Saturday, October 29, 2011

What you know: Pass/Fail

There are certain pursuits in life that are more suited to a pass/fail approach. These include, but are not limited to: High School Physical Education, The State Bar Exam, the Fosbury Flop, and (BikeSnobNYC taught me this) Bicycle Racing. Let's add cooking for love (of friends, money, and of course, lovers).

No one who cooks at home has a perfect record. There will be at least one dish with at least one thing for someone to find wrong with it. If you cook enough to actually get some attention, some of that attention will have to be negative. But being great isn't about being perfect.

Look at Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. He had more plating experience than you, in a way. But the best average he could hit was 0.406. Less than 50%, we call that a FAIL in academia. But he was one of the greatest.

Just realize that, in this craft, you ar dealing with a lot of factors: personal taste, emotion (yes, food has A LOT to do with emotion, especially for women, and that's why you're doing this, I digress), seasonings in season, vegetables in season, outside temperature, how much attention you can actually afford to pay to this dish, and the list goes on. Sometimes, you're just off your game. But a man who cooks is a man who cooks. If you are a man who puts barbecue sauce on burned steak, you are not a cook.

Basically, anything above that is what you're shooting for. And remember to focus on your strengths. Babe Ruth hit it out of the park, but that's because he couldn't run. If you can't nail the souffle, dominate the quiche.

Whatever your game, just keep bringing it to the plate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What You Know: Shopping

You may have heard this tip for saving money: only shop the perimeter of the grocery store.

It will save most people money, but that's not why I do it. That's a symptom. Staying on the perimeter keeps you creative. You get the building materials for beautiful meals. You get opportunities to showcase your skills, your tastes, your personality. Go into the aisles and you'll see flash frozen chicken,  potato chips, crackers. What if you didn't have to think and you could mindlessly munch on crunchy salty snacks from a bag? Perish the thought.

Don't fall for it. You can get all the stuff in the middle delivered to you. Online stores specialize in it. It will save you time. Spend your time getting real ingredients and putting it together in a creative way.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Fuel: Builder's Breakfast

Sometimes, you wake up and need real food quickly. That's when I make this:

It's not really a builder's breakfast, but I call it that because it has some substance and it's more than just two eggs over easy with toast and jam. This meal will give you energy and you can do it in one covered pan.

I slice the sweet potatoes first, usually two small, and throw them into a pan on medium-high heat with a little olive oil. The sweet potatoes take the longest to cook, and they need to absorb the olive oil first. One medium to large onion go in next, and they need very little residual oil from the potatoes to release their juices. After stirring around, cover the pan and turn the heat down. When the sweet potatoes are soft (usually after a few minutes, you can figure out how soft you want them) move the onion sweet potato mixture to one side and carefully place two eggs in the vacant space. Cover the pan and turn off the heat.

After another couple minutes, you will be able to scoop your breakfast onto a plate, into a bowl, a to go container, a tiffin box, whatever you want. It's extremely versatile and portable. It's also a great dish for camping.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Deconstructed Classics: Bacon Salad

If you think you are going to take it easy and just throw a salad together, just quit. Go call Papa John's right now and go sit on your couch til it comes.

Salads are an art, just like any other food. Don't write them off as a waste of time just because the salad dressing commercials are so corny and pastel. If you think they are girl food, you are absolutely right. So learn to make them well and you'll attract more.

First of all, salad is eaten with a fork. So make sure the items can be eaten with a fork. Cut the lettuce into small, even shaped pieces. Make all the other pieces the same size. Have you ever seen a woman eat a salad? They meticulously stack each piece on the fork. First a piece of lettuce, then tomato, then cucumber, then they dip in the dressing. They treat it as art, so you should too.

In this case, I kept the bacon whole. Sometimes women do want to rip into a piece of meat, even when eating a salad.

The number of ingredients and color is what makes a salad. I used peaches, tomato, guacamole and bacon. As you can see, it gave it a nice range.

Salads are as boring as you make them. If you hate salad, you probably rely too much on other people to make you happy. Take control, make the salad awesome.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What you know: Choices

Choices are important to people. People fight for choices, they protest and reason and bribe to get a choice. The more a particular society is used to having a choice, the bloodier it is when the power of choice is taken away. The choices you make with your food are a gift.It is also nice to be able to give the gift choice when it comes to food. That's why it's so widely appreciated when someone packs your lunch for you based on things you like.

I have the privilege of having a guest blogger sharing her two cents. Seveerr is a muralist, a craftswoman, an equine afficianado and some other stuff. She is married to me as well. This is something she wanted to share with us all:

It occurred to me on this particular Monday that I had all my lunch,except for one thing- salad dressing. I try to avoid the Cafeteria at work for two reasons- the staff are slower than molasses,and temptation. So I sauntered down to the Cafeteria in order to score a few swigs of salad dressing,once there I realized that the entire soup and salad bar had been replaced by a multitude of pre-packaged donuts in all shapes sizes and flavors- but ALL donuts. Is this what we have to look forward too? Donuts for lunch? I was mortified. Not only was my salad dryer than dirt,but I will never forget my dressing EVER again. Eating healthy requires that YOU NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT ALL OF YOUR FOOD- or do without,because the alternative is DONUTS-and that's NOT good.

