There’s something special about food that comes in its own edible wrapper. It can be filling, comforting, flavorful, unique—but mostly it’s fun to eat. It can also be fun to make if you approach it with the right mindset.
Self-contained perfect bites have plenty of advantages. Some, like Sourdough Empanadas, travel well and make ideal meals at school or work. Others, like Pumpkin–Goat Cheese Ravioli with Butter–Nut Sauce, can be frozen for later quick-and-easy meals. With Mushroom-Stuffed Blini, it’s hard to decide whether the freshly made packets or the leftovers, sautéed until crispy, taste best.
These scratch-made recipes also have a downside: They take time and effort. The key is to keep the entire process relaxed and fun. I have several tricks that will help you enjoy the time, break the project into stages, and sample some of your creation along the way. Hopefully these tips will ease you into some of the food projects already on the blog—and the new ones I’ll be sharing this month.
You’ll find plenty of food projects in the recipe index, from smoking to fermenting to canning. But I’m focusing this month on project meals. With the tricks you learn in this post, I encourage you to try some of these recipes:
- Mushroom-Stuffed Blini
- Pumpkin–Goat Cheese Ravioli with Butter–Nut Sauce
- Homemade Pumpkin Gnocchi
- Homemade Potato Gnocchi
- Sourdough Calzones
- Sourdough Empanadas
- Sourdough Pita Bread stuffed with Raw-Chickpea Falafel
- Summer Rolls
- Stuffed Squash Blossoms
I approach time- and labor-intensive recipes as ongoing projects that result in multiple, quick-and-easy meals. You do the work upfront: creating the wrapper, prepping fillings, and assembling them into the perfect bite. The final stage can become the night’s dinner. But the goal is to create more than you can eat in one sitting. Those servings become homemade, ready-to-eat meals that will make your fridge or freeze the envy of the neighborhood.
So I don’t advise starting these recipes when your stomach is rumbling or when you open the fridge and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Although they can be delicious recipes for a party or celebration, hold off on that for now. Instead, make them first for yourself so that you don’t feel stressed to impress.
You can always spend a day in the kitchen, creating to your heart’s content, but you can often stretch out the process to fit your mood and schedule. To show you what I mean, let’s break project meals into stages over a few days.
Day 1: The Wrapper
Big bites in small packages taste best when you make that package yourself. So the first step is to think about the wrapping. Some, like squash blossoms, really do want to be picked and stuffed while fresh. But other wrappers, like dough for calzones, are best prepped in advance.
Either way, there are wrapper shortcuts:
- Mix and freeze. Balls of dough keep several days in the fridge and can be frozen for months before you turn them into all sorts of hot pockets. If you haven’t yet ventured into sourdough, you can find my recipe that uses dry yeast in my digital book.
- Make and store. Sourdough Pita Bread can stay refrigerated in dough stage for a couple of days and then remain soft and fresh for several more once baked. Even crepe batter for blini can survive overnight in the fridge.
- Skip ahead. Store-bought wrappers have their merits. Even I’m not brave enough to tackle the rice paper wrappers for Summer Rolls. Commercial wrappers can even let you jump ahead to a meal of home-stuffed pasta.
Day 2: The Filling
Fillings are all about slicing and dicing so that they fit into their wrapper. Although it may seem counterintuitive, I often chop up twice as much as I need for a filling recipe. That combined prep gives me a bowl of filling to stash in the fridge for assembly day. And I can use the rest in a simple dinner—tossed with pasta, spread on toast, stuffed into baked potatoes, or served alongside grilled fish.
As with wrappers, there are filling shortcuts:
- Mix and freeze. Sauces, pestos, even cooked beans can be frozen so that they’re ready to add on assembly day.
- Make and store. Freshly prepped ingredients, like those for falafel, can be refrigerated until you’re ready to bake or use them. Some ingredients, like shrimp and noodles for Summer Rolls, want to be chilled before they’re used.
- Skip ahead. Grab canned beans and pumpkin puree, jarred olives, and store-bought cheese as shortcuts for homemade ingredients. Or give leftover grilled veg, cold mashers, extra beans, or other lurkers in your fridge a second life as a filling.
Day 3: The Assembly
With all the prep work done, you can enjoy the time you spend putting it all together. Have everything at hand, defrosted or brought to room temperature as needed, before you start. Clear plenty of clean space to work in. Extra hands can help at this stage, and sharing the experience often makes it feel faster.
If you’ll be cooking straight away, start boiling water or preheating the oven before you’re done rolling and stuffing. When the last batch goes in, clean up enough that you can sit and savor the first taste of your fully assembled creation while it’s hot. The rest can cool for storage while you relish your meal.
Days Beyond: The Enjoyment
Remember the goal to create more than you can eat in one sitting? Now that you’ve done all the work and savored that last fresh batch, everything that’s left becomes a quick future meal. The easiest way to save your creations is to cool them to room temperature, pack them in an airtight container, and refrigerate them to eat within a few days. But some recipes can be frozen to enjoy weeks or months after you did all the work:
- Boiled batches. Ravioli and gnocchi keep best when patted dry, spread on a baking sheet, and frozen for a couple of hours before being transferred to a freezer-proof bag or container. Reheat from frozen in the oven or a sauté pan with a little olive oil.
- Baked batches. Baked packets like calzones and empanadas and separately shaped and baked fillings like falafel can also be frozen individually on trays but may hold up equally well when just cooled and packaged before freezing. To reheat, bring to room temperature and bake at 350°F until thoroughly hot.
Twice as Tasty
This month, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite meal projects, with flavors from around the world. As a kid, pot stickers were a dinner-out treat; their simple dough and some cooking tricks make them an eating-in favorite today. I’ll also share my recipe for pierogi, a go-to meal from my time living in Russia and traveling in Eastern Europe. Both come with plenty of variations, taste delicious fresh, and reheat beautifully from the freezer.
My latest dumpling-style meal project has been steamed buns. As with last week’s dosas, my trials and errors have given me plenty of tips for beginners that will hopefully give you a first batch of perfect buns. Until then, enjoy the projects already on the blog!
Need more food projects? Get a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling to fill your shelves and fridge with vinegar and fermented pickles, chutneys, hot sauces, salsa, and more. At the same time, pick up the The Pickled Picnic to learn how to use pickles and leftover brine in a range of recipes. Click here to order.