A path Followed

Food as artistic expression is such a wonderful experience.  Diner or cook, it is a journey with every meal.  Some of us get that.  Some of us don’t.  I remember when I became aware of the beauty in food came to light.  It took an enormous cultural shift for me to open my opinion. Three regional dishes would be the building blocks of my new enlightenment.

I was a designer of seasonally themed entertainment for a company in Japan.  As a key designer, I was expected to go on tour through Japan with my company to set things up.   Japan had always been a top destination for me. Getting to go on tour, and get paid for it was a dream come true.  Being thrown into a culture, and living in total immersion.

Within the first few things you always learn to say in any language, other than the naughty words, is where and what to eat, and where the toilet is.   The crew I went with learned how to say “I would like the chicken.” because they did not like sushi.  I laughed at them then, I laughed harder at them when we got to Japan and found out sushi is expensive there too, so not every restaurant is a sushi bar.

We ate everything that was popular in each of the restaurants we chose.  Shabu shabu was my first experience. We had to cook it at our table in a big pot. The experience was like a character at the table.  Our translator asked if we had anything like this in the states, and it dawned on me, “I don’t know.”

Sitting there making shabu shabu that first night, I was in a surreal state of being from jet lag and being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo.  Our translator, Takahashi (Take’) explained that as we cook all the meats and veg in the big pot of water, they flavor the water and at the end we all drink the broth.  It was brilliant.  So simple.

Every aspect of this meal was suddenly being scrutinized.  I would look at it with fresh eyes, and smell it before tasting it. How everything was being displayed, and presented and ultimately tasted.   I would look at everyone else’s food too, contrast and compare you see. I slowed down as I ate as well.  I was not wolfing down junk food here, I kept that in mind with every bite.  This whole thing, this meal had to be savored from location to digestion. I was so curious about everything I was living on in that moment.

Then there was sushi, it set me on a new path.

But before take you into that temple, I feel it necessary to mention that the beer in Japan is different.  It is stronger, and cheaper than American beer. We drank litre after litre of beer with every meal.

We did not eat sushi with every meal.  It was far too pricey for a tour group of 25 to go.  Instead, on our days off we would split up and explore.  Being part of the management team, I would get taken out by corporate men to really cool places.

One night after a long fun day of exploring and drinking, Take’, my friend Tim and I were at some tiny tiny sushi bar in some remote part of Chiba, it only seated 9. The entire place looked like it was carved out of one log.  Behind the bar was a wall of fish tanks with various breeds of live fish in them.  There were a few other people on the other end of the bar.  Tim and I were the only westerners for miles and miles and miles.

The exploring, drinking and eating had made us all brave that day.  Take’ looks at us and in a drunken slur says “I want to order you shomshing, however!” Pointing up with his left index finger “You mussst Promise to eat it! It is very expensive and musst not be wasssssted.”

Tim and I looked at eachother and said “Hell yeah we promise!” in unison. Oh the beer.

Take’ told the chef what he wanted to surprise us with this amazing dish.  The chef turned and grabbed a fish from a tank behind him and went to work cleaning it and slicing it up.  Within minutes he place in front of us a beautifully displayed plat of fish, with the fish carcass skewered and used as part of the serving platter.  The meat was displayed as scales down the fish. It was so beautiful and delicate, and the fish was a whole new experience for my taste buds.

Tim and I toasted the chef, and Take’ for thinking of it, then took a nice big drink of beer.  I then looked at the plate of half eaten fish when I saw the tail twitch and the mouth open.  I know at this point many people would have turned their head, unable to continue.

Tim and I looked at each other with big eyes of wonder and giant question marks coming from our heads. We toasted the chef then the fish and finished the dish while it twitched in front of us. The most amazing sashimi ever. It was a dish of culinary mastery.

The third food experience came from a place of comfort. Not like the communal aspect of shabu shabu, nor the artistic approach of sushi.  Japanese curry,  Kari raisu is simple, beautiful,  warming.  Not like Indian curries or Thai curries.  Much more mild. It has this flavor and texture that I would instantly start craving. The the thing that started me wanting to cook.  I knew it was going to be hard to find where I lived at that point in my life, and I was going to be able to eat it, I would have to make it myself.

