Top 10 Cooking Ideas for 2011
Ok, we've all made it through the Christmas Holiday after devouring anything and everything in sight. You know what I mean, the appetizers, the cookie trays full of chocolates, toffees and sugar cookies. Not to mention the fabulous meals during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's!
As I am approaching this New Year I am excited about doing some serious cooking. The New Year's Holiday is perhaps a little overrated in my opinion, but I still enjoy the time off with my family as we reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one. We spent much of the weekend up in the mountains, the Sierra Nevada's to be exact. In between the snowstorms blanketing the trees with snow, I was able to scour through some old cookbooks looking for the recipe that's going to make a difference in my kitchen, I found a few so I will try them. If there's success, I will certainly share it with you.
I have come up with some ideas that will help prepare you and your kitchen for 2011. Here is a list of top 10 things that I can think of that would be helpful for a very prosperous new year with honing your cooking skills.
New Year's Resolutions For Cooking:
1. Keep It Simple
Many of the ideas and recipes I've seen and used over the years are really simple. Sometime my wife will prepare the meat and the marinade and I will simply show up and cook the meat on the BBQ. The crowd loves the food and I get all the credit. She most certainly ribs me for taking all the credit while she did all the work! I can sit around and pretend I spent hours upon hours on some of these recipes, but that would be an injustice! Many of the ones I try to use are pretty darn simple. "Killer Bread" found on my hub page is just such an example. Very easy but has some very profound flavors. Keep it simple, that's my motto.
2. Food Budgeting
If you're like most people, you head to the grocery store once or twice a week and run your cart down the isle and pick out all the things that look good to you. This can spell disaster for your grocery budget. I should know because that's what I used to do. Not no more. My wife and I go over every night that's coming up and make up a list for dinners. This takes a little planning but making a list in advance of what meals you want to fix for the week, you will save time and money at the grocery stores.
3. Discount Grocery Stores Can Save You Lots of Money!
Costco is a great store for buying bulk items like detergents, soaps, paper towels, coffee etc. Many of the perishables are much cheaper than the grocery store, but when you have to buy 25 lbs of Asparagus, it might not be the best deal. I have found that buying perishables pays off in spades for cooking for large crowds of people like church groups and business parties. One of the best places I've found to save lots of money on groceries is a place called FoodMaxx. This is a subsidiary of SaveMart and doesn't provide the normal shopping experience of a retail store but is more like shopping in a wharehouse. For those of you who don't live in California, you should have other discount grocery stores available. Take advantage of them! If you don't mind the ambience, you can save lots of dough. Same can of beans but for much less than the average retail store. I would love to get some feedback from any of you who live outside California on some great discount stores. Editors Note: there's one company called Winco Foods that's growing by leaps and bounds. This is a discount grocery store that's found in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Utah. This is another great store for saving money.
4. Don't Shop When You Are Hungry!
This should be obvious but I know I spend much more on food when I'm walking down the grocery isles when I'm hungry. I'm sure there's some statistics out there but this is one thing I try to avoid doing.
5. Planning More Get-Togethers with Friends
If it was up to me we would have company over every week. After being married for 15 years now, I realize that that's not the best thing for my marriage. My wife loves people as much as I do, but her idea of having them over every week is not part of her make up. So we have to compromise and work out a schedule that won't totally exasperate my wife. She claims that I make huge messes when I cook and that should explain some of the reasons she is hesitant to have company over too often. If you're like me, how many times do you say to someone "let's get together for a dinner sometime" but that "sometime" never happens. A year later you're still saying the same thing but with no follow up plan to make it happen. We have tried a new method. Basically, set up a calendar with your dinner friends and alternate homes. That way the wife is happy when it's our turn to visit them and no clean up is required! At dinner we break out the calender and set the next dinner event before we leave. This keeps everyone motivated and sets up a consistent way of not letting time slip past us.
6. Pick At Least One Type of Meal You Love to Eat But Don't Know How To Cook
Do some research, pick out some recipes, talk to someone you know who knows how to cook that favorite dish of yours, and ask them to show you how to make it! I did this with Risotto a few years ago. I always enjoyed eating Risotto at the restaurants but didn't have any clue as to how to make it. So I checked out a book, did some research and asked some people who know how to make it. And after a while, you would be amazed at how good you can become at making the dish after you practice in the kitchen. Additionally, I learned how to make Chicken Marsala last year. This took some practice but after 2 or 3 times, I picked up some of the techniques and produced a winner!
7. Inventory Your Cooking Utensils and Cookware
Take some time to look at what you have and what you don't have. Sometimes cooking can become very boring when we don't have the right cooking utensils and or cookware. I broke down a few years ago and finally bought myself a nice set of cooking pans at Costco, the KitchenAid Brand. For around $250 I got a great cooking set and cooking became fun again. You wouldn't believe what it did for my motivation. No more srubbing pans for days when all the teflon wore off!
8. Consider Purchasing a Side of Beef
A few years ago, I purchased a half a side of beef. What I got was around 200 lbs of hamburger, steaks, tenderloin, flank steak, cubed steak, stew meat etc. The butcher wrapped them up and I placed them in my freezer. We used up most of the meat and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed going to my freezer and picking out a roast and cooking a great meal without having to run to the store. Most butchers will pack you a variety pack if you want and for around $100 bucks, you can stock your freezer with all sorts of meat.
9. Start A Herb Garden
My mother and father grow some great herbs, Basil, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Since our climate is very temperate in California, we can start planting these around February or March. These gardens can provide you will all sorts of cooking ingredients that are fresh out of the garden. Instead of having to run to the store and pay an arm-and-a- leg for some of these fresh ingredients, you can cut them out of your garden. You won't be disappointed.
10. Have Fun!
Cooking is a lot of work, there's no doubt about it. But with some good planning and some good recipes, you can start cooking like the pros. One of the best things I've found about cooking is that after you master a technique here and a technique there, you instill confidence in your cooking skills and it really comes out when you are cooking for friends, loved ones and large groups. People love to eat, let's face it. We all have to eat and when you combine thoughtful preparation for those you love with some great skills in your recipes, it makes it all worth it when they rave about the food. They remember those special times and the meals they've enjoyed with you and will talk about them for years to come. Now that's worth all the effort to know that the memories you can create with food will last a lifetime.