I like donuts, but she makes a point. It's a lot like being on open water, adrift. Something so simple, slightly out of reach. It can make even the most savvy traveler go nuts.When you pack lunch for the one you love, you are packing their survival pack. Pack it with care.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Fuel: Waffles

It's good to get to the point when you can make breakfast pastries without measuring. Pancakes and waffles are a mix of flour, eggs, fat, and sweet with a little salt and leaven. In my case this weekend, I was showcasing my gluten free waffles. It wasn't because I was entertaining people with gluten intolerance, I just wanted to show that there were alternative ways to make common breakfast foods to fit your lifestyle.

As I have said before, my wife is gluten free or wheat free for this phase of her eating plan. We went through this a while back too when she was put a completely allergy free diet, and I wanted it to still be enjoyable. If you have to cook without gluten, dairy, nuts and soy, these waffles are a winner.

I had played with rice flour, and I like it for a lot of things. But for items that are supposed to be fluffy and light and bind together, rice flour wasn't cutting it. The bread either crumbles apart or is hard as a rock. That's fine for some things, but unacceptable for waffles. So I used Tapioca flour. I heard it bound well and gave the bread some elasticity.

In the past, I have used a little coconut flour too. It helps make the waffle a little more firm. But my wife is allergic to coconut. Or so she says.

This is

4 parts tapioca flour
1 part rice milk
1 banana
1 tbsp agave nectar*
1/2 tsp aluminum free baking powder*
pinch salt (Iodized)*

*for every cup of flour

In the mixing bowl, add the rice milk and crush the banana into it. Then add agave nectar. Stir it really well.

In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredient while pouring in the flour mixture. Stop when you get to milkshake consistency. Since tapioca flour is so fine, the weather and altitude may affect your consistency. If the batter is too runny, add more flour. Too thick, like peanut butter, add more rice milk.

When you use this in a Belgian waffle maker, you'll see it rise and separate a little. Also, it will be a little chewy. Overall, it's pretty good and not hard like a rock. Our host took this first one from me and immediately started eating it. They are very appealing in appearance.

Be careful when making this for picky eaters, but girls usually like them. Especially girls from the Bay area, Southern California, and probably any metropolitan area where gluten is considered evil. Isn't it awesome when your real dietary needs become a fad?

The runt of the batter
I always get a runt, but this one is the prettiest

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Keeping it Simple: Blueberry Cobbler a la Mode

I wanted a doughnut. Saying that for me is like saying "I woke up this morning." I love doughnuts. Fast metabolisms and cravings for sweets runs in my family.

Doughnuts every day will hurt me, so I made myself a cobbler. You can make this with almost anything, as long as you have some fruit and oatmeal. I had peaches and I could have the used those, but I chose frozen blueberries.

The most important thing about cobbler is to make the filling bubble through the top. This is especially true in a crumble. There is no excuse if you don't get it to bubble through.

I started with a ramekin, such you can substitute any shallow dish like a short coffee cup or ceramic plate, and put in some blueberries, a splash of red wine, and a little water. Microwave for 30 and drink most of the liquid (or pour it out, I was alone).

In a soup cup, I mixed equal parts Irish butter and rolled oats with a dash of cinnamon. Put a little agave nectar in the blueberry mixture and top with the oat mixture.

Toaster oven til bubbly, and you are good to go. I only had cappuccino gelatin, so I made some almond banana soft serve to go on top.

You don't need to impress someone every time you cook. It is good to get used to cooking on the fly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deconstructed Classics: Fish and Chips

The smell inside of a good pub is as intoxicating as the unique drafts they serve. The aromas of beer and batter and bread and sticky toffee pudding, they put you in a mood. It's a force so powerful, strong men will break into song, tell stories they perhaps shouldn't, maybe even cry. You can recreate the experience with you lass without giant vats of oil and kegs of ale.

You don't have to be on a micro-nutrient diet to appreciate that the breading and oil on some breaded fried fish has more calories than the fish itself. For a non-pub night dinner, that's a little much. So if you're cutting to show your six pack, you are on a low carb diet, or if your little lady shys away from food that may eventually make her look like that guy Angus behind the bar, this is a good option:

This is tilapia sprayed with olive oil spray (you can brush, but the volume is better with spray), rolled in almond meal (which I made by grinding almonds in my Magic Bullet) and baked. The sweet potato fries are the same as for the deconstructed burger. I served it with some yogurt slaw (red cabbage with yogurt dressing) and my wife said it tasted just like real fish and chips and that the slaw tasted authentic.

