Cooking project ideas for completionists
December 20, 2018 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I'd really like to try a cooking project in 2019 where I can track my progress toward a specific completion goal. Can you help me brainstorm ideas for a "cook every type of ____" type project that are more creative than just "cook every recipe in ____ Cookbook"?

My original idea was "learn to cook every cut of beef they sell at my local Trader Joe's" but I've started to back off of that idea in favor of something a little healthier than eating red meat every week--but something along that vein is what I'm looking for. I really love the feeling of collecting achievements and progress-tracking but I also don't want to be locked into doing something on any particular schedule.

So, just to be a little clearer about the requirements here:
-Cooking/savory/dinner foods, not baking/sweets. (Dinner dishes requiring an oven are fine!)
-There needs to be a finite, countable number of specific items to cook, whether recipes from a particular list, types of a particular ingredient, etc.
-I'd prefer not to focus on a single cuisine, so I wouldn't like a challenge like "cook one dish from each of the 8 regions of country X".
-I liked the "every type of beef at TJ's" idea because there are probably about 15 cuts of beef that they sell. I'd probably say anything with more than about 50 recipes would be too much. I'm not going to go full "Julie & Julia" and cook every recipe in a book that's a big doorstopper.
-Not time-bound. I want it to be something I can pick up and put down, so something like "cook only vegan for a month" or "make a different XYZ every week for a year" wouldn't work.
-Outside of "healthier than potentially eating beef multiple times a week for a year", no dietary restrictions. (Also, if you have a cogent argument that eating red meat all the time is actually good for me, I'm listening... I just got scared off it because everyone always says my grandfather had a heart attack because he "drank, smoked, and ate too much red meat".) One preference though: I'd prefer not to make fish too often because I want something I can heat up at work the next day and fish + microwave = :(
-Also, I know I keep using the word "challenge" but I'm not looking for difficult, challenging, labor-intensive, time-intensive, etc. foods per se. Just an excuse to test out some new recipes and add to my repertoire!
posted by capricorn to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My sister and her husband have a subscription to Food and Wine Magazine, and every month they cook a complete meal out of the recipes and track down the wine to pair it with. Their meals are always amazing, and it seems like a fun challenge. Would something like that work?
posted by foxonisland at 3:08 PM on December 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: the first thing that came to mind was the list of shrimp dishes from Forrest Gump:

"Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it."

(I agree cooking a meal from a magazine menu would be a more elegant way to go!)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

How about 3-5 dishes from every continent (excluding Antarctica)?
posted by Fig at 3:35 PM on December 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've joked about doing "meatballs of the world", but you say you want to lay off the beef. But perhaps something else that a variety of culinary cultures have but they all do a bit differently?
posted by madcaptenor at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2018

I once worked on the French mother sauces when I was looking for a similar cooking project. It's not necessarily that exciting an adventure on its own, but I learned to make a bunch of dishes based from those sauces and variations on them while I was at it. (Bechamel = a base for macaroni and cheese, veloute = a base for chicken pot pie, espagnole = a base for beef bourguignon, etc.)

There are five sauces or infinity sauces depending on how far down the "secondary sauce" rabbit hole you'd like to go.
posted by adiabat at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2018 [10 favorites]

I set a goal for myself to cook with eggs 100 different ways, and at the end I’m going to buy myself a chef’s hat. I started this when someone told me that the folds in a toque represent this skill. I just hit recipe #51 by making Béarnaise sauce! It’s great bc eggs are cheap and most recipes are hard to mess up!
posted by oomny at 3:52 PM on December 20, 2018 [14 favorites]

Cook a dish from a set of countries, such as the 17 countries on the Tropic of Cancer (although a lot of them are North African / Middle Eastern) or perhaps better yet, the 19 members of the G-20 (or round up to 20 and include "permanent non-member invitee" Spain since they have delicious food). Or the countries visited in Around They World in 80 Days, in order.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:07 PM on December 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dumplings of the World? Here's a list from NPR with about 30 types.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

I wonder if you might like Simple To Spectacular, a cookbook written by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerrichten. In it there are 50 groupings of 4 recipes that highlight a type of food or a technique. They start simple and get really complex. (Though they're all totally within reason for the home cook.) So you could make it a project to do these sets of four as a personal project. I have had a lot of fun with this book and you might too.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:19 PM on December 20, 2018

cook every type of....

savory hand pie (turnover, knish, empanada, pasty, patty, sambusa, samosa, pirog...)
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:46 PM on December 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

