What Can We Distracticook?

Good morning. I hope everyone is hanging in there. As someone on twitter wrote yesterday, Next week has been the longest week. I thought if you are feeling similarly, you might like a few culinary prescriptions for how to get through it without spiraling to dark places. If you are not phone-banking or helping out at the polls, I think the best bet at this point for your mental health is to distracticook. (Google: Did you mean procrastibake?) Translation: Find the most complicated recipe you can, preferably with tons of obscure ingredients that require some time-sucking road trips, then spend the next 48 hours focusing exclusively, singularly on making that happen. Here are five things that might fit the bill, including my cousin Ronnie’s challah, above (and which I made last week, still working on my braiding technique!), but I really really want to hear suggestions from you guys, too….

Anything From Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi gets a lot of flack for his recipes with miles-long instructions and ingredient lists calling for black limes, mango pickles, and hibiscus, and, unlike most regular old Tuesday nights, that might be just the thing we need right now! This is his brand new book, Flavor (cowritten with Ixta Belfrage) which we’ve already cooked from and love, but if you have Plenty or Plenty More, I’m guessing you will find something deliciously distractingly complicated. (P.S. Related: Big Fall 2020 Cookbooks.)

Bugiali’s Minestrone

We made this last week, and as I wrote the first time around: “It is messy and demanding and complicated. It involves forethought — you must soak the beans overnight. It involves rinsing and draining and mincing and chopping. It involves immersion blenders and strainers and Dutch Ovens and saucepans. And it involves time. A lot of time.”

Coconut Cream Pie

Abby made this once for her grandfather, who is a Coconut Cream Pie aficionado of the highest order. I remember two things about it: 1) That her grandfather said it was the best thing he’d ever eaten and 2) That the entire time she was making it she kept declaring OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO COMPLICATED. Sold!

Oaxacan Mole

There are 25 ingredients on Bricia Lopez’s ingredient list for Black Mole, including three kinds of dried chiles and also…animal crackers! It’s my favorite thing about making authentic mole — the recipes are so regional and so hard to predict. You can make them with the enmoladas (Oaxacan enchildas) that she suggests, or you can use them with your own enchilada recipe.

Ronnie’s Challah

This recipe is actually from Ronnie’s grandmother, and I wrote extensively about it in How to Celebrate Everything. I mix golden raisins into the dough because it reminds me of the way I ate it as a kid—and also because it’s delicious. This makes 1 large challah. You can cut the dough in half to make 2 smaller loaves (bake for 22 to 25 minutes) or halve the recipe. Last week, I made two loaves and dropped one off with my father, who might be the only one who loves it more than me. Lastly: Here are some braiding tips from Ronnie.

2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (about 105°F; feels slightly warm to the touch), divided
1⁄2 cup sugar, divided
8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed for the dough and for the work surface
1 tablespoon salt (maybe a half teaspoon more)
5 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup golden raisins (optional)  

• In a small bowl, mix the yeast, 1⁄2 cup of the warm water, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the sugar, and a pinch of the flour. Stir and set aside for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly. 

• While the yeast is activating, place 71⁄2 cups of the flour with the remaining sugar and the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 4 of the eggs, the vegetable oil, and the remaining 1 1⁄2 cups warm water. Mix, using the dough hook, until well combined. Add the yeast mixture and the raisins (if using) and blend in thoroughly. Knead for 3 to 4 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the remaining flour as needed to make the dough smooth and soft, but not overly sticky.

• Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 1 1⁄2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down, cover the bowl, and let rise again for about 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Remove the dough to a floured surface. 

• Cut the dough into 3 or 6 pieces, depending on whether you are going to make a 3- or 6-strand braid. Make long strands out of each piece. Braid the strands and seal the ends together by pressing on the dough. Place the bread on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Beat the last egg and brush the surface with it. (You won’t need all of it.) Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

• While the dough is in the last rise, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the challah for about 30 minutes or until firm and golden brown.

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I have a beef stew recipe that used to be my Halloween party centerpiece until…..well, you know. It was a 3-day affair for me but could probably be squeezed into two. It calls for fenugreek seeds so it meets the obscure ingredient requirement, too. It’s from an old Food and Wine magazine compilation book. Sooo good.


I made your Sunday minestrone for Halloween evening along with a big huge crusty loaf of bread. It was delicious and took the whole day chopping and simmering and tasting and tweaking. A bowl full of comfort food at the end of it.


Love this idea! Add to the list any recipe or complete meal from Sunday Suppers at Lucques; . always a major commitment of time, and always delicious.


Do you have Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom?
His recipes appear easy… until you realize you need 2Tbsp of a spice mixture found in the index, plus a smattering of the sauce also in index.. I love it..but it’s a labour of love.
Caramelized Leek and Seared Mushroom Toasts are lovely as is the Jerk Tofu Wrapped in Collard Leaves or the Cornmeal-Fried Oyster Mushroom Po’Boy… honestly the whole book is worth cooking

Heidi Voltmer

Christina Tosi has incredibly complex recipes for Milk Bar cakes and cookies! They will keep you distracted for 2-3 days creating all the components for the recipes and then assembling them.


I second the Milk Bar cakes for distractibaking! I tried to make one during early labour with my son and only got as far as baking the cake part before heading to the hospital


It’s not hard, but lasagna takes a long time to make, so that is what I am making tomorrow. I am also phone banking, so I couldn’t do as much cooking or baking as I would have otherwise. I hope we all sleep tonight!


Quick tip on challah: half eating through cooking re-brush with egg wash. This gets all the parts that have continued to expand and makes for a nice even golden brown at the end!


All are so tempting ~ especially the Coconut Cream Pie! However, here in Boston, I have a 10-hour work day ahead of me, so, tonight, I will feast on one of two slow-cooker soups made this weekend ~ and will live vicariously through others’ posts! 🙂 Perhaps, I’ll take on a really complicated dish this weekend ~ I’m assuming we’ll still be in need of distracti-cooking!


Not complicated at all but I’ll be making stuffed shells, my ultimate comfort food. I’m thinking about making brownies along with a batch of homemade caramels to dot them with smitten kitchen style. I’m so nervous about this election.


I was on the fence about what to make today, but you sold me on the minestrone soup! Thanks! Wishing everyone a calm and peaceful election day! 🙂


I made that coconut cream pie for my husband’s birthday in early October, and it was a great project! Lots of steps, very engaging but not too hard or complicated – and really, really delicious!


King Arthur Flour’s website has a recipe for homemade pierogis that I tried last night for the first time. My family loved them. The recipe takes some time, but is very straightforward and I think anyone could be successful at it—there’s no “grandma knowledge” required that’s not in the recipe. Also? Super comforting to eat tonight—they’re stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese and you can serve them with caramelized onions and bacon on top and sour cream on the side.

nicole bell

my distraction cooking today- pan banging snickerdoodles today and yellow curry tonight!


I made this tonight–perfect! The loaf is huge: we weighed ours and it was four pounds after baking. Next time I’ll halve the recipe. So delicious.


I’ve always wanted to make America’s Test Kitchen’s Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise. It takes about 12 hours and they said it was the best cake they’ve ever had.