Hi, everyone, and happy 2017. By now, your gym membership is sneaking back and forth across the border of “worth it” and “not,” and your “social” smoking habit could only generously be called such – if you’re the kind of person who makes resolutions, that is. I would not defend them on principle, but at the end of each year I tend to find myself making them and feeling fairly internally motivated, and ride the wave as long as it lasts.
At the beginning of 2016, I came up with 2 resolutions for myself. The first failed so badly after only a few days that it is currently my top resolution again (get up with the alarm clock first try… if anyone has any tips for an extreme pillow-hugger, they’d be appreciated). The second one was seemingly more daunting: learn how to cook. (Vague-seeming, now, but at the time I felt it must be that simple.) Throughout college, I’d been comically inept, only able to make various forms of pasta. With few living expenses, I ate out a lot. I smoked, which repressed my appetite for most of the day, then binged on dinner. It was time to grow up.
The pictures here were taken out of sheer wonderment that anything I touched would come out at the other end even resembling food. Over the year, I came to take some pride in the process. So, this is not an instagram-inspired, oh-look-at-me for cooking kind of post. This is a sharing-recipes, shout-out-to-millenials-that-you-can-do-it! kind of post. Here are a few of 2016’s culinary highlights:
- Quinoa Créme Brûlée
As an early effort, this was not the easiest route. The idea came from an amazing dessert I had in Cuzco, Peru, while serving as a research assistant. I had never heard of it before, but couldn’t stop thinking about it after my all-too-fleeting taste. Therefore, I googled incessantly, settled on a recipe, and spent the entire night cooking up these babies. (A note, which I discovered later: in the grand scheme of grocery budgeting, quinoa is far too expensive to waste on a lavish dessert more than once every five years.) With Mom’s help, efforts resulted in an early victory that motivated me to continue the “cooking” experiment.
2. Southern-style: Creamed Corn, Louisiana red beans and rice, Collard greens and biscuits.
Okay, so the creamed corn and biscuits were not home creations. That said, the Louisiana red beans are to date the most complicated dish I have ever made. (Clearly, I was not yet very adept at discerning which recipes are for mere mortals and which are for Professional Caterers – hidden somewhere in the list of instructions was the phrase, “Simmer 2 1/2 hours.”) The beans and sausage were a huge hit with my family, though I’ve never attempted them again. And the collard greens have become a recipe I turn to nearly weekly as one of the tastiest ways to get my greens.
3. Roasted Spring Vegetables with Watercress Vinaigrette
This was the first recipe I attempted from the wonderful Anna Jones (A Modern Way to Eat / A Modern Way to Cook), who is Jamie Oliver’s protege and a vegetarian. She occasionally calls for things like capers (above) that one might not have on hand, but her meals are completely veggie-centered AND taste amazing. (This is NOT coming from one of those rare creatures who “loves salad” or snacks on celery around the house.) Generally, I tended to eschew vegetables in favor of carbs of one kind or another, which is why Anna Jones was such a revelation. Now, many of my weekday meals revolve around a veggie center: in this case, asparagus.
4. Gjelina’s Roasted Yams
Straight out of The New York Times Magazine, these yams have become a recurring experience for me and my extended family. Delicious and simple to make (yams, yogurt, lime, honey, and scallions are the only major ingredients aside from red chili flakes and olive oil), the yams made an appearance last Thanksgiving and can constitute a main dish in their own right. This is my number one recommendation if you’re thinking of making any of these dishes for yourself – check it out.
5. Tanzanian Pilau and Mchicha
This meal was inspired by me missing Tanzanian food. Locals do eat a ton of rice and beans – my digestive health has never been so good as it was during the four months I spent there – but also have some great vegetable dishes, as well as those for more special occasions, like pilau.
Initially, I was actually looking for a recipe for njegere, hence the peas in this usually-spinach-only dish. However, even google hasn’t yet satisfactorily bridged the gap between African kitchens and the internet, and my Swahili is rusty to say the least. So I went with the best recipe I was able to find. These dishes don’t look fancy, but they’re packed with flavor, and my family – dubious at first – quickly came around to the idea of a Tanzanian dish.
No, it’s not as pretty as I would have hoped. (Clearly, simply making a resolution and then watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi does not a master chef make.) But it tasted better than it looked, and research for the dish alerted me to the existence of the specialty tamagoyaki pan, which the inevitably wealthy future me will procure at some point. Credit to Jonah (owner of the socks) for greatly enhancing this experience.
7. Sweet Red Onion and Hazelnut Pizzette
These pizzettes, again courtesy of Anna Jones, were even tastier than they look (which for me, is pretty damn good). Note the family waiting around and snacking in anticipation as I took this photo. The dough for this one was dependent on a KitchenAid, a gadget I still can’t quite stomach the price of long enough to invest in my own, but a godsend for making any kind of dough or whipped good. Pizza-type food that doesn’t leave you completely bloated, guzzling water to get your salts back in ratio? I’ll take it.
8. Caramelized Citrus Desert
This beaut is likely the least healthy thing I’ve ever made, or probably even seen – courtesy of The New York Times Magazine. Basically, round up all the citrus you can find, and then pour melted brown sugar all over it. (And, as the biggest sweet tooth in town, I wouldn’t even say the taste justified the effort or the pre-diabetes I’m sure we all contracted from eating this.) However, this is one of the best –looking dishes I prepared last year. Mmmm.
8. Cherry and Rose-water Macaroon Tart
Another harrowingly complicated dessert by my standards (Anna Jones), this was my housewarming gift to my grandmother during a brief period of cohabitation. This one also required a KitchenAid for some of the filling stuff, plus buying pistachios is basically like lighting your money on fire just to watch it burn and then magically turn into ass fat – but look at this thing. It’s glorious.
By this point, I finally felt I had advanced to Level 2 of cooking. It had taken several months to no longer feel like a complete novice, and no longer be afraid of ruining everything I touched. Let it be said, however, that baking is a completely different beast that requires far more finesse, and that I couldn’t have made the pie without the lady humoring me in this photo.
9. Easy Crêpe Breakfast
I maintain that crêpes are, far from being glorified pancakes, much more versatile and tasty than their bloated counterparts. There are probably a trillion online recipes for crêpes; this one was with simple white flour, but I sometimes use buckwheat flour and spread apple butter on top. Shameless siggi’s plug purposely included.
10. Plantain, Avocado, and Black Bean Bowl
The final meal here is also my final ode to Anna Jones and the cookbooks that got me through the year happily.* This was my New Year’s Day meal 2017: a celebration feast to commemorate how far I’d come (and also just a delicious start to the year). For this recipe, I have to say: I have only grown to love quinoa more and more each day; plantains deserve to be WAY more popular in the US; and the leeks here are decidedly not optional (if, like me before this recipe, you’ve never tasted one, you’re truly cheating yourself).
And there you have it, my ode to food in 2016. Many others with far more talent and perseverance have come before me, but I am here to say that basic food preparation literacy is possible. If only my alarm clock resolution were so easy.
* Contact me through the site if you’re unable to find any of the recipes or would like my personal commentary.