I don't really do resolutions like "running" or "clean eating," but I do enjoy the "take charge of your life!" energy that each January brings. Instead of harnessing that energy to start a diet, consider making a few resolutions that aim to improve your kitchen and kitchen-related skills.
Though there's nothing wrong with starting a diet per se, I prefer to focus on changes that make me more excited to cook at home, rather than focusing on calories or "cleanliness." The better a cook I become, the more likely I am to make meals for myself, which will be healthier and cheaper than eating out. Here are seven ways you can better your cooking in 2016 and, unlike some resolutions, these are likely to last the whole year.
Get Unstuck from Nonstick
Raised on non-stick everything, I was always intimidated by any sort of cookware not coated in Teflon. Cast iron skillets were particularly scary, because I just didn't trust something that had to be "treated." My fears were unfounded though, because cleaning and caring for cast iron isn't that hard and, if you treat it right, your food won't stick. (It won't be as nonstick as Teflon, but what is?)
We've talked in great detail about how to purchase, season, and clean a cast iron skillet, but let's recap. First of all, know that you don't have to drop a major chunk of change to get a great skillet. A Lodge 30cm will only set you back twenty five bucks and it's a favourite of Cook's Illustrated. Speaking of Cook's Illustrated, the video below is a great primer to get you started on seasoning and cleaning your new cast iron awesomeness.
I do take one small issue with the "no soap" rule. I certainly wouldn't recommend soaking your cast iron in soapy water but, as Mr. Kenji explains, when you season a cast iron pan, you're chemically altering the oil in such a way that it bonds to the metal. A little soap isn't going to undo that change, so feel free to use it, just make sure to thoroughly dry and oil your pan after each cleaning.
Hit the Books
If you are at all like me, you have amassed many books on the subject of cooking. Perhaps you display them prominently to show you are a "person who is very into food, to be honest" but rarely cook from them. There's no shame in this, especially if all of your cookbooks are very chef-y — Toro Bravo's cookbook is fascinating, but no home cook needs twenty five servings of duck liver mousse on a Tuesday — but it is a shame to pay for a book you're not going to use. Fortunately, there is a very elegant solution to this problem: a cookbook club.
The concept is pretty simple: gather a group of friends (or future friends) and agree on a book to cook from. Have each person pick a recipe and bring their creation to a potluck-style dinner. Not only does this force everyone to use their book, but it lets each person taste a variety of recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. If it's not realistic to get everyone to cook from the exact same book, the theme can always be broadened to author, style, or "something you've been meaning to try." The point is to get everyone cooking from all of those culinary tomes that otherwise sit, gathering dust on the top of the fridge. (I don't know about you, but the top of the fridge is where I keep my cookbooks.) For tips and tricks for planning and organising club meetings, check out this guide from Serious Eats.
Care for Your Knives Like a Grown Up
Until I left home and started cooking on my own, I thought it was perfectly normal to buy new knives every year or so, and never once considered taking any steps to maintain them. I have since come to realise that all of my parental units still operate this way, and purchase new, sharp knives whenever their current ones get too dull to use. This is no way to live and, even if you make no other changes to your kitchen ways in 2016, I strongly urge you to find a knife maintenance method that works for you.
But before we get into sharpening, we need to talk about honing, which is just as important, though different. I'll let Alton Brown break it down for you.
As AB explains, a properly honed knife only needs to be sharpened once a year. There's nothing wrong with sending them out to a pro, but if you want to DIY the whole experience, it can be done. If you're the type of person who can visualise the difference between ten and twenty degrees, learning to use a whetstone is an excellent way to go and this video can show you how to do it. (I personally wouldn't test my knife for sharpness using my finger, as shown here, but I'm weird that way.):
I recommend practicing on a not-so-great knife until you're comfortable and confident in your ability to keep the blade at a steady angle, as you don't want to wreck your fine cutlery. If you don't think you'll ever be comfortable free wheeling with a whetstone, consider investing in a controlled angle sharpening system like the Lanksy, which costs less than forty bucks. Much less than buying a new set of knives. (Though, to be fair, you don't really need one of those expensive sets; you really only need these four.)