I follow an Instagram account of a lady who cooks food from different countries in alphabetical order and teaches her kids something about that country. @newdishnewday if you're curious.
posted by at 5:34 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Historical/copyright-free cooking: one meal per decade in the 1800s and/or one meal per year from 1900-1923 based on recipes drawn from public domain cookbooks. There's a decent list here, and many of the books on the list are available at the Internet Archive, e.g. Lafcadio Hearn (!)'s 1885 La Cuisine Creole or Chong Jan & Co.'s 1913 Chinese and English Cook Book. Should be fun to browse those old cookbooks at least.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:54 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Could you use alphabetical order somehow? Make a list of ingredients (maybe pick a category—fruits/veggies, spices/seasonings, etc ) from A-Z and then find and make a recipe for each?
posted by bookmammal at 6:18 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (watch the amazing Netflix doc!) takes you through all four elements with recipes that accentuate each. The goal is to eventually not need to follow a recipe. You could work your way through each element using the recipes and then cook a meal where you've improvised each dish.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:20 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Every vegetable available in your local market - how often do you cook with celeriac? Or chayote? Or parsnips? Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has chapters for a lot of different vegetables, and it's a fun excuse to try out recipes from lots of different countries and regions.
posted by snaw at 6:30 PM on December 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

Ooh, and if you do snaw's suggestion, Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop is a great cookbook for that purpose!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think if you're going to go geographic, you should go big: one typical dish from every country in the world.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:54 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just tonight I got a quarter of a heritage breed hog and it was so exciting unloading it into the freezer. This would totally meet all of your requirements! It's only about 40 pounds so it's not going to be all pork all the time but there's tons of variety. It was dark so I'm not even positive what all was in there but I know I got several half hams, bacon, pork belly, unseasoned ground pork, breakfast sausage, country spare ribs, a shoulder roast, a loin roast, a package of fat, soup bones, and much more.
posted by HotToddy at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2018

Root vegetables. You'd have to limit the list to the both the edible ones and the ones available in your area. You could combine this with a list of meats usually stewed or braised.
posted by Homer42 at 7:37 PM on December 20, 2018

How about soups/stews from around the world? There's lots of variety here: pho, borscht, pozole, dal, etc.
posted by girasoli at 8:50 PM on December 20, 2018

Best answer: Try cooking every meal in Eyebrows McGee's Sunday Dinner question.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

AugustWest, you might be thinking of Julie & Julia, which OP mentioned; that's a book (originally a blog) in which a woman in New York, Julie Powell, spent 2002 making every recipe in Julia Child's first volume of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Julia Child learned to cook from her mother, but also attended Le Cordon Bleu while her husband (working for the State Department) worked at the US Embassy in Paris. That's also where she and her co-authors wrote the books.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:20 PM on December 20, 2018

Street food from every country (this could be really interesting and one I might tackle myself), food on a stick from every region/country/fair, finger food etc.
posted by Jubey at 12:54 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know if you have many cookbooks, but if you do, here's one (that I've thought of setting for myself, since I have cookbooks I'm pretty sure I've never cooked out of)--try one new recipe from each cookbook on your shelf.
posted by carrienation at 6:05 AM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I follow a YouTuber who is working his way around Sandwiches of the world. He goes full on into making the bread and all the condiments from scratch. But you could go as detailed or not as you liked. Now I love sandwiches so think that's great.

You could do pies, soups, dumplings, fried chicken dishes, breakfasts, salads etc from all around the world. I'd go by the overly complicated system of just picking the next one that sounds good.

Though the idea of doing snout to tail cooking one recipe at a time one type of animal mentioned above sounds fun & challenging. You wouldn't even have to buy them all at once. You could put a diagram of the meat cuts up on the wall & color them in or cross them off as you go.
posted by wwax at 6:59 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

+1 to Salt Fat Acid Heat. I just read it cover to cover as the intro recommends; it's great and has lots of possible directions and difficulty levels.
posted by clavicle at 8:36 AM on December 21, 2018

Response by poster: fingersandtoes: "the first thing that came to mind was the list of shrimp dishes from Forrest Gump"

Aaahhh this is the most perfect answer so far except of course I don't like shrimp. D'oh.

But yeah, something like "sandwiches of the world" or "dumplings of the world" won't work because there's a theoretically infinite number of sandwiches/dumplings. I need a way to create a list I can cross off, like "all the ____ they have at the grocery store". And like I said, anything over 50 recipes on a list might as well be infinity.
posted by capricorn at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2018

from carrienation—“I don't know if you have many cookbooks, but if you do, here's one (that I've thought of setting for myself, since I have cookbooks I'm pretty sure I've never cooked out of)--try one new recipe from each cookbook on your shelf.
I ADORE this idea and I think I’m going to do it in 2019!
posted by bookmammal at 8:59 AM on December 21, 2018

I one did "use a new-to-me vegetable or fruit every month."
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:25 AM on December 21, 2018

Best answer: ok how about lists from literature?

