I remember one of my first lessons as a writer of fiction was from high school English teacher. I think I was in tenth grade. She took exception to the fractured grammar in one of my compositions. I complained about all the red on the page, maintaining that I was experimenting with language like one of the authors we were reading at the time. She knew that, but she felt it was her job to be exacting in the basics. 'Master the rules first,' she said. 'Then you'll know how to break them.' Though many of my readers sometimes wonder if I've managed to accomplish either, I did do as I was told (good Catholic schoolgirl that I was). The lesson holds true in many pursuits. It's certainly true of cooking. I realized that many of my failures were because I hadn't mastered or understood many of the basics of cooking or baking. Though I live on the Food Network and haunt food shows on PBS and the Fine Living Network, It's been really recent that I started working the basics. I began in earnest when with Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. It's become even more serious with Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which I've barely cracked). I'm finding so much joy in making the best soup stocks and really loving the chopping of aromatics. My new found patience has brought fourth excellent soft pretzels, and the notion of buying pie crust seems really silly to me. But there was one basic that eluded me until this week. That I tackled it at all was because of Anthony Bourdain.
Last week, he did an episode of No Reservations on cooking essentials that covered a basic stew, the omelet, roast chicken, grilled steak, hamburger patty, spaghetti pomodoro, french fries, and boiling a lobster. Each basic was taught by a master chef yet each one was so very simple on its face. Yet I knew how difficult they could be (I still can't get the lobster quite right. In fact I almost always over cook shellfish). I watched the episode twice (for those interested, it's available on I-tunes for 99 cents). Then I decided it was time to tackle my nemesis, the omelet. I've made them for years. My father liked my cheese version. They were all wrong. I never liked the brown crust. I didn't know how wrong they were until I had one in Paris. Oh boy, were mine wrong. It's tougher than it seems to cook it to just under done then roll it out and let carry over heat finish firming the curd. Fear of under done food is my problem with cooking shellfish. But I was alone and determined to try mid-week. The amazing Jacques Pepin had given his wisdom on the subject on Bourdain's show. I was sure I had an understanding this time. I threw myself at a two egg omelet with freshly snipped chives – no cheese. I didn't do the jerk and flip onto the platter. I sort of rolled it onto the plate. But it was perfectly yellow. I think it was still just a bit tougher than a perfect curd would be, but I got really close. That was thrilling and very yummy.
I am quite experienced cooking successful vats of chili of all types (beef, turkey, sausage). But because of the complex nutritional requirements my recent illness presents, I wanted to do one that was very tasty but densely packed nutritionally. To pull this off, I finely chopped extra carrots and celery along with the onion. The chop was extra fine and I cooked them down until they were nearly brown and very sweet before mixing in the lean beef. I used the mushroom, garlic and jalapeno infused olive oil I mentioned a couple of weeks ago for a bit of heat and extra flavor. For fiber and minerals, I cooked black beans in beef stock until they were soft then I pureed them. It thickened the chili without using a roux (that would have added more fat calories). Then I mixed in finely chopped spinach at the end. It seemed like a decadent all meat chili with a bit of parsley instead of the very healthy dish that it was. The improv worked very nicely. It was so yummy that I nearly had a bowl for breakfast.
Jon and I will continue our march toward attempting a baguette this week by making loaf bread. More specifically, we're going to try to make cinnamon raisin bread. I hope our luck holds, because I really want a big hunk of that. Today's experiment involves making our own Girl Scout Cookies. We're baking the 'Slim Mints' now. This place smells awesome! We're doing the peanut butter/chocolate 'Left Behinds'. I'll let you know how they turn out!