I don’t know what the best thing I ever cooked is. I couldn’t tell you what the best thing I ever ate is, either. There are too many wonderful foods and meals out there. I didn’t get this body by missing a meal – although that’s a topic for a different post. Back to the point raised by the title: I love to cook, and there are a few dishes that stand out as deserving the title accolade. Many times I cook a lovely dinner, and I enjoy it, and I can still find fault with it. This is not self-deprecation. I’m not saying that I failed or that I am a lousy cook. Andrew calls it reviewing the game tape: it is an assessment of the process, the product, and how I can improve in future. Don’t all artists do this? Is it self-aggrandizing to class myself with artists? I don’t know. Probably. But if I have an art, it is culinary. So here’s a few of the Best Things I Ever Cooked (or Baked), in no particular order:
Seared Scallops with Creamed Corn and Candied Bacon. This is a dish that I had two years ago at Trafford’s, a restaurant on the water in Warren, RI. It was on their appetizer menu, which seemed odd, since it is quite filling. It was pretty good, and I thought as I ate it that I could recreate it, even improve on it. I made it and posted a picture of it on Facebook, and got so much positive feedback – offers of marriage, places to live, etc., if I would just cook it for the offerers. Mom asked if I would make it for her the next time she visited, to which I readily agreed and quickly forgot. Luckily, so did she! Two years later, Mom is visiting again, and the photo popped up in my Facebook feed. So I finally made the dish for her. It was sublime.
Mai’s Pulled Pork Bahn Mi. My friend Mai Donahue is an extraordinary woman, and a renowned cook. Her memoir, Crossing the Bamboo Bridge, was released on September 1, and I read it in two sittings. Mai’s life story is even more remarkable than her outstanding food. Mai’s Pulled Pork Bahn Mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches, are fabulous, and she will often make them to sell for fundraisers. How lucky that she has given me her recipe! I make them a few times a year, usually when the boys are home. A few years ago a friend of Rob’s asked me for the recipe so he could ask his mom to make it, because “she’s never cooked anything this good before.” Here’s the link to Mai’s website, and the bahn mi recipe: http://www.maigoodness.com/recipes-banhmi.html
Oxtail Ragú. I think oxtail was once a cheap protein source, but now it is pricey for a low-meat-to-bone-ratio food. This ragú is a fairly time-consuming dish, but done over a weekend, it is well worth the intermittent time. When I’m feeling especially crafty, I make gnocchi from scratch to serve under the ragu. Oh, my – my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I got the original recipe from the brilliant Mario Batali’s website, and I added a few steps and changed some details, as I usually do.
Mushroom Lasagne. Chuck & I host Thanksgiving for the extended Oltman-Bertinuson-Porcher-Smith family every year, except 2015, when we were in Cuba. About 10 years ago I discovered this recipe on Epicurious: Wild Mushroom Lasagne, and I made it for the vegetarians. It was so flavorful, decadent, wonderful, that it became a staple of our feast table, and even the turkey-eaters expect it now.
40 Clove Chicken. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is a classic dish, like the French Chicken in a Pot. The smell while it cooks is unbelievable! The garlic melts and mellows through the slow braising, and the finished product is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The problem with the published recipes I’ve read is that the chicken skin gets soggy and unappealing, and the garlic is messy and problematic to squeeze out of its skin and spread on bread. My version is simpler, richer, and absolutely amazing. Recipe is in my January 20, 2017 post.