Here's a list of all the foods in the Anne of Green Gables series. Here's an article about all the foods from Dickens' Pickwick Papers... It would be easy to compile a list of the foods in Alice in Wonderland, and it would be weird and interesting but not too long... treacle pie, tarts, mock turtle soup...
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:26 AM on December 21, 2018

oh! one of the books whose foods most fascinated me as a child was Roald Dahl's _Danny Champion of the World._ There are probably only about seven-ten dishes, but each is described in loving detail. Off the top of my head I remember the meat pie; toad in the hole; the pheasant of course; the hot cocoa...
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2018

Food from Harry Potter? I'm pretty sure someone out there has turned them into actual recipes.
posted by Jubey at 11:39 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

On the theme of lists from books or other media, The Alienist takes place in the 1890s in New York City and includes several lovingly-described, over-the-top meals at Delmonico's and elsewhere. I don't know if you'd want to do the dinner unless you really want to cook turtle/terrapin in multiple ways, but the breakfast looks doable.
posted by expialidocious at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2018

The Ghibli movies are well-known for having lush food scenes - try there?

Or maybe work off a list of holidays? You could look up lists of cultural holidays and cook something from there, or go through one of those National XYZ Lists and make something related to the day.
posted by divabat at 6:20 PM on December 21, 2018

Best answer: Here's a project that I am planning next year: 101 Cookbooks' 20 L.A. Restaurant Recipes to Cook Now. YMMV if this isn't your type of food, but you may be able to find something similar that appeals to you.

Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything has a TON of easy project cooking ideas because he attaches a dozen or so variations to nearly every basic recipe. Since it's one of my favorite simple recipes I've been meaning to cook through his chicken cutlets in wine variations: butter, sherry, dijon, lemon, mushroom, tomato, shallot, balsamic, caper etc (I realize this is kind of a boring example but there are many many others).

I've never fully done one of these, but Food52 has a column about turning one dish (like a braised cabbage, or a bunch of hard boiled eggs, or an orzo salad) into a week of meals.

Some I've enjoyed in the past: Kenji Lopez Alt's pressure cooker chicken stews. There's black bean, chile verde, lentil bacon, Thai curry, Colombian, chickpea masala and maybe some others. Don't think he's publishing new recipes nowadays so the list won't expand.

Another is all of the New York Times sheet pan dinners. There are sixteen of them now although that's likely to increase a bit. Here's a primer on the "technique".

Lastly, three Marcella Hazan tomato sauces.
posted by acidic at 6:51 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm debating this year between having to use all kitchen devices and/or weird ingredients that I've bought/received and never gotten around to using. (Got my eye on you spaetzel maker), or making at least one recipe out of any cookbook I have that I haven't cooked out of yet.

One year I followed along to a season of The Great British Bake Off. I gave myself a week to do an 'If I were a contestant I'd make X for this challenge' for each episode. The time restriction might not be what you're looking for, but the general concept might work.
posted by Caravantea at 8:45 PM on December 21, 2018

You can follow the path of the Food in Jars 2017 challenge. It was one preservation-type task per month.

You could also cook along with Chowhound's Dish of the Month. The one for this month is cheese balls!
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:17 AM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I first got married I didn't know how to cook anything and so I thought it would be fun to learn to cook the dishes my husband's mom would have cooked for him in the 1950s. If you google it there are a lot of lists online.

Things I learned to cook: Chicken a la King, a rare steak, Baked Alaska, Oatmeal Cookies, Shepherd's Pie, Kabobs, Three bean Salad, Swedish Meat Balls, Meat Loaf, Souffle, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup, Deviled Eggs, Martini, Lasagna, Angel Food Cake, Egg Fu Yung, Split Pea Soup, Coleslaw, Upside Down Pineapple Cake, Sloppy Joes, Coffee Cake, Beef Stroganoff, Beef Goulosh, Chicken Alfredo, Chex Mix, Chow Mein
*I would say a casserole made with Cream of Mushroom Soup but I'm not sure when that was first manufactured

My list is USA-centric. It would be interesting to find out what the popular dishes of a country you are connected to in the 1950s would be. Like Spain, what was popular in Spain in the 1950s? Or Australia?

Here is a website that has USAdishes by decade. I think the only difference between 1950s and 1960s and 1970s is the addition of fondue. IMO.
A quote from that site "This decade also marked the beginning of ethnic foods entering mainstream America. GIs returning from tours in Europe and the Pacific developed new tastes. Food companies were quick to supply the ingredients. "Americanized" versions of sukiyaki, egg foo yung, chow mein, enchiladas, pizza, lasagne, and barbecued meats with Polynesian sauces regularly appeared in 1950s cookbooks."
posted by cda at 1:55 PM on December 23, 2018

I just realized that Food in Jars now has a 2019 challenge. January's challenge is preserving citrus.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:56 AM on January 10, 2019

Response by poster: Hello! I am The Worst and did not use anyone's suggestions. But they all really helped me brainstorm and stretch my thinking around this question, and I decided the best list to tackle was my list of pinned recipes on pinboard, which includes my old browser bookmarks going back...jeez, about 15 years now! I'm five recipes in so far, and once I get a little further along I'll probably post to Projects with my recaps. I've already started cooking things I've never made before and was initially intimidated by, and it's a lot of fun. So thank you all for the inspiration and ideas!
posted by capricorn at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Best answered several suggestions that fit my criteria.
posted by capricorn at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2019

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