A new year is a time for reflection and renewal. One of the best resolutions you can make this time of year is to spend more time in the kitchen. This list provides a path to get back in there with renewed energy. Once you get the practical housekeeping out of the way, you'll be ready to embark on fun food activities such as perfecting a new dish, mastering a new cooking process or figuring out what all those settings mean on that new kitchen gadget you got for Christmas.
1. Get your kitchen in order.
After the rush of food and booze consumption that is the holidays, it's time to put the kitchen back in order. If your kitchen is like mine, the first order of business is to conduct a kitchen audit. More likely than not, appliances either no longer work or have disappeared, the oven looks thrashed and the kitchen cabinets look ransacked. So do something about it: make a checklist, declutter and get cooking.
Donate unwanted food items to a food bank. Conduct an inventory of the cutlery and gadgets to determine what you need, and then donate anything you don't need to a charity.
Other potential items on your to-do list?
- Discard grungy kitchen towels
- Sharpen dull knives
- Clean the oven and range from top to bottom
- Scrub the kitchen counters and wash the floor
- Replace worn or damaged cutting boards
- Reorganize kitchen shelves
2. Hone your knife skills
Especially if you're new to the kitchen, learning how to wield a knife reduces the likelihood of hand fatigue and accidents since injuries are most likely to occur because of distraction and lackadaisical technique. Make sure you can dice an onion without mishap before filleting a steak. Getting a feel for the blade requires some practice but having a favorite knife and knowing how to use it makes cooking projects that much easier. Plus, you'll get the most out of your food per ounce without waste.
3. Crack open a cookbook or two
Don't let your overestimate your abilities. Find recipes you think you'll be comfortable with and master them. Then move onto something a bit more complicated. (Photo: Tim Sackton/flickr)
Select neglected tomes or scan the latest cookbook by the hottest chef. Compile a to-cook list of recipe ideas and add them to your repertoire. Keep in mind that the best recipes aren't aspirational but executable. Find a few new ones to master and then adapt them to suit your needs.
4. Find an oddball ingredient and learn to like it.
Anchovy paste, pickled herring and stinky cheeses might not be to your taste, but they all make perfect sense to other people with some culinary know-how. Learning how to use these novel ingredients can be the gateway to unfamiliar cuisines and downright delicious meals. Keep in mind that someone had to decide that raw fish and a green viscous substance called guacamole were edible before they became food staples.
5. Take a field trip to an ethnic market
Major cities have grocery stores catering to the needs of recent arrivals hungry for the taste of home. Seek out these establishments! Adventurous eaters will revel in the selection, and frugal shoppers will marvel at the low price of fruits and vegetables.
6. Master a new skill or cooking technique
For example, bread making is my bête noire, but pizza dough and pie crust are part of my repertoire. Rather than rely on ready-made dough, I've learned to make crusts from scratch using a handful of ingredients. Prepping my dough gives me greater control over the outcome and enables me to cook a vast array of pies without flinching. Whether you're just starting out in the kitchen or are an old hand, there's always something to learn to improve your abilities.
7. Share a meal
Knowing how to cook means never having to dine alone — unless you want to. Once you've perfected a dish, share it with your friends. Invite them over for a meal and have them bring an appetizer or side dish. Allow the process to go full circle by taking turns as the host. You'll fare better at the table and widen your circle of friends in the process.