KITCHEN WISDOM

  1. Preheat the oven. Nothing in life that matters, or that is worth it, happens without putting in a little time to get things going. By the same token, any new endeavor will need time to get rolling properly. Never judge anything too soon.
  2. Baking powder and baking soda sound alike, but they are not the same thing. The same is true for people. No two people are just alike. We make disastrous comparisons if we think someone we meet who reminds us of someone we know will be just like the other person. No matter how alike they sound and look, they are not the same thing.
  3. Use fresh ingredients when you are able. Every cook from time to time has to use frozen or canned ingredients. Nevertheless, fresh is always better. Whatever you are working at, avoid the trap of copying someone’s canned or frozen work. Use your own fresh ideas. It is always better.
  4. You probably need an emulsifiedownloadr. An emulsifier is milk, eggs, butter–something to help things blend together. In groups of people, and systems of people, it should be someones job to make certain everything blends well. If no one is doing that, you might have to be the one.
  5. You may need something acidic. In cooking, my two favorites are vinegar and lemon juice. These ingredients are not something you taste in the food, but their acidic content brings out the flavors in the ingredients. People who conflict with us, or who challenge us, are acidic agents that can be useful in helping us define who we are and establish our priorities. They make us taste better to an unsavory world.
  6. Try some fat. Fat is a dirty word in health circles, nevertheless, fat is loaded with flavor. No life can be emotionally or spiritually healthy if there is not a little ‘fat’ in it.
  7. Do not cook in a hurry. If you do, chances are greater you’ll burn your food or miss an ingredient. Take your time and enjoy the process. It is a crime against our own humanity to rush through the stages of life, always anxious for the next big thing. Enjoy the moment, and give thanks for it.
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    FISH AND SLAW SANDWICH

    Cook alone, eat with someone else. The purpose of cooking is eating, and eating is a spiritual endeavor. We were meant to live in community, not isolation.

FRENCH ONION SOUP

French onion soup has always been one of my favorite restaurant choices. However, I’ve never made it at home before this week. My hand was forced because Mrs. Greenbean bought about seven thousand pounds of onions at Costco, and they were stinking up the whole house. I had to cook them or toss them.

I decided it was time to make soup.

File Feb 01, 9 29 39 AM
Onions and Cheese–Perfect ingredients

I perused the interwebs for ideas, and went from there. The first thing I had to do was buy oven-to-table bowls. Wal-Mart let me down, and I shall not forget their treachery. I ended up going to the only other place in town that might have them, and that was Tuesday Morning.  They didn’t have a matching set, but I did get four, which is perfect for the Greenbeans.

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • half cup butter
  • four large onions, sliced
  • a fourth cup of flour
  • forty ounces of beef broth
  • a fourth cup of red wine
  • dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • one baguette
  • sliced provolone cheese
  • sliced Swiss cheese
  • grated Parmesan cheese

 

I made the soup in my favorite dutch oven, but any large stock pot would do.

I melted the butter, added the olive oil, then threw in the onions. I cooked them on medium heat on the stove top until they were were translucent and properly reduced. Then I added the flour. This carmelized them, causing some of that delicious brown to emerge. Different recipes argued for and against the flour, but it was the right choice for me.

When the flour had browned a bit and the pot was becoming dry, I added all of the beef stock. I stirred it well, then added the Worcestershire sauce. Immediately after that came the wine. I used a hearty burgundy. Then I tossed in a tablespoon or so of thyme, a little salt and pepper, stirred it well, brought the heat up until it simmered, then reduced the heat to low. I covered the pot and let it simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.

[It seemed to me this part of the process can be done well in advance of mealtime, even days. Simply heat the soup up when you are ready to serve it.]

At the end of the thirty minutes, I set my oven to broil. I ladled the soup into my brand new (and thoroughly washed) oven to table bowls. I placed three ample slices of baguette on top of the soup, then covered it with a slice of swiss, a slice of provolone, and a tablespoon or so of the grated Parmesan. This is, of course, a matter of taste. The next time I make this I will likely use stronger cheeses like Gruyere or maybe even a smoked Gouda.

I placed the bowls on a cookie sheet, then put it in the broiling oven. I left them there about four minutes.  That is all it took for the cheese to brown, the soup to bubble a bit, and the aroma of deliciousness to fill my home.

I served it immediately. Enjoy.

I HATE THE GROUNDHOG!

See how fat he is?  Probably take two skillets
See how fat he is? Probably take two skillets

I hate that varmit.  Seriously.  I Just learned (click here for story) that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which according to legend frightened him and sent him scurrying back into his hole.  Somehow this inexplicable chain of events is responsible for six more weeks of winter.

I’m sick of winter, and say we should do something about this meteorological hegemony and bring the tyrant down?  We need to go all Bill Murray all over that beast.  Who is with me?

The logical question comes next.  What do we do with the groundhog.  Well, I say we eat him!  I have some suggestions.

