Craig’s sister Kristin and I joke that I should have a catchphrase, that when I meet new people I should declare, with mock-sincerity: “Food is my passion.” Ok, maybe you have to be there for that concept to be funny, but regardless, food IS my passion and this year I feel like my cooking is entering the realm of “he’s no amateur.” Sure, I had my doozies. Remember my burnt sticky buns? My flambé incident? And yesterday, I made hummus for lunch in my blender and added way too much chickpea water so the result was rather pukey. But otherwise? I’m riding high on a wave of culinary competence. And these, my friends, are my Top 10 success stories of 2009. Are you ready? Let’s get cooking.
This was the year of El Bulli, the year of Barcelona, the year of Austin, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In other words: this year was a pretty extraordinary eating year for yours truly, The A.G., maybe my best eating year on record. I’ve gone through my archives and studied all the restaurant meals I’ve consumed and I have a team of doctors and the crew of A&E’s “Intervention” standing by, ready to escort me to intensive decadence therapy once I share with you my Top 10 Restaurant Meals of 2009. Are you ready? Starting at #10, here we go.
Sometimes a recipe grabs my attention not because it sounds particularly delicious but because the method by which you make it is so peculiar, I just have to try it.
Such was the case with the recipe for Pain D’Epice in Canal House Cooking Volume 2. Other recipes for Pain D’Epice, a French spice bread, are packed with, well, spices. Nancy Silverton’s has fennel seeds, black pepper and lots of ginger; David Lebovitz’s has cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; the Canal House pain d’epice has no spices. It has marmalade.
Not long ago, my friend Diana had a friend visit from Italy and this friend–who went to college with Diana in the U.S. (Brown University, to be precise)–was incredibly eager to eat an American brunch again. “She was really excited about brunch,” Diana related to me later. “She says it’s one of the things she misses most about the U.S.”
A few days ago, while eating brunch at the Old Town Cafe in Bellingham, Washington, it occurred to me: if I were going to tell a non-American how to best experience American food culture, the meal I’d suggest (and this is a brand new revelation) is breakfast.
The Baking Bug isn’t a ladybug, it’s a wasp: once it stings you, you’ve been stung.
Such has been the case with my friend Josh Hume, director of my show on Food2 and a recent convert to the world of baking. He loves it. He calls himself Man Martha because of his love for Martha Stewart’s recipes and, most recently, he represented me at a Bon Appetit Magazine blogger bake-off. (Check out his bouche!) It’s no surprise, then, that Josh approached holiday baking this year with a fervor; not only did he bake cakes for several friends’ birthday parties (big, elaborate cakes) but he planned an enormous Christmas cookie exchange and assigned each person a different cookie to bring. My assignment? Pfeffernussen.
The scene: our living room. Craig is sneezing, coughing, blowing his nose. He’s not happy. He’s feeling unwell. Me? I’m ok, I’ve avoided the cold so far. But I am sympathetic, I am suggesting he buy cold medicine, and then I suggest what my mother and grandmother would undoubtedly suggest if they were in the room too: “Chicken Soup.”
As it happens, Craig is reading New York Magazine and stumbles across an article about the best soups in New York and a big full-page spread about The 2nd Ave. Deli’s chicken soup. For years, I’ve declared that chicken soup my favorite in the city; when it was close to NYU (before it was relocated), I would go there religiously if I ever felt unwell. And this article, called “Deliverence,” was all about how the 2nd Ave. Deli will now deliver a tub of chicken soup to your door in 30 minutes. It would cost $22.95 plus delivery charges, a ridiculous price to pay for any other soup; but this is the 2nd Ave. Deli chicken soup we’re talking about, a cold-killing elixir stronger than any medicine a doctor would prescribe. I lifted the phone, I dialed the numbers, and 30 minutes later…
People who live in warm climates aren’t allowed to eat pancakes.
It’s true: pancakes are for cold winter mornings, still in your pajamas, curled around a space heater and holding your coffee mug close to your face. Pancake batter is basically cake batter and the only way you can justify eating cake at the start of your day is to keep warm; so Floridians, stay away. This recipe is for those of us who saw our breath this morning.
My friend Clotilde Dusoulier, of the legendary food blog Chocolate & Zucchini and author of several notable food books (including her own cookbook, a guide to Paris and the book she recently translated, the French Joy of Cooking, “I Know How To Cook”) was coming to dinner.
I’ve spent lots of time with Clotilde, we’ve dined together several times in New York (at Babbo and the Corner Bistro and Dirt Candy) and in Paris (at Ze Kitchen Galerie) but we’d never cooked for each other. And considering that she grew up in France, where dining and food are such a deep part of the culture children aren’t just born with silver spoons in their mouths but an entire set of flatware, and I grew up on Long Island and in Boca Raton, Florida where fine dining is limited to the salad bar at the golf club, I knew I was in serious trouble. How could I impress Clotilde? What if she spit her food out into her napkin in disgust? How would I live this down? Would she ever want to see me again? This was the most terrifying dinner guest of all time.