I have a First World problem. A problem that is practically the definition of “First World Problem”.
I have too much food.
At the end of my last entry I related how every single person I’d invited for Thanksgiving cancelled at the last second AND NewWifey(tm) woke up sick. By the time I found out I was to be the only attendee at my own soirée, I’d already prepped enough food to alleviate famine in a 3rd world country (Tennessee).
I immediately stopped prepping dishes midway, except for those which couldn’t be put up and frozen at that point. Some that couldn’t be halted I combined. So for instance, instead of seperate dishes of “Cippolini en Agrodolce” (cippolini in sweet/tart balsamic glaze), stuffed mushrooms, asparagus stuffed arancini, and caramelized squash, thyme, and honey ice cream* , I just took all the veggies, threw them on a baking sheet, and roasted them off for a mixed roast veggie platter.
*I had written an extensive shopping list on the white board on our refrigerator the week before. As I picked up each one I crossed it off the list. One of the items was “acorn squash”. NewWifey(tm) happened to be out shopping for chick stuff (Playgirl, another Epilady) the day before Thanksgiving and happened to see a clearance sale on acorn squash. “Hey” she thought, “The refrigerator says we don’t have acorn squash yet! I’ll pick some up so Danger doesn’t have to run out at the last second and find some.” So she purchased 5. Big ones. The trouble was, I had already purchased acorn squash. Five. Big ones. I just forgot to cross it off the list. So now I was scrambling to mix acorn squash into every conceivable dish, whether it was appropriate or not. Like ice cream.
Still, despite all the consolidating and cancelling, I ended up with 9 separate dinner items and two desserts. All for myself. I’d already made a large batch of stock, and one of the two soups using it (a cream of roast chestnut soup), along with several other things that either were already made, or couldn’t be stopped midway.
At the end, it looked like this:
(I’m most proud of the tube of commercial cranberry jelly, artfully stood on end and garnished with a flat sauce spoon jammed into the top. I don’t actually eat the stuff, but I insist it be there as an homage to the Indians who probably would have enjoyed it had they not been systematically eradicated by the people they taught to grow corn so they wouldn’t starve to death.)
I didn’t even bother carving the turkey, just tore apart half of it with my hands and threw it on the platter. That’s how I was gonna eat it, after all. And you see quick made cream biscuits instead of yeast risen Parker House rolls. Bottom left is the gratin dish of roast veggies, and mid-pic is more of those stupid acorn squash, each stuffed with a different mixture (the light yellow one was my fave: bourbon, saffron, thyme and onion. At the end I was just throwing whatever was closest to hand in there, and that one just happened to work.) And wine. In the famous anniversary decanter.
You’ll notice that whilst I was the only one eating, I laid out three place settings. That’s because I knew no matter how sick NewWifey(tm) is, if she smells food she will walk, crawl, or drag herself by her fingernails to the table to see what I made. And probably eat some of it. The third plate was in case any of our other invitees ended up having a change of heart and showing up.
I was right about NewWifey(tm), at least. No sooner had I poured my third glass of wine when she shuffled into the dining room wearing nothing but her frumpy sick robe and fuzzy slippers and sat down opposite me. Didn’t say a word, just spooned herself out a bowl of chestnut soup, a slice of turkey, and a wedge of roast squash from the gratin dish. She ate slowly in silence, then stood up and left. I knew she must really be sick because she didn’t have any wine.
I was wrong about the drop-in, though. That plate stayed clean.
I did the best I could. Really I did. But even though I shoveled in so much that my socks were getting tight, there was still a mountain of food left over. Realize that what I set on the table there was not everything I made. There was still half a turkey, almost a full half sheet of roasted veggies, more gravy, more stuffing, more acorn squash, and two desserts back in the kitchen. (Desserts: pumpkin pie – don’t judge – and coconut milk, pandan, and cardamon sticky rice pudding thingy, another thow-everything-in-the-cupboard-into-it dish that was incredibly delicious.)
So now I have too much food. My freezer was already almost packed full with all the dishes I had to halt mid-construction. So I’m scrambling to eat the most perishable leftovers first, and creatively use the others in ways that will both consolidate space, and not disgust me. Like those damn 10 acorn squash!
