That's the question we're pondering as we conclude the eighth year of The Bitten Word and look toward the ninth. When we reflected on year seven, we shared that we've questioned when we might end The Bitten Word. That question remains on our minds as we think about the year ahead. So pardon us while we do a bit of navel gazing and reflect on where we are both in our relationship with food but also with this blog.
We don't ask this question -- do we still care about food? -- facetiously. Of course as humans who must eat, we do. But we also recognize that we care about food these days in ways far different than we did eight years ago, when we were fumbling our way through the kitchen and trying to figure out how to put a decent meal on the table. And really, the way we're thinking about food manifests in what we choose to eat and cook, and then share with you here on the blog. So here are some things on our minds about our relationship with food.
We're finding that the raison d'etre of this blog -- to put our food magazines to use -- no longer holds the same sway for us that it once did. We've spent 8 years hanging on every word of the country's best food magazines. That has been an incredible education, and has taught us to be far more confident and creative cooks, but it also isn't as inspiring as it once was. It's not the fault of the magazines. We actually think the quality of today's food magazines is just as high (if not higher) than 8 years ago. Rather, we feel less inspired. We are, frankly, a little bored with the concept that has made this blog so successful. We often find ourselves reading magazines and struggling to come up with a list of recipes we want to cook. Those that we're most drawn to are incredibly similar to other dishes we've made; others look amazing but are things that we don't really need to be eating (more on that below). We still find inspiration -- it's just that we have to look harder for it.
Part of that is the food that we want to cook these days. A friend who reviewed our favorite dishes of 2015 said, "Wow, you guys really cut out the carbs this year." That is, in fact, true. When we're cooking at home, we're largely cooking high protein, low carb, and vegetable heavy meals. As we creep toward [gasp!] middle age, we're more and more conscious of our overall health. Hard truths in this realm: We are vain. We see a personal trainer. We want to pretend we still have the metabolism of 25 year olds. We are thinner now than we've been in years. And we're happy about that. Sure, we still bake occasionally and when we travel or go out to restaurants we (wildly, madly) indulge, but we have much more of a focus on moderation than ever before.
But we are still obsessed with cooking, and we cook the vast majority of food we eat in a given week. On average, we eat maybe 2 to 4 meals a week that don't come from our kitchen. That's a lot of meals cooked at home. And we still very much enjoy the act of cooking, and of cooking for others. (Dishes, on the other hand, we would gladly never do again.)
And then there's The Bitten Word itself. We still love the creative act of writing. And we love trying new recipes. And it's fun to put together a compelling photo to go with a story. But we find that our time do so is increasingly limited. We both have careers that keep us very busy, and we're each traveling quite a bit for our day jobs. There are a thousand things we would like to do with this site if we had more time. We have loads of ideas. And not executing on those ideas feels like a bit of a failure, even though (as we constantly have to remind ourselves) this is a hobby.
And then there's you, dear reader. Getting to know you, hearing from you, smiling at your comments, and seeing photos of what you're cooking have been the biggest, most unexpected surprise of the past eight years. We love hearing from you, and we're not quite ready to give that up yet. So stick around, okay?
So where does this leave us? Well, first, we're not going anywhere. We're going to continue to feel our way through this. But we are searching for something -- a tweak on this blog's concept? A new direction altogether? Inspiration? A sign?
We share this with you because we ant you to be a part of the future of The Bitten Word.
We're sharing this chocolate cake with you today not to cure something, but to celebrate something.
This week marks the beginning of the ninth (ninth!) year of The Bitten Word.
It's our blogiversary, y'all!
We're celebrating eight full years of The Bitten Word in two ways this week, beginning with chocolate cake. Later in the week, we'll share some reflections on the past eight years. Last year's reflections are a doozy, and this year's are shaping up to be something you won't want to miss.
But first: cake.
When we heard a historic snowfall was on its way a couple weeks ago, we rushed to the supermarket, not for bread and milk, but for cake ingredients. If we were going to be trapped inside, we were going to be trapped inside with a massive chocolate cake.
This "Chocolate Cake That Cures Everything" was among the recipes we most wanted to make from Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year. She promised that it made a massive cake.
We don't recommend a lot of cookbooks these days. It's not that we don't love them. (We do, as our cluttered bookshelves attest!)
It's just that we haven't been reading as many of them lately. And when we do, we don't usually buy them, opting instead to sample them from the library. That way, when we do purchase a cookbook, we have a good idea it's one we'll actually use.
Recently we sat down with our first cookbook in quite a while: Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year. As two fans who still miss Gourmet, we found that the book brought back so many feelings -- happy and sad -- about the shuttering of Gourmet magazine, which Reichl edited from 1999 until it ceased publication in 2009.
Over the course of Reichl's year, we travel along with her to places across the country, but most of the time is spent in her rural home kitchen in New York's Hudson Valley, as she cooks her way through a difficult time and contemplates the future. Some food-world people we love show up (Calvin Trillin comes to Thanksgiving, bringing spiced matzo and frozen dumplings from Chinatown. #SquadGoals!). As Reichl cooks and fumes and heals, the book provides an honest and beautiful example of food's ability to comfort and heal. In sharing her year, Reichl slows the value of diving deep into something in a time of despair. In this case, it results in a true celebration of home cooking.
