Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Whatever

In Search of the Perfect Whatever

Light, fluffy biscuits. Pancakes you have to scrape off the ceiling. No lump gravy. Cakes that don’t fall. The best oil for frying. Save money, be healthy. And on and on. Pick up any cookbook or cooking magazine or anything that has a section on cooking, recipes, or even living the good life. Notice how many tips and tricks you see to create “…the perfect…” that I call The Perfect Whatever.

But you know what? There ain’t any such thing! Oh, sure, your grandmother had the secret of flaky piecrust, but you’ve never been able to duplicate it in your own kitchen. Must have had some secret ingredient or technique that’s been lost somewhere between her and you. How come the pancakes you get in a restaurant are evenly browned and yours are always blotchy?

My mother had a family dessert she called “Floating Island.” It was a light yellow custard topped with soft whipped egg white—I think. No one in our family has been able to duplicate this seemingly simple treat, and I’ve never seen it in any of my cookbooks or Google, but then I haven’t looked lately.

If you’ve watched any of the cooking shows, you’ve heard Emeril, for example, exclaim again and again as he swirls the oil flawlessly in the frying pan, “Hey, this ain’t rocket science!” I think he’s trying to tell us something. Like don’t be afraid to try anything! See? There ain’t no “Perfect Whatever!”

Oh, now you’re saying, “Yes, but…” I heard you. Here’s an example:

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to mix the dry ingredients separately first, then the wet ones, then add the wet to the dry. Actually, I do this almost always, but what would happen if I disobeyed? Would the “Perfect Mixture” police pay me a visit? Nah. No matter how it’s done, the pancakes (or whatever) will probably turn out just fine.

So the waffle has holes in it. So what? Does that make it inedible? Not on my plate it doesn’t. Did I refuse to eat those mashed potatoes because I found a lump in my serving? You can answer that one without any help. My mother never used a recipe in her life, at least not that I know of, and, well, some things didn’t turn out the way she (or we) expected them to. My dad had a favorite saying in such cases: “A hungry man will eat anything!” After he cleaned himself up from the plate of whatever had been dumped on his head, he’d smile affectionately and we went on enjoying this latest culinary masterpiece. Which, incidentally, was usually never repeated.

So we continue on our search for The Perfect Whatever. The possibilities are endless. If fact, if they weren’t there’d be no need for all those books and magazines, or this column either, for that matter.

What’s your “Perfect Whatever?” You do have the secret of flaky piecrust? Wanna share? Oh, and if you find that “Floating Island” let us know. And don’t forget to come back next time, ‘cause we ain’t even started yet!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What's Fun?

