Restaurant trend predictions are all well and good, but what about predictions for home cooking in 2012? After reading about the latest crop of cookbooks by chefs who now cook at home, I composed this list of ingredients, techniques, and tools that we’ll likely see more of in 2012.
Uses for vinegar beyond vinaigrette. Adding a splash of wine to a sauce or a pan of onions is common. But a splash of vinegar works just as well, and you don’t have to cook off the alcohol. Plus, there are all of those new sipping/drinking vinegars that make for alcohol-free digestivos.
Pickling liquid instead of vinegar. Seasoned with spices, salt, and sugar, pickling brine can add dimension to salad dressing or braises. I also add the brine from pickled jalapenos to black beans. Some people plain like it on everything. A family friend’s son requested that she save the brine from a sharp batch of pickled fennel—he liked it too much to part with it, even when the fennel was gone.
More Mexican (or Thai or Indian or some hybrid of the two). My future brother-in-law is a vegetarian; my sister-in-law is gluten free. But our whole family can sit down to black beans, rice, corn tortillas, rajas, jicama salad, grilled fish seasoned with lime juice and chile pequin. And no one feels left out.
More brown rice (and whole grains). Brown rice used to take forever to cook. But with brown basmati and jasmine varieties, brown rice cooks faster and has better texture. Try this next time: Wash the kernels, then let them dry in a mesh strainer over the stove. When ready to cook the rice, add 1/4 cup less water than the package recommends. This helps avoid making a mushy, overcooked batch. If it’s still too dry at the end, add a bit of water and cook a minute more.
Cooking fats other than butter and olive oil. I’m not talking about creepy things like Olestra. Rather, I expect to see more coconut oil, either for baked goods (since coconut oil is solid at room temperature) or sautéing. With more retail shops carrying real rendered lard and duck fat, (like Wise Acre in Minneapolis), a dab of animal fat may work its way into (a few) more dishes.
Citrus zest for dinner. One of the best chef tools for home cooks is a Microplane zester. I usually have a zester and a lemon or lime handy when making dinner. When I cook rice, I grate lime zest directly into the pot while toasting the rice kernels in vegetable oil. I also grate lime or lemon zest over roasted sweet potatoes right when the come out of the oven. It makes everything taste brighter, and it smells terrific.
More Dutch ovens. Not only are they nice to look at, but they’re also one of the most versatile home-cooking vessels around. You brown meat or poultry in it like a sauté pan, but they you also can throw the whole thing in the oven with stock for braising, saving you from washing another pan or transferring food into a baking pan. If shopping for one, go big so you can use it for entertaining. They’re pricy and heavy, but they’re supposed to last forever.
iPads in the kitchen. Never having to remember where you put that chocolate shortbread cookie recipe is reason enough to believe that this device will stick around. I’m less willing to bet on the practicality of video demonstrations on iPad cookbook apps. I don’t have the patience to watch a video while moving about in the kitchen. If I were glued to the iPad the whole time, I’d never get anything done. Here’s how to protect it from splatters.