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    13 Home Cooking Goals I Accomplished In 2020 That I'll Keep Up In The New Year

    Looking back on 2020, I spent a whole lot of time in the kitchen.

    In 2020, I found myself cooking way more often than usual. Not only that, but my time spent in the kitchen became like a form of therapy. The simple act of slicing vegetables or kneading bread relaxed and soothed me during a stressful year. And looking back on the past year, I actually grew as a home cook. Here are some of the accomplishments I'm especially proud of that I'll carry with me into the new year.

    1. I started observing meatless Monday, and I've kept it up for four months.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I'm not a vegetarian, but this past year I made it a goal to cut back ever-so-slightly on my meat intake. I decided to start observing meatless Monday because it was an easy rule to follow. Four months later, and I'm still cooking a vegetarian dinner every Monday night, and it's one of my favorite nights of the week. I've made lots of new and exciting recipes I otherwise wouldn't have tried, from mushroom bourguignon and bolognese to smoky adobo cauliflower tacos, and I'm looking forward to continuing my meatless Monday tradition in 2021.

    2. I conquered my fear of cooking seafood.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I love seafood, but for some reason it's always intimidating to make it at home. I've always cooked lots of salmon and shrimp in my home kitchen, but I've found myself afraid to experiment with different kinds of fish and shellfish. Over the past year, I've made an effort to cook lots of different seafood at home, and I've realized it's actually pretty easy. I've made everything from seared tuna and baked clams to tomato-poached monk fish and pan-fried skate wing. Experimenting with cooking seafood has made me a much more confident home cook and I can't wait to expand my horizons even more in the new year.

    3. I learned how to bake, and I baked often.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I've always enjoyed cooking, but until 2020, I never really attempted baking. When my whole Instagram feed turned into friends making their own sourdough, I figured it was time to give baking a try. And guess what? It was one of the best things I did in 2020. I became obsessed with baking bread. I made my own sourdough starter and learned how to turn it into airy, fluffy, crunchy boules of bread. I kneaded and braided and baked challah. I played with dough and made naan and pita bread. I found baking so soothing and relaxing, and it became one of my favorite hobbies. My sourdough starter is very much still alive in my fridge, and I can't wait to bake bread for all my friends and family.

    4. I cooked dinner for a whole family....for months and months.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    For six months of 2020, I was quarantining with my husband and my whole immediate family in a quiet beach town. Not only were many restaurants closed, but there's also no GrubHub or Uber Eats, so we were forced to cook most of our own meals. I'm used to cooking for me and my husband, but cooking for six hungry mouths was something entirely different. I learned how to grocery shop and cook for a family. I relied on meals that could easily be made in a big batch, like soups, stews, pastas, and sheet pan dinners. Sometimes cooking for six was stressful and a pain, but now that I'm back in my apartment, I miss setting the table for a big family and watching everyone devour their plates before filling up with seconds.

    5. I cooked with my mom all the time.

    My mom in the kitchen wearing a funny and suggestive apron.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    While my family quarantined together, my mother and I found ourselves splitting the role of chef. My mom is a great cook, and she's the reason why I enjoy cooking as much as I do today. We butted heads a bit because she's neat and organized in the kitchen while I'm a mess, dropping chopped onions and splattering tomato sauce on every surface. But we always reconciled our differences. Some of my favorite memories of 2020 were spent in the kitchen with my mother, as she showed me exactly how to make some of the meals I still associate with my childhood: apricot chicken over rice pilaf, an enormous pot of chicken noodle soup, her famous lasagna which is, to this day, one of the most delicious I've ever tasted. There are a lot of things I wish I could change about 2020, but the time I spent with my mom laughing and yelling at each other and cooking for our family is something I'm very grateful for.

    6. I made more of an effort to buy produce from local farm stands and farmer's markets.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I've always loved the idea of buying fresh produce from local farmers, but I'll admit that I often I opt for the convenience of a large grocery store. But in 2020, I made a big effort to shop for produce at farm stands and farmer's markets. Not only did it feel safer to shop at these open air markets and smaller, less crowded stores, but I loved learning about all sorts of new colorful and delicious produce (Fairytale eggplant! Tatsoi! Ramps!) and cooking with what's in-season. Plus, it felt great to be able to support small shops and farmers instead of big grocery chains. This year, I plan on spending much more time at my neighborhood farmer's market.

    7. I realized it's more than OK to take shortcuts in the kitchen.

    Homemade butter shrimp with frozen naan on a plate.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    When I'm cooking, I often feel like I have to make everything from scratch, otherwise I'm "cheating." But after cooking so many meals at home, I realized that mindset is silly and it's OK to cut corners. I realized that sometimes I'm just not in the mood to cook, and that's OK. I shouldn't criticize myself for heating up some frozen fish sticks and throwing them into tacos on a lazy night or doctoring up a box of mac 'n' cheese simply because I feel like something easy and comforting. Eating frozen food usually makes me feel lazy, but during quarantine I developed a newfound appreciation for my favorite Trader Joe's freezer finds like garlic naan, veggie dumplings, and cauliflower gnocchi because these products made it easy and stress-free to get a meal on the table. In the future, I'm going to recognize those moments when I just don't feel like cooking, and I'll tell myself it's more than OK to take a shortcut.

    8. I learned how to use a grill!

    A grilled lobster tail on a plate with a tomato and burrata salad.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I know how silly it sounds, but until this past year, I never really knew how to use a grill. I've always felt more comfortable in the kitchen, and I usually leave the outdoor grilling to my husband. But this past year (especially in the warmer months), I learned how to grill all by myself...and it was a total game-changer. I loved being able to cook anything from salmon to steak outside without any mess or lingering smells in the kitchen. I will absolutely be grilling my way through 2021.

    9. I made copycat versions of my favorite restaurant dishes.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Being away from my New York City apartment for six months was tough, especially because I missed all my favorite local restaurants. So when I found myself feeling really nostalgic, I took to re-creating some restaurant recipes at home. For example, I made poke bowls to mimic those I'd usually buy at my favorite fast-casual lunch spot, I whipped up the chicken tortellini soup that I always order from the pizzeria in my hometown, and I re-created the takeout-style peanut noodles and crispy sesame chicken from my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. Replicating these restaurant dishes at home was not only comforting, but it also became a fun hobby and something I can't wait to try more of.

    10. I bought an air fryer, and it became my favorite appliance.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Usually, I'm wary of trendy appliances, but after listening to so many friends rave about their new air fryers, I decided to give in and buy one. I ordered an air fryer made by the Instant Pot brand, and it immediately changed home cooking for the better. The air fryer made it easy to whip up some of my favorite crispy comfort foods like French fries and buffalo wings, but with no deep frying necessary. And it took vegetables to a whole new level with recipes like honey maple "fried" Brussels sprouts and crispy cauliflower. I see a whole lot of air frying in my future this year.

    11. I started growing herbs in my own kitchen.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    My goal in life is to have a giant garden where I can grow tomatoes and eggplants and little gem lettuce and all of my favorite veggies. But since I live in an apartment in NYC, I'll have to settle for my indoor hydroponic garden for now. I got an Aerogarden toward the end of 2020, and only two weeks after planting my seed pods, the herbs were thriving. This little gadget has brought me so much joy. I was so excited to be able to grow real live herbs (that smell unreal, BTW). If I'm making pasta, I can just walk on over to my smart garden and grab some fresh basil, or if I'm cooking tacos I just pluck off a little cilantro. I'm already planning on buying another indoor garden to get one step closer to my dream of turning my apartment into a greenhouse.

    12. I embraced the recipes passed down by generations in my family.

    A big pot of matzo ball soup.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Comfort food was pretty much the theme of my 2020 cooking. It was a tough, unpredictable, and at times scary year that demanded only the cheesiest, coziest recipes. For me, I found comfort and solace in family recipes — particularly recipes inspired by my Jewish heritage — that have been passed down from generation to generation. My family doesn't observe shabbat on Friday nights, but I still found myself baking challah. It became a comforting and familiar activity that resulted in something doughy and carb-y (a win-win situation in my book). I made my mother's matzo ball soup more times than I can count because it's the most heartwarming recipe I know. And even when Hanukkah was months away, I'd fry up potato latkes simply because they are the definition of comfort food for me. I have never realized how something so simple as a family recipe can provide so much solace during a tough time, but it's a fact that became very clear over the past year.

    13. I learned how to appreciate the little things, like a meal at home surrounded by family.

    An antipasto platter.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    On Friday, March 13, the very same day the White House declared a national emergency concerning COVID-19, I was supposed to be on a flight to Brazil. Of course, that trip and many other trips I had planned for weddings, graduations, and anniversaries didn't happen. It was a year of canceled plans, of isolation from friends and family, and lots of time spent at home. And while at first I was disappointed to have to miss out on all these events I was so looking forward to, it didn't take long to realize I was actually very lucky. I was healthy, my family was healthy, we always had food on the table, and those luxuries were more than enough. Sitting at the dinner table and enjoying a home-cooked meal with my family became one of the few constants of 2020 and a clear reminder of what is actually important in life.