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.
Weekends are for making breakfast. I used to think weekends were for going to brunch, and we still do go out to brunch every now and then, but I’ve started to embrace the simplicity, comfort and relative cheapness of making those same dishes at home.
Take the dish you see above: that’s called a dutch baby; a big, puffy, baked pancake. I got the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but Molly has a pretty gorgeous looking one on her site too (click here.) Whichever recipe you choose, it couldn’t be simpler: you mix melted butter, eggs, flour and milk (or in Molly’s case, half-and-half), pour that into a skillet and bake in the oven. I’d recently purchased a cast iron skillet, and there was something especially satisfying about making a dutch baby in a cast iron. How much would this be if you had this at a restaurant? I’m guessing, at least, $12. At home, assuming you already have milk, eggs and flour in your fridge, it’s free.
I’ve known many people who want to be famous, but very few think about the kind of fame they want. For those of you who secretly crave fame, however big or small, may I suggest that you strive for food blogger fame? It’s a really good kind of fame. 99 out of 100 people have no idea who you are, and those that do know who you are like you for reasons that are based entirely on your work. The best part, though, is that people will want to cook for you. Isn’t that the best? I mean if you’re a famous novelist, what do you get? A free subscription to The New York Review of Books? Who wants that when you can have Kim Spurlock cook you dinner?
Journeys of self-discovery are often internal; we go to the desert, we go to the beach, we go to the forest, and, in our solitude, we unlock secrets from the past, untapped desires, revelations about who we are and why we are the way we are. Other times, journeys of self-discovery are external: case in point, my trip to Cape Cod with Craig and his film school friends a few weeks ago. It was there in Cape Cod that I discovered something about myself, something that I didn’t really know: when it comes to cooking for a group, that ain’t my thing!
When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.
Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.
It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.
Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.
Sometimes the name of a dish sounds so intimidating your immediate reaction is: “Pish posh! I can’t make that! And why did I just say pish posh?”
Such might be the case with the pizza you see above. You hear “pizza” and that doesn’t sound so difficult, but you add “caramelized onions, rosemary and gorgonzola” and you feel like you’re on Planet Impossible. Well come back to Earth, Earthling, and let me assure you: that pizza you see above may SOUND difficult, but it’s really a cinch. Here, let me convince you.
Friends, I’ve made a discovery. If you want a fun evening of food, camaraderie, and drinking, you needn’t fuss over a really lavish dinner. You need only do two things: (1) make a nifty, crowd-pleasing dessert; and (2) prepare a big, simmering pot of something delicious.