The recipes themselves are chatty and informative. A lot of the food is pure comfort (chocolate cake, fried chicken, carbonara) but also great meal options for entertaining (we especially enjoyed the piece on making burgers for guests). The book is punctuated by Reichl's tweets from 2009 and 2010, adding more context into what she was eating and thinking at the time. And the photography is simple and intimate.
Hey, maybe you heard we had a little snow last weekend here in DC. With windy, violent snowfall of between 24 and 36 inches over a 36-hour period, it was no weather for being outside.
In fact, it was the perfect weather for being inside, with this White Chicken Chili.
Growing up, we both had a chicken chili from time to time. But the dish always seemed to make an appearance in snowy weather. In Zach's house, especially, the hint of snow was treated as a call to arms for his mom to start cooking certain comfort foods -- cinnamon rolls, hot cocoa, chicken-and-dumplings. And, often, a white chicken chili.
White chili is a great alternative to traditional red-beans-and-beef-and-tomato chili. It's lighter, with a brighter heat. It's a "zing!" to red chili's "blam!"
This particular recipe from Food Network Magazine is a good basic blueprint, but it could use some upgrades if it's going to become a winter classic in your kitchen. Here's what we recommend.
We were so smitten with Six-Hour Caramelized Onions -- how they made our house smell amazing, how we loved how the slow cooking brought out their amazing sweetness -- that their original purpose was, six hours later, just an afterthought.
We'd originally made them with these Sautéed Collard Greens in mind, thinking it was high time we changed up our collards game. We've been buying collards at the supermarket ever since winter arrived, cooking them about once a week by giving them a quick sauté over high heat. That method works fine, but is also feeling a little plain, as we've been making them that way for the several years now.
In truth, we think these Sautéed Collard Greens succeed because of two elements: the phenomenal caramelized onions, and the right balance of vinegar.
We feel the same way about lamb that we feel about new episodes of Downton Abbey: We don't want it every day, but when have it, we're reminded about how much we enjoy it.
We've made lamb a few times over the past couple months. it's lean and easy to prepare, and it's so flavorful that you don't need to do a ton to it to make it delicious.
When we've been futzing around with lamb on our own, we've followed this nom nom paleo recipe as a blueprint -- salt-and-pepper grilled lamb chops topped with an improvised chimichurri. (That preparation walks you through a chimichurri with mint, salt capers, red onion, red pepper, garlic and olive oil. It's wonderful, and it's also endlessly variable. Rosemary is great if you don't have mint, as is thyme. You can throw in an anchovy if you don't have capers. And on and on.)
These Spiced Marinated Lamb Chops with Garlicky Yogurt from Bon Appétit get their flavor in something of a reverse way: You marinate them in an herby yogurt for up to 12 hours and then cook them.
That approach is fine in theory, but in practice causes some real problems in the kitchen.
Until recently, it's been an incredibly mild winter here in Washington, D.C. But now, two weeks into January, we're already feeling cold, damp and gray, gray, gray.
So when when we saw this salad and its explosion of color in the latest Bon Appétit, our faces lit up. The crazy tangle of red, orange and yellow, spiked with green pistachios, was like a breath a fresh air -- and a nice change from all the heavier foods we've been eating since Thanksgiving.
In the end, of course, a beet-and-carrot salad is, well, a beet-and-carrot salad.
This one, it turns out, is all about the curry dressing.
In selecting the first dish that we would make for 2016 here on The Bitten Word, Jonathan Waxman's iconic Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde and Roasted Lemons -- billed by Food & Wine as "The Roast Chicken That Changed America" -- quickly made it to the top of our list. It's not hard to sell us on a roast chicken, and if a chicken recipe can change America, we think it's more than good enough for la Bitten Word.
Plus, we've always loved Jonathan Waxman, recurring Top Chef guest and chef of Barbuto in NYC, Adele's in Nashville, and Jams, a NYC hotspot from the 1980s that has recently been revived. This chicken recipe, which originated at Jams, is currently on the menu at Barbuto and Adele's. In fact, back in February 2014, we were able to eat at Barbuto and we ordered the chicken, with its crisp skin and bright salsa verde. When we saw it pop up in Food & Wine, it was like seeing an old friend for the first time in years.
We were eager to see how this Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde and Roasted Lemons at home compares to the restaurant version.
We are so excited to start cooking for 2016. But before we do, we want to take a look back at last year, and the best food magazine dishes we ate all year. Here are 11 of our favorites in chronological order. (We couldn't settle on 10, so 11 it is!)
Did you have a favorite dish of the past year? Share it in the comments!
1. Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts Bon Appétit "Even the most ardent Brussels sprouts hater will find it hard not to like this dish. [...] The Brussels sprouts are crisp and plump, with a nice crunch from the peanuts. The sweet-spicy sauce is actually borderline too sweet for us (next time we'll use less sugar), but the heat of the chili paste keeps it in balance."