this is not a cooking blog

This is not a cooking blog.

I am cooking more this year. It’s not a Resolution (with a capital R) but it is a surge of interest in creating food in my home on a regular basis that took hold as the calendar year flipped to 2014. I am resolved. But it is not a Resolution.

In the last half of a 2013 better off archived and just forgotten about, I have spent a lot of my time in Boston indulging in exceptional dinners and imbibing impressive and perfectly crafted cocktails.

Suddenly, it seems, I care about the way things taste. I find myself intrigued and eager to discover why I prefer certain dishes or drinks to others. What is it, beyond “sweet” or “salty” or “bitter,” that explains why I always taste a certain entree as if it’s the first time or gravitate to a specific cocktail on Friday nights?

Of course, I can (and well frankly, likely will) further my “education” by continuing to frequent these favorite bars and restaurants, and trying new things, and pressing my hosts for information on ingredients and flavors.

That’s not wholly sufficient though.

I want to explore, create, and host. I want to know what my next dinner will be based off of my reaction to tonight’s meal.

It’s simple. I want to be good at the kitchen things.

In some near future time, I am going to have a proper home: a space, not defined by size or location, where I create and foster all of those sentimental aspects of the places we call “home.” And in these rooms of warmth and love, I will fulfill the most imperative need for me (and my family, one assumes): to eat and to drink.

First, I needed a cookbook. I have spent enough hours on Tumblr and Facebook and with friends who already, you know, actually cook food in their homes to know that the only “beginner” home-chef cookbook for me is The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. And when it arrived, I spent hours paging through these recipes, using sticky notes to mark off everything that sounded delicious. After marking off a solid 80% of the cookbook, I took all those notes out and instead paged through for the simplest of those recipes.

It is always a good idea to start at the beginning.

The general idea is that I’ll start by making one new recipe each week. I expect (and even hope) that this will increase in frequency as I establish a habit of cooking in my kitchen and as I accumulate those necessary “background” ingredients, the procurement of which can make cooking a bit expensive at the beginning.

To that end, I chose to make leek fritters with garlic and lemon sauce last week. (The link will lead you to an adapted recipe. I will say it again: this is not a cooking blog. I am not likely to post many of the recipe details. I’m only here to talk about my experiences with cooking.)

I chose something simple, with many ingredients I already had on hand, but leek fritters does not make a meal. (Though, Deb does recommend pairing with a fried egg, and that would make a meal.)

leek fritter batter
beautiful fritter batter

As I was also going to have a dinner guest for this tepid adventure, I made a go-to chicken dish of mine (whoa: bake the chicken with a sauce of salsa + Dijon mustard + brown sugar, wow) and sauteed some kale with balsamic vinegar to round out the meal. With some hindsight, I wish I had thrown in some garlic and mushrooms (and then I did just that when I prepared the rest of the kale the next day). The idea was that there better be enough food I know will turn out acceptably if someone else is planning to consume that day’s experiment. Ordering pizza after ruining dinner would have been just too much of a cliche for me.

same dishes, next day
same dishes, next day

That night was everything I wanted it to be. I walked to the market (read: Whole Foods) after work and picked up the fresh ingredients. I tidied up my kitchen and started my prep work, with my first glass of wine on the counter, of course. As my guest arrived, I moved into cooking and slid into that remarkable but not at all unusual zen zone of the kitchen.

The wine made it feel casual. Preparing dishes I’ve made dozens of time built my confidence. Tackling one new recipe brought some necessary anxiety back in. Good conversation and a warm kitchen teased that ethereal glow of “home” to my house.

the first batch of leek fritters, frying
the first batch of leek fritters, frying

It was only my first new recipe of this nascent endeavor, but I took away from that night everything I could have wanted. Learning things! Flour and egg make a batter (check). Leeks are onion-esque (check) balanced perfectly with a tart sauce (check). The next time I want a carb-like side dishes but not as starchy, well, now I have an option.

And it made my kitchen feel like my home.

It was exactly what I’ll strive to create for the rest of the year my life.

Do you like to cook at home? What is your go-to dish for guests? Or tell me about a favorite cooking memory you have!