Come January, each and every one of us will be boasting about some ridiculous, noble new years resolution. Think juice cleanses, gym memberships, or renouncing all things pork. We've all been there. But, come February, after much whimpering and complaining, we'll be back to our bacon-eating and milkshake-drinking ways.
Too often, food resolutions are about extremes. This is why they result in failure. Instead of vowing to abide by strict dietary restrictions, try this: get in the kitchen and cook more often. Stop eating out so much. Cook dinner at least one day out of the week. Set the table, turn off the TV, drink some booze, and eat a meal with friends or family. This change alone will lead to more healthful, delicious eating.
So, in the hopes of spreading our enthusiasm for all things cooking, we've compiled a list of the five best tips for new cooks in 2013.
5. Get off the couch and step into the kitchen
A few years ago, in an article penned for the New York Times, Michael Pollan exposed a harsh reality: Americans were getting out of the kitchen and stepping into the living room. While plopped atop a plush love seat, lovers of Paula Deen's loaded potatoes were becoming more and more mesmerized by Food Network's porn-like close-up shots of vibrant scarlet tomatoes, emerald basil leaves, and Bobby Flay's margaritas. It wasn't educational, and it was only for entertainment purposes. But, most importantly, it never rid any viewers of hunger. So, next year, turn off the TV. Instead of watching people cook on screen, try taking a hand at it yourself.
4. Grow an herb garden
Adding fresh herbs to cooking is one of the simplest ways to incorporate bursts of freshness to any dish. But herbs are pricey, and those 2-ounce packs of thyme for $2.99 can easily rack up the grocery bill. Potted herbs are the solution. They are sold everywhere -- from Publix to Whole Foods -- and cost only $3 - $5. Once you have a constant reminder that fresh flavor is only a few snippets away, the garden will also inspire more time in the kitchen.
3. Skip the grocery store and head to the farmer's market
During weekends, instead of going to Publix in your Dora the Explorer pajama pants, head on over to a local farmer's market. Once there, approach a produce stand. Ask questions about what's available. Where was it grown? How should it be cooked? How long will it be in season? Then, armed with a new eco-friendly baggies full of ripe Florida heirloom tomatoes, head home. Chop up the produce, add extra virgin olive oil, and coarse sea salt. Take a bite. Delicious? Don't look so surprised. Good cooking starts with fresh, simple ingredients. Grocery store tomatoes -- which have probably been sprayed with ethylene gas for quick ripening -- will never inspire the novice cook.
2. If you do go to the grocery store, stick mostly to the periphery.
This isn't a ground-breaking proposition. Food writers have reiterated this same concept again and again. But it continues to be of the utmost importance -- especially for the new home cook. If you want to make good eats in 2013, forget the middle aisles of the supermarket. Those shelves are stocked with trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and more things that we could all use less of. Stick to the periphery: the produce stands, the refrigerated section (for dairy and eggs), the butcher section. There are exceptions, like grains, legumes, oils, vinegars. As for the sugar and preservative-filled cereal, skip them. Instead, add oats, add oil, sugar, salt, and cinnamon to a bowl. Bake. Eat. Now, there. Isn't homemade granola a beautiful thing?
1. Experiment until you discover your sazón.
Fellow Miamians, we all know that the best compliment to give a host is: "Que buen sazón!" Because sazón is not just the Spanish word for seasoning. When a cook has good sazón, it means he or she has discovered a way to tease nuanced flavors out of food -- be it with spices, herbs, vegetables, or flawless techniques. It's all about one's personal style of cooking. Unfortunately, this discovery doesn't come easily. New cooks must experiment in order to find it. So, try recipes from different cookbooks. Scope out different food websites. Read blogs. Accept that cooking is about individuality and that, sometimes, things might not work out. You just have to keep on experimenting in the kitchen -- at least until 2014, that is.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.