I like food. I like cooking.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm more than happy to eat food that someone else has cooked. It's just that I've been interested in cooking since just about as far back as I can remember. I was seven the first time my family moved (long story). I can remember cooking scrambled eggs in the first house I lived in. Ok, I'll be the first to admit that memories are funny old things and that my memory of cooking may really be my memory of "helping" my mother cook. But, even if I was "cooking" and not really cooking, I was thinking about how to take something like a raw egg and turn it into something someone wants to eat.
We all gotta eat, right? So let's have fun and play with our food!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Let's get this out of the way right now: Chocolate Chip Cookies are my favorite thing in the world to eat. Period. Full stop. That's it, folks, we're done here. Warm, fresh-out of the oven, chewie, but soft, caramel-like cookies with gooey semi-sweet (or darker) chocolate chips is simply the greatest food put here on Earth. Pair it with ice cold milk or vanilla ice cream and you can just push me over with a feather. Excuse me, I may need a minute.
My current favorite versions all involve browning the butter and using more brown sugar than white (and, often, using an extra egg yolk). These are not supposed to be healthy, dang it! They are food that fuels your soul!
America's Test Kitchen
If you also like cooking, you should do what I did: volunteer to be a recipe tester for America's Test Kitchen. ATK is based out of Boston's Public Broadcasting Station WGBH. What I love about ATK is the sheer amount of science they bring to food. Most recipes they publish have gone through upwards of 20 versions before they settle on the one that gets published. When it does get published, each recipe has an article behind it explaining why they choose to use certain ingredients and/or techniques.
When you are a recipe-tester for ATK, you get a couple recipes a month (and have usually about two weeks to get to them). I will also attest to the fact that they really do read and take note of the recipe testers' reviews. One of the pictures below is from my trial of their Roasted Chickpeas. (They make for an excellent crunchy snack, btw.) In my evaluation form, I had commented that the chickpeas were nice, but would work better with something like smoked paprika. They had clearly been thinking along these lines, because a day after I submitted my eval, I got a follow up recipe (which never happens) for a barbeque flavored version!
Oven Roasted Chickpeas
Crunchy, toasty, amazingly simple.
My Aus / NZ friends are amazed that Pavlova isn't more of thing up here. Now I am, too.
If I have step-by-step directions, I can braid. If I don't, well, ugly bread is still tasty bread.
Bonavita coffee maker that I bought after reading ATK's equipment review. It's worth it!
ATK publishes two magazines. Each has zero ads. When was the last time you read a magazine with no advertisements?
Oat Muffins. Just one example of the many ATK recipes I've made. They're short because I find short muffins less messy. (I'm weird.)
I got the chance to meet Alton Brown at a book signing years ago. That event cemented in my brain the idea that he really is just as dorky and nice in person as he is on TV. Two reasons:
- While the line was forming upstairs, we could actually see AB downstairs getting ready to come up and give his talk / meet with us. (This was in a bookstore with an open center to the second floor.) As he's waiting for the official start time, AB happens upon a high school or college aged kid talking on his phone about how he's there to get a book signed. AB walked over, took the kid's phone off him, and started asking the kid's gf if she knew about him. This was the early days. She had *no* clue.
- Just prior to this, I had stopped in at the bookstore's cafe to grab some dinner before the event. As I'm sitting there, the store manager and AB come walking over to grab a seat and hammer out details of the night; AB taps my my book, looks at me and says, "Good book!" I laughed and slightly died at the same time, while they grabbed the table next to me. After they went over the plan, I waited until they were done (just how slowly can one person eat a panini?), and then had to ask, "So, how weird is it to wander into a bookstore and see someone with a book with your face on the front?" AB's response was to chuckle and tell me that it's not so weird now, but when his first book came out, he was running into a bookstore, not even thinking about it, when he saw a stack of his books right there. He immediately turned around, went out to the parking lot and threw up.
I first found Good Eats while I was finishing up college. (It started airing in my senior year.) I can honestly say that, as I was starting to need to feed myself, Good Eats was a major impact on what and how I cooked. My basic chocolate chip recipe is still AB's Chewie (albeit with browned butter).
AB's warning worked:
To this day, I do not run with knives!
I may add my own tweaks, but AB's stew is still my basic recipe.
Don't judge Alton on my frosting skills. Judge him on his chiffon cupcakes, because, damn!
(I made these for a colleague who was leaving; she loved them!)
AB taught me the power of pulled pork and coleslaw.
AB's roast duck, except roasted on the grill. It's like duck and bacon got married in heaven.
That's pretty much the only word you need here.
Imagine the following: you're nearing your 40th birthday. (It's a number. You might have some feels about it.) As you're pondering your own mortality (as one does), a package arrives. A heavy package. You open it to find it contains another package. Opening that you find more cardboard (don't worry, there is an end), protecting a plexiglass case that is filled with some of the most insanely detailed descriptions and images of cooking you have ever seen.
So that's the story of how I turned 40, and my friend Bill got me one of the most insane presents I've ever been given. My scientific textbooks aren't this detailed!
First and second layers of cardboard
Second and third layers of cardboard
Eagle-eyed readers may notice that I have not posted any pictures of food I have made from modernist cuisine. Quite frankly, I'm scared to! (And that's coming from a guy who's got a vacuum-sealer, immersion cooker, trisodium citrate, and sodium acetate all on hand.) It's not just that the techniques are tricky, but the ingredient list goes to a level of extreme that's, well, insane.