Top five food resolutions you should make -- and keep -- for 2012

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It's a new year, and 2012 should be another rich, full year of food, drink and, with any luck, a few more naked photos of Anthony Bourdain.

It's time to kick 2011 in the gnocchi and usher in a brand-new 365 days of fresh foodie resolutions. We all know that willpower can wane with the first plate of poutine or the first banana malt, so let's all skip the fad diet fap and make some resolutions that will keep us all fed, keep local shops in business, and keep us the hell away from lousy lasagna.

Here are our top five food resolutions that you should make for 2012 -- and keep.

5. Stop taking food labels for granted.

Food and beverages sold in the U.S. are labeled with nutritional information because the FDA/USDA says they have to be. But instead of wondering what the crazy writing on the back of the box means, why not actually read it -- and, better still, find answers to your questions about it? Ever wondered why there is more than one serving in a bottle of soda when most people drink the whole thing? Ask. Ever wonder whether the salmon filet you want to buy is filled with pink dye to make it prettier? Ask. Even if grocers don't have immediate answers, it'll motivate them to learn more about their products, and there's nothing wrong with calling or e-mailing the manufacturer to find out why Cheez-Its have so much f*cking salt on them.

4. Start shopping at local, specialty shops.

Back in the day before supermarkets, there existed small shops that usually specialized in one thing: butcher shops, cheese shops, bakeries, spice shops.... It's understandable that buying groceries, tires and allergy medicine at the same place is mighty convenient, but there are definite benefits to visiting a local specialty shop or two. The personalized service is nice (try getting that at Wal-Mart), the owners and staff are generally knowledgeable and ready -- if not eager -- to answer even the slightest of questions, and the quality of the merchandise tends to be far superior. And with all the food scares that made headlines in 2011, it's worth the effort to buy food that doesn't have to travel far to get to you.

3. Stop relying on the Food Network, Food Channel and celebrity chefs to tell you what to cook--or how to cook.

Watching cooking shows is a great way to get new ideas and learn about ingredients and cooking methods that you didn't know existed before, but there comes a point where you should really turn off the tube and venture out on your own to learn by hands-on trial and error. I betcha dollars to donut holes that most, if not all, celeb chefs started out this way, no matter how much expensive kitchen crap they have, or how many people smooch their loin chops every day. It's not as scary or difficult as you think: Get an idea for what you think might taste good, shop, use a decent knife (I'd recommend the Wusthof 6" classic chef's knife) and get dirty. Will a rosemary and apricot-crusted leg of lamb taste good? Make one and find out -- it'll make you feel pretty good to lose the TV training wheels.

2. Start making salad dressings.

The holy trinity of ranch, French and Italian dressings are all too easy to fall back on, especially when salads tend to fall to side dishes or starters. But leaving the hidden valley and trekking across the wild yonder of strawberry-bleu cheese-basil dressing is fun, even exhilarating, and...wait for a shock...fresh, homemade, interesting salad dressings take just minutes to make. You don't even really need a fancy decanter -- use a Ziploc container -- with a bit of oil, vinegar or wine, a nip of herbs and/or spices, and a smidge of fine-grated or crumbled cheese, shake it all up, and there you have it. Using ingredients you have lying around to make salad dressing is fun, and hell, it may spark or rekindle an interest in salads, which is never a bad thing.

1. Stop eating at the Olive Garden.

The recently revealed list of things the Olive Garden uses/does to avoid scaring customers is a travesty; from avoiding capers ("too unexpected") and Gorganzola cheese ("too culinary forward") to overcooking their pasta and using the word "cravable," it's genuinely sad and even insulting when diners are treated like they are idiots. Now it can be argued that people who choose to spend their money at the Olive Garden may not be the most sophisticated diners in the world, but something should give way to break the suck cycle, and that something should be the corporate menu designers at the Olive Garden. In the meantime, stop eating there. If everyone would avoid the place like people avoid Gary Busey, then one of two things would likely happen: one, they'd change the menu, or two, they'd go under. Either way, more bread will go to local, authentic Italian places that aren't afraid to use capers, and everybody wins.

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