I agree, and you can have a glass of wine with it, or you can go with beer. I suppose you can try a light or low carb beer. I tried that Michelob Ultra and it was decent. But Guinness is good for you (they don't say that anymore, and maybe I shouldn't either) and it tastes better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Personal Care - What you eat

Finding love has a lot to do with what you eat. You are what you eat, so do you want to be totally fake? Do you want to be full of fillers, maybe looking passable on the surface but most likely, worth nothing to anyone who takes you in? You know that feeling you get after having something too processed, too sugary, or too toxic? You don't want anyone to feel like that about you. Not your friends, not anyone you want to love.

So eat well and eat balanced. Know yourself and find out how you thrive. No one thrives on candy bars alone, so cut it out.

This is what I like to eat:

Breakfast: Greek yogurt with blueberries, walnuts and honey

Morning Snack: Apples with peanut butter and Nutella

Pre lunch snack: melon wrapped with prosciutto, Italian dry salami on the side.

Lunch: Cuban black bean, spinach, salsa sandwich on lavash

Afternoon snack: Cottage cheese with peach, spiced toffee almonds, and walnuts.

I also go to the gym every other day and squat, deadlift, row, press, overhead press, curl, extend, and crunch. I would have a hard time keeping weight on me. Others have a problem keeping weight off, and I envy you. I just happen to prefer good food, and it's hard to keep good food prepared for every single meal, every single day. I would rather not eat than eat something absolutely terrible for me (except doughnuts, I reeeaally like doughnuts). So eating less is natural for me. No matter what your life goal is, it will take effort to get there.

If you have to eat less, make sure every meal is awesome. If you have to eat more, make sure every meal is awesome. Embrace a natural love for food.

What You Know - Plating

You take your lady to a nice restaurant and they bring out the food. It looks awesome! All the things the menu said it was going to be and more. It said grilled rib-eye, but this looks like a gift. It's so neatly wrapped in grill marks, and inside, the meat has been coaxed to a cook state, very carefully so the juice wouldn't run away. The vegetables to the side have definitely seen some attention, but they still retain their personality. They crunch and snap like they should, stationed on the plate, ready to perform. And the mashed potatoes? Did they get a Tahitian dancer to whip them by hand? Doesn't matter, this dish has impressed before you even took a bite.

This is what you must shoot for when cooking for love. No matter how good the food tastes, you can make it look like garbage (or worse, leftovers) even though you took all that time to prepare. Like any good finish, your dish should be finished strong.

That's where plating comes in. This is more than piling food on a plate like a Biggest Loser contestant at a buffet. You need to break the foods down to their elements:

The Foundation

The Assistant

The Showpiece

It's like having a trophy, you have to put it on a base or pedestal. It may be a good idea to put it in front of a poster showcasing the victory.

This dish is an example:

The rice is my foundation, the vegetables (yellow squash, yellow bell pepper, yellow onion) are the accompaniment to the main attraction, the seared Ahi. Dipping sauce is on the side, a simple soy agave sauce.

This is just dinner. It's not a special occasion. But every offering should be special. The entire dish took 15 minutes, 45 seconds of that was arranging things nicely on the plate. If you have the principle in mind, you'll know how to plate.

You'll know that barbecue ribs can drape over garlic mashed potatoes next with grilled zucchini and eggplant to the side. You'll know what you want to showcase and how the other parts of the dish support it.

And she'll know you care.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend Fuel - Peaches, Out of Context

The other night, I spent a little time setting up lunch items for my wife. I send similar things everyday so I have time and energy for the extraordinary things I come up with.

Usually, she has two kinds of salad, some dried fruits, nuts and nut butters, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, and fresh cut fruit. I received a text from her regarding the fruit I just sent. It was shocking to me because I feel my mistake would be with a fritatta or seafood, they being dishes that require timing and specific temperatures with math involved for reheating. But that wasn't the problem.

"Peaches taste like onions."

And that's it. I sent ahi poke as well, but the peaches were a problem. I apologized and suggested maybe she skip those and have one of the other breakfast items I sent.

"I just think that if you're going to post this, the peaches shouldn't taste like onions."

First of all, no one would know. If I tell you to cut peaches and give them to a woman, they probably won't taste like onions and the woman in question will appreciate it more than an untouched piece of fruit. If you take one piece of advice from me and no more, take this: women will appreciate, and often reward, effort.

Secondly, my wife made a mistake and realized she was eating week old fruit. The fresh stuff tasted much more like peaches (plus mangoes!).

Lastly, I felt I should give peaches and onions a good name. They have been served together with pork tenderloin, so I thought of bacon, then I planned breakfast.

This is grilled peaches with toasted almonds and grilled onions. I put a little agave nectar in there, very little. I served it next to a fried egg and natural bacon. My wife thought it was hilarious. Then she tasted it and said it was delicious.

I appreciate hearing ridiculous flavor combinations that I can make work. Best of all, I would have never posted cut peaches. I found a really good reason to do so, and the resulting dish will make you feel like you are having brunch at a beach resort. Maybe better, 'cause I have had some disappointing brunch food in some pretty hoity toity establishments.