That was another lifetime for me now.  And I want kari raisu.

 

 

The ultimate in Comfort: Bread

Today is going to be all about bread.  It is cold and wet outside.  The kind of conditions we have a lot of in this part of the planet.  To combat the boredom, I stick to making myself better at something.  Cooking offers me a lot in that realm.  I know how to make all sorts of things.  Conversely, there is more I don’t know. I want to make amazing bread, and right now my bread skills are at good.

My dog isn’t very happy about it.  She wants to go out and run herself stupid in the mud.  I did mention it is cold and wet outside.  The place she keeps telling me to take her to is a river delta area. I have tried explaining that I simply do not have the proper shoes. She huffed at me and decided it was time to chase her tail.

So bread it is!

I am starting a sourdough mother using Paul Hollywood’s method.  The process is fun to watch, and won’t be ready for a week.  So next weeks bread will be sourdough.  Of course I will have to make some amaze-ballz entre to accompany this. The wheels are already in motion. I do not have a sourdough starter right now.  Having one is like having another pet in the house, and I have been arguing with my roommate about not having more pets!  She wants a kitten when we have a perfectly fine cat.  At least a starter is a pet you can eat.

I am also going make bread for this weeks dinners using dry active yeast.  I usually have one of those little jars of dry active yeast in my refrigerator.  It’s important to not use bread machine yeast if you are not using a bread machine.  That is pretty much the difference in dry active yeast in my opinion.

Flour is an important choice, but try a few different brands for yourself to see which works best for you. Examples being bread flour, unbleached whole wheat, all purpose, organic, enriched. Sometimes you have to learn with what you have too.  I have mentioned before that I prefer Wheat Montana unbleached white.

Making bread is a skill.  3 years ago I could not make bread.  I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.  Then my boyfriend at the time bought me a stand mixer.  That changed everything. I am more willing to learn new recipes for baking bread.  I have even made croissants! However, I am still struggling with it, but I know where I am failing.  I am still learning patience.  Last weeks bread did not rise like it was supposed to because I got impatient.

I have always gone by my usual cooking methods, and have had some success.   Today is going to be more technical, more rigid with the rules on baking.  I need to get this baking thing under control.

Alrighty then, wish me luck Drea Readers!  I’m goin’ in.

 

Mac N Cheese Torture

As a kid, the only days I knew I was going to get fed were holidays.  My mother, being a single mother in the 70’s had other agendas going on, she did not always think of feeding her three children. We had to learn how to feed ourselves at very young ages.

When my mother would make us something to eat, it was always something she liked, and she had no taste buds from a lifetime of smoking and drinking.  There were some things she could do well; fried chicken, chicken fried steak, chicken fried pork chops, fried potatoes… etc.  Of course, mom only had her limited imagination. Nothing out of the ordinary came out of her kitchen.  Nope, everything she made was very expected very traditional.  Only half of it was edible, as far as I was concerned.

Which worked out very well at holiday times.

When my mom married my step dad, things kind of changed.  I recognize now what she was trying to do when they were first married (the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach).  Then I did not care, I was getting fed more often, and didn’t have to fight anyone for a piece of bread.  My mom was trying to impress her new hubby.  Trying to impress him with her cooking.

Was she impressive?  Nope.  Recanting the memories has left a bad taste in my mouth as it is.  Thankfully my dad was from the midwest where the men there ate meat and potatoes. Again, this was fine with me.  I was getting fed everyday now, and that was cool. Red meat was the common protein. With the meat, one night we would have potatoes, one night we would have (what would become one of my worst childhood memories) Macaroni and Cheese.

My first memory of macaroni and cheese still lingers with me to this day.  One might think that this memory would be comforting. Not a mission to get through a pile of almost melted cheese and paste.  Stringy cheese mess all over, stuck to everything. noodles over cooked and close to mush.  Cheese sauce and melted cheese have completely different flavors.  Melted cheese does not go on everything cheese can go with.

I cringed when I was told we were having macaroni and cheese with dinner.  First off, I would be the kid in charge of grating the mountain of cheese she would put into it, this chore allowed me to get out of washing dishes.  With now 5 brothers and 3 sisters, it was like fish frenzy at feeding time.  All of them would come around and grab a nibble of the grated cheese.  Even for a family our size, a pound of cheese should not go into a batch of mac n cheese.

