Tag Archives: Cooking

So Easy A Caveman Did It!-Aug 9th 2010

If you close your eyes…you can almost see it. A group of primitive humans are gathered in a large cave, it has been home for many years now. In the center a large fire burns keeping the cave warm and illuminated. This fire is a relatively new discovery for the group, and all are responsible to tend the fire and keep it burning. There is much to be happy about as all eyes are on the fresh kill that the hunters have brought back this dusk. The clan leader carves the portions from the bones and gives each member their share on a large leaf which is quickly taken back to feed hungry families or consumed alone. A young teen male only just allowed to go with the hunt waits his turn , his first kill and he is especially proud. He is given his share by the leader and dashes off to his corner of the cave, but as he does so, he see’s the object of his desire sitting with her family to his left. In a bit of bravado he leaps over part of the fire, but the young fool does not stick his landing, and as he falls in a tangle of limbs his portion of meat slips into the flames and begins to sizzle and pop!

He falls hard, and is immediately aware that his food is no longer in his hand, he turns and is horrified to see to see it roasting in the flames, he tries but it is too hot to reach in and get out, he doesn’t know what to do, all eyes are upon him as he panics-there will be no second helping for him, as the minutes go by all you can hear is the sizzle and pop of cooking meat. The clan leader strides over with spear in hand none too pleased, determined to make an example of him he grunts his disapproval and raises his spear! The young fool cowers looking down waiting for the fatal spear to strike. The leader thrusts down into the cooking meat and laying it down on a leaf commands the boy to eat. Everyone watches as he takes up the hot meat, it burns his fingers a little but the smell of roasted flesh is inviting. Yet he is still afraid and as he brings it to his face, he looks up pleadingly at the leader,  but he stares him down waiting. He folds his arms and commands him”EAT!” The young fool brings the warm meat to his mouth and takes a bite and begins to chew, expecting to become ill or die and meet the ancestors.

Can you imagine the first bite of cooked meat? How it must have tasted to him, the warm juices flowing in his mouth and down his throat, dripping down his chin. The meat, so tender and warm, so different from the meat eaten cold by the time it was carved. The leader is astonished and grabs the meat from the underling and takes a big bite and chews, he too discovers the joy and taste of cooked food. He declares the young man to be Master of Fire Meat from now on and soon all are enjoying cooked food, especially the young girl who is by now at his side. Over time the young hero teaches his sons to cook meat and use spices and herbs that he has discovered by taking risks, and finding whats good in nature to cook with the meats and roots they live on. I wonder if there is cafe on the spot where all this occurred so many years ago? It may not have happened exactly like that, but the next time you’re in a natural history museum, look close at that ancient skull staring back at you, he may know why  it’s important to cook well…because it tastes so good.

Enjoy

Glen
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Filed under Anthony Bourdain, Cooking, Food, France, Grilling, History, Life, Medium Raw, Memories, Travel, Writing

Right Brain Cooking-July 29Th 2010

To cook well is to pull the best out of the freshest ingredients, yourself and your recipe. It takes a commitment to creating food that tastes good, looks good, and is hopefully good for you. Unless of course your making Cassoulet Toulosain or Thanksgiving dinner then it’s all good. When you cook food well you create an emotional bond between you and those who enjoy your food., and when you succeed-people remember your cooking long after your gone. I would give anything to taste my Aunt Dora’s Roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Roasted potatoes fried in lard again, with gallons of gravy. The fact is that when you have passion for the cusine and respect for the ingredients the result is  being asked to make your signature dishes again and again. I always want my cousin Donna to make her crab dip for Christmas, even though she gave me the recipe and I made it to rave reviews too on one occasion. I think that she just makes it better than I do.

