5 New Year's Resolutions for Home Cooks and Food Lovers


little blue hen/flickr

Having given up on the long-held ridiculous idea that I will actually lose 10 pounds in any forthcoming year, I'm usually not one to craft New Year's Resolutions. But this year feels different—about resolutions, anyway. I feel ambitious—with a need to push past the comfort zone a little faster and further. Perhaps my five 2011 resolutions will inspire you.

1. Preserving: In 2010, I cured coho salmon three times, tried my hand at miso marinades, and pickled cucumbers. Everything worked! Of course none of these things is actually difficult. Dills require vinegar, sugar, a few spices, and water. Submerge. Refrigerate. Voila. I also oven-dried and then froze late-season tomatoes. This year I will try my hand at pickling or preserving something that doesn't require refrigeration. I hope to live and tell you about it a year from now.

2. Growing: I plan also to grow some food—a big step for me because I live in a sun-free fog zone where even weeds tend to be shy. It will be a nod to an idea I love: edible landscaping. (Dreams of my future life involve picking figs and persimmons as needed from trees outside my front door. Clearly I'll have to move.) Short carrots or shiso in pots will be a fine contribution to our soon-to-be-constructed office balcony garden.

3. Educating: Books about food tend to be recipe-oriented or ideological. In the right mood I can enjoy either, but this year I'm going to make an effort to become more deeply knowledgeable about genetically modified food, including the scientific arguments for why some believe it is necessary to feed an ever-growing world and others think that idea is completely erroneous. I'm not planning to sit out these ongoing debates, so more education is necessary. I welcome suggestions for my reading list.

4. Spending: When faced with the option of humane-certified cage-free eggs or a half-priced box that purports to allow their laying hens some measure of freedom, I'm going to choose the HFAC-certified (Humane Farm Animal Care) eggs every time they're available. I want third-party assurance the promises are true. The commitment will cost me an extra $50/year, if that. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford it and it's a step I can take in the direction of a more humane farming system. Laying hens in cages have it real bad. (See especially page 41 of this file [PDF].)

5. Cooking: I believe I've graduated to full-blown status as a Sardinista. I enjoy eating sardines, seek out restaurants that serve them, and even gut them (though I prefer my fishmonger perform decapitation). But sardines are smelly and my family members' noses wrinkle when I prepare them at home. I'm going to change all of that. I promise to try three new recipes for this incredibly nutritious, highly sustainable species. Here's my current favorite, which can be prepared in 15 minutes or less. (Substitute anchovies or chopped clams if you must. Low-trophic small species are the key idea.)

Recipe: Pasta With Sardines and Other Yummy Things

Yields two to three servings

• 1/2 pound fettuccine, linguine, or spaghetti
    • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 ounce pine nuts
    • 1 tablespoon drained capers
    • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, cut into julienne strips
    • 1 tablespoon raisins
    • 1 can sardines packed in oil or 1/2 pound fresh, filleted
    • 4 ounces fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, or spinach, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until just tender (nine minutes). Drain and reserve two ounces of the cooking liquid. While the pasta is cooking, toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat (approximately two to three minutes). Toss frequently so they don't burn. Set aside on a paper napkin. Put one tablespoon of oil in the same skillet.

When hot, add the dry capers until they crisp (two minutes). Set aside with nuts. Then add garlic, lemon zest, julienned tomatoes, and raisins (two minutes). The zest will flavor the oil. The tomatoes will slightly color it. The garlic will be lightly cooked but not brown. The raisins will be plump and sweet. Remove the garlic, tomatoes and raisins. Add another tablespoon of oil. When hot, lightly fry the sardines, then remove (one minute each side).

Add some pasta to the skillet to absorb the flavors in the pan. Toss all of the pasta with the other cooked ingredients in oil and the parsley. Add reserved water to moisten if needed. Plate the dish with sardines, pine nuts and capers on top to showcase the crispy items. A grating of parmesan on top is recommended.