Back in 2013, when I was still something of an innocent, I wrote a post called “Salad on the Same Plate as Dinner” in which I argued that hot food and cold food never belong together on the same plate. I was specifically reacting to a dinner that I had at Parm on the Lower East Side in which a chicken Parmesan was presented on the same plate as an Italian chopped salad. “[The] red sauce did not make the salad taste better. It was something hot and mushy underneath something cold and crunchy. Inversely, the salad didn’t do much for the Chicken Parmesan. The heat from the chicken wilted a few stray lettuce leaves which lay there sadly on my fork as I cut my way through the cheese and the breading. All in all, this dinner would’ve been better if the chicken had been served on a hot plate and the salad on a cold plate.”
Now I read that and think: “Wow, are you wrong!” Salad on the same plate as dinner is an excellent idea for many different reasons. 1. It provides a textural contrast; 2. It’s offers up some necessary roughage (great movie, by the way); 3. The acidity from the salad can often cut against the richness of your entree (especially if your entree is bucatini Cacio e Pepe, like in the picture above); and 4. It creates less dishes.
After posting yesterday’s post about applesauce and “best recipes,” I woke up to an e-mail this morning from Tucker Shaw, who’s the new editor-in-chief of Cook’s Country at America’s Test Kitchen. Tucker’s actually been a long-time supporter of my blog (a blurb of his is featured on my first book) and I had no idea he’d taken over the helm of such a storied institution. Since I called out ATK in my post, it somehow caught his attention and here’s what he has to say. Don’t worry: I asked his permission to publish this. And I figure it’s only fair to put his response on here, since it so clearly addresses my attack on their use of the word “best.” (Though feeling a little hypocritical after someone pointed out on my Facebook page that my cookbook is called Secrets of the Best Chefs.) Thanks, Tucker, for reaching out.
OK, I’m going to tell you a secret, and maybe it’s an obvious secret, one that you already know (especially since it’s the title of this post), but I also think it’s a secret most people don’t want to acknowledge: there is no such thing as the best recipe.
Now I say this as someone who, for years, titled my posts “The Best” this or “The Best” that. My most popular post of all time was called The Best Broccoli of Your Life. I still have people who come up to me on the street and say, “Your broccoli recipe really is the best.” First of all, it’s not my broccoli recipe, it’s Ina Garten’s. Second of all, it’s an excellent recipe, it yields wonderful results, but is it the best? Let me repeat my point: there’s no such thing as the best.
On New Year’s Day, I didn’t eat a salad, I didn’t hop on a treadmill, I didn’t write the annual letter to myself that I’ve been writing since I read about doing that in some magazine half a decade ago. This year, I grabbed the giant stock pot that sits on top of my oven and put it on the stove. Out of the freezer I pulled a bag of chicken backs that I cut off of chickens in 2015 and dumped them into the humongous vessel along with a whole onion, a whole carrot, a head of garlic cut in half, some bay leaves, peppercorns, and a handful of parsley leaves. I filled it all the way up with water (at least two gallons), turned the heat up to medium, waited for it all to come to a simmer, then turned it to low. Every so often, I’d skim, but for the next eight hours, I just let the chicken stock perk away.
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.
For as long as I’ve been a food blogger (more than a decade), I’ve been an open book; sharing major life events as they’ve happened–moving to California, getting engaged–and pretty much treating you, my faithful audience, like a close friend I could trust. Then, sometime around October, something happened that I didn’t feel comfortable putting out there because I didn’t understand what was happening while it was happening and now that it’s happened I still haven’t quite processed it. To make it brief, food blogging as a career (at least for me, but others too) became impossible.