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Meg is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. After going through high school thinking she “didn’t like to write,” she found her love for it her freshman year at college and it’s only deepened since then. Upon graduating from Rutgers University with a BA in Communication in 2013, she began working in online marketing for the hospitality industry. She currently splits her time between NYC, where she works, and NJ, where she lives—but hopes that one day she’ll be able to live & work in the same state (that’s the dream).

7 Recipes and Kitchen Goals You Definitely Need to Master This Year

A new year brings a clean slate, a time to reflect on what you did (or didn’t) get done in the past, and what you hope to do in the future. If you’re into food and want to expand your culinary horizons, now is a great time to set some goals for yourself to reach in the kitchen. Personally, each year I create a list of a few things that I want to tackle and get comfortable with as it relates to food and cooking.

Some of them I choose because they seem scary and I want to get over that fear, some of them I pick because I think getting them down pat will have a positive impact in my everyday life. Here are seven of my favorite recipes and kitchen goals that I’ve found really served me well throughout the years.

Weeknight pasta {via food network}
This is a recipe for a specific pasta dish, but the intention here is to learn the method used, not necessarily this exact recipe. This way of preparing pasta can be varied a lot once you learn the base method, and it can be done quickly, hence the title “weeknight pasta”, so it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket. It’s a simple preparation that uses simple ingredients which you likely have hanging around the house. It’s handy to learn a method as opposed to just a recipe, that way you can adapt to what you have and not have to constantly be going to the grocery store. It’s been a few years since I first learned this method for cooking a pasta dish and I’ve yet to tire of it.

Image Credit: katie smith

Meal prep {via picky palate}
The thought of meal prepping can be so overwhelming that it just gets pushed to the side and, thus never done. This probably happens because the thought of having to take time out of our day to prepare a dish that we aren’t even going to be eating on that day seems eye-roll worthy at best and useless at worst. But taking an hour or so to do this on a weekend (or whatever time works for your schedule) can really make the difference between eating fast food or eating healthy home cooked food. And if one of your new years resolutions is to “eat better” than you’ll be hard pressed to find a skill that has an positive impact on that then taking the time to meal prep does. You might be clumsy at first and it might take you a bit to figure out what foods work best for you to prep ahead of time, but this resource is great to look to when you are first starting out, and really simplifies it for you.

Go to brownies {via smitten kitchen}
Arguably one of the most loved store-bought/processed/non-homemade foods around are “box mix brownies.” They are so coveted and hard to replicate that even the most serious home bakers can’t tear themselves away from them. I don’t have anything against box mixes — count me in the group of home-bakers that always has a brownie box mix on hand — but I also believe that a reliable and just-as-delicious-as-the-box-mix-I-swear brownie recipe is a good thing to have in your repertoire. It’s even better to have one that can come together fast. I have made these so many times that I can almost get this batter made in the time it takes for my oven to heat up and if you try these out I bet you’ll be there too. These are fudgy, chocolatey, moist brownies that are perfect to serve at any occasion, including the informal occasions of “I need a chocolate baked good ASAP!”

Get Familiar with dough (Cinnamon Rolls) {via alton brown}
Homemade doughs have a nice and loud “PROCEED WITH CAUTION!” reputation that follows them around wherever they go. And I totally get it, but the thing is — once you feel comfortable working with yeast a whole entire world of recipes opens up to you. It’s silly to cut yourself off from a large amount of fun and yummy recipes because of something that is not all that difficult, despite the reputation it has. As long as you have yeast that isn’t expired and a warm place to let your dough rise — I turn my oven up to 250 degrees, then shut it off, and use this as a make shift warming drawer — you can do it. This cinnamon roll recipe from Alton Brown is a great starter recipe to get comfortable with because it uses rapid rise yeast so you don’t have to worry about proofing yet, which makes the whole thing approximately 53% less scary.

Margaritas {via chowhound}
A little frog told me that a go-to cocktail recipe might come in handy this year. And thinking about how 2016 went, I think that frog might be right. But in all seriousness — no matter the circumstances, it is a great thing to have. It’s a lot of fun to go out to drinks but sometimes you just want to have hang out at your own place, and to have one that you know you can make is a comfort. I like a margarita so that’s my go-to choice, plus it has limited ingredients — less money to spend! — and is easy to multiply. This is a great recipe to start with and then to use as a base until you have your perfect margarita which might be different from this recipe. It probably will take a little playing around but soon enough you’ll get your proportions right and have your perfect cocktail.

Image Credit: dreamy pixel

Homemade ice cream {via david lebovitz}
If you have an ice cream maker in your house or can borrow one from somewhere, making ice cream at home is pretty simple. That doesn’t stop it from rivaling “working with dough and yeast” as something that many people fear making. It’s true that making a creme anglaise — an egg and hot cream sauce that is the base for many ice creams — can go wrong because you can end up scrambling your eggs instead of just thickening them, but if you start slow and don’t walk away from the stove, the chances of that happening are slim. And even if some of your custard gets scrambled all you have to do is put it through a strainer and strain out those cooked bits of egg, and you’re good as new. There’s little more in this world that is more satisfying than a homemade ice cream so use that as your light-at-the-end-of-the-fear-tunnel.

Chicken and Vegetables en Papillote {via emeril lagasse}
We’re pivoting away from decadence and back to healthy eating for this one. This is an especially great recipe to make for dinner now, when most of us are on our best eating behavior and trying to lighten our choices after the holidays. “En Papillote” translates to “in parchment” in French, meaning you are literally cooking chicken, vegetables and whatever your seasonings are right in these little packets of parchment paper. It sounds hard and looks impressive but is actually very simple and makes a great recipe to have under your belt due to it’s adaptability. The flavor combinations for this one are endless and because each packet is individual, it can even be customized per person within the same meal. I like this recipe from Emeril as a base, but feel free to do your own thing.

What’s a recipe you think is handy to master?

Featured image is from Dreamy Pixel.

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