Inspiration comes in many forms and from many different places. Although lately I’ve felt as though my cooking inspiration has overwhelmed my writing inspiration and I’ve been struggling to find ways to tell you about all of the things I’ve been making. And then I realized that I should just tell you what’s been inspiring me to cook.
I don’t even think it’s necessary to say how inspiring my experiences were at the Thomas Keller restaurants, The French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bakery in California. While I was there I kept a list going of all the things I wanted to make once I returned home. Somewhere on that list were simply the words “make anything Thomas Keller”. If it’s on the list, it has to be done. I decided to go with a recipe from the Bouchon cookbook, which is ironically, the only Keller restaurant that I didn’t eat at while in Yountville. I guess I felt like I was missing out and needed to fill that void with my recreation of a Bouchon meal, Boeuf Bourguignon. In typical Keller fashion, no detail is left out and the steps required to make the dish are multiple. It’s worth it in the end.
While in Yountville I managed to eat at one non-Keller restaurant and that was Bistro Jeanty. I had received a recommendation from the good folks at Foodbuzz that Bistro Jeanty was a fine place to go and I’m glad I went because it was there that I was introduced to bone marrow. They had it on the menu as a special appetizer for the evening and I was immediately drawn to it. I’d heard nothing but good things about bone marrow and I’ve lived for far too long without trying it. That appetizer was the best part of the meal and when I got back to the hotel that night I wrote “make bone barrow” on my to-do list. So of course, it had to be done. I used a recipe from Fat, (subtitle: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, oh yeah!) and did my best to recreate Roasted Bone Marrow with Red Wine Sauce. And although it would have been easier to eat if my bones had been cut in half, it was tasty nonetheless.
Sometimes inspiration is as simple as Mom requesting that I make her something with apricots. Occasionally such broad guidelines are agonizing for me because I can’t choose only one thing. Other times one word is enough to spark an idea and I immediately know what I’m going to make. When Mom said she wanted apricots it meshed perfectly with my desire to make scones and Ginger Apricot Scones were the result. If only it were always that easy…
While in New York City in January I ate at Bar Boulud and Café Boulud and enjoyed both experiences very much. This made me want to recreate some Daniel Boulud magic in my own kitchen. I have the Café Boulud cookbook, (co-authored by Dorie Greenspan) so I pulled it off the shelf and promptly lost the next hour just reading through the book before deciding to make Spiced Fresh Pork Belly with Lentils. You can never go wrong if the dish you’re making contains the almighty pig.
One of the places that inspiration comes from is, like it or not, The Food Network. I know there are a lot of mixed feelings about TFN but I get tons of ideas from it. I don’t love all of the shows, but I can still manage to find inspiration even in the ones I don’t like. For example I decided to braise oxtail for the first time in my life after seeing Paula Deen make them on Paula’s Home Cooking. I usually switch to the music station when Paula Deen comes on because in general I find her terribly annoying and can’t stand how she uses “y’all” as punctuation. But on this particular day, the remote control was out of reach and I was quite simply too lazy to be bothered to get up to change the channel. The result was that I saw how ridiculously easy it was to make braised oxtail and decided to make it for dinner the following night. I loved it and will definitely be making oxtail again.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Braised Oxtails (from Paula Deen)
2 whole oxtails, sliced in 2-inch pieces
House Seasoning, recipe follows
Several dashes soy sauce
2 large yellow onions, sliced into half-moons
3 to 4 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Trim fat from oxtails. In a broiling pan, toss oxtails with House Seasoning and soy sauce. Top with onions and bay leaves. Add water to fill pan 1/4 of the way to the top. Cover pan with foil and bake until oxtails are tender, about 2 1/2 to 4 hours. Remove foil cover from meat and brown in oven for an additional 5 to 8 minutes.
Paula served her oxtails over rice, I chose egg noodles.