Great Cooking Obstacle #1 – The Closed Mind

February 16th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

When I was a child, I was always forced to eat foods I thought I would never enjoy. I took one peek at spinach and thought it looked like someone had just mowed the lawn, and it rained, and somehow this ended up on my plate. Not taking ‘no’ for an answer, I was forced to eat this and good thing that was the case.

Did I enjoy it? Of course not. My mind already told me not to enjoy it and it took many years later for me to remember the actual flavor of spinach. Now I love the taste of it.

This was one of the things my mother did right. It made my mind realize that although you may have a conception of how something might taste, you really have no idea until you try it at least once. What a gift this was! As an adult, I find that I am open to try just about anything as long as I see no scientific reason not to. For example, I would be perfectly fine trying a raw chicken breast if science didn’t tell me that it could make me violently ill.

My wife on the other hand was completely close minded when it came to food. When we first met, it was next to impossible to get her to try anything new. She nearly cried after I told – (More…)

Pork: The Other (medium) Rare Meat

February 16th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

Many of us remember the days when the warning was to cook all pork well done.  I remember a school teacher telling us that undercooked pork could give us the dreaded trichinosis and even in some cases, kill us.

Perhaps in the days when swine were kept in downright filthy conditions, fed raw and wild meats and the Government had little to no oversight, this may have been true.  However, with advances in farming, regulation, and science, we understand better that cooking pork to shoe leather consistency is no longer required.

The USDA used to recommend pork to be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees.  Of course, this will kill just about any organism, but was far too much for the leaner pork of today.  Recently the USDA dropped it down to 160 degrees to be safe.

However science alone tells us the trichinosis spiralis dies off at a temperature of around 137 degrees.   If you are really worried about it, it is also good to know that freezing pork at a temperature of 5 degrees f (-15 c) for 20 days will kill the worm and larvae or if you need it done quicker, freeze at -4 F (-20 c) for three days.

If you are now comforted in the fact you can eat pork medium rare, now all you have to do is get up the courage to try it.  The idea of pink pork – (More…)

Your Not A Chef! And Why Would You Want To Be?

February 15th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

For the home cook, or as some call, the amateur cook, the resources available to you usually come from the professional arena. Most of your cooking shows on T.V. are hosted by graduates of culinary institutions and have studied all over the world. Many have worked in some of the most famous eateries in the world and quite a few own their own restaurants.

It is understandable when I hear from some people that they feel they cannot even compete with these guys. To me, this is a mistake. Cooking, like any other art form, is not about competition. Comparing yourself to a chef is like Picasso comparing himself to a professional interior painter. Does anyone think Pablo would have been fulfilled painting homes all day? Don’t think you won’t be rewarded if you can’t perform every trick in the kitchen that a chef does.

Some of the worlds most renown music was created by artists who never read a note on paper. They never attended a school, and many taught themselves how to compose. It isn’t the knowledge that made them great, it was the enjoyment they attained by practicing their art. This is what makes a cook stand out above the rest.

Can you tell me what sticks out more in your memory, the best dish you ever ate in a restaurant or the best meal prepared by someone you know? – (More…)


Cooking With Light

February 15th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

Many professional chefs will tell you that presentation will not only enhance your recipe, but even hide tiny imperfections.  Many of us think that this just means that we have to use great looking dish-ware along with creative plating and garnishing.

Well, there is much more to it than that.  Think of the most delicous, satisfying dish that you have ever had, and then picture yourself eating it camping tent on a rainy day and you will start to understand that the environment that you had the meal in also contributes to your overall satisfaction.

One of the major things you can do to affect your dining environment is the lighting of your dining area.  This can change depending on the theme of your dinner.

From my personal experience files, I will submit two examples.

Every Easter the family and I visit my family in upstate New York.  Both sides of my family live in the area and our first stop is at my maternal Aunts house.  It is a rather large event where as many as 50 people show up from our family to my aunts in-laws.  Most of my extended family on this side attends and we are seated in my aunts kitchen.    My Aunts kitchen is vibrantly colored and is very bright especially on a sunny day as the room has many windows.