Ooh, hey, check this out:
We got a new camera!
Rather, NewWifey(tm) got a new camera. But I get to use it.
I know what you’re thinking. Wasn’t I bitching and moaning mere days ago about how poverty stricken we are? How the hell could I afford a new camera when I just finished proclaiming to the world that I was gonna have to sell a pancreas just so I could afford my next PornHub Premium payment?
Here’s how. NewWifey(tm), team player extraordinaire, stepped up to the plate a while back and started her own company in hopes of helping generate income. It’s been slow going, but she’s worked like a dog and hung in there and over the past year her efforts have really been paying off. Not so much financially yet, but she’s laying the groundwork.
Recently a national magazine wanted to feature her work, and they asked for pics of her, and some of her pieces. I dutifully snapped a couple of shots with my Nintendo DSi, edited the hell out of them in Windows Media Player, and sent them off. They looked good to me.
They did not look good to them. They apparently have this thing called “editorial standards” that applies to even their visual content. Damn them.
So NewWifey(tm) withdrew an alarmingly large portion of her business’ budget for the year and had me purchase a new photo takin’ rig, since I know of such things (or so I told her). It arrived the other day and…I can’t understand a word of it. My god, the manual that came with it looks like it was made for the space shuttle.
Anyway, I took an artsy sorta shot of the above dinner table with it, just for fun:
Pretty sucky, right? But hey, it was a first attempt. I wasn’t worried about composition, and the lighting wasn’t great (all those shadows!), but at least I was able to figure out the aperture priority mode and get a shot with a shallow depth of field. I’m gonna do a photogeek entry about it in the days to come, so be warned. In the meantime, I think this should solve the problem of NewWifey(tm) being rejected by idiots who demand things like “quality”.
Jeez, I’ve written a ton of crap here and still haven’t gotten to the point. Which is…
Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my neighbor knocked on my door and asked if he could borrow our ladder. This was pretty funny because it’s actually his ladder. NewWifey(tm) borrowed it from him about 5 years ago when she was installing the satellite dish on our roof, and I, er, “forgot” to return it when she asked me to. I forgot for so long that he eventually forgot he lent it to us. So now when he needs a ladder, he comes over and asks to borrow ours. His.
So Friday he came over again, and once again I was very generous to allow him to borrow his own ladder. When he was done with it later that afternoon, he returned it to our garage and knocked on our door. “I put your ladder back in the garage” he said. “Here’s some of our leftover turkey as a thank you.” And he handed me a covered paper dish.
Great. More leftovers. Thanks, bro. See if I lend you my ladder next time.
Oh well. It was a nice gesture, right? I took the plate into the kitchen and uncovered it. Inside was a few slices of breast meat, the middle and end joints of a wing, and a slice of canned cranberry jelly. I grabbed a slice of white meat and stuck it in my mouth.
It was every slice of turkey I ever had at family Thanksgiving dinners when I was a kid, every slice I ever had at school cafeterias, every slice I ever had at every crummy diner, restaurant, and catered event before I became a chef. In short, it was the turkey breast that made me think I hated turkey growing up. Dry, flavorless, dry. It was like trying to eat a sand storm.
I spit it out. Not that I had any other option, as it was too dry to swallow. I literally then stayed looking down at that plate of destroyed food and wondered how in the hell they managed to cook it that badly. WHY had they cooked it that badly? Was it tradition? Ignorance? Spite? (Maybe he realized it was his ladder after all.)
I came to the conclusion it was ignorance, just based on the fact that wallboard textured turkey seems to be the norm in so many places. They just didn’t know any better, poor things.
That got me thinking then about advice I’ve always given when someone asks be about how they can be a better cook. My stock answer (pun) is always, “learn techniques, not recipes“. If you know the basic processes that the majority of dishes are based on, you don’t need recipes. You can take practically any ingredient and just apply one of those processes to it, add some other flavors if you want, and viola! Dinner. Technique overcomes substandard equipment, not-so-fresh ingredients, lousy attitude, everything. You give me a heated flat rock to cook on, a sharpened clam shell to cut things, a bowl and a spoon, and I’ll still be able to make 90% of the things I already make, 90% better than you.
