I know resolutions are silly. After all, very few people make it longer than 2 months with their New Year’s Resolutions before giving up entirely. That’s why this is not a set of food resolutions. Yes, I misled you all by putting the word ‘resolutions’ in the blog title but that was just a good-hearted scam to get you to read this post. Think of this less as click bait and more as a series of personal challenges for 2018 designed to expand your culinary horizons.
1. Eat something that scares you
Very few ingredients scare me. In my travels, I’ve eaten moving octopus, wok fried silkworm, bladder stir-fry sea cucumber (by mistake) and haggis and I’m still alive. Some things were surprisingly tasty and others tastes like cat piss (silkworm). The point is that you’ll never really know unless you try it out.
My challenge to you this year to find an ingredient that you might be apprehensive to cook or eat such as chicken liver or some strange new vegetable in the market and buy it. Is there a giant leg of lamb in the butcher’s window that makes you tremble for the dimensions of your oven? Take it home, do some research and try it out (and if your oven turns out to be too small, dig a hole in the back yard and throw a party). In this day and age, everyone and their mom has a food blog which means that in between all the various pumpkin Mac n’ cheese recipes littering the internet, there are greater chances you’ll find a decent recipe for that scary ingredient. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even try recipe hunting on YouTube. Think of it as your own culinary version Star Trek and boldly go where you have not gone before.
2. Experiment with new cuisines
Before I met my husband, I didn’t quite care much for Indian and for good reason as all I ever tasted was banal mall food. Later I discovered just how good it could be and now I’m inspired by Indian spice and cooking techniques in my own cooking. But now, house curry and fish pakora are what we do every Saturday night and that begs the question: what’s next?
Don’t know how to cook Chinese? Take a class! Curious about what one eats in Russia. Grab a friend and try dinner out a Russian restaurant or any other dining establishment catered to a lesser-known cuisine. You might love it, you might hate it but you’ll definitely learn something new.
3. Go without your favorite (high frequency) ingredients for a week/month
When I was in high school, everyone had to take a day off to ‘job shadow’ someone with a real job so that we spoiled teenage brats could get an idea of what work entails and how difficult and boring adult life could be. At the time I wanted to be a geneticist and the only person even remotely related to science and available to job shadow was a dietician. I followed her around for the day as she visited all the patients and notifying them of their new dietary plans (regardless of whether they wanted to hear them or not). When I asked what she ate, she told me she was vegan. (This was WAY before veganism was cool, btw) She was vegan because meat was inefficient to eat as only a small percentage of it is converted into energy and avoided dairy because ‘we as humans are not designed to drink the milk of another mammal’, hence why so many people are lactose intolerant.
So, me being an impressionable teenager, I decided to give it a go. I didn’t last long as a vegan and I cheated all the time but I was thankful for having done that experiment. As a ‘vegan’ I could no longer rely on my favorite ingredients such as butter, cheese, processed flavorings, or bacon. Instead I had to re-discover the beauty of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs and seasonings, the importance of spice and how to cook things properly in order to bring out the best flavors possible. It completely change my palette for the better and even though I failed at veganism, I became healthier not only in my eating but also more knowledge about food and cooking.
So, if you are someone who relies on a certain ingredient to boost flavor, you might want to consider giving up that ingredient for a week or so and researching what else is out there. Are you a garlic addict? Try shallots and scallions instead. Are you someone who loads up everything with cheese? Try stopping and see what other ways there are to add flavor through different ingredients, spices, seasonings, etc. Take what you’ve learned and use it when you are back to using that high frequency ingredient and discover just how much tastier it can be.
4. Don’t eat out for a month
I know what you’re thinking-does that means I have to cook EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR A MONTH??? That’s a lot of work! What if I’m tired, sick or craving something that I don’t know how to make.
This is precisely why I’m suggesting you do this. Not all cooking involves hours upon hours of shopping, prepping, cooking and clean up. Some things can be whipped up fairly easily and quickly with easy to acquire ingredients and the more you cook, the more you’ll know this. Have a favorite food that always cheers you up when you’re sick? Well, who better to make it just the way you like it then you? Don’t know how to make mom’s recipe? Call her up and ask because as you know (and as she tells you), she won’t be around forever. Take matters into your own hand and make your own quick dinner and your own favorite ‘I’m sick and I need comfort’ food. Learn how to make your own favorite recipes from your favorite takeout spots such as homemade enchiladas, kung pao chicken, chicken curry, buffalo wings, etc then invite your friends and family over and show off how talented you are. I guarantee it is not nearly as difficult as you think it’s going to be and you’ll hone your own culinary skills.
5. Eat out for a week
Think of it as a kitchen vacation. For this task, it is best to budget accordingly which may mean you do a little research over where to go for the best deals as well as try out some lesser known mom and pop hole in the wall joints, the odd food carts here or there or even some local greasy spoons. Take a friend with you and scout out new restaurants, foods, or locations. Got a favorite place to eat? Try working your way through the menu by ordering new dishes.
