City Cooking Resolutions for 2009
One of the perils of having a website is that once you publish a promise, there's nowhere to hide. That's certainly the case with the resolutions I made here a year ago. I just checked back to see my commitments and if I made good on them all and found I'm at a 50% success rate. Not so bad.
I kept my promise to learn how to make duck confit. I've stopped apologizing for cooking certain dishes over and over again. And when buying eggs, milk and cream I kept my word and bought only organic.
My vow to find a value-priced source for parchment paper paid off at Bridge Kitchenware, only to have this long-time New York cookware store close their doors mid-year. But they're still actively in business on the web where I'll buy again once my supply runs out.
Finally, I've made meatloaf more often. Maybe not as often as my husband would like, but now I try to always keep a mix of ground beef, veal and pork in the freezer so it's an easy weekday dinner choice as long as I have an hour for it to bake. And I never get tired of meatloaf leftovers.
So what were the promises I didn't keep?
I didn't come close to making one new recipe a week. Let's face it: cooking usually requires more than a dash to the grocery store and some time spent in front of a stove, especially when it's something you've never made before. The first time I make a recipe I find I have to read it three or four times, check for pantry items, figure out where and when to buy the fresh ingredients and anticipate the dish taking me twice as long to take as it will once I have it practiced. So adding all this to my busy life once a week is unlikely to happen and I should have known better. What's more realistic is to say I'll make a new recipe once a month. That I can do.
I'm already good for January because this weekend I tried a new recipe for a boneless pork shoulder from Sara Jenkins excellent Olives & Oranges. Over the objections of the butcher at Citarella who insisted that the bone was essential for tenderness and flavor, I discarded it and followed Jenkins' instructions to season the inside of the meat with a paste of minced fresh herbs and garlic, tied it into a compact roll, brushed the thick, scored skin with olive oil, and roasted it at 250°F for five hours. Yes, 5 hours. After the first two hours you pour a half-cup of white or red wine over the roast and from that point forward, baste the roast every half hour until the skin has crisped and browned and the meat is fork-tender. We city cooks may not have spit rotisseries in a kitchen fireplace (the Italian cooking tradition that inspired this recipe), but Chef Jenkins is to be profoundly thanked for bringing this recipe to us and I'm adding it to my cook-it-often repertoire. The shoulder cut is a large piece of meat but it's value priced, making this recipe a perfect choice for pork-eating company.
I also didn't do very much baking last year so my promise to make angel food, spice and chocolate cakes went un-kept. But I love cake so I'm putting this resolution back on the calendar for 2009. I don't know why I have this resistance to cake-making; my pies, tarts and cookies are usually excellent (with an occasional major stumble), and important to cake making, my oven is very reliable. Over the holidays I spent an afternoon cooking with a friend in her kitchen and only about fifteen minutes after putting a whole duck into her oven did we realize that its thermostat was inaccurate, reading about 40 degrees cooler than the actual oven temperature. We put a thermometer in the oven to gauge its real temperature, turned the oven's dial to a higher number, and lengthened the cooking time and the duck was a success. Since it missed an initial blast of high heat it was minus a completely crispy skin, but had it been a cake and not a duck, we would have had a more serious and gooey problem.
I also came up short in cooking with more chili peppers. This past year I discovered and fell in love with piquillo peppers but no one would put them in the heat category so I don't think piquillos count towards my heat commitment. I also did nothing about reducing the number of gadgets in my single tool drawer. In fact I made things worse by adding without throwing away. That city storage principle of buy-one-throw-one-away is harder to do than it sounds. Somehow I managed to squeeze in a new wooden spoon, a tiny (half-inch) melon baller, and a small (one-inch) ice cream scoop. I've used the wooden spoon; I've not use the other two. Yet.
My final promise was to you -- to help you make your own way in your own kitchen, even if it has no resemblance to the gloss of TV and magazine cooking. There's no way to know if I made any progress on that one because it's for you to judge.
So I'll keep that resolution on my 2009 list to which I'm also adding:
- I will buy and practice cooking with a slow cooker. For years I've dismissively put these cookers in the category of fondue pots and electric skillets; what a snobby thing to do, as if there's something too easy about kitchen electronics! As I become more secure and experimental in my cooking, slow cookers seem perfect for city cooks with little time to make dinner and I'm convinced I can find ways to use them for more than chili or stew. Plus after making that five-hour pork roast this weekend, the idea of a slow cooker that doesn't over-heat my tiny kitchen seems like a great idea.
- I will overcome my fear of pressure cookers. My friend Arthur (who will be reading this) gave me one as a gift last year and I keep moving it from kitchen to shelf to closet and back again, in a kind of appliance dance. I've yet to use it. I recently lamented this to Jennifer Baron, owner of A Cook's Companion in Brooklyn Heights, and herself a superb home cook. When she told me how she makes butternut squash risotto in a pressure cooker, the notion of making this favorite dish in 10 minutes with no stirring just may get me over the fear factor. So Arthur, this resolution is for you.
- I will make soup more often and bring soup recipes to The City Cook. Even before this nasty recession put the gloom into our food budgets, several readers have commented how soup is a favorite to make. Plus it travels well as a work lunch. I've already got some new recipes in the pipeline so this promise will be kept soon.
So these are my 2009 resolutions: soup, cake, heat, cooking slow or with pressure, a new recipe a month, and to continue my promise to help you be deliciously ambitious and happy cooking at home.
My best wishes for a happy, healthy and flavorful new year!