My mother did not understand the process behind making a cheese sauce for the noodles.  Which is such a simple recipe. Butter, flour, milk, cheese and salt n pepper. Oh, and whatever it is you are going to put the sauce on.  My mom used store bought elbow macaroni.   For those who do not want to take on the job of making their own, store bought pasta and noodles are terrific.

In consideration of cost, instead of using a whole one pound block of cheese, only a cup of grated cheese is needed.  My dad was making really good money, and could afford it, but food is one of the areas where making better food can be cheaper than making bad food. making a cheese sauce goes so much further.

I wish I could have this conversation with my mom.  I wish I could go into her 1976 kitchen and show her that macaroni and cheese should not be used as a torture device. I would explain that melting a couple tablespoons of butter, with equal amounts of flour whisked in and a cup of milk is the basis for so many sauces.

I would have shown her how to whisk the butter and flour so it didn’t burn, I would have taken the time to go through the process of introducing the milk to the butter and flour.  “With this sauce,” I would tell her, “You can make some of the best soups and sauces, but today we add the cheese, off the heat, and melt it all together for the noodles.” as I would add about a quarter of the shredded cheese at a time.

“See, Mom!  No more cheese beards for us!” Spooning the creamy, cheesy sauce on elbow macaroni.  I can almost see her mocked expression of “Very well then!”  She looked at me that way all the time.

I am still wary of macaroni and cheese, with full knowledge that today’s standards of mac n cheese is so much more than when I was a kid. The funny thing is, she used to make this dish called “creamed peas.” Peas in a cream sauce, the one mentioned above.  I hated it.  I bet I can make it better.  I think I am going to tackle cream peas.

 

 

 

Pasta Game

Pasta is easy to make.  Once you get the knack of it, anyway.

I started attempting to make my own pasta about two years ago for a lasagne. I had just started studying culinary arts. I was tackling things that I knew I needed to learn.  Pasta being up there on the list, considering how much people already loved my lasagne.

Off to the internet I went to learn the recipe!  I watched videos, I read food blogs, I must have studied every pasta recipe on the internet.  It was lengthy too.  Some cooks add some extra stuff to be more creative, insisting it helps, some stick to the bare bones basics.  I decided to stick with the most basic of recipes.

My first attempts were, well, sad.  A sticky, gooey mess that only slightly resembled the Blob with meat sauce and bits of Italian sausage. My friends, being as supportive as they are, or no idea what good pasta is supposed to look or taste like, insisted that it was the best pasta they had ever had.  This lie still makes me laugh.  I have good friends with good intentions.

Shortly after my first attempt, I got myself a pasta machine, thinking that would change everything.  Oh, Dear Readers, you can not hear the boisterous laughter coming from me right now, but I assure you, I am writing this through tears of laughter.  The pasta machine only made all of my pasta sheets a uniform thickness.

Here is a hint; Do not overwork your pasta by running it through the machine too many times, it is easy to overwork pasta during the pressing process. Especially when you are new at it!  Over worked pasta is tough, almost leathery.

I do not eat a lot of italian food.  It is the bell peppers, but that is a whole different blog. However, more than the Italians use pasta and noodles in cuisine.  Pasta is a very inexpensive food to make, and with a little practice, can be so much better than the dried up pre processed pasta you can buy at the store.  The cost of making pasta, this time for me was about 75 cents for 6 servings of fresh pasta.  That means 3 nights of dinner for 75 cents for me and my room mate.

Flour and eggs.   Depending on the egg size and flour batch, my pasta averages 3 cups of organic unbleached white flour (I prefer Wheat Montana White All Purpose flour) and 3 or 4 eggs.  I do not like to have a huge floury mess when I am in the kitchen, so I use my largest bowl for this, some use the countertop.

I put the flour into my big bowl and whisk it with my dry whisk, this is much like sifting flour, not quite but almost.  I use my fingers to make a pit in the middle of the fluffy flour.  I have found the mixing process works better if the eggs are beaten before adding them to the flour.

