Love ’em or hate ’em, tis is the season for talk of New Year’s resolutions. As soon as the calendar rolls from December to January, so come the usual vows to lose weight, reduce spending, pick up a new hobby, or maybe just be a little nicer to that annoying-but-well-meaning neighbor. While we can’t help you navigate an overcrowded gym or pursue your lifelong dream of learning how to play the piccolo, we can offer a few suggestions for inspiration if you’re looking for ways to spice up your cooking in 2018.
Resolve To Get Organized
Just as having your mise en place increases efficiency as you’re working your way through a recipe, having the contents of your cuisine in place is equally helpful. One of the best things I did for my own organizational sanity this year was to buy several simple, plastic bins from IKEA to bring some order to my pantry cabinets. Rather than having to spend ten minutes rooting through every dry good in my kitchen when I’m looking for a half-empty bag of quinoa, I know it’s in the same bin as the barley and sticky rice. I never have to search for the vanilla paste because I know it’s cozied up with my other baking ingredients.
Aside from making it easy to find something when you actively need it, knowing where everything is can help save money when you’re no longer buying duplicates of ingredients you already have but forgot existed within the depths of your cupboards. The same goes for kitchen utensils, food storage containers, and everyday useful items like parchment paper or chip-clips—when you know what you have and where everything is, you cut down on the likelihood of unnecessary repurchases.
How to start?
Begin the year with a total clean-out of your refrigerator and pantry. This is the time to rid yourself of expired items, condiments you never use, long-forgotten leftovers, and anything else that serves your kitchen with no purpose other than to take up space.
Keep that momentum and move on to going through your cookware and kitchen accessories. Use the opportunity to inventory what you have, and start a list of anything you might be missing. If you’ve been using the same non-stick pan you bought at Target eight years ago, maybe it’s time to upgrade that worn-out model to a new one?
Now that you’ve weeded out the items that are past their prime, it’s time to put everything back in its rightful place. Which means, if it didn’t really have a place before, you’re going to create one! Rather than haphazardly shoving your Tupperware collection into an empty drawer, make the extra effort to organize by size and make sure each piece has a matching lid. Instead of huddling your spice collection together in the corner of a cupboard where you can’t even see what you have without removing the entire lot, try storing them in a drawer and labeling the lids to find what you need at an easy glance.
Of course, everyone’s kitchen capacity is different, so what works for me may not work for you (and vice-versa), but the point here is simply to assess what you have and store it in a way that is functional for your needs. There’s a storage solution for just about every scenario imaginable, so whether you opt to poke around on Amazon or brave the crowds at IKEA, you’re sure to find something to make your life a little easier.
Resolve To Get Equipped.
Don’t worry, I’m not advocating a free-for-all on spending with this resolution, I’m just making a case for the fact that there’s a lot to be said for having the right tool for the job. I recently picked up a Microplane and it’s amazing how zesting a lemon has gone from feeling like a real chore on the box grater, to now being a task I look forward to because I find it so enjoyable to use this little item. If there’s something that has been missing from your own kitchen—maybe you discovered your lack of equipment while you were in the midst of your New Year’s kitchen cleaning, or maybe it’s a piece you find yourself regularly wishing for while you’re in the process of cooking—make 2018 the time to fill that void.
How to start?
Start small. Chances are, you’re reading this either as you’re in the thick of holiday shopping (speaking of which, don’t miss our Christmas gift guide!), or just after the season of spending. Now may not be the time to invest in a shiny new Dutch oven, but hey, you’ve got all year. Ease into your kitchen-equipping resolution with things like missing utensils, modest servingware items, or even just restocking basics like dishtowels and sea salt.
If you do have a big purchase in mind for the year but aren’t ready to take the plunge now, use this time to do your research. Compare models, sizes, prices; anything relevant to the item you have in mind.
Resolve To Get Adventurous
It’s easy to fall into a rut with cooking. We find a few different dishes we can prepare easily on a weeknight, and before we know it, we’re constantly buying the same ingredients over and over. Don’t get me wrong, there’s joy in familiarity and we all certainly have those types of nights where it’s either going to be the same dish we’ve already made three times in the last two weeks, or we’re ordering pizza. But for 2018, I implore you to step outside of your comfort zone with your cooking.
Stop thinking of dishes like meatballs or roasted chickens as “weekend-only” territory.
Stop closing the browser tab or turning the page of a cookbook as soon as you see a recipe calling for an ingredient you don’t already have on-hand and can’t visualize on the shelf of your usual grocery store.
Stop thinking of “meal prep” as something for high-level fitness devotees who subsist on bland chicken breast and steamed broccoli.
Instead, use the new year as an opportunity to delve into new ingredients and tackle unfamiliar cooking projects. If you gravitate towards Italian cuisine, shake it up by dabbling in Vietnamese cookery. Never braised a pork shoulder? Now’s your time to shine. Prove to yourself that you can bake a cheesecake without cracks. Whatever your personal cooking or baking goals, invite yourself to color outside the lines in 2018.
How to start?
Again, consider starting small. Maybe you’d like to begin by taking one of the meals you’d usually save for weekend prep and whip it up on a Tuesday night? The more you incorporate seemingly elaborate dishes into your regular routine, the less intimidating and time-consuming they’ll seem. And sure, if something requires hours in the oven or on the stovetop, it’s probably not going to be practical to throw together on a whim; but the more you play around with ingredients and technique, the more you’ll realize there’s no good reason you can’t put a creamy, bubbly, just-crisp-enough mac & cheese on the table to shake up the monotony of the workweek.
A fun way to get the ball rolling on your cookery quests is to simply stock a few new-to-you ingredients to have at the ready. Adding these to my pantry has expanded my repertoire:
- Pomegranate molasses
- Orange blossom water
- Rose water
- Preserved lemons
- Vanilla bean paste
- Szechuan peppercorns
- Fish sauce
- Harissa paste
Above all, have fun with your resolutions! The ability to be creative and hands-on (and then eat the results!) is perhaps the best part of cooking. It’s worth pushing yourself to explore new cuisines and exotic flavors; you’ll become a stronger cook and undoubtedly discover new favorites along the way.
So, what do you say? Any 2018 New Year’s cooking resolutions for your kitchen?