At some point I should actually sit down and mix spice combinations into instant mashed potatoes and just try them out systematically. Yesterday's balsamic vinegar pan sauce (with red wine) was awesome, and the pork chops turned out perfectly seared and juicy. However, the orange-cilantro reduction I tried to make to go with it was... not so awesome. And rosemary and orange peel do not go very well with a raw tomato pasta sauce, although that one was mixed up by Melanie - I put the caramelized carrots in, though, so the blame is partly mine. (Ginger and soy sauce help, though.)

I'll be dropping a line to America's Test Kitchen to see if they'd like a part-time equipment testing intern for a while. (This serves as the primary motivation to update my resume this weekend.) Being surrounded by food and cooking is something I would like to do at some point in my life - working a grunt job chopping vegetables in the back of a nice restaurant for a year, or spending a year in culinary school (honestly, I'd rather do the former and study with textbooks on my own at home). It's not going to be my career, but it's something that, if I don't do it at some point, I'm going to always look back and wish I had. Equipment testing isn't going to satisfy that craving, but it would be a start at peeking into that world; I don't really know anyone who's in the culinary profession, and I'd love to be able to geek out about that stuff with people who know more about it than I do.

I have several opportunities to practice my cooking over the next 1.5 months. The biggest one is that I'm on the pika mealplan this quarter, which gives me the chance to cook (mostly vegan) meals for a few dozen people each Tuesday - so here's some stuff (to continue my string of list-making) I'd like to learn and practice while I'm doing that.

Knife skills. I should pick a set of recipes that call for ridiculous amounts of fine dice, juliennes, and many different kinds of weirdly shaped veggies and fruit, yank the CIA's text on knife skills from the library, and go to town. This will probably apply across all the dinners I do.

I can haz flavr. I'd love to do a flavor combo dinner wherein relatively bland bases (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta) get their choice of mix-n'-match toppings and people can try a dozen different sauces in a meal. Of course, given that people are actually going to eat this, I probably won't experiment as wildly as usual. The Flavor Bible might have some nice groupings to try, and I could actually do some of the classic sauces for the non-vegetarians in the house.

I want to learn how to make good stock. Given the predominance of vegetarians at pika, I will learn how to make vegetable stock and do a number of simple soups with that. Soup night! However, I'd like to make chicken, beef, and fish stock as well; maybe I'll do this at my aunt's house. I hear On Cooking and Cooking have awesome selections of basic recipes.

Ah, yes. Bread. I'd like to learn to bake a bunch of kinds of breads and rolls (for aforementioned "lots-o'-soup" dinner).

Pastry crust. I'd like to make at least one sweet pie (this may be a good excuse to finally go apple picking) and one savory thing with a pastry crust; I'm not sure what the latter thing will be yet (chicken pot pie is the only thing that comes to mind, but there must be something more interesting out there).

Handmade pasta. Including ravioli.

I also want to work on presentation, which I've utterly ignored to date. With luck, I'll be photographing the food I cook.