A Summery Steak Dinner

Sometimes people ask me if I barbecue and I say “no” and when they ask “why not?” I say: “Because I don’t really like my backyard.” And it’s true: we share one with our neighbors in our fourplex, and they’re all very nice, but it’s not very private and it also kind of looks out on to a gas station. So the idea of being back there for a long time with a pair of tongs and a brewski doesn’t really excited me much, even in summertime.

But that didn’t stop me last night from “grilling up” some steak. (“Grilling up” in quotes because, ya know, I wasn’t really grilling.) This dinner really was a triumph, if I do say so myself; I was welcoming Craig back from the Palm Springs Shorts Festival, where he spoke on a few panels. He was already glad to come home (Palm Springs is 105 degrees right now), but with this dinner he was even gladder. Let me tell you how I made it.

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One Mac and Cheese To Rule Them All

I’ve found it. I know you’ve been looking for it, but it’s here, you can end your quest.

My friend Diana makes the best mac and cheese that I’ve ever had. Not too long ago, I asked for her recipe and she told me it’s Martha Stewart’s as posted on Food52. I made it soon after for our friends Harry and Chris as a housewarming gift and they declared it the best mac and cheese they’d ever had.

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Three Smoke Alarm Chicken, Sausage, and Broccoli Rabe

As far as arrivals to one of my dinner parties go, last night was maybe the most dramatic of all time. I was making a chicken and sausage dish from Nancy Silverton’s under-appreciated cookbook Mozza at Home (I seriously consider it one of the best cookbooks to come out in recent years) and I’d cranked the oven up to 450, despite the fact that some of the liquid had spilled on to the oven floor. Well! That liquid sent PLUMES of smoke out of the oven, so much so that two things happened: all four smoke alarms in our apartment started going off; and the air became noxious with the scents of vinegar and burning. Which is exactly when our guests arrived.

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Toss Your Beans in Pesto

There’s a lot of treachery when it comes to substitutions in recipes. “Hide sweet potatoes in the brownies, your kids will never notice!” “These zucchini noodles taste just as good as real noodles but with half the calories!”

Me? I’m all for transparency when it comes to the things that I cook. And that’s why I recommend tossing your green beans in pesto. You’re not pretending that the green beans are anything they’re not — “If you close your eyes, they taste just like French Fries!” — what you see is what you get.

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Come Join The Fun on Instagram

Hello there, you’re probably wondering where I’ve been these first few months of 2018, and the answer is: INSTAGRAM.

If you’re not following me there, download the app and look me up: @amateurgourmet.

It’s just a much easier way for me to share my cooking adventures, and also much more exciting, especially with the stories feature where I shoot videos as I go. For example, last night I turned the spring risotto you see above (which I’d documented in Stories on Sunday) into risotto cakes by shaping them into patties and frying them in oil. The whole thing is captured in real time:

And the results were pretty stupendous.

So if you miss hearing my voice and seeing my pictures (and my mistakes), now you know where to find me. To reiterate: @amateurgourmet on Instagram. See you there!

Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet

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.

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Paris Highlights

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.

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My Ten Favorite Dishes That I Cooked in 2017

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.

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