6 Low-Effort Food Projects That Are Worth Your Time

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Marissa Dickson/Thrillist
Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Marissa Dickson/Thrillist

In cooking – something that everyone does a lot more of now that they stay home so much – time becomes a seasoning. It deepens flavors, sharpens spices, and relaxes proteins. Using time as a kitchen assistant turns otherwise arduous cooking projects into low-effort waiting games. So take advantage of the expanses of time at home to let the hours do the work, and reap the rewards that patience delivers with these projects that take a lot of time but just a little bit of work.

Infuse olive oils 

Zest up your salad, jazz up bruschetta, and add a little visual verve to your countertop by infusing ordinary olive oils with herbs and spices. The resulting infusions make it easy to add a glug of flavor to finish a dish, but even before that, the bottles look amazing as the rosemary sprigs, citrus peels, or chili flakes filter through the golden glow of the oil. To make an infused oil, you just need the base oil itself, almost any herb or spice, and about 48 hours of waiting. Just be sure to fully wash and dry any herbs, and avoid using garlic without further researching some of the health concerns around garlic-infused oil.

Culture your own creme fraiche 

Transform your basic dairy products into this silky-smooth, ultra-rich cultured cream to dress up soups and stews or add class to salads and sauces. A sophisticated older sibling to sour cream, creme fraiche can stand in for that, yogurt, and even mayonnaise in many recipes. All you need to make it is cream, buttermilk, and to mix them together and let sit in a covered glass bowl at room temperature overnight. Then dollop it in stews (like this Corn and Chicken Chili made with Campbell’s® Cream of Chicken Soup) for dairy that doesn’t break, or onto berries with a bit of sugar for dessert. 

Photo: Campbell's; Illustration: Marissa Dickson/Thrillist

Pickle your own onions

For anyone without the patience, space, or supplies to make full-scale pickles, whisking up a quick batch of refrigerator onion pickles offers an easy way to scratch the same itch – and results in having an endlessly useful condiment always on hand. To make quick-pickled red onions, boil a little vinegar with salt, sugar, and seasonings (like juniper berries, allspice, or star anise), then pour it over a jar of sliced onions, let sit, and refrigerate – they’ll be ready to eat the next day. The vibrant pink color and sharp, acidic tang lifts up meaty dishes, like this Instant Pot® Pulled Pork recipe from Campbell’s®, keeps your tacos tasting bright, and makes a stunning addition to a charcuterie board.

Turn condensed milk into dulce de leche 

True dulce de leche – the sweet, caramel-like drizzle made from milk and popular around Latin America – requires constant attention to the process of reducing milk down with baking soda and sugar. But with patience and a little bit of a shortcut, you can make a near ringer for the treat by warming a can of sweetened condensed milk (remember to remove the label) in a slow cooker filled with water for about eight hours. Then you’re ready to add it to your ice cream, dip your cookies in it, or simply spread it on toast for a lovely breakfast. 

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Marissa Dickson/Thrillist

Cure your own salmon

Making your own bagels takes some skill, and cream cheese requires special supplies. But one of the highest reward-to-effort cooking projects is cured salmon. All it takes to make is a cure of brown sugar, salt, pepper, and whatever spices you like; then rub it on a salmon fillet, wrap it in plastic, and stick it in the fridge. Flip it daily for about five days, then rinse and enjoy! Slice it thinly and serve it on toast, wrap it into pinwheels with goat cheese, or simply cut off pieces and let the satiny, salty salmon melt onto your tongue. Or, pair it with the onion pickles above for a homemade feast!

Whip up homemade ranch dressing

The zing of homemade ranch makes for a phenomenally fresher-tasting salad dressing and the perfect dipping sauce for crunchy fried or baked snacks, like these cauliflower bites made with Campbell’s® Cream of Mushroom Soup that only take 10 minutes in an air fryer. But you have to make sure to think ahead because once you mix together the staple ingredients, the key to a great ranch is letting it sit overnight so the flavors meld together in creamy harmony. Whisk your dairy – buttermilk plus sour cream and/or mayonnaise – then blend in dry or fresh herbs like parsley and dill, seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, and apple cider vinegar. And then you wait.