What I’m Reading Today

I can’t believe it’s my last installment of 2010.  I’ve been thinking about new year’s resolutions and hope you have too.  If you cook at home, can I make a suggestion?  Let 2011 be the year you start to cook more without a recipe.  I know, I write recipes for a living and maybe I’m crazy to say that but I’ve noticed more and more of my students telling me they want to be more instinctual cooks.  My best advice?  Pick a few basic recipes-a soup, a vinaigrette/salad, a stew or braise, a pasta sauce, and a seared meat dish.  Cook the recipe to the letter then, the next time you make it, try it with a variation or two.  Cook it another time or two and pretty soon you’ll not only have the recipe etched in memory but you’ll have made it your own.  Variations from there are endless and you’ll be surprised how simple it is to improvise.  It takes practice, learning which flavors you like and what works well together, but it isn’t hard.  Commit to it, do it, and the results will follow.  Have fun in the kitchen! 

In the meantime, here are a few great recipes to get you started and to close out an amazing year in food.

Before my grandmother passed away she used to fly south for the winter, spending the colder months in Orange County.  A great cook herself, she loved the LA Times food section and always clipped recipes to send up to my mom and I.  Her favorite section was the paper’s compilation of the year’s best recipes.  I thought of her as I read the 2010 version today.  She loved to bake so I’m sure she’d have gone right to the kitchen to fire up a batch of pecan and coconut Paradise Bars.  I’m loving the Chicken, Chorizo, and Green Chile Hash and, a recipe that’s been on my list all year, the Momofuku Crack Pie.  

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche, a la Melissa Clark in the NY Times, is decadent, rich, and soul satisfying.  Homemade crust makes all the difference and Melissa recommends using both butter and lard.  The combination of both fats is hard to beat if you’re looking for a rich and flaky crust but your favorite all butter pie dough will work just fine here too.  Whether it’s New Year’s Day brunch or a simple, elegant supper paired with mixed greens, there really isn’t a bad time of the day to enjoy quiche.

When you start looking ahead at January, healthy eating certainly comes to mind.  I’m starting with this casserole-Butternut Squash, Kale and Shitake Casserole peppered with the flavors of Thailand.  Ginger, coconut milk, and green curry paste take simple seasonal ingredients and turn them into a dish with huge flavors.  Better yet, the casserole can be made two days in advance and kept in the fridge so it’s perfect for weeknight dinner because you can make ahead of time.  There is a bit of cutting and chopping but pulling this one together couldn’t be easier.
Here’s to a food filled and delicious 2011!  Happy Reading and happy cooking.
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