For the past four years, I’ve made a solemn vow when the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve — and I’ve held myself to the promise year-round. How did I keep my resolutions? I told everyone I knew.
First, I quit soda, drawing the line at carbonated beverages. The next year I tested my dentist by flossing every day — she noticed. Then I quit coffee. But this year, I decided to add something to my life instead of take something away.
For 2010, I learned to cook. I’m a sandwich and cereal girl. My boyfriend, Derek, encouraged the resolution, but then it became his resolution, as well. He chopped the onions, I mixed the spices, he tended the wok, and I splashed salsa on my shirt.
We cooked four new meals a month — 48 different recipes completed in one year. Each month was themed to ensure variety. People would ask us, “What are you cooking this week?” and we would reply, “Well, it’s American Potluck Month.”
Each meal we found in a recipe book or, most often, online. With a list of ingredients or an open cookbook, we roamed the grocery store, spending a lot of time picking up basic ingredients that most people already would have in their kitchens.
I’d never eaten lamb before Greek month. We cooked gyros made of ground lamb topped with tzatziki sauce, a cool, creamy cucumber-dill sauce. I would have liked it more if Derek hadn’t disturbed our comfortable silences at the table with “baas.”
Sometimes we drink wine while we cook; usually, I dance around the kitchen. My young tiger cat, Arrow, sits on the stool, bites our legs or plays with an empty grocery bag.
If we didn’t burn the dish or completely botch it, I was happy. But Derek was more critical. I was pleased that the lasagna looked and tasted like lasagna, but Derek wanted more meat sauce. I praised our Greek pasticcio as a creamy and rich noodle entree while Derek wished we had added less cinnamon.
After cooking seasoned salmon, breaded tilapia, seafood marinara and scallops, it was hard to let go of seafood month. We wish April had lasted longer.
During Indian, East Asian and Mexican months, we dealt with rice more than any other food and never mastered how much water to add. We also accumulated more spices than I thought I’d ever own. Garam masala and cardamom were pricey ones.
I always seemed to take over the tedious tasks such as mincing and grating vegetables. The most frustrating task I took on was a chicken pot pie crust without shortening or butter. It was so crumbly that I had to piece it together, forming a Frankenstein pie. It’s beyond me why I took charge of the apple pie crust months later. But the shortening crust was a success. I added extra cinnamon and sugar and formed the top into a lattice.
Our confidence grew as time went on, but meals didn’t become easier. We were always exploring different types of cuisine, ingredients and cooking techniques. A recipe I might balk at didn’t seem to faze Derek, so I’ll credit him for our more elaborate meals.
He chose the Danube waves cake that took us more than three hours to complete. We forgot the baking powder and had to place the half-complete cake in the oven — so Arrow wouldn’t eat it — to return to the store. And as I was dancing around the kitchen, Derek decided to put a metal bowl on my head. It slammed down on the bridge of my nose, and I spent the second half of the recipe holding a freeze pop on a black-and-blue bump. We put too much coconut oil in the melted chocolate topping, so it refused to harden until the next day.
As each year closes, I celebrate the completion of my resolution. In previous years, I bought a bottle of root beer and made a coffee date. Maybe this year we’ll eat out. I’d miss my cooking nights too much to stop having them, but now I don’t have to count meals and I can actually repeat a recipe.
With each celebration is the task of deciding what change I will make for the next 12 months. A resolution has to be something you do repetitively and progressively. Each week, you need to be able to say, “Yes, I kept my promise” or “No, I didn’t.”
The most popular resolutions are to lose weight, stop smoking or save money, but these goals are so vague that they can be put off until next December. But if Derek and I only cooked in December, “sweets month,” we would only know how to bake dessert.
Resolutions have to change your life for the better. And I hate to say it, but resolutions usually are something you don’t want to do. I started out scared to cook, but now I’m proud of my spice cupboard.
Now to decide what I’ll resolve to do for 2011 …
January, “Italian Month”
February, “Mexican Month”
March, “East Asian Month”
April, “Seafood Month”
May, “Vegetarian Month”
June, “Sandwiches and Sides Month”
July, “Grilling Month”
August, “American Potluck Month”
September, “Greek Month”
October, “Soups Month”
November, “Indian Month”
December, “Sweets Month”
Chicken and Couscous Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 small carrots, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
4½ cups chicken stock
2 chicken breast fillets, sliced
95 g (½ cup) instant couscous
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat the oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until very soft, stirring occasionally. Add the spices, ginger and garlic and stir for one minute.
Add the celery, carrot and zucchini and stir to coat with spices. Stir in the stock. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, partially covered, for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Add the chicken and saffron threads to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is just tender; do not overcook. Stir in the couscous and parsley and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Confident Cooking “Soups and Stews.”
Lo Mein with Tofu, Snow Peas and Carrots
2 packages (3 ounces each) Oriental-flavor ramen noodles
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained, patted dry and diced
2 cups snow peas
3 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 package (5 ounces) shredded carrots
½ cup bottled stir-fry sauce
3 ounces fresh bean sprouts (1 cup), rinsed and dried
Heat 4-quart covered saucepot of water to boiling over high heat. Add ramen noodles and cook 2 minutes. Drain noodles, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water.
Meanwhile, in 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add tofu and cook until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes, gently stirring a few times. Add snow peas and green onions; cook until vegetables are tender-crisp, 3-5 minutes. Stir in carrots, stir-fry sauce, and contents of 1 ramen flavor packet to taste and cook until carrots are tender, about 2 minutes.
Add noodles, reserve noodle cooking water and bean sprouts to skillet; cook 1 minute to blend flavors, stirring. Sprinkle with reserved bean sprouts to serve.
Recipe courtesy of Good Housekeeping “Family Vegetarian Cooking.”