6. Trade work lunches
The grass may be greener on the other side but is it just as tasty? Get out of your own food bubble and see what others are eating. You might learn something new or you might be able to teach something new. Think of it as being back at school and trading with your friend for things that your mom may or may not have let you have. You swap food items out as you go or make each other’s lunches for the work week-you decide. However, heed caution and only do this with a trusted friend or least someone with whose kitchen you’ve seen, not someone who may think it’s funny to give you food poisoning.
7. Take Stock: Make Stock
It’s easy to lose sight of where food comes from and how it’s made in this age where most food is pre-handled, pre-washed, pre-cut and or pre-made. And why? Why do we need all of this “pre-food” in our lives? Is it really because we are all so busy that we need those extra few minutes that convenience food provides so that we can get back to seeing what celebrities are up to on Twitter?
Living well, and eating well, is about recognizing what’s important and sticking to it. Get the fundamentals wrong and pretty soon you’re stuck endlessly chasing the symptoms: like the person who goes shopping on the way home from work every day and makes “15 minute” meals every night (which actually take twice that to prepare) but never plans a week’s meals ahead and saves time by eating leftovers.
Slow down. Take time this year to do two things: fill your cupboards with a range of ingredients so that you don’t need to “nip out” to pick up that one missing jar of paprika or tin of chopped tomatoes. Steer clear of city center “metro” supermarkets where everything is twice the price. Shop in bulk, plan ahead and, yes, and use your leftovers. And on that note I challenge you to start making your own stock – there’s nothing easier than freezing some leftover bones and then on a Sunday morning, let’s say, tossing them into a pot with a few veg and letting it cook. Slowly.
8. Drink better
My mother refused to drink any dark liquor. Bourbon? Nope! Scotch? Nope! Not even a sip? No, I don’t like it! Why was this you may ask? Did she have a bad experience with it in the past where she drunkenly fell over backwards into the bathtub at a house party? Nope.
It was because the only bourbon or scotch that she ever tasted was the cheap knock-off swill that my grandfather was so fond of. For years, I would bring home a nice bourbon or expensive scotch and for years, it would go untouched in the liquor cabinet. She wouldn’t even try it and held strongly to the belief that she didn’t like bourbon and scotch. That was until about 2 years ago when she visited Scotland for my wedding. After dinner, someone brought up the topic of whisky that prompted my husband to give my mother just a tiny dram of whisky and a chocolate to go with it. Needless to say, she was in love, as was evidenced by the quarter of a bottle which had been drunk by the next day.
Not all alcohols are created equal. Some are simply made with better craftsmanship and care in turn giving each liquor it’s own unique flavor. Don’t like the standard gin and tonics? Try Hendrick’s gin with cucumber. Is Talisker too much peat for your palette? Try Balvenie with its smooth finish. There’s a lot specially crafted booze out there and chances are, you’ll find one that you’ll love. You might have to pay a little extra for it but life is too short to drink sub-par swill. Better to drink a little bit of the good stuff than get wasted on a bunch of cheap shit.
So, this New Year, take your weekly booze budget and spend it on half the volume but twice the taste.
9. Invite a (relative) stranger over for dinner
With obesity rates rising all over the globe, mankind may be getting fatter, however it is starving for human interaction as loneliness is becoming an epidemic. More and more people eat alone in front of a technological screen than with another person. With nearly 7 billion people on Earth, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way, so invite someone to dinner!
Now, I don’t recommend advertising your evening meal on Craigslist, unless getting chained to a radiator while your roast burns is something you enjoy. Rather, choose a guest who you would like to get to know better. Someone from work perhaps, or an acquaintance you’d would like to call a friend. If you are already an endless social butterfly, use this resolution as an opportunity to do some professional climbing and invite your boss over for dinner, just remember to keep their glass well filled. If you’re someone who is being asked over for dinner, jump at this opportunity and make sure to bring over a nice bottle of wine. Who knows? You just might enjoy yourself.
10. Host a “Death Row’ Party (Cook and eat everyone’s last meal)
Although making your ‘last meal’ may seem at first to be a bit morbid, you’ll often find the opposite to be true. Ask what anyone’s last meal would be and why it would be that food in particular and you’ll be left with an insightful and nostalgic story usually involving what they ate as children. Most people will choose a sentimental favorite usually made by or for a loved one over the latest kale chip/avocado toast food trend du jour, at least I hope not.
Orange jumpsuits should be optional and, naturally, everyone is going to have to get using to using sporks (except for your weird friend who already has their own shiv). Feel free to make toilet hooch or another equally classy cocktail. Just make sure that you don’t do all the cooking yourself and treat it as a potluck where everyone brings their own last meal with the only rule being that he/she must give an explanation of why they love it so much.