The idea of me teaching someone how to cook a few years ago would’ve been pretty laughable. I am, after all, The Amateur Gourmet, not The Gourmet Who Knows Enough About Cooking To Teach Others How To Do It (try loading that into your browser).
But, lately, I have to say, I’ve kind of hit my stride as a cook. I’ve been doing this now for over a decade and I cook meals at home about ten times a week (including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners), and after spending so much time in the kitchen, I guess you do get to a point where you’re more of an authority than not-an-authority. Which is why, when my friend Jonathan talked about wanting to learn how to cook, I said I’d be happy to teach him. I didn’t think he’d actually take me up on it. But then he did take me up on it and, this past Sunday, he was coming over at five PM to learn how to make some stuff. Suddenly I was cast in the role of cooking teacher. This was a lot of pressure!
Remember that time that I was a full-time food blogger? And I had the nerve to say things like: “You can cook after work! It’s easy.” Well I’d like to take that person, pin him against a wall, and say: “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Because now that I have a full-time job, I come home happily exhausted (I love where I’m working) and the idea of making a big mess in the kitchen at 6:45 PM (when I get home) and then cleaning it up holds very little appeal to me on a weekday night. So the picture you see above is my saving grace: Dune Falafel is on the other side of Atwater Village from me, so my new favorite thing is to come home, give the cat some treats, and to go for a 20 minute walk along GlenFeliz Blvd to procure the hummus plate you see above (it really is the most dazzling hummus plate I’ve ever experienced). And then, every so often, I do manage to make a dinner.
My word, I cooked up a storm in 2013. Usually when I go through the process of choosing my best dishes of the year, the list pretty much writes itself. This year I struggled to put this in any kind of order; and when you see the dishes on my “Honorable Mentions” list you’re going to wonder, as do I, why many of them didn’t make the Top 10. Well, truth be told, these kinds of lists are arbitrary and sometimes you just have to follow your gut (and Lord knows my gut is a lot larger this year because of all this food.) Still, I feel good about my rankings here because these ten dishes really do represent my biggest cooking break-throughs of the year; they almost all caught me off-guard, sweeping me off my feet in ways that I didn’t see coming. So here they are, the Top 10 Dishes That I Cooked in 2013.
Breakfast may be my favorite meal to cook because there’s nothing fussy or formal about it. You just wake up, roll out of bed, head to the kitchen, put the coffee on, see what you’ve got in the fridge and the pantry and get going. Most of the time, I improvise with what I have on hand; but sometimes, if I want breakfast to be special, I turn to one of these ten recipes and start my day in style. Now that it’s almost the weekend, consider this a prompt to start your Saturday or Sunday with style too.
In this life there are rule-followers and rule-breakers. I’ll never forget the day that Mrs. Murley, my high school A.P. European History teacher, kicked Brian T. out of class for being impertinent. As he was leaving, Mrs. Murley said, “Don’t fall off your motorcycle this summer.” Brian T. replied, “Don’t fall off of your high horse.”
Oof! The rule-breakery of it! This may not come as a shock, but I was the ultimate rule follower growing up. Rules meant structure, they meant a clearly defined path you could follow. Breaking the rules meant casting yourself off into the great unknown.
Most of us know the rules when it comes to cooking: wash your hands after handling raw chicken, don’t wash a cast iron skillet with soap, etc. Yet, over my many years of cooking (both with chefs and by myself), I’ve learned that certain rules are time-wasters that do very little for you or your food. Breaking these rules frees you up to focus on the stuff that really matters when making dinner. So here are 10 food rules that you don’t have to follow anymore.
This is an important message from your sponsor, me. You know how grocery stores sell boneless, skinless chicken breasts more than they do actual chickens? And how people bring them home and cook them in such a way that they’re dry, flavorless pieces of cardboard? And how this leads people to hate food cooked at home so much that they wind up going to Popeye’s where this woman has an orgasm as she watches you eat your chicken? And everyone gets obese as our country goes down the toilet? I’m going to tell you a secret.
Very rarely does a chef get a 4-star review while a critic is still at the table, but in my case our resident critic (that would be Craig) exclaimed, on biting into the fish you see above, “This is seriously the best fish I’ve ever had in my life. You could charge $40 for this at a restaurant!”
You might think Craig was hyperbolizing, but when I bit in I felt the same way. And it wasn’t like I considered myself a big fish expert by any means; because good fish takes more effort to find than good chicken or good produce, I very rarely make it. This dinner was a total anomaly but because it turned out so terrific, I’m thinking it’ll become a regular weeknight staple for us. Why did it turn out so good? Let’s examine.