Once again, illness and massive cooking projects have conspired to keep me from posting my review of last year in a timely fashion. Now that I’m healthy again (both physically and possibly mentally) I expect to resume with a more regular schedule. Here’s my “best of” list for 2011:
No contest. The best cookbook I encountered last year was Modernist Cuisine. As I mentioned in my last post, it may take me the rest of this year to finish reading it.
Runners-up: Lucky Peach, the food magazine curated by David Chang. Apart from its singleminded point of view, it’s refreshingly free of the lifestyle ads that choke the pages of most other cooking periodicals. Odd Bits, another book about cooking “the rest of the animal” that will join Fergus Henderson’s two nose-to-tail cookbooks as references of first resort.
Cookblog by Peter Barrett. He was a runner-up in my 2009 best of, but his inventiveness and creativity – especially during the Charcutepalooza competition – never cease to amaze me. If you need convincing, read his Thanksgiving post.
Runners-up: I made a lot of new online friends during Charcutepalooza, but the blogs I keep coming back to are The Butcher’s Apprentice and Wrightfood. The former provided much-needed cheerleading and moral support, and the later provided the technical advice that puled me out of a series of cured meat disasters that almost made me quit. They’re also both wonderful accounts of two different approaches to charcuterie.
Now that Good Eats is gone and Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have both become studies in delusional psychopathies, the only show I watch to learn about food is Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and his recent spinoff, The Layover.
Runners-up: There are none. There’s nothing out there worth watching. In a world where Paula Deen has managed to leverage a diet-induced diabetes diagnosis into an advertising deal for her medication, “food television” is now dead to me.
Recipe I’ve Cooked:
Braised Short Rib with Crispy Beef and Shallot Salad with Sweet, Sour, and Savory Glaze, the main course from She Who Must Be Obeyed’s Sixth Annual Birthday Dinner. My first Modernist Cuisine recipe, it required a week’s worth of prep that involved pressure cooked stock, sous vide cooking, dehydrating, blowtorching, and deep frying. And it tasted amazing.
Runners-up: Any of the dishes I made from the Charcutepalooza challenge were, by definition, technique-heavy, but I’d have to give the nod to the three meals I finessed out of a slab of homemade corned beef, which I plan to do again this year.
Single Restaurant Dish:
“Street food,” the appetizer course for Next’s Thailand menu. Those five little bites set the stage for an exceptional restaurant experience.
Runner-up: The foie gras dog at Hot Doug’s in Chicago - a foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with black truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de del. With a side of duck fat fries. What’s not to love?
Complete Restaurant Meal:
A Tour of Thailand at Next. I’ve gushed about it previously, but the meal managed to be both tightly managed and spontaneous at the same time, a very difficult feat to pull off.
Runner-up: Dinner at Publican, a family-style meal for eight that showed just how good well-prepard charcuterie and grilled food could be.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’d Gladly Do Again:
The Charcutepalooza challenge, which forced me to work through all of the techniques in Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie, a book I had filed in the “I should try that someday” category. Now that I’ve worked through all of the challenges, I know that time, patience, and precision are all that are required to make delicious cured meats.
Runners-up: My initial forays into cheesemaking have succeeded. Now that I’m not preoccupied with curing meat, it’s time to try some more complex cheeses. I’ve also streamlined the production of the DIY sous vide rig, the first serious electronics project I’ve tried.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again:
Last year’s entry in this category was cooking for and feeding about 500 people a day at a local convention. I said I’d never do it again, but I must report that I just completed a near-repeat of the experience. As a favor to a friend running hospitality services for the convention, I agreed to cook – and only cook – half of the food for this year, knowing that we’d be feeding only 60% of the total number that was fed last year. After two days of shopping I spent four days cooking in the Belm Utility Research Kitchen, which was much more pleasant and relaxed than I had expected. Taking advantage of some economies of scale, some hard-learned lessons from the previous run, and the vegetable chopping skills of She Who Must Be Obeyed, I banged out fifteen gallons of beef steew, eight gallons each of chicken and vegetable stew, fifteen pounds of baked chicken, and forty pounds of roasted vegetables. That I maintained my sanity and my sleep schedule makes me think that I may have a future in catering, as long as She Who doesn’t have me committed first.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I didn’t do anything last year that I wouldn’t want to do again. Which isn’t such a bad way to end my most interesting cooking year to date.