The only way to get there is through years of practice, and when disaster strikes as it most certainly will, taking note of what went wrong and why. Then not repeating the same mistake twice. The first time I made Pan Seared Salmon with Puy Lentils in Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil it was a mess, the salmon stuck to the pan, the lentils saut’eed with red and green peppers were too oily and the Balsamic could do nothing to save them. The second time around the fish came out perfect with a nice browning on one side but not too done and the lentils were balanced just right. Thanks Emeril for the recipe from the book you signed at Borders in Westbury for me, lots of good easy recipes. If you are workmanlike in your approach and chef-like in  your observation of the food and how it reacts to the cooking process-then each each dish should get better with practice.

The greatest thing about learning how to cook is that almost anyone at any age can begin to learn cooking. Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to go to culinary school, you can still for a small investment start learning the art of cooking well on your own. The internet has video demostrations by journeyman cooks to help you, and the shows available on TV/DVD can open a Pandora’s Box of information that wasn’t available when I was young. I still remember my mom and Grandma watching Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, they thought that Graham Kerr was charming and fummy. I watched an episode of his old show recently and I was bored beyond belief, half the show was spent telling a long lame joke before he cooked amything, and yet I remember the audience was enchanted by it all. How could we have known what would happen thirty or so years in the future. Where a TV channel would be created just to showcase clebrity chefs and later a second channel for lesser known cooks to have a chance at stardom, either way it wound up being a school for amateur cooks to learn and grow, and other channels would feature healthy cooking demonstrations and the Travel Channel focusing on the foods of distant lands.

It seems as our world got smaller, our palettes got bigger. The mac & cheese or franks an beans didn’t do it anymore for most. But I’m sure we all return from time to time to that special place where old time comfort food still lives, in our memories and that’s why we sometimes cook something just to taste it again. Yet, in these times of fast food, fast cars, and faster internet it’s become inportant to cook well. In order to win the heart  of someone or impress the boss and his wife, or even your hipster crowd of friends. cooking is the modern equivalent of being a Renaissance artist, the best of them were held in high regard, but even the journeyman were recieved recognition as being on a higher plane. So we are all riding a culinary rocket that has no end in sight. Just as long as we take care of the planet, it will take care of us and that will ensure that plenty of fresh food and water will be available for all. But perhaps the biggest reason why we should cook well is, because our taste demands it.

Peace

Glen

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I Cook Well-July 14TH 2010

Those of you who read my BLOG know that I am no stranger to cooking, I do most of the cooking in the house, my mom is disabled and I cook something decent at least four nights a week. But flash back and by the age of eight I was coming down early on Sunday mornings and making bacon and eggs with a pot of tea before my parents were awake. Then I would set the table and lay out the food before going to wake my parents up, my folks groggy eating half cold food and wondering what to do with me. So flashing forward 40 years later and I decide in December of 2009 to teach myself classic French cooking. I armed myself with a set of JA Henckels knives and added to the armload of cookbooks we already had and dove fearlessly into the unknown. My first dish was the ubiquitous french Navarin D”Agneau, lamb stew with spring vegetables. It came out OK but I moved on. By the time I made Blanquette de veau, veal stew in cream sauce. Coq au Vin, chicken cooked in red wine and pan roasted trout with fennel I discovered a few things about myself and about cooking well. I was blooded by a pairing knife (1st time) and wore a forearm burn proudly till it healed. Granted, not all the dishes came out great but the experience was, I learned a little about butchering meat, to look a fish in the eye before I buy it and to read a recipe carefully. I also found out what to do when you get “in the weeds.” This is where rum and Coke helps tremendously.

Most of the men at my job wouldn’t be caught dead cooking French food, and at least one thinks that canned gloppy soup over rice or giant frozen boats of mystery meat swimming in unlikely gravy is Haute cuisine!  They are all caught up in typical American attitudes towards the French and their food. Which as we all know, has been increased exponentially by the former Bush Administration, why? Because of the lack of France’s support for George W. Bush’s war for oil and profit. Even the guys that do cook would not go to the trouble and expense that I do, and I would be kidded no end by my interest in all things French.