But when I tell people that, I invariably get back a frustrated grimace and something along the lines of, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re a trained chef, so you know all that intricate shit us mere mortals can’t possibly pull off. Just tell me a good recipe!”
GAHH!! I HATE HEARING THAT!
One of the big advantages of having cooked – both professionally and as a passionate amateur – thousands and thousands of dishes, day in, day out for the better part of half a century, is that I can look back and see the Big Picture. And the Big Picture is this:
Most cooking consists of doing the same thing with different ingredients.
No, seriously. Think of the all ways you can heat food. What do you come up with? Let’s see: in an oven…in a pan…in water…in oil…in beer….in smoke…over steam…inside a mulch pile…slapping between the saddle and your galloping horse…uh…um…. I know there’s a few more, but most tend to be minor variations of the above. The majority of all cooking, not matter what style, what ethnicity, how expensive, is gonna rely on one of those methods. If you know them, you know how to cook, and you can make practically anything. If you just learn recipes, you’re limited to just them. And if you don’t have something the recipe calls for, you’re screwed.
Great cooks aren’t better because they know more intricate things, like my idiot friends always opine. They’re great because they know the basic things, and how to manipulate them.
So to become a better cook, just start taking ingredients, apply any of the various heating methods, and add some flavorings. Cooking that way gives you THOUSANDS of possible combinations. Certainly more than the number of recipes you could memorize.
Of course, you have to know something about those ingredients. Some stuff can’t be deep fried (M&M’s…trust me), others will fall apart when steamed, etc. But like the above heating methods, there are really only a few basic categories and a handful of exceptions you need to know, and that’s it.
I thought of all of that as I was looking down at that plate of dry turkey. If only the guy (or his wife, I don’t know) knew how to cook meats. One of the most important things about meats is getting the right internal temperature. It almost doesn’t matter how you cook most meats. If you nail the internal temperature, you win. With turkey that means not going over 165 in the breast meat, 175 in the thighs. Otherwise you end up with…this.
And that then got me thinking.
I should start a YouTube channel. After all, I’ve got that nifty new camera!
I know there are a lot – like, brazillions – of cooking channels out there. Not to mention regular TV cooking shows, even entire networks. But everything these days seems to either fall into the “food porn” category, food competition shows, celebrity “look what I can make!” fluff, or those 60-second Tasty videos of triple layer cakes made with potato skins and Cool Whip. Nothing that actually teaches people to cook, at least not more than one dish per episode.
There used to be a show years ago called “How To Boil Water”, but since then…nothing. At least nothing that I’ve seen.
I’d like to start a series that teaches processes. An episode on how to boil something. As stupid as it sounds, there really are factors that make a difference when you boil things. Another on steaming, one on saute, on pan roasting, deep frying, and so on. Some basic prep skills along the way too, along with stone-simple guidelines regarding ingredients if needed. Maybe an episode dedicated soley to how to make liquids thick, for sauces and gravies. Like heating methods, there are only a handful of ways you need to learn.
I really, honestly think that if people who wanted to learn to cook learned those things, they’ll become better cooks than if they watched a ton of Rachael Ray pouring EVOO over yet another pan of her signature glop.
Here’s how I’d do it. To make the point that technique beats all, every episode would use only chicken breasts. It would demonstrate that you can take one ingredient and make literally hundreds and hundreds of dishes just by varying the process (and accent flavorings) applied to it. No recipe needed.
I would call it, “The Breast Channel on YouTube!“. Catchy, huh? If that alone doesn’t get people to click, I’ll eat…my neighbor’s turkey.
There’s one problem, though.
I’m on the radio, not TV, for a reason. “Not photogenic” is putting it kindly. I’ve been described as “Jabba the Hutt with back hair”, and that’s by people who ostensibly love me. The camera is not my friend. There’d be a percussive thunderclap when millions of people hit the “Back” button simultaneously 5 seconds after the opening credits, upon seeing my visage.
So I guess that’s that. You’re all doomed to wallboard turkey and cans of factory extruded soup. Sorry.
Oh well. At least I got an entry called “Breasts!” into the Daily Post.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go have more leftovers. If the mountain of food won’t come to Dangerspouse, Dangerspouse will have to go to the mountain. Again.
At least they’re well made.