Sunday, January 23, 2005

Arming Yourself For The Battle--Part II

(Figuring Out What Matters)

I appreciate you taking the time to come read The Redneck Gourmet and to follow my cooking exploits. I hope that you will keep coming back in the future. Back when I first got started writing in November I posted Arming Yourself For The Battle--Part I where I addressed some basic cooking stuff. My intentions were to follow up with additional postings along this topic and, in light of the lack of new recipes in my cooking recently, I guess it's time for an general cooking update.

If you are already an expert cook, please ignore this posting. Or perhaps if you feel you are already competent at cooking but you would still like to risk reading my thoughts and opinions about cooking, have at it. Then tilt your head back and laugh hysterically—unless by chance you happen to agree with me, who knows? Here goes…

What I hate about most of the stuff for sale in boxes and jars in the grocery store and dislike about half of what is written up and defined as “recipes” in recipe books and on web sites is this--they take too many shortcuts and they suggest using crappy, substitute ingredients in an effort to save time or unnecessarily simplify the recipe.

Low cal, I can understand. Low quality, I can do without. Maybe if I was cooking for five kids, three dogs, and a couple of cats I would be forced to be less smug and cavalier, but I arrogantly enjoy the luxury of only have one other mouth besides my own to feed in my home most of the time. Further, I really don’t believe that the quality of the food has anything to do with the quantity anyway.

My question is, why bother to cook in the first place if the result of your efforts isn’t going to taste as good as it looks (or maybe better)? Why not just order a delivery pizza with a genuine imitation cardboard crust or get in the car and go to McDonalds and eat a belly full of salty grease. It’s an easy way to inhale some calories, get the meal over with in a hurry, and not spend much money, you know?

I basically refuse to do this in my kitchen. Maybe I’m just into pain, but I believe that the results I achieve are worth the extra effort. To quote my dear mother, Betty, “I feel like I’ve been somewhere to eat” when I’m done with many of my meals. Not to brag unnecessarily, but it’s a nice feeling.

So what is my point besides self edification, you might ask? Well, it is this… I offer the neophyte cook some encouragement, along with a large dose of prodding for you to head to the stove and experiment with your cooking.

For the newcomers to cooking, I hope that you will follow my example and use the internet to research your own recipes before you cook them and then cook them well. I usually review at least a half-dozen recipes for a given dish before I start cooking something new.

Don’t just make an (un)reasonable facsimile of a given dish, make an authentic dish of food that tastes great and that you can be proud of—even if no one else is there to enjoy it with you. Unless you are creating something entirely new of your own design, this means looking into the origins of a dish and finding out as much as you can about it.

It also means investing in spices that didn’t come over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.

I hate to admit it, but I once had a spice rack that I had inherited from my grandmother. Having an antique spice rack wasn’t the problem. Attempting to use the spices that came in the jars from her kitchen for at least ten years after she passed away was of concern. I might well have been using dirt or dust for seasoning in my early cooking efforts. Fortunately, some things ran out and I finally disposed of the others last week (just kidding…)

And another thing, buy fresh herbs when they are in season, if and when you need them. You usually end up with more than you need for a given dish. There are numerous web sites that address how to dry your own fresh herbs when you have extra. When you do need dried herbs and spices, buy them in the quantities that you will use in six months or so and mark the jars so that you know how old they are. Seal the lids tightly after use or put them in zip lock freezer bags. Unlike fine red wines, most spices don’t improve with age and some keep longer than others.

Unless there are major health reasons, please avoid “imitation” anything because in spite of what your mother, your neighbor, and the label says, IT DOES NOT TASTE THE SAME. This includes imitation butter, imitation eggs, fake salt, and any other imitation seasonings. If you will take the time to get your herbs and spices right in a recipe, you won’t need a lot of salt and you can use olive oil (extra virgin-expeller pressed) or canola oil as a butter substitute in a pinch.

In spite of the news headlines, I have never seen butter or eggs actually listed as the cause of death on a death certificate. It’s usually the soft drinks, Stove Stop Stuffing mix, Velveeta “cheese food” products, MSG, and partially hydrogenated soybean fats that kill people; along with the overall quantity of food ingested.

Take my advice and you can afford to eat some real unsalted, semi-sweet butter and a half-dozen eggs every few weeks.

No get out there and start cooking, DARN IT.

Regards Y'all

The Redneck Gourmet

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