Post # 13 The Unlikely Chef

June 30, 2012 at 3:42 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 13 The Unlikely Chef

**Prologue**  Sorry for not posting yesterday.  Seriously low energy day.  All back to normal!

When we think of “chef” whether professional, celebrity, or home, we typically think of the person in the kitchen wearing the white apron, and white hat who is running the show.  The chef creates the menu, creates the recipe, and guides everything along in the cooking process to make sure that everything is to standard before serving.  Chef is responsible for customer having good food and an enjoyable time.  The most unlikely chef I ever encountered was my little brother.

LB (little brother, no names, don’t want to be sued) was a bull in a china kitchen.  He knew what he liked, had no problems making it, and was simple in his tastes.  PBJ, baloney and mustard, cereal and milk, toast, he could do them all.  When he wanted something a little different, he might fry the baloney.

One time, I saw him making a sandwich with just bread and mustard.  I was puzzled and called him out on it.  “Yeah,” he said.  “The bread package shows the girl eating a slice of bread and mustard.”  I glanced at the wrapper.  “No,” I said.  “She’s eating bread and butter.  They just colored it more yellow to get the point across.”  “Didn’t work, did it?” he said, and calmly ate his mustard sandwich.  I thought about it, shrugged, and made one for myself.  It was decent.  I still eat them today.

Another time, I saw him stirring a glass of water vigoursly with a fork.  There were small purple blobs in the glass, and the water was a little cloudy.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  “Well, I didn’t want just a glass of water, so I thought maybe if I put grape jelly in water, it would taste like grape juice.”  “Jelly has too much sugar in it.  It won’t melt in cold water.  Try heating it up.”  “But I didn’t want hot juice.”  “Put it in the freezer to chill quicker.”  I’m not sure how that experiment turned out.  But I never saw him try it again.

When we were still very small children, I convinced him that putting an seltzer tablet commonly used for tummy troubles into his kool aid would turn it into soda.  Actually, I wanted to know if it would do that but didn’t want to waste my kool aid.  It didn’t work, and it was a long time before he trusted me around his food again.

I walked through the kitchen one evening and saw a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.  LB was sitting next to it staring at it.  “What’s up?” I asked.  “I wanted a hot water bottle for bed tonight so I’m trying to heat it up.”  “By wrapping it in a towel?”  “Well, yeah.  When I put a towel around me, I stay warm.”  I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t.  “Well, that would work it you agitated the water a bit and had a long time to wait for it to heat up.”  “Really?”  “Yeah, like about a year.  Just put the water on the stove.  But take it out of the container first.”

We were at a neighbor’s house one evening watching movies and playing with the our friends.  The mom put out a bowl of popcorn on the table and told us kids to sit at the table to eat it since she didn’t want to be cleaning popcorn off the carpet for days.  She gave us bowls and we could help ourselves from the big bowl.  LB filled his bowl then looked around the table.  He grabbed the sugar bowl and using a spoon sprinkled sugar all over the popcorn.  He ate it with gusto and went back for me.  I asked him later why he had used sugar and he told me that he thought it was salt.  I explained the usually people don’t keep salt in bowls with spoons since you use a whole lot less of salt than sugar.  “Tasted good, though.” he replied.  He still eats it that way once in a while.

My point here is that even though his efforts in the kitchen were always haphazard and seldom successful on the surface, he is a chef.  He embodies what being a chef is all about, at least to me.  He’s fearless in the kitchen.  He’s willing to experiment and take risks.  He thinks outside his comfort zone, and he lives with the results.  And if the results are good, he continues with the process.  He shares his expertise and is willing to learn from others.  He doesn’t let small failures get him down.

Today, he is a fine cook, and he tends to specialize in outdoor cooking on an open fire with a slow turning spit.

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Post # 12 Favorite Cooks

June 27, 2012 at 7:30 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

People ask me fairly often who my favorite chef is.  Well, really, my favorite chef is me cuz I cook exactly the way I like.  My next favorite chef is my partner/spouse who cooks very nearly the same way, but with a bit more spice.  My third favorite chef is just about anyone who’s cooking so I don’t have to.  Well, that being said, who is my favorite chef that I’ll sit and watch all day?  There are actually several, and depending on my mood, it could be nearly anyone.

