Ask the Critic: Do You Ever Cook?

It's true, the restaurant critic's fridge is brimming with boxes and bags of leftovers. But sometimes you just bring the stuff home because you really didn't like it at all, and felt guilty leaving a plate full of uneaten food for a friendly waiter to inquire about.

I'm not going out to eat every single day, though. When I have the time to cook -- and especially when I have the foresight to plan and shop for a meal -- it's usually the most Zen part of my day. Chop chop chop chop . . . 

Most of the time, I'm putting things together, not exactly cooking. Sandwiches, salads, simple breakfasty things. 

I also love to cook MacGyver-style, whipping something up out of semi-desperation, using whatever's handy. Winging it is generally more fun than following a recipe for me.

Unless, of course, it comes to baking. One of my all-time favorites is my mom's recipe for made-from-scratch chocolate cupcakes with cooked cream filling. These are absolutely to die for, better than Sprinkles and Tammie Coe combined, as far as I'm concerned. They're also labor intensive -- each cupcake needs to be hand-cut and filled -- so I haven't made them in over a year. Can you tell I'm getting hungry for them again?

I appreciate the occasional quirky recipe from one of the food mags. But sometimes I'm content to just read the recipe and imagine what it tastes like when I don't have the time or the fancy equipment to actually make it. 

Usually I head out for Asian food, but if I make it at home, it's a stir-fry or something Japanese. Okonomiyaki and a cold beer never does me wrong.

My "gourmet" kitchen is that of a tiny 1940s house with an antique stove (only one rack in the oven, babe!), so it's much easier to make traditional Sunday dinner meals -- roast chicken with waffles and gravy (that's PA Dutch-style chicken and waffles), or roast pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes. Come grilling season, I'm happy for an excuse to bust out of that tiny kitchen and play with meats and marinades in the great outdoors.

For far too long, I only had two working burners on my stovetop. My attempts to find someone to repair the old O'Keefe & Merritt never got me anywhere. And then a third burner stopped working. At that point, it was hard to even make spaghetti. How lame! I know.

So I killed an entire afternoon by obsessively taking the stovetop apart, figuring out how it worked, and cleaning the small tubes that take the gas from two pilot lights to each burner. While I was at it, I wiped away a few decades of dust and grease that had built up in there. It was disgustingly satisfying.

And then, whoosh! The burners were all working. And now I can, boil, fry, and saute all at once. How MacGyver of me.

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