You’ve gotta admit, I cooked some really good things this year. So many, in fact, that narrowing this list down to ten took some work. But I’m confident that these ten dishes are the dishes that dazzled the most, the ones that made me pat myself on the back most vigorously, praising my myself in a British accent: “Well done, my lad, well done!” So join me for a gay romp through a year of cooking in my new L.A. kitchen.
[Click the titles to go to the recipes!]
The work that went into this dish was pretty ridiculous, but the results were really sublime. I felt like I’d finally tapped into the world of classic French cooking–from making a fish stock using bones to making a rouille with red peppers that you roast over an open-flame–and it proved that sometimes the most classic dishes are classics for a reason. I probably won’t make this again precisely how I made it here; but doing it the hard way the first time around will set the course for more realistic Bouillabaisses of the future. And it’s definitely the best thing I made this year.
I may have caused a little controversy by making these on a certain Jewish holiday where leavened things are sorta frowned-upon (see here), but after a year of mediocre L.A. bagels I was so delighted to find a recipe that replicated everything that I love about a warm bagel hot-out-of-the-oven in New York. It comes from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook and it’s really an inspired idea: you freeze flavored cream cheese “plugs,” wrap dough around them, and sprinkle the dough with everything bagel spices. Into a hot oven they go and out they come, warm everything bagel bombs, stuffed with scallion cream cheese and better than anything you can get in a non-bagel town.
3. April Bloomfield’s Lamb Curry (aka: The Best Curry of Your Life).
I can’t believe how much flavor April Bloomfield packs into her lamb curry recipe. It’s definitely, without question, the best curry I’ve ever tasted and the fact that it came out of my own kitchen boggles the mind. But look at what goes in it: cloves, star anise, cardamom pods, pequin chilies, freshly grated nutmeg, turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, onions, garlic, a cinnamon stick, cilantro roots, orange peel, lemon peel, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and pineapple juice. And then you have the lamb itself, which is a gamier meat, offering up tons of its own flavor. So this dish is one for the flavor-fiends; there’s nothing bland about it.
4. Drunk Blondies.
This one’s easy to sum up: Blondies with chocolate, pecans, coconut and Bourbon. It comes from the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook and it’s one of those recipes you’ll add to your baking repertoire for bake sales, picnics, potlucks, or just a Sunday afternoon treat. In fact, just looking at that picture, I’m getting a hankering for one right now. Can you blame me?
I like this recipe so much because it’s all about the eggplant. You’re not coating it in bread crumbs and frying the heck out of it; you’re roasting it so it concentrates the eggplant flavor and topping it with a zesty tomato sauce and some cheese. What results is something that’s actually better for you but it tastes so good, you hardly notice it.
I’m proud of this combination, one that I dreamed up myself when I thought about making a pineapple upside-down cake and thought it would taste even better with David Lebovitz’s toasted coconut ice cream. The results were like a tropical vacation; like a pina colada on the beach, only heavier. Both components came out great but these are definitely two tastes that taste better together.
7. Chicken Adobo.
It’s not a shocker that I’m sharing another April Bloomfield recipe here: her cookbook was pretty much my favorite one published this year, (excluding my own, of course). This recipe is a real winner because it’s really simple, the ingredients are cheap and easy to find, and the results are explosively flavorful. Serve it over rice and you have a weeknight dinner your family will beg for again and again.
I made this for Craig’s parents when they visited L.A. and they liked it so much they went home and recreated it for their friends. This is the recipe to make if you want to cook like you live in New Orleans because it’s all about the roux. You toast that roux until it’s a deep, dark color and the rest takes care of itself. I’m excited to continue cooking recipes from the book this came from, Donald Link’s Real Cajun. As this recipe proves, Cajun cooking is a serious art form and one that’s worth your time at home.
Um, so ya, I fried corn bread in bacon fat. And it was delicious. The corn bread was from a recipe Sam Sifton praised in The New York Times; a recipe from the East Coast Grill. It’s a sweet corn bread but then the bacon fat is salty and meaty and somehow that combination makes for a sweet, salty, meaty breakfast of champions. So the next time you have corn bread, fry it in bacon fat. You won’t regret it.
This recipe became a go-to technique for me throughout the year. It all started when a friend of Craig’s told me that after she roasts a chicken she takes the chicken out of the skillet, adds butter and lemon juice. You turn up the heat, whisk it around and suddenly you have this wham-pow delicious chickeny, lemony, buttery sauce to pour over your chicken and, in this case, fancy white beans from Rancho Gordo. I love knowing that because now I make that lemon butter sauce all the time and pour it over chicken regardless of what’s on the side; I did it recently with roasted broccoli. It was also wham-pow delicious. If you haven’t made a lemon butter chicken yet, you really need to.
And that’s it for cooking in 2012! Who knows what I’ll be cooking in 2013? But if it’s anything like this year, it’s going to be very, very good year of cooking and eating at home.