I’d have to start with Julia!  She brok the ground and created the path that all celebrity chefs follow today.  She had style, humor, and self deprecation by the barrel.  She also had a sense of humility that allowed other chefs to shine and teach her.  That’s the thing that I like best about her.  All the way to the end, no matter who was working with her, she always knew that she could learn something.  For her, it was a journey, not a destination.

I also like Jaques Pepin.  I first saw him when he was working with Julia Child and his sense of fun, his playful antics, and his grin that sparkled in his eys drew me right in.  He’s a natural born teacher and easily makes accessible those things that we think are complex.  The love he has for food and for his family are so apparant that you can’t help but love to learn when you watch him.

I watch MaryAnn Esposito whenever I can.  She reminds me a lot my mom, except my mom wasn’t Italian.  MaryAnn hosts the show Cioa Italia.  She has a very motherly way of teaching and her recipes typically don’t take more than a few minutes.  And all the ones I’ve tried have tasted amazing!

I watch Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen, to the point that I have all the episodes from the last three years memorized.  I’ve got their cookbooks, DVDs, and magazines.  I take their suggestions for my kitchen gadgets and for my ingredient choices.  I use their recipes all the time.  While the recipes can be kind of involved, with many steps, if you follow them exactly, you will always have great tasting food!  Always!  I’ve never had one of their recipes fail on me.  Ever.

I have the Food Network on all the time in my house.  I “discovered” the network about six years ago and liked all the programs I saw.  Several chefs stood out as favorites.  Bobby Flay was a rebellious sort of guy who went from high school to cooking school before he could vote.  He was running multi-star kitchens by the time he was 22.  His style runs to spicy, Mexican flavors of the type that I grew up with and enjoy!  Paul Deen is pure fun, but boy! that accent will drive ya nuts!  However, hers is a rags-to-riches tale that will make you fall in love with her.  There are many others that I like and watch because their style or their personality match mine and I get a lot of good ideas.  My current new favorite is Pioneer Woman just cuz she’s so unashamedly a pantry chef.  Whatever is in the pantry is what she’s cooking.  She doesn’t mind short cuts and it all tastes good.

My complete favorite chef on Food Network is Anne Burrel.  I watch all her shows.  I like her no-nonsense attitude, and I like the tips she gives.  She’s the first television chef who actually showed me how to hold a knife.  Turns out I’d been doing it wrong my whole life.  Her food is delicious and looks five star quality.  She looks, acts, and cooks like a rock star.  A lot of fun to watch, and a lot of fun to learn from.  I’ve included one of her recipes on the right, Anne Burrel’s Asparagus Salad.  Try it.  It’s a winner.

Enjoy!

Post # 11 Let ‘Em Eat Cake

June 25, 2012 at 7:05 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 11 Let ‘Em Eat Cake

I love cake.  I mean, I really love cake.  I totally identify with Marie Antionette and wish she’d been talking about me when she said “Let them eat cake.”  The only cake I ever met that I didn’t like was made with sugar syrup instead of sugar and was a moist, sodden mess.  But I ate it.  Had to.  I was a guest.

I often wonder how things got started.  Who was the first to do something.  For instance, how hungry must that first person have been to look at an oyster and think “I could eat that.” ?  I wonder who was the first person to grind wheat so fine that it was flour?  Then who added a little water and a little heat to make a flat bread?  Who let it sit out to develop some kind of leavening so that it rose and became bread?  Who thought to add eggs and sugar and make cake?  I’d like to give them a medal.

I don’t remember the first time I ever ate cake; who does?  But I certainly remember the last time I ate cake.  It was last week.  I made a devil’s food cake with chocolate fudge frosting from scratch.  It was great!

When I decided to learn how to cook, my mom told me to pick a recipe from her cookbook and we’d start.  I chose a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  We had all the ingredients, all the tools.  I only had to learn how to put everything together.  Mom never really enjoyed cooking.  She was a good cook, but uninspired.  I figured it was because she wasn’t making enough cake.  I had everything spread out on the table, the only surface large enough to hold all the bowls and ingredients.  The first thing she had me do was read the recipe start to finish, then turn on the oven.

“What’s sifting?” I asked, after reading the recipe twice.  She showed me how to measure the dry ingredients and sift them together by demonstrating with a cup of flour.  Well, that was easy.  “How many times do you sift it like that?”  She told me that three was plenty.  I measured out the dry ingredients and sifted away.  It was so much fun, I sifted about five times before I stopped.