The lighting in this place instantly makes you think of winters ending, and the beginning of spring.  How great – (More…)


Do It Once, Create It Twice

February 15th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

In a recent article I talked about bravery in the kitchen. After speaking with my Aunt, well, my favorite Aunt as she wants to be known 🙂 she agreed. In the end, it is only food. Food has been experimented on since the beginning of time and I would guess a good percentage of food has ended up in the trash.

Many of us grew up with the mantra not to waste food, and this is a good rule to live by. However, the creative cook cannot survive if they worry about ruining food while they try to create new dishes.

One comment I get a lot when I present a dish that people enjoy is “I have never had this quite this way before!”

To me, that is a compliment. Many people do not always want to try brand new things, but are comforted by familiar recipes. This is when taking an old recipe and making small changes can make it shine.

How does one go about this? Well, it has been my experience that the first time I try and create something, I follow the recipe to the letter and see how it tastes. Ninety nine percent of the time I usually find I want to add this, to alter that. The next time I make it, I play around with my ideas. Every time I make the dish, I change – (More…)


Top Ten Family Kitchen Necessities

February 15th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

Being a bachelor a good portion of my life, my kitchen was based around myself. I only needed what was good for me. Then I got married, and the woman I married only knew recipes that started with “Set your microwave on high”.

When we moved into our new place, I knew it was time to put a real kitchen together and after some trial and error, here is what I found to be the ten things I need to be able to cook consistently and deliciously.  Now obviously you need a stove, refrigerator, sink, and garbage can, but this list is about those other things that usually do not come with the house when you buy it.

1. Cutting boards – You cannot have too many. When your making a dinner for a family of four, there will be many times you will need to use more than one board. Two cutting boards is the minimum. You should have one for meats, and one for everything else. Everything that meat touches, can spoil and contaminate other food.

2. A frying pan – How are you going to make that big breakfast on Sunday without a frying pan? It is a family must. The bigger the better and if you can find one with a metal handle that will fit in your oven, even better!

3. Sauce pans – And I mean pans! One is not – (More…)


Cooking, Cleaning, And Preparation.

February 13th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

My poor wife.  She is one of the few (but I’ve noticed, growing) women who have little to no experience in cooking.  She does try though and through that, she gets better as time goes by.  Watching her make a few recipes, I began to notice something.  When she cooks, her mess travels across most of the kitchen.  Not only that, many times she is hurrying along.

I could not figure out why, I mean, I make the same dishes with half the mess and no real stress while doing it.

After watching her knock a few things off the counter while preparing a meal it dawned on me.  She was working around bowls, cutting boards, empty food containers from the parts that she already prepared.  She never cleaned while she was cooking.  Much of the reason she was rushing is because she had not prepared ahead of time before starting the recipe.

Having worked in a kitchen for a while in my youth, I learned pretty much from the beginning that preparation and cleanup are very important when it comes to cooking.  A professional kitchen comes to a screeching halt when there is no room to prepare food, and there is hardware all over the place.

Assuming my wife is not alone, perhaps it is a good idea to lay out a good strategy to use with any recipe.

First, go over your ingredients list.  Many times not only will it list an ingredient, – (More…)


The Great Culinary Secret: Bravery!

February 9th, 2007 by Jeff in General Cooking

Many times when I prepare a meal for others, talk usually comes around to general culinary theory. One of the questions I get a lot is “How did you come up with this recipe?”

The answer is simple, I put away my fears of ruining a bit of food, and take a risk by trying to create something different and unique. This doesn’t mean necessarily that I am making something brand new. In fact, many times I am just reworking a recipe that someone else presented (which was probably reworked by them from someone else). Does this mean it always comes out perfect or better than the original? Of course not. After you experiment for a while, the error part of trial and error becomes less because of your experience.

For example, a couple weeks ago, my wife and I were planning a dinner we were having the next night. A friend of ours was coming over so we wanted to make something different. We decided on barbecue ribs since we had some in the fridge anyway.

We started thinking about a marinade and basically all we did was lay the ribs in a large glass baking pan, and started adding ingredients that we could agree might work.  First, we added some Jack Daniels, then some lemon, then balanced with some balsamic vinegar, etc., etc., until after about 10 different things were in there.

The next – (More…)

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