Now that I’ve been at this blogging thing for a year, I get to reward myself by engaging in that most self-indulgent of online activities (apart from the self indulgence inherent in the very act of blogging), the end-of-the-year list of superlatives.
I’ll stick to food and cooking for this go-round (I have some opinions about the year in music, but that’s what Pitchfork is for), resisting the impulse to present everything as a High Fidelity-esque top five list. In no particular order:
Momofuku, by David Chang and Peter Meehan.
An amazing cookbook in an amazing year for cookbooks. It’s full of recipes I want to cook right now, requiring just enough new techniques and ingredients to improve my cooking skills. If that isn’t enough, Chang’s story of how he started his restaurant(s) is as captivating and full of culinary badassery as Kitchen Confidential.
A Day at El Bulli by Ferran Adria, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook (the boxed first edition) by Heston Blumenthal, and Alinea by Grant Achatz â€” all fascinating looks inside the heads of the top practitioners of molecular gastronomy. Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, the meta-cookbook we didn’t know we needed until he wrote it. And, lastly, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. If you had told me that a Keller cookbook about comfort food would sell out its initial print run of 100,000, I would have told you to put down the crack pipe. It almost beat out Chang’s book for my top pick: it’s full of straightforward (but not quick) simple recipes, so simple that Keller has said “if you think they’re difficult, then you’re doing them wrong.”
Alinea at Home by Carol Blymire. Fresh from her successful through-cooking of The French Laundry Cookbook, Carol has set her sights on doing the same to the Alinea book. I’ve been enjoying her journey thus far, even if she did beat me to the idea. (Really. I had the Alinea through-cook project all mapped out, and might have been able to launch it if she hadn’t managed to score an advance copy of the book.)
Nose to Tail at Home by Ryan Adams: If you think sourcing gellan gum and transglutaminase for a recipe is difficult, try locating woodcock anywhere in North America. Ryan has been cooking his way through Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast, another project I thought of too late. I’ve had my revenge, however, by eating at St. John before he did, and having She Who Must Be Obeyed making the Eccles Cakes first.
Cookblog: “My friend Peter has a cooking blog, you should check it out.” I did, and discovered just how amateurish my home cooking efforts really are. This guy cooks astonishing home meals from what appears to be the best-stocked home refrigerator in the universe, supplemented by his vegetable garden and local farms.
The French Chef. I know it’s not a new show, but PBS has been re-broadcasting episodes for the last two months. Watch any of these shows â€” from the early ’60s black-and-whites to the last of the run in the ’70s â€” and watch her kick ass ad take names, all in one live take.
Good Eats: Still the best show on the Food Network, and still going strong after ten years. I don’t know how Alton Bron has managed to keep the show fresh and free of the network’s focus group-driven “improvements,” but he should keep it up for another ten years. As an added bonus, all of the show’s recipes are in the process of being published.
The Minimalist: Mark Bittman’s four-minute one-recipe videos are perfect little gems. You can count on him to teach a new technique or new flavor combination in every broadcast. I watch them as they’re downloaded to our TiVo, but you can view them online at The New York Times web site.
Recipe I’ve Cooked
Momofuku “Chicken and Egg.” A great tasting dish, challenging but not intimidating to prepare, and my introduction to “ghetto sous-vide.”
Hainan Chicken Rice. A Bittman minimalist classic, easy to prepare and a delight to eat. I’ve made this at least once a month since I discovered the recipe.
Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce. The most technically challenging recipe I’ve attempted thus far (from The French Laundry Cookbook, of course), and my introduction to sous-vide cooking, but oh so worth the effort.
Single Restaurant Dish
Roasted Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, St. John, London. God’s butter on toast, ’nuff said.
“Oysters and Pearls,” Per Se, New York. “The poached oysters melted in my mouth, the tapioca had a slight bit of al dente bite, and the caviar popped open withÂ a warm, salty gush of brininess.” Three perfect bites.
Cured Foie Gras Tart, Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal. The most overindulgent dish I’ve ever eaten.
Pan-Roasted Lobster, Jasper White’s Summer Shack, Cambridge. Lobster, butter, chives – that’s it. Once you’ve had lobster cooked this way you’ll never want any other preparation. One of Julia Child’s favorite dishes.
Complete Restaurant Meal
Per Se, New York. My 50th birthday present from She Who Ms Be Obeyed and the new Best. Meal. Ever. I can’t think of what could top this, possibly Thomas Keller cooing dinner for me in my home, or my cooking dinner in the Per Se kitchen. I can dream, can’t I?
St. John, London. Bone marrow, crispy pig skin, perfect roasted pork, rabbit with bacon â€” all served at Fergus Henderson’s temple to “simple British food.”
Whole Hog Dinner, Craigie on Main, Cambridge. Chef Tony Maws had me at “half roasted pig’s head.” He remains my go-to guy for all things pig.
She Who st e Obeyed, aka Diane Martin. My wife has been with me for all of my culinary adventures. Here’s to many more years of discovery.
Wow, thanks for the honor. Whose friend might you be, I wonder? Good looking blog you have here.
Melanie Campbell told me about your blog last summer, I’ve been reading it since then. I’ve also been corresponding with Andrew Janjigian after he left a comment here.
Are you self-taught, or did you spend some time in a restaurant?
Self-taught. I was a private chef for a family in Chicago for a little while after grad school, but had no real idea what I was doing. I just like to cook.
Melanie and I grew up on the same street, and went to high school together. AJ is a good friend.
I read your passing mention about grating lardo onto a just-cooked steak. Now that I have my own supply of the stuff, how do you grate it? Do you just use a box grater, or something finer?
I freeze it, then use a large-holed microplane. The small-holed ones just sort of make a paste, which can be OK too. Let me know how it goes; it’s pretty ridiculous.