By Emily Paster
We are a few days into 2013 and most people are slowly starting to return to their regular post-holiday, post-vacation routines. We are running a few days behind. We just returned home last Thursday from a deliciously long trip to Naples, Florida, where my mom has a home and where we have been going regularly since Zuzu was a baby. Zuzu and JR don't head back to school until Monday. So we are slowly, painfully easing back into cold weather, waking up early and work.
First, as a housekeeping matter, I would like to point out that I have belatedly created an index for all the recipes that I have posted on West of the Loop since I started this site almost three years ago. You can check it out here. Recipes are organized into categories, including by course, vegetarian and Jewish holidays. I'm sure it could look prettier, but I think it is fairly user-friendly as is, which is the most important thing.
Now that I am back in my kitchen and back at my computer, I am starting to compile a list of my culinary resolutions for 2013. The first is something that I have wanted to do for ages: make homemade pasta. I have always been intimidated to try homemade pasta because I was under the impression that to do so required expensive, specialized equipment. And indeed some kinds of pasta do. But a few months ago, I read an article, and saw a how-to video, for making homemade orecchiette in the Martha Stewart Living app for my iPad. (As an aside: I think the Martha Stewart Living app makes tremendous use of the iPad technology with lots of helpful videos and cool sound effects. It does, however, suck up a ton of memory.) They only equipment required for making this orecchiette, or ear-shaped pasta, is your thumb. And I've got two of those! So, I went out and bought semolina flour with the best of intentions. That was October. The holiday baking and candy-making rush kind of took over my pasta-making time, but now that the holidays are over, I'm determined to do it.
One of my other culinary resolutions was inspired by the latest issue of Food and Wine magazine: mastering pâté à choux. Pâté à choux is an eggy dough that can be made into sweet or savory treats, such as gougères and cream puffs. Making pâté à choux seems simple but it requires care and some amount of judgment on the part of the baker. I like recipes that require the cook to trust his or her instincts. It is what separates good cooks from those who merely read a recipe. I am hoping to master pâté à choux so that I can make chouquettes, which I think of as like French doughnuts. Chouquettes are puffy little balls of pastry topped with pearl sugar that the French eat as a morning snack. (That's why I think of them as French doughnuts; they don't have a hole or anything.) I've got the Food and Wine article dog-eared and I just ordered some Belgian pearl sugar from a baking supply store — it's surprisingly hard to find. So, I'm ready.
My next culinary resolutions are healthier ones. Yes, pâté à choux is cool and yummy, but anything with a stick of butter and 8 eggs isn't exactly diet food. In 2013, I want to continue learning about different grains and cooking nutritious vegetarian meals. Last year, I started cooking with farro and pearl barley and I loved it. I figure that there are still many grains from other times and other cultures that I don't know about yet, but I am determined to explore them. To that end, I've bought some chickpea flour and am hoping to add that to my repetoire. This month's issue of Saveur had an intriguing recipe for a Persian chicken soup with dumplings made from chickpea flour — they looked just like yellow matzo balls! — that I want to try for starters.
Cooking more vegetarian meals — and by that I mean true vegetable-based dishes, not just a big bowl of pasta — has been an interest of mine for some years. Now, I don't want my friends in Agriculture to get angry at me. I doubt that I will ever become a vegetarian and I definitely can't see my family giving up meat. Zuzu, when given her choice of snacks at a convenience store, inevitably picks beef jerky. I've got beef Bourginon simmering on the stove while I type this. I am not trying to destroy the livelihood of livestock farmers. But I do believe that eating low on the food chain much of the time is part of a sustainable lifestyle. To that end, I hope to continue to find new vegetables and grains to cook with, so that my family feels nourished and satisfied while eating vegetarian fare. My friend Kate of the blog Savour-Fare is also resolving to eat more fruits and vegetables this year, so I will follow her efforts as well.
My last culinary resolutions ties into the previous one. This year, I want to explore ethnic markets. I am fortunate enough to live in a cosmopolitan, diverse metropolitan area full of wonderful ethnic cuisine. I love to eat in restaurants that feature cuisines from all other the world. But I also love to cook. So I am going to combine my love of the new and exotic with my love of cooking and shopping by visiting Latin, Asian, European and African markets in search of new ingredients and new ideas. I hope I can get some of my adventurous friends to join me!
How does my list of culinary resolutions strike you? What are your resolutions, culinary or otherwise, for the new year?