Saturday, November 22, 2008
The Joy of Cooking
I have blogged about this subject before, but I was inspired to get this blog going again and this seems like a fitting way to re-launch it.
My interest in barbecue is rooted in a more general interest I developed in cooking early on. My mother taught my brother and I to cook at a young age and, once she was confident no one would be harmed in the process of cooking or eating the food, we both had a night each week when we were responsible for cooking a meal . From there I cooked out of necessity and although I found some joy in it, I didn't have the love (or the money) as a young man to really get passionate about it.
It wasn't until 1995, when I became very ill and was physically disabled and unable to work that I developed a real interest in experimenting with food. How, you say? I was bed-ridden for a period of 8 months (see upcoming autobiographical blog) and watched hours of television. Part of my daily viewing schedule was the Discovery channel and the Food Network because I eventually got bored watching mindless talk shows or sitcoms (okay, I was really into Days of Our Lives too). I would always watch "The Essence of Emeril"; this was when Emeril Lagasse first got started and it was a typical cooking show, just him, food and a camera. He didn't start throwing food and yelling, "Bam!" until later, which is also when I stopped watching. A couple other shows I would watch religiously were "Great Chefs, Great Cities" and "Great Chefs of the West". They were both similar, touring the world watching talented, and sometimes well-known chefs do what they do. It was mostly gourmet, which never appealed to me as I feel there is too much emphasis on presentation, but what they do with food is amazing. The pastry chefs and confectioners (candy chefs) are particularly interesting to watch.
Through repeatedly being led through the process of cooking, including prep and presentation, I got over the inhibitions I had about cooking. I think I was always a little afraid to really cook and seeing it happen made it seem easier and peaked my interest.
I started with easy stuff, like pasta with sauteed chicken or shrimp. I did pretty much everything sauté, and would add fresh vegetables, experimenting early with fresh ingredients like garlic, onion and celery as opposed to using powdered spices. Dried herbs and spices definitely have their place, like marinades and rubs, but I like the depth of flavor fresh stuff brings.
Around that time I was befriended by my supervisor at work who saw some potential in me to be a good student. He was definitely a "Jack of All Trades" and enjoyed sharing what he knew with someone he thought would appreciate and use what was learned. He spent years as a sous chef for big hotels and taught me alot about prep work. Through this I discovered that the preparation of the food before cooking was more fun than the cooking itself. I enjoy knife work and the various methods of preparation: slice, dice, julienne, chop, etc. He also taught me how to make asian food like egg rolls, fried noodles and even sushi. Most of what I learned then I still use to this day, like how to cut an inexpensive piece of meat so it is tender and delicious. Very useful stuff.
I have never enjoyed baking or confection as there is too much measuring involved. I generally keep it simple when I cook and try to use only fresh ingredients. A typical meal at my house with me in the kitchen is pretty much any kind of meat, poultry, or fish; a starch, usually rice; and vegetables which are steamed in most cases, although I love grilled veggies as well. I have gotten away from frying pretty much as I am watching what I eat for health reasons, but I do make fried chicken occasionally. I still cook the stuff my mom made when I was growing up, like meatloaf, shepherds pie, and macaroni and cheese, but I put my own twist on it (don't tell my mom, but I like my fried chicken better than hers).
My foray into barbecue, which inspired this whole blog, started about 2 years ago. It is yet another way to prepare meat and poultry, and I love everything about the process: buying a good grill or smoker (I love toys), being outside, lighting fires, tending the fire (which is why I don't use gas), and of course the amazing flavor imparted by smoke (another reason I don't use gas, no offense to you "gassers"out there). My specialty, and Mrs. Bullfrogs absolute favorite, is pork spareribs (recipe to be shared soon). I started out with these early on and learned later that they are supposedly the most difficult to prepare well. I seem to have a knack, so they are my stand-by. I also barbecue chicken (white or dark meat), fish, and have started setting my sites on larger cuts of meat like pork shoulder, pork butt, and the like. My ABT's (Atomic Buffalo Turds) are pretty good, but due to the potential for heart attack of eaten too often I save those for special occasions.
In my next post, I will explore the broad spectrum of the subject of barbecue. Stay tuned!