when her business is shuttered and the busy seaside town is quiet, Ahearn spends her time in the kitchen, experimenting with new ideas and perfecting old ones. "I spend many of my days adding to a kitchen diary and recipe log in a big armchair beside the wood stove," she says. "I pore over cookbooks, new and old, and try to break my routines in the kitchen." This year, the chef is trying out sourdoughs, slow-baked heirloom beans, marmalades and a myriad of ethnic dishes. Here, four great cooking project ideas from Ahearn to occupy those long winter days.
Perfect a Marmalade Recipe
Ahearn is taking advantage of prime citrus season and refining a marmalade recipe for her upcoming cookbook, Full Moon Suppers. Her version calls for Cara Cara oranges, but this recipe, made with Valencia oranges, is delicious and bright. You'll need to soak the fruit for several days before you begin, which gives you the perfect excuse to stay home over a chilly weekend.
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Learn How to Bake Bread from Memory
Last winter, Ahearn set out to learn how to make bread, specifically sourdough, without a recipe. "After about 30 runs, I feel as though I can make it forever by heart," she says. This recipe for super-crusty white bread will help guide you through the steps until you're a pro.
Tackle a Tagine
To combat Maine's extra-chilly winters, Ahearn relies on warm, slow-simmering recipes to warm the kitchen. This year, she's inspired by Moroccan flavors. "I've been experimenting with meat pies with pistachios, saffron and dried fruits," she says, "and slow-cooked lamb with turmeric, apricots and preserved lemon." This tender lamb tagine studded with green olives and lemon cooks slowly over low heat, filling your kitchen with delicious, meaty aromas and warmth.
Related: Best Winter Recipes
"Right now, I am cooking my way through Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto," Ahearn says. "I'm exploring each of the seven moles." Start your own mole marathon with this recipe for chicken with mole negro. It's a perfect project to tackle when you have some time: This version of the famously complex sauce has twenty different incredients.