So…why do I do it? Because I have to, because I love it. The research in my books, the planning, the shopping and the execution. The proof however is when your family, friends or guests begin to eat. Sometimes the silence is worrying until you look up to see bulging cheeks and nods of approval like some bobble head dolls on a dash-board. That makes it all worthwhile, and just like any art form you can look upon it and say “I made this …and it’s good, very good.” For me the accomplishment of feeding a dozen people Thanksgiving dinner from a kitchen the size of a NYC food cart is enormous, although it is tinged with a little sadness that my mom who taught me a great deal, because of her disability, is forced to sit on the sidelines and watch me do what used to be her job. But at least I have a prep chef and coucil.

In our current “post traumatic economy disorder” many people are finding it harder to feed the typical family of four. Television commercials are touting large TV dinners as the answer to all our problems, serve it up with a salad and call it “restaurant night!” These commercials show happy middle class families excited to sit down to such fare as an alternative to going out for a nice dinner.  The sad thing is that many families are doing  just that because they can’t afford a meal out for four unless it’s fast food served on plastic trays, and guess what-that’s not so cheap as it used to be either. But on the flip side the many chain restaurants are offering two-fer-one deals to try to lure people out of the house with the promise of good food. How much healthier it is to cook from scratch, a few basic techniques, some herbs and spices and you got it. Then get the kids or your friends involved and make it fun! It’s not hard, anyone can do this if they have the guts and the desire. You don’t need a cooking degree from Culinary Institute of America or the French Culinary Institute ( but I would still like one if I could afford to go) to be able to make a few great dishes. I have cooked as a hobby for many years before it became a passion and a necessity in recent times, but this year I feel that I reached a new milestone in my cooking. I have mastered a few techniques, taught myself to cook many things I never tried before and developed a sense of how to cook a dish  just from observing it being made on TV. There is a lot I don’t know and more that I want to do, I need better knife skills for one and I need to learn to cook fish and meat better, and I need to graduate beyond stews and casseroles. I may have my critics and that’s fine, most people do.

All I know is that I may not be a great chef, but at least I cook well.

Bon Appetite

Glen

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Filed under Family, Fast Food, Food, French, French Food, Life, Memories, My Truth

Julie & Julia…and Glen? Dec 5th 2009

The weather is cloudy and overcast but I am in good spirits as I drive towards the nearby Town of Huntington to the Barnes and Noble book store for an early breakfast. I am off today and tomorrow and have already started my Christmas shopping a few days ago, but today I am doing something I used to do all the time but stopped for lack of funds. The weather is warm as I cross the parking lot and enter the store. The warmth of the colors hit me as I enter, it is like a second home to me a bookstore; any bookstore feels the same way. I make my way to the loo, it seems that these days I need one everywhere I go, guess I must be getting older.

 But soon I find myself standing in front of the section on international foods, there is an awesome array of books on French cooking, the ones that appeal to me most are the bright color photo jobs with a picture of each recipe, but the pièce de résistance is a huge volume put out by the French Culinary Institute in New York City whose web site videos I watched and marvelled at the relatively cheap cost of a six month course. The five-day a week daytime course is 46,500 dollars and they place you in your first job, I think they also give you a set of chefs knives to boot. The same course taught at night takes nine months and cost 36,500! The teachers are all very experienced and they take you from how to chop carrots to working a shift in the restaurant attached to the school L’ecole. I would love to go if I could, if I could afford to quit my job I would go just to learn classic French cooking, but that’s a lottery win dream. This book is for those who are not going to go to school but are more advanced than me, as is the same sort of book put out by a French School similar to FCI in NY, the pictures are beautiful and each lesson is a three to four course meal, starting with easy stuff and getting into very complicated meals half way through.

