Every January, as we transition out of our holiday stretch pants, we’re accustomed to the ubiquitous language of advertising pushing us to discover a better version of ourselves in the new year: join this gym, sign up for this meal prep service, trade in your martini for a juice cleanse. After the last two years, maybe we deserve to be a little more gentle on ourselves when envisioning goals for 2022.
For many, that might be as simple as committing to cooking more at home. While Dallas fortunately has no shortage of amazing restaurants to dine from, there’s something about the gratification from successfully cooking a new recipe to enjoy alone or share with others. As an avid home cook, I can attest to this, and I love to encourage anyone looking to get more comfortable in the kitchen. For those up for the challenge, I’ve assembled a brief list of cooking resolutions that can help this journey be its most successful and enjoyable.
Don’t Stress About the “Diet.”
Approach what you cook at home from a perspective of what makes you feel good. It’s easy to fall in the diet-obsessed trap surrounding food this time of year, but trust me, if you work with quality ingredients you’re already nourishing your body in a meaningful way. The pleasure of cooking a dish is inextricably linked to the pleasure of eating it—so it’d be a challenge to stay on track if you’re not enjoying what’s on your plate. My own recent fitness goals have altered what I choose to cook on a regular basis, but at the end of the day I never deny myself the pleasure food has to offer. Tonight, I may be opting for a leaner turkey chili, but I don’t plan on skimping on the dollop of fatty sour cream.
The biggest thing you can do to up your home cooking game is really quite simple: season properly. No one wants to eat bland food, and often the biggest culprit is under-salting. My advice? Use kosher salt and get a salt well. I can’t tell you how much my own cooking improved when I switched to kosher salt. Diamond Crystal is my brand of choice; the shape of its granules sticks to food beautifully and lower salinity allows you to season more liberally without oversalting.
For those of you relying on a salt shaker or grinder, I implore you to explore the liberation of a salt well—also known as a salt cellar, salt keeper, or a salt pig. Whether you need to dump a heaping volume into a pot of pasta water or scoop a measured amount, may the salt well be your new best friend in better controlling your salting. Any vessel with a lid will work (I found mine in the $5 bins at Target!), but I recommend something wide enough to accommodate a strong four-finger pinch.
Find a Cookbook That Inspires You.
I learned to cook through cookbooks. They’re my favorite way to explore new dishes to make. The world is your oyster when it comes to finding a cookbook that interests you. It could be focused on a cuisine you enjoy or written by a food celebrity that you adore. Beyond the recipes, I often find other texts and essays in these books to be extremely insightful as they share stories that bring meaning to the food and make me more excited to cook from it.
Recently I’ve been enjoying Carla Lalli Music’s That Sounds So Good, which is conveniently categorized into sections with recipes great for quicker, weeknight meals or those better suited for the weekend when one might have more time to devote in the kitchen. Last fall, this book pulled me out of a period when cooking was beginning to feel like a chore. That’s a testament to the power of a staple cookbook.
Support Local Businesses.
Switch things up by sourcing ingredients from a small business. You might find a specialty cheese shop (hello, Scardello and Mozzarella Co.), or a butcher who offers custom cuts of meat that are hard to find at your big box stores (we love these butcher shops). A visit to the Dallas Farmers Market might introduce you to a vendor whose goods inspire your next menu. For me, all it takes is a trip to Jimmy’s Food Store to get excited about a long-simmered bolognese on a Sunday or a board of cheese and salumi for friends.
If you’re not brave enough to take on Dry January, might I also suggest finding a wine and spirit shop for something to wash it all down with. My go-tos are Bar & Garden and Neighborhood Cellar, where you can always find something exciting to pop open. In a time where small businesses could use the patronage, this resolution is an all-around win-win situation.