With the eggs in the flour, using my hands, I start covering the eggs with flour, then push the wet eggs to one side until they break through the flour, then cover them again. I do this for a few minutes, trying not to work the flour too much,  I just want it to soak up all the moisture from the eggs.  I mash it all together, within a few minutes a large yellowish beige ball is now collecting the remaining flour in the bowl as I now knead into a firm ball the size of a huge grapefruit.

I like my doughs to be a little sticky when I rest them.  When it comes to pasta, I like the dough ball to be sticky, then I roll it in the remaining flour so the sticky is covered with dust. I wrap it in clingfilm, and put it in the chill box (yes, I stole it from Alton Brown) to chill for a while.  How long?  When I see that it doesn’t look dusty any more, the flour is still absorbing the eggs. It is still sticky, but workable.

After I am satisfied with the way it looks I cut the ball in half, then in half again, and again.  That gives me 8 pieces that have to be squished through the machine, which turned into last night’s dinner and at least two more meals in the future (uncooked, unused pasta freezes great).  But wait!  The dough is so sticky!  I shape the small piece I am working with into a roughly shaped rectangle, then drop it in some fresh flour before I push it through the pasta machine.

Last night I recruited my roomie to help out while I rolled out the pasta, her job was to cut the sheets into noodle size strips.  I cranked out beautiful sheets, and she sliced them very carefully for uniform size.  “Don’t you have an attachment to do this?” She asked as we toked along.

“Of course I do!”  I said happily as I kept cranking.  Twice through on 7, twice through on 6, one time through on the remaining settings 5 through 1.  Setting 1 is the goal here, then the sheets are ready to cut.  I was using scissors, my roomie opted for a pizza cutter.  Of course there are a plethora of pasta tools.  Scissors and pizza cutters work fine if you don’t have fancy equipment.

After the pasta is all rolled out and sliced up it is time to cook it.  Most people know how to boil water, in theory.  I salt my water instead of adding salt to the pasta dough.  Salt changes the chemistry of eggs, and can alter the texture of the pasta.  It seems to me that salting the cooking water seasons pasta much better and keeps the texture creamier, smoother. Don’t cook these noodles for too long, they will be a soggy mess if overcooked.

Last night, I made the best pasta I have ever made. I made Fettuccini Chicken Alfredo.  It turned out much lighter than I expected.  Much better than I had hoped.  I do love it when I can impress myself with my cooking.

I would not know how to make pasta if it weren’t for the dedication of other cooks and chefs in the culinary world.  I thank every cook and chef I have ever studied.  Each and every one of you are more valuable than gold pressed latinum to me.

 

So Much for Toast

There is an old saying: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I have a dog, a hound dog.  Her name is Moana.  I have had her since she was 5 weeks old.  She is a sensitive soul, and can be a little needy at times.  Times when loud scary noises are happening.  Such as fireworks, slamming doors, fire alarms.

Let’s set that nugget of the story aside and explain another.  My toaster sucks!  Yup, some of you Dear Readers might have already concluded how my morning went.  If the toast level is a nanometer too far on the toastier side, it burns my bread to black.  If it is too far on the not so toasty side, my bread stays soft and not toasty.  There is a delicate balance here.

One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast is soft boiled eggs mashed up onto torn up bits of buttered toast.  MMMMM,  so yummy.

Yeah, this morning I am doing my thing, making my breakfast, I have the water boiling, and I have my toast toasting.  I am all happy because my eggs didn’t crack in the boiling waters, then that is when the toaster decides that the morning is just not exciting enough.  It is going to hold onto my toast the .003 seconds longer than it needs to, enough to blacken my toast!

Subsequently, the smoke detector went off, and both the cat and dog instantly freak out.  The cat hides, but Moana, does she hide?  Sure, under me, and I was standing in the kitchen yelling at the toaster for sucking and burning my bread.

I turned to go deal with the smoke detector, and Moana, all 85 lbs of her is suddenly leaning on me shaking like a leaf basically pinning me to the kitchen counter with the offending toaster..  when I try to move around her, she sticks to me like static cling.  There was no peeling her off me.