 I take both books to a table at the Starbucks Cafe inside the store and order a Cafe Au Lait and a Caprese Panini sandwich, toasted cheese,tomatoes, and pesto on ciabatta bread cooked in a press toaster to melt the cheese, it’s pre-made but good and I munch as I flip through the volumes, my mind swirling with unfamiliar food, phrases and techniques. I put the books back and look around for gifts for others, but find little that would interest them, I do find a cheap book on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, the story of one of the most famous restaurants in the country. I know her name but nothing specific about Alice herself so I buy it and walk back to my car and set off for the Fairway market in Plainview, just a town over from mine and a place that will become my Mecca for my new venture. I plan on teaching myself classic French cooking just like the new movie “Julie & Julia” based on the book of the same name; which I got for my Mother but at this time still haven’t seen. I’m prepared to go to a lot of trouble to do just that, so I have already bought my first real chefs knives at Macy’s department store that I got on sale for 40% off plus an extra 25% promo which ends today, I bought a small pairing knife and a large chefs knife but I am going back to get the others I left behind. I have the money from my 401k which I’m paying back weekly from my paycheck so I can afford to splurge a little, with my bills caught up and deals made for lower monthly payments and interest rates I have come out on the other side of my financial disaster of a few months ago, in fact we also got a nice bonus this year as opposed to last year but half of what we used to get back in 2007. I didn’t know that yet with Christmas being 20 days away but it was a shocker when I found two envelopes to open on the 22nd!  I pull into Fairways parking lot and find it a madhouse as usual, it is the largest food store around here and shopping here can be a hassle.

Fairway Market-Long Island N.Y. 2010

 I can only imagine that this is a taste of the open market experience that you get in other countries, when you walk in your senses are hit with dazzling color and to your right a huge produce dept, to your left the cookware and the catering desk, opposite catering is the café area where a salad bar, sandwich bar, and hot food waits in large stainless steel chafing dishes for people to dish up for themselves, every kind of food is here. Fresh made lemon chicken, asian style ribs, ox tails in gravy, pork chops stuffed with fruit, sautéed vegetables, butternut squash puree, mashed potatoes, filet of sole stuffed with crab swimming in lemon and garlic butter, flank steak in barbeque sauce, garlic string beans with almonds, broccoli rabe in garlic and oil, an ever changing array cooked each day from about 11:00 to closing or until the food runs out, whichever comes first.

The Heart of the Maze

  If you walk past the food area you come to what I call the maze, an area where cold prepared deli food awaits and here the vegans and vegetarians have a field day! The selection of humus alone will kill ya, roasted red pepper, plain, garlic, lemon, babaganoosh, antipasto, cheese salad, vegan General Cho’s Chicken, fire roasted veggies in olive oil, marinated cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes and basil with fresh mozzarella, couscous galore!, multigrain with vegetables finely chopped, couscous with fruit and grains… combos that will just make you insane there a sooo good. There is an olive bar where you can pick out from 16 different types from all over the world, and around the corner is a fresh hand-made mozzarella ball stand, an olive oil tasting bar where fresh bread is available for dipping, turn another corner and your in the biggest cheese market I’ve ever seen, with samples and tastes of anything you want to try! There is a cold case with French delicacies from goat cheese to pâté of all kinds to duck confit and crème fresh, and very expensive truffles! The next aisle over is a coffee lovers paradise, fresh roasted on the spot! I mean you gotta smell this section, it is beautiful with teas from around the world in tins, boxes, or loose as well as coffee of all kinds to indulge in your caffeine cravings. The back-drop for all of this is the back of the store beginning with the end of the produce section where the deli starts, all kinds of cold salads that were not in the other sections are here, potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, egg salad, all the picnic stuff Americans crave and more as well as sliced meats and cheeses, always busy as hell with a wait. Next to that is the fish market, and let me tell you they have it all here, live lobsters and crabs, clams and mussels and slabs of bacalau still packed in kosher salt, and every kind of fish you could want or need. Then next to that is the meat market; a haven for meat lovers with dry aged steaks, Angus beef, and every kind of sausage you can think of…chicken, lamb, pork, beef, spiced in every possible way with cheese or fresh herbs added and ground meats of all kinds arranged in a beautiful display of neat clean rows, very clean and very fresh and cold. This makes the back area into a chaos of people bumping and jostling each other (especially with a holiday weekend) like roller derby for food.

