Just a cook, thanks
I don’t consider myself a chef (I prefer the term cook), even though I’ve earned the title after a lengthy catering apprenticeship and at my current job, where I am the only chef and have license to experiment to my heart’s content. And do I like to experiment! I like experimenting best when I’m working with what I’ve got—what’s in season, in my pantry, in the fridge, or available at a shop on my way to work. I don’t cook fru-fru, folks, so I ignore the fancy budget-busting culinary gadgets and just use whatever utensils and tools my family gave me when they finally bought themselves new sets. So, follow my recipes and you won’t see any presentations like you do on Top Chef, but I promise it will be tasty.
Cooking as re-skilling
In this day and age, too many people have forgotten how to cook, given it up for so-called convenience, or just never learned. These days we need cooking as reskilling as much as we need gardening, and probably more than we need weaving or blacksmithing at this point. At least so far.
My column is going to teach you how to cook the way I do at home for guests, or as I like to call them, my guinea pigs. My list of ingredients is not precise because I am not a precise cook and I figure if I say add some oil, you will have at least a half a container of some oil and can guess at how much is the right amount. Any oil is okay to use. I’ve recently started using Flax Seed Oil but I don’t recommend this for baking. I learned that from one of my great experiments.
I advise you to measure seasoning by tasting—it’s the only way to know if it’s good or not, and it’s half the fun. So prepare to jump into your food with all your senses and a little bit of guts.
I only use Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. They just work best and are most flavorful. If the lack of specification scares you, don’t let it. Just add smaller amounts at first unless otherwise noted until you get it right. The two top tools I recommend are a chef’s knife and a cutting board, although I’ve used a plate and pairing knife in a pinch. I always gear my menus to make sure that they are visually balanced and enough can be done ahead of time so that I might sit down and help drink that bottle of wine with everyone once the food is served up.
Feel free to always make logical or intuitive substitutions. I do all the time and it usually comes out just as good if not better than the original. At the restaurant, I’m given produce and sometimes local meat, and then I just go from there. Most of the recipes I’ll be writing about I’ve created out of necessity. For example, what do you do with a large box of daikon that a wonderful customer dropped off because he grew so much of the stuff? What do you mean there aren’t any beets at the farmer’s market? You learn to roast daikon and use turnips or rutabagas instead. I learned through the same necessity not to waste anything. And I mean anything! This is a must do in the new recessionary ethos to stretch your dollars while filling your belly.
A final note; all my recipes will be for four because that’s how many people my kitchen table sits. Go figure? I strongly suggest reading the recipes all the way through at least once before embarking. So, let’s get cooking. (Recipe page two.)