Raise the Bar
It's all fine and good to break out a bottle of wine while entertaining, but the host/ess with the mostest should be able to whip up a few classic cocktails. To up your game almost instantly, check out Serious Eats' extensive guide to 3-ingredient cocktails. You don't have to memorise all thirty five, but two or three of below would be a good starting point:
Daiquiri: 57g light rum + juice of half a lime + teaspoon of superfine sugar
Moscow Mule: 57g vodka + juice of half a lime + ginger beer to top
Margarita: 57g tequila + 57g Cointreau + juice of 1 lime
Old Fashioned: 57g bourbon or rye + 1 sugar cube + 2-3 dashes of bitters (You can also garnish with an orange slice and a cherry if you feel so inclined.)
Sidecar: 57g VSOP cognac + 28g Cointreau + juice of half a lemon
If you really want to build a better bar and not break the bank, check out our guide on how to cheaply stock your bar with the five essential bottles that every home bar should have, and our recommended mixers. If you want to expand your range, check out the book 12 Bottle Bar (less than ten bucks on Amazon). As the name suggests, the book instructs one on how to build a complete home bar with twelve bottles, as well as brand recs for each price point, some cool cocktail history, and recipes for DIY bar garnishes.
Host a Roast
We're pretty obsessed with roast chickens, and for good reason. They're not only a great, easy weeknight meal, they're perfect for making salads and sandwiches throughout the work week. Before the bird even goes into the oven, decisions need to be made. For extremely even cooking, try removing the backbone and "spatchcocking" or "butterflying." (This also works really well with turkeys.)
If that's a little too much butchery for you, check out our comparison of several trussing methods for the juiciest meat and crispiest skin. (Spoiler alert: the below method from ChefSteps was the winner of this chicken dinner.
After your bird is all tied up, cut the cooking time in half by cooking it on a preheated cast iron skillet. The hot pan will jump start the cooking process, making half an hour at 450 enough time for the bird to cook through.
Don't Get Wasted
A few of you have criticised me for "always trying to get you to eat garbage," and you have a fair point. I am almost constantly trying to save scraps from the trash. In case you need a refresher, a few of my favourites include using strawberry stems to flavour water, making your own infused bourbon with apple peels, and that time I told you to eat banana peels. (I feel like a few of you are still mad about that last one.)
Of course, cutting down on waste is about more than eating produce peels; it involves a bit of planning. To get a better understanding of food storage and prevent food waste due to spoilage, print out a couple of these handy graphics and stick 'em on your fridge. For the a guide to keeping your pantry stocked, check out these graphics.
Just Pack a Good Lunch Already
We write a lot about brown bag lunches because they're so important. Not only are packed lunches more likely to be healthier than take-out, they can save you literally thousands of dollars. Beyond health and finances, a sad desk lunch is just bad for productivity. It makes you dread the best part of the work day, and it sets you up to be grumpy all afternoon. (Or maybe this is just me. I am very food motivated.) Anyway, there is no damn excuse for packing a sad midday meal, and you're not going to do it anymore.
First of all, make sure you're packing the right container. Whether you prefer to tote your food in an insulated bag, cute stacking tins, or a neat little bento, make sure you're getting the best of the best with our guide to better lunchboxes. Once you've picked a suitable vessel, make sure you're packing things you actually want to eat. One way to get yourself pumped is to pack a wide variety of tasty items in small portions, as one would in a bento or ploughman's lunch. If you want to break out of your sandwich rut, consider making and freezing your own burritos or simply sprucing up your turkey sandwich with upgrades like pre-cooked bacon or basil leaves.
For a finishing touch, consider packing an "Emergency Lunch Kit" or keeping an entire drawer stocked with condiments, spices, and nice flatware. These extras really elevate the cubicle dining experience.
Of course, there are a ton of other ways you can make your kitchen a happier place in 2016, but these are some great basics to get you started. If you have other kitchen-related resolutions, share 'em below. I'd love to hear how you plan to make 2016 your tastiest year yet!