A while back, a friend of mine mentioned that she really wanted to learn to cook with tofu. (Andrea Nguyen’s marvelous book wasn’t yet out, or I’d have referred her to that.) That got me thinking about all the techniques, ingredients, and dishes I’ve hoped to master over the years. Because of recipe testing, I’ve tried a lot of things once. But there are many foods I’d like to get to know much, much better.
I may basically know my way around tofu, but when it comes to so much of the wide and wonderful world of food, I’m a forever beginner! Really, that just means that tomorrow will always hold something new and wonderful to eat.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the things on my list at the moment:
(1) Preserved lemons. For a long time I’ve wanted to get to the point where I always have preserved lemons around. Sure, they’re easy to make. But I never seem to think of it at that crucial moment five weeks before I want to use them.
(2) Cooking with apricots. The season for apricots, here in New England, is about 30 seconds. When that moment comes, I never seem to be ready to make the lamb stews and tarts filled with ripe apricots I dream about the rest of the year.
(3) Stencil cookies. I’m very hopeful about stencil cookies, which I saw first in Julia Usher’s Cookie Swap. I actually bought some beautiful cookie stencils a month ago while on a binge at Global Sugar Art, and I bought Chefmaster Liqua-gel colors at NY Cake while taking a break from a conference. Now all I need is a sugar cookie recipe I actually like and a few spare moments.
(4) Dehydrating tomatoes. My friends Mark and Cindy keep a huge jar of crispy sweet dehydrated tomato slices in their pantry, and I want to be like them. This will probably not happen, though, because I haven’t planned on planting Roma tomatoes, and “buy a dehydrator” is quite low on the purchasing list.
(5) Internalizing Indian flavors. I want to be able to cook Indian food the way I cook Italian-influenced, Middle Eastern-influenced, and Chinese-influenced food–on the spur of the moment, from a random variety of ingredients, without looking at a recipe. Considering how much I like to cook with that set of flavors, it shouldn’t be hard. I just have a block.
(6) Make sun teas more than twice each summer. To make sun tea, you have to remember to start it early, on a day that promises to be fair. I usually remember I want to do it in the middle of making lunch or walking down my driveway to the mailbox. Too late!
(7) Make summer rolls as a regular lunch. They’re bright tasting, healthy, easy, quick–they could even go in the kids’ lunchboxes. Why is it I don’t make summer rolls more often? I honestly have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with (8).
(8) Find a better source for shrimp. I love shrimp, but the frozen ones at Whole Foods are lousy–tasteless and shrinky, even when you brine them. The fresh ones can be good, but they cost the earth. Trader Joe’s shrimp are cooked, and I need raw. And at the regular supermarket, they’re inconsistent, and I’m not sure where they come from.
(9) Smoke proteins. Usually the grillmeister of the household does the smoking. I am the grillmeister (grillmeisterin?) at our house, but I just haven’t got my mind around the gear, technique, or ingredients for smoking proteins. Not cold smoking, and not hot smoking either. Curing is also something I don’t do, but I was thinking I could at least start with some gravlax.
(10) Have a whole grain dish in my repertoire that I like better than pasta. This is not for lack of trying. I’ve been diligently working my way down the list–bulgur, wheatberries, quinoa. This week buckwheat is on the menu. The wheatberry dish I made from Susie Middleton’s Fresh and Green Table last week might be a contender. But whatever it turns out to be, I really think I’ll know it when I taste it.
What are your aspirational foods? Maybe we can help point each other in the right direction.