I managed to push her to her kennel and got her in there.  Then I was able to shut the smoke alarm up.  I had to remove the battery, so now every few minutes it beeps at me as a reminder.

That reminder keeps poor Moana in shivers though. Even with the step ladder we have here, I am too short to put the battery back in, I have to now go down to the office and put in a maintenance request.

seventy-seven-fessden

Coffee

My drug of choice.  Glorious black coffee. Untaitned with sweeteners or milk fats.  Pure beautiful coffee.  I feel that so many of us are oblivious to the history of coffee throughout the world.  How it has influenced the world as we know it.  We take it for granted the rich full-bodied story of this magical little bean.

Here in the US, we have had a very passionate love for coffee.  A true sign of political rebellion against the crown of England.  What?  Do you think we gave up morning beverages during the Boston Tea Party?  Hell no!  We, rebellious Americans, simply started drinking coffee in an effort to avoid giving the crown any more taxes from tea consumption.

Over the centuries, we have come up with a plethora of coffee preparation techniques, and even more recipes that contain coffee.  So many of us can not go without our morning dose.  I am on my 3rd 6 ounce cup right now, which is usually my limit.

We are dependent on its tasty benefits completely unaware.  According to Coffeechemistry.com, coffee helps out the not so good eater from having more serious health issues.

Now, I keep drinking coffee so I do not get a throbbing migraine.  In an article on Medical News Today states that magnesium production is reduced when we drink coffee.  In an effort to get better sleep, my doctor suggested taking magnesium supplements.  So I gave it a whirl, and then had the worst series of migraines I have ever had in my life. Which leads me to believe that the overproduction of magnesium is what  makes my migraines so unbearable.  I’ll keep drinking coffee thanks.

 

 

Comfort Delivered Home

Hi.

Welcome to Comfort Delivered Home.  I am new to this (let’s give “this” a common vernacular for arguments sake) scene.  I have never been interested in working in a restaurant as a cook or a server. Those people work too hard.  However, I love cooking for people.

I get lost in how beautiful food is.  The raw ingredients are just as beautiful as the finished prepared dish. All the steps in between, the techniques, the science, the sights, the smells (oh the aromas, more on that in a totally different blog post), the fun of creativity!  Then the ultimate goal: The eating! The end game result is watering mouths, moments of chewing silence, guttural sounds of pleasure as the taste buds come alive from the explosions of flavor and texture.

Cooking is my driving force. It is all I think about. I always have questions to ask.  There is never an end to learning how to cook.  Someone will always have more information on ingredients or techniques.  Researching foods is bottomless!   What can I make today?  How can I put these same 5 ingredients together so they do not taste like they did last night?  What sets this thing apart from this thing?  What plates should I use?  How am I going to impress this person?  Has this been done by anyone else? How many people have done this, and how did they do it? The questions never stop.

I started cooking because preprocessed food is so expensive, and, well, as the term applies: Processed.  Nutrition and healthy choices are easy when you make everything fresh.  I also had two kids to feed!  Cooking was something that I needed to learn how to do.  I was overweight, out of shape and broke!  Two teens in a house bring friends.  I figured if I fed them they would stay close to home and out of trouble.

I took on my own education.  The internet is a powerful tool, especially for the curious people like me, who need to keep learning things.  I found some curriculum syllabus’ from a few different institutions, compared their content, and devised my own syllabus. From there I would narrow my research to each type of class: Knife skills, baking, sauces, etc. I found websites and videos and books by the greatest chefs in the world!

Now that I have some skills under my belt, I am starting this to have something to lean on.  I use cooking as a way to deal with my emotional state.  I cook to level myself, to humble myself.  Cooking is a great way to cope with the onslaught of daily life.  Unlike painting, writing and dancing, cooking is something I can do no matter how I am feeling.  If I am sad, I cook.  If I am happy, I cook.  If I am angry, I cook.  Cooking gets me through a lot of emotional chaos.

I have worn many hats in my life, and I have had several jobs too! Now it is time for me to don the toque. I am making myself available to cook for people.  For a fee of course.  But that is something that I will deal with later.  For now, let me plant this seed of thought. By reading this first post, you will be taking this journey with me.  I am excited and nervous.  So I better get to the kitchen and work out some details!