"I Got You Babe"
“I Got You Babe”

Groundhogs are not very big, so we could make a mulligan stew out of him.  Think of how good a nice groundhog stew would taste–carrots, potatoes, onions, a little Worcestershire sauce for flavor, maybe some Tabasco sauce, a little garlic–all simmered together to enjoy when it gets bitter cold outside.  Nothing is as tasty as stew when it is cold, and nothing tastes as good as sweet ironic revenge.

If the groundhog is wrong, which, by the way, he often is, then the weather might actually get warmer.  That doesn’t mean we give him a reprieve.  His reign of terror must end.  But if warm weather comes early, I say we roast him on a spit out by the lake, while wearing flip flops, sunglasses, funny beach hats, and sunscreen.

If none of that is to your liking, then let’s keep it simple.  Deep fried groundhog might become a national delicacy if we can get the right marketing plan.  Just looking at how fat Punxsutawney Phil is, I would say it is slightly meatier than a chicken, but we could probably butcher him the same way–except we’d have four legs instead of two.  Then we’d soak him in buttermilk all night, batter him up, then get the grease hot.  How hard could it be?  We’d serve him with gravy and biscuits.

I’ve got other ideas.  Maybe groundhog ice cream for dessert?  Groundhog pie perhaps, like a spicey mincemeat.  Groundhog tacos might taste a little like goat, maybe?

Whatever we do, the groundhog needs to die and winter must end.

images from whnt.com and blog.indiewire.com

STARVING IN A LAND OF PLENTY

Food, food everywhere and not a bite to eat.

Okay, so that’s not exactly the way Coleridge wrote it in the Rime of Ancient Mariner.  Nevertheless, that is the first thing that came to my mind as I read the really interesting article in the most recent issue (August 2014) of National Geographic magazine.  The article’s title is “The New Face of Hunger.”

An interesting article
An interesting article

The basic premise is that people are starving to death in cities because they do not have access to nutritious food.  Although these people have subsidies or assistance, the food they receive is highly processed.  They live in cities where a fast food restaurant sits on every corner, but there are no grocery stores.

I agree with their analysis of the problem, one that I have been talking about for a long time and preached more than one sermon about it.  People are starving to death with food everywhere because we have created a system of incompetence.

You read that correctly.  The problem of hunger is not primarily an economic one, it is an competency problem, and the longer I live the more I am convinced that incompetency will the end of our way of life.

The solution to hunger must have a two handed approach, because the situation is serious and something must be done to fix the problem before it is too late.  The bad news is that it will take at least one, and probably two generations to do it.

1.  We must feed children.  I don’t care what other problems are involved, we can’t let children be truly hungry.  Therefore, programs for food through schools and weekend programs should be fully funded without political wrangling.  However, these programs should also include two other aspects.  One, instead of highly processed food perhaps we should use vegetables, fresh food, and local dairy.  It will cost more to do this in the short run, but it will pay dividends in the long run with healthier children (and a healthy future) and a supported local agriculture.

A second requirement should be the total, universal enforcement of culinary training at the high school level.  We used to call this home ec, and we all made fun of it, but we were all taught how to scramble an egg, boil a noodle, peel a potato, make a salad, cut a chicken up to fry, and how to shop.  These skills are almost absent in most children today and their parents, and that leads me to the second hand we have to use in solving our food problem.

2.  Food subsidies should be increased in dollar amount, but limited to the purchase of ingredients for home cooked meals instead of whatever highly processed food is on the shelf.  Flour, milk, eggs, noodles, lettuce, frozen veggies, raw meat, rice, vinegar, oil, butter, and so many other items are what I have in mind.  It should be forbidden for these individuals to use government subsidies (SNAP, food stamps) for convenience store foods, burritos in a package, sugary cereals, heat-n-heat meals, or potato chips.  I would even support increasing exponentially food subsidy amounts if purchases were made at farmers markets. These should likewise be given only as an adjunct to mandatory basic culinary classes.

We have a competency problem in our country–people don’t know how to cook.  What they often call cooking is really just microwaving.  We would be a healthier, and more economically prosperous people if we would turn the television off and put down the iPhone long enough to spend the 25-30 minutes it takes to cook a meal at home from scratch.  A pot of pinto beans can feed a family for two or three days, and it is cheaper than feeding one person supper at McDonalds (and that is if I put a little hamburger meat in it, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and some brown sugar to sweet the beans).  The problem is that people don’t how to cook because they are never been told.  It was an assumed skill, that can no longer be assumed.

If we don’t fix this problem soon, increasing numbers of Americans will go to bed hungry, all the while surrounded by the greatest abundance the world has ever seen.

BONUS–for an interesting article on SNAP purchases, read this article (click here).  Make sure and read some of the comments as people completely miss the point.  Under no circumstances should soda be a government subsidized purchase.