If I could narrow down my most poignant lessons gleaned from 2011, it would be the following: 1) You have no idea how much butter, salt, flour, and cream goes into the food you order at a restaurant (and you don’t want to); and 2) There are very few accomplishments more gratifying than preparing your own meals (yes, as in cooking). (Full disclosure — I left my big-name magazine job last year to enroll in culinary school. While this may make me somewhat biased, I still hold true to my maxims of 2011 — and you should, too.)
My experience learning to make restaurant-quality food has been two-fold — acquiring highly-coveted skills in the kitchen while retaining slightly too much knowledge at the table as a diner. That sole you just ordered as a light alternative? It was dredged in flour and fried in butter (that’s why it’s crispy). "Confit" is not an obscure French term that doesn't mean much; it actually means "preserved in its own fat." If you want to truly start off 2012 with a healthful, fresh approach, start by controlling the way you eat.
Ordering from the diner or cheap sushi place four nights a week won't do anything for you except leave you hungry and unsatisfied — not to mention how you'll feel when you think of the way your food has just been prepared. Can you trust where the fish came from or how long it was sitting out before it went into your sushi, or if the short-order cook at the 24-hour diner used gloves to make your breakfast sandwich? Instead of lazily ordering your meal from your computer on your couch, head out to the supermarket and choose the foods you are about to put into your body and understand where they came from. If that idea is not appealing enough, think of the joy you'll feel next time you open your fridge to find it stocked with something other than that case of beer from an old pregame and some waffles with freezer burn.
If you're a 20-something living in a big city, I know you're looking over at your miniscule, poorly-lit kitchen thinking, and thinking "no way." But you don't have to be an experienced — or even a particularly good cook — to make friends with your kitchen (which will in turn make you more new friends). Think of it as you do your New Year's resolution to work out in the mornings: If you can bring yourself to do it just once and remember how good you felt the rest of the day, it will slowly make its way into your routine. (And working out in the morning will leave you with more time in the evening to make dinner!).
Creating your own meals is not only a way to nourish yourself with real, wholesome food, but also a way to challenge yourself, with tremendous payoff, no matter how simple the dish.
Or, just take my roommate’s advice — and move in with a culinary student.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons