2021: my cooking bucket list

Ever since Oliver Babish started posting his recreations of amazing meals and foods from my favourite movies and TV shows, I’ve been incredibly into home cooking. I’m an ex-fussy eater, whose childhood diet consisted largely of chicken nuggets, cheese pizzas, and chips, who baulked at the mere thought of the likes of shepherd’s pie. 

I’m proud to be moving away from my fussy ways; whenever I eat and finish one of the foods I was scared of as a child, I feel so proud of myself. Just this Saturday past, I actually ate a full bowl of soup for the first time. A part of my brain feels infantile for taking pride in this, but fuck it – times are hard, and we should all rejoice in our little victories. Especially when those little victories guide us to new and exciting foods we’ll love forever more. 

Over the past few years, I’ve been cooking more than I ever have and I’ve really expanded my own little personal recipe book. I make a pasta sauce from scratch roughly every two weeks, I’ve finally got my brownies how I want them, and last month I finally tackled making bread at home for the first time. I’m so happy with my progress, but I’m still hungry for more. So, here you can find some of my cooking goals for 2021 – dishes and foods I love but have never made myself at home. 

Fish and chips

A favourite from my fussy days – I couldn’t go to a restaurant unless this was an item on the menu for years. Still, this is one of my favourites. Combine fresh and flaky haddock with a light and crispy batter, drown it in salt, vinegar, and lemon juice, and I’m well happy. Crispy and golden brown chips with a helping of bright and zesty garden peas make the perfect companions, of course. 

I have two nervy points with this one: firstly, deep frying is a pain in the arse. I don’t own a deep fat fryer; to be frank, if I did I’d deep fry literally everything. Because we don’t have a deep fat fryer we end up using so much oil in one of our pots anytime we want to fry something, and this ends up being a total nuisance to store or get rid of. I’m not sure how I’ll handle this problem yet.

Secondly, I’m trying to eat less fish because fishing is obscenely bad for the ocean. I never really ate a lot of fish to begin with, but I cut my intake substantially a few years ago now. So, I’m going to do some research and find out if I can get my hands on some good haddock in a sustainable way. If the answer is no, I may have to leave this off the bucket list, because the ocean is important! 

Blueberry Muffins 

These are treats that I love but avoid buying as they usually come in packs of four, all of which I eat in much too quick a succession. Although I’ve tried blueberry muffins from a variety of bakeries, I have to say that my favourite ones come from Morrisons. 

Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, but I am so delighted by the blue tinted sponge, moist texture and sweet taste. When I make my own blueberry muffins, the blue colour on the cake is a must, so I think I’ll be turning my berries into a compote before adding them into the mix. Then, lemon zest and maybe a little bit of juice will hold some presence, and I’m considering adding some chia seeds. To make it fancy.

I just have a gut feeling that these will take a good few attempts and experiments to get them to be the way I want them. But ultimately, each time I make an attempt, I get to eat blueberry muffins. So who’s the real loser here? 

Brigadeiros 

These are delicious little Brazillian treats! A friend and I made these once, and our attempt was so delicious! But they didn’t sit long enough in the fridge so their shaping wasn’t ideal. But otherwise, so tasty.

I don’t know what it is in the process of making these that scares me. But there’s just something there that makes me think it’s hard. Really, on a rational level, I don’t think these will be too difficult. But they will be delicious. 

A well decorated cake

Maybe it’s a patience thing, or a lack of access to good baking and decorating tools, but I’ve never in my life made an attractive cake. Not once. The cake and icing is tasty, sure, but it’s uglier than sin. 

The cakes I made, first of all, are pretty misshapen. And apparently I’m just completely unable to level a cake top correctly so the icing doesn’t sit right on it.

And then, I just keep fucking my icing up? I follow recipes exactly but still, it just sits hideously on the cake. 

My partner has a big birthday in May, and I’d love to spoil him with a cake that doesn’t only taste good, but also looks good. If I have the time, I may try to get a few practice rounds in between now and his birthday, but then there’s the matter of having a whole cake that needs to be eaten in my house.

Lasagne 

There are just so many steps involved with this! I have no problem with a dish being time consuming but this seems time consuming.  

I’m not the most familiar with making meat sauces for pastas, and if my woes with decorating cakes are anything to go by, I think I’ll have some issues with structuring the lasagne too.

But this is a dinner I wouldn’t even think of touching a few years ago. It took my dad making one not even that long ago and me just happening to be in the mood to take a bite for me to reconsider my stance. Now, I really love a good lasagne.

Maybe, then, this will be one my dad and I can do together. 

Sweet chilli crispy beef 

So delicious! Even the shitty version from Sainsburys that you just put in the oven with sauce is so good, so I imagine this will be a knock-out when done fresh and right. 

I saw a video on Tik Tok not long ago of a woman making crispy beef in some kind of sauce and she made it look so easy, but I could tell it won’t be so easy for me. Not at first, anyway.

Again, there’s issues here because this seems like a dish that would greatly benefit from having a deep fat fryer, but I think I can make do with more of a shallow fry. 

A good sweet chilli sauce may take a good few ingredients as well, but I think a lot of them will have a really good shelf life and act as really versatile ingredients I incorporate into a lot of old and new dishes alike. 

Sweet and sour chicken 

This is such a long time favourite of mine, and I’d love to get it just right at home so I can enjoy it whenever I want. 

I’ve tried to make this before, but I could never get it quite right. I could make an edible, okay sauce, but it would never be as flavourful as I’d like.

I think a massive part of my problem is texture.  The chicken never stays as crispy as I’d like it to. Again, I think this could be easily elevated by frying my chicken properly, and then draining the oil from it properly. I think I’d also like to experiment with making my own chicken balls as well, but wet batters are just so messy and annoying!

Penne alla vodka 

To be honest, just an interesting dish I’ve never had but I like the look of it. That’s all. Not really thought about this one much yet. 

Cinnamon rolls 

A favourite of mine that’s difficult to get in Scotland! My favourite cinnamon roll vendor has to be the Tinderbox on Ingram Street, but I haven’t been in about a whole year due to lockdowns, and have therefore been without my soft, doughy, sweet, cinnamony buns. 

So many recipes for cinnamon buns I’ve seen require stand mixers, which I a) don’t have, b) can’t afford, and c) can’t store due to my kitchen being too small for all of my exploits. So that’s something I’ll have to work around.

And then, working with doughs and yeasts is intimidating to me. I don’t know why, but I just perceive it was something I can and will get wrong. But for what I can yield, I think this will be worth it.

Pad Thai

This is something I’ve had nowhere near enough of. I tried Pad Thai for the first time from Thaikun and I fell so hard for it! I’ve not been able to try many different Pad Thai’s from different places as my tenure for enjoying the dish has been short, but I really look forward to being able to try new Thai restaurants and other dishes when I can.

This one appears to me to be a lot of method and many ingredients for the sauce. Again, buying these ingredients will probably work out as small expenditures for what I’ll get to do with them. 

As for the method, it all just seems so fast paced and overwhelming. But it’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed Pad Thai – I’m willing to be overwhelmed. 

Tiramisu 

Just a really tasty dessert that not a lot of my close friends and family enjoy. They normally come in sharing boxes or packs of two individual desserts that I, therefore, have to eat myself. 

I really love tiramisu – the creamy sweet layers and the bitter coffee layers really call out to me long after I’ve had my last bite. For this one, I think I’m afraid that I don’t even really know where to start with making one. Once again, I’m worried that I’ll do a bad job of constructing it and making a mess. A delicious mess.