Post #569 The Taste of Food

April 28, 2018 at 5:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Several years ago, my brother in law made a comment when I was making dinner for the whole family.  It was a simple comment, but one I’ve never forgotten.  As I was cooking, he asked what was on the menu.  I was explaining what I was making, a variant of boeuf bourguignon with homemade noodles and homemade Cesar Salad.  And, because it’s what I do, I was also explaining how I was going to make it all, the long slow process for the beef; the garnish of sour cream; the tossing of the dressing ingredients in the salad.  And then he said, “It sounds good, but I like the taste of food.  You know, without all the dress up.”  I smiled, and told him I understood.

I did understand.  I understand picking a ripe tomato from a vine in the garden and brushing off the dirt.  Biting down into it and feeling the juices warmed from the sun spilling down your chin while the unique and amazing flavor of a ripe tomato fills your mouth, setting your taste buds quivering.

I understand the amazing sense of accomplishment of putting four ingredients together, and four hours later spreading cool butter onto a still-warm slice of bread and watching it melt into the crumb.  Then biting into the bread and butter and feeling lifted by the flavors competing in your mouth.

I understand walking along a path in the woods and grabbing a bunch of berries cooled in the shadows.

I understand being thirsty and slaking that thirst with watermelon that five minutes before was still attached to the vine.

Food in years before our culture of processing and freezing tended to be highly spiced and over-sauced to help cover the scent and taste of spoilage.  And leftovers were never thrown away.  They were repurposed into other meals.  Meat dried out so it was covered in gravy to help make it palatable.  Veggies would soften or spoil so were mashed into other sauces or soups.  People got used to pairing certain flavors and certain elements to the point where one was thought to be naturally a part of the other.  Mashed potatoes and gravy, for instance.

I don’t often eat mashed potatoes and gravy.  Sometimes a pat of butter, or a little salt, or a slight sprinkle of cheese will do for me.  Unless the potatoes are meant to be the carrying item for something else.  I sometimes make a “hamburger stew” that goes over the top of mashed potatoes incredibly well.  That one’s easy.  Brown up some burger and drain out nearly all the fat.  Add two tablespoons of flour and stir into the hamburger until it’s well coated.  Then add 2-3 cups of water gradually until a good gravy forms to your desired thickness (I like it halfway way between thin and medium.)  Then I add garlic and onion powder, and whatever frozen veggies I have on hand.  DO NOT under any circumstances  use a can of mixed vegetables.  They have no flavor at all.  Cook until everything is hot, adjusting the seasonings as you like.  When it’s ready, it goes over a mound of mashed potatoes, then gets shoveled into your stomach as fast as possible.

But I digress.

We kind of lost the culture of what food tastes like.  What does chicken taste like?  Can you imagine the taste on your tongue right now?  What about peanut butter?  What about popcorn, plain unseasoned popcorn?

There’s been a growing trend over the recent several years of cooking simple foods.  Imagine a pound of fresh green beans, tops and tails cut off.  What are you going to do with them?  There’s dozens of ways to cook them.  My favorite is to blanche them in boiling water for about two minutes, then drain them and flash cool them in an ice bath.  Just before serving, I heat up some butter with some almond flakes until the butter is sizzling the almonds are browning.  I drain the beans completely, toss them in the butter until all the flavors are blended well.  Serve them while still hot if possible, but they’re good warm, too.  The beans are crunch as though just picked from the vine, but the green bean flavor is strong and sweet, and blends perfectly with the butter and almonds.

When I was a kid, my mom would open a can, dump in into a pan, and heat it until the water boiled off.  Then she would put them in a bowl, put a pat of butter on top, jam a spoon into them, and set them on the table.  I liked them, then.  I like them even more, now.

Salad is a favorite because all the flavors are fresh and bright.  Sometimes I don’t put any dressing on it at all.  A small sprinkle of salt and pepper, or a squeeze from a fresh wedge of lemon or lime and the salad is as “dressed” as it needs to be.  One time, when my ex-wife and I were still dating, we went out with her sister to some restaurant.  Her sister ordered a salad, as did I.  When I was asked what dressing I wanted, I asked if they had any lemon wedges.  They didn’t, so I opted for no dressing.  My sister in law then asked if she could have the dressing I turned down.  I thought she was crazy for wanting to mix two dressings on her salad; she thought I was crazy for not wanting any dressing on my salad.

I like the taste of food.  I like it simple and not put upon.  Carrots fresh from the ground are amazing.  Roasted, they take on a completely different flavor that’s just as good.  Baked in a cake, I don’t like them so much.  Glazed with all kinds of syrups or dressings and I’m no longer a fan.  Brussels sprouts taste great by themselves.  But boiled in salt water then chilled, they are amazing.  Slices thin and fried with bacon and shallots, they are so good!  Baked with cheese and cream, and I’m not gonna touch them.

When I go to a steak house, I take notice if they have a “special house seasoning” and make sure I can have a steak without it.  Invariably, the flavor of the beef is hidden by the flavors of the seasoning.  When I was a kid, we always prepped the steak with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Accent flavoring, and then “tenderizing” it by poking with a fork about a million times.  Then, one day in my thirties, I skipped all that.  I sprinkled it lightly with kosher salt, grilled it, and ate it.  I rediscovered what beef actually tasted like and found I really liked it!  It’s the only way I have steak anymore.  The flavor of the beef shines.

Simple is good.  Food tastes good.  My ex-wife and I were on a bike ride one time, and trudging up a hill not far from home.  She needed a break; I’d pushed way to hard on this trip.  We stopped in the shade under a tree.  Neither of us had any water left, but my apartment was literally less than a quarter of a mile away at the top of this hill.  She was looking grumpy and put out.  I was trying to figure out how to make her happy again.  I notice the tree we were sitting under was a mulberry and was heavy with ripe fruit.  So I broke off a small branch with a ton of berries and gave it to her.  “Eat this.  It’ll help.” I said.  She looked at it with misgivings.  “What is it?”  “Trust me.  You’ll love it.”  She finished that branch and part of another.  She still talks about it today and how good those berries tasted.

So tonight, our menu is grilled steak with a little salt, baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus that I’m grilling with olive oil and sea salt.  Good Stuff!

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