Waking up in 2021 I was consumed by a hangover of emotions from the past year—and possibly one or two champagne cocktails. I often view resolutions as a means of setting myself up for failure, but as I put my 2021 optimist hat on I can see they are an opportunity for growth and discovery.
This year I will try to cook one meal a week WITH my partner. Sounds easy enough, but often my Type A personality turns this into a one-woman cooking show—this may stem from my years in professional kitchens and his years behind a coding wall. Despite my partner's lack of time in the kitchen, we share many goals when it comes to consumption: healthy habits, sustainability, budget, lowering our carbon footprint, efficiency by way of pantry and fridge organization, learning about new cultures and cuisines, and obviously tasty food.
Food waste is a big driver of climate change and two-thirds of that waste happens on the home-level versus retail-level. So, why not use every last scrap of produce and proteins we can? For example, always fully zest any citrus and keep the zest in the freezer to preserve the oils. Quickly flavor anything from ice cream, marinades, to salt blends for an added zing. Preserve the citrus peels to steep in milk or cream to flavor ganache or make a refreshing simple syrup. But, sometimes we can't use stems or shells, so that's where composting comes into play.
Budget is constantly top of mind and I know we are not alone. Choosing the right appliance can cut back on energy costs; whereas, reusing aluminum foil, glass containers, and plastic bags can not only lower our carbon footprint, but save extra cash. On that note, did you know you can recycle aluminum foil? The world of recycling can be ominous, but there are plenty of apps and resources that are just a Google away.
Eating locally may not always lead to the cheaper option, but it will prove greater reward. When the seasons change and you catch the first signs of spring peas or peak-season stonefruit, it's like waking up on Christmas morning. Buying from your local farmers means fresher, more organic products and less mileage (think thousands) a bunch of herbs will travel to make it to the grocery shelf. Plus, it puts a face behind the greens you're buying—ask your farmer their favorite way to cook kabocha squash or discover a vegetable you've never heard of before.
Food production accounts for about one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up about half of the planet’s habitable surface. That means every time you make a food decision you make an impact on the world. Sorry to all my meat-lovers out there, but researchers are looking to you as the climate impact of beef dwarfs that of other foods.
This is just the highlight reel of issues with our food systems and how we can all make little changes that create big difference for our world ahead.
The Game Plan
With these ideas in mind, we will pick a meal each week by dusting off one of my many idling cookbooks or turning to social media for inspiration. We will shop together, discussing ingredients and sourcing—optimal meal planning will lead to efficiency in budget and wasting less food. And most importantly, we will work as a team from conception to consumption. Two tall adults attempting to cook together in a class shoebox NYC apartment can easily lead to bumps and spills, but that's where the kitchen organization will come. Needless to say, alcohol will be necessary at points, but I have faith.
We are one of many households to add an air fryer to our lineup, which will no doubt take the priority of our menu planning from easy snacks to more indulgent fare. It will be our go-to resource beyond my usual winter production of warming broths and soups.
I am looking forward to sharing more of my journey with The Spruce Eats community and updating you on my road to kitchen teamwork. In the meantime, you can find some of my key takeaways from this experience already, below. Please share your resolutions and tag us, so we can uplift each other throughout this year.
What I Learned
My equivalent of "One time at band camp..." is "When I was a cook at XX, we would..." I struggled to take a back seat in the kitchen and allow my partner to make his own mistakes, but when I learned to let go I found it more rewarding in the time we spent together as well as learning together.
The immersion blender is a highly underused tool. Soups and sauces are our go-tos for any signs of produce on the verge of decay.
Through this journey of bringing my partner more into my world and teaching him the things I've learned in the kitchen, I ended up making my life easier. Odd, right? Well, in tasting each dish we discuss the flavor profiles along with what we like and don't like. From there we talk about how the ingredients work together and what we would change to create something we love. By the third week, my partner knew what spice blends he gravitated towards or how a splash of fish sauce can bring out swoon-worthy umami tasting notes. This means when it's his turn to do the grocery shopping, he has the know-how to stock pantry with more than peanut butter.
Going back to the basics with my partner helped reinvigorate what I love about cooking as well as dust off skills that I don't give enough attention to (hello boning knife, haven't seen you in awhile).
We are carnivores at heart and the thought of cutting back seemed a bit ominous. However, we fell in love with the endless meat alternatives available. Trader Joe's soy chorizo, Beyond Meat, and meatless meatballs are some of our favorites. Additionally, Seemore Meat & Veggies sausages are made with humanely raised chicken or pork along with 35% vegetables, so we were able to reduce meat consumption without fully giving up that craving.
When it comes to sourcing proteins, we opted for a delivery service. Butcher Box checks most of our buckets when it comes to grass-fed, free-range and humanely raised, high-quality, and sustainably harvested proteins between pork, chicken, salmon, and beef. One delivery and our freezer is stocked for the entire month (maybe more), which we appreciate during these Covid times. Moreover, they're dedicated to fair labor practices and wages.
There are few greater victories than that of repurposing leftovers into an exciting second (maybe even third) meal. Shakshuka, paninis, soups (yes, again), and grain bowls were easy hacks to make last night's dinner into today's lunch surprise.
Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. (n.d.). Our World in Data. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://ourworldindata.org/global-land-for-agriculture
Goodman, D. D., Tom Prater and Joe. (n.d.). Interactive: What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?
Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2020). Environmental impacts of food production. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food