The last time (and only time) I’ve ever made cassoulet, it was a bit of a Noah’s Ark affair. There was duck, there was sausage, there was bacon. My cup, quite literally, was runneth over with meat and beans. Cassoulet is meant to be a hefty dish and, as a general rule, the bigger your cooking vessel, the better off you’ll be. This time around, I thought I was in good shape making Donald Link’s Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet from his Down South cookbook. There were only two meats to worry about, pork belly and smoked sausage, and only one pound of dried white beans. This time I’d have my cassoulet under control.
Travel is a funny thing. The more you build it up in your head, the less likely you are to do it.
Which is why, a few months ago, when our friends Harry and Cris told us that they were going to France for Christmas and New Year’s (Cris is from Bordeaux), I spontaneously suggested that we all spend New Year’s together in Paris. The idea took, especially since Craig had never been to France, and I cashed in all of our Delta miles and booked us two roundtrip tickets to Paris. In terms of great spontaneous decisions, this was one of the best I’ve ever made.
Was this the best cooking year of my life? (Oh no, there I go saying “best” again.) But, looking back on the past 365 days, I feel like I really came into my own this year in the kitchen. Gone are all the old insecurities that fueled this blog in the first place. Now, I basically know what I’m doing when I step behind the stove. Even if I’m making something that I’ve never made before, I can imagine all of the steps in my head, plot a course that works for me, and get things done with enough time to clean up before the guests arrive. And when it came to seemingly insurmountable tasks (for example: making five hundred latkes for a Hanukkah party, two hundred more than last time), I just took things one latke at a time and managed to get it all done, shedding only onion-induced tears. So in a year of tremendous cooking, the following ten dishes must also be pretty tremendous. I hope you’ll agree.
When you’ve been food blogging for long enough, your old posts can act as your own personal culinary archives. What was I eating in December of 2010? The answer is just a few clicks away. (Looks like it was spaghetti and gingerbread cake.)
There’s a gap, now, in that data from July 2015 to September 2017, when I stopped blogging, and future historians and biographers will have no idea what I ate during that period. Not since the burning of the Library at Alexandria has there been such a loss for civilization. But here I am, ready to remedy some of that by sharing my favorite restaurant meals of 2017. Really, the idea to do this came to me while scrolling through all of the pictures on my phone from this past year. It’s been an insane 365 days: we’ve ping-ponged from Mexico City to Washington State to Provincetown to Florida, with frequent stops in New York, where Craig was working on his latest movie, Alex Strangelove. And, not to rub it in, but we’re ending the year in Paris. Paris! OK, I did just rub it in. But come on, it’s Paris, and Craig’s never been and we’re using all of our miles to go. We are très excited.
After posting yesterday’s post about applesauce and “best recipes,” I woke up to an e-mail this morning from Tucker Shaw, who’s the new editor-in-chief of Cook’s Country at America’s Test Kitchen. Tucker’s actually been a long-time supporter of my blog (a blurb of his is featured on my first book) and I had no idea he’d taken over the helm of such a storied institution. Since I called out ATK in my post, it somehow caught his attention and here’s what he has to say. Don’t worry: I asked his permission to publish this. And I figure it’s only fair to put his response on here, since it so clearly addresses my attack on their use of the word “best.” (Though feeling a little hypocritical after someone pointed out on my Facebook page that my cookbook is called Secrets of the Best Chefs.) Thanks, Tucker, for reaching out.
OK, I’m going to tell you a secret, and maybe it’s an obvious secret, one that you already know (especially since it’s the title of this post), but I also think it’s a secret most people don’t want to acknowledge: there is no such thing as the best recipe.
Now I say this as someone who, for years, titled my posts “The Best” this or “The Best” that. My most popular post of all time was called The Best Broccoli of Your Life. I still have people who come up to me on the street and say, “Your broccoli recipe really is the best.” First of all, it’s not my broccoli recipe, it’s Ina Garten’s. Second of all, it’s an excellent recipe, it yields wonderful results, but is it the best? Let me repeat my point: there’s no such thing as the best.
I had a very good Cyber Monday, if I do say so myself. My KitchenAid mixer has been in decline every since that time, years ago, that I was using it to knead bread dough and heard a giant BOOM in the kitchen, only to discover it had toppled on to the floor, cracking a tile in the process. Now it looks like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, its whole back exposed to reveal stray wires and coils (the cover won’t stay on). The other day I accidentally put my hand on one of those wires and it zapped me. The thing is ten years old and so when I saw Jason Kottke link to a KitchenAid mixer deal on Amazon yesterday, it was if the food gods were smiling down upon me. I got the six-quart, professional series in Aqua Sky for $220 less than the normal price. It arrives tomorrow.
I may have also purchased a new food processor, a fire extinguisher (you never know!), and two mid-century serving platters on Etsy that weren’t discounted for Cyber Monday, but I was on a roll, so I just went with it. And then, one of L.A.’s most celebrated restaurants, Trois Mec, posted this on its Twitter feed: “We’re celebrating cyber Monday with a deal of our own! Buy for 2 and eat for 4, or buy for 1 and eat for 2! Valid for today only! Email email@example.com for more details!”
I’ve been making the same oatmeal almost every day for the past few weeks and the time has come for me to share it with you.
There’s a good thing and a bad thing about this oatmeal recipe. The good thing is that it only has three ingredients, unless you also add butter (as the title above the title on this post says). The bad thing about this oatmeal recipe is that it features the single ugliest picture I have ever taken of food in my life. You’re about to see that picture, but I don’t want it to scare you. Just imagine it like those pods in the movie Cocoon, sitting at the bottom of the pool, waiting to hatch into aliens who will guarantee you everlasting life. At least I think that’s what happens in Cocoon? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it.