“Okay,” she said.  “Make a well in the center of the flour like this.  Then, put in all your wet ingredients.”  I measured out milk, cracked eggs, tipped in vanilla, added oil.  “Now stir till there aren’t any lumps.”  Either electric hand mixers hadn’t been invented yet, or we didn’t have one.  To this day, I feel rather proud of the fact that I can accomplish most cooking tasks by my own muscle power.

We prepped that pans, poured cake batter into them, and baked.  And I sat there watching as MY cake rose in the pans turning a wonderful golden brown.  After the required time had passed, I called Mom and she showed me the time honored methods for testing doneness.  First by smell, second by sight, third by touch, finally by straw.  When the smell of the cake permeated the house, it was close.  If the cake was starting to draw away from the sides of the pans and didn’t jiggle in the middle, it was probably done.  If the top felt firm when you touched it lightly, it was definitely ready.  But if you’re not certain, poke a thin straw/toothpick/knife into the center and if it pulls out clean, it’s ready!

I gotta say, the cooling time took for-flippin’-ever!  But finally(!) it was ready to come out of the pans and be frosted.  Now up to that time, the only frosting I’d ever seen came out of a box, and there was never enough, to my way of thinking.  This time, I was making it from real ingredients and I wanted A LOT!!  There was powdered sugar everywhere.  But there was also plenty of frosting!  I experimented with spreading the frosting and quickly found the easiest way to do it (for me, sides first, top last.)  It was READY!!

We cut a piece each and took a bite at the same time.  A puzzled look crossed Mom’s face.

“What did you do?” she asked.

The cake was not the fluffy, lighter than air, sweet concoction it should have been.  It was sweet, and tasty enough, but it was dense, and heavy, and more like a pound cake.  I reviewed the steps in my mind.

“I followed the recipe exactly.  Three cups of flour, two cups of sugar . . . ”

“Wait.  Three cups of flour?  You’re sure?”  she was starting to grin.

“Yeah, I’m positive.”

“On top of the cup of flour I showed you how to sift?”

Bingo!  One extra cup of flour proved that too many cooks etc.!

Still tasted good, though, and no one complained.  Check out my recipe for Spice Cake on the right.  It’s really good!

Post # 10 Catfish and Fried Pie

June 22, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I like fish.  I haven’t yet met a fish dish that I didn’t like.  Some I’ve liked a little or whole lot less than others, but by and large, I like fish.  When I was very young, I worried when I ate fish because we were always warned to be careful of the bones and not choke on them.  Mom gave us fish sticks by the pound, and we ate them with relish!  And ketchup!  Mom and Dad, and my little brother were avid fishermen.  My sister and I couldn’t be bothered, but for the other three it was an avocation bordering on obsession.  I have one fond memory of my mom reeling in a fish and the line breaking just as she lifted that thing out of the water.  It fell back in with a splash, only to be echoed by a second splash as my mom, all 5 foot nothing of a non-swimmer launched herself face first into the lake after that trophy winner.  I fell over backward laughing when she came out of the water with her hair streaming, clothes plastered to her, glasses still on, and clutching that fish to her chest in a death grip.  The only thing is could move was its mouth and its tail in small half-hearted flaps.  I think that fish had given up all hope as soon as it felt Mom’s arms encircle it.

Yesterday, my little family and I drove south for two hours since partner/spouse needed to go to this town for a job assignment.  Around noon, we passed a small, pokey little restaurant called, I’m not kidding, Bubba’s Barbeque and Catfish.  Guess what it served?  No prizes for guessing right.

We went inside and it was exactly what you’d expect, and surprisingly busy.  The owner sat us at our table and got our drink order.  Then he explained the buffet (We got a salad bar, a hot bar with all our entrees, and a dessert bar for only $8.99!) and gave us menus if we were so inclined.  The waitress came by with our drinks and welcomed us with an accent so thick as to be almost a foreign language.  She invited us to take a look at the buffet before we made up our minds.  They seemed very proud of that buffet.  I wasn’t ready for the buffet, and neither was anyone else.  Father in law ordered the fried catfish.  It makes sense to order the specialty when you don’t know the place.  I had chicken fried chicken, assuming I was getting fried chicken.  Partner/spouse got chicken fried steak.  We didn’t have to wait long, and the chef, a big blond burly guy delivered it himself.  There really is only one word for it:  PERFECTION!

