New Year's Cooking And Baking Resolutions

As the year winds down, I can't help thinking about all that I've accomplished in 2009 and all that I hope to accomplish in 2010. I started this blog a little more than two years ago as a place to share my incessant ramblings about food. Over time I think my writing, my pictures, and my thoughts about food in general have all evolved. I'd like to thank all of you for coming along for the ride, for coming back day after day to read and comment on my thoughts, recipes, and ideas. I think of so many of you as friends -- even though we've never met. I love reading your blogs, and I love that we can bounce ideas off of each other and be there to support each other -- through our blogs, email, and Twitter. If you asked me 15 years ago if I thought I'd be doing this today, I would have had to ask you what a blog is. And let's not even get started on Twitter! It's funny how life goes, isn't it?

Before I move ahead to what I'm thinking for 2010, I wanted to do a quick recap of the past year... in food.

In January I made fresh pasta for the first time. It was delicious, and in true Megan fashion, I went all out and didn't just make pasta but ravioli.

I also worked with choux pastry for the first time and made some adorable, last-minute cream puffs.

Later in the year, I joined the Daring Cooks (for a brief few months -- I'm a Daring Baker now) and made potstickers from scratch. They're so much easier than you'd think, and I'm suddenly wishing I'd made a triple batch so I'd still have some left in the freezer.

In July I started working at a bakery, and I'm hoping all that I'm doing and learning there is bringing me a step closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. I always thought that was something I needed to know back in high school, but I've learned that what we think we want to do is not always what we really want to do... and it's okay to change things and not always take the direct path.

In September I made apple cider doughnuts that were out of this world! And it seems like all of you loved them too because that post has been super-popular.

I also made puff pastry for the first time for a Daring Bakers' Challenge. While I'll still buy it at the store because it's more convenient, I love knowing that when I have a little extra time, I can make it completely from scratch.

In November I made my favorite dinner of the whole year: herb-crusted beef tenderloin and potato latkes from Cook's Illustrated.

I also made a mini Thanksgiving dinner for two as practice for hosting a real Thanksgiving dinner someday. The best part after the flavorful brined turkey? The pecan-caramel bars I made for dessert!

For another Daring Bakers' challenge, I made cannoli. I never imagined I could make cannoli at home. I always just figured I'd have to find them at an Italian bakery.

In December I made my very first bûche de Noël, complete with meringue mushrooms, chocolate splinters, and sugared rosemary and cranberries... and it was a hit!

And I closed out the year with a dessert I think is the best one I made all year: peppermint meringue cake with chocolate buttercream. Seriously. Make it.

So that's 2009 in a nutshell!

My thoughts about what I want to accomplish in 2010 were actually spurred by a recent conversation I had with my dad when I was home for Christmas. He told me if I made a list of things I wanted to know how to cook or cooking-related things I wanted to know how to do, he would teach me. If a professional chef offered to teach you anything, what would you want to know?

The first thing that popped into my head was knife skills. I've always felt that if I knew how to properly use a knife and which knives serve which purposes, I could be more efficient and less accident prone. My boyfriend bought me a great book called Knives Cooks Love: Selection. Care. Techniques. Recipes., which is really helpful for this, but I think I would learn better by being taught by someone first and then practicing what I'm taught, using the book to reinforce my skills. And also, maybe when faced with a raw, whole chicken, I could know exactly what to do and not confront it with a look of complete bewilderment if I need to cut it into pieces.

Secondly, my dad can simply touch a roast or other peice of meat and know whether it's still raw or what temperature it's at. I'd love to be able to do that. I use the knife-slit method -- you know, when you make a small cut and check to see if something's done. It works, but it's not so pretty when it comes time to serve the dish.

I would also want him to teach me how to make a good hollandaise. Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast -- when the hollandaise is made right and not fake or broken and the eggs are poached properly, with runny rather than hard yolks.

And when something tastes kind of blah or just mediocre, I want to know what I'm supposed to add to perk it up. Is that something that can be taught?

I'm still putting together the rest of my list. There are tons of things I want to know, but I feel like I should streamline myself and just list the basics because once I know the basics, I hope I'll be able to apply them to more advanced projects.

And here's one last list... aside from what I want my dad to teach me, these are the food- and cooking-related things I want to accomplish in 2010.

Make stock. I made a vegetable stock a long time ago, but I haven't tried to make any others since then, so in 2010, I want to make a chicken stock and a beef stock.

Be more creative. I always say this, but I have a hard time doing it: I'd like to try to come up with dishes and ideas on my own, rather than using recipes so much. I'm hoping that I can use The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs (which I got for Christmas) and Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking as guides to help me stop relying on recipes all the time. That doesn't mean I'll stop using recipes, but for those times when I have random things in the house, I'd love to be able to throw together a great meal or incredible dessert without running to the grocery store for all the ingredients listed in a particular recipe.

Make more homemade bread. We love eating fresh bread and always buy a loaf when we're at the store. With a little advanced planning, I could easily make us some warm-from-the-oven bread at home.

Oatmeal bread
Cinnamon bread
Monkey bread
Pretzel rolls

Make more homemade soup. I love soup and now have two great books with tons of soup ideas. No more excuses.

Lentil soup
Chicken soup
Bacon, zucchini, tomato soup
Hearty, herby minestrone

Conquer gnocchi. Remember this gnocchi? And this gnocchi? I do. They haunt me! I know I can do better.

Make ice cream! I got an ice cream maker for Christmas, and I can't wait to use it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen recipes for ice cream and then gotten bummed out when I read the line that says to put the mixture in an ice cream maker. I'm hoping this will help with my whole creativity goal too. I have a feeling it will be pretty easy to combine ingredients and flavors when making ice cream.

Strawberry ice cream
Vanilla ice cream
Mixed berry sherbet
Coffee ice cream
Hazelnut gelato
Cake batter ice cream
Basil ice cream
Pumpkin ice cream

And now some questions for you...

What are your food-related goals for 2010?

If a professional chef offered to teach you anything, what would you want to learn?

What would you like to read about on Delicious Dishings? What do you come here looking for?