 I am making a traditional Navarin D’Agneau, which is a spring vegetable stew using a few cheap pieces of lamb tenderloin I found in the regular store we shop in for a discount. These are pieces of meat which have been pre-seasoned and are cheaper cuts cast off from better ones that sold for more money, but as Tony says on his show often, poor people discovered good food by taking cheap cuts of meat and cooking them just right … to make them delicious. I will need some lovely small white pearl onions which I pick out one by one from a large bin, a bunch of  nice big carrots, turnips, peas, small fingerling potatoes, garlic, and parsley and thyme for a bouquet garni; which is a fancy French term for herbs tied up in a piece of cheesecloth. I finish my shopping and go home for a short break in the action before I start my meal, feeding my fish and talking with my brother briefly about our tanks and things before I start setting up my mise-en-place, which is another French term meaning having everything ready ahead of time. This means you get all your ingredients out and all the pots and pans you will need as well as the dishware your serving the meal in and for me a Rum and coke!

  So as I assemble my “mise” my mom sits at the table using her laptop to chat with her friends on the Neil Diamond Fansite “Sweet Caroline” which she now is in charge of greeting new members daily.  I’m absorbed by my task and after getting everything out I start to peel the little white onions, let me tell you this is a pain but the little pairing knife is a godsend, I cut through a paper plate like it was nothing just to show the quality to my family, who were very impressed by the way, then start cutting up the other vegetables. I can’t believe how easy it is to cut the carrots with this knife. I bought J.A. Henckels cookware from Spain, and I can see now that we never owned a really good knife before this, I am happy to have made what I consider a shrewd buy that I will have for years. I quarter the large carrots and white turnips, and I cut one large onion into eights ( expecting it will render down and flavor the gravy), and peel the small potatoes (covering with a damp towel) before I address the meat.

  Now I take the pieces out of the packages and wash off the herbs and turn them over, very fatty on the back side so I have to trim all of that off before I can cube it. I don’t enjoy butchering meat, I like to eat meat very much but don’t enjoy handling it, I guess it’s the guilt of knowing you’re a carnivore and things die so you can live. But the trouble is that plants are alive too, we just can’t communicate with them yet, and fish-what about them. I am just starting to like fish when I have to go and get interested in keeping  freshwater fish, so now the thought of cooking a whole fish in the beautiful long copper fish pot I got my Mom for Xmas is not as appealing as it was a few months ago. Still I have to be realistic, I’m not turning vegan any time soon so I brown off the meat and removing it for a while I toss the onions in the pan, let them cook for a few minutes (but not browned), add the garlic (cooking till aromatic) then adding the meat back in I sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour and stir to coat, finally putting in two cups of brown stock and the bouquet garni and covering to cook for 1 1/2 hours.

 The rest is really simple, just adding the peeled and sliced potatoes, carrots and turnips into the pot and adding frozen peas at the end cooking till tender. But I am a little unhappy with the gravy, it’s like water so I mix up a little cornstarch and add it in to thicken the pot. The problem is I have to overcook things for my parents who can’t chew vegetables the way god intended- a little resistant . So I am basically forced to kill the meal a little for their sake, next time I will make some for myself done right and separate it from theirs so all will be happy. We sit down to a very good meal but it doesn’t look like the picture in the book, too much gravy comparatively, but that’s us Americans for you. I don’t feel like I made a major foray into the French gastronomy because I have made regular beef stew many times so this wasn’t a great challenge. The flavor however was very good and no one else was disappointed in the outcome, so I’m my own worse critic, what else is new. 

 I sip my glass of wine and think about the next meal, the next challenge, around me my family enjoys the meal. In the end what mattered is that they ate heartily, and enjoyed it and that is after all…the only thing that matters to a cook. 

Bon appetite

Glen

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