Everything right down to the milk gravy was great.  I had a chicken breast pounded flat, coated in flour, double dipped, and fried.  The crust was golden brown, crispy, and cooked all the way through, no doughy parts anywhere.  It was seasoned perfectly, and the chicken was tender and juicy and cooked through and through.  The french fries that came with were not home made, but rose above the standard fare.  Even my green beans were good.  They used italian flat green beans, sauted onion, and a little salt.  Not over done, but tender.  The caliber of the cooking was not what I was expecting.  But that gravy!  I’m not a big fan of milk gravy, mostly because I can’t stand milk.  Don’t drink, and do everything in my power not to cook with it.  But this stuff was terrific.

On the drive back, we stopped at a converted gas station Arbuckle Mountain Original Fried Pies.  According to the brochure, these are the same fried pies the owner’s grandmother sold starting in 1893.  There’s a huge selection from fruit pies, to cream pies, to savory pies.  These things are huge, easily encompassing a half of a pie plate.  The crust was deliciously flaky and tender.  The fillings were good.  I got a cherry fried pie, and a chocolate fried pie.  Both were really good.   And amazingly easy to make, I assume.  They make all kinds of fruit pies, but they seem to sell more of the savory pies, at least, while we were there.  The have breakfast pie that contain scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, and cheese.  They have pizza pie which is basically a pizza pie folded over.  They even have vegetarian spinach and mushroom with parmesan cheese.

Gotta go now.  Bread in the oven waiting to come out.

Enjoy!

Post # 9 Jerkin’ Your Beef

June 20, 2012 at 2:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hold up your hands.  How many people like beef jerky?  Uh huh.  I thought so.  Nearly everyone.  Making beef jerky is so incredibly easy, and it makes such a long lasting flavorful snack that I don’t know why more people don’t make it themselves instead of paying outrageous prices at the convenience store or gas station.  Jerky comes in all kinds of flavors and all kinds of forms.  I’ve seen the most popular beef jerky everywhere, but did you know you can get turkey jerky?  or ostrich jerky?  Bison jerky is popular, as is chicken jerky.  Fish jerky is very tasty and can be used in a ton of recipes.

Growing up, we always had beef jerky in the house.  It was better than candy.  We reached for jerky whenever dinner wasn’t ready and we were hungry.  For the longest time, we bought jerky that came in huge slabs, was stiff as a board, and took hours to chew.  Then Mom and I started experimenting with making it at home, in the oven.  The first batch we made was okay, but not really what we were used to.  We’d cut the meat too thick, and hadn’t trimmed all the fat off.  However, when I got home from work and wanted to grab a piece, I couldn’t find it.

“What happened to all the jerky?” I asked, clearly puzzled.

Mom kept a straight face and said,”Your sister-in-law ate it all.”

I looked at her, dumbfounded.  We had started with over fifteen pounds of meat so there had been a ton of the stuff.

“It was good!” she replied with a smile.

“It must have been.”  I was disgusted.

Over time, we refined the process, bought other machinery, and got it down to a science.  We could crank out a week’s worth of jerky in a day.  It usually only lasted a day cuz it was so good.  We experimented with flavorings, pre-cooking, sun dried vs oven dried vs dehydrator.  We had teriyaki jerky, jalapeno jerky, pepper jerky, plain jerky, salted jerky.  You’d think we would get sick of the stuff, but it was too good.

One day, I got home from work and wanted a snack.  I saw a box of jerky on the counter and grabbed a piece.  We didn’t have any home made at the moment so it didn’t surprise me that there was a box of jerky around.  It was all individually wrapped so without looking, I tore off the plastic and took a healthy bite.  It tasted good, but was so dry it turned to crumbs in my mouth.  I kept at it, but finally decided it wasn’t worth it and tossed the rest of the piece I had.

Mom was smiling at me and asked, “How was it?”

“Not too good.” I replied.  “Don’t buy that brand anymore.  They used a really odd process.”

“It’s for the dogs.” she said.

“I’ll say.”

“No, really.  I bought it for the dogs.”  She handed me the box and sure enough there was a smiling cartoonish dog on the front that I had missed in my haste.

Enjoy the recipe for the real stuff!

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