Since this is a blog about anything that goes on in your kitchen and mine I'll try to come up with some good questions from time to time. Well, at least some questions--it will be up to you to decide if they're good.
Today's Question: What's more fun--the cooking or the eating?
In the food world we talk about two processes: cooking and eating. It's like the difference between a gourmet and a gourmand. A "Gourmet" is fanatical about how things look on the plate and taste on the palate. For the most fanatical nothing but the finest flavors, textures, nuances and subtlties, and colors will do. Anything less that absolute perfection is not acceptable, resulting in food being sent back to the kitchen for reasons only the gourmet could explain if he/she were so inclined. The Gourmet Kitchen is probably bigger than my whole house and stocked with every pot, pan, knife set and condiment known to humanity, most of which most of us never heard of, couldn't find in any store, and probably wouldn't know how to use. "Knife set? Bah! Culinary instrument is proper!"
Pretty harsh on gourmets, aren't I? Truth is I guess I'm just jealous. Even after being a host in a winery tasting room and being somewhat educated on how the stuff is grown, made, and sold I still don't consider myself much of an oenophile. In fact, I follow the advice on one of the world's famous wine writers who was apparently fed up with the snobbery of the wine industry: "It doesn't matter how much it costs," he wrote peevishly, "if you like it, drink it!"
I guess that's how I approach food.
But to go on. I left you hanging out there breathlessly awaiting my trenchant comments on the other side of this coin, (talk about mixing metaphors!) the Gourmand. My dictionary says a gourmand is "a person who delights in eating well and heartily." (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Com., Boston 1986, p. 569, if you care) It goes on to say "A gourmand loves good food and drink and partakes of it heartily, and sometimes excessively or gluttonously. The gourmet or epicure on the other hand, possess a discriminating and cultivated taste in food and wine,"
Well, now! Guess I'll never make it to the ranks of the gourmet and/or epicure!
Back to the original question now that we've got that out of the way. What's more fun--the cooking or the eating? If one is either gourmet or gourmand the fun seems to be in the eating. Doesn't matter who's slaving away over a hot stove or the quality of ingredients it's what arrives at the table that's important. For the gourmet/gourmand, and I suspect most of us, the fun is in the eating.
But wait! Isn't this blog about the kitchen? Got me there.
TGW (The Good Wife to you just joining us) doesn't seem to understand how I can search endlessly for recipes, subscribe to cooking magazines, and spend endless time in the kitchen assembling, measuring, sifting, stirring, beating and belaboring stuff just to get something edible on the table for supper. "Why are you working so hard?" she's been heard to ask quite frequently. My response? "I'm not working hard, I'm having fun!"
There you have it. What's more fun for me? Actually I like eating, and I like good food well prepared and served, but the real joy is in creating it. If it were up to me every meal would be a theatrical presentation on dinnerware specifically chosen to complement the dish being served, and I'd just stand back beaming with pride at the admiring murmurs as my guests savor my delicacies. Sigh. Probably not gonna happen, but the bottom line is that I like the cooking better than the eating, so there!
Now: What about you? What do you like best? I'd love to hear from you and I hope you'll be willing to share your stories of culinary delights. Your turn.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Even if you don't cook you have to eat, so somewhere along the line food somehow gets from the source to our tables. Good friend of ours doesn't keep much food in his refrigerator freezer because, he says, "The supermarket has lots more freezer space than I do and they keep it full. Why should I fill up my freezer when the store is just a few minutes away?"
Why indeed.
Might be the same with just about anything we eat, right? Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, meat and seafood, you name it, your local market probably has more than you can possibly use.
So what's this blog about? It's about whatever goes on in your kitchen and mine. Not just cooking, very few recipes (more about that later), no restaurant reviews (more about that, too,) but about things we do in the kitchen and maybe don't even realize we're doing them.
From time to time I'll throw this in: "TGW." Huh? It's short for "The Good Wife," my best friend and constant companion for over 35 years. But in the kitchen you could hardly find any two people more diametrically opposed.
For example, I can cook anything--from a recipe. TGW has been ragging me for years for this deficiency. "You don't need a recipe!" she exclaims, "just put in whatever you want for the taste you're after! Sheesh!" She never uses a recipe, well, I take that back. Just last week I caught her using one. OK, one recipe in 35 years, but most of the time she just gets out in the kitchen, rattles them pots and pans and comes up with good stuff.
So how come? Well, like most females she started watching her mom in the kitchen from the time she was a toddler. Her, not her mom. She, again like most females, just absorbed all the tricks and lore without even knowing she was doing in.
Me? Hey, I'm a guy! While TGW was in the kitchen soaking up cooking I was out in the yard playing cowboys and Indians with my buddies. I didn't even get interested in cooking until my son and I were in Boy Scouts and we had to learn how to cook in the outdoors or go hungry, but that's a whole other story which I may or may not get around to sharing.
Why no recipes or restaurant reviews here? Thought you'd never ask.
Simple. Even back in the days before the Internet, there were thousands of places where you could find just about anything related to cooking and food. Read the other day that after the Bible, cookbooks are the biggest selling items in the stores. Ironically, the most popular books are about losing weight and gourmet cooking!
Restaurant reviews? The truth is that I'm just not that persnickety about what I'm served in a restaurant unless, of course, it's just plain terrible. My solution for this fiasco is just to not go back. Not only that, but the daily newspaper always has restaurant reviews, so I'll let the pros handle that part.
So back to the beginning: Why am I writing this? Because I think there's a lot of interest in whatever goes on in your kitchen and mine. Might be a tip or trick or two, maybe a discussion of how we can make the most of the space we have--never enough--what gadget we just gotta have, getting control over that one, or maybe two, drawers full of utensils we used once and haven't touched since, well, you get the idea.
But I'm not the only source of such wisdom. Who else? You. Post your own comments, revelations, horror or success stories, what else you'd like to share.
Looking forward to spending time with you in your kitchen and mine.