As I've gotten older, I've slowly drifted away from New Year's resolutions — or at least those of the overblown and unwieldy variety. In the past, I've definitely been guilty of jotting down items like "Eat healthier!" or "Improve my cooking!" but with no clear parameters for how to quantify either, motivation can definitely wane.
This year, however, I'm keeping things simple. I do indeed want to continue to improve my cooking at home and narrowed down a few specific, measurable ways I could accomplish that. I'm sharing these goals not as some prescriptive "Three ways to make this your best year in the kitchen yet!" guide, but in the hopes that if, like me, you want to nourish yourself a little differently in the new year you have a blueprint to start.
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"Differently," of course, means different things for different people. Perhaps you want to incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet, or you want to connect to your culture or home in a new way through your food. Maybe you want to develop a handy rotation of weeknight meals to take the guesswork out of cooking for your family, or you want to have the confidence to make or bake some special occasion stunners.
Really try to narrow down what sounds the most interesting or fulfilling for you, and tailor these micro-goals to meet that.
1. Read (and hopefully use!) a new cookbook or two
Cookbooks really are the gateway to changing how you do things in your home kitchen. They can open your eyes to new ingredients and techniques, as well as shift the sorts of flavors you pair together. Find a cookbook or two that captivates your interest and commit to cooking at least a few recipes from it. If you need a few suggestions, check out our editorial team's picks for the best cookbooks and cocktail books of 2021.
2. Choose a few restaurant favorites to perfect at home
I was once out with some friends, several of whom were chefs. One of the group members, Dave, was lamenting how he didn't know where to start when it came to learning to cook. One of the chefs asked what Dave liked to order when he was out. "Some kind of pasta and a strong Old Fashioned," Dave replied.
"Well," the chef gently said. "Why don't you start there?"
I've always liked this advice because it's a really simple way to really home in on the flavors that make you tick. Next time you're feeling uninspired (or perhaps particularly adventurous), jot down a few restaurant dishes that you'd like to replicate at home. For what it's worth, mine are good enchiladas verdes, saag paneer and naan, and a classic air mail cocktail. I'm also really excited to bring the Zuni chicken salad into my rotation, as inspired by Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams.
3. Commit to perfecting a foundational cooking skill
A few years ago, a professional acquaintance was scouting around for some talent for a new cooking series and emailed me to see if I would be interested in sending in an audition tape. I responded almost immediately: "Man, I'd love to, but my knife 'skills' are so bad and I really don't want to chop my finger off in front of the American public."
I'm not a professionally trained cook. The bulk of what I've learned came through family and friends, a lot of dedicated home study and even more trial and error. My knife skills have always lagged behind and this is the year that changes. I got some new sharp knives for Christmas and found some solid online tutorials to get me started. The whole thing is all very reminiscent of the scene from "Julie & Julia" when Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, is tasked with chopping baskets and baskets of onions while she's in culinary school.
Maybe your knife skills are already pretty sharp (puns!), but there's something else you'd like to take a stab (sorry) at mastering, like making the perfect hollandaise or actually making a viable sourdough starter. Give it a go this year.
This list originally appeared in The Bite, Salon Food's weekly food newsletter. Be sure to sign